By Jessica Brodie
The United Methodist Church’s Council of Bishops is recommending one plan for the denomination’s way forward through differences over human sexuality, though information about two other plans developed by the Commission on a Way Forward will be shared with the delegates of the 2019 Special Session of General Conference.
At their meeting in Chicago April 29 to May 4, the bishops voted to place The One Church Plan before the 2019 General Conference for legislative action.
In their release issued May 4, the bishops reported on a motion as it was voted by bishops, indicating that all three plans (The Traditionalist Plan, The One Church Plan and the Connectional Conference Plan) considered by the commission and the COB would be shared with delegates. The bishops also reported their recommendation of the One Church Plan and inclusion of historical narrative of their discernment process regarding all three plans.
However, after a bit of confusion as to whether the special session would consider one plan or all three, the bishops issued a statement of clarification May 18, which noted The One Church Plan will be placed before the 2019 General Conference for legislative action, though all three plans would be shared.
“The recommendation (of The One Church Plan) adopted by the COB reflects the wide diversity of theological perspectives and the global nature of the UMC as the best way forward for our future as a denomination,” the bishops said in a statement issued May 18.
The bishops said to honor the work of the commission, and in service to the delegates to the 2019 Special Session of the General Conference, the COB will also provide supplemental materials that include a historical narrative with disciplinary implications related to the Connectional Conference Plan and The Traditionalist Plan.
According to the COB, The One Church Plan allows for contextualization of language about human sexuality in support of the mission and allows for central conferences, especially those in Africa, to retain their disciplinary authority to adapt the Book of Discipline and continue to include traditional language and values while fulfilling the vision of a global and multicultural church.
The bishops said the plan gives United Methodists the ability to address different missional contexts in ways that reflect their theological convictions. It removes the restrictive language of the Book of Discipline and adds assurances to pastors and conferences who, because of their theological convictions, cannot perform same-sex weddings or ordain self-avowed practicing homosexuals.
The COB said its discernment process was guided by the overarching desire to strategically help the General Conference do its work and to honor the General Conference’s request for the COB to help the church find a way forward.
“With convicted humility, bishops want to be pastors and shepherds of the whole church in order to maximize the presence of a United Methodist witness in as many places in the world as possible and with as much contextual differentiation as possible,” said newly installed COB President Ken Carter.
The two other plans, which the COB is not recommending, are The Traditionalist Plan and The Connectional-Conference Plan:
- The Traditionalist Plan affirms the current Discipline language that while all people are of sacred worth and may attend worship service, the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore, self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers or appointed to serve in the UMC, and that ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by UMC ministers or conducted in UMC churches.
- The Connectional-Conference Plan would create three connectional conferences based on theology or perspective, each having clearly defined values (accountability, contextualization and justice). The three connectional conferences would function throughout the worldwide church and the five existing U.S. jurisdictions would be abolished.
The 2019 General Conference is set for Feb. 23-26, 2019, in St. Louis, Missouri, and is limited to receiving and acting on the Way Forward report. The COB has asked the Judicial Council to affirm the call for the Special Session.
As the Advocate went to press, word had not yet come down about a ruling from the UMC’s Judicial Council, which met May 22-25 to consider what petitions—other than the report by the Council of Bishops—can be submitted to the called special session of General Conference in 2019.
The regular General Conference 2020, for the full business of the denomination, remains as scheduled for May 5-15, 2020, in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
South Carolina Resident Bishop L. Jonathan Holston issued a statement May 4 urging people to stay in prayer for the delegates and for the church.
“In this time of uncertainty and anxiety, it is important to remember that the General Conference of The United Methodist Church is the only body that can speak for the denomination and make changes to The Book of Discipline,” Holston said. “The task before the General Conference is challenging, and the delegates will need our fervent prayers as they prepare to act on the legislation before them.”
Holston invited people to remember prayer “is our first and best response to what is before us. Let us continue to earnestly seek God’s will in this matter.”
He urged people to engage in discussions, conversations and debates in ways that bring honor to God and allow the fruit of the Spirit to be visible, and that people consider to practice our Three Simple Rules: to do all the good we can, to do no harm and to stay in love with God.
“The decisions to be made at the called 2019 General Conference might impact our local churches, districts, annual conference and denomination. And still, as these matters are being considered, there are persons in each and every community who need to know the saving love of Jesus Christ and who need a relationship with God’s people, the Body of Christ,” Holston said. “We have much work to do in South Carolina for the kingdom of God. Let us not grow weary in our good work.”
Full details of the plans and accompanying legislative proposals will be released as soon as final editing of the entire report is completed and translated into the official languages of the General Conference. It is estimated this will be no later than July 8.
The Commission on a Way Forward was established after General Conference 2016 and tasked to lead the UMC forward in unity. Appointed by the COB and authorized by General Conference, the 32-member commission comprised eight bishops, 13 other clergy members and 11 laity of varying gender, race and sexual preference. It met nine times over 17 months and concluded its final meeting in Nashville May 16.
Prayers sought for S.C. delegation
Prayer is being lifted for South Carolina’s delegates to the 2019 Special Session of General Conference. These are the same delegates elected to serve South Carolina at General Conference 2016 in Portland, Oregon:
- Barbara Ware
- James Salley
- Dr. Joseph Heyward
- Herman Lightsey
- Jackie Jenkins
- Michael Cheatham
- Martha Thompson
- Dr. David Braddon
- Alternates: Lollie Haselden and Emily Rogers Evans
- Dr. Tim McClendon
- Rev. Ken Nelson
- Rev. Tim Rogers
- Dr. Robin Dease
- Rev. Tiffany Knowlin
- Rev. Narcie Jeter
- Rev. Mel Arant Jr.
- Rev. Susan Leonard-Ray
- Alternates: Rev. Telley Gadson and Rev. Michael Turner