Archives for October 2018

Is the Traditional Plan Unconstitutional?

Minnesota Conference clergy and laity gathered at Normandale Hylands United Methodist Church hold table talk discussions about the three plans set to be considered by the special General Conference. Photo by Sam Hodges, UMNS.

Anxious church commentators are wondering if the latest development in the lead-up to the special called General Conference in February 2019 means the Traditional Plan is fatally flawed.

In a comprehensive 58-page ruling released October 26, the Judicial Council has rendered its opinion on whether the One Church Plan, the Connectional Conference Plan, and the Traditional Plan are constitutional and in conformity with other parts of the United Methodist Book of Discipline.

The short answer is that the Traditional Plan is alive and, while a bit broken, can be fixed. (The Traditional Plan would retain the current position of the church on marriage and human sexuality, enhance accountability, and provide a gracious exit for those who cannot live within the church’s expectations.) The One Church Plan, also described as the “local option,” survived scrutiny with a few minor provisions ruled unconstitutional. The Judicial Council declined to evaluate the Connectional Conference Plan, since the  Book of Discipline does not allow the Council to evaluate proposed constitutional amendments, which are an integral part of the plan.

It is important to note that the Judicial Council was ruling on the legality of various parts of the plans, not on the wisdom of enacting any of them. The decision states, “The task of the Judicial Council is to pass upon the constitutionality of the legislative petitions without expressing an opinion as to their merits or expediency. It is up to the General Conference to determine the wisdom of each plan” (p. 1).

The big picture is that the situation is unchanged following the Judicial Council decision. The General Conference will still be able to consider all three plans. Aspects of the two plans evaluated will need to be modified or dropped from the plans in order to address the concerns raised by the Judicial Council. Delegates can put forward such modifications as amendments during the February General Conference.

Evaluating the Traditional Plan

It is not surprising that the Judicial Council found a greater number of problems with the Traditional Plan (TP) petitions. Because the Council of Bishops instructed the Commission on a Way Forward not to develop the details of the TP, it did not receive the same amount of attention and vetting that the One Church Plan and Connectional Conference Plan received. The Judicial Council’s work, therefore, is a blessing to help refine and perfect the TP.

The Judicial Council found constitutional problems with 7 of the 17 Traditional Plan (TP) petitions, as well as with parts of two others. Most of these problems can be fixed with relatively straightforward changes in the wording, without changing the content of the petitions or what they are trying to accomplish.

The idea that the Council of Bishops could hold its members accountable to the Discipline (Petitions 2-4) is no longer viable after the Judicial Council ruled it unconstitutional. The Council ruled that the same bishops who filed a complaint against another bishop for disobedience could not then sit in judgment on that bishop. The decision states, “The COB was not designed to function like an inquisitional court tasked with enforcing doctrinal purity within its ranks. This arrangement poses significant dangers to a person’s right to a fair and unbiased determination of her or his case. There are no safeguards put in place to guarantee an impartial process carried out by an independent body” (p. 32).

Renewal and Reform Coalition leaders have long been skeptical that the Council of Bishops would be able to hold its members accountable in any meaningful way. That is why we proposed an alternative disciplinary process for bishops administered by a new Global Episcopacy Committee. Maxie Dunnam submitted this idea in a petition to the special General Conference. Because it was not part of the original TP, this idea was not part of the Judicial Council evaluation. Based on their ruling, however, I believe it is a viable process that could provide meaningful accountability for bishops.

Several petitions require members of the Board of Ordained Ministry to certify that they will “uphold, enforce and maintain The Book of Discipline related to commissioning, ordination and marriage of self-avowed practicing homosexuals.” They would require the bishop to certify that all the members he or she appoints to the board have agreed to do so. And they would require that the annual conference certify that all members appointed to the board have agreed to do so.

The Judicial Council’s problem with these petitions was that the requirement focused on certain provisions of the Discipline to the exclusion of others. “The certification is incomplete and selective because it relates to some but not all applicable standards of The Discipline and targets one particular group of candidates for disqualification” (p. 35). This problem can be corrected with a simple language change clarifying that upholding of the whole Discipline is required, not just certain parts to the exclusion of others.

The same problem of “selective certification” was cited as the Judicial Council nullified the provisions requiring annual conferences and bishops to declare their willingness to “support, uphold, and maintain accountability to” the standards of the church regarding ordination and marriage. Again, this can be corrected by a simple language change.

Importantly, the Judicial Council declared that the Constitution does permit an annual conference to withdraw from The United Methodist Church under conditions established by the General Conference. However, the Council ruled that local churches cannot withdraw under the process set forth in the TP. It ruled that the process must comply with ¶ 41, which requires a 2/3 vote by the congregation and also by the annual conference to approve withdrawal. However, this is a misreading of ¶ 41, which deals with congregations transferring from one UM annual conference to another. It has no bearing on the conditions for a congregation withdrawing from the church. I am requesting that the Judicial Council reconsider its ruling on this aspect of the plan.

The other aspects of the Traditional Plan were upheld.

Evaluating the One Church Plan

The One Church Plan (OCP) was largely held to be constitutional. Several provisions meant to give greater protection to a traditionalist viewpoint were struck down for various reasons. Some could probably be salvaged by changes in wording.

More significantly, the Judicial Council ruled that the idea of “connectionalism” under which our church operates “permits contextualization and differentiation on account of geographical, social, and cultural variations and makes room for diversity of beliefs and theological perspectives but does not require uniformity of moral-ethical standards regarding ordination, marriage, and human sexuality” (p. 1). The idea that the church could establish moral or ethical standards that are different from one place to another strikes me as unbiblical. Standards for right and wrong should not vary from one country or culture to another.

Think about that. Do not moral and ethical standards by their very nature apply across “geographical, social, and cultural variations?” Should lying be permitted for some social classes, but not others? Should bribery be acceptable in some cultures, but not others? Should same-sex marriage be permissible for Christians in some countries, but not in others? That makes no sense. If something is a moral or ethical matter, by definition it should apply in all similar situations.

It seems to me the Judicial Council is discounting the uniform basis for the “vital web of interactive relationships” that form our connection (see ¶ 132 in the Book of Discipline). Our connection with each other is based on “a common tradition of faith, including Our Doctrinal Standards and General Rules (¶ 104); by sharing together a constitutional polity, including a leadership of general superintendency; by sharing a common mission, which we seek to carry out by working together in and through conferences that reflect the inclusive and missional character of our fellowship; by sharing a common ethos that characterizes our distinctive way of doing things” (¶ 132). Where the common foundation is missing, the “web of interactive relationships” cannot develop or sustain itself. And that is what we see happening in our denomination, as the common foundation of beliefs and practices is eroded by the many issues that divide us.

The One Church Plan creates a “a diversity of beliefs” and non-uniform standards of ordination. A person who could be ordained as clergy in one annual conference would not be acceptable for ordination in a different annual conference. This undermines the understanding of ordained ministry as a connectional matter. As Judicial Council Decision 544 puts it, “Ordination in The United Methodist Church is not local, nor provincial, but worldwide.” It understands each annual conference as a “door through which one may enter the ministry of the entire church.” But someone entering that door in one annual conference would no longer be acceptable to other annual conferences, which means that we would no longer have one connected “ministry of the entire church.”

I believe the Judicial Council is mistaken in their understanding of connectionalism.

The Judicial Council also made a clear ruling that narrowed the scope of what is legally considered our doctrinal standards. They ruled that only changes to the wording of the Articles of Religion or Confession of Faith can be legally reviewed by the Judicial Council. This ignores the fact that the 2016 Book of Disciplineconsiders Wesley’s Notes upon the New Testament as doctrinal standards. “[The Plan of Union 1968] stated that although the language of the first Restrictive Rule never has been formally defined, Wesley’s Sermons and Notes were understood specifically to be included in our present existing and established standards of doctrine” (Discipline, ¶ 104).

Judicial Council ruled, “Only the General Conference is competent to determine whether its enactment establishes a new standard or rule of doctrine contrary to our present existing and established standards of doctrine” (p. 13, citing Decisions 1027 and 243). However, that means there is no independent review of a General Conference action. By a majority vote, the General Conference can declare that its action does not “establish any new standards or rules of doctrine contrary to our present existing and established standards of doctrine” (Discipline, ¶ 17) and therefore does not require a constitutional amendment process.

So even though Wesley’s Notes define marriage as between “one man and one woman only” (Notes on Genesis 16 and 30, also see notes on Matthew 19 and Mark 10), the General Conference can change the definition of marriage to “two adults” and there is no independent body to review such a decision. This greatly narrows the enforceability of our doctrinal standards, particularly in the face of principled determination to maneuver around them.

Fortunately, the Judicial Council was only ruling on what is legal, not on what the church ought to do. The General Conference can and should still defeat the One Church Plan, adopt a revised Traditional Plan, and preserve a more robust sense of connectionalism founded on our common relationship with Jesus Christ, our adherence to biblical teaching, and our shared understanding of doctrine. Anything less will lead to a splintering of the church.

Is the Traditional Plan Punitive?

While no one has explicitly told me that he or she thought the Traditional Plan is punitive, that appears to be an undercurrent of thinking among those who oppose the plan. One aspect of the plan is that it contains strict accountability measures for annual conferences, bishops, clergy, and members of boards of ordained ministry, with the expectation that they will “support, uphold, and maintain accountability to the United Methodist standards” barring the ordination of self-avowed practicing homosexuals, the celebration of same-sex marriages, and funding that promotes the acceptance of homosexuality. Those unwilling to live within our church’s standards are encouraged to withdraw from the UM Church and form or join a self-governing Methodist church that reflects their beliefs and practices.

The purpose of the Traditional Plan is to restore the unity of the church, which is currently in schism due to nine annual conferences and two jurisdictions voting to reject our church’s standards. The current crisis in the church is prompted not by differences of belief, but differences of practice. There is room in The United Methodist Church for a variety of opinions on many subjects. But once the church has set a standard for how we live our life together in the Body of Christ, it is expected that everyone will live according to that standard, to the best of their ability.

There are two ways to rectify a situation where there are divergent practices that violate the standards or rules of an organization. One way is to change the rules to allow the divergent practices. This is what the One Church Plan proposes. The other way is to expect the organization’s members to live by its standards or find another like-minded organization. This is what the Traditional Plan proposes.

Secular organizations such as Rotary or Kiwanis expect their members to live by the rules of the organization. Those who refuse to do so are often asked to leave the organization. Without such accountability, the organization has no integrity.

United Methodist clergy promise to live by the standards set by the church. One of the qualifications for ordination is that candidates are willing to “be accountable to The United Methodist Church, accept its Doctrinal Standards and Discipline and authority, accept the supervision of those appointed to this ministry, and be prepared to live in the covenant of its ordained ministers.” When candidates come forward for ordination, they must answer, “Have you studied our form of Church discipline and polity? Do you approve our Church government and polity? Will you support and maintain them?” They must also affirm, “Will you observe the following directions: … Do not mend our rules, but keep them; not for wrath, but for conscience’ sake?”

The Traditional Plan is based upon the premise that clergy and bishops have promised to live by our church’s standards and should be expected to do so. In light of the fact that the church has been unwilling for over 40 years to change its expectations regarding same-sex marriage and the ordination of LGBT persons, clergy are expected to either live by them or seek another denomination that is more in line with their theology. After all, most active clergy today came into their status knowing what the expectations of the church are, saying that they agreed with those expectations, and promising to live by them. To refuse to do so now is a breaking of their promise.

While integrity would seem to demand those unwilling to live by the standards of the church should withdraw from ministry in our denomination and seek another in which to exercise their ministry, most have not done so. In fact, many progressives have defiantly stated that they will not leave the church, nor will they live by the church’s standards.

This puts us in a situation where, for the sake of the church’s unity and integrity, discipline must be exercised. That is why enhanced accountability measures are an integral part of the Traditional Plan. Without them, the church simply continues as it is now, with some parts of the church refusing to live by the church’s expectations. This is a state of schism, not unity, and it is leading to the disintegration and decline of the denomination.

By changing the rules to accommodate disobedience, the One Church Plan creates an expectation that individual conscience trumps the standards of the church. It sows the seeds of congregationalism and further disintegrates the unity of the church. One can only anticipate that the church will likewise accommodate other conscientious objections to church standards and practices in the future, perhaps in areas such as the payment of apportionments or belief in the necessity of faith in Christ for salvation.

The Traditional Plan believes we must share common practices as a denomination on matters that are distinctively connectional. These help to form our identity as United Methodist Christians. Matters of ordination, the sacraments, doctrinal standards, and essential moral teachings are practices that hold our denomination together. Without them, we become just a crowd of people without a shared identity.

Regrettably, because of the principled refusal by some in our denomination to abide by the shared practices established by General Conference as the only legitimate authority to do so, the only way to recover unity is to enhance accountability and request those unwilling to abide by those shared practices to withdraw from the denomination. The plan balances these stricter accountability measures with an open door for annual conferences, congregations, and clergy to leave the denomination without penalty.

The process for departure is simple and straightforward, without a lot of hoops to jump through. The financial obligations are minimal, seeking only to keep our promises to our retired clergy regarding pensions. And a suggested modification of the Traditional Plan provides for a one-time grant of $200,000 to any annual conference that withdraws in order to assist with transitional expenses. Those departing could even continue some forms of partnership and cooperation with The United Methodist Church, including joint mission work and continued participation in benefit plans through Wespath.

The Traditional Plan is not punitive toward those having the integrity to depart from a denomination that they can no longer support. The stricter accountability measures are only made necessary for those who refuse to keep the promises they made to abide by our polity when they were ordained as clergy and consecrated as bishops. This approach is the only way forward that will restore unity in our denomination in the years ahead.

 

 

 

North Central Jurisdiction Hispanic Caucus Endorses Traditional Plan

The North Central Jurisdiction Hispanic Caucus met in Monroe, Wisconsin, on September 21-22. They met under the theme Transformed to Transform the World. The group discussed the three plans recommended to the special General Conference next February. They approved to support the Traditional Plan prepared by the Way Forward Commission. Pastors and lay leaders from Hispanic congregations from Iowa, Indiana, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Ohio came together for their 34th annual gathering.

This is a significant action because the national Hispanic caucus (MARCHA – Metodistas Asociados Representados la Causa Hispano Americano) is a member of the Love Your Neighbor Coalition promoting the full acceptance of LGBT persons, same-sex marriage, and ordination in the UM Church. Hispanic United Methodists across the country are not agreed in their discernment of the way forward.

 

 

 

 

2019 General Conference Process Set

The Rules Committee of the Commission on General Conference discusses plans for one legislative committee at the 2019 special session. From left are Stephanie Henry, chair of the Rules Committee, commission members Audun Westad and Stanislas Kassongo, and translator Isabelle Berger. Photo by Heather Hahn, UMNS.

As we get closer to the special called General Conference scheduled for February 23-26, 2019, in St. Louis, more aspects of the process are coming into clearer focus.

The Commission on the General Conference just met and decided on how the special General Conference will run, according to an article by Heather Hahn of United Methodist News Service.

This special conference, unlike other “regular” General Conferences, will be devoted to one issue only: receiving and acting upon the Commission on a Way Forward (COWF) report and proposals. The report and proposals deal with whether or not the church will allow same-sex marriage and the ordination of self-avowed practicing homosexuals as clergy. Additional proposals not from the COWF that relate to the same topic will also be considered.

Since the subject matter of the conference is different from what happens in a “regular” General Conference, the process that takes place at the conference needs to be different, as well. It appears that the Commission on the General Conference has come up with a process that is fair, open, and transparent, and that will allow the conference to make its best attempt at arriving at a definitive decision.

Normally, the conference is divided into as many as 12 or 13 legislative committees, with each committee assigned a portion of the several hundred petitions coming to a conference. But in the 2019 conference, there are only 99 petitions, and many of them are linked together as part of one or another overall plan. To consider them separately in different legislative committees would hamper the ability of the conference to deal with the plans as a whole.

Therefore, the Commission decided to have only one legislative committee to consider all the petitions that have been submitted. And that one committee will consist of all 864 delegates. The conference will meet as a “committee of the whole” on one day of the conference, so that all delegates may be part of fashioning the legislation that will be finally adopted. This legislative committee day will be presided over by an elected member of the conference, rather than one of the bishops. It will perfect the petitions that will eventually be acted upon again by the plenary session of the conference. The person to be elected chair will be one of those who served as a legislative committee chair at the 2016 Portland General Conference. That election will take place on the first day of the conference.

This approach will be helpful because it will allow the plans to be considered and perfected as a whole package, rather than piecemeal. It will allow all the delegates to be part of the perfecting process and to hear the arguments pro and con for each of the petitions dealt with. It will also create a more transparent process that can help build trust within the body, and it will enable all United Methodists (as well as others) to witness the whole process through live-streaming (something that could not happen when the conference is broken up into many legislative committees).

The special conference will run as follows:

  • Saturday, February 23, will be a day of prayer and preparation, culminating the bishops’ “Praying Our Way Forward” campaign to seek God’s help for our church’s way forward.
  • Sunday, February 24, will be the first day of business. The conference will hear a report from the Commission on a Way Forward on the three plans it brought forward. The conference will spend the rest of the day debating the three different directions suggested by the plans. At the end of the day, there will be a straw poll to determine which plan will be the one that the body works on. (This is not a final vote, but rather determines which set of petitions will be considered in the committee process. There will need to be more votes before the action becomes final.)
  • Monday, February 25, will see the conference meet as a legislative committee of the whole, presided over by a delegate. The body will consider, amend, and pass the petitions related to the plan they voted to consider on Sunday. Other petitions can be added to or substituted for the ones directly related to a plan. All the other petitions that are not approved will presumably receive a vote of non-concurrence, since all petitions must be voted on by the legislative committee. If the petitions related to the chosen plan do not pass, the body could presumably try to perfect other petitions related to another plan instead.
  • Tuesday, February 26, will be the final day of the conference and it will meet in plenary session, again with a bishop presiding. The petitions perfected on Monday will receive a final vote. The conference will also consider the implications of its actions for the future, particularly for the upcoming regular 2020 General Conference. This day also provides a bit of margin, in case the perfecting work is not completed on Monday or the conference votes to go in a different direction. Whatever is enacted by the plenary session on Tuesday will be the final decision of the conference.

Worship and prayer will be integral to the process of the special General Conference. It will begin each day’s session and be interspersed throughout the day, as well. The process will attempt to create a worshipful atmosphere in which delegates are better able to discern God’s will for the church moving forward.

This proposed process was approved unanimously by the Commission on the General Conference, gaining support from persons across the theological spectrum. It also has the benefit that it will not require changing the rules of General Conference. Changes in the rules were highly controversial in 2016 and took three days to adopt. The proposed process will still need to be approved by the General Conference on the first day of its meeting, but absent any concerted opposition, it seems sure to be enacted.

Of the 99 petitions submitted, 48 are in the report of the COWF. The General Conference Committee on Reference will meet prior to General Conference to determine which of the other 51 petitions are “in harmony” with the topic of the special conference. That report will be considered on the opening day of General Conference, and petitions found “not in harmony” will be able to be voted back in for consideration by the plenary session.

The Commission on the General Conference also tried out new voting machines for use in St. Louis. They have additional security features to prevent one person from voting on both his/her own machine and another delegate’s. They also create an easier mechanism for requesting to speak that will hopefully enable a smoother flow of the conference.

We believe the process proposed by the Commission on the General Conference is a good and positive one. We commend the Commission for placing a priority on fairness and transparency in developing the process. We encourage everyone to continue praying for the special General Conference, for the delegates, and for the many organizational details that have yet to be worked out.

Gracious Exit Supported

According to an article by Heather Hahn of UM New Service, “A theologically diverse group of United Methodists wants General Conference delegates to prioritize passing a ‘gracious and equitable’ plan for churches exiting the denomination.

“‘While we pray for a unified way forward, the reality of our circumstance convinces us that any decision made at the 2019 special session will likely lead to congregations and pastors deciding they are no longer able to remain in The United Methodist Church,’ said an open letter put together by 16 clergy and lay members of the West Ohio Conference.

“‘We write to urge the 2019 Special Session to approve a gracious and equitable process for exit.'”

Good News sees the provision of an exit path for congregations to leave the denomination and keep their property to be of paramount importance in moving forward. No matter what plan is passed (or even if no plan is passed) at General Conference in February, some congregations will find it impossible to continue living in The United Methodist Church in whatever the new reality turns out to be. Rather than tie up bishops, annual conferences, and local congregations in expensive lawsuits that drain away the church’s time, money, and energy, an exit path would provide a way to amicably allow churches to depart (which in itself would be a positive witness to the watching world). In addition, a uniform exit path would prevent unfair treatment of congregations, where an annual conference might let one church go, but not another, or where different annual conferences would have different ways of handling departing congregations that resulted in some congregations being able to leave with their property and others not.

While the Renewal and Reform Coalition does not support every one of the proposed financial provisions in the letter, we strongly endorse the concept of an exit path and support it being the first action of the special General Conference. Such a move could remove the temptation for supporters of whichever plan passes General Conference to be less than generous with those not supporting the plan. And it could greatly decrease the anxiety across the church.

As of this writing, over 1,700 lay and clergy United Methodists have signed the letter calling on General Conference to provide such an exit path. If you would like to read the letter and sign your support, you may do so by clicking HERE.

 

 

 

 

 

Upgrading the Traditional Plan

Since the Traditional Plan was presented by the Commission on a Way Forward, other ideas have surfaced in order to enhance it. Those ideas have been submitted to General Conference in two petitions entitled “Modified Traditional Plan” by Maxie Dunnam. What are those upgrades?

Gracious Exit Upgrade. The goal of the Traditional Plan is to provide a gracious exit for those (presumably mostly progressives) who are unable to live within the boundaries of our church’s teachings on marriage and human sexuality. The Traditional Plan seeks to be as equitable as possible to those who are departing, not imposing hefty financial penalties or long, drawn-out withdrawal processes. The only requirement is a simple majority vote by an annual conference or a 55 percent majority vote by a local congregation’s church conference in order to leave. The only payment required is an amount to cover unfunded pension liabilities, as determined by the Board of Pensions.

The reason for allowing annual conferences to leave The United Methodist Church is to provide a ready-made infrastructure to support continued ministry by those departing. Rather than having to start from scratch to put together an organizational structure, the new self-governing Methodist church can conceivably be built around existing annual conference structures. In order to facilitate this scenario, the proposed upgrade is to grant each departing annual conference $200,000 to help cover transitional expenses. This grant would enable the annual conference to rebrand itself and help cover legal expenses connected with the transition to a self-governing church.

Enhanced Accountability Upgrades. The other goal of the Traditional Plan is for everyone in the denomination to live by the church’s requirements. It has been the refusal of some clergy and annual conferences to do so that has precipitated the crisis in which the church finds itself. Since a number of progressives have indicated that they will both refuse to leave the church and also refuse to live by the church’s requirements, there needs to be a way to ensure accountability. No organization can long exist when its members refuse to live by the organization’s standards and requirements.

The enhanced accountability is not designed to be punitive, but rather to encourage church members to either comply with the church’s teachings or make the decision to leave the denomination for a different church that is in accord with their views. Up until now, however, the church’s accountability processes have not been able to deal with the intentional and principled defiance of clergy and annual conferences. Hence, the need for enhanced accountability.

For Bishops. The key player in the church’s accountability process is the bishop. Where the bishop fails or refuses to implement the church’s accountability process, the result is chaos. Regarding concerns around same-sex marriage and the ordination of LGBT persons, the majority of U.S. bishops have decided not to implement the church’s accountability process. And until now, there has not been a good way to hold these bishops themselves accountable. Bishops have demonstrated that they are unwilling to hold each other accountable in their jurisdictional colleges, which is where that accountability lies.

The original Traditional Plan proposed allowing the Council of Bishops (COB – a global body, rather than jurisdictional) to intervene in holding bishops accountable. It would give the COB the ability to place a bishop on involuntary leave or involuntary retirement as a matter of discipline. Such an intervention would require a majority vote by the COB.

However, there is significant question whether the COB as currently constituted could muster a majority vote to hold one of its bishops accountable on the issues currently in dispute. That is why supporters of the Traditional Plan believe that upgrades are needed, for if the bishops are not held to the Discipline, the enhanced accountability will fail and the Traditional Plan will not work to bring about unity in the church.

The Modified Traditional Plan proposes the following upgrades to enhance accountability for bishops:

* It creates a new Global Episcopacy Committee, with one clergy or lay member from every annual conference in the global church. This body (through its executive committee) would be tasked with administering the complaint process against any bishop who is charged with not enforcing the Discipline, or with immorality (including not being celibate in singleness or not faithful in a heterosexual marriage), or with practices declared incompatible with Christian teachings (including being a self-avowed practicing homosexual or performing a same-sex wedding). This Global Episcopacy Committee would engage in a supervisory response with the bishop in question and would decide whether to forward a complaint for a trial. This means that no bishop would be involved in the accountability process for another bishop regarding these matters.

This provision would not be in conflict with the ability of the COB to hold a bishop accountable or place a bishop on involuntary leave or retirement. Rather, it would be an added layer to ensure accountability happens and would dovetail with the COB accountability process.

* Bishops who do not promise to uphold and enforce the Discipline on matters of same-sex marriage and the ordination of LGBT persons would no longer receive funding for expenses (housing, office, travel), as of September 1, 2020. According to a recent Judicial Council decision, salary and benefits for a bishop cannot be withheld because it is inherently part of the position, but the General Conference does have the power to withhold expenses.

For Annual Conferences. The annual conference is also a key player in maintaining accountability to the teachings of the church. It is possible that an annual conference could promise to uphold and enforce the Discipline but then fail to do so. The proposed upgrade is to give the new Global Episcopacy Committee the power and responsibility to investigate any allegations that an annual conference, although formally committed to upholding the Discipline, has failed to do so. The Committee could require the annual conference to take remedial action or, for serious infractions, place the annual conference on the list of conferences that cannot use the United Methodist name or insignia or receive United Methodist funds from the general church. (Such decisions could be appealed to Judicial Council.)

Technical Fix. Finally, the Modified Traditional Plan includes an upgradethat would ensure that the provisions of the plan would take precedence over any conflicting provisions in the Discipline that are not in the Constitution. Wherever there is a conflict in language or requirements of the Discipline, the provisions of the Traditional Plan would supersede, avoiding any confusion.

The upgrades proposed by the Modified Traditional Plan strengthen both the gracious exit and the accountability features of the plan, making it more likely to succeed. Good News encourages delegates to support these refinements in the interest of enhancing the unity of the church around a shared understanding of marriage and human sexuality, as well as compliance with shared practices.