By Chris Ritter
The United Methodist Church is broken and nothing coming to the plenary session tomorrow can repair that. Some iteration of the Modified Traditional Plan will likely be approved and our official denominational position on marriage and human sexuality will remain the same. That is not nothing. But at the end of tomorrow we will have added more ink to a book that is already being deliberately circumvented. Unless the game is changed we are setting ourselves up for a rematch in Minneapolis next year.
We crossed some sort of line today but I have been struggling to put my finger on what this really is. The only comparison I have is a parent giving an instruction to their child and hearing for the first time the response, “Make me.” It doesn’t mean the relationship is over, but neither will it be quite ever like it was before. The genie is out of the bottle. We are in uncharted relational territory.
It was a grueling, gut-wrenching day as we knew it would be. Slogging through legislative petitions related to our most divisive topic was never going to be fun. The experience for me was like trying to eat a meal with a killer tooth ache. A dull ache was always there and sporadically punctuated when the raw nerve was struck. Yep, it was bad.
There was surprisingly scant debate on the merits of the complex petitions. A few details were thrown in like seasoning into philosophical debates that hovered above the details. This is one of the many reasons we didn’t do good legislative work together. Both sides decided they were not going to cooperate with perfecting the completing legislation offered by the other. For the Traditional Plan, this meant the legislation was pushed to a final vote before needed amendments could be made. We then referred it to Judicial Council in basically the same form in which it had already reviewed. It would have been much better to perfect it and then send it for review. (We will hear from Judicial Council in the morning. I expect they will state the obvious, “We already told you what we have to say about this.”)
Tom Berlin likened the Traditional Plan to a used car that keeps breaking down. The One Church Plan blew its engine today. A thin (55%) governing majority comprised of Africans, American traditionalists, Filipinos, and Eastern Europeans effectively put the plan to rest today. I wish you could see behind the scenes. The Progressive side of our church speaks the same language and comes from similar culture. The complexities of coordinating the diverse Traditional side of our church are huge. More than once Progressives exploited the confusion of the parliamentary process to their advantage. Thinking and speaking alike gives them opportunity to be nimble and exploit openings. The Traditional side has to move forward by blunt strength and determination.
Some day someone may write the story of all this. It will be a tale of intrigue and machinations I will not here describe. Suffice it here to say the pressure brought to bear upon certain delegations in the Global South was beyond the pale. Every instrument of persuasion, manipulation, and intimidation was deployed. The efforts to sell the OCP on the home field of America will also be analyzed well into the future. The high-road, unity-driven approach of the Uniting Methodists was frustrated by the low-road, slash-and-burn tactics of Mainstream UMC. In the end, however, promoters of the plan just seemed not to understand what a faulty product they were peddling. Changing the definition of marriage for the entire church was a colossally bad idea in a plan billing itself as a unifying compromise. They were swinging for the fences and often that means striking out.
The big moment of the day belonged to Jeffrey Warren, a well-spoken LGBTQI young person from Upper New York. He used a mundane procedural motion to make an impassioned speech pleading for the church to open doors to people like him. “JJ”, as he is called by friends, has an obvious call to preach. He was impossible not to cheer for. But I think two or three follow-up questions about his views on sexual ethics would have revealed how big the divide has really grown within United Methodism. Unlike OCP Centrists, supporters of the Simple Plan were offering no assurances about monogamy and other categories springing from the traditional Christian sexual ethic. This is a markedly new iteration of Christianity.
I am getting messages tonight about renewed interest in the Connectional Conference Plan. Tomorrow Lathem Postell will attempt to bring a minority report calling for passage of the CCP. Today Lathem made the motion to remove the plan from the bundle of petitions headed to the recycle bin. That motion failed, but received 272 votes, a big jump up from the 102 that voted it as a high priority the day before. Does he have a chance? This is impossible to tell. But I hope we all realize at this point that our camps need more space between one another. We would love each other much better if we were structured much differently. The CCP provides lots of space with continued and voluntary linkage between the branches. It is a worthy attempt at United Methodism 2.0. I think we need to find a way to address the concerns of Africans who believe the CCP implicates them in sins of the West.
So the UMC is still in the hunt for a Way Forward. Someone will undoubtedly try to resurrect the One Church Plan tomorrow. Supporters of the Modified Traditional Plan will need to pass several amendments to bring the full weight of the plan to bear. Watch closely Petition 90041 to see if the new Paragraph 2801 is inserted. This is the heart of the plan and its best hope to provide a peaceable settlement by moving those who cannot live under our rules into self-governing bodies.
Good night, St. Louis.