Doing General Conference Math

By Thomas Lambrecht –

Supporters of the One Church Plan are considering a number of options in the wake of the decision by the 2019 General Conference to adopt the Traditional Plan. One of those options is to come back in 2020 to the General Conference in Minneapolis and attempt to reverse the result, adopting the One Church Plan (OCP) in place of the Traditional Plan (TP).

One commonly hears the statement that there were “only” 54 votes separating the two sides in 2019, which means that 28 delegates would need to change their minds and vote for the One Church Plan in order for it to pass. Those 28 delegates would most likely come from the U.S., since it is unlikely that OCP supporters will gain more adherents among the central conferences than what they already received in 2019.

But the task in 2020 for OCP supporters gets more daunting. For starters, there were 31 delegates from Africa who did not obtain a visa to attend the General Conference. If all of them are able to gain visas in 2020 (or there are replacement delegates who can), that will likely add at least 28 votes for the Traditional Plan. OCP supporters would then need to gain 42 new votes in the U.S. (half of 54 plus half of 28).

But the delegate totals will not remain the same in 2020 as they were in 2019. Due to changes in membership, Africa will gain an additional 18 delegates in 2020. That will most likely add at least 16 votes for the Traditional Plan. OCP supporters would then be up to 50 new votes required (half of 54 plus half of 28 plus half of 16).

That is not all. The U.S. delegation will lose 22 delegates. If two-thirds of U.S. delegates generally support the OCP, then the OCP would lose a net total of 8 votes. (7 votes lost would be offset by the 7 votes that the Traditional Plan would also lose in the U.S.) That means OCP supporters would then be up to 54 new votes required (half of 54 plus half of 28 plus half of 16 plus half of 8). This would be offset by potentially 5 new votes from African delegates, bringing the total new votes needed for the OCP from U.S. delegates to 49.

This means that OCP supporters would need to either convince nearly one-third of U.S. Traditional Plan supporters to change their mind, or elect OCP supporting delegates in place of TP supporting delegates. That would be a tremendous swing in votes and highly unlikely to happen.

Another way of doing the math is to look at the various constituencies and estimate what percentage of them would vote for the Traditional Plan. The totals could look something like this:

  • 33 percent of U.S. delegates (482) equals 159.
  • 80 percent of Filipino delegates (52) equals 42.
  • 90 percent of African delegates (278) equals 250.
  • 50 percent of European and Eurasian delegates (40) equals 20.

The Total for the Traditional Plan would then be 471, which would leave 391 delegates supporting the OCP, a difference of 80 votes.

Based on this second method, OCP supporters would need to “flip” 41 delegates in order to gain a bare majority. This represents one-fourth of U.S. Traditional Plan supporters who would have to change their vote. Again, this would be a very significant shift.

There are of course some variables in all these math “problems.” But the bottom line is that a lot of circumstances would have to break one way in order for the OCP to gain the votes needed to reverse the results of the 2019 General Conference.

Of course, the OCP supporters could still try to delay and obstruct the will of the General Conference, as they did in St. Louis. But why? As Africa continues to grow in membership and the U.S. continues to decline, the numbers will only get more daunting for OCP supporters.

And the prospect of another public legislative battle, with all the vitriolic rhetoric that came from the progressive side, would only continue to damage the church. I have read numerous remarks by people on social media saying their relationships with persons on the “other side of the aisle” had been damaged by the process at St. Louis. At least one newspaper described what is happening in The United Methodist Church as a “civil war.” Is that what we want to perpetuate?

Based on the public responses from many on the moderate to progressive side, they cannot continue to serve in a church that does not allow them to perform same-sex weddings and ordain self-avowed practicing homosexuals as clergy. They desired unity in the church, as long as it meant that they could engage in ministry the way they wanted to do so. But faced with a choice between unity and denying their principles, they are choosing to adhere to their principles, even if it means disunity.

So would it not be more productive for persons across the theological spectrum to agree on a way to separate from each other, freeing everyone to engage in ministry the way they believe God is leading them? An equitable way could be found to divide assets and provide for the continuation of vital ministries such as UMCOR, Wespath, GBGM, Communications, and Archives and History.

Freed from the need to continue fighting one another, the resulting new denominations could devote their whole energies to evangelism, church planting, discipleship, missions, and social action – all according to each group’s theological perspective. In areas where there is agreement, the new groups could continue to cooperate on joint projects and mission endeavors.

In the end, The United Methodist Church does not face a math problem, but a spiritual problem. Is it now possible to choose a different path, one that leads to a constructive future, rather than a destructive one for the church? Can we not work toward a different form of unity that allows for both the separation needed and the possibility of cooperation where warranted? The former United Methodist Church is already dead. We are in the birth process of something new. Can we work together to create that new reality in as painless and Christ-like a way as possible?

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





  1. Gary Bebop says

    Tom sets forth the case impressively. But will bitter One Church Plan advocates accept the logic? The global embrace and efficacy of the Traditional Plan must now be set forth masterfully (and without apology) in the face of a rebellious, uncontrite episcopacy. The clash of the narratives has begun.

  2. And, I sure wish that there could be a method developed fot redirecting a portion of one’s apportionment from one’s tithe to the most needy parts of the UMC in the Global South.

  3. So very true- what the UMC has is a spirituality problem. I really wish that those who want to legislate away sexual sins would stop blaming traditional believers. It appears to me that the problem they have is with God- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit- and that this problem is attached to nearly all Christian beliefs that were revealed by God himself and that were handed down from the apostolic age.

  4. Gary Bebop says

    We must acknowledge that African voices will significantly contribute to what happens next. We must stop our clowning and contriving and bloviating, thinking that North America will dictate doctrinal novelties to the rest of the church. We must “get over ourselves” and start listening to what Jerry Kulah is saying:

  5. In order for Jerry Kulah and the Global South sector of the UMC to be granted full inclusion and be heard in our denomination, General Conference 2020 will be compelled to address the egregious unfair representation on the Council of Bishops, the rigged stacking of liberal personnel in our boards and agencies, and to make sure that there is truly equitable delegate representation at future General Conferences. It’s way past time for the “redistricting” of the church. These North American liberals have had their day. Their power obviously needs a significant “check and balance”. One by one, replace them — unless, of course, they decide to depart, the preferable solution, and relocate to other places where they could freely do their own thing.

    • William,
      Your observation brings me back to the 60’s & 70’s, during which there was an increased presence of women receiving their ministerial credentials. At the time, it was quite common that many of our churches were unwilling to have a woman clergyperson appointed to their churches. As a result, many women were placed into positions in the UMC, which were apart from local charges. Additionally, many UM churches of this time were quite traditional and rural; they did not take kindly to having liberal pastors assigned to their communities. These trends resulted in many liberals and clergy women positioned in general church offices and agencies. This is why so many agency heads, DS’s, bishops and other denominational offices are enthusiastic supporters of the One Church plan. This problem has been decades in the making and we have no one to blame other than ourselves.

  6. Jean Lash says

    Glad for how the vote turned out. God blessed the decades of work that the UMC did in other nations. And yes, it is a global community, and I am thankful for the global influence. I agree, it is time to amicably split. Lord willing, it will not be in the courts to fight for property and assets.

  7. Those Americans opposed to the Traditional Plan and the action of the General Conference are presenting themselves as innocent victims who are being placed behind prison bars for life or as being trapped in a country behind a wall reminiscent of the Berlin Wall — and, consequently, are being severely punished and intentionally hurt. Alert — unlike those Christians in other global places who are actually being persecuted and murdered, this is the the USA, a free country, founded on religious freedom. Please, please dispense with the guilt trip tactic, the disruption, the church lawbreaking, and go forth to a place where you can practice your religion unimpeded.

  8. Another root cause of our schism, our liberal seminaries, is now coming into ever sharper focus as a result of General Conference. Inclusiveness rules the day. Forget the Bible, the Gospel, and Sound Doctrine if that gets in the way of “inclusiveness”. Sounds like they’re concerned of losing their cozy, insulated, pie places in the UMC institution where they can pursue their highly secular influenced scholarly elitism unchallenged. When they speak of “losing the next generation of church leaders”, that likely translates into losing the next generation of $$$$ tuition, fees, etc. $$$.

    It would appear that the time has come for our seminaries to face the music and make some significant decisions, either through self examination or external examination.

    • William, you sure seem to have stated the root cause of our schism correctly. The article to which you refer clearly indicates those 13 UM schools of theology will not follow the TP as it goes about shaping leaders of the UMC.

  9. JW says: As an outsider (an old free church pastor nearly 90) now worshipping with the Methodists, one emphasis needed in this discussion is how the OCP changes the UMC into a congregational body, almost like the Baptists. Every church (eventually) will decide its own doctrine and practice, no longer an episcopal system going back to the orthodoxy of the Early Church with its decisive church councils.

  10. Not knowing how the math is done here, is this a fair and equitable proposal? Are any of the shrinking areas of the church losing bishops?

  11. Jim Wolfgang says

    Reply to Joe: I am glad you are bringing your spiritual commitment to the U.M. tradition, we need many more like you. In my reading of the New Testament I am convinced the traditional beliefs of the U.M.C. are true with the scripture and our method of discerning theology through the General Conference is in keeping with the early church method of the Jerusalem Council and later great councils (such as Nicea). At present, our expectation that clergy from local pastors through bishops would tell the truth when they made covenant to all the members of the denomination that they both believed in our doctrine and polity and would uphold our beliefs has been found lacking in accountability (to say the least). We have depended on annual conferences to govern local church clergy and jurisdictions to govern bishops, a process that should have been entirely adequate, but it depended upon integrity to spoken vows which in being broken cause the damage to the greater church we now have. I, and a like minded colleague (Carroll) submitted petitions for accountability to the 2019 General Conference but they were considered too off the subject. I will submit them again for 2020. I believe we need four year terms for bishops, subject to re-election- but such elections at General Conference (as was done in our (Evangelical United Brethren tradition). Jurisdictions nominate but do not elect general superintendants (bishops), that is done at General Conference; afterall they lead(?) the general church. The open defiance problem reveals we need to take disciplining clergy, including bishops, to the general conference level if judicial council rulings are ignored. These petitions require constitutional changes and that would be asking a lot I know. Perhaps some readers have some better ideas about our accountability problem and how to enforce the Discipline.

  12. It’s positive that “discussions” are under way. Yet it’s glaringly revealing of the true Adam Hamilton and colleagues that they are entertaining the idea of staying in order to increase resistance and church lawbreaking in order to RUN TRADITIONALISTS OFF! This kind of attitude will certainly throw a big monkey wrench into any real good faith discussions. At least, they seem to be cozying up to an exit path with property plan, But, even that sounds one sided. They seem to see it as a way to encourage the traditionalists to leave. But, they are forced to concede that it is the traditionalists who have the votes. They seem to be in a bind. So, at Hamilton’s “big meeting” at his church, will they be mapping out plans for increased church lawbreaking, a plan for forming a new progressive denomination, or looking into a way forward involving an amiable separation plan?

  13. Gary Bebop says

    William is right about the assumptions being made in Leawood: Traditionalists will be shown the exits. This is the ascendant Progressive narrative which should be rigorously deconstructed. Traditionalists are not going to flee to the exits in the wake of GC2019. A separation of denominations might honorably occur, but not a sacking of faithful Methodists by a mob that has gone after doctrinal novelty.

  14. Rev./Dr. David Inskeep says

    I am so mystified by those who don’t like the Traditional Plan. If it is so bad, leave the church. Those people who are trying to hijack the church if they are ordained were ordained with the Book of Discipline that I was ordained with which spelled out what we stand for. Now, the Book of Discipline doesn’t count because we have Bishops who believe they are God and refuse to follow the Discipline that they were ordained with.

  15. Mike Ricke says

    There is a reason that the American Methodist church continues to lose members, it is the theological conservatism growing in the movement that is pushing progressives out, and they are either joining more progressive denominations or, more tragically, leaving the organized church because of this regressive behaviour of exclusion. Had these “no-longer-participants” remained welcomed, then – it is my assertion – then the percentage breakdowns would have led to a much more progressive and liberal outcome.

  16. The arrogance of Mark Holland is beyond measure. This is one of the most outrageous and preposterous positions ever to be put forth in all of Methodism. He has obviously abandoned the Bible thus completely misunderstanding those who believe it. His position is strictly secular and has nothing whatsoever to do with the Christian faith and God’s Word. The only thing to discern from his unsubstantiated assertions is the need for him to go and form this American cultural centric “church” and get on with whatever it is he and his cohorts are worshiping.

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