The United Methodist Church, like the other mainline Protestants in the U.S. in recent years, has been embroiled in the debate over human sexuality and the place of LGBTQ+ people within the leadership of the denomination. At specific issue is a clause in the Book of Discipline – the UMC’s equivalent of the Episcopal Constitution and Canons – which specifically states that, “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” This has not prevented ministers from performing marriages for same-sex couples, or the ordination of openly gay clergy. (There has been significant coverage in the secular press about the UMC’s efforts to impose discipline on these clergy.) At the 2016 General Conference, a special commission was enabled to discern a way forward, ahead of a specially called General Conference slated to take place in February 2019. The committee sent three proposals, along with the enabling legislation, to the denominational court last week for a ruling on the proposals’ constitutionality.
“We are asking for this so that we can gain greater clarity about constitutional issues within the three plans, and in service to and support of the delegations, who will do extremely important work in a very limited amount of time,” Bishop Kenneth H. Carter, president of the Council of Bishops, said in a written statement last week.
The Rev. Maidstone Mulenga, director of communications for the Council of Bishops, described the request in an email as “a pre-emptive move by the bishops.”
The three plans were expected to be made public earlier this month as part of the Commission on a Way Forward’s report to the upcoming special session of the General Conference on sexuality, but their release was postponed until they could be translated into all the official languages of the global denomination’s General Conference: English, French, Kiswahili and Portuguese. That work is expected to be complete by July 30, but the Council of Bishops noted on its Facebook page that it has “no control over the Judicial Council procedures and deadlines.”
The 231-page document containing the proposals is available online here. The RNS article quoted above offers brief summaries of the three options under consideration. The so-called “One Church Plan” would essentially leave decisions regarding LGBTQ+ clergy and the solemnization of same-sex marriages to local jurisdictions; the “Traditional Plan” would preserve the status quo; and the “Connectional Conference Plan” would essentially create three parallel jurisdictions for the conservative, centrist, and liberal wings of the church.