Responding to Talking Points
An organization formed to promote the One Church Plan (OCP) at the special called 2019 General Conference has recently issued a dozen talking points in support of the OCP. Some of those talking points are true and worthy of consideration. Upon closer examination, however, other talking points are either misleading or do not tell the full story. Here are responses to the talking points, quoted from Mainstream UMC.
- The OCP is faithful to Scripture and the example of the Apostles in Acts 15 of allowing different practices in different mission fields.
The OCP changes the definition of marriage to “two adults” and affirms same-gender relationships. That can hardly be called “faithful to Scripture” (see Genesis 1:26-28; 2:23-25; Matthew 19:1-12; I Corinthians 6:9-11; Romans 1:21-27). The more applicable example from Acts 15 is the decision by Paul and Barnabas to honor each other as brothers in Christ, but separate to do ministry in different ways (vs. 36-41).
- The OCP has been vetted by one of the most rigorous processes in our denomination’s history, a faithful, two-year study by the Commission on the Way Forward.
While the Commission did work on the One Church Plan, along with other plans, it never took a vote to endorse any of the plans. A lot of thinking and learning went into drawing up the details of all three plans, and they all benefited from that process. The Commission, however, did not endorse the OCP (nor either of the other plans).
- The OCP has been recommended by nearly two-thirds of all active UM Bishops.
The bishops who endorsed the OCP were primarily from the U.S. According to the information we received, bishops from the central conferences outside the U.S. generally voted against the OCP. This appears simply to be a North American “solution” recommended to a global church.
- The OCP allows different regions in the U.S. to adapt to their mission field.
One of the major shortcomings of the OCP is that it treats the disagreement over marriage and sexuality as a geographical problem, when it is really a theological problem. There are churches that would favor same-sex marriage and the ordination of practicing homosexuals in every annual conference. And there are churches in every annual conference that would find such an accommodation unacceptable. The OCP treats the minority position in any annual conference unfairly.
- The OCP has no impact on the Central Conferences outside of the U.S.
The OCP changes the definition of marriage to “two adults” or qualified as “traditionally understood as a union of one man and one woman.” According to the Judicial Council ( decision 1185), these definitions bind the church in its universal understanding of marriage and are not adaptable by central conferences outside the U.S. Our brothers and sisters outside the U.S. would be forced to live by and defend marriage as a union of two undefined adults. It is also unclear whether it is constitutional to allow different annual conferences to have different standards for ordained ministry – so can the central conferences really adapt the requirements of the Discipline to their own context?
- The OCP retains the global structure of the church and shared critical ministries.
Both the OCP and the Traditional Plan maintain the church’s current global structure and ministries (different from the Connectional Conference Plan). Both plans, however, would need to recognize that significant structural changes would undoubtedly follow upon the loss of members, no matter which plan is passed. The Traditional Plan explicitly maintains a way for those departing the denomination to continue participating in the UM pension and benefit plans, as well as mission partnerships, support, and cooperation. The OCP contains no such provisions for any departing churches.
- The OCP removes most of the controversial and hurtful language about LGBTQ persons.
While the language is controversial and perceived as hurtful by some LGBTQ persons, the church has been forced by progressive advocacy to clarify its understanding of the biblical teaching on marriage and sexuality. It is unfortunate that much of the prohibitive language in the Discipline was needed because of the refusal of some annual conferences, clergy, and bishops to abide by the teachings and requirements of the church. What is often interpreted as hurtful is not the language itself (which can be tweaked), but the basic position of the church that same-sex relationships are not congruent with God’s will for human flourishing. This is not a matter of removing language but of changing the church’s understanding of same-sex relationships.
- The OCP protects the conscience of individual bishops, conferences, pastors, and churches.
These protections, however, are found in the regular part of the Book of Discipline that can be revoked by any future General Conference. In other denominations, when the affirmation of same-sex relationships has become the majority position, such conscience protections have been revoked. Some of those promoting same-sex marriage and ordination in our church have said they will not rest until such is affirmed by all parts of the church (including the central conferences outside the U.S.).
- The OCP requires no votes by conferences or churches.
While not requiring votes, the OCP sets up a situation where inevitably many annual conferences and local churches would have to vote. Every time an openly gay or lesbian candidate for ministry comes up in an annual conference, the clergy session (or in some cases the whole annual conference) would have to take a vote on whether or not to ordain a practicing homosexual. Every time a gay or lesbian member or relative of a member wants to get married in a local church (using the church’s sanctuary), that local church would have to vote whether or not to allow the use of the church’s property in a same-sex wedding. Any annual conference that does not initially ordain practicing homosexuals will be targeted by progressive advocates to change their position, with resulting controversies and votes year after year until the position in that conference is changed.
- The OCP is financially faithful to pension commitments for active and retired pastors.
The Traditional Plan is also financially faithful to pension commitments. Changes in the pension plan will be needed regardless of which plan passes General Conference. While the OCP envisions some local churches leaving the denomination, it provides no mechanism for churches to do so while keeping their property. This creates the conditions for unfair treatment of local churches by different annual conferences and the potential for widespread expensive litigation over property and trust clause issues.
- The OCP puts an end to church trials.
- The OCP holds the denomination together to Make Disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World.
The idea that the OCP will prevent a separation in the denomination is a fond wish, but not grounded in reality. In fact, the North Georgia Annual Conference, which is generally more conservative in its rural areas and more progressive in its urban areas, took a survey this year as to how people might respond to the passing of either plan. It found that 5 percent of its conference members would seek to leave the denomination if the Traditional Plan passed, while 26 percent would seek to leave if the One Church Plan passed.
It would be wise of the General Conference delegates to acknowledge that no matter which plan passes, a significant portion of our denomination’s membership is likely to depart. The delegates essentially face two decisions at the upcoming General Conference:
1) Does The United Methodist Church want to take a traditional or progressive approach to the issues of marriage and sexuality in the years ahead (which will determine the identity of the denomination)?
2) Will The United Methodist Church provide a gracious way for churches to depart with their property, while maintaining the financial integrity of the pension program?
Given that some amount of separation is likely to occur, will that separation be amicable or adversarial? Will local churches be treated fairly across all annual conferences, or depend upon the whim of their annual conference leaders and the individual circumstances of the church, creating the potential for widespread expensive litigation over property and trust clause issues?
5 thoughts on “Responding to Talking Points”
Dear Rev. Lambrecht,
Thank you for your open comments. I have a few questions perhaps you could help clarify: First, on October 23-26, 2018 the Judicial Council meets in Zurich, Switzerland to determine if the document from the Commission will pass the “constitutional test.” What if all or part of the document fails the test? Secondly, how are the other denominations which passed similar same-sex marriage plans fairing after their change in position? Lastly, isn’t there more information regarding these plans directed to the congregations of local United Methodist Churches?
Thank you for your questions, Andy. I’m happy to provide what answers I can.
Each of the plans is being evaluated separately by the Judicial Council. If part of a plan fails the constitutional test, there are two options: 1) amend the plan to correct the deficiency, or 2) withdraw the plan. Some of the constitutional issues with the One Church Plan cut right to the heart of the plan. If the Judicial Council finds those parts of the OCP unconstitutional, it appears there may be no way to save the plan without adding one or more constitutional amendments to correct the problem. If the OCP requires constitutional amendments, it would be all but dead. I do not believe a 2/3 majority could be mustered for the OCP.
The parts of the Traditional Plan that are being challenged can be carved off separate from the rest of the plan. If some part or parts of the Traditional Plan are found to be unconstitutional, the rest of the plan could still be enacted, although it would end up being weaker. There also may be ways to correct the deficiencies short of a constitutional amendment.
Other denominations (Presbyterian Church USA, Evangelical Lutheran Church, The Episcopal Church, United Church of Christ) have adopted a One Church Plan approach to resolving their conflicts. In their cases, the assurance of protection for a traditional viewpoint in the church has not lasted, but is being eroded. In addition, the rate of membership loss has doubled for each of these denominations since enacting their plans. Attendant financial difficulties have caused cutting of national staff and programs.
There is some information available for local churches. The Board of Discipleship Ministries has created a four-session program to resource and facilitate congregational discussion of the plans. You can access the program here: https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/courageous-conversation-about-the-way-forward?mc_cid=dabff204a3&mc_eid=1f4bd68595. I believe it fairly presents the information on each of the plans.
Thank you for your insight and points on the OCP, Tom. I am curious about your thoughts of The Simple Plan which has been submitted for consideration. Do you believe that its impact is similar to the OCP? If different, how? What are your thoughts and suggestions on how the UMC can work as one body for God’s mission with differing views not only on human sexuality but on gender, race, equity, cultural contexts?
And, supposing the OCP passes, in my area, my church is already pushing for OCP and quite vocal on it; the senior pastor has already said traditionalists should find another church.
So besides the Baptists, there is not other traditional belief mainline denomination, right? Basically, I will remove my membership, legacy foundation, tithe but have no where to worship…. that makes it hard.
Thank you for your comments. We hope that traditionalists will not need to leave The United Methodist Church. But if so, where enough of us leave together, we can form new congregations, or existing congregations might leave together. Other Wesleyan denominations where you might find a welcome include the Wesleyan Church, Church of the Nazarene, and the Free Methodist Church. And if many United Methodists find it necessary to depart from the UMC, there will undoubtedly be a Wesleyan Covenant Church of some kind.