Traditionalists Secure General Conference Majority

General Conference 2020 will take place at the Minneapolis Convention Center. Photo courtesy of Meet Minneapolis.

By Tom Lambrecht –

With nearly all the annual conferences in the U.S. having voted, it appears that a sufficient number of traditional-minded delegates have been elected to assure a narrow but clear traditionalist majority at the 2020 General Conference in Minneapolis. These delegates will be able to prevent the overturning of parts of the Traditional Plan that were enacted in St. Louis, will seek to enact revised versions of the parts of the Traditional Plan that were not enacted or ruled unconstitutional, and will press forward with other reforms to position The United Methodist Church as a more vital church capable of fruitful and growing ministry in this 21st century.

One of the goals of caucus groups such as Uniting Methodists, Mainstream UMC, UMC Next, and other moderate and progressive groups was to elect enough moderate and progressive delegates to the 2020 General Conference to reverse the decisions made in St. Louis to begin implementing the Traditional Plan. At this point in the annual conference election cycle, our analysis concludes they have failed to achieve that goal.

Enough U.S. traditionalist delegates have been elected that, together with conservative delegates from Africa, the Philippines, and Eastern Europe, the traditional position should have the majority in Minneapolis. Four of the 55 annual conferences have yet to finish their meetings. Two of them (Virginia and Western North Carolina) have the potential to elect additional conservative delegates. At this point, 432 of the 482 U.S. delegates to General Conference have been elected.

Some annual conferences gained traditionalist delegates, while others lost traditionalists. At this point, the traditionalist delegate count is down 15 percent from the St. Louis General Conference. That still leaves enough traditionalist U.S. delegates to assure a majority. This calculation is based on the reporting of reliable analysts in each annual conference. It also takes into account the possibility of up to 10 percent of the central conference delegates being unable to participate due to inability to obtain a visa. Should all the central conference delegates be able to attend General Conference, the traditionalist margin would be even larger.

Both sides of the debate organized to promote like-minded candidates for election as delegates. Lists of candidates were recommended and shared via email, text, message group, and old-fashioned paper. People on both sides solicited support via phone calls, emails, and personal conversations. The unprecedented level of organization fostered a much more overtly political flavor to the elections. What in the past had been mostly hidden in behind-the-scenes maneuvering became publicly transparent, as groups worked to get their candidates elected.

It became clear in the elections that most moderate clergy voted with the progressives and against the Traditional Plan approach to the definition of marriage and sexuality. As noted in a previous Perspective, all of the loss of traditionalist delegates fell on the clergy side.

We have heard anecdotally that a substantial number of the delegates elected were not part of the 2016-2019 delegation. If true, this shift may bring a number of inexperienced delegates into the process. If it results in fresh ideas and new resolve to end the conflict in our church, it could provide momentum toward a resolution. However, it is also possible that inexperience could handicap the delegates’ ability to accomplish what they want. Future analysis should give us greater insight into this dynamic.

Another lesson from the elections is that our “winner-take-all” system of democracy does not give adequate representation to minority viewpoints. If the majority vote together as a block, they can elect 100 percent of the delegates, even if as many as 49 percent of the annual conference holds a different view. Fully one-half of the annual conferences that have voted elected a delegation that is either all-traditional or all-progressive/moderate. Since most of these one-sided conferences elected a progressive/moderate slate, it means that many evangelicals will not be represented at General Conference. In the same way, the annual conferences voting an all-traditionalist slate will leave moderates and progressives in those few annual conferences unrepresented. One wonders if a more proportional representation from the annual conferences (similar to the parliamentary system of government) might have led to even greater evangelical representation.

While there are sometimes benefits to a “winner-take-all” system in terms of helping the body reach a clearer decision, it comes at the expense of leaving groups of people unrepresented. The end result is probably a more polarized delegation and one less inclined to compromise in general. One hopes that the 2020 delegation will be willing to compromise on non-essential issues in order to reach a definitive solution to our conflict.

Now that the election results are becoming clear, it seems apparent that U.S. moderates and progressives will be unable to reverse the decision by the global United Methodist Church in St. Louis to maintain the biblical definition of marriage as one man and one woman, continue to prohibit same-sex weddings, and increase accountability to the covenant freely promised by all of our church’s clergy. That fact should give pause to those unwilling to live by that decision. Rather than continue a fruitless battle, delegates from all perspectives should coalesce around a negotiated plan that will provide space between the groups and multiply the options for Wesleyan Methodist ministry. Such an approach is the healthiest and most Christ-like way forward for our church.

Thomas Lambrecht is a United Methodist clergyperson and the vice president of Good News. 

Comments

  1. J. Jackson says

    I think our denomination is already too tarnished and has done too much irresponsible damage to our name that it’s a losing game. Too many already associate our name with the negativity of arguing amongst ourselves and people calling us “unloving and unaccepting”. Those names we’re being called are simply untrue and very singleminded. I truly believe that moving forward is what our denomination needs to do separately. We clearly don’t all have the same book of discipline we’re following, which in essence makes us not United at all.

  2. At a council meeting yesterday I was shocked at how many of my members are following this. They don’t want to commit to anything except building repairs for the next year until they see what happens. Can’t say as I blame them. The laity are much more engaged in this than many of us realize and they are watching to see what happens. I don’t the laity in NC and Va, many of whom are traditionalists are thrilled about their progressive delegations. They are excited about their wins, but they may not be excited about the number of people that will leave their churches. The Baptists will be though! The reality is that half of the GC votes belong to clergy, the overwhelming majority of which are elders. Only the LP’s that have finished course of study can vote and most haven’t. Generally they are part-timers and older and 8-10 years to finish is not uncommon. Therefore half the vote is basically controlled by elders of larger, urban churches, while the many (possibly a majority) of country churches with LP’s don’t get a clergy vote at AC or for GC delegates. The votes for the traditional side would sky rocket if LP’s had the same delegate voting rights as elders, but the majority of elders will fight that one tooth and nail.

    • Taxation without representation. Sounds familiar. Seems an American war was fought in the later 1700s over such things. These conferences sure gobble up the apportionments of the disenfranchised and spend them freely without blinking an eye. And the liberals there often join in the civic argument of disenfranchisement under the label of social justice. Obviously, ALL clergy should have a vote. In my conference in the Southeast Jurisdiction, a wide chasm has emerged between clergy, controlled by the metro demographic, and laity. The laity gained four traditional delegates while the clergy lost three.

      The final outcome? Obviously a separation is desperately needed. Even if Traditionalists upgrade the Traditional Plan in 2020, liberals never accept outcomes with which they disagree. The ball is squarely in the liberal court. What’s their next play now? If they choose to not negotiate a separation, then it becomes unquestionably clear that they’re out for revenge and destruction. If that becomes the case, will General Conference have any choice but to begin the process of expulsion?

      • Charles Armour says

        As an Elder who has served for 44 years in various types of ministry including the parish, specialized pastoral care, and has taught Biblical Studies for 20 years, I most strongly disagree that all clergy should vote. I have in my long career come to the conclusion that clergy in fact should have no vote at all. Ministers are called to preach and teach the Gospel and to offer counsel and comfort to struggling souls. The modern institutional church has allowed and even encouraged clergy to become transformed into CEOs of complex religious organizations. I do not believe such is the vision of The Church that either Jesus, the Apostles or the Early Church Fathers had in mind.

        I remember the old nursery rhyme mothers used to tell their children with their fingers; “Here is the church, look at the steeple, open the doors and see all the people.” Jesus noted that where two or three people are gathered in His name that is the church. Most clergy have forgotten that simple truth uttered so many years ago by our Lord. The church needs a revolution by the laity. Once upon a time all Protestants believed in the priesthood of all true believers. Sadly that belief is now all but gone.

        Medical doctors care for patients and are highly trained to do so. They do not run the hospitals. Indeed, to do so would be a clear conflict of interest. Clergy preach, teach and counsel and are highly trained so to do. They should thereby remain “physicians of the soul” and like their secular counterparts who offer care for the physically ill, they should not run The Church.

        • Priscilla Perry says

          This is a great idea. Removing the clergy’s vote would certainly help to solve our dilemma.
          One of our problems is activist clergy who mislead people into the UMC by telling them it is OK to join the UMC by saying they believe what is in the UMC Discipline when it is NOT what they believe. Honesty is as important as Hospitality. The UMC is what it is. If you want to join us, then believe what is in our Discipline or find another Denomination.

        • Charles, I couldn’t agree with you more. Professional leadership is the death knell of any organization. We all get to big for our britches and become pharisees if we are not very careful. I still recall the head of my licensing school saying constantly “we elders in full connection are an egalitarian bunch”. I wonder if he ever read the “seven woes”.

      • “Obviously, ALL clergy should have a vote.”

        Not obvious, actually.

        Sell me on the idea. I’m listening.

  3. Laurie McNeece says

    “… Rather than continue a fruitless battle, delegates from all perspectives should coalesce around a negotiated plan that will provide space between the groups and multiply the options for Wesleyan Methodist ministry. Such an approach is the healthiest and most Christ-like way forward for our church.” Yeah, we had that already. A plan that would allow churches to do ministry in the context of their specific fields of mission, while not asking any churches or clergy to violate their conscience in the context of their own ministry. It was called the One Church Plan, remember? Y’all had to go the winner-take-all route, and now it seems to be backfiring as centrists and moderates are joining the progressives in large numbers.

    • The one church plan was nothing more than clergy wanting to keep power and control. If your argument is actually about keeping everyone under the UMC umbrella, the connectional plan is what was best. That being said, us normal “laity” really don’t trust most of the leadership anymore.

  4. John Bryan says

    WNC elected all progressive delegates.

    Virginia elected its delegates and published the names. Any analysis on the Va delegation?

    • You mean even ALL the laity delegates in the WNC Conference are liberals? All twenty total delegates are liberals?

    • I did a quick compare of the VA delegates vs the VA WCA voting guide, and didn’t see a single match. That would imply that they also elected all progessive/centrist delegates. Feel free to check my work:

      https://www.vaumc.org/AC2019
      http://vawca.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/Voting-Instructions-for-2020-General-Conference-Delegates6-20-19-2.pdf

      • Reynolds says

        You are correct both states voted all liberal even though the people in the pews would not agree. They did a better job of organizing their side. It will be wasted time at GC2020. Even if they try to leave, they have to get the people in the pews to vote their way which will not happen. The question is will the ministers leave or keep their day job

        • When your allies out-organize the opponents and sweep the delegation it’s smart maneuvering, and perhaps even an expression of God’s will. When the tables turn, it’s poor representation. “The people in the pews” of NC are monolithically pro-traditional plan and yet they can’t elect a single delegate to agree with them? Come on.

      • Norman Ramsey says

        The progressives prepared “the list” and were extremely well organized prior to conference in Virginia. So much so that clergy delegates: the election of 11 General Conference delegates, 11 jurisdictional conference, plus ten delegates took only four ballots to elect if you don’t count glitches in our voting devices.

  5. Jim Wolfgang says

    I see this as good news: I can breathe a little easier waiting for the 2020 General Conference. It might help our Central Conference delegates attend the meeting if we support the W.C.A. fund designated for their ministries, they probably are seeing a reduction of apportionment sharing from “progressive?” churches. It would help greatly if our bishops would enforce the Discipline both in their annual conferences and their peers in the Council of Bishops. If they would a lot of this nonsense of the clergy from local pastors through the bishops would stop. Bring charges against them if they are out of line, get it out in the open where it must be dealt with, anyone can do so.

  6. Lot is lay delegates are liberal because they in fact aren’t real laity. They are pastors spouses, employees and spouses of boards, agencies and colleges.

  7. Charles Armour says

    Sadly a current tiny majority at General Conference may be of no avail. Several American Bishops have already gone to Africa and other places to lobby delegates to support the Progressive agenda. If only a few change it may well shift the balance. But even if a slim majority holds, Progressives will have established complete control of the Jurisdictional Conference which elects Bishops, all the national church boards and agencies, the Board of Bishops, and most of the seminaries. Traditionalists are thereby essentially surrounded. All one has to do is read the many articles posted daily on “United Methodist Insight”. They are already making big plans and assume they have all but won.

    • Gregory Charles Myers says

      Where did you get this information? How valid is it? Can you name who these Bishops are? Like many things that are written about this issue – both positions say things that are just not true. I would like some verification of the statements written here.

      • Charles Armour says

        See articles about and interviews from various global delegates The most recent one in particular is from Philippine lay leaders (June 19, 2019) “Juicy Ecumenism”. See various comments from Dr. Kulah and others from Africa.

  8. I’m so sick of this back and forth about who has the most votes. At this point I don’t think it makes a bit of difference if the Traditionalist position on marriage and ordination prevails, as most American Methodist clergy and an overwhelming majority of Bishops and certain jurisdictions have absolutely no intention of following General Conference, and under the current rules, General Conference has no legitimate means of enforcing the BOD. The UMC has become a corrupt shell at the denomination level and is no longer, in my opinion, salvageable. Let the people who call themselves Methodists or Wesleyans go their separate ways and engage in ministry as they understand God’s will. Just quit wasting time trying to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. If a negotiated settlement on division can not be reached by GC 2020, laity on both sides of the spectrum are fools for remaining and supporting what’s left of the UMC with their time, gifts and presence. It’s time for the Good News folks and the WCA to move forward on starting something new before a sizable chunk of laity give up on them being able to lead us forward. Action, not words and fruitless politicking are now needed.

  9. And while traditionalists are secure at GC the progressive delegates at jurisdictional conferences will be electing progressive bishops who will be driving traditional pastors and members out of the annual conferences. I am not seeing anything but more squabbling. And that pension obligation problem will prevent churches from exiting. It will not prevent people from leaving so put that in the arithmetic and see what we get.

    • The chasm between laity and clergy doesn’t seem to mathematically favor the clergy when it comes to looking at who underwriters the church. The growing contempt of the bureaucracy towards the laity reminds of the goose that laid the golden eggs and its demise.

  10. Until Christ returns, there will ALWAYS be one more vote to take, one more cause to lobby for/against or one more battle to fight. The primary outcome of the GC2019 was to draw and define the skirmish lines of the coming battle. The coming war in the UMC is not over gay inclusion in the church; rather, the main battle that has been set in place for 50+ years is liberal, society-capitulate church hierarchy versus conservative, scripturally grounded laity. The visible battles will occur in GC’s, annual conferences and church media, but the blood, sweat and tear conflicts will be waged in local church administrative board meetings. Laity will be ridiculed and vilified by the church hierarchy, as they piously invoke their more holy vision and understanding of God’s true intentions for the church. After a continued time of debate, accusation and UMC defections, the end game will become clear…stay in a church with whom you hold little to no similarity of belief or conviction, in order to hold title to the property or maintain your belief in the truth of God’s Word and Wesleyan theology, by incorporating with other disaffected congregations under a new Methodist banner.

  11. Matt Musson says

    I have been embarrassed by Liberal Members of the UMC bad mouthing the African and South American members. The implication is that they are “not real members” and do not have any right telling “real Methodists” what to do.

    Here is a suggestion: If you want to be inclusive, you should listen to what your Black and Brown members say.

    • They have been trying to disenfranchise the Africans for years now while yelling to the rooftops about the racism of others. Now they want to cut the American money off going to the Central Conferences while yelling even louder about the hate, bigotry, and racism of others.

      Let nothing stand in the way of their idol, the LGBT movement.

  12. Is there a Christian denomination in the U.S.A. that adheres to a Traditionalist understanding that Church marriage is between one man and one woman and that does not permit the ordination of those who are not either celibate or who are in monogamist marriage of a man and a woman but which allows for women and people of color in leadership positions, including as ordained ministers if they so qualify? Please let me know because that denomination is no longer the UMC.

  13. Thank you Traditionalist laity for speaking your mind and standing firmly for the truth of the Bible. Our preachers are so liberal because our seminaries are liberal and they become corrupted there. I know because I went to a liberal seminary and literally wept at what was being taught. I ended up in a liberal conference with very few conservative clergy. I am sorry for all the hurt you precious laity have suffered over the disobedience of your leadership. Please don’t give up as our hope is God will open up a better way for the UMC. Maybe even changing our name as it has been greatly damaged as you say. Please pray that God direct us all what to do at the 2020 Conference. From these comments it sounds like you have some excellent ideas. This is from a sister in the Lord who also has suffered by the corruption she has seen and felt from many clergy.

  14. Matt Templeton says

    Do your research. Toms own conference voted a 100%progressive delegates
    https://mainstreamumc.com/blog/76-of-us-annual-conferences-reject-traditional-plan/

    • When I read that I cracked up at the laity is not conservative. Even the UMC news service has done surveys showing in fact they are. I would love to get a list of lay delegates and see how many are not clergy spouses or significant others of clergy, or are not affiliated (employee, spouse or child) with a UMC Board, agency, college or seminary. I bet you would see that the so called laity is our own “Deep State”

    • A Retired U.M. Pastor says

      Matt, Yes, that seems true, as you observe. But I believe what is becoming apparent to observers is that the delegates attending the Annual Conferences who are the most politically organized end up getting their choice of General Conference delegate elected. The ordained pastors may be predominately “progressive-oriented”, but they also know each other, meet often throughout the year, and are experienced in voting procedures. The laity are often new and don’t know many delegates, don’t know the strategies, and are highly influenced by their pastors. The laity are also less likely to attend an Annual Conference (Clergy are required), and because clergy have down-played the issues for far too long, the average congregant is under-informed. Laity generally have held to the belief that the local church is distant from the workings of the Annual Conference. The explosion of distrust towards the leadership of the U.M.C. is the result of waking up to the fact that the leadership has been dishonest. We have not lived by the covenant of behavior and belief that United Methodists ascribe to. Now it is coming home to haunt us. The one unknown factor that plagues the strategy politics of our present day voluntary association organization is: “Do the laity, who in essence make up the vast majority of the U.M.C., love their buildings so much they will forgo issues of personal belief? In short, will they vote with their feet, when their voice has not been heard? General Conference has only 800+ delegates; but between now and the next Conference it is my guess that every WEEK more than a THOUSAND laity in the United States will cast a vote of their own – by walking out. Time alone will verify my guesstimate, not the published statistics that come from our annual reporting. Let’s admit it; the quality of Christianity we are now offering has slipped way below the tolerance level of what our intelligent, trusting souls should be expecting of us. And as Rev. Tom Lambrecht is suggesting, Leadership has no viable organization if no-one is willing to follow.

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