What REALLY Happened in St. Louis (Part 1)

By Thomas Lambrecht –

The United Methodist Church has just finished four days of wrenching deliberation at the special called General Conference February 23-26. The conference demonstrated a deeply divided church — something that was readily apparent before we ever arrived in St. Louis. The vitriolic conflict that characterized the proceedings inflicted pain on persons of all perspectives, both participants and spectators.

Already, the “spin machine” is working overtime to attempt to paint the outcome to the advantage of institutionalists whose main interest is preserving the structure and finances of the church. Several statements have come out from bishops and other church leaders claiming that the direction of The United Methodist Church is somehow unclear.

Let us be clear about what happened at the St. Louis General Conference. By a vote of 449 to 374 (55 percent against), the delegates rejected the One Church Plan (OCP). The OCP was endorsed by a majority of the Council of Bishops. The OCP had its own website built to promote it. The OCP had all the general church agencies working overtime (on our apportionment dime) to lobby delegates in its favor. Despite this full-court press, the plan favored by the “establishment” was roundly rejected.

By a vote of 438 to 384 (53 percent in favor) the delegates instead passed the Traditional Plan. This plan maintains The United Methodist Church’s traditional biblical position on marriage and human sexuality. It also enhances accountability to ensure that bishops, clergy, and annual conferences live by the expectations set in our Book of Discipline.

Some parts of the Traditional Plan were found to be unconstitutional after a second Judicial Council ruling during General Conference. Furthermore, the plan was referred to the Judicial Council for a third look following final passage of the plan. Institutionalists tried every possible maneuver to delay the plan and to sow doubt about the plan’s final outcome.

Nevertheless, it is possible to know with some certainty the provisions of the Traditional Plan that have already been found constitutional and will be implemented.

  • The definition of “self-avowed practicing homosexual” now reasonably includes persons living in a same-sex marriage or union, and persons who publicly state they are practicing homosexuals. This change will aid in holding accountable clergy who violate the standards for ordained ministry.
  • Clergy who perform same-sex weddings, contravening the denomination’s prohibition, would receive a minimum penalty of one year’s suspension without pay after conviction by a trial court. A second offense would result in termination of credentials. This insures that defiant clergy who flaunt their disregard for denominational standards no longer get by with a slap on the wrist or no meaningful consequence.
  • Bishops are now prohibited from dismissing a complaint unless it has no basis in church law or in fact. No longer can bishops simply dismiss a complaint against a clergyperson that they do not want to deal with.
  • When a complaint is filed and a negotiated settlement is attempted, the complainant must be included in the process, and every effort must be made to secure the complainant’s agreement to any negotiated resolution of the complaint. The bishop may not negotiate a settlement with the accused that disregards the input of the complainant, securing the rights of those wronged by the accused’s actions.
  • The church now has the right to appeal a trial court verdict if it is tainted by egregious errors of church law or administration. Since our judicial system is administered by non-professionals, serious errors can be more common. This provision ensures that a wrongful verdict is not left unaddressed.
  • All persons nominated by the bishop to serve on the board of ordained ministry must certify their willingness to uphold and enforce the Book of Discipline’s standards for ordained ministry, and they may not recommend a person for commissioning or ordination who does not meet those standards, including for being a self-avowed practicing homosexual. This provision counters the nearly dozen annual conferences that are willing to ignore the denominational standards and recommend openly gay candidates for ordained ministry.
  • District committees on ordained ministry are specifically prohibited from recommending persons for candidacy or commissioning who do not meet the denomination’s qualifications, including for being a self-avowed practicing homosexual.
  • Bishops are prohibited from consecrating a person as bishop who is a self-avowed practicing homosexual, despite the fact they might be duly elected by a jurisdictional conference. They are also prohibited from ordaining or commissioning persons who are self-avowed practicing homosexuals, regardless of whether they are approved by the clergy session. This enables holding accountable individual bishops who ignore the denominational standards by going through with such consecrations or ordinations.

Unfinished business includes a Council of Bishops accountability process that enables placing bishops on involuntary retirement or involuntary leave of absence. An accountability process for annual conferences that do not abide by the requirements of the Discipline also needs to be completed. The exit path that was passed is unconstitutional. These can all be enacted by a majority vote at the 2020 General Conference, just 15 months from now.

Most importantly, The United Methodist Church sent a clear message that we will maintain traditional biblical moral standards on marriage and human sexuality. We will not forsake Scripture as our primary authority. We will remain united with our global United Methodist brothers and sisters with shared common ethics. Attempts to force The United Methodist Church to mimic progressive sexual ethics were not successful. Moves toward a disconnected congregational-style “contextualization” of our church were not supported by the only entity — the General Conference — that can speak for The United Methodist Church. The heavy-handed lobbying tactics of our bishops and general agencies proved to be futile.

There will be much more to say about this General Conference in the weeks ahead. But for now, we need to be aware that United Methodism reached an important turning point on Tuesday.

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.

Comments

  1. Reading some reports from leaders who wrote on the Special General Conference, you would ask yourself were they even there?

  2. “The OCP was endorsed by a majority of the Council of Bishops. The OCP had its own website built to promote it. The OCP had all the general church agencies working overtime (on our apportionment dime) to lobby delegates in its favor. ”
    The full-court press served to create the false expectation that the OCP would be the way forward. Consequently Saturday’s prioritization result left OCP supporters stunned and beyond disappointment.
    I am hoping to see the bishops accept the GC’s verdict and actually lead in healing the rift rather than fostering defiance.

    • Brenda Loy says

      I’m not sure we were on an equal playing field. How can a people go against the Bishops and win? I personally don’t think it’s over! Heaven help us!

    • As if Ms. Olivetto is going to accept this and press on. And then there are those bishops who have ordained openly gay clergy. They are not going to undo that. There are a lot of facts on the ground that will make a mess of things.

      • After declaring her election illegal, if I’m not mistaken, the Judicial Council handed this back to the Western Jurisdiction to adjudicate. Of course they did not while offering up the excuse of waiting on the Special General Conference. Well, General Conference has acted. But, they still have to Jan., 2020 to act, if they act. Likely they’ll continue stalling as long as possible. Don’t know if the Judicial Council can intervene and take this back up or not and force action. Doesn’t Ms Oliveto also have a heresy charge pending now? Someone, please clarify all this.

    • Rodney Staats says

      I predict a powerful, well organized, rebuttal to the GA outcome vote that will be lead by many bishops. There will be a defiance set forth by the more liberal hierarchy of the church that will “not go down without a fight”. We are already seeing this amoung church clergy in the educational/seminary arm that are paving the way for a robust “countercharge” to the general assembly vote. This is already starting to get ugly…just read the Dean of Methodist Seminary , Dr Birch’s comments attacking our African Methodist brethren for the outcome of the vote.

  3. Charles Armour says

    To maintain the integrity of Christian life and the Proclamation of the Gospel, the sanctity of marriage between and man and a woman must be preserved. In I Samuel 1:27-28, Hannah says; “I prayed for this child, and the LORD granted me what I asked of him. So now I give him to the LORD.” The Hebrew word “Corban” refers to a blessing granted by God which in turn is given back to God. As with the baby Samuel, all mothers’ children should thus be seen as such. Childbirth is sacred.

    In Genesis 2:7 one reads; “The Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and the man became a living being.” It is this Holy Breath, the “Ruach” which separates human life from the rest of biological life. All beings are like Adam in that they are made “from the dust”, but only Adam in this “second creation” is given the very breath of God. All people after Adam share this most sacred gift. It is what makes us all what we are. Again, childbirth is sacred.

    Unique among all other human relations only the mystical union of man and woman can recreate on a horizontal plane what was originally in Genesis created on a vertical one, the creation of a “living being.” In a very real and true way, we recreate the miracle of creation. Traditional marriage is thus “set apart’ is thereby “Corban.” Anytime a child is born it is given to us by God wherein we in turn give back to God the very gift of spiritual life, a living being.

    From Genesis to revelation the union between man and woman is interwoven like a golden thread throughout the Holy Narrative of God’s redemption of the world. The Song of Hannah, and the marriage of Ruth to Boaz who are the ancestors of David, introduce Gods plan for Israel, and indeed for the world. He works His Miracle leading to the birth of Jesus through His granting a child to Zechariah and Elizabeth. And Jesus, born of the Holy Virgin, is placed for his care in the bosom of marriage. Later, John in his Gospel sites as Jesus’ first miracle the turning of water into wine at the wedding feast of Cana. And finally, Revelation 19 proclaims the wedding feast of The Lamb which serves as a prelude to the final judgement, the coming of the new Heaven and new earth and the fruition of God’s Kingdom.

    Marriage runs through the entirety of the Bible from beginning to end as straight and true as a row of corn in Iowa stretching as far as the eye can see. Thus woven like a golden thread through scripture the institution of traditional marriage serves as a true reflection of and a “type” for Gods Plan for us all.

    His very breath resides within us. Childbirth recreates the very act of creation. Hannah’s song reflects every mother’s wish. Jesus beatitified the union between man and woman in Cana of Galilee, and the wedding feast of the Lamb ushers in the new heaven and earth where all former things will have passed away. Traditional marriage is thus a living archetype pointing at once to what was, what is and what is yet to come. It stands and must continue to stand as unique and sacred. God grants us the Holy gift of marriage and we through childbirth yield back to His creation a new spiritual life from that very union. The proper view of marriage is thereby to accept it as a sacred gift …as “Corban’, and it must in the Church, always be so preserved.

  4. Yes the Traditional Plan passed but nothing is going to happen ref those that don’t comply with book of discipline. It was a waste of 3 million dollars and a lot of people’s time. Unfortunately nothing will happen until 2020 and very doubtful then.

    • Michael Peters says

      The fact that the United Methodist Church has proven it’s vow to uphold Biblical teaching is enough “compliance”, in fact and in God’s Holy Word. The Truth of God has now been established, once and for all.

  5. Ommer Everson says

    Can GC 2020 just not find the liberal boards, agencies and other entities? How does the Judicial Council have power to overrule the General Conference? So basically that group controls everything unless a 2/3 vote changes something? No way we get to 2/3 delegates. How can we change the make up of the judicial council? What can the average lay person do to fight for our church? Many want to know

    • Jim Friesen says

      How do you win with a simple majority where the rules are manipulated to require a 2/3 majority? But Roberts Rules you make a motion to table everything. Motions requires a second however only requires a 50% plus 1 vote to kill the action instead of the 2/3 majority. We used this in the Nebraska School Board Association legislative session where the officers controlled by the big city schools were attempting to railroad one of their agenda items. The Rural School stood together and killed their action. Methodists can do the same. Also make sure the Bishops do not use the approtionment money for their agenda. After the St Louis vote it should serve as a no confidence vote for the Bishops and they should all resign effective immediately.

    • Jim Friesen says

      Regarding the 2/3 of delegates, Introduce a kill motion (by making a motion to table). Things that would require a 2/3 vote. Motion to table only requires a 50% plus 1 vote

    • Ann Steiner says

      Get involved in your annual conference and elect conservative delegates to the general conference! That will help a lot!

    • “What can the average lay person do to fight for our church?”

      I think right now we watch how this moves forward, but also be ready to act at the local church level. IF…and this is the “IF” – the Bishops and the Annual Conferences are not following the BOD and the decisions made by this GC (which won’t go into effect until Jan. 1, 2020), THEN local churches can be quite effective in persuading them to change. The local church really holds all the leverage, because the local church funds the institution, not the other way around.

      I used this example on another website, where I made this same point: It’s like in the movie “A Bug’s Life.” The ants finally realize that they have all the power – THEY are the ones who are feeding the grasshoppers, not the other way around… and they far outnumber them! Once they realize this, it turns the tables, the the grasshoppers can no longer “use” them and oppress them.

      Local churches can very effectively express themselves by withholding apportionment dollars when the conference leadership is not faithful to the Book of Discipline. When a large number of churches start doing this, the conference will have no choice but to listen to their concerns.

      The local church needs to realize that it has the power and ability to do this with the Bishop, Cabinet, and AC. Churches often worry about the leadership retaliating by “punishing” their pastor with a move, but the local church can negotiate this as well, telling the Bishop/D.S. (if there really is no compelling reason to move the pastor) that the church does not want their pastor moved. If the Bishop tries to appoint someone who is clearly not a good fit for the local church, the church can tell the Bishop they will refuse to pay the pastor’s salary.

      I realize this seems like a move by the local church to override itinerancy (or “itineracy”), and it should not become that; it should only be used if it seems clear that the Bishop/Cabinet is punishing your church (for withholding apportionments, for example). This should be done prayerfully, and with full communication ahead of time with the Bishop/D.S./conference leadership.

  6. Merrill Bender says

    Question? I thought they passed the minority report on the exit path? Was that not the constitutional version? I am hoping our traditional church can leave soon. We are tired of the fighting and name calling by Reconciling Ministries and others.

  7. Jessica Neely says

    I have seen many articles that do not show the overall vote, but instead say 2/3 of US delegates voted against it. Is there really anyway that this number can be determined. Are they subtracting the African, Russian, and Filipino votes and guessing? When there are no records of who voted what, how can this be claimed? I feel like it is misleading and continues to devalue the worth of global Methodism.

  8. The United Methodist Church Book of Discipline lists gambling as an activity that is harmful to people. In a way, the special session was a gamble with the entire church riding on the outcome. In this gamble, there was no way to win. A group of people who are passionate about their version of what Christian love looks like lobbied until an all in poker match was set in St. Louis. They only did this with the belief that their version of Christian love would end up with the winning hand. The cards were dealt and they lost on the river, or close to the river in St. Louis. Gambling on the river occurs quite often, but the stakes are not ever this high. The small time riverboat casino player is nothing compared to a group of people who made the church go all in on a game that even the winning side loses. The ones who won this gamble did not really win at all. This was a lose-lose poker game and in the end the church was always going to lose. Time will tell if the UMC loses less financially from this outcome than it would have from the other. One thing is certain though, the lawyers in the Supreme Court making same sex marriage legal nationally started our church on the path to the great gamble in St. Louis. “Woe unto the lawyers” sort of has a different meaning with this ironic twist of history. It is also a paradox of sorts that people who don’t have ancestry from England are the ones who have grown Methodism to the point that their votes can determine the future of an Anglican Church. When some people grow their ministry and others don’t, eventually the numbers play out. This is actually a rebuke of the complacency of American Methodism and it’s lack of growth. If the American church would have been growling for the last forty years, this might have turned out differently. Who is responsible for the decline in the UMC in America? Perhaps we ought to value Christ as much as our brothers and sisters overseas. Perhaps this is a lesson that will lead to greater evangelism by the UMC. In the 19th century, Methodism was a growth story, perhaps its time to revive the American Methodist Church. Growth should be the focus, it should have been all along. God will move among any people who are willing to receive him, perhaps America has become so prosperous that God has been forgotten. In other parts of the world, the daily struggles are so much greater. “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom”. Some cultures have learned to trust in riches, so they are no longer acknowledging God.

  9. B. Omotayo A. says

    Is there a traditional UMC in Newnan, Georgia? If so, kindly forward the contact email and address. Thanks

  10. Robert A Combes says

    what burns me to no end is the insistence that the TP is remiss to bringing the Truth to those who want to continue to act contrary to nature. The message is that you have sacred worth as all humans do but that your burden of attraction must not be acted upon as understood by scripture. We are to transform the world not the other way around as some would rather

  11. Wayne Speir says

    My thoughts:
    “The conference demonstrated a deeply divided church” – that is definitely true.

    When the votes are 55%/45% and 53%/47% I don’t see how you can make the following statements:
    – “the plan favored by the “establishment” was roundly rejected.” Roundly? No. Rejected? Yes.
    – “The United Methodist Church sent a clear message that we will maintain traditional biblical moral standards on marriage and human sexuality.” It sent a clear message that 55% of the church wants to maintain traditional biblical moral standards. What about the other 45%? And in the United States the votes were much closer to 33% for and 66% *against* the traditional plan.

    In terms of enhanced accountability for clergy performing same-sex weddings, I’d say the pendulum swung about as far as it could from “slap on the wrist” to “one year’s suspension without pay.” That’s not enhanced accountability – that’s highly punitive.

    And, finally, “Several statements have come out from bishops and other church leaders claiming that the direction of The United Methodist Church is somehow unclear.” and “we need to be aware that United Methodism reached an important turning point on Tuesday.” You state that the church is deeply divided, and the votes were only separated by 6-10%. You’re correct in implying that the direction is not unclear and an important turning point was reached….

    “A house divided against itself cannot stand” – Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

    • Ommer Everson says

      If you take out the Evil Clergy US Vote I bet the majority of laity delegates voted for the traditional plan. Clergy from top to almost bottom is the problem in the UMC. Liberal seminaries not teaching God’s word and then our denomination affirming these people.

    • Exactly. It is time for progressives to form a new denomination, like the traditionalists we’re planning had the one church plan passed. The traditionalists certainly were not planning to stay and start another era of defiance and disobedience. Shall our progressive brethren do the same, stop this conflict, and finally bring peace.

    • The number is misleading in that the delegates were stacked by the Bishops. UMC just did a survey and 44% of the people are conservatives. Most of the delegates were liberal. The fight is between the pews and the Bishops. The pews will win because they can always walk out. Look at the other 7 sister churches that embraced liberal theocracy. The have lost so many people in the pews and are headed towards bankruptcy.

  12. Tom, WHO refereed the Traditional Plan to the Judicial Council for a third look following final passage of the plan? Was this the COB’s? Is this what local pastors mean when they say the TP needs to be passed by the JC in April?

  13. Again. Progressives+, it is time for you to form a progressive Methodist denomination. The irreconcilable differences in the present UMC are now in full view. Do the right thing with integrity — form a new denomination ASAP, stop the resistance, and bring peace for both sides.

  14. Many persons are saying that it is due to the African delegation that the traditional plan passed. They also want to separate the different parts of the world so that the plan will pass in the US since many feel we are more progressive. My question is…if the scripture, the word of God, is timeless and true for ALL persons, how does it help to separate one country from another in the UNITED Methodist Church?

    • The Connectional Conference Plan was designed to try and accommodate regionalism or the concept of contextualization. It was soundly defeated in committed. Now, it could stiill be somewhat of a blueprint for a division down the road. Of course the Word of God is universal and cannot be contexualized to accommodate sin. As for our African brothers and sisters, they are bringing the light back to our American darkened church, if it will recognize that and praise and thank their missionary work. A number of our liberal brethren owe them a big apology and a request for their forgiveness for treating them with such contempt and racial prejudice.

      • As a note in regards to our African Bothers and Sisters, I would agree they are owed an apology. And yet what I see is many (progressives and centrists) threating to withold giving and ministry to them (overseas missions). So I would simply offer if any churches or individuals who are able to give, please consider giving to overseas UM ministries directly (like Africa and Eastern Europe). So as to combate any retribution that will take place because of their votes (for the traditional plan, and against the One church plan).

  15. John Bumgarner says

    I am truly concerned about an increase in marriages and ordinations prior to the 2020 GC. There will be plenty of testing of the waters on the Discipline as it stands and it’s enforcement. To me this will cause a greater division of the denomination. I believe the truth of the scriptures and believe that; where the inspiration of the word speaks we must speak the truth as well. Thank you Good News for your traditional stance.

  16. Gary Bebop says

    The bottom line is we are a global church. If we want to stay global, we will accept more African (and other) participation in governance. I have been reading through the slush pile of reactions to GC2019. It’s clear that Progressive elites read the wrong numbers: they believed the domination of their (mostly white) voices in the U.S. signaled the advent of a moral revolution in lockstep with trending American culture. Now the unfathomable has happened: the global church has asserted itself, without apology. Thanks be to God.

    • Amen. And now these American progressives need to get on with the business of establishing a U.S. progressive denomination so that they can bring their moral revolution to conclusion unimpeded by this global menace.

  17. I would like to take a little different path in the conversation. For more than two years thousands of United Methodists around the world have prayed that the Lord would lead the Church at this Special General Conference. An entire day of the Conference was spent in prayer and at numerous times the Conference stopped for prayer. Come Holy Spirit come we prayed. Lead us Lord we invoked. And so it was; the Holy Spirit led the Church to reaffirm the scriptures and historic teachings of the Church. So, why all the consternation on the part of some? We say, we believe in prayer. We believe that God answers prayer. We believe we discern God’s direction and will through prayer. So, I want to ask this question. If the whole UMC was in prayer, and if God hears our prayers, and if God answers prayer, why are so many acting as though God has not spoken to the Church? And if God has spoken, why are some among us rejecting what God has said? This would seem to me to be blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Just saying.

  18. Any chance that we will see Part 2 soon?

    • John Loper says

      Any chance we we will see just exactly how all of this new “accountability” that everyone is so hyped about will actually be manifested? Power only yields to a greater power. If there are no “teeth” there will be no change, and all of the hand wringing in St. Louis will come to be nothing.

  19. Patricia Cardin says

    The United Methodist Church made a decision to reach out to homosexual people because at the time, it was a group that was marginalized. The decision was to accept each person as an individual of sacred worth to God. A contingent of those who came into our midst did not return the extension of acceptance. They despised our values, while insisting that we accept theirs. The contingent insisted on approval of their lifestyle and values, and for fifty years fought to obtain this through force. For years, the contingent held the denomination hostage by hijacking otherwise peaceful conferences with angry protests. In effect, we were paralyzed. This is what the denomination rejected, the idea that we must all believe the same thing, and that we no longer have freedom of conscience. What was rejected was not, as many are saying, the idea that everyone is a person of sacred worth, made in the image of God.

  20. When a church has to debate homosexuality, the time for debate is long past. The fact that those in UMC leadership don’t care what the Holy Bible says on the matter is bad enough. The fact that a church actually votes on such a matter is a sign of how far down the death spiral the UMC is. John Wesley himself, were he to come back, would not recognize the UMC as having anything to do with what he helped create and he would not be welcome. As someone who has always considered himself a Methodist in the old sense of the term (go back 100+ years to the time of the “Shouting Methodists”), I find it sad that anyone would try to rescue the trainwreck that the UMC is. It is time to write Ichabod (The Glory is Departed) over the door and start afresh.

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