By: Christa Meland, with contributions from United Methodist News Service
After hours of delaying tactics by opponents, the United Methodist General Conference 2019 delegates passed The Traditional Plan 438 to 384. Minnesota delegates responded to the vote with deep disappointment and deep sadness.
“Today we passed legislation that the General Conference 2019 that institutionalizes and codifies discrimination against LGBTQI individuals, and I’m feeling sad about that,” said Rev. Judy Zabel, a clergy delegate who serves Hennepin Avenue UMC in Minneapolis. “I don’t think that is true to the core values of The United Methodist Church…I leave this General Conference feeling disappointed and really heartbroken and yet I feel that we have a calling to offer compassion in the world, and so our work is not yet finished.” A last-ditch effort to bring the One Church Plan back was defeated in the morning and was followed by efforts to amend the Traditional Plan to address constitutionality issues raised by the Judicial Council, the church’s top court.
The Rev. Tim McClendon, South Carolina, called for a vote on the Traditional Plan as amended, which affirms the church’s current bans on ordaining LGBTQ clergy and officiating at or hosting same-sex marriage.
Later, the Rev. Timothy Bruster, Central Texas, made a motion to request a declaratory decision by the Judicial Council on the constitutionality of the Traditional Plan. The motion passed 405-395. The Judicial Council will address the request at its next scheduled meeting April 23-25 in Evanston, Illinois.
The Rev. Gary Graves, secretary of General Conference, said any piece of legislation that the Judicial Council declares unconstitutional will not be included in the Book of Discipline, the denomination’s policy book.
Near the end of the day, delegates voted to adopt the minority report for one of the petitions on disaffiliation, which then passed.
“My heart breaks for the damage that our church is inflicting on GLBTQI people,” said Faye Christensen, a lay delegate who attends Park UMC in Brainerd. “It is not in the spirit of the Great Commandment that Jesus taught us to love God and to love your neighbor. And I would add to that, and I think Jesus would too: Love God, love your neighbor—no exceptions…My heart is torn when I hear people who are trying to kick them out of our church. It isn’t right. It isn’t Christian. It isn’t how Jesus taught us.”
Dave Nuckols, a lay delegate and member of Minnetonka UMC, expressed both disappointment and hope.
“This is not the outcome that I wanted because I worked very hard with the Commission [on a Way Forward] on the One Church Plan,” he said when General Conference adjourned. “But the way I see it, the American church has made a ton of progress towards inclusion over the last three years…over two-thirds of the American delegates here supported the One Church Plan and that open, inclusive , and tolerant future vision of the church—that will be the future of the American church.”
Nuckols said the decision hurts the Minnesota Conference because it has tended toward greater inclusion, but he points out that the primary enforcement mechanisms that the Traditional Plan put forth, which would have required bishops to strictly enforce the rules in the legislation, did not pass.
“It’s still up to Minnesota to determine whether we want to remain an inclusive, tolerant, One Church Plan kind of place or not,” said Nuckols. “Minnesota still controls its destiny. All of our churches should be optimistic for the future and stay focused on making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”
Zabel said that while it’s important to acknowledge each other’s grief and hold space for that grief in the days and months to come, it’s also important to continue our ministry.
“We move forward by continuing to focus on our mission to reach all people with the love of Jesus Christ in every setting in the state of Minnesota—whether we live in a rural area, whether we live in an urban core. We give thanks that God holds us together and instills in us an enthusiasm and passion for ministry that does not end with legislation at the General Conference. We continue to embrace the love of Jesus Christ in a compelling way that we can share with our neighbors.”
Legislation closed with an omnibus motion to reject any remaining petitions.
At the end of a brief closing worship, Council of Bishops President Kenneth H. Carter wished everyone in attendance “the peace of the Lord in the midst of all you have experienced.”
When the Traditional Plan vote was announced and flashed on the screen, the room erupted with observers singing “Blessed Assurance.” Some delegates gathered in a circle and joined in with the singing.
The delegates on the floor and people in the bleachers went into a call and response, chanting in protest of the vote.
A handful of observers unhappy with the day's legislative results tried to gain entrance to the plenary floor, but security officers blocked them and eventually moved them through turnstiles farther away from the doors. The protesters continued to chant their demand to be admitted.
Bishop Carter said that bishops will have to do a lot of outreach after this General Conference, especially to progressives who feel hurt by what transpired.
“We are going to do a lot of outreach to progressives to say we see you,” he said during a press conference after General Conference adjourned. Carter is also the leader of the Florida Conference, which has congregations across the theological spectrum.
One strategy opponents of the Traditional Plan embraced was to essentially “run out the clock” with amendments. The Rev. Mark Holland, a Great Plains delegate, waved a stack of amendment forms and said, “We’re gonna amend until the monster trucks roll in,” referring to the conference’s need to stop business by 6:30 p.m. and evacuate the facility for a truck rally. Holland leads Mainstream UMC, which lobbied hard for the One Church Plan.
Many opponents’ amendments took the stance that, biblically speaking, any pastoral or episcopal candidate who is divorced or remarried is as ineligible as one who is a “self-avowed practicing homosexual.”
In the morning, after passionate speeches, prayers and tears, the “one, last shot” for the One Church Plan was defeated by a vote of 449-374. The plan was defeated the day before in the first vote.
The Rev. Tom Berlin, Virginia Conference, spoke for a minority report for the One Church Plan that was submitted Feb. 25. A minority report is a substitution for the report of the legislative committee.
“I have a love of the church that sometimes I do not even understand,” he said in presenting the report to the denomination’s top lawmaking assembly. “Sometimes I get emotional when I talk about it because I catch a glimpse of what we can be with God’s help.”
Berlin told delegates that approving the One Church Plan did not force any pastor or church to perform same-sex marriages, nor did it force anyone to change what they believe about the Bible. But the plan would allow conferences to ordain LGBTQ pastors, as well as allowing churches to host and pastors to officiate at same-sex marriages.
“If the Traditional Plan is voted in, it will be a virus that will make the American church very sick,” he said. “Many pastors are going to leave, many annual conference will leave…There will be trials, and they will be on the news. The only news about the church will be about people we don’t serve.”
And he warned the virus would cross oceans and make the whole church sick. However, other delegates stood to talk about following God’s “true word.”
Nancy Denardo, Western Pennsylvania, cited Scriptures in her argument against the One Church Plan.
“Friends, please stop sowing seeds of deceit,” she said. “I’m truly sorry if the truth of the gospel hurts anyone; I love you and I love you enough to tell the truth.”
Rev. Jerry Kulah, a Liberia delegate and leader of the Africa Initiative coalition, argued for the Traditional Plan.
“The Traditional Plan is not only traditional but biblical; it ensures God’s word remains foundational to the life and growth of the UMC. I submit we love our LGBTQ friends,” he said.
Lyndsey Stearns, West Ohio, a young person who described herself as a future pastor, spoke in favor of the One Church Plan and told the body in the past 24 hours, 15,529 young people had signed a statement in support of unity.
The statement says young people are not all of the same mind about LGBTQ people.
“And yet through working together, sharing stories, and worshipping side by side, we have seen each other’s gifts and fruits for ministry! We have witnessed the incredible ways that God is working through each of us in our own unique contexts.”
Stearns said, “I read John 17 and it ruined me. I could not unhear the words of Jesus.”
Aislinn Deviney, Rio Texas, who described herself as a young evangelical delegate, said many young people “fiercely believe marriage is between one man and one woman.”
“We are here at the table because of our dedication, not because we demand a place because of our age,” she said. “We speak for ourselves. We all have family and friends who are LGBTQ that we love and value.”
Rey Hernandez, Philippines, said cultures are not the same around the world but the One Church Plan is “beautiful in our unity.”
“With the help of the gifts of Holy Spirit, I believe what we are trying to agree on is to spread the gospel,” he said.
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church