In a final vote, delegates at United Methodism’s governing General Conference rejected the One Church Plan heavily pushed by most USA bishops to overturn the church’s definition of marriage as husband and wife. It would have compelled local churches to choose their own marriage definition, localizing to tens of thousands of congregations an issue always reserved by General Conference.
The final defeat of the One Church Plan, in the form of a minority report, was 55% to 45%. Yesterday the plan was defeated in legislative committee.
Delegates are convened in St Louis for this specially called General Conference to adjudicate the church’s teaching on marriage and sexual ethics. Unlike most other historically liberal USA Mainline Protestant denominations, United Methodism teaches sex is exclusively for husband and wife.
This says it all:
Historic: United Methodist General Conference ok’s Traditional Plan reaffirming church teaching on marriage & strengthening accountability. Transitioning from liberal Mainline to global orthodox, our great church has future. #UMCGC2019 pic.twitter.com/tY36TUMn7m
— Mark Tooley (@markdtooley) February 26, 2019
The Evangelicals in the American church got a massive boost from the growing African Methodist church, which comprises 42 percent of United Methodism worldwide. Dr. Jerry Kulah, an academic theologian from Liberia, gave this speech over the weekend at the conference. Excerpts:
Friends, please hear me, we Africans are not afraid of our sisters and brothers who identify as lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgendered, questioning, or queer. We love them and we hope the best for them. But we know of no compelling arguments for forsaking our church’s understanding of Scripture and the teachings of the church universal.
And then please hear me when I say as graciously as I can: we Africans are not children in need of western enlightenment when it comes to the church’s sexual ethics. We do not need to hear a progressive U.S. bishop lecture us about our need to “grow up.”
Let me assure you, we Africans, whether we have liked it or not, have had to engage in this debate for many years now. We stand with the global church, not a culturally liberal, church elite, in the U.S.
More, on the question of African Methodist churches losing US financial backing:
Unfortunately, some United Methodists in the U.S. have the very faulty assumption that all Africans are concerned about is U.S. financial support. Well, I am sure, being sinners like all of you, some Africans are fixated on money.
But with all due respect, a fixation on money seems more of an American problem than an African one. We get by on far less than most Americans do; we know how to do it. I’m not so sure you do. So if anyone is so naïve or condescending as to think we would sell our birth right in Jesus Christ for American dollars, then they simply do not know us.
We are seriously joyful in following Jesus Christ and God’s holy word to us in the Bible. And in truth, we think many people in the U.S. and in parts of Europe could learn a great deal from us. The UM churches, pastors and lay people who partner with us acknowledge as much.
Please understand me when I say the vast majority of African United Methodists will never, ever trade Jesus and the truth of the Bible for money.
So, what now for liberal Methodists? Will they break away and form their own church? If so, what will the terms of divorce be?
I really cannot get over the fact that at last, the traditionalist side has won something big! Congratulations, Methodists.
UPDATE: Emma Green at The Atlantic reports on today’s events (notice the sad-faced progressives in the photo; The Atlantic knows its audience). She notes that the church’s American bishops and senior clergy pushed hard for the One Church Plan, which would have kept the church together, but allowed each congregation to set its own rules on how to handle LGBT matters. Excerpt:
The bishops clearly did not have the support for which they had hoped. During a vote early in the conference, delegates did not put the One Church Plan at the top of their collective agenda. On Tuesday, they definitively voted against any further consideration of the plan. “The fact that that’s been rejected shows that our leadership has lost its ability to influence and lead our Church in a way that people are willing to follow,” said Lambrecht.
Although the United Methodist Church is often described as a liberal, mainline Protestant denomination, in reality, the body is much more split, even in the United States. In a poll of its American members, the denomination found that 44 percent of respondents described their religious beliefs as traditional or conservative, 28 percent said they are moderate or centrist, and 20 percent identified as progressive or liberal. While the survey didn’t ask directly about LGBT issues, this is one of the clear theological dividing lines in the denomination: “There are thousands of us in churches … fiercely committed to a traditional definition of marriage: one man and one woman,” said Aislinn Deviney, a delegate from Rio, Texas. “I am a young, evangelical delegate. We young evangelicals want you to know that we are here. And we are striving to leave a legacy of scriptural holiness for generations to come.”
UPDATE.2: Reader Robert M.:
I have many opinions regarding this. And agree with some of the comments above. It’s not clear this is “over” whatever “over” means in this situation. The results of General Conference 2019 were very similar to those of General Conference 2016. The giant elephant in the room is, “Why did the bishops expect a different outcome?”
Here is my critique of this mess in a hopefully brief parody:
United Methodists in the United States and Europe (not all of them but enough): Let’s change church teaching. Let’s be loving, inclusive, affirming, and stop harming our LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters. Love and grace.
Global United Methodist Church: No. Scripture and so on.
WUM: Oh come on! Get with the times! We need to stop spending so much time and energy on this!
WUM: WE NEED TO STOP SQUABBLING ABOUT THIS. CHANGE CHURCH TEACHING. OUR WONDERFUL GIFTED LGBQT+ CAN BE ORDAINED TOO. WE NEED TO STOP SPENDING SO MUCH TIME AND ENERGY ON THIS. WE NEED TO GET BACK TO THE MISSION…
GUMC: No. For the umpteenth time. NO.
WUM: Sigh. This is really dividing us. Have you noticed how much every conference is consumed by this issue? We can’t take this any more. Bishops! Help! Lead us so we can get this matter settled so we stop spending so much time and energy on this and can get back to the Mission.
(Bishops > Commission on a Way Forward > a few plans > they endorse the One Church Plan > but General Conference can consider other plans and petitions)
WUM: We are afraid this General Conference will not do anything. That would be the worst possible outcome.
General Conference 2019: (Does something: One Church Plan no, Traditional Plan yes.) (Oversimplifying for a moment.)
WUM: (And here is where it gets murky.) (a) Oh man General Conference didn’t do anything, or (b) This isn’t settled, or (c) Oh no, this hurts, what a terrible decision, after Easter let’s meet and talk about our options, maybe start a new denomination.
The United Methodist Church in the United States was selling the One Church Plan pretty hard. Which is fine. But (1) its supporters absolutely did not understand how people of more “traditionalist” conviction view the presenting issue *or* the One Church Plan, (2) they didn’t guess correctly how Methodists from outside United States and Europe would vote, and (3) they honestly thought this General Conference would somehow go differently than the last one or three.
What this General Conference showed again, although perhaps even more clearly is how deeply divided the United Methodist Church is. Not just on same-sex relations and marriage, but on Scripture, theology, even what the Wesleyan tradition is about. General Conference 2019 was like a couple that was one step from getting divorced, they went to marital counseling; they found out that they love each other, want to stay married, and have irreconcilable differences. This hurts, and it isn’t over yet.