Press releases are by nature an act of propaganda. What follows is a reflection by Wesley White on the press release of the United Methodist Bishops after their decision of what they will send on to General Conference 2019.
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CHICAGO – United Methodist bishops, meeting in Chicago, engaged in a prayerful process to discern a way forward. At the conclusion of the discernment process, the Council of Bishops strongly approved the following motion and rationale:
While prayer may have been a component of the process intensions of United Methodist bishops, the over-riding issue is the reality of political differences within the Council of Bishops. With this in question it is difficult to assess what weight to give to “strongly approved”.
Having received and considered the extensive work of the Commission on a Way Forward, the Council of Bishops will submit a report to the Special Session of the General Conference in 2019 that includes:
The work of the Commission resulted from the process it followed from insufficient presence of LGBTQ+ persons to too many bishops. It was a creature of the bishops and returned an expected result from its design.
All three plans (The Traditionalist Plan, The One Church Plan and the Connectional Conference Plan) for a way forward considered by the Commission and the Council.
Three plans represents a failure of leadership by the bishops who were given permission to lead. This leaves everything in the hands of a General Conference historically unable to deal with such competing choices.
The Council’s recommendation of the One Church Plan.
This will test the claim that the “church” will likely follow the bishop’s recommendation that lets the bishops off the hook and places any blame squarely on Gen. Conf.
An historical narrative of the Council’s discernment process regarding all three plans.
This is one place still available for the bishops to show leadership. Unfortunately their track record through secrecy and stacking the process leaves much to be desired.
Rationale: In order to invite the church to go deeper into the journey the Council and Commission have been on, the Council will make all the information considered by the Commission and the Council of Bishops available to the delegates of the General Conference and acknowledges there is support for each of the three plans within the Council. The values of our global church are reflected in all three plans. The majority of the Council recommends the One Church Plan as the best way forward for The United Methodist Church.
Given the secret nature of the process to this point, there is no telling what information will be left out or selectively left in. Support for all three plans is likely present. At question is what that support looks like and whether it will be noted in the information given. While there is undoubtedly some value in each of the three plans and others not noted, a recommendation by a majority (with no numbers) is not reflected in putting all three forward. The unspoken details that kept this from a single recommendation will be magnified in General Conference political maneuvering.
Guided by the mission, vision and scope document, the bishops agreed to recommend the One Church Plan. This plan provides conferences, churches, and pastors the flexibility to uniquely reach their missional context while retaining the connectional nature of The United Methodist Church.
The “mission, vision, scope” document has numerous assumption difficulties. When faced with the pressures of decision-making by a body that is not already unified in “mission, vision, scope” we will be facing a test between context and connection resulting in the worst of both left standing.
This plan also encourages a generous unity by giving United Methodists the ability to address different missional contexts in ways that reflect their theological convictions. The One Church Plan removes the restrictive language of the Book of Discipline and adds assurances to pastors and Conferences who due to their theological convictions cannot perform same-sex weddings or ordain self-avowed practicing homosexuals.
A connectional church requires flexibility in its parameters of unity or it freezes in time and becomes irrelevant. This however only protects those who will continue discriminatory behavior on church members, ordinands, and pastors. It puts at risk both children and adults in those contexts and fails to recognize that children will be born into those settings only to be later kicked out.
The Council’s discernment process was guided by the over-arching desire to strategically help the General Conference do its work and to honor the General Conference’s request for the Council to help the church find a way forward.
This is false on the face of it. General Conference is never aided by the addition of minority reports that we have historically put in an advantageous position over majority vision. The bishops have failed the test they were given.
“With convicted humility, bishops want to be pastors and shepherds of the whole church in order to maximize the presence of a United Methodist witness in as many places in the world as possible and with as much contextual differentiation as possible,” said newly installed Council of Bishops President Ken Carter.
“Convicted humility” is one of those god-speak phrases pulled out to cover the bishops as they fall back into their old mantra of, “We don’t have any power to affect change.” This is a failure of a vision of an expansive unity that recognizes change has already happened and we are still trying to protect those who do harm. This is our “pedophilia” scandal—not protecting LGBTQ+ children and youth.
The bishops expressed deep appreciation for the diligent work that the 32-member Commission on a Way Forward did in formulating the three plans: the Traditionalist Plan, the One Church Plan and the Connectional Conference Plan.
The Commission on a Way Forward has, as intended, provided cover for the bishops to come up with the worst of all possible recommendations—everything is on the table, particularly the lives of LGBTQ+ persons.
While the bishops recommended the One Church Plan, they affirmed that the Connectional Conference Plan and the Traditionalist Plan held values that are important to the life and work of the church and will be included in the final report to the Special Session of General Conference that the bishops have called for Feb. 23-26 in St. Louis, Missouri, USA.
It would be helpful to know what values are seen in the Traditionalist Plan other than a restriction on God’s ability to distribute gifts for ministry wherever God desires, which only keeps pockets of discrimination against LGBTQ+ persons alive and well. In such contexts both present and future harm is being done to individuals and to the church as a connectional body.
Bishop Carter, who served as one of the moderators of the Commission, said the bishops are adopting a spirit of collaboration with the Commission, and an attitude of respect for the delegations who will take up this work on behalf of the whole church.
It is the interlocking directorate of moderating the Commission and becoming president of the Council that keeps this from a partnership with those persons at risk. Once again LGBTQ+ persons are on the menu, but not at the table. This “respects” current power, not help for the hurting.
“The Council’s prayerful deliberation reflected the diversity of the global denomination on the matter of homosexuality and many other matters. The Council affirms the strength of this diversity and our commitment to maintain the unity of the church,” Bishop Carter said.
“Prayerful deliberation” is another code word for status quo. If prayer has no noticeable effect on turning harm to good, it is an illusion pretending closed eyes can see the pain of a neighbor. Instead, bowed heads are ready to weep over those killed by their policies, but never stand for justice.
Full details of the plans and accompanying legislative proposals will be released as soon as final editing of the entire report is completed and translated into the official languages of the General Conference. It is estimated this will be no later than July 8.
This is what makes Press Releases like this so frustrating. Anything can be projected here and never make a difference because the real stuff will come months later. It is no estimate to be finished by July 8 because that is required by the church’s own rules. This sort of false data calls all the other speculation into question.
In a video recorded after the meeting, Bishop Ough explains the Council of Bishops’ decision to recommend the One Church Plan as a way forward for The United Methodist Church. Watch the video here.
The gist of the video explaining the One Church Plan basically says that we ended up where we began, trying to talk ourselves into being one body with a major single-issue difference. What has been released so far gives no confidence that the heresy of “incompatibility” will be actually be removed nor that a standard of differing gifts will be honored.