Judicial Decision 1366 Reflections

The One Church Plan takes the method out of United Methodism. That method has been connectionalism and it has been grossly redefined by the OCP and the Judicial Council: “As a primary principle in any organizational structure of The United Methodist Church, connectionalism denotes a vital web of interactive relationships—multi-leveled, global in scope, and local in thrust—that permits contextualization and differentiation on account of geographical, social, and cultural variations and makes room for diversity of beliefs and theological perspectives but does not require uniformity of moral-ethical standards regarding ordination, marriage, and human sexuality.

These profound words make dozens of previous Judicial Decisions null and void, except for the fact that Judicial Decision 1366 did affirm that the General Conference can set minimum standards. This is exactly what we need to do to restore our connectional identity. Without any minimum standards it’s anything goes, literally. The One Church Plan is a blank check for a “diversity of beliefs and theological perspectives,” except that by the grace of God United Methodist connectionalism can be preserved by GC action. By a simple majority the Special Session can shut the OCP down and reclaim our heritage.

What the OCP does to the annual conference and the local church is harmful. Up until now the anxiety and conflict has been left to the elected delegates at General Conference. But, if the OCP passes, every annual conference clergy session will decide what that conference’s sexual ethics are, and the tension will be seen and felt. Annual conference clergy sessions, that only have a few laypersons on them, will decide all of this for the whole AC and the acrimony between laity and clergy will be exacerbated. Think about the ramifications if your bishop refuses to ordain a self-avowed practicing homosexual and another bishop is called in to do it. That’s visible disunity.

The harm to local churches is extraordinary even though the OCP literature says it will “most likely” not change local church practice. Pastors may do same sex ceremonies, but local churches will have to hold church conferences and vote by simple majority to allow them. Every vote will be personally painful for those who have family members affected by this. Clergy in full connection will still have a guaranteed appointment even if their perspective on the practice of homosexuality differs from their local church, but how long do you think that pastorate will last? It’s a switch from connectionalism to congregationalism and who loses in that scenario? The freedom to contextualize will hurt more than help.

Churches will have to declare their stance, and so will clergy. The OCP brings the fight straight to where it will hurt the most: the annual conference and local church. How in the world will that help anybody want to be United Methodist, much less a Christian?

So what options are left? The Judicial Council didn’t say anything at all about the Connectional Conference Plan because it needs a slew of constitutional amendments to pass, and if that happens, so be it. There’s no need of a review by the JC. But, frankly, I don’t think it has a chance. It revives the language of the racially segregated Central Jurisdiction, except with 3 different theologically based jurisdictions. It’s just too complex, and, like the OCP if it passes, how could we ever call ourselves UNITED Methodists?

What about the Traditional Plan? After all, the JC said a good bit of it is unconstitutional, but my reading and re-reading of JC Decision 1366 is that the TP was not gutted. As a matter of fact, most of the things that were nixed were about the Bishops policing themselves, or about AC Boards of Ordained Ministry and DCOM’s being fair in their examination of candidates for ministry in light of all the parameters of the Discipline, not just about human sexuality. The JC also said the Traditional Plan is in order when it proposes that an annual conference can withdraw from the denomination; when it expands the definition of a self-avowed practicing homosexual; and its prohibition of bishops consecrating anyone as bishop who is one.

Concerning the bishops, the JC said that the TP’s process violated an individual’s right to trial. As a lover of our polity and Discipline I pray that someone comes up with a constitutional way to put teeth in our accountability so that we don’t have bishops and other entities or individuals all over the map doing their own thing. It is hopeful to note that the Traditional Plan’s petition on minimum sentencing wasn’t shelved by the JC. There are some language tweaks that need to be done so that minimum penalties aren’t just about sexual behavior, but we all should be good with complete adherence in all matters in the Discipline.

So which plan does the most damage to our denomination and witness to the world? I know our current language hurts, but I think the OCP will actually do more harm to the people it’s intended to help. In a connectional system we need clear boundaries and norms, not wholesale carte blanche.

GC 2019 pic

14 thoughts on “Judicial Decision 1366 Reflections

  1. Your explanation is encouraging about what is going on in our church, and we hope for the truth of scripture to prevail.
    Thanks for keeping us informed, Tim.
    We have faith in you.
    Mary and Craig Musick

    1. You should read the article about Christ United in the SC Advocate. They see themselves caught in a lose-lose situation that has been created by the denomination. Many of my parishioners feel the same. I doubt they are alone. I would like Tim’s comments regarding this situation, many in our conference are in shock.

  2. Thank you for standing on the Word of God and for His boundaries, which are meant for our protection and for our good, as individuals, as a church, as a denomination, and as the Church world-wide.
    Our prayers will continue for you as you seek to show His Way, and prayers for the UMC to follow God’s leading in everything, and for the love of God to be spread abroad to one another…for HIS GLORY and our good.
    Millie Winston

  3. Thanks for your perspective on all this. I think you are right: “What the OCP does to the annual conference and the local church is harmful.”

  4. As a summer attendee of a UMC church in WNC, it breaks my heart to see this divisive issue causing so much pain. Because of our summer affiliation and because I want to understand what my friends are going through, I have attempted to read everything I can find on both sides of the issue. It seems to me the OCP side is contrary to thousands of years of scripture and Christian teaching. The Bible is not ambiguous without a lot of twisting and re-interpretation of the original writings. It is sad.
    What you are going through is a not so micro microcosm of what is going on in the country at large. People seem to be close to evenly divided on these and other issues. Leaders who believe they know better that those they lead have taken increasingly progressive positions. The UMC leaders seem to have more in common with corporate officers and politicians than with the typical congregants. Think about it-your Judicial Council met in Switzerland! Who paid for that? What was wrong with Chicago, or Houston or Florida? How many homeless could have been fed with just the travel money?
    My prayers are with the UMC but sadly it looks like the UMC will follow the Episcopal, Lutheran and Presbyterian churches down this road. Millions of dollars will be spent trying to sort it out. Churches and members will leave whatever becomes of the UMC. If the remaining entity goes further down the path to the end result of the Progressive Christianity movement, there may be a lot of nice folks involved but will it involve Jesus? Good luck!

  5. Thanks Tim for a very thoughtful and compassionate description of our situation in the United Methodist Church at this time. Sadly it is doubtful that everyone will be pleased with the final result. May God guide those who vote.

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