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A Way Forward: The three plans and resources for churches


June 13, 2018
Members of the Commission on a Way Forward ended their March meeting with a letting-go prayer event in which they gave up control of their final report to the Council of Bishops, who officially received the final report at an April/May meeting in Chicago.

By: Christa Meland

In February 2019, at a Special Session of the General Conference, United Methodist delegates from around the world will decide how to move forward as a denomination around the issue of human sexuality.
 
A diverse, 32-member “Commission on a Way Forward” that was appointed by the Council of Bishops has spent the past two years working to address the denomination’s differences on this topic. The group includes Minnesota layperson Dave Nuckols, a member of Minnetonka United Methodist Church. The commission recently forwarded two detailed plans to the Council of Bishops for their consideration: the One-Church Plan and the Connectional Conferences Plan. A third plan, the Traditionalist Plan, has also been discussed and will be presented as part of the historical narrative of the commission’s work.
 
The Council of Bishops is recommending the One-Church Plan, and it is the only plan they will bring for legislative consideration in February 2019.
 
Bishop Bruce R. Ough offers this wisdom to United Methodist churches and leaders as they await the Special Session of the General Conference:
· Do not make decisions before they are made.
· Lead out of a convicted humility.
· Be a non-anxious presence.
· Be relational in your leadership.
· Affirm all the voices and values.
· Speak to the anxiety and fear.
· Strengthen congregational resiliency (build UMC identity, build biblical and interpretive fluency, increase missional commitment, practice respectful conversation, strengthen your leadership team, and use resources like Anatomy of Peace and God Unbound)

Here’s a detailed and objective look at all three plans—how they’d work, as well as the pros and cons of each one—as presented at Annual Conference by Rev. Judy Zabel and Nuckols, both members of the Minnesota delegation:

One-Church Plan (recommended by Council of Bishops)

This plan would allow for contextualization in different parts of the world (adapting some non-essential practices to different mission fields to maximize our witness and success in each place). It is based on the belief that we can be a church with a large enough tent for people to disagree about homosexuality and yet remain together as The United Methodist Church. It allows us to affirm that our unity and mission are more important than our disagreements. 

Some of the key components of this plan:

It will neither affirm nor condemn LGBTQ persons. It would remove the controversial statement that the practice of homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching” that has been experienced as hurtful by gay persons and as alienating by younger generations.

It relies on pastoral discretion. Clergy would decide which weddings to officiate or not officiate. Clergy—through their normal Board of Ordained Ministry process—would discern who is fit and fruitful for clergy service in their annual conference. This plan would remove the current prohibitions without creating new obligations or affirmation. This plan should put an end to clergy trials that are damaging to individuals and to our public witness.
 
Members of the Commission on a Way Forward say goodbye at their last meeting.

It respects local church wishes. As for weddings, no local church would be forced to vote. However, the church property would not be used in same-sex weddings unless the local church updates its local church policy to specifically allow it. And as for clergy assignment, bishops would take local wishes into account concerning who is or is not a good fit for their appointment. So, practically speaking, there would be gay weddings and gay ordination in some parts of the United Methodist world, but it would not be forced on local churches.

It protects clergy rights to individual conscience. The Book of Discipline would protect clergy who do not want to officiate same-sex weddings. Likewise, all would be allowed to follow their conscience in matter of ordination.

Pros of this plan:
· Allows for contextualization in different parts of the U.S. (this already exists in Africa, Asia, and Europe).
· More coherent theology for unity because it no longer assumes that human sexuality is the defining theological issue for The UMC.
· No more clergy trials.

Cons of this plan:
· Does not completely satisfy the progressives because it does not bar some kinds of discrimination against married homosexuals in some parts of the UMC. 
· Does not completely satisfy the traditionalists because allowing same-sex marriage in any form violates their particular interpretation of scripture.

Connectional Conferences Model (considered but not recommended by Council of Bishops)

The Connectional Conferences Model is grounded in a unified core that includes shared doctrine and services, and one Council of Bishops, while creating different branches that would have clearly defined values such as accountability, contextualization, and justice. 
 
In the U.S., the five geographically distinct jurisdictional conferences would be replaced by three overlapping conferences: one traditional conference, one progressive conference, and one centrist or “uniting” conference. Each annual conference would choose to be a member of one of the three connectional conferences based on their affinity to the conference’s theological stance on homosexuality.  Any local church that disagrees with the annual conference decision could vote to join a different branch conference.
 
Pros of this plan:
· Makes a place for all three viewpoints within the UMC and yet creates enough separation that there is clarity for each position.
· Conferences and local churches could make a clear choice on human sexuality and yet enjoy some of the missional advantages of remaining a global church.  

Cons of this plan:
· Creates a complex structure that is more congregational than connectional.
· It would take years of administrative work to put this in place—there would be many constitutional amendments that would be difficult to ratify in annual conferences around the world.
· Churches may split as they try to determine which branch they will join.
· Some traditionalists would still be upset that LGBTQ people are being affirmed in some parts of the UMC.
· Some progressives would still be upset that LGBTQ people are being discriminated against in the UMC.

Traditionalist Model (not recommended by Council of Bishops)

The Traditionalist Model would affirm the current Book of Discipline statement that the practice of homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching.” Boards of Ordained Ministry would still be prohibited from recommending LGBTQ candidates for ordination. Officiating same-sex marriages would still be a chargeable offense, and being a self-avowed and practicing gay clergy would continue to be a chargeable offense. 

The Traditionalist Model would demand increased accountability to the Book of Discipline—not only for individual pastors but also for churches, bishops, and even annual conferences, all of which could face punishment.

Pros of this plan:
· Essentially preserves the status quo, which some want.
· Requires no changes to our structure.

Cons of this plan:
· It’s a plan for keeping the status quo; fighting will continue and it will compromise our mission with costly trials.
· Plan is not a plan for unity; it tells the progressives to leave.
· We would likely lose most of our millennials and the next generations.

Resources for local churches

Here are several resources for local churches to use to help them talk about the way forward:
Video: Bishop Ough and Dave Nuckols talk about the Commission on a Way Forward and what's next
Video: Council of Bishops talk about benefits of One-Church Plan
Video: Bishop Ough explains Council of Bishops’ decision to recommend One-Church Plan
PowerPoint presentation outlining three plans: 16x9 version / 4x3 version


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