Oklahoma Conference of the United Methodist Church

Moving Forward

10/5/2018

By Meagan Ewton

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
  • Freedom to minister within missional context
  • Defines marriage as covenant between two adults
  • Removes language that restricts pastors and churches from conducting same-sex marriage
  • Avoids formal division of the denomination
  • Replaces current US jurisdictions with three values-based conferences similar to jurisdictions: Traditional, Unity, Progressive
  • Avoids complete division of denomination
  • Requires a number of constitutional amendments
  • Maintains current language in The Book of Discipline
  • Broadens the definition of “self-avowed, practicing homosexual” to include persons living in same-sex marriage or partnership
  • Makes complaint procedures easier
What does this mean for churches?
  • Local churches decide wedding policies
  • Will covenant with bishop regarding whether the church will accept LGBTQ+ pastor
  • No provision for gracious exit
  • Churches will follow their annual conference to a Connectional Conference unless they vote otherwise
  • Churches in the Unity Conference will be able to set their own policies regarding buliding use for same-sex marriages
  • Provides for gracious exit by allowing any 50 congregations to form a self-governing church if they are in “irreconcilable conflict” with the plan
  • Churches leaving denomination must contribute  to Conference’s share of unfunded pension liability
What does this mean for clergy?
  • LGBTQ+ persons can be fully ordained
  • Clergy decide whether to conduct a same-sex wedding service; military chaplains will be required
  • No more church trials for same-sex wedding
  • Active and retired clergy and bishops can choose who they want to affiliate with
  • Ordination would be recognized by all three connectional conferences
  • Deacons and full-time local licensed pastors may see fewer ministry opportunities
  • Requires clergy to agree to uphold provisions in The Book of Discipline regarding homosexuality
  • Sets minimum penalties for conducting same-sex weddings
What does this mean for Conferences?
  • Annual Conference decides on ordination policies regarding LGBTQ+ persons
  • Central Conferences can maintain ministry practices
  • Maintains current structure of boards, agencies and ministires
  • Jurisdictional conferences will decide which connectional conference to join; annual conferences will follow their jurisdiction unless they vote otherwise
  • Annual conferences may revote to stay or join a different Connectional Conference every four years
  • Prohibits bishops from ordaining LGBTQ+ clergy
  • Maintains current structure of boards, agencies and ministries

 

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