On the final day of General Conference, the conference passed legislation from Wespath creating a formula for handling pension benefits for pastors leaving the denomination, parts of the traditional plan and the (Taylor) disaffiliation plan. After passage of the majority of the traditional plan petitions, there were protests from the LGBTQ community and their allies throughout the rest of the evening which sadly ending in some arrests taking place outside the arena.
The Taylor disaffiliation plan has already been ruled unconstitutional in a preliminary (“declaratory”) opinion given by the Judicial Council. Slight changes made to the plan may help it in this regard, but it also may well still ultimately be ruled unconstitutional and may never really take effect.
Fifteen of the original 17 petitions of the Traditional Plan ultimately came to the floor for a vote and were passed after much emotional debate and political wrangling. Two of the original petitions never made it to the floor because they affected Central Conferences (outside the US) and were overwhelmingly voted down by the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matter. One of these petitions that never made it to the floor was the Traditional Plan Petition #10 on the Plan Implementation Process. This petition held within it the “heart of the traditional plan” by providing a mechanism for holding annual conferences and Bishops accountable.
Of the 15 Traditional Plan petitions which passed, 8 have already been ruled unconstitutional in a preliminary (“declaratory”) opinion given by the Judicial Council. The pieces of the traditional plan which were ruled constitutional included expanding the definition of “a self-avowed practicing homosexual” and setting minimum standards for penalties for clergy who perform same sex weddings. However, it is highly questionable whether any of this new legislation could be enforced due to the pieces of the traditional plan which did not pass and the parts of it which will most likely be thrown out as unconstitutional.
So where do we stand now? No one really knows.
Could we actually be roughly in the same place we were before with Discipline standards that can’t be enforced? Yes, that’s possible.
Could this be the beginning of the UMC purging progressives and moderates from its ranks until it become a fully conservative denomination like the Southern Baptist Church did in the forty years ago? Yes, that could be the case.
Could it be when progressive and moderates refuse to leave and conservatives lack the enforcement mechanisms needed to force them to do so that this ultimately leads to a grand compromise involving a future reorganization along the lines of the Connectional Conference Plan? Yes, that’s possible too.
While we don’t know what has happened next, we do know that a lot of harm has been done in the way we argued and fought with one another. There are people who feel they are not valued or wanted by their church. In fact, they feel they are being intentionally forced out of their church. There are people on both sides who feel those who see things differently exhibited the willingness to act deceptively and dishonestly to gain an advantage. And it’s tough to witness the fallout of this harm first hand.
I spent a good bit of my evening trying to convince young adults not to leave the church which they feel just condemned and disregarded many of their friends as well as trying to help other delegates on both sides of the debate see the humanity in each other. And truthfully, I spent a good bit of time this evening trying to see the good in some people who just absolutely confound me. It’s heart wrenching.
But…here’s the thing: this ugly beautiful difficult sacred thing called church wasn’t our idea in the first place. It was Jesus’. And this love your neighbor and your enemy thing he taught us has never been easy. Nor should we expect it to be. It did, after all, get him crucified.
In the midst of all we rightly regret about the conflict within the UMC, I have had numerous people contact me this week and share how observing individuals within the UMC trying to work together, trying to love one another, trying to be courageous and trying to extend the love of God to all people has rekindled in them a desire for God and an interest in church. Yes, God does work in mysterious ways.
There’s much more I could say. And I may will say it tomorrow.
For now, however, I’d like to leave you with the most powerful and true words I know.
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:38-39
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