by Chris Ritter
My preference is that General Conference 2019 passes a workable “Option Three” Multi-branch Solution for United Methodist divisions over biblical authority and human sexuality. I hope this solution makes space between incompatible ideologies without creating winners and losers. I hope it requires no violations of conscience and keeps us all somehow connected. I hope it is something we can overwhelmingly affirm and that it gives rise to a New Connectionalism that is a worthy heir of our historic Methodist connection. I have written my own proposal to this end, but it also behooves us to talk about the Commission’s “Option One” which places “a high value on accountability.”
People often ask my ideas for the Option One paradigm. In some ways, this is the default way forward. It is what we have done every four years since the 1970’s. General Conference 2016 was set to pass a whole new raft of accountability proposals coming out of the first week of discernment in legislative committees. I have little doubt they would have passed. The obvious majority support for these legislative items among delegates sent others scrambling for an alternative. A legislative “hail Mary pass” tabled multiple human sexuality petitions and created The Commission. Barring any good ideas coming from The Commission, General Conference will just pick up where it left off. For many, Option One is the only way forward with integrity.
The accountability agenda of 2016 was an inadequate patchwork of reforms aimed at tightening up loopholes in judicial processes for clergy charged with violating the Discipline. The inherent weakness was that these measures’ continued dependence upon the good faith of the bishops to enforce the rules governing clergy in the UMC. If we thought that a realistic possibility across the board, we are now disabused of that notion. These legislative measures also had to tiptoe through a constitutional minefield of due process protections for clergy and restrictive rules protecting the superintending role of bishops.
But the situation has changed significantly over the past two years. Entire conferences have officially voted their dissent to our Book of Discipline. Bishop Oliveto is in office awaiting the Judicial Council mandated processing of her status. Disobedience is now flagrant and this makes accountability, in some ways, much simpler. New concepts for accountability create a strong Option One should GC2019 seek to exercise it.
If I had to write the best proposal for Option One, here are the ideas I would explore:
Annual Conference Accountability
The police officer of the United Methodist brand is the General Council on Finance and Administration (GCFA). They regularly receive reports of abuses to our name and insignia, investigate these, and send “cease and desist” notices threatening legal action. The Council is also the technical employer of our bishops. GCFA is directly accountable to General Conference and must follow its directives. For instance, they are charged with making sure that no church funds are used to promote homosexuality.
One accountability idea would be to mandate GCFA to receive and process reports of annual conferences that are not in compliance with the ministry standards of the UMC. This would build on their responsibility for maintaining the UMC “brand.”
- The Council would be instructed to send a notice of any reported non-compliance to the chair of the Board of Ordained Ministry, the group that certifies to the Clergy Session each year that all the clergy are in good standing and blameless in their life and conduct. The BOOM chair of the conference in question would have ninety days to respond to the report.
- Unless that conference is found to be making sustained and credible efforts at living according to the Book of Discipline and cooperating with GCFA inquiries, they would be barred from using the United Methodist name and insignia as a conference. They would also be placed under financial quarantine by GCFA, meaning that they could neither receive funds from or send funds to the general church.
- Upon request, the conference would have one year to draft and implement a plan of correction. If sustained and credible measures toward compliance to the Book of Discipline are not implemented during this time, the ban on using the UMC name and insignia would be extended to the congregations of the conference, unless they individually vote to remain part of the UMC. I am not sure General Conference can “kick conferences out” of the UMC, but we could quarantine them and deny them usage of our name. In practical effect, the conference would no longer be part of the United Methodist connection. GCFA would send letters to the congregations of the conference informing them of their options.
- An exit ramp for quarantined conferences would need to be approved. I recommend the affiliated autonomous status currently used overseas.
- The Jurisdictional Conference would convene to redraw the map of its annual conferences to cover the territory ceded by the exited annual conference. Congregations voting to stay in the UMC would be placed in the UM conference assigned by the jurisdictional conference to cover their location. The exited conference would keep its property and would be free to seek their own relationship with Wespath, UMCOR, and other entities with which they may desire to affiliate.
I believe it would be a game-changer if we made the Board of Ordained Ministry accountable for keeping their conference fully United Methodist.
All United Methodist bishops would be required to sign a pre-defined, extremely specific statement annually expressing their commitment to teaching, supporting, and upholding the ministry standards of the Book of Discipline. Those failing to do so would receive no salary from GCFA that year.
Just Resolution Reform
Bishops are currently empowered to dispose of complaints against clergy under the terms of a just resolution agreement. Because consent of the one filing the complaint is not required, this power has been used to shield clergy from accountability. General Conference could clarify that the purpose of a Just Resolution is to restore adherence to the Book of Discipline. Any clergy that is a party to a Just Resolution agreement would be required to include a pledge of obedience to the doctrine and Discipline of the church. Bishops would additionally be required to include a statement outlining how the resolution agreement will make it likely that the Discipline would be followed by all parties in the future. No admission of guilt would be required, but a pledge to follow the Discipline in the future would be a necessary component of a Just Resolution agreement.
My preference for the Way Forward is Option Three, a multi-branch approach. I have written many proposals toward this end. But there are significant hurdles to be overcome by any proposed structural solution. The measures described in this post honor and enforce the group discernment processes of our church. They respect our polity, can be implemented without constitutional amendments, and do not reference homosexuality specifically. Clean law and order proposals should find support among faithful United Methodists. These measures should be paired with a generous exit ramp for churches, clergy, and conferences who cannot, in good conscience, affirm the The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church.
Join me each Monday for a special day of prayer for The Commission on a Way Forward as they complete their work.
Another thoughtful and provocative post, Chris. With your permission, picking up for UM Insight. Thanks!
Sure. Thanks, Cynthia.
A committee was called to design a horse, and they ended up with a camel. Committees can go around in circles and accomplish nothing but reading the minutes of the last committee meeting!
The folks at Good News would do well to recall that there is much in the Bible, written over thousands of years ago, that is discarded. Why must Good News obsess about homosexuality? Why not obsess about seizures being caused by demons? Your obsession makes as much sense. Or you could obsess about eating shellfish or pork, why is gender identity or gender orientation such a big hassle.
You would do well to remember that prior to 1972, you did ordain LBGT persons, but no one knew of their gender identity or gender orientation. You really do not think that prior to 1972 that there were no LBGT clergy, did you??? I can assure you that there were several LBGT clergy, and two served the church that I attended. They just did not “advertise” their sexual orientation or in one case, their gender identity.
People are born heterosexual and cannot change.
Others are born LBG or T and neither can they change.
Other mainstream churches accept, in full inclusion, our LBGT sisters and brothers, why can’t you?
I attend a UCC church that has had summer interns, who went on to serve UCC churches and one was Transgender, and two were Lesbians, in committed marriages. One couple now has a beautiful little girl.
Thanks for taking time to read and comment, Carla. The President of the Council of Bishops in the 1980’s was, by all accounts, homosexual. You can read the story of Bishop Crutchfield in my post called “Bad Bishops”. It is a fascinating history.
I cannot, in my heart, call Bishop Crutchfield a “Bad Bishop.” Yes, he was gay, and he did contract AIDS, before gay man learned how AIDS was spread and began using condoms.
That being said, upon contracting AIDS himself, he helped gay men realize that it was vital to use precautions, and to limit the number of sexual contacts.
The Bishop was a wise man who tried to protect other men from his fate.
It is really rather unchristian to castigate someone because of how they are born.
The UMC, recently, and this is fairly recent, finds it deplorable if a woman terminates a pregnancy if she is carrying a Down Syndrome fetus, or a fetus with another anomaly, and cite discrimination against people with special needs.
So, how in good conscience, can the UMC discriminate against people born LBGTQ?
What do you call a bishop that has sex with people under his supervision? No matter what your sexual orientation, this is an abuse of power. There is a difference between sexual orientation and sexual activity. No one should be judged for their sexual orientation. We all evaluate people based on their sexual activity and actions, as in the current #metoo movement. Thanks for the interesting conversation. This is the first defense of Bishop Crutchfield I have ever encountered.
The relationships of Bishop Crutchfield were consensual, even if the person/s were under his “supervision.” It is not abuse if the relationship/s were desire on the part of both parties.
If you found that my defense of the bishop was a first, then perhaps most of the comments made were made by your sycophants.
You do not even give him credit for educating gay men to care about their health and the health of their partner/s, and limit the number of partners, and to use condoms.
With so many issues in this world, inequality being one of the worst, why does the UMC obsess about homosexuality?
In 1972 when this issue arose and was added to the BoD, it was before scientific evidence showed that being LBGTQ was an inborn characteristic.
I could laugh if it was not so serious and discriminatory, to think that prior to 1972 there were no LBGTQ clerics. I can assure you that there were. I was a member of a church that had two very effective, compassionate, clerics who were gay and another who was lesbian, and ordained ministers in a UMC.
I don’t dispute the fact that there have long been homosexual clergy. I recently completed my mandatory quadrennial sexual ethics training and the presenter from COSROW would definitely disagree with your statement about sexual relationships with those under ones supervision. Is all consensual sex OK?
Do you see any potential weaknesses in that approach? Bishop Crutchfield claimed he contracted AIDS during a routine pastoral hospital call, which contributed to the fear and paranoia against people with AIDS. I am really amazed at your defense of him. This is also the first time it has been suggested that I have sycophants.
I have read those responding to your PodCast, and your theories, and they all agree with your point/s of view on the issue of our LBGTQ sisters and brothers. According to one of your posts, I am the only dissenter, thus, it is patently obvious, that those responding, other than myself, are sycophants and as they all ascribe to your point of view.
Sycophants is such a great word. I am going to try to work it into a sentence today. I communicate with a lot of Progressives and have never heard Bishop Crutchfield painted in a positive light. That’s all I’m really trying to say about that. I have never had a PodCast. You might be confusing me with someone else. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
Based on what I understood from my Annual Conference’s recent Clergy Ethics training, sex with someone under one’s supervision is never “consensual.”
Lord, this conversation (if you call it that) between Chris and Carla shows just how wide a rift there is. I . . . I’m at a loss how anyone could defend the actions of Crutchfield. Good Lord.
On a post about accountability, a defense of someone who blatantly engaged in sexual immorality is put forth. Unbelievable.
I don’t have a clue how the UMC thing is going to turn out. But for me, I have committed in my heart to joining people who are committed to seeking accountability before the Lord, as with the New Room conference, Inspire Fellowship, and other such groups that are seeking to live in the Wesleyan way of holiness, love, and the power of the Holy Spirit.
I salute you Chris for trying to find a way through the mess of an old denomination. Whatever happens, not a whole lot is going to come out of legislation and more talking. More is going to come out of people joining for prayer, confession, and mission than any of these other things.
You said that the bishop engaged in “sexual immorality.” Did you mean because he had a sexual relationship with another man that he behave immorally? Or did you mean that his actions were immoral because this relationship was with someone whom he supervised?
Well, we could start with adultery and go from there…
I did not read that the bishop was married, or that his partner/s were married. If they were, that does paint a different picture, and I would retract my defense of the bishop.
My definition of adultery is when one partner, in a committed relationship, such as marriage, is unfaithful.
Having numerous sexual relationships is unwise, unsafe, and unfair to the person whom they say they love.. This would apply, whether the person involved is heterosexual or homosexual.
The word “my definition” is key in your statement. What about what Scripture, tradition, and the consensus of Christians over time and space say?
Opinions are like a certain part of the human anatomy . . . everybody’s got one
That’s the crux of the wide rift you mentioned earlier – “my.”
OK, then, Herb, what is your definition of adultery? If two people are in a committed relationship they should be faithful to one another, remains my definition.
Crutchfield may have used his power to seduce a person under his supervision, and I must admit that was wrong, and I was wrong to defend him.
That being said, I do still disagree with the BoD on its stance on homosexuality, as this is inborn.
Considering the discrimination the LBGTQ community faces, no one would “choose,” to be LBGTQ.
The bishops being gay is not part of the equation, it is his abuse of power that was completely wrong.
I have no quarrel with the definition of adultery you offer. My point is that when it comes to dealing with the issue of the Church’s stance regarding homosexuality, you begin not with a standard of authority other than scripture, or better, the age old understanding from scripture.
I agree regarding Bishop Crutchfield’s sexuality and abuse of power. However, if he was indeed a practicing homosexual, he never should have been ordained or later elected as Bishop and he should have had the integrity, if he could not follow the Book of Discipline, to resign and surrender his credentials. That may sound harsh but it’s actually being accountable and faithful to the authority under which we have agreed to serve.
There were, before the 1972 rendition of the BoD, LBGTQ clerics, and there are now.
There are conferences that have voted to be in Non Conformity. and they accept, in full inclusion, our LBGTQ sisters and brothers, as clerics, and perform same gender marriages.
If Option 2 is accepted, by the General Conference, then churches that would accept a LBGTQ cleric would be free to do so, and those churches who would not would never be required to do so.
Clergy, whether they are homosexual or hetrosexual, would be free to perform same gender marriages, but this would not be a requirement for them.
This would mean that those of us who readily accept our LBGTQ sisters and brothers in full inclusion would have to know that some churches, maybe the church that is nearest to where we live, might or might not be as supportive of full inclusion as we are.
Our more conservative sisters and brothers, may well live nearer a church that is very progressive.
It would be up to the individual church member to stay with the UMC or leave and find another UMC or another church that is either more progressive or more conservative than the nearest UMC.
Sin is “inborn.” Do you understand the doctrine of “original sin”? John Wesley was adamant about that doctrine. He was adamant about it because he found it in the Bible and Christian tradition. I am ashamed that so-called “thinking” Methodists fail quite often to integrate this core doctrine of the Methodist movement (and Christianity) into their thinking about ethics, ontology, bioethics, etc. I don’t believe that many who claim to be Methodists who “think for themselves” are actually thinking at all.
This whole idea that person is born with an innate desire to run out and have sex with someone of the same sex is ridiculous. It is based upon the assumption that if a person does not act on their sexual urges then they will not be able to “be” who they are supposed to “be” and that their lives will be negatively impacted. Well, Jeez Louis, it seems that we tell a lot of people not to act on a lot of sexual urges . . . and we don’t think that not acting upon them is going to hurt them (adultery, premarital sex, etc.). Quite the contrary, we believe that not acting upon sexual urges that are not God’s will bring blessing, goodness, and peace to people.
You are entitled to your own opinion but not your own facts. Psychologists and psychiatrists, in, I believe it was 1976, after this rendition of the BoD was written, state that being LBGTQ is an inborn characteristic.
That is why some of our conferences, including the New England Conference, have voted to be in Non Conformity. If I am not mistaken there are five other conferences that have, also, so voted.
Josh, do you really think that people do not engage in premarital sex? There are young people who are in college, and cannot afford to marry but are in long term, committed relationships who are faithful to each other, and are sexually intimate.
There are widows and widowers, who, if they married would be losing a late partner’s pension, which is needed to live. They are in committed relationships, faithful to each other and may or may not live together. They are sexually intimate. Do you really castigate these people in these situations?
Carla, “crack babies” have the “inborn characteristic” to want to smoke crack. Alcoholism is a genetic trait. Do we tell alcoholics that, since they have that trait, that they should just drink it up?
You need to read up on the recent scientific evidence about homosexuality. There is more to the story than just simply DNA producing “inborn” desires in a person. And again, what about the doctrine of original sin? It states that we ALL have “inborn desires” that are contrary to God’s will and that will “master” us if we allow them to control us.
You can’t just say “science says” and not think about how theology and historical Christian theology says. You know, there is this thing called the “quadrilateral” . . .
Yes, I have heard of the Quadrilateral. It, among the other three, also, has the word “reason.” We must use our brains, what we have learned in college, read, or researched. We cannot throw out science because if we do that when we go to church we would have to use, what I call, the “brain rack.” We would hang up our brains with our coats before we entered the sanctuary.
Please realize that not all Christian Churches discriminate against our LBGTQ sisters and brothers. The Episcopal Church, the UCC, some branches of the Presbyterian Church and other progressive denominations do except our LBGTQ sisters and brothers as clergy, in full inclusion and do perform same-gender marriages.
In fact, the UMC has five or six conferences that voted to be in Non-Conformity. One area in the west has elected a lesbian Bishop, by the name of Karen Oliveto. Kudos to them, as she is a wise leader, who is caring, competent and compassionate.
This next General Conference may vote to change the wording of the BoD, that has, in the past, been modified to reflect changes that were needed.
A schism would be unnecessary if Option 2 is enacted by the next Gen’l Conference.
See, our exchange is evidence why something has got to give. You say that we’ve got to use our brains but then you do not say anything about how that science, Christian tradition, doctrine, and the Bible integrate and speak to each other. I have found that most liberals/progressives do not want to reason or think at all. They just want to repeat the same thing over and over. And as they say in my neighborhood, “I ain’t go no time for that.”
And yeah, there are some Christian denominations that have went he route of saying that God is just fine with people of the same sex having sexual intercourse with one another. And, in their history, they separated somewhere along the line from conservative/orthodox folk. The same is probably going to happen with us as well.
And I’m done. I’m sorry Chris for talking up so much comment space. Blessings
Welcome to the club. I, too, refuse to comment further. To quote Dr. Adam Hamilton, “We will just have to agree to disagree on the subject of LBGTQ inclusion.”
I am grateful that there are progressive UMCs. I know where they are located, but sadly the one in my county is located too far for me to travel, thus I attend a UCC.
I do give Kudos to the UMC near to where I live as it is doing wonderful community outreach, and go out of their way to help those with food insecurity, of whom there are many. They even have access to computers and help the unemployed find jobs in our area.
The UCC that I do attend, does this, also.