Today, the #UMC hashtag on social media has been abuzz with conversation about the Judicial Council’s ruling on the plans put forth for consideration at our special session of General Conference in February. The Council of Bishops had asked for a ruling on the constitutionality of the three main proposals in order to avoid any confusion and in hopes of as little conflict as possible in the voting process. Today, the ruling came down and I believe they got a lot of it right while I wish they had ruled differently on other things. But, this is why they are appointed to interpret our church law and why I am not. You may read the full ruling here.
I have been outspoken on my objection to the so-called One Church Plan because I feel that the proposal would seriously alter the polity of the United Methodist Church. Currently, we are a connectional/episcopal church, which means that we are bound by common doctrine, church law, and standards (at least we are supposed to be). Certain powers are given to the Annual Conference and to the bishops to administer rules but ultimately it’s the General Conference who makes decisions on matters that impact the entire church. One Church, as it has been presented, would open the door to a “local option” whereby Annual Conferences and congregations would be able to decide for themselves on matters that are normally left up to the General Conference to decide. The Council found that One Church is mostly constitutional except for a few minor provisions that are mostly inconsequential to the larger body of the plan. Regarding One Church, the ruling states,
As a primary principle in any organizational structure of The United Methodist Church, connectionalism denotes a vital web of interactive relationships—multi-leveled, global in scope, and local in thrust—that permits contextualization and differentiation on account of geographical, social, and cultural variations and makes room for diversity of beliefs and theological perspectives but does not require uniformity of moral-ethical standards regarding ordination, marriage, and human sexuality.
In other words, the ruling is that the constitution of the church allows for “contextualization” as is the practice for many of our African and European central conferences. I understand what they’re saying and they are correct. But I still wish that we would not potentially be allowing annual conferences and congregations to decide on their own what they will and will not do on decisions relating to human sexuality. This impacts the entire church and serves to only further fragment the body. Ultimately, this defeats the purpose of and undercuts our current polity. I hope that the delegates to General Conference will take this matter into consideration.
Regarding the Connectional Conference proposal, Judicial Council essentially said that they have no grounds to rule on this proposal as it contains the necessary amendments to the Constitution to make it legal.
The Judicial Council was most critical of the Traditionalist Plan. I have not said as much about this plan but I have had many concerns about this proposal. Basically, I am not comfortable with the idea that boards of Ordained Ministry and district Committees on Ministry would essentially be asked to engage in witch hunts and that anyone who is even potentially a homosexual could be tossed out without recourse. I have had some grave concerns about these aspects of the plan and, apparently, I wasn’t alone. Out of the 17 petitions that make up Traditionalist Plan, the Judicial Council found issues with nine of them. Seven of them were found to be unconstitutional in their entirety. It’s safe to say that the Traditionalist Plan is effectually been gutted. From the ruling:
Under the principle of legality, the General Conference can prescribe or prescribe a particular conduct but cannot contradict itself by prescribing prohibited conduct or prohibiting prescribed conduct. It can require bishops, annual conferences, nominees, and members of boards of ordained ministry to certify or declare that they will uphold The Discipline in its entirety and impose sanctions in case of non-compliance. But it may not choose standards related to ordination, marriage, and human sexuality over other provisions of The Discipline for enhanced application and certification. The General Conference has the authority to require that the board of ordained ministry conduct a careful and thorough examination to ascertain if an individual meets all disciplinary requirements and certify that such an examination has occurred. But it cannot reduce the scope of the board examination to one aspect only and unfairly single out one particular group of candidates (self-avowed practicing homosexuals) for disqualification. Marriage and sexuality are but two among numerous standards candidates must meet to be commissioned or ordained; other criteria include, for example, being committed to social justice, racial and gender equality, and personal and financial integrity, that all should be part of a careful and thorough examination.
TL, DR: We are not allowed to pick and choose which parts of the breaking of covenant can be scrutinized and which can continue to be ignored and swept under the rug.
Many have said that the Traditionalist Plan is now dead but I do not see it that way. Anything and everything can be amended when General Conference convenes at St. Louis in February. General Conference can adopt any plan that has been proposed, make their own plan, or adopt no plan at all (which I feel is unlikely). I am glad that the Judicial Council addressed many of the concerns I have had about the Traditionalist Plan.
I have no interest in witch hunts and will not take part in them.
Regardless of how you may feel about the proposals, I urge you to be in prayer for the United Methodist Church as the future of the church is very much at stake. Dialogue with your conference’s delegates and express (kindly and civilly) your views.
Above all, let’s remember that we are the church and act like it.