The Fate of the United Methodist Church

May 24, 2018

 


The Fate of the United Methodist Church
     The stage is now set for momentous change in the United Methodist Church. The Bishop’s Commission on A Way Forward has made its report to the Council of Bishops. The Council has announced its plans to forward three choices to the specially called General Conference of 2019. The 864 delegates have four days to choose one of the options or substitute one of their own in an attempt to resolve the constitutional crisis of our 50 year old denomination. The options are listed below as sketches. The bishops have promised to release the details of each no later than July 8.
     The “One Church Model” is favored by a majority of the Council. This plan requires the UMC to eliminate its definition of marriage as well as its moral standards for ordination. Each Annual conference would be free to adopt its own ordination standards. Each pastor and each local church would choose their own definition of marriage. No church or pastor would be required to go against their own conscience. Some have called this the “local option” and it embraces a contradictory diversity of practices between churches, pastors and Annual Conferences.
     Secondly, the “Traditional Model” has significant support among the Bishops. This plan retains the current definition of marriage and standards of ordination. Those who disobey would face yet to be specified consequences, perhaps the suspension of pay. Given existing disobedience, this sets up conflict.
     Thirdly, the “Multi-branch model” involves the creation of 3 separate branches: one that embraces the traditional definition of marriage and moral standards for ordination; a second that accepts all positions; and a third branch that enforces a new definition of marriage as well as a new morality. These three branches would operate under an overall umbrella of United Methodism with one Council of Bishops. This option is the most complex and would require multiple changes to the church’s constitution which requires a 2/3 vote of the General Conference followed by a 2/3 vote by all the Annual Conferences.
     The Commission stated a proposal for an “exit ramp” so that those churches and pastors who cannot abide the changes might be able to leave the denomination and retain their property and pensions. Details are not known and the Bishops will not be providing any. This would come from the delegates themselves.
     It is likely that a fourth option will emerge from some of the delegates: a plan to formally separate the various factions into different denominations. This option is a rumor and no written plan has yet been produced. Such an event would require pastors and congregations to choose which of the emerging new denominations they would be a part of. The United Methodist Church would formally dissolve.
     Uncertainty abounds. The 2019 General Conference will be a pivotal moment for the future of UMC. It is wise for churches and pastors to consider contingency plans for the likely possible outcomes. Questions to consider in developing a plan might include these:
 How do we want to define marriage?
 What moral standards do we expect of our clergy and paid staff?
 What do we expect of the denomination we are a part of?
 How might we conduct a decision-making process in our church?
 What acts of fasting, prayer and study would help us to prepare?
 How will we relate to those who disagree with our choices?
     The HUMC Administrative council is studying two books in preparation for a broader discussion. One is “The Social Principles of the United Methodist Church” available from Cokesbury.com. This book details the church’s current definition of marriage and statements on ethics. A second volume is Sam Allberry’s “Is God Anti-Gay?” --also available from Cokesbury.com.  Allberry is a British pastor who gives a concise treatment of Biblical teaching on this matter.
     This fall I will lead a four-week study of the book “Living Faithfully: Human Sexuality and the United Methodist Church” The book was produced by Abingdon Press to help local churches think through the dramatic change which is coming.
Praying,
Pastor Tom Anderson

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