by Chris Ritter
The supreme court of United Methodism has ruled on the actions of General Conference 2019. A number of progressives had been holding out hope that the Traditional Plan would never been enacted due to Judicial Council action. Those hopes are now gone. Traditionalists will be very relieved and gratified that the legislative achievements at GC2019 are protected. Surprisingly (to me) the United Methodist Church suddenly has a workable Gracious Exit as a result of the decisions released today.
Traditional Plan Significantly Upheld
In Decision 1378, the court rejected efforts by a group of progressive and centrist leaders to throw out the Traditional Plan in total (See Berlin et al opening brief). Nullifying the entire plan was never a likely outcome, but it was strongly contended for and would have given progressives a basis from which to say that GC2019 passed nothing that was constitutional and, therefore, was effectively a draw. That did not happen. The Traditional Plan is not the Traditional Plan anymore. It is the Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church.
The Judicial Council rightly employed a concept called “severability”: Actions made by General Conference should not be nullified unless they are inextricably tied to provisions that are unconstitutional. The court rejected arguments that the Traditional Plan was a “package deal” rather than a laundry list of individual accountability measures that can each stand on their own.
As expected, parts of the Traditional Plan were ruled unconstitutional. Tactics of obstruction prevented the Traditional coalition from passing the corrections they desired to pass at GC2019. Some of the “patches” that were successfully passed were found wanting in the decision.
But significant portions of the Traditional Plan were upheld:
- A new church-wide definition of self-avowed, practicing homosexual that includes those in a same-sex marriage. (90032)
- Bishops are prohibited from consecrating self-avowed homosexual bishops even if they are elected. (90036)*
- There are mandatory sentences for performing same-sex weddings: A one year suspension without pay for the first offense and loss of credentials for the second offense. (90042)
- District committees on ordained ministry and boards of ordained ministry are forbidden from approving candidates who do not meet the requirements and bishops are instructed to rule approval of any such candidates out of order. (90043)
- Limits the complaints that can be dismissed by bishops to those having no basis in law or fact. (90044)
- Every effort shall be made to include those making a complaint against a clergy in the just resolution process. (90046)
- The prosecution may appeal a trial against a clergy where there was jury nullification or other egregious errors of church law or administration. (90047)
The above seven measures, taken together, are enough to significantly change the landscape of the human sexuality debate by closing loopholes. Other portions were left on the cutting room floor. One key piece was never passed. The heart of the Traditional Plan, Petition 90041, would have given a roadmap for conferences that cannot live with the 2019 Book of Discipline. This was referred to a committee where it died and there was no opportunity to bring it back before the body. Here are some other pieces of the Traditional Plan that were passed but will not be in effect for the 2019 Discipline:
- The Council of Bishops may place one of its own members in retirement. (90033)
- The Council of Bishops may place one of its own members on involuntary leave of absence. (90034)
- A council relations committee allowing the Council of Bishops to police its own members. (90035)
- Board of ordained ministry members must certify willingness to uphold the BOD. A patch offered to make this constitutional was found wanting. (90037)
- Specified the examination that board of ordained ministry are to make. (90038)
- Assigned a financial implications for conferences not certifying their BOOM members will comply with the BOD. (90039, 90040)
We Have a Gracious Exit
The Council of Bishops asked the Judicial Council to rule on a disaffiliation provision for local churches passed by General Conference in its closing minutes. In Decision 1379 the court upheld the plan as meeting the three basic requirements: (1) A 2/3 vote of a charge conference and church conference, (2) Approval of terms and conditions by the conference board of trustees, and (3) Approval by the annual conference.
Although the legislation itself does not include the third element, it was successfully argued this piece is found elsewhere in the Discipline [¶ 2529.1(b)(3)] which makes the plan constitutional nonetheless. We all left GC2019 assuming the plan was unconstitutional. This creative “save” for the plan was only realized upon later analysis.
The Taylor Disaffiliation Petition as amended creates a process for exit that is immediately in effect. (As opposed to the other matters passed at GC2019 which are effective on 1/1/2020). We now have a Gracious Exit. The functionality of the Gracious Exit will depend, however, upon the good will of the annual conference. This will mean that the functionality of the exit will not be universal.
The Judicial Council seems… thankfully and surprisingly… to have back-tracked on a previous ruling that applied the provisions of constitutional ¶41 to transfer and exit procedures (RE Decision 1377). I will be watching for future analysis on this part concerning what it might mean for the future. The prior interpretation made the movement of a local church from its annual conference very unwieldy. After rejecting Tom Lambrecht’s request to reconsider their previous ruling, the court seems now to concede that the application of ¶41 are much narrower than they had earlier decided.
The new Gracious Exit requires payment of apportionments for the past twelve months and an additional twelve months. The congregation must satisfy their share of the pension liability as calculated by Wespath. With the approvals needed, congregations may leave with all their assets. This exit path is temporary, expiring December 31, 2023.
Prior to these Judicial Council decisions, two outstanding variables had the potential to shift the conversations leading up to General Conference 2020 in Minneapolis. One was the question of whether the Judicial Council might throw out the Traditional Plan in its entirety. That question is now resolved. The other factor is a potential shift in GC2020 makeup created by annual conference delegation elections. That will not be known for a few months.
Might we now have a third variable? I for one did not expect a workable exit path prior to GC2020. I imagine a number of churches will get the ball rolling very soon on using this new provision. Will these moves be quick enough and one-sided enough to change the mood of GC2020? A lop-sided rush of either progressives or traditionalists might signal an end to our impasse.
The judicial affirmation of the Traditional Plan may also change the flavor of the “UMC Next” Gathering at Church of the Resurrection next month. Might that group, so far evenly divided between those who want to stay and fight and those that want to start something new, experience a shift toward exit?
*The word “practicing” was inadvertantly omitted from the submitted legislation. As stated here the intention was to correct this on the floor of General Conference. (See especially here, made available Feb. 1, 2019.) Legislative obstruction prevented the word “practicing” from being added. I am sure there will be wide support for adding this word at GC2020.
I wrote a piece in 2018 about how GC2019 would fail and could succeed, followed by a piece after GC2019 on how it did fail and did succeed. The failure was to meet the unrealistic expectations that a committee of 864 could resolve the church’s battle over sexuality in 3 work days (plus a prayer day). The hoped-for success was that the outcome would be a wake-up call moving all contestants from win-lose adversarial postures to a collective vision of collaboration in birthing a new Methodism through multiplication-mitosis into 2 (or 3) expressions of American Wesleyan faith. The JC decision of d=today provides even more incentive for progressives to seek affirmation to do a new thing rather than continue a shoot-out that drains resources and morale. Traditionalists likewise can seek a fresh expression of Methodism without the specter of a thousand church trials and continued battles. Wicked problem theory is clear: institutions with a wicked problem (like ours, involving much much more than sexuality) fail into collaboration when they see that resolution through authority (bishops, obedience to the GC) and conflict (win-lose slugfests) just don’t make sense. What is vital in moving forward is calling a firm end to snark, sarcasm, character assassination, and other residuals of combat that dishonor the Prince of Peace and can fumble the process back into an institutional bloodbath. I prefer a Spirit-filled bubble bath…and the time is now.
It appears to me that whichever group (conservative or progressive) that has more congregations leave will surrender the denomination to the other side. So which group is going to stay and fight and which group will tend to give up and leave?
This is the only choice they had. The Traditional Plan is the only biblical plan the church could accept.
It’s fine to say that some loopholes have been closed, but enforcement is still problematic. At best it might give some additional leverage if the two sides negotiate in good faith towards “mitosis and multiplication” (Rev. Bob Phillips) and mutual blessing into two separate groups. Discussion about three groups seems unlikely given the post GC2019 collapse of the fiction that there are moderates/compatibilists/centrists on this issue and that there is not enough energy and organizational talent for three groups.
Just a correction. 90036 did NOT include the word “practicing.” So Bishops cannot consecrate, commission, or ordained “self-avowed homosexuals.” We have now codified that out, celibate, “homosexuals” cannot be consecrated bishops, commissioned as provisional members, or ordained as deacons or elders.
Thanks for this. That was one of the corrections we were hoping to make but were unable to due to obstruction tactics on the floor of GC2019. The omission of “practicing” was unintentional. I support standardizing the wording in 2020. I think we all support that change.
Friend, did the WCA and Good News leadership tell the rank and file delegates about this astonishing omission as they prepared for General Conference? If not, that’s seems like a breach of trust.
Yes. It was on the list of things we hoped to correct. It was unintentional and caught soon after submission.
And in all those emails you sent out broadly to most of the delegates, whatever their position, did WCA or Good News mention that omission?
If memory serves, definitely yes. I read a lot of stuff not sent to everyone, but I believe Tom Lambrecht made that clear in one of his articles. I will look for a link.
Chris, so you knew what we had passed and then included incorrect information in your April 26 summary (above) that “Bishops are prohibited from consecrating self-avowed, practicing homosexual bishops even if they are elected (90036)?” I’m I correct on that? Perhaps I am missing something?
I did not remember the omission of “practicing” until reading your analysis. When I said it was known, I meant it was on the list of improvements we were hoping to make from the floor. I will correct my blog post, but everything with the omission of “practicing” was unintentional. Do you think otherwise?
Chris, it looks like you just deleted my comments/ questions. Is that the case or am I just having a technical problem? I so so hope it is the latter.
I replied to your comment/ question which automatically makes it viewable by others. Not sure what happened.you asked if others were made aware of the omission of “practicing.” I replied that this accidental omission was discovered shortly after legislation was submitted and it was something we hoped to correct but were stonewalled. If I remember correctly Tom Lambrecht mentioned this in one of his postings.
Chris, I do not remember hearing ANY amendment from ANY renewal group/delegate to fix this (or even any of you mentioning it at GC). Now granted, it was a wild 4 days and maybe I missed something. But I have been asking around and can’t find anyone else who heard it. Can you please help me find the text or a moment in the DCA? Even if you have just the date, I could find it in the DCA. Thanks very much. I do appreciate it.
I believe this link is Tom Lambrecht’s article in Good News about the needed amendments.
Chris, I notice that you are not answering most of my questions. This was a grave omission with not only significant practical but also theological implications. If anyone mentioned anything in any speech or presentation on the floor at GC it should be in the DCA. I don’t remember any reference, but I would be happy to be wrong. Was it mentioned in any of the renewal fliers passed out at General Conference, etc.? See my comments/questions above for the particulars. Also see my comments below for why this matters. Thanks.
I have been looking for the flier that Maxie Dunnam tried to pass out, but was blocked. It should be there. As far as the floor debate, blame Mark Holland et.al. and their endless amendments and other forms of legislative obstruction that made holy conferencing impossible. The corrected MTP fixed this omission. We couldn’t get the floor to do much of anything.
I will also be very happy to co-sponsor GC2020 legislation with you that adds the word “practicing.”
A couple of quick things. First, see my previous post. I am asking for something different. Would you please point me to any reference at all in the DCA where this was even mentioned? If you have just the date, I could look for it in the DCA. Second, Good News has been offline for a while, maybe a couple of days. (See posts below. The website has been saying for quite a while that they are experiencing a surge of traffic and will be back in a few moments. ) So I can’t get to Lambrecht’s article or any other Good News docs. Is there any other way to get to this or other place where renewal groups shared this problem with delegates, i.e., that the TP authors/signatories dropped the word practicing three times in three sentences in petition 90036? Third, who would have access to those daily flyers we received at General Conference? With a problem as big as this one, I would think there would be a mention of it in those flyers. (I didn’t save mine.) Fourth, I’ve also been looking back through those emails we received as delegates from the renewal groups before General Conference looking for a reference. No luck so far. Any ideas when that might have been sent or by whom? Similarly, I’ve been looking for any Renewal Group references post-GC to the problem and am not finding them. In fact, most summaries, like yours on Friday either do not mention it at all or they say (as you did above) that the prohibition was on Bishops commissioning, ordaining or consecrating “self avowed practicing homosexuals” without acknowledgment that we dropped the word “practicing” in the three different sentences in that new paragraph. Thanks very much, Chris.
I don’t know if anything printed in the DCA. Here is that Good News article link that can be accessed through Constant Contact.http://campaign.r20.constantcontact.com/render?m=1108936514096&ca=79c4d6e6-8aec-4817-9b68-5751ec6dbd67
Thanks for the Update
What’s going to happen to the Western Jurisdiction?
“We are committed to provide a Safe Harbor for clergy in our conferences as well as across the connection who face the threat of complaints and/or the loss of credentials because of their sexual orientation, gender identity and/or ministry with and for our LGBTQIA+ siblings.
We will support those clergy who, after prayerful discernment, choose to conduct same-gender marriages and those congregations who choose to host same-gender weddings. As We Make Our Way Back Home – Western Jurisdiction of The UMC
1K reconciling, open and affirming United Methodist churches. Many who are openly in defiance of the traditional plan.
Hi John, 1.5K churches in the WCA. Openly accepting anyone into their congregation to hear the word of scripture as it is written.
Anyone know why Good News has been offline for two days?
Scott, you ask why GoodNews has been offline for two days. I was wondering the same thing. The message says, “Please stand by for a few moments” but it’s been many times longer than a few moments. The rest of the message is, “Our database system is currently scaling up to meet the demand of a recent surge in traffic. The site should be operational again in a few minutes. Thank you.” Usually when you get a message like that the site actually is back up in a few minutes.
It’s definitely fodder for conspiracy theorists why the good news website is down. Or sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. I guess we will see.
I just posted another version of the article. See the link in the post for a clear indication that adding “practicing” was intended.
The date on this Good News posting is February 1, 2019
Chris, surely that’s not the only place this was mentioned in the official publications. That’s two short, vague sentences under a sub-heading about the Board of Ordained ministry, not the Bishops.
There was a packet of amendments that Traditionalists sought to make from the floor. The secretary did not allow this to be distributed.
Chris, I’m looking for public places where some parts of the renewal groups indicated the seriousness of the problem. There were plenty of opportunities. (The Lambrecht article you mention is not much – in a long list of legislative points, there were two very short, very vague sentences under an incorrect sub-heading about the Board of Ordained ministry, not the Bishops. I would be happy if you could point me to public places, as I mentioned above, where, before or during General Conference, some parts of the renewal groups indicated the seriousness of this problem. Please help me out here Chris, because it says a lot if there isn’t that kind of significant public record, given the gravity of the problem. (See above for the particular things I have asking you about.) Thanks Chris.
After all the obstructions and deceits and dirty tricks to “run out the clock” on the legislative process and prevent holy conferencing from perfecting the Traditional Plan, progressive luminaries are chortling about inadvertent omissions? Will we now wag our tails in deference?
Wow. Gary, this is so interesting. This was a major problem and you and many others are deflecting blame. So interesting.
I guess Rebekah you were glad that that the CCER (Committee on Correlation and Editorial Revision) added”practicing” to some of the petitions that were missing it? Or were you disappointed because it diffused what you believed was a strong talking point for your perspective that it was part of a nefarious plan to include it in some place but not in others?