By Thomas Lambrecht –
In November, the Judicial Council declared portions of the Traditional Plan unconstitutional. Since that time, a team has been working on revisions to the Traditional Plan to bring it into compliance with Judicial Council Decision 1366. Any of the Traditional Plan petitions that are not mentioned below can be adopted without change.
For those of you who like to delve into all the details, here are the proposed revisions to the Traditional Plan. We are also proposing revisions to the Modified Traditional Plan petitions (two petitions submitted by Maxie Dunnam to augment the Traditional Plan) to bring them into compliance with JCD 1366.
The Renewal and Reform Coalition can support any one of three petitions on Disaffiliation (Boyette, Ottjes, or Taylor). The latter two also need revisions in order to make them compliant with the exit path ideas put forward by the Commission on a Way Forward and the Traditional Plan. The linked document contains margin notes that explain the reason behind each of the recommended revisions.
The proposed revisions have been endorsed by the Rev. Jessica LaGrone, Mrs. Patricia Miller, and myself, who were all endorsers of the original Traditional Plan as members of the Commission on a Way Forward. The revisions are also endorsed by the Renewal and Reform Coalition. You can find more information about the coalition and our perspective on the various plans at methodistcrossroads.org.
The Judicial Council declared unconstitutional the proposal that the Council of Bishops hold its members accountable through a process that could result in an involuntary leave of absence or involuntary retirement. We do not see a way of salvaging this proposal. Therefore, we ask that petitions #2-4 of the Traditional Plan not be considered.
Instead, we propose that Petition 90078 (p. 211) – Modified Traditional Plan Global Episcopacy Committee submitted by Maxie Dunnam – be substituted in place of the original accountability proposal. This petition creates a Global Episcopacy Committee to administer the complaint process, in place of the current jurisdictional college of bishops. We have proposed revisions in Dunnam’s petition to clarify some matters that were raised as questions. We have also deleted provisions that were declared unconstitutional.
Board of Ordained Ministry Membership/Responsibilities
Petition #5 of the Traditional Plan needed to have the word “practicing” inserted, to clarify that we are talking about self-avowed practicing homosexuals in terms of ordination. The word was inadvertently left out in the original version.
Petition #6-9 were revised to broaden the responsibility for upholding the entire Discipline, including all the qualifications of ordination and all applicable disciplinary standards (JCD 1366). Revisions also indicate who is to “certify” to whom that these provisions are being observed.
Traditional Plan Implementation
Petition #10 is the implementation of the Traditional Plan. We propose to substitute Petition #90079 (p. 212) – Modified Traditional Plan Implementation Process submitted by Maxie Dunnam – to replace petition #10. It is nearly identical to petition #10, with the following additions:
- The Global Episcopacy Committee becomes responsible for investigating complaints against annual conferences for not upholding the Discipline and would administer complaints against bishops for not upholding the Discipline or committing chargeable offenses related to homosexuality.
- Bishops who cannot affirm their willingness to uphold and enforce the Discipline would not receive money from the general church for expenses (travel, office, and housing).
- Annual conferences that choose to withdraw from The United Methodist Church would receive a one-time grant of $200,000 to help defray transitional expenses.
- Technical language is added insuring that the plan takes effect upon adjournment of General Conference, rather than January 1, 2020.
This Modified Traditional Plan petition has been revised in light of JCD 1366 to broaden the requirement of upholding the Discipline to include the whole Discipline, with special emphasis on provisions related to qualifications for ordination, unauthorized conduct, responsibilities of the Council on Finance and Administration, and chargeable offenses. The revisions clarify that annual conferences or bishops that declare unwillingness to uphold the Discipline are not thereby given the right to negate, ignore, or violate the Discipline. The Council of Bishops accountability process is removed as being unconstitutional. Clergy are reminded of their accountability to the whole Discipline and withdrawal is allowed, but not “encouraged” (again, to address JCD 1366). The process for local churches to withdraw (transfer) from the UM Church to a self-governing Methodist church is revised in light of ¶ 41, which requires a 2/3 vote by both the charge conference and the church conference, as well as a 2/3 vote by the annual conference. Revisions correct the effective date of withdrawal in light of ¶ 41 and specify the annual conference trustees as the body to deal with withdrawing congregations, rather than the bishop. All of these revisions then would make this petition constitutional under JCD 1366.
Petition #14 is revised to state that all just resolutions for clergy shall include a renewed commitment by the respondent to adhere to the Book of Discipline in its entirety, including the provisions that were the subject of the complaint. This brings the petition into compliance with JCD 1366.
Church Right of Appeal
The Judicial Council did not declare petition #16 unconstitutional, but they raised some questions about it. Proposed revisions would define “egregious errors of Church law or administration” that would justify a church appeal. Revisions also clarify that such an appeal does not constitute double jeopardy (since egregious error invalidated the original trial). We anticipate these revisions would answer the concerns of the Judicial Council.
For a more thorough evaluation of the need for an exit path, please see my previous blog. The Renewal and Reform Coalition believes a standardized exit path for congregations should be available, regardless of which plan (or no plan) is passed by General Conference. We encourage the Conference to take up an exit path first, to alleviate anxiety and avoid the exit path being unfairly influenced by whichever plan is adopted. The exit path/transfer provisions in the Modified Traditional Plan (see above) are rendered a bit problematic by Judicial Council 1366, in that they would now require a 2/3 vote by the annual conference. We believe the annual conference should not be able to block a local church from withdrawing from the denomination. The solution, then, is to pass in addition one of the exit plans discussed here.
All three exit plans supported by the Renewal and Reform Coalition allow individual local churches to withdraw from The United Methodist Church in a way that allows them to keep their property and assets, as well as liabilities. None of them dictates that a local church must join a new denomination, since that is what would cause problems with Judicial Council 1366. However, most congregations departing the UM Church would want to form part of a new connection.
The Boyette disaffiliation petition (Petition #90059, p. 201) is acceptable to the Renewal and Reform Coalition as it stands. It requires a 2/3 vote by the charge conference OR a 55 percent majority vote by the church conference, but no vote by the annual conference in order to withdraw. It stipulates that unfunded pension liabilities must be paid, but requires no other payment. This proposal uses general church unrestricted reserves to offset pension liabilities, reducing the amount a local church might pay. If that provision is objectionable, it can be removed by an amendment.
The Ottjes disaffiliation petition (Petition #90058, p. 201) is also acceptable to the Coalition. It has the advantage that a legislative committee already adopted it in 2016 before it was referred to the Commission on a Way Forward process. Under this plan, local church withdrawal could happen with a 2/3 vote of the church conference, but no vote by the annual conference. This proposal needs amendments to include payment of unfunded pension liabilities. Revisions also include technical language to clarify implementation and insure that the legislation would take effect at the close of General Conference.
The Taylor disaffiliation petition (Petition #90066, p. 205) is acceptable to the Coalition with revisions. It mandates a ¶ 213 review of the church’s ministry and projected viability, which would add months to the disaffiliation process and give persons outside the congregation a decisive voice in that congregation’s future, which the Coalition disagrees with. It gives the annual conference the ability to require additional conditions and/or other payments from the disaffiliating church, which defeats the purpose of having a standard exit path and creates the possibility of an annual conference insisting on unacceptable payments. In addition to a 2/3 vote by the church conference and the payment of unfunded pension liabilities, this proposal requires the local church to be current on paying its previous 12 months of apportionments and pay an additional 12 months. Adding all these payments puts the local church at risk of not being able to thrive in its ongoing ministry and could jeopardize its viability. Technical revisions are required, as well, to bring the proposal into compliance with JCD 1366 and clarify implementation. With these revisions, the Coalition could support the Taylor proposal. However, it might be simpler to adopt the revised Ottjes proposal or the Boyette proposal.
Our team believes that the proposed revisions bring all of the petitions into compliance with Judicial Council Decision 1366. We encourage continued prayer for the delegates and the decisions of the General Conference. We look forward to a prayerful, positive General Conference that will determine the future direction of our church and allow us to move forward in vital mission and ministry.
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.