The United Methodist Church Special General Conference Session held February 23-26, 2019 resulted in the passage of “Traditional Plan.” This plan upheld the many decades-published position in the Methodist Book of Discipline–the authoritative church policy of the Methodist church—which states,
“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. Since the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching, self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be accepted as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church” (Paragraph 304.3).
Since the 1980s the strong LGBT faction in the church has fought to remove this language from their Book of Discipline–language which they say “causes harm” to LGBT members of that denomination. This divide has deeply fractured that church.
The 2019 Session resulted in the passage of a plan that not only continues the Book of Discipline language, but takes new steps toward correction. Now, after the session, the pro-LGBT faction is distraught and angry. One leading pastor publicly weighed the options:
- Leave to form a new United Methodism.
- Stay, resist, give the Good News/Confessing Movement/Wesleyan Covenant Association the gracious exit they’ve been looking for in hopes that they will leave, and then reform the United Methodist Church for mission and ministry for the 21st century.
On occasion OrdinatioinTruth.com comments on developments in the Methodist church because there are important parallels related to the conflict in the Seventh-day Adventist Church over women’s ordination. Like the Methodist’s struggle, our church is divided between a North American leadership determined to change denominational practice, and the vast majority of the world church. And, as in the Adventist church, the Methodist pro accommodate-the-culture faction has not successfully made its case to the broader church. The overseas sections of United Methodism continue to rapidly grow, resulting in more, not less, GC Session delegates.
And when it comes to this issue, why should conservative United Methodists abandon their church when the LGBT faction has again failed to convince? Pastor Thomas Lambrecht writes that actually,
“Traditionalists have not been eager to leave the denomination. It is a mistake to think traditionalists have ‘been looking for’ a gracious exit. For over 50 years, Good News has enthusiastically encouraged evangelicals to remain in The United Methodist Church and help reform it” (https://goodnewsmag.org/2019/04/why-traditionalists-are-not-leaving/).
“Traditionalists believe we have the votes to fully pass and implement the rest of the Traditional Plan at General Conference 2020. With Africa gaining votes and the U.S. losing votes, and with the full ten-day time frame available, revised versions of the provisions that failed to pass in St. Louis or are declared unconstitutional by the Judicial Council can be passed and implemented.”
More interesting is the offer by conservatives to liberals of a “gracious exit”:
“Traditionalists would be open to a mutually agreed separation that multiplies Methodism into two or three new denominations. In that case, no one would be ‘leaving’ the UM Church, but everyone would be on the equal footing of deciding on a new affiliation with a new denomination.
“A scenario of multiplying Methodism would seek to treat everyone fairly and equally. There would be no winners or losers. All annual conferences and local churches would be able to make an informed choice about which new Methodist expression they want to be part of. The consciences and convictions of all would be respected because all could belong to an expression that embodies their convictions.”
Both sides seem see the impossibility of continuing together. The tide of the world and the tide of Scripture do not mix. In the absence of a change of view and heart, separation is an option that, more than ever, can be expected to be front and center in May 2020 when the next General Conference Session of the Methodist Church meets.
Adventists are thoroughly divided over women’s ordination. While there appears to have been no substantial action on the topic at Spring Meeting this year, our own 2020 General Conference Session is now about a year away. Then, the world church will elect new leadership for each of our 13 world divisions. A wise work by the nominating committee can help the Adventist Church address the church governance issues that have arisen because of the insubordination of some leadership in the NAD and their disregard for the 2015 world church decision refusing to permit individual divisions to decide for themselves whether to ordain women.
Adventists can avoid the Methodist path by refusing to ordain women to the gospel ministry, and, at the same time, avoid the catastrophic divide over LGBT which has the Methodist denomination on the brink of schism.