Today has been primarily about the basic three plans that have been brought forward by the Commission On a Way Forward. The Commission members (seemed like pretty much all of them) spoke about their process over the 17 month period. Presenters were chosen from the Commission to speak on behalf of each of the plans. Each persons chosen spoke passionately in favor of the plan about which they were speaking. The speaker speaking for the One Church Plan (which would allow the issues of homosexual marriage and the ordination of homosexuals to become more of a local matter) emphasized how this plan would allow for greater contextualization of churches to be in ministry with homosexual persons. The person speaking for the Connectional Conference Plan admitted that it was a complete restructuring of the church, however, said that the plan would allow the church to remain under a big tent together, while still being able to reach people for Christ in ways that fit their convictions. The final presenter, Rev. Jessica LaGrone, was the advocate for The Traditional Plan. She used the metaphor of a soccer field to talk about the need for the rule of Scripture and the accountability of the Discipline to play by the rules.
I appreciated the conviction and passion with which each speaker advocated for their plan. I was particularly inspired by the woman who spoke for the Connectional Conference Plan. I think most people rejected this plan pretty quickly because of the difficulty it would face in getting passed as well as it’s complexity. It would require at least eight Constitutional Amendments to pass. This is a very high bar, and the UMC has not had a good track record of getting large pieces of constitutional reform through all of the Annual Conference delegates. In some ways it is the plan that actually provides a way forward beyond our ongoing debates about human sexuality. It would provide for a managed and orderly “split” of the church into three denominations: progressive, moderate, and traditional; while at the same time keeping the groups connected organizationally. There are plenty of problems and challenges with this plan, but I wish more people would take it seriously. The commission obviously put a LOT of work into it, we need to at least consider it.
Usually, when you go into a General Conference you have a hunch about what will happen. I don’t meet too many people who feel like they know what will actually happen. The Traditional Plan, or some version of it, seems like it would have the most support because it is most like what the UMC currently has. However, I’ve talked with One Church Plan proponents who feel confident it will pass. As I’m writing this (3:10 PM on Sunday) they are tabulating the results of the prioritization process. This will determine the order the various plans and petitions taken up by the legislative committee. The “voting” of this process took a good bit of time, but he tabulation seems to be taking even longer. Thankfully, the worship band has kept the group dancing and singing. I think the band may be the saving grace of this whole Conference.
I’m going to close this post by posting which plans and petitions are highest on the priority list. Don’t read too much into this. This will probably tell you more of what will not happen rather than what will happen. The high priority plans and petitions are as follows: 1) Wespath Pension Liabilities and CRS 63.56% (this is our UMC pension group that has developed plans to deal with the pension issues that these plans might cause; 2) Traditional Plan 55.57% (this is from the Commission on a Way Forward report); 3) Disaffiliation — Taylor — NEW 50.06% (this outlines a process by which UM churches could disaffiliate from the UMC and keep their property); 4) Disaffiliation — Boyette — NEW 49.51% (This is another petition that outlines a process for a UMC to disaffiliate from the UMC); 5) One Church Plan 48.67% (this is the plan supported by a majority of UMC Bishops and put forward by the Commission on a Way Forward.
The list continues on from here, but these were the top 5 petitions. Now, the whole Conference is moving into a “committee of the whole.” It’s hard to explain, but our process requires that legislation first go through a legislative committee and then be recommended to the plenary session. This listing simply means that this is the order the legislation will be processed and deliberated by the committee of the whole, it does not mean that any of these petitions have passed or will pass. It simply shows that these are the plans, in order, that the group wants to work on and perfect to possibly move them forward. In my opinion, however, this vote tally indicates the strength of a traditional viewpoint of the delegates gathered here. It’s surprising that the One Church Plan which received a majority vote from our Council of Bishops did not garner a high priority by more than 50% of the delegates here.
We’ve now just elected the officers of the Committee of the Whole. The legislative committee’s work now begins!