by Chris Ritter
The Six-Jurisdiction Solution has been significantly updated through helpful feedback from voices across the denomination. I wish to especially thank Bishop Scott Jones of the Great Plains Conference and General Secretary Barbara Boigegrain of the General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits for their suggestions. While neither Bishop Jones nor Secretary Boigegrain is endorsing the plan or responsible for its content, their suggestions were extremely helpful in refining the language and bringing the legislation to its current form. I accept full responsibility for any remaining flaws and assume these leaders would provide assistance in perfecting any serious proposal concerning the future of the UMC.
The legislation creates a sixth jurisdiction in The United Methodist Church to completely overlap the five geographic jurisdictions. This Progressive Jurisdiction (PJ) would have the authority to adapt the church’s teachings on human sexuality, including those concerning same-sex marriage and the ordination of practicing homosexuals. General Conference delegates from the PJ would be limited from voting on general church matters that are not binding upon them. While remaining part of the UMC, they would have their own distinctive logo and would be responsible for fully funding their own programs. Bishops elected by the PJ would have to meet the same requirements as other United Methodist bishops. The PJ would have customized representation on general church agencies.
The full legislation can be viewed in PDF format here: Progressive Jurisdiction Legislation 2.2
After passage and ratification of the legislation, U.S. annual conferences would have the opportunity to join the Progressive Jurisdiction by simple majority vote. Local churches and clergy who could not live with the jurisdictional direction of their annual conference would have a period of time in which to indicate their desire to be placed in a new annual conference. If all the conferences in a jurisdiction choose to join the PJ, the dissenting congregations and clergy of that jurisdiction would be either formed into or absorbed by annual conferences of adjacent jurisdictions in a process developed by the council of bishops.
QUESTIONS AND RESPONSES
Will this solve all our problems?
No single plan will solve all our problems as a denomination. This plan aims at addressing the deep divisions that exist in our church about how to apply scripture to ministry, especially related to marriage and human sexuality. It allows some to pursue a different path without changing our official denominational stances or forcing Traditionalists to compromise their convictions. The goal of this plan is amicable unity through strategic compartmentalization of our most divisive issues. I believe it may help to neutralize our distrust and enable us to work more productively on substantive issues of mission and ministry.
Is this a “Central Jurisdiction for Gays”?
No. The old Central Jurisdiction was something that existed from 1939-1968 as a means of racial segregation. This is a jurisdiction for annual conferences who wish to pursue the ministry implications of a progressive view of marriage and human sexuality. There will continue to be homosexuals and same-sex attracted members in all six of the jurisdictions. The style of ministry will be different in the Progressive Jurisdiction.
Why should Traditionalists go along with granting greater liberty to Progressives who are breaking the rules we currently have in place?
The six jurisdiction plan makes most sense when paired with accountability measures that repair the damage done to our existing covenant. Traditionalists will want to make sure that those remaining in the geographic jurisdictions will be held accountable to our covenant.
How long would this plan take to implement?
Legislation would be passed at General Conference in May 2016 followed by an expedited plan for ratification of the constitutional measures (by the end of 2017). Annual conferences would select a jurisdictional affiliation in 2018 and churches and clergy would have until the end of 2018 to dissent and indicate their desire to enter a conference of another jurisdiction. The new jurisdictions would be organized in early 2019. Clergy of annual conferences of the Progressive Jurisdiction could be authorized to perform same-sex weddings in mid-2019. There would be some remapping work to be done for the remaining jurisdictions at General Conference 2020. Although far from a “quick fix” this plan is far preferable to reaching General Conference 2020 with the same dysfunctions we are currently experiencing.
Is there a local church vote?
Only those churches who cannot live with the jurisdictional direction of their annual conference would be subjected to a church conference vote. The vote would not be about homosexuality directly but about which jurisdiction best fits their ministry aims. Those voting to leave their annual conference would be placed in a new conference by the jurisdiction receiving them.
Has the two-jurisdiction solution been abandoned?
No. The two jurisdiction plan, which replaces the five geographic jurisdictions with two new ones based on ideology, is still on the table. It remains the favorite of many United Methodists from across the theological spectrum. This legislation can be viewed by PDF here: JS Legislation v. 4.1 The two-jurisdiction plan faces the political hurdle of requiring the existing jurisdictions to vote themselves out of existence. It also faces the criticism of dividing the church into two camps. It is, however, egalitarian and seeks to be fair to all. You are invited to compare the two plans, along with other proposals for the future of the UMC.