by Chris Ritter
We are just a year away from the start of General Conference 2019 in St. Louis. The format of this specially-called conference may not be known until May or even later. But you can now find legislative plans offered in the spirit of each of the three models proposed by the Commission on a Way Forward. It is important to note that none of these plans originate from The Commission or the Council of Bishops. But they are well researched and developed in conversation with persons close to the process. You can find additional resources, blogs, and viewpoints in my compendium of Way Forward materials found here.
Way Forward Model One
This accountability proposal limits itself to things that can be accomplished within our current constitution. It makes boards of ordained ministry accountable for keeping their conference in line with UMC ministry standards. If they fail to do so, the annual conference will be prevented from participating financially in the general church or using the denominational name or insignia. Episcopal accountability and just resolution reforms are also included.
Way Forward Model Two
Concerned Alaskans, a group headed by long-time lay leader Lonnie Brooks, offers legislation that would enact the Local Option. A key feature is localization of our episcopacy: “…the election and consecration of Karen Oliveto to the office of Bishop has made the Local Option untenable without [constitutional] change.” The constitutional amendments require super-majority passage and 2/3 ratification votes around the world.
Our bishops have yet to present any legislation. They report they are working on a plan under the heading of Model Two called the One Church Model. It is described as follows:
The One Church Model gives churches the room they need to maximize the presence of United Methodist witness in as many places in the world as possible. The One Church Model provides a generous unity that gives conferences, churches, and pastors the flexibility to uniquely reach their missional context in relation to human sexuality without changing the connectional nature of The United Methodist Church.
The spirit of this sounds very similar to a plan offered by the Connectional Table to General Conference 2016. It failed to gain traction among the delegates.
Way Forward Model Three
While this proposal could be viewed as a synthesis of the three Way Forward Models, it probably fits best under Option Three, the multi-branch plan. It does not require constitutional amendments and creates affiliated autonomous conferences within the U.S. like we currently have overseas. These new bodies remain tied to the UMC through a pre-approved concordat agreement. They participate in our general boards and agencies and can stretch out their own borders to receive local churches who may want to join them.
It is unclear if proposals will be allowed beyond those brought by the Council of Bishops, but these plans provide food for thought as we await greater clarity. Which one do you think is most workable?