Here are my thoughts on the four plans that will be presented to the upcoming special General Conference of the United Methodist Church in St. Louis 23 – 26 February.
What I know at this point is that no matter which plan is accepted, it will not be acceptable if there are not changes of heart and mind amongst all the delegates at the conference and then among all the members of the faith afterwards. Decisions by the delegates should begin with that in mind.
The four plans to be considered are
- The Traditionalist Plan
- The Connectional Conference Plan
- The One Church Plan
- The Simple Plan
The order is my order
from least desirable to most desirable (my opinion).
For me, the Traditionalist Plan is the worst alternative. Every time I read it, I hear the cries of “sharia law”, which is sort of ironic because many of those who appear to support this plan say that Muslims in this country are calling for “sharia law” in their communities (a statement that has yet to be proved, by the way). Their plan calls for the enforcement of the laws and rules encoded in the Book of Discipline that says, in essence, you can be a part of the LBGTQIA+ community but we don’t want to know about it and you cannot be an member of the ordained clergy. Anyone who goes against the law (individuals or churches) could be expelled from the denomination if they do not follow the law.
This plan is based on an idea of sexuality that has been disproven and steeped in ignorance. We had laws like this in Methodism before and, as I will write in a moment, those laws almost destroyed the church. Second, we had laws like in this in our country that enforced segregation, and which were said to be based on the Bible and, again, scientific ignorance. The church seemed to overcome that period of American and church history; can it overcome it again?
Finally, I acknowledge that need for laws and rules but what do you do when the Spirit of the Law is greater than the Law itself. The Traditionalist Plan will take us back to the days of the Old Testament and ignores Jesus’ own statement that He came as the fulfillment of the Law.
And, it also appears that many of the supporters of this plan, no matter how the vote comes out, are planning to leave the denomination anyway.
- The Connectional Conference Plan
For me, the Connectional Conference Plan reflects the history of the Methodist Church in the 1820 – 1840 period of our country. It allows for the creation of two separate conferences, one in which members of the LBGTQIA+ community are welcomed and one in which they are not.
In 1844, the issue of slavery split the denomination into two parts, one against slavery (the Methodist Episcopal Church) and one that supported slavery (the Methodist Episcopal Church, South). I don’t how the new conference would be identified under this new plan.
The debate over slavery and the role of the church in the debate would continue for some twenty years (and perhaps even today). Even after the Civil War, many individual churches would separate from the Methodist Church body.
When one looks at the history of the Methodist Church, especially in America, one sees struggles between the ideas and thoughts of the church in contrast with the ideas and thoughts of political and freedom. The many branches of the United Methodist Church today reflect these differences.
And, if this plan were adopted, how long would the denomination last? The Methodist Church was split for almost 94 years over slavery. Even today, I know of two churches (I am sure there are more) where the history of the faith is carved in stone above the door to the sanctuary with the name “M. E. South”.
In the One Church Plan, the laws and rules of the Book of the Discipline remain intact but there is an understanding that individual churches have some discretion as to how they will be observed. On a denominational level, there will be no actions against members of the LBGTQIA+ community.
The only difference between the One Church Plan and the Connectional Conference Plan is that the General Conference remains intact in the One Church Plan. It does have what someone described to me many years ago as the Methodist Church refined ability to sit on the fence and not offend anyone. This plan does appear to offend everyone and while better than the previous two plans, not really a good plan.
It does little to resolve the issue and merely continues the problem (which Methodists are good at doing when they don’t want to take a stand).
The Simple Plan is just that, simple. It simply goes through the Book of Disciple and removes the laws and rules that affect members of the LBGTQIA+ community. I don’t know if it is stated in the plan or has been stated by its supporters, but this plan acknowledges that our own knowledge of human sexuality has changed over the years.
I have been a member of the United Methodist Church since the merger of the Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church in 1968 (I came into the church as a member of the EUB Church in 1965).
I served as a certified lay speaker and lay pastor for over twenty years.
And what I know today is that my walk with Christ, from 1965 to today, would not have been possible if it were not for the ministers and members of the United Methodist Church. At times of crisis or doubt, the church was there.
Can we, with all honesty, say to many individuals today that we, as the church, as representatives of Christ on earth, as followers and students of John Wesley, Philip Otterbein, Martin Boehm, and Jacob Albright, are here to help you find your own path and walk with Christ?
As I stated at the beginning, the decisions that will be made in one month need to be made from both the heart and mind, with a love for all of God’s children as they are and not as we would want them to be (in our ignorance).
Notes on General Conference
- These are summaries of the four plans