By Bob Phillips
Monday was stimulating.
Pension concerns were addressed under the various plans. Two of the gracious exit proposals passed, which means they will be reviewed by the plenary Tuesday to see if the denomination is going to set grounds for churches to depart if conscience demands, with property and fair expectation of contribution. That could include fair payment of obligated pensions, repayment of church loans, etc. The Traditional plan passed 54-46 percent but a parliamentary action passed it before all the needed correcting amendments to Judicial Council concerns were heard or passed. Then the semi-fixed plan was referred back to the Judicial Council for a declaratory decision that certainly will rule the unfixed parts remain...unfixed, and thus unconstitutional. So time will be spent Tuesday introducing the amendments that were set aside on Monday to provide the intended corrections.
The One Church Plan was defeated in committee by a 54-47 percent. Several amendments intended to fix that plan previously were addressed and passed without parliamentary action seeking to derail it. Though defeated for a second day by roughly the same percentage, it rightly will be considered on Tuesday as a minority report. A passionate talk was given by a gay young pastor from New York, certain that any failure of the church to redefine marriage will lose young adults, lead to public social rejection of Christianity and destroy Christian witness. He was greeted with cheers from the gallery and applause from numerous bishops who rose to applaud his speech. Numerous occasions of applause greeted pro-OCP and Simple Plan speakers, ignoring conference guidance for mutual respect among delegates by avoiding such actions.
I noticed every delegate from outside the US, excepting one delegate from Germany, spoke in favor of traditional definitions of marriage: Russia, several countries in Africa, Mexico, the Philippines, among others. Over 80 percent of young adult UM members live outside the USA. The conference, like the denomination, is unsure how to understand or respond to the global reality of the UM church.
My sense is that if some form of the TP passes tomorrow, uproar and outrage and firm statements from numerous bishops and clergy of defiance will follow, leading to a renewal of a deepened and painful battle in 2020, for the great majority of churches that will remain (some will go). If the OCP passes, which is unlikely but possible, a significant number of traditional churches will depart within 12 months. Several global churches will detach from the UMC for other options. No crisp, constructive way forward is emerging, and win-lose scenarios within the church tend to default into lose-lose.
Tomorrow will settle aspects of the challenge but firmly settle nothing. Last year I wrote an article about how the General Conference WILL fail and CAN succeed. I am no prophet but the words are bearing fruit. I said it would fail to settle-resolve-firmly decide the issue of sexuality. The GC could not, cannot do this in four days or 40 days. The GC could have plowed the ground toward a gracious and mutually affirming spiritual mitosis (cell division) similar to the creation of the Salvation Army birthed from the Methodist Church in England, among many examples.
I voted for the Traditional plan and petitions, until the process was short-circuited as described above, hoping for a combination of practicality and expanded grace. Concern for true schism led me to vote against the OCP, though I know the advocates are not intending that outcome. The pension proposals likewise had my favor, though my own pension is already set (retired status, ya'll). I voted to have the Simple plan receive a hearing and a vote, for the GC has gathered to hear and decide among various views and cannot do so if no chance is afforded to listen. I do confess that two out of three 'against' speeches in fact were speeches actually in favor of the Simple plan agenda. There is legitimate critique within the gay community regarding the wisdom of the Simple vs. OCP but such was not unpacked or explained in any of the 'against' speeches.
Galatians 5 and the list of spiritual fruit for those at GC occasionally needs to frontload 'patience' along with love, joy and peace, all of which remain vital to health Christian process and outcome.