Laity and the One Church Plan

By Thomas Lambrecht –

One of the less noticed aspects of the One Church Plan (OCP) is how it minimizes the voices of laity in the various decisions around marriage and sexuality.

The OCP allows any pastor to perform a same-sex wedding, whether the local church approves or not. Laity would have a voice in whether same-sex weddings could take place on local church property, but such a decision would require a congregational vote in a church conference.

The OCP would delegate to every annual conference the decision about whether or not to ordain self-avowed practicing homosexuals as clergy. In the first instance, this decision would be made by the annual conference board of ordained ministry, which does include some laypersons making up 20 to 33 percent of the board’s membership. Ultimately, however, the clergy session of the annual conference would vote whether or not to approve individual candidates who are self-avowed practicing homosexuals. This group consists of all the annual conference’s ordained clergy, plus the lay members of the board of ordained ministry. The lay voice would be overwhelmed in this setting.

It is ironic that two of the three provisions of the OCP declared unconstitutional by the Judicial Council would have broadened the voice of laity.

One provision provided that the bishop could “seek the non-binding advice of an annual conference session on standards relating to human sexuality for ordination to inform the Board of Ordained Ministry in its work.” This provision was ruled unconstitutional because the bishop cannot advise the Board of Ordained Ministry about anything. (The provision could be made constitutional by rewording it to eliminate any reference to the bishop.)

The other provision said, “Clergy who cannot in good conscience continue to serve a particular church based on unresolved disagreements over same-sex marriage as communicated by the pastor and Staff-Parish Relations Committee to the district superintendent, shall be reassigned.” This provision provided a voice to a congregation’s laity in requesting a new pastor via the Staff-Parish Relations Committee. It was ruled unconstitutional, however, because the General Conference cannot infringe upon the bishop’s right to decide appointments. So the congregation can request a new pastor because of “unresolved disagreements over same-sex marriage,” but there is no guarantee that the bishop will appoint a new pastor. (A change of wording cannot salvage this provision.)

As of this writing, there has been no public indication that I am aware of that the authors of the One Church Plan intend to rectify the areas found unconstitutional by the Judicial Council.

In an October 22 article by UM News Service, the Rev. Stan Copeland (a presenter at a Uniting Methodists event last summer favoring the OCP) reflected the attitude of some toward lay participation. According to the article, “one part of the plan doesn’t thrill Copeland: A congregation must have a majority vote in favor of hosting same-sex weddings before holding one on church property. Copeland would rather the pastor and other local church leaders make that call. ‘Any time we have a (congregational) vote it’s potentially divisive,’ said Copeland, longtime pastor of Dallas’ Lovers Lane United Methodist Church.”

The OCP comes across as somewhat paternalistic toward laity. Many advocates of the plan seem to imply that they alone know the best course for the church’s future, and that laity in general do not need to be involved in making those decisions.

This is a mistake. If laity do not feel empowered to be part of the decision-making process regarding their church’s beliefs and practices, they will have less ownership of the outcome. Less ownership means reduced loyalty and a diminished inclination to stay in the church.

Closely aligned with that concern is the question whether the final decision of General Conference represents the thoughts and beliefs of the majority of grass-roots laity. While no surveys have been done of United Methodist members, there is reason to believe a large proportion (if not the majority) of laity in the U.S. hold to a traditional definition of marriage and hope the church continues to uphold what they believe is the clear teaching of Scripture on this matter. Not all would leave the church if it changes its definition of marriage, but many would.

Of course, the views of laity in Africa, the Philippines, and Eastern Europe (over 40 percent of the global church’s membership) are strongly traditional. Will the outcome of General Conference adequately reflect their views?

By contrast, both the Connectional Conference Plan (CCP) and the Traditional Plan (TP) involve laity in the crucial decisions regarding the church’s future. Under the CCP, jurisdictional and annual conferences, consisting of one-half lay delegates representing their local churches, would vote on which of the three theological branches to affiliate with. Local churches that disagree with the decision of their annual conference could vote in a congregational meeting to affiliate with a different branch.

The TP would require every annual conference (again, one-half laity representing their local churches) to vote whether or not that annual conference would “support, uphold, and maintain accountability to” the Discipline. If not, laity would have the same large say in whether that annual conference voted to leave The United Methodist Church to form or join a new self-governing Methodist church. Local churches that disagreed with the decision of their annual conference could vote by a congregational meeting to take a different decision, including the possibility of withdrawing from the UM Church to join a new self-governing Methodist church.

Laity’s voice is an integral part of the Traditional Plan and the Connectional Conference Plan, whereas the One Church Plan tends to minimize the voices of lay members. That is a factor that General Conference delegates should consider when they evaluate the various options before them in St. Louis.

Thomas Lambrecht is a United Methodist clergyperson and the vice president of Good News. He also served as a member of the Commission on a Way Forward. 



  1. Liberals in our denomination practice hypocrisy with the precision of a great maestro. They scream racism and disenfranchisement on the one hand while working to disenfranchise Africans first and now unsuspecting laity on the other. And, our Judicial Council seems to have joined the wondering in the wilderness of convolution, subterfuge, and diametric opposite Biblical beliefs as the path to “unity”.

  2. The Laity will always have a vote. Either up front voting and say in what happens to the church or they will vote with purse and feet. Looks like the OCP would drive the later option.

  3. Thomas Broom says

    During our Conference listening sessions earlier this year, the laity were never informed of how limited their say would be under the OCP. I have tried to keep my congregation up-to-date on what has been happening and they are definitely against the OCP. If it passes I think the majority of them will leave the denomination.
    Rev. Dr. Tom Broom

  4. As one of these laypeople , I googled —- “what is sexual immorality according to the Bible?” and got this answer:

    Again, as one of these laypeople, I ask just one liberal Methodist who is advocating liberalizing our sexual ethics and changing the Christian definition of marriage to rebut the above answer with at least equally compelling Scriptute.

  5. “There is no detailed account of a Christian wedding ceremony until the 9th Century, it wasn’t until the 12th Century that a priest became involved in the ceremony and not until the 13th Century that he took charge of it. Many Christians today would be surprised to find that the church did not consider itself to have a role in marriage for almost half its history.

    At the Reformation, Luther and Calvin rejected the notion of marriage being a sacrament and thought that the church should have no role in it. Luther declared marriage to be “a worldly thing . . . that belongs to the realm of government”. The English puritans in 17th century even passed an Act of Parliament asserting “marriage to be no sacrament” and soon made marriage purely secular.” from “A Short History of Christian Marriage.” A true Traditionalist Plan would get marriage out of churches.

  6. I would suggest that if the OCP passes then every pastor have a meeting to decide up front whether or not the congregation wants gay weddings to be performed in their church, before someone actually wants to schedule one. This will cause pain, but not as much as telling a members child that they can or can’t be married in the church. My church was shocked to find out that even if they vote no, my successor can still perform gay weddings. They were also shocked to find out that the bishop could appoint gay clergy to the church and they couldn’t prevent it.

  7. Another good video from the the perspective of someone who has been on both sides of the issue of growing up with gay parents and later HE and HIS PARENTS became Christians!

  8. Another good video on the subject:

  9. If the UMC changes the definition of Biblical marriage, then what sort of commission will it form to revise the Bible and its definition of marriage? For example, will the Lamb’s marriage supper be with the “bride” or not with this revision?

  10. Thomas Luther says

    I didn’t watch the video’s but I must assume that for a homosexuality couple to become Christians, then they have repented of the sin of homosexuality. This means that they turned from their wicked ways. Jesus taught clearly that unless you repent you too will perish. To say you receive Christ without repenting of your sin is to proclaim the message of the devil and not the Good News of Jesus Christ.

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