United Methodists Propose Potential Ways Forward

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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.

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Philip B. Spivey
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Philip B. Spivey

Any episcopal federation (as in episcopal succession) that cedes the honoring of fundamental human rights "to the provinces", is no longer a federation but a confederacy.

No constitution is "divinely inspired" so that periodically, it must reviewed and renewed; the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution is a prime example.

When a Church constitution has fallen behind behind the times in its duty to protect, respect and honor all of its stakeholders, then it ceases to be a credible reflection of the Good News.

When Church leadership is reluctant to take a stand for what is, knowingly just, the easy way is to "kick the can" down to the provinces. Before the radical social changes that followed the Civil War, States Rights prevailed in many U. S. "provinces". The Civil War was about the rights of African Americans. Some provinces said they had no rights and so did the U.S. Constitution.

Does any Church, in 2018, wish to make honoring the rights of individuals a toss-up?

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Gregory Orloff
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Gregory Orloff

According to the gospel of Christ Jesus, to practice one's faith as a baptized and communing Christian is to follow Jesus by giving alms, praying, fasting, loving God, loving neighbor, loving enemy, and treating others the same way you want them to treat you. Just how could "overly progressive or conservative" jurisdictions possibly interfere with that?

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Kenneth Knapp
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Kenneth Knapp

I wonder if we could do something like that in the Episcopal Church...bring the conservatives back in and have three separate jurisdictions. I would like nothing more than a centrist jurisdiction that allowed me to practice my faith without interference from the overly progressive or conservative.

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