by Chris Ritter
One things seems clear as we analyze proposals for the Way Forward: There will be pain. I have argued that disruption will be the greatest and longest with the One Church Plan. We now have a fairly detailed outline of this legislation favored by a majority of the Council of Bishops. Rev. Donna Pritchard, a member of the Commission on a Way Forward, recently offered a presentation to the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference on the details of the One Church Plan:
- Each annual conference decides ordination
- Each clergy decides marriage
- Each local church decides wedding policies
- Each annual conference pays for their bishop and supports Central Conferences through apportionments
- Removes current prohibitive language from the BOD
- Honors diversity of perspectives
- Maintains global connection while honoring cultural and geographical differences
- No constitutional amendments required
- Little disruption to mission, or to UMC boards, agencies, or institutions
- Allows mission in line with context relative to LGBTQ inclusion
The Radioactive Hot Potato
Proponents of the One Church Plan are quick to point out that no local church vote is mandated. But pay attention to the first three points above and the word “decides.” If you think getting to decide about same sex marriage is a gift, I would invite you to think further. More and more United Methodists are discovering what this will mean. In discussion forums on the Way Forward, I often hear repeated a simple and passionate request from laity and clergy alike: “Please don’t make us decide.”
I have argued elsewhere that the One Church Plan will not result in one church and will certainly not enhance unity. All Way Forward plans either cut or tear the UMC. The unique feature of the One Church Plan is that it deliberately passes a radioactive hot potato down from our quadrennial policy-making body to our primary settings for ministry: the annual conference and the local church. This is not a gift.
Annual conferences form the bread and butter of our connectional life and will be hit hard by the One Church Plan. The pain will be worse in the very regions where United Methodism is strongest. A recent Straw Poll held at the 2018 North Georgia Annual Conference (the largest in the U.S. with more members than the entire Western Jurisdiction) revealed that 25% of the body would leave if the UMC changed its position on human sexuality (5% would leave if we didn’t). A slim majority of the body indicated that they favored the current BOD language on human sexuality.
Under the One Church Plan, hold-out conferences reluctant to ordain clergy in same-sex relationships will be systematically targeted. The battles will be played out in the press as well as the floors of annual conference. The issue will be brought up until the current teachings of our church fall. But the disruption will not be limited our annual meetings. We saw this recently in a case in Ohio where a pastor was brought to trial for marrying his long-term partner in a ceremony timed to coincide with General Conference 2016. The pastor and his legal team successfully put the church on trial using the local press, naming and shaming those who are trying to hold him accountable to his clergy vows.
Proponents of the One Church Plan are quick to point out that local congregations will only vote “if they want to.” In reality, however, the One Church Plan installs a big red self-destruct button that anyone in the church (or community) can hit. You only need one person willing to make a stink over same-sex marriage.
I am told pastors can officiate whatever weddings they want under the One Church Plan. This means that clergy will need to explain to couples that not officiating their weddings is a personal decision and not a denominational policy. Same-sex weddings can only be held at the altar of the church if local church wedding policies allow it. It will be fascinating to see how this is worded legislatively. Will same-sex weddings be allowed only in congregations that vote to allow it, or will same-sex weddings be allowed in congregations that have not made policies against it? What is the default? This is not insignificant because the path requiring no vote will become the norm. And it will determine whether more traditionalist or progressive congregations will initially face the burden of a decision.
Either way, there will be local votes. Most congregations will avoid this issue entirely until someone wants a same-sex wedding at the altar. By that time the decision will not be theological but personal. It will be the grandson of the church council chair, the daughter of an SPRC member, etc. Decisions will be made in the context of local church politics and relational/financial influence. The potential for harm is great.
Under the One Church Plan, I am told that pastors that cannot officiate same-sex weddings are to secure clergy that will perform these ceremonies if their local church policies allow it. This compromises a pastor’s ability to shepherd her/his congregation according to their understanding of biblical teaching. It is likewise naive to think that the local church will not be profoundly affected by their pastor officiating same-sex weddings outside the church building.
A Less Bad Way Forward
There is no great Way Forward. But there are less bad ones. Solutions that allow congregations and clergy to locate themselves in like-minded annual conferences avoid fully passing the radioactive hot potato down to local congregations. There will still be a few votes in congregations out of step with their conference, but the vote is what covenant to join and not deciding the nature of Christian marriage directly. Once the decision is made, issues of Christian marriage will be decided above the level of the local church… no more congregational “big red button.” Both the Traditionalist Plan and the Connectional Conference Plan allow this orderly and less hazardous sorting. The Traditionalist Plan can be accomplished without constitutional amendments I commend it to you for careful study and consideration.
Image credit: http://www.businessinsider.com/reddit-versus-the-button-2015-4?r=UK&IR=T
I respect you and your Spirit. But the cross contamination is beyond what can be repaired in a ‘connectional’ plan. I serve in a conservative conference where the liberal theocrats control the Conference and Superintendency, where failing liberals are promoted in spite of failure, and fruitful evangelicals are exiled in spite of success. And General Church Agencies are controlled likewise. The theocracy has lost all ethical administrative credibility beyond the attacks on Biblical Authority. With out standing traditional ground coupled with a purging of Bishops and increase in enforcement, the rest is rearranging deck chairs in the Titanic and no connection remains. The solution then falls to providing amicable dismantle and separation. And if the General Church Conference can’t get it done, local churches will revolt.
Thanks for the comment, Stephen. The Connectional Conference plan is unlikely to pass, but genuine thought and study went into it to develop ways to protect the consciences of all involved. The primary denominational identity would be in the connectional conference, not in the UMC itself. It provides quite a bit of separation and avoids many of the difficulties I describe in this post. I will be endorsing the Traditionalist Plan. It is strong, decisive, and gracious.
With the one church option we will no longer be United Methodist I believe I will have to leave and there is no where else to go. I fear for our Christian community.
Arlene, there will be a place for you to go, the Wesley Covenant Assoc. will have a plan completed and voted on if the traditional plan is voted down. Whether churches will be able to leave with their property and join the WCA remains to be seen. The connectional plan does not provide enough separation for those of us that are traditional incompatibilists. If the thought of 25% of our largest annual conference leaving the denomination does not wake people up, I don’t think they care who leaves
Yes, Annual Conferences and Churches will have to vote and many people will be hurt by whatever decision is made. That will be true for the One Church Plan as you say, but it will also be true of the Connectional Plan. Annual Conference will have to vote as to which of the three conference to join and if a church and/or pastor doesn’t like that decision they will have to vote to align with another. And still people will be hurt by those decision. And I don’t believe the Traditional plan is much better. How many people will be hurt by bringing churches and clergy up on charges and/or expelled because they didn’t “tow the line”? The very last option, the “Do Nothing Plan” is also not tenable as we have seen over the decades. No matter what we choose, there will be winners and losers and that is the saddest aspect of this entire matter. Personally, I think the One Church Plan is the best of all the bad options because this is how we handled divorce and remarriage in the 1930’s and 40’s (as I have commented on you blog in the past.
Thank you for your insightful writing. We may not agree but I learn much from your writings.
Thanks for the comment, Gary. I have seen the Traditionalist Plan and it does allow for conferences to pursue a progressive, autonomous future. Individual churches and clergy can opt into these progressive bodies. We agree that pain will happen under each plan.
As a responsible part of a local congregation without encumbering relationships with the UMC, I plan to clearly document our faith-based understanding of marriage and our unwillingness to accept leadership that promotes LGBTQ values over the Christian agenda. The Florida Conference need not trouble itself with ambiguity from our small town where we promote child development in a Methodist School Center entrenched in the Traditionalist preconception that children should be produced by one man and one woman, and this ministry is not likely to benefit from the LGT sexual practitioners. How a new “Unitarian Methodist” denomination would extend the ritual (sacrament?) of marriage to bisexuals in support of their commitment to both genders or the Queer Nation in their opposition to gender commitment promises an interesting theological future, but this congregation will not walk along with them.
Do it now
“There is no great Way Forward. But there are less bad ones.”
Perhaps you have mentioned elsewhere (this is the first article I have read that you have authored), but what do you consider to be the ‘less bad ones’? Are they options for the General Conference?
Welcome to my blog. Thanks for reading and commenting. I have offered lots of suggestions over the past few years. Here is the most recent one: https://peopleneedjesus.net/2018/11/28/decision-1366-drafting-a-duplex-denomination/
Chris, I really loved your article on this very important issue. I became a Methodist about 4 years ago and found a new home. After reading everyone’s response, I agree with most, it will, no matter which decision is made, create a separation, which is extremely unsettling by many Christians. We must not forget who is ultimately in charge, our Father in Heaven. There are two books in the Old Testament, that I’m aware of that talks about homosexuality, one is in Genesis (Sodom and Gomorrah) and Leviticus. The others are in the New Testament, Romans where Paul writes: “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men”…; I Corinthians, and I Timothy.
In our current society, all sinful acts are a reminder that we have turned away from God. God gives us freewill and if we ask for ungodly things and do ungodly acts to others, etc. He gives us what we want until judgement day. We must be careful and recognize God’s messages to us through his word and prayers.
Christians love all people, but we must keep God’s word sacred.
I have to apologize, I’m not much of a writer and never make comments but this subject is very close to my heart.
I would like to thank you again for writing a great article on this subject Mr. Ritter