Observations from the Day
Today, the Methodist Church did the one thing it typically does not do: it made a hard decision with respect to the future of the denomination. The General Conference adopted the Traditional Plan and approved Exit Plans.
This was a painful day.
The effect of the decisions are not-clear as earlier in the day the Judicial Council found several parts of the Traditional Plan unconstitutional. As of this writing, it is not clear what parts are valid or not. However, the portion of the plans to allow local churches to leave is constitutional.
Here is what we are at:
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The first order of business today addressed pension issues. An amendment was offered wherein it added language that all outstanding obligations were to be paid to the annual conference prior to allowing a local church to leave and have pastors secure their pensions. After debate, the motion passed.
Thereafter, a break occurred wherein it was realized that the amended language would give priority to the annual conference debts over pension payments.
Once the break ended, a Motion for Reconsideration occurred where the pension priority was discussed, the prior motion reconsidered and new language was added to provide that pension liabilities would be addressed at the outset over annual conference debts.
This experience demonstrated why there are conflicts within the Book of Discipline.
The Judicial Conference Decisions
Thereafter, the Judicial Council issued a surprise decision finding that parts of the proposed Traditional Plan were unconstitutional and required legislative fixes.
Discussion of the Traditional Plan
Next up was the discussion about the Traditional Plan. It quickly turned to a motion to replace it with the One Church Plan that was rejected the day prior.
As noted before, the Methodist House if truly divided and the discussion of the Plans was brutal. Opponents of the Traditional Plan promoted the narrative that “love” means agreeing with their position and anyone that opposed them were “evil, unbiblical and bigots,” and “immoral, selfish and self-righteous.” At the same time, opponents pleaded for unity with the “bigots,” arguing that we were better together despite the deep of disagreement over theology. Even more troubling is when proponents of the Traditional Plan relied on scriptural integrity, they were mocked and shouted down. The opponents of the Traditional Plan claimed passing it was akin to racial discrimination, slavery, a violation of women’s rights, and in one argument, infringing the rights of native Americans.
Debate occurred for nearly two hours. The request to replace the Traditional Plan with the One Church plan was rejected by 56.53% of the vote.
Next, in an attempt to resolve constitutional issues raised by the Judicial Council, an amendment by substitution through replacing language in the proposal to require all clergy to certify, and all Bishops to certify, that they would upholding the Book of Discipline and qualifications for ordinance. In response, a progressive delegate announced that he would amend every plan to make sure that no vote be taken and that he would make sure no votes would be taken as there was a hard stop at 6:30 pm for the General Conference – a monster truck rally was coming into the building.
The debate continued with a recognition that the Church is hopelessly fragmented with opposition suggesting that the One Church Plan was the only plan that could keep the Church together. As the plan was rejected, the move was made to keep the Traditional Plan from being voted on. Using Roberts Rules of Order, multiple amendments and motions were made to delay a vote on the plan. Decisions of the Chair were appealed – all of which was designed to use time to preclude the Conference from voting on a Plan.
The debate, which started at 11:30 am, suddenly ended at 5:30 pm with the presiding Bishop calling for a vote on the Traditional Plan. The vote commenced, the plan passed and pandemonium followed.
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The Exit Plan
Next up is the first disaffiliation from the denomination plan was discussed. Proponents noted that this plan works for those who cannot live within the denomination and essentially provides for an exit of local churches who wish to leave the denomination. The idea is that the annual conference should not use property as a weapon to force people to remain within a covenant they can no longer support. The vote was called at 6:25 pm and the General Conference passed the exit plan. The approved plan provides as follows:
Disaffiliation – Taylor – NEW Par. 2553 (90066-TC-¶2500-G)
Amend, effective as of the close of the 2019 General Conference, Chapter Six, Church Property, by adding a new Section VIII. Disaffiliation of Local Churches Over Issues Related to Human Sexuality, then by adding a new ¶ 2553 as follows:
A couple of observations are starting to come together based on the vote of priority of legislation that is to be discussed today and tomorrow.
The margin of voting is around sixty (60) votes. It was announced this morning that thirty (30) voters from Asia were not present at the General Conference as they could not resolve passport issues that would have allowed them to enter the United States. Most of the voters were considered to be Traditional Plan voters, but one does not know if that is true or not.
My suggestion is that if the local church is thinking about leaving the Methodist denomination, now is the time to do it. The issues at this conference will be raised again next year. The delegates will change and given the very slight margin of votes, it is not outside the realm of possibilities that the next General Conference will reverse today’s decision.
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