I haven’t said much about the United Methodist Church and its woes on my blog lately. Since leaving Portland in 2016, I’ve been pretty quiet on the Commission on a Way Forward and related matters. At least online.
That was intentional. I figured that there wasn’t much left to say or do after Portland that wouldn’t get said or done as the Commission got going. I put my head down and got back to work at Kessler Park UMC. We have plenty to do in our community and congregation.
But here we are 103 days away from the opening ceremony in St. Louis at the specially-called General Conference which will determine our future as a denomination. Or not. And I’ve got some thoughts.
I don’t want to rehash everything that’s come before — the three options that the Commission drafted, the strange handling of the three options by the bishops, the Judicial Council’s review of said options, and most recently, the line in the sand drawn by the Wesleyan Covenant Association.
It’s this last bit of news that prompts me to write. The conservatives have decided that they cannot — and will not — live in a United Methodist Church that adopts a One Church plan, which essentially allows churches and pastors to choose for themselves whether to do same-sex wedding ceremonies, and permits annual conferences to decide whether to ordain LGBTQ candidates.
Honestly, I’m glad they have drawn their line in the sand. We need to know where it is. The fact that they have made it clear before the General Conference is OK with me. At least we know.
What frustrates me as a “progressive” is that we haven’t done the same. In fact, we haven’t even had a meeting. We haven’t met together, pooled our resources, and made a strategic plan. Heck, we don’t even really know which of our colleagues are with us!
Because here’s what I know: if we don’t have a One-Church-plan type of solution to our problem, then I (and most likely, my church) cannot — and will not — stay in that United Methodist Church.
As far as I can discern, there are only really three possible results of the February 2019 General Conference: A) the One Church plan passes; B) the Traditionalist plan (tweaked to become constitutional) passes; or C) nothing passes and things remain as they are. Given that an early version of the One Church plan couldn’t pass in 2016 with the very same delegates who will be in St. Louis, Result A seems like a long shot. Result B would violate my convictions, and make it easier for the church to take my ordination away from me when I actually live out those convictions, but it also seems unlikely that it would find enough votes to pass.
If I were a betting man, I’d double down on Result C. I’ve seen how General Conference works, and given the fact that it took two days to simply get the rules straight in Portland, I fail to see how four days in St. Louis will get the job done.
I’m trying to imagine what it will be like to wake up on February 27th, 2019, the morning after General Conference is over. If Result A occurred, then I and my church will be OK with that. We won’t be overjoyed, because it’s still a compromise measure. It means that we will stay in relationship with churches that take a more exclusionary and judgmental approach to LGBTQ people, but if we can continue to be the faithful opposition, then there would be a place for us. And we’d be OK.
However, if Result B took place, we would have a major problem. By definition, the Traditionalist Plan would force people like us out. Finally, it would be clear that we have been delusional, believing that things would eventually change. We will have to leave.
Likewise, if we end up with Result C, we face the chaos of a status quo that will finally erupt. Churches and pastors will likely begin doing even more same-sex weddings, even more publicly, and conservatives will pursue charges against any and all. Trials will stack up in every corner of the denomination, and our bishops will be stuck. It won’t be pretty.
Here’s my strongest conviction to date: progressives need to have a plan for February 27, 2019. We need to think NOW about what will happen in each scenario. We pastors cannot afford to wait until that date to think about what to do; indeed, people in our churches are already deciding. I’m already hearing from laypeople who will leave the United Methodist Church on Feb. 27 if the Traditionalist Plan passes, or if nothing changes. They have their minds made up.
I’m checking into my options. I urge each of my colleagues to do the same.
I’m not drawing a line in the sand quite yet — I’d say I’m just sweeping the sand with my big toe. But I’d sure like to know what the rest of you are thinking.
Here’s the question that each clergy person needs to be working on right now:
What are YOU and YOUR CHURCH going to do on February 27, 2019, if either the Traditionalist Plan is passed, or nothing changes?