The General Conference taking place in February 2019 will determine how the United Methodist Church will approach human sexuality.
Simply put, the General Conference will decide whether or not to allow people who are openly gay to be married in United Methodist congregations or to serve as clergy.
Three plans are under consideration: the One Church Plan, the Connectional Conference Plan and the Traditionalist Plan.
The Commission on a Way Forward, a diverse group of clergy and laity from around the world that examined every paragraph of The Book of Discipline related to human sexuality, has recommended the One Church Plan in a report to the Council of Bishops. However, deep divisions remain among United Methodists who believe the One Church Plan either does too much or not enough to address the denomination’s stance on human sexuality.
The One Church Plan
The One Church Plan would allow conferences, pastors and churches the flexibility to decide for themselves how to address the marriage and ordination of LGBTQ+ persons within their ministry context.
In addition to removing restrictive language regarding sexual orientation, the One Church Plan adds language that protects the religious freedom of pastors who choose not to marry or ordain “self-avowed practicing homosexual persons.” The plan also ends the threat of church trials over same-sex weddings.
“The Commission hears a yearning from both traditionalists and progressives for more space,” the report states. “The One Church Plan is built on the belief that it is possible to live with more space while we focus on our common mission.”
The Connectional Plan
The Connectional Plan would replace the five jurisdictional conferences in the United States with three values-based conferences that annual conferences, churches, and clergy would choose to join. While this option prevents the denomination from being formally divided, a number of constitutional amendments would be required before the plan could be put into place.
In addition to restructuring conferences, the Connectional Plan also allows for boards, agencies and seminaries to be reformed to accommodate the new denominational structure.
“The Connectional Conference Plan provides both space and connection between those parts of the church currently in deep conflict,” the report states. “The space is needed for us to live together with different core convictions on ordination and same gender marriage. The connection allows us to continue to accomplish more in ministry across the globe than we could separately.”
The Traditionalist Plan
The Traditionalist Plan, as its name suggests, is the most conservative of the proposed plans.
In addition to maintaining current language in The Book of Discipline, the plan expands its definition of “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals” to include LGBTQ+ persons who are married or living in partnership.
It also makes complaint procedures against clergy easier to process and provides a provision for churches to leave the denomination.
Unlike the One Church Plan and the Connectional Plan, the Traditionalist Plan was not a focus of the Commission until the April 29-May 4 meeting of the Council of Bishops requested it be developed by the end of the Commission’s final meeting on May 16.
Commission members expressed concern that the time allotted was not enough to develop a full plan. To meet the deadline, the Commission ended its work on a new traditional plan and submitted a sketch of a plan that had been sent to the Council in November 2017.
Potential for Schism
“I think there will be a schism of some sort regardless of what happens in February,” said Brian Bakeman, executive director of the South Central Jurisdiction and Oklahoma delegate to General Conference. “The question is how bad will it be and who does it affect.”
Rev. Linda Harker, lead pastor at Norman-McFarlin and head of the Oklahoma delegation to General Conference, believes all United Methodists should be spiritually grounded in prayer about General Conference.
“If we can trust that God can make a way when there seems to be no way, and that we would trust and continue to pray together as a denomination, seeking for that way that would keep us together, because we’re better together than we are apart. What makes us so great as a denomination is what one can’t do, together we can.”
Compare the Plans
|One Church||Connectional Conference||Traditionalist|
|Summary of the Plan||
|What does this mean for churches?||
|What does this mean for clergy?||
|What does this mean for Conferences?||