One Church Plan Critique – Petitions #11 & 12

From Wesley White’s Critique of the One Church Plan

One Church Plan #11

Responsibilities of Bishops – Par. 416

While it is good to see the limits of bishops specified regarding what is otherwise guarded by other parts of the Discipline, it seems strange that bishops would need to be reminded of the rights of clergy regarding officiating at a marriage and the inappropriateness of interfering with that. Delegates may want to add other “Duh!” statements to the end of the other sections of ¶¶414–416.

Amend ¶ 416 by adding new sub-paragraphs after 416.7:

  1. The bishop shall neither require any pastor to perform nor prohibit any pastor from performing any marriage, union, or blessing of same-sex couples.
  2. The bishop shall neither require any church to hold nor prohibit any church from holding a same-sex marriage service on church property.
  • What a difference it would be if this petition were not phrased in relation to same-sex marriage but present disciplinary language. It might run something like this

The bishop shall neither require any pastor to perform nor prohibit any pastor from performing any marriage, union, or blessing that gives evidence of love, mutual support, personal commitment, and shared fidelity.

  • In its present form, this petition is evidence of our current fixation upon “same-sex.” Someday we may come to a new acronym—LGBTQH+ where H=heterosexual—on our way to getting rid of such an awkward way to say simply, “All people.”
  • Imagine this approach being applied to the bishops with an amendment of ¶414.3—

The church shall neither require any bishop nor prohibit any bishop from guarding, transmitting, teaching, and proclaiming, corporately and individually, the apostolic faith as it is expressed in Scripture and tradition, and, as they are led and endowed by the Spirit, to interpret that faith evangelically and prophetically.

  • Silly. Right?

 

One Church Plan #12

Responsibilities of District Superintendents – Par. 419

This is a repeat of Petition 11 but focused on those who oversee clergy and congregations on behalf of a bishop. This is a logical extension of the previous petition but, again, not needed if District Superintendents knew the relevant parts of the Discipline.

Amend ¶ 419 by adding new sub-paragraphs after 419.12:

  1. The superintendent shall neither require any pastor to perform nor prohibit any pastor from performing any marriage, union, or blessing of same-sex couples.
  2. The superintendent shall neither require any church to hold nor prohibit any church from holding a same-sex marriage service on church property or otherwise coerce, threaten, or retaliate against any pastor who exercises his or her conscience to perform or refuse to perform a same-sex marriage.
  • Both petitions 11 and 12 are already covered by other parts of the Discipline and, in the context of this specially-called General Conference, only serve to excuse those who “do not condone” non-heterosexual marriages from their pastoral duty of identifying and rejoicing in relationships of love, mutual support, personal commitment, and shared fidelity.

 

 

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Letter from Bishop and Jane Ives

The following is a letter written by retired bishop Cliff Ives and his spouse, Jane Ives. The Ives have given their permission to Love Prevails to make this letter public.

It would be ideal if we conducted ourselves, denominationally, in such a way that apologies like this were no longer needed. But alas, we do not learn easily from past mistakes. And so, as vulnerable people are repeatedly harmed, apologies and acts of repentance until continue to be required. “Oh, when will we ever learn?”

May the sentiments of the Ives be repeated loudly by other leaders in the days to come.


February 5, 2019

Dear LGBTQ Beloved in Christ,

We are glad that the Council of Bishops sent you a letter of apology, and we deeply desire to add our personal words and witness. We also confess our participation in the harm that has been and is being done to you. We too are “brokenhearted by conversations that dishonor, objectify, and dehumanize” you and regret “that our actions and words have not always been life-giving or honoring of the LGBTQ community.” (COB letter, 12/28/18)

Moved by the witness of LGBTQ persons at each General Conference since 1972 and at meetings of the Council of Bishops and other church gatherings, we have struggled to find healing words. We want to say that we are so sorry: sorry for any acts of commission or omission by which we have contributed to the negative climate in which you have had to live; sorry that we have not been more effective allies in the quest for justice and full inclusion.

Thank you for your constant witness and your kind assistance in helping us find ways to help and, more importantly, ways to stop doing harm. Whatever happens in St. Louis, we stand firmly for your full inclusion in our church.

With love and prayers,

Cliff and Jane
Bishop S. Clifton and Jane P. Ives

 

One Church Plan Critique – Petition #9

From Wesley White’s Critique of the One Church Plan

Unauthorized Conduct – Par. 341.6

There is no corresponding legislation in the One Church Plan directing local churches to have a process whereby they might come to a decision about same-sex marriage on church property. Without such being added, this petition keeps a little secret that clergy can pull out to deny LGBTQ+ persons from being married. “Golly, this church hasn’t voted on a policy for you to get married, so—No!”

Amend ¶ 341.6 as follows:
6. Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions same-sex marriage shall not be performed conducted by clergy our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches on church-owned property unless the church decides by a majority vote of a Church Conference to adopt a policy to celebrate same-sex marriage on church property.

  • This petition throws the whole denominational debate back to a local congregation with no anticipated help to develop a policy. Not to help prepare congregations for a decision about marriage is just lousy process and a set-up for failure. It takes years to become a Reconciling Congregation where this decision would be a matter of no consequence.
  • We are taking the denominational angst and thrusting it upon a local congregation where decisions really do make a practical difference. It can be expected that this little clergy-first, congregation-second process will lead to more rancor and division.
  • There will be continuing pain for LGBTQ+ persons and their families even in a helpful process as they are re-traumatized by being debated about in their local setting. To have no process nearly guarantees unnecessary hurt.

I would hope delegates would spend the time to come up with an additional petition that may be attached somewhere such as ¶204. Care of Members. A starting proposal is:

Amend ¶204 through addition of a concluding paragraph:

Each local church shall have a statement affirming or denying same-sex marriage on church property by 2024. It is recommended that a process be used for making such a decision that is developed by a joint effort of the General Board of Church and Society and the General Board of Discipleship Ministries.

Of course, this will cost money, but this discrimination has already cost millions of dollars and the lives of too many members. Obviously, still another petition would have to be developed to put this work in the respective Boards. Savvy delegates can figure out how to do this.

A local method-less congregational approach is likely to default to the limitation of the loudest of those who “do not condone” LGBTQ+ persons being married or a clergyperson who would do so. It is patently unfair for General Conference to pass its own 46-year history of avoidance down the line to annual conferences, districts, and congregations.

One Church Plan Critique – Petition #8

From Wesley White’s Critique of the One Church Plan

Responsibilities of Elders and Licensed Pastors – Par. 340

This petition is gratuitously redundant as 340.2.a.3.a clearly says, “The decision to perform the ceremony shall be the right and responsibility of the pastor.” What it adds is an excuse for a pastor’s resistance to LGBTQ+ persons rather than pastoral care for the “love, mutual support, personal commitment, and shared fidelity” of the couple.

Amend ¶ 340 by adding new sub-paragraph after ¶ 340.2

¶ 340.3 a. Each clergy shall have the right to exercise his or her conscience when requested to perform such marriages, unions, or blessing as a matter of his or her individual religious liberty.

  • Since pastor’s already have the right not to perform a marriage (in the ¶ before this new addition), the apparent reason for this petition is to introduce “religious liberty” in yet another place in the Discipline. Again, it claims a right available for the clergy to protect themselves from charges of discrimination and dismisses any expectation of fair play toward LGBTQ+ persons.
  • “Religious liberty” permeates these petitions. It is a code word of the religious-right. This is an example of using this phrase so often that people think they know what it means and they become deaf to its inherent privilege. The number of times it is used also increases the possibility that it will make it in somewhere. That seed can then be used in subsequent General Conferences to spread to every part of the Discipline in the same way the “incompatible” phrase spawned a multitude of other legislation to normalize the harm and hurt that it intentionally caused.
  • Admittedly, church has never been a fair place. We have fought like crazy over mysteries we never will know. We have killed one another over one word in a creed. But to officially enshrine a non-consequential category such as “religious liberty” is exactly pride going before a fall.

b. In conferences where civil law permits a pastor to perform same-sex marriage services, no clergy shall at any time be required or compelled to perform, or prohibited from performing, any marriage, union, or blessing of same-sex couples, or of any couples.

  • Again and again, we hear about same-sex marriage being the stimulus for legislating local discrimination.
  • Unfortunately, if it is not recognized and commented upon every time, it provides an opening for “religious liberty” to give permission for clergy to be so unprofessional that they will abdicate the well-attested markers of marriage (“love, mutual support, personal commitment, and shared fidelity”) in favor of a personal bias against LGBTQ+ persons and G*D’s good gift of sexuality extended beyond heterosexuality.

c. Clergy who cannot in good conscience continue to serve in a conference based upon that conference’s standards for ordination regarding practicing homosexuals, may seek to transfer under ¶ 347, and shall be supported and assisted in that process. Similarly, clergy who cannot in good conscience continue to serve a particular church based on unresolved disagreements over same-sex marriage as communicated by the pastor and Staff-Parish Relations Committee to the district superintendent, shall be reassigned. All clergy with security of appointment shall continue under appointment by the bishop of the annual conference.

  • What tangled webs eventually get laid down when a first deception is put forward and adopted.
  • Putting the appointment cart before the horse is but one of the outcomes of an initial lie about LGBTQ+ persons—that they are “incompatible” with Jesus.
  • This petition commits The United Methodist Church to use variations within human sexuality to sort clergy, congregations, and conferences into homogenous and competing units—each with their own practice of acceptance or rejection of LGBTQ+ persons.
  • The United Methodist Church so desires this outcome that it will even pay for people to be moved around so they can be comforted in a setting of like-minds/hearts. The only question in quadrennia to come is what other issues will arise for which this is the blueprint of how to privilege the most dogmatic amongst us.

This petition about responsibilities of the clergy turns out to be the reverse—the responsibility of The United Methodist Church is to take care of the conscience of its clergy by moving them where they want to go.

There is no accountability to the denomination to follow the General Rule to “first, do no harm.” All that is needed is a statement that they don’t agree with the “stance” of their local situation, and off they go. A bruised doctrinal bone is all that is needed to trigger a move to greener pastures.

Though begun in a neutral tone, this petition is really about those who “do not condone” LGBTQ+ persons in marriage or as ordainable.

 

One Church Plan Critique – #6 and #7

From Wesley White’s Critique of the One Church Plan

Ministry of Deacons and an Elder – Par. 329 and 224

These two petitions (6 & 7) are the same petition. In one case they are directed toward Deacons and in the other toward Elders. In both cases, they continue the theme already heard—a built-in excuse not to treat LGBTQ+ persons with the same pastoral care as heterosexual persons.

Amend ¶ 329 by adding new sub-paragraph after ¶ 329.3

¶ 329.4 In conferences where civil law permits a pastor to perform a same-sex marriage service, no deacon in full connection shall at any time be required or compelled to perform, or prohibited from performing, any marriage, union, or blessing of same-sex couples, or of any couples. Each deacon shall have the right to exercise his or her conscience to refuse or agree when requested to perform any marriages, unions, or blessing as a matter of his or her individual religious liberty.

and

Amend ¶ 334 by adding new sub-paragraph after ¶ 334.5

¶ 334.6. In conferences where civil law permits a pastor to perform same-sex marriage services, no elder shall at any time be required or compelled to perform, or prohibited from performing, any marriage, union, or blessing of same-sex couples, or of any couples. Each elder shall have the right to exercise his or her conscience to refuse or agree when requested to perform such marriages, unions, or blessing as a matter of his or her individual religious liberty.

  • The Discipline is clear that clergy have the authority to decide whether or not to officiate at a wedding (¶340.2.a.3.a). This addition authorizes a local option for discrimination under the disguise of “religious liberty”.
  • While there are expectations of pre-marital counseling and determining the fitness of those coming to be married, it must be admitted that weddings are more of a social and state function than religious. The Discipline has an interesting parenthetical statement about pastors and marriage in ¶316. Among a pastor’s duties is the “…service of marriage (where state laws allow)….” This highlights that marriage is less religious/doctrinal and more a social or state concern.
  • I would contend that these petitions are mislocated. ¶¶329 and 334 are about clergy voting, holding office in an annual conference, professional competency, and relationship to one another. Being able to decide about officiating at a marriage on any ground other than treating every couple on the same basis goes beyond the scope of these paragraphs.
  • Again, the “religious liberty” phrase turns up to defend those in a pastoral role who would establish a pocket of discrimination. There is no similar concern given for LGBTQ+ persons who will have the church’s back turned to them one more time. It gives permission to use orientation as a reason not to officiate.
  • With this understanding of what is behind the petitions, no paragraph can honestly hold them.
  • Delegates will have the opportunity to consider and project where such permission-giving will lead by General Conference 2024. Hopefully, they will then vote “No” when these petitions come to the floor for a vote.

One Church Plan Critique – Petition #4

From Wesley White’s Critique of the One Church Plan

Qualifications for Ordination – Par. 304.3

Here is an attempt to put the political weight of a bishop behind the pressuring of a Board of Ordained Ministry to turn a blind-eye to the removal of the “incompatibility” clause and carve out an annual conference exception.

Amend ¶ 304.3 as follows:

  1. While persons set apart by the Church for ordained ministry are subject to all the frailties of the human condition and the pressures of society, they are required to maintain the highest standards of holy living in the world. The responsibility for determining how standards, including standards related to human sexuality, may apply to certification or ordination in a given annual conference falls to the Conference Board of Ordained Ministry and the clergy session of the annual conference. The bishop may choose to seek the non-binding advice of an annual conference session on standards relating to human sexuality for ordination to inform the Board of Ordained Ministry in its work. The practice of homosexuality incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore self-avowed practicing homosexual persons are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as minister or appointed to serve in the United Methodist Church.
  • While it is good to see the weed seed of our current division over human sexuality dug out of our Book of Discipline, it remains immensely disappointing that the bargain being struck for its removal is a local option to keep nurturing its discord at every level of the church.
  • Given the action to remove the “incompatibility” clause and its extension into ordination standards, the only reason for bishop-sponsored advice to a Board of Ordained Ministry is to reinstate a ban on LGBTQ+ ordinands informally.
  • This reveals that “religious liberty” is not just a matter of individual conscience but part of an organized attempt to keep the Grace of a good gift from G*D at bay within the institutional church.
  • I recommend simply striking the last two sentences from the current ¶304.3 so it would read:
  1. While persons set apart by the Church for ordained ministry are subject to all the frailties of the human condition and the pressures of society, they are required to maintain the highest standards of holy living in the world.

One Church Plan Critique – Petition #3

From Wesley White’s Critique of the One Church Plan

Social Principles – Par. 161G

This is the cleanest and clearest petition in the One Church Plan. There is no attempt to carve out a place where clergy and congregations can receive permission to subvert the plain meaning of the Discipline. The other petitions all have some form of special pleading for those who “do not condone” LGBTQ+ persons as worthy of a marriage relationship or ordination.

Amend ¶ 161.G as follows:

  1. G) Human Sexuality—We affirm that sexuality is God’s good gift to all persons. We call everyone to responsible stewardship of this sacred gift. Although all persons are sexual beings whether or not they are married, sexual relations are affirmed only with the covenant of monogamous heterosexual marriage between two adults. We deplore all forms of the commercialization, abuse, and exploitation of sex. We call for strict global enforcement of laws prohibiting the sexual exploitation of children and for adequate protection, guidance, and counseling for abused children. All persons, regardless of age, gender, marital status, or sexual orientation, are entitled to have their human and civil rights ensured and to be protected against violence. The Church should support the family in providing age-appropriate education regarding sexuality to children, youth, and adults. We affirm that all persons are individuals of sacred worth, created in the image of God. All persons need the ministry of the Church in their struggles for human fulfillment, as well as the spiritual and emotional care of a fellowship that enables reconciling relationships with God, with others, and with self. The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching. We affirm that God’s grace is available to all. We will seek to live together in Christian community, welcoming, forgiving, and loving one another, as Christ has loved and accepted us. We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends. We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons.
  • The originating heresy of nearly 50 years of aggression toward “homosexuality” is, at long last, removed.
  • Delegates need to note that language in the next-to-last line needs updating to include what is referenced in the short-hand of “LGBTQ+ persons”.
  • However, the One Church Plan does not remove every subsequent restriction that grew out of the “incompatibility” clause. That is work it leaves for subsequent General Conferences.
  • Delegates could add the petitions from the Simple Plan to those of the One Church Plan and have a more comprehensive and coherent result from the 2019 Special General Conference. But even that would not take care of the oversight that there is no acknowledgment of wrong and harm having been done since 1972.
  • My hope is that this petition will be adopted and all the rest of the One Church petitions will be defeated as they all carry the seeds of greater difficulty for General Conferences and the church at large in the years after 2019. Additional adjustments to rectify the deficiencies of the other 16 petitions will need to begin in 2020.