If you'd like a play-by-play of this Plenary day, you can visit my Twitter feed: https://twitter.com/minimar7.
What is the Traditional Plan? First, you can find read the plan for yourself here, pages 182 to 195. Note that the following petitions were ruled unconstitutional by the Judicial Council: 90033, 90034, 90035, 90037, 90038, 90039, 90040, 90045 (2nd added sentence). One of these - 90037 - was amended today in an attempt to bring it into compliance.
Tonight, I'll simply say that the plan is designed to: 1) provide for churches and conferences that don't agree with it to leave the UMC; 2) make the restrictions regarding homosexuals tighter, and 3) to make punishments for those who violate the Discipline clearer and stricter. For example:
- The bulk of the plan is found in a new paragraph (5 full pages in the ADCA) to be added to the Discipline. This paragraph is entitled, "Implementing Gracious Accountability" and begins, "Because of the current deep conflict over the United Methodist Church's position on marriage and sexuality, a local church or annual conference may indicate its desire to form or join a self-governing church...." The rationale for this paragraph states that this is "The heart of the Traditional Plan." The heart of the Traditional Plan begins and is laced with language about how churches can leave the UMC.
- What is a self-avowed, practicing homosexual? Previously, the Judicial Council ruled that this was anyone who "openly acknowledged to a bishop, district superintendent, district committee of ordained ministry, board of ordained ministry, or clergy session that the person is a practicing homosexual." Now, this definition will include "or is living in a same-sex marriage, domestic partnership or civil union, or is a person who publicly states that she or he is a practicing homosexual." Unintended consequences of this could include false charges being brought upon clergy or those seeking ordination by others who report that they "said they are a homosexual," even if this is not the case. Unfortunately, it is not unknown for this to occur, even within the church.
- Members who are nominated for the Board of Ordained Ministry will be required to "certify that they will uphold the Book of Discipline." This might sound like a no-brainer; certainly, those who serve on the Board of Ordained Ministry should uphold the Discipline. (Boards of Ordained Ministry are comprised of clergy and laity who determine if individuals are fit and ready for ordained ministry in the United Methodist Church.) The problem for this pastor is that this puts my integrity in question. I vowed to uphold the Discipline at my ordination. I serve as an Elder in Full Connection, which means that I am in covenantal relationship with my clergy sisters and brothers. It is no small thing to me that the UMC will ask me to sign something that says (again) that I will uphold the vows of my ordination. If you are married, imagine if your spouse required you to re-commit to your marriage vows, not because you wanted to, but because you had to in order to continue to fill part of your role as spouse. It is true that some Boards of Ordained ministry are not keeping this covenant. However, it is a breach of covenant to require all clergy who serve in this role to perform what feels very much like punitive action. It is a breach of trust - a sign that no clergy member's ordination vow is trusted by the connection.
- One provision that has been deemed unconstitutional (petition #90038) states that Boards of Ordained Ministry must "conduct an examination to ascertain whether an individual is a practicing homosexual, including information on social media, as defined by the Discipline. The Board shall certify that such an examination has occurred and its results." Again, this will not make it into the plan, but it indicates the spirit of this plan. With no specifics offered, I can only imagine what sort of test Boards are supposed to come up with to determine for sure whether or not a person is a homosexual, especially if taking their word for it is no longer enough. Our BOM will interview 28 people this spring who are in process for ordination. In addition to reading their theological paperwork, reflection papers, sermons, reports from SPRC, mentors and district superintendents, this rule would require us to scour their social media pages and other sources to see if we can determine and prove their sexual orientation and practices.
Enough. Our Bishop has asked all clergy and laity of the Central Texas Conference to allow at least 30 days to just keep on being the church in mission and not make any knee-jerk reactions to this plan. Certainly, we do not know what will happen when this plan goes back to Judicial Council. The Council will also look again at the Taylor petition for disaffiliation (see previous post - the Boyette petition was not voted upon), which was amended today to bring it in line with our constitution. The petition passed in plenary, but whether or not it is deemed constitutional remains to be seen. So, there is still more information to come.
And there are untold numbers of "unintended consequences" to what happened today. For example, there are 117 academic institutions, the oldest of which was founded by Methodists in 1830, that are questioning whether they can continue to be associated with the Methodist Church because of non-discrimination values they have to uphold to receive accreditation. Other relationships with non-Methodist institutions are also threatened, and these consequences will affect more than just the current United Methodist congregations and conferences.
It's too much to sort out tonight. 30 days is a start. Of course, we keep breathing. Of course, we keep praying. Of course, we continue to be the church in our mission field. And we wait to see what today's decisions will bring.
Tonight, I am tired. Tonight, I do not have a very encouraging word. It did not have to be this way. Conferences should be assisting local churches in mission, not responding to allegations of homosexuality. Clergy should be serving and leading and mentoring, not proving their fidelity to the connection and spying on one another to see if we can catch this one transgression while not keeping a watchful eye out for, or reporting, any number of biblical, but not-targeted-by-the-Discipline sins.
For too many, this Conference was never intended to be about unity; it was designed to draw a line and "graciously" invite churches and people to leave. This is not who we are as a church, and I am sad.
I know we will move forward. I know this is not the end of the mission. I know there is much we can and will do to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with a world in need. I just can't quite see the future shape of the UMC - not just yet. I pray that we will find it - create it, even - together with our God, who sees things so much more clearly than we do.
And I know one more thing. The church I am honored to serve, the church whose members and mission are so dear to me, we will continue to welcome all. We will continue to invite people into a relationship with the living Lord, whose love is shared in the work of our hands and feet. We will continue to worship together, teach together, learn together and serve together. We will do this without requiring people to prove their sexual orientation is deemed acceptable.
The explanatory notes in the Commission on a Way Forward Report regarding the Traditional Plan (ADCA, p. 154) state that:
The Traditional Model provides freedom for progressive pastors, churches, and conferences to evangelize persons who they believe would best be reached by a form of Methodism that is fully inclusive of all sexual orientations and gender identities. At the same time, it provides assurances that traditional United Methodists can continue to make disciples among people who value traditional teaching on marriage and sexual behavior.
While these words appear to make a distinction between churches that desire to invite all people into a relationship with Jesus Christ and churches that follow traditional United Methodist doctrine, I refute this either/or contrast. I am proud to be Wesleyan, and I am honored to serve one church among many in our connection that provides a much-needed, faithful, and faith-filled Wesleyan witness of grace in this world, even while evangelizing to all. I have good reason to believe Arlington Heights UMC is by no means the only church that will continue to do both. And tonight, even in my sadness, I rejoice in this truth.