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.