On the second day of the Special General Conference of the United Methodist Church (UMC), the delegates voted to set priorities for legislative matters to be addressed. Today’s vote determines in what order legislation will be considered. The top vote-getters are proposals affecting Wespath (the insurance and pension plan), The Traditional Plan, two proposals relating to congregational disaffiliation, and the One Church Plan.
The Traditional Plan would further restrict LGBT+ members and effectively remove nearly all existing LGBT+ ministers by mandating penalties for disobeying existing restrictions and requiring bishops, pastors and annual conferences to certify adherence to the Discipline standards on LGBTQ marriage and ordination. The One Church Plan offers a kind of “good disagreement” by eliminating all language regarding LGBT+ restrictions from the Book of Discipline while also allowing congregations and conferences to opt to continue restrictions.
Those in favor of inclusion were disappointed that the majority of delegates prioritized the plan which would further restrict LGBT+ members, but are still working to convince delegates to find a way that does not seek to drive them out of the church. Whichever way the vote goes, many delegates are clearly wanting to ensure they have a pathway out since two different proposals that would allow congregations to leave and maintain ownership of their facilities are in the top five.
“We’re very happy the Traditional Plan received the majority of the votes,” said the Rev. Rob Renfroe, president of the unofficial advocacy group Good News, which has championed the legislation. In spite of all the efforts of the groups and the bishops, the church remains committed to a scriptural understanding of sexual ethics.”
Neil Alexander said his unofficial advocacy group Uniting Methodists, which supports the One Church Plan, is not giving up. “We are in the beginning of a complex legislative process,” Alexander said. “There is much debate and many decisions to come. We will be sharing information and ideas we believe will win broad support.”
The Rev. Edwin Momog, a delegate from Sierra Leone, said the hall was charged and tense during the vote. But he believes a majority of delegates are happy. “But God has a way of doing things. He has some sense of humor. When we feel so much anxious, that’s when he comes in with his own way. It is God’s church. And, I think the voting just went God’s own way.”
Audun Westad, lay delegate from the Norway Conference, said it saddened him that the disaffiliation petitions got such huge support. “That does not look good for their willingness to stay together with people of a different mind,” he said.
The president of the Council of Bishops said the Feb. 24 vote is “very early in the process” and the work is in the hands of the delegates.
Image: The Rev. Gary Graves reads the results of a Feb. 24, 2019 poll of legislative priorities among delegates to the Special Session of the General Conference of The United Methodist Church, held in St. Louis, Missouri. Graves is secretary of the general conference. Photo by Paul Jeffrey, UMNS