The Traditionalist Plan is a classic mean girl manifesto. “If you don’t follow MY rules, I will kick you out of the group. Nyah, Nyah, Nyah.”
Any rational group of delegates, assuming they are mature adults, seasoned with grace, and aware of their foibles, would laugh this plan out of the room. But I bet it wins.
OK, this post is probably only going to make sense to those who have been following the slowly sinking ship of The United Methodist Church, fractured by fights over the proper use of one’s genitalia.
A quick recap
The following info is for those who have blissfully remained unaware of the state of the UMC.
Only the General Conference (GC) of The United Methodist Church, which generally meets just every four years, can make changes to our Book of Discipline, which contains our constitution, doctrinal standards and the thousands of miscellanea and arcane rules which govern (theoretically) the day-to-day operations of the many churches and agencies that make up our connection.
The UMC is a global body. The non-US United Methodists, especially those from some African nations, have shown more substantially greater membership growth than the financially dominant US portion. The number of delegates from any given region to GC is determined by percentages of global membership stats.
If current growth and decline patterns continue, eventually the non-US delegates will outnumber the US delegates. We are already quite close to that dynamic. Hold on to this thought for a moment.
The increasing divide between US and overseas delegates
Many in the US churches, like the US as a whole, stand firmly in support of same-sex marriages and the full rights of human dignity given to all, no matter the sexual orientation or gender identity.
The vast majority of the overseas delegates, again especially those from the African conferences, see anything other than purely heterosexual activity as irredeemably evil. Thus, anything that may in any way support same-sex attraction or partnerships must have no possibility of church embrace or sanction.
The US church provides about 99% of the financial resources for the global church. Because of the overseas growth numbers, the GC is interestingly close to being in a situation where the non-US delegates can take complete control of the global connection, including making all budgetary decisions.
The non-US delegates will also have the power to enforce their sexual standards over the US church. Because of the nature of the way the overseas conferences are formed, the US does not have reciprocal power over them. Yeah, it’s complicated.
A near collapse of The UMC in 2016
Let’s go back to the use of our of genitalia. In 2016, the GC came perilously close to a complete collapse over petitions about to land on the legislative floor that dealt with human sexuality. Many of the US delegates wanted what is clearly discriminatory language in the Discipline about same-sex activities deleted. A minority of US delegates, along with most of the overseas delegates, want the language to stay and even be strengthened.
A last-minute appeal to the Bishops resulted in all legislation dealing with human sexuality temporarily removed from consideration so the Conference could continue with other mandatory business.
The appeal also resulted in the creation of A Commission on a Way Forward. The charge for the Commission: create a plan that will give us a way to actually move forward with renewed vitality in ministry as a united, global connection, even with the deep divisions over these issues.
The Bishops then arranged for a specially-called General Conference, which will be held this coming February 2019. At this time, delegates will vote on plans developed by The Way Forward.
Are you with me so far?
The best thing possible for you to do right now is to click on this link, download the 236 page, single-spaced document you’ll find there, and print it off. That puts in your hands the 2019 Daily Christian Advocate (DCA), the advance edition of everything you ever wanted to know about GC 2019. It includes the complete report by The Way Forward. Read, with care and close attention, every word
The DCA also includes all motions to be brought to the GC2019 legislative committee for consideration–I believe there are 99 motions. That committee will determine what actually goes to the floor of the General Conference. Unfortunately, 864 people sit on that committee. Yes, you read that right: the one single legislative committee has 864 people on it. For more on this craziness, click here.
In case you didn’t slog through the entire DCA or the proposals, feel free to peruse my summary below.
The Way Forward ended up thoroughly discussing and laying out the possibilities for two different options for holding the church together and yet giving space for ministry contextualization.
The first is the One Church Plan. Relatively simple, truly elegant, and full of grace, it ensures that there is no coercion or pressure on any clergy or church or conference to violate their consciences in these highly disputed matters.
The upside: we stay together, essentially with our current form giving hope for long-term stability. We do not take votes–they are inherently divisive, something the Commission clearly understands–but we do give space and safety.
The downside: we have to act like adults, recognize that there is significant disagreement on the subject, and treat one another with peace-imbued humility over those differences.
The second is the Connectional Conference Plan. Far more complicated structurally, it divides the US into three conferences, affiliated not by geography, as the jurisdictions are now, but by general theological preference.
- Far right: no gays allowed and no connection with those who think differently on the subject.
- Center: let’s just quit talking about this and get back to doing ministry again, and
- Far left: if you don’t fully affirm non-hetero sex, then go away.
The upside: we can still manage to stay together and possibly not wreck the somewhat fragile pension situation (the Westpath report should be required reading for everyone), AND you only have to talk with people you agree with.
The downside: those people you disagree with? They still get to be called United Methodists.
And then there is the third plan, one not originally included in the Way Forward report. But . . . well, you know what pressure does, so it got a last minute inclusion. And there we have the “mean girl” manifesto.
I read it and thought, “Did the writers have ANYONE look at this to find some aroma of grace and humility?” Nope. Not possible.
It’s punitive, nastily so. Either agree with me (that means, NO GAYS EVER), or get out–and don’t even think about calling yourselves United Methodists again. Rip the insignia from your churches, your publications, your hymnals. Don’t CONSIDER trying to stay in if you are in the least sympathetic to same-sex couples because WE WILL FIND YOU AND PUNISH YOU!
The upside: You never, ever have to converse with or work in ministry beside someone you don’t agree with.
The downside: Jesus has left the building. And, by the way, so has the hope for stable pensions into the future, especially for our oldest and most vulnerable retirees.
Oh, one other thing: if by some stroke of fate, you, or perhaps a child or grandchild of yours is born intersexed, i.e., with ambiguous genitalia so that it is impossible to be categorized neatly as “male” or “female,” you no longer have personhood. Why? Because whatever gender you are assigned at birth is yours forever. Since no assignment is possible . . . I guess in the eyes of the Traditionalists, you are not really a human being made in the image of God. The trash heap for you!
Rules, rules, and more rules
When my sister and I were younger, and by the way, we are very close friends now and hold the deepest of love for each other, we had our share of sibling rivalries, particularly during the years we shared a bedroom.
I remember in one of my fits of pique that I decided I’d write out a set of rules as to when she could and could not talk to me or enter the room or basically breathe.
Yeah, I was the older of the two. And yeah, I had my “mean girl” tendencies as well, although I was never the popular one who could terrorize classmates with them. But try to terrorize my sister? That’s another story.
Anyway, the more rules I wrote, the more I needed to write. Each rule had to be modified by yet another set of rules. Finally, even in my immaturity, I realized the silliness of trying to do a relationship based on rules and we just went back to the normal fighting with each other.
But that sums up the Traditionalist plan: rules, rules, and more rules. Violation means expulsion. No options. No differing opinions permitted.
And that is why the Traditionalist Plan is a classic mean girl manifesto. Do exactly this and don’t do exactly that and if you do cross that line, I will make sure you pay and pay mightily. I will ostracize you; I will hang you out to dry; to use today’s term, I will “ghost” you permanently.
Any rational group of delegates, assuming they are mature adults, seasoned with grace, and aware of their own foibles, would laugh this plan out of the room.
But it will probably pass. Remember I told you about the composition of the delegates to GC? There are enough ultra-conservative US delegates (of course, they call themselves the “orthodox,” or “the right ones”) to join forces with the non-US delegates to hijack the Conference.
This coalition will claim only for themselves the name “United Methodists,” although surely even they realize that such a name carries deep irony in this situation. After claiming the name, they will systematically eliminate every single clergy, Bishop or church that disagrees with them.
That’s the mean girls’ technique in the hands of mean adults.
As I said, Jesus has left the building.