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The passing of parts of the Traditional Plan has awoken a slumbering giant. Regions that no one considered “progressive” have amassed open letters with significant signatories, purchased local media ads, and written legislation in order to denounce the Traditional Plan.

The following is a constantly-updated list, so come back if you find something that isn’t here.

We are all indebted to Julie O’Neal, Executive Assistant to the Bishop in the Desert Southwest Annual Conference, for collecting the majority of the below letters. Thanks Julie!

Advertisements and Open Letters in Local Media

In order to reach those outside the church, some regions opted to purchase local media ads or send in group letters to the editor.

Did your region do this? Send a copy or link to Twitter @umjeremy or the twitter username @ gmail.com

Open Letters and Petitions from Annual Conference Clergy + Laity

Did your region do this? Send a copy or link to Twitter @umjeremy or the twitter username @ gmail.com

Institutional Responses

The following official regional bodies have issued responses denouncing the Traditional Plan’s effect in their regions or their areas of supervision.

  • Michigan Board of Ordained Ministry statement (see document)
  • New England Conference Cabinet – (see link)
  • Pacific Northwest Conference Board of Ordained Ministry Letter to Candidates – (see link)
  • Western Jurisdiction Mission Cabinet (bishops, DCMs, and leadership) – (see link + coverage)

Did your region do this? Send a copy or link to Twitter @umjeremy or the twitter username @ gmail.com

Annual Conference Legislation

Legislation submitted (and models for others) for annual conference consideration in May – July 2019.

Did your region do this? Send a copy or link to Twitter @umjeremy or the twitter username @ gmail.com

Your Turn

Thoughts?

Thanks for reading, commenting, and sharing on social media.

The article "Updated List of #UMC Regional Responses to GC2019" was originally posted on HackingChristianity.net. Please connect with the author UMJeremy on Twitter

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I’m geeking out a bit over this guest article.

Rev. Dr. J. Philip Wogaman is a titan in United Methodism–and he has a Wikipedia page! A fellow graduate of Boston University School of Theology, he’s been a seminary professor, dean, seminary president, senior pastor to presidents, and many other inspirational roles over his lifetime. While Dr. Wogaman is retired, he is involved in the politics of United Methodism enough to want to speak out against errors in logic from his long experience as a Christian ethicist.

The following is an original essay from Dr. Wogaman that he submitted for publication at Hacking Christianity. Enjoy.

===

Flawed Arguments Against United Methodist Change on LGBTQ Policies

J. Philip Wogaman

The recently concluded special United Methodist General Conference voted against removing policies against Gay and Lesbian ordination and forbidding clergy from presiding over same-gender marriages. The “traditional plan” not only called for maintaining those policies but increasing enforcement.    The votes were fairly close, with about 10% separating traditionalists and progressives.  The final outcome of the conservative changes awaits decisions by the church’s Judicial Council as to their constitutionality.  But, as it stands, the General Conference has reinforced existing teaching and law.  Progressives had hoped for a different outcome, providing a way forward for the denomination.  With another General Conference set for 2020 an immediate split within the denomination appears unlikely, at least for now.  But the conflict remains, now exacerbated by the 2019 Conference.

I have followed the debates within the church, before and after the General Conference, with special interest.  As an ethicist I have been struck by significant flaws in the reasoning of the traditionalists, led by the UM Good News and Confessionalist movements.  Here are some of them:

Flaw #1.  Biblical literalism

One of the church’s existing Social Principles asserts that “The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching.”   In the 46 years since this was adopted, the church has never specified why this is “incompatible with Christian teaching.”  However, in defending this position, “homosexual practice” is repeatedly labeled as contrary to biblical teaching.  It is, in fact, true that there are a few—perhaps seven—biblical passages condemning same-gender sexual relationships.  The most significant of these is probably the words in Romans 1:26-27  that speaks of how those who rebelled against God were given up by God” to dishonorable passions.  Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error.”  A condemnation in Leviticus even calls for same-gender sexual acts to be punishable by death.

            Those passages are certainly there, along with some identifications of marriage as between man and woman.  (Of course, in the case of Abraham, Isaac, David, and Solomon, it wasn’t just one man and one woman but polygamy on a grand scale!)  Efforts have been made by progressive  Christians to re-frame these passages or to counter them with others. 

            I am less interested in that then I am in the larger assumption:  If a moral teaching is in the Bible, it is, for no other reason, binding upon faithful Christians.  In the case of the Confessing Movement, it is the fact that these biblical teachings are repeated throughout a lot of church history.  True enough.

            But that kind of reasoning is deeply flawed.  It passes over the many points at which taking scripture literally is not intellectually sustainable.  There are, within scripture, different versions of the same event and descriptions that could not possibly be factual, given what we know scientifically about the world and universe.  Moreover, the Bible contains ethical teachings that most United Methodists do not consider binding.  For instance, I Timothy 2:11-14 and Ephesians 5:22-24 which mark the inferiority of women to men—and harsh teachings in part of the Older Testament, such as Leviticus. 

            Do members and particularly leaders of organizations like the Confessing and Good News movements consider themselves to be literalists?  I doubt it.  But insofar as they allow biblical literalism to be a serious ground for the harsh Traditionalist Plan, we have to question the integrity of the legislative effort.

            Perhaps it must be added that progressive United Methodists do take scripture very seriously.  I am reminded of an early 20th century Methodist minister who was accosted by a layperson with the question, “Do you take the Bible literally?”  To which he is supposed to have replied, “I don’t take it literally, I take it seriously.”  To take the Bible seriously is to be led and inspired by its deep theological messages, especially about the importance of love, along with a good dose of humility in face of the grandeur and grace of God.

Flaw #2.  Ignoring Facts

A failure to take important facts into account.  Moral judgments are at the intersection of values and facts.  Our values are grounded biblically and inspired by generations of faithful Christians.  But they must be translated into the factual world and universe — context matters.  The deep scriptural values at the heart of our faith must not be captive to the factual views of biblical writers.  Some of those writings convey views that remain valid, even thousands of years later—particularly those dealing with human nature and our tendencies toward self-centeredness.  In dealing with sexual issues, the United Methodist Social Principles are on solid factual ground in warning against the moral dangers of sexual exploitation and disconnecting sexual expression from love.  But our traditionalist friends overlook factual realities in same-gender relationships.  What are these:  In the first place, there is a growing body of evidence that sexual orientation is, for most people, a given and not a choice.  The biological basis remains unsettled, but many (I think most) LGBTQ people speak of this as something they have always experienced.  Moreover, there is a settled consensus among most members of the psychological professions that efforts to change one’s sexual orientation arei usually futile.  Tragically, LGBTQ people who have tried but failed have been led to self-hatred and sometimes even to suicide. 

            Perhaps the most important fact is that there are gifted, grace-filled Christians living morally disciplined and relationally caring lives.  When the 1988 General ConferenceC established a Committee to Study Homosexuality, it hoped that all of the factual scientific questions could be unearthed.  That didn’t quite happen, but in its various studies and hearings, the Committee metC with numbers of gay and lesbian Methodists who were evidently very good people.  Increasingly that is being discovered today in large numbers of churches and families with LGBTQ children and grandchildren.  It is a mystery to me why the Traditionalists can’t see that right in front of our eyes!  At the very least, that fact should lead to greater humility in categorizing all LGBTQ people negatively.

Flaw #3.    Labeling  Homosexual “Practice” as necessarily sinful

            The line in the Social Principles that treats homosexual “practice” as incompatible with Christian teaching does not, as stated above, give specific reasons.  But its point is clearly to identify this as sin—always and necessarily a sin.  We’ve already pointed out that such a judgment cannot be based on biblical literalism.  But that language pushes us to think more clearly about what “sin” is.  There is a good deal of theological support for the view that sin is in what separates us from God.  That can’t mean ”literally so” because God is already present everywhere.  Nor in Christian faith can it mean that sin is our failure to earn and deserve the grace of God.  God’s grace is present all the time, quite apart from our deserving.  But sin is real.  Perhaps the best way to phrase this is to speak of human actions and attitudes that create obstacles to our receiving that divine grace.  Can sexual actions and attitudes be sinful?  Of course!  But they don’t attach to sexual orientation per se. 

Flaw #4.  Legalism

            The “Traditionalist Plan,” largely adopted by the special General Conference and advocated by the Confessing and Good News movements, not only continued existing legislation prohibiting  the ordination of LGBTQ candidates for ministry and made it a chargeable offense for clergy to officiate at same-gender weddings, but it sought to rigidify enforcement of these prohibitions.  Some of that has been ruledr unconstitutional by the church’s Judicial Council, but the Traditionalists clearly want to increase legal controls.  The basic rationale seems clear enough:  Our covenant with one another is expressed in our laws, and everybody should be accountable for obeying them.  But not so fast!  Do church laws related to LGBTQ issues authentically express the deep meaning of our covenant?  Legalism is law required for its own sake, just because it is the law, and not because it expresses an underlying theological or moral truth.  John Wesley himself disobeyed Anglican church law when it conflicted with his conscience.  When church law is rigidly enforced, it risks making it difficult for people to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit in acts of ecclesial disobedience when church law is deemed to be wrong.  The traditionalists want to prescribe definite and harsh penalties, removing all discretion from bishops and church courts.  We do well to remember St. Thomas Aquinas’s admonition to rulers not to enact laws that many oppose.

For the sake of good laws we should be cautious in imposing laws that are not supported by a clear consensus.

Flaw #5.  Pastoral Insensitivity to the Hurt of LGBTQ People and Their Loved Ones

            As noted above, the traditionalists and the current “incompatible with Christian teaching” consider same-gender sexual relationships to be sinful, and in the Book of Discipline, such relationships are singled out for special condemnation in church law.  Despite rhetoric about loving the sinner while hating the sin, LGBTQ people are stigmatized.  In some parts of the church, such stigma gets translated into rejection by the community—despite the Social Principle imploring us not to reject or condemn.  Fact is, that happens and is deeply felt by those who are hurt by it.  One especially poignant illustration of the problem occurs to me.  I have known children of gay or lesbian couples.  Is the church telling those children, in effect, that their same-gender parents are living in sin?  How are those children to be regarded in Sunday School and youth groups?  And when two people of the same gender clearly love each other why shouldn’t the church recognize and celebrate the moral dignity of their union?  When such recognition is denied through church law, isn’t that a profound statement of rejection?

            This stigmatizing of same-gender love and the accompanying rejection of a person’s inherent sexual orientation translates as personal rejection.  No amount of pastoral solicitude can overcome the wider church’s condemnation, although we can be grateful that numbers of pastors and lay fellow Methodists have sought to be fully inclusive and caring. 

Flaw #6.  Rejecting the Views of Younger United Methodists

            Very large numbers of young people have turned away from American churches.  In part this may simply reflect anti-institutional feelings.  But young people often have gay and lesbian friends and simply cannot understand why the church is stigmatizing them.  When young people sometimes judge the church as hypocritical, this often is cited.  No doubt, there are also young people who fully accept current UM teaching about same-gender sexual relationshps, particularly if they have grown up in more conservative churches.  But even these youths are not likely to remain in those churches for the rest of their lives. 

In some measure, the issues now confronting the church are generational in character.  And, say what we will, the younger generation is the future of the church.

                                                                                                J. Philip Wogaman

===

Your turn

Thoughts?

Thanks for reading, commenting, and sharing on social media.

The article "Flawed #UMC Arguments Against Changing LGBTQ Policies" was originally posted on HackingChristianity.net. Please connect with the author UMJeremy on Twitter

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Survey Results

First, a step back. Before the Western Jurisdiction conference the week of March 10th, this blog ran a survey of non-Westerners. We had 328 responses, of which 279 were from outside the West (and weren’t jerks filling it out telling us we needed to “comply” with the UMC or “burn in hell” which I think is not in the Western Jurisdiction at all!).

While the content was shared internally and anonymously to the leadership, as far as reporting, here’s the best I can do (responses do not equal one another because not every respondent filled in every question).

The following are summary images of three of the survey questions:

In short, there is a tremendous amount of enthusiasm and support for the Western Jurisdiction to step forward in leadership, to step out of the safe haven it has made, and to gather other churches in risky ministry areas in a new way. So many places need support, but need to be rooted where they are. How can both happen?

So how did the Western Jurisdiction respond?

Official Response to GC2019

Here’s the official statement. I love the preamble so much it needs to be quoted in full:

A Statement by the Western Jurisdiction Leadership Team

Trusting in the Author of Life
   who understands the blessings of diversity we fail to comprehend,

Inspired by the nonconforming Christ
   who teaches us to defy oppression in all its forms, and,

Guided by the Holy Spirit
   who continually leads us by grace into abundant life,

We, laity and clergy, of the Western Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church,
   as one body, deeply saddened and greatly harmed
   by the rending actions of the 2019 General Conference,
Reaffirm our commitment to a radically hospitable church in two converging ways.

The official response follows in two parts:

  • First, a statement by the Western Jurisidiction Leadership Team (full disclosure: I was part of this voting group that unaninimously affirmed it)  that we will not comply with the Traditional Plan changes to the Discipline. Further, the Western Jurisdiction is actively studying how to start a new thing, either inside or outside of United Methodism.
  • Second, a statement by the Mission Cabinet, which is mostly the Bishops and head conference leadership of the Western Jurisdiction. They give more details than the first section, affirming that they will support (not prosecute) pastors who are LGBTQ or that officiate same-gender weddings, and that they also are exploring all the options going forward.

Click here for more. And you can view the initial video response here.

What’s Next? Reach Out!

Is the Western Jurisdiction responding to the survey of needs? It’s too early to know. Certainly there will be provisions and support for folks who are looking to leave their regions and move to the Western Jurisdiction. But that is not all that is needed: as Martin Luther King Jr. stated, “injustice anywhere threatens justice everywhere.” How do we support folks who serve in rural Oklahoma or Florida or even downtown Houston?

While there are serious barriers to official relationships or changes of affiliation in the Discipline, the overwhelming response from the West is: We hear you. We need you. We want to support you. We don’t know how at this time, but together we will confront the hard questions and find answers together.

My hope for next steps is twofold:

  1. If you are a church in the Western Jurisdiction, form a partnership with a Reconciling or affirming church in the South or Bible Belt. Share resources. Send books to them, receive things from them. Make the offer even if you don’t know them. Don’t be passive, be an active promoter of peace and justice!
  2. If you are a ministry outside the Western Jurisdiction, talk to your Regional Organizer in Reconciling Ministries or your annual conference progressives to see who can be of the best help at this time. Sign the open letters in your conference. Write letters to the editor of your regional news, and put up big banners on your church. Be a living embodiment of the hashtag #NotAllMethodistsHateGays.
Your Turn

Thoughts?

Thanks for reading, commenting, and sharing on social media.

The article "Western Jurisdiction Responds to General Conference 2019" was originally posted on HackingChristianity.net. Please connect with the author UMJeremy on Twitter

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A reader and friend of Hacking Christianity sent in his reflections as an LGBTQ pastor in The United Methodist Church. Read on for a snapshot of his journey and a shared experience that resonates a different way for him.

===

Original by Bing Wright
That Feeling in the Pit of your Stomach 

Rev. Joey Heath-Mason

Have you ever met someone and when you found out they were a Christian you immediately hesitated, especially when that someone is a church leader or pastor? You get that lump in your throat or butterflies in your stomach. That feeling comes because you are wondering, do they know me? Do they know that part of me? Will they truly see and believe the depth of my faith?

As a pastor you might be surprised to know this happens to me, but it just doesn’t happen sometimes, it happens almost always. You see, as a gay man I always have this fear at these introductions. I recoil a little bit, and ask myself “can I be honest here?” “can I say husband?” “do I need to just try and pass in this moment?” “is this safe?” It is a very unsettling feeling when it happens and even more so when it constantly repeats itself over and over again. 

To be clear, I am not afraid of being judged, disagreed with, or even not liked. Rather:

  • It is a fear of the hurt I feel every time I am made to feel not welcome or less than, the fear of alienation. 
  • It is a fear of the pain I have felt time and time again. It is the look on someone’s face, even without words, that says “oh” and you can see the inner monologue that happens.
  • It is the conversation that suddenly becomes awkward or uncomfortable or just cut short.
  • It is painful because it is a reminder that I am not really in the club. I am not really a part of the club and I have only gotten this far because folks have willingly or unknowingly let me through.

It is a reminder that no matter what happens in my ministry, no matter how beautiful my family is, no matter how much I strive toward perfection, I am seen as “not living up to scriptural holiness.” I am seen as one who does not truly believe in Scripture. I am seen as one who prefers to cater to the culture rather than the Savior. I am seen as one who lacks the integrity to uphold my vows. It hurts because no matter what, I will never be good enough, even as none of us are good enough, and yet it feels like my not good enough is somehow worse.

I recognize I am not the only one to feel this way. I know that I am coming from a place of privilege as a white man who has the option to pass for straight. I know for women, people of color, those with disabilities, and even other folks from the LGBTQ community, racism, sexism, ableism, and all kinds of discrimination are not so easily avoided and are a part of their real lived reality. 

I also realize I have voluntarily committed my life to the church in full knowledge of the rules and regulations. I have known my entire adult life exactly where the UMC is on the questions of LGBTQ people and our place in the ministry and the celebration of our loves. I knew when I stood at the altar and said “I do” that I was entering into a holy covenant that might one day be used against me. I know that there would be many less questions if I were willing to commit to being celibate and to leave my marriage behind. I know I could choose to leave the church I have been a part of my entire life and choose a new church home that is more accepting of me. I know these things like I know that feeling I get in the pit of my stomach when I meet new people.

And I also know that I feel called to ministry in the UMC. Even with my theological difference on sexuality, the Wesleyan theology of our church just fits me right. The mixture of grace and call to holiness. The call to transform my own life and to transform the world. The striving to end injustice and oppression everywhere and to love and care for those the world sees as the least, the lost, and the lonely. It is the vision of hope that I have been learning to believe my entire lifetaught to me by this church. It is in this theological space that I feel most at home, at least for now. 

To be honest though, I am not sure how much longer I will feel that way.

Rev. Joey Heath-Mason is cradle United Methodist, growing up in southern Georgia. After he hearing a calling to ministry he enrolled at Wesley Theological Seminary. Since graduating Joey has served in a small rural church, a larger suburban church, and now serves in campus ministry at American University. Joey is passionate about being church that welcomes all and providing space for all God’s children to build relationship with God and one another. Joey lives in the DC metro area with his two dogs and husband of two and a half years.

===

Your turn

Thoughts?

Thanks for reading, commenting, and sharing on social media.

The article "Reader responds: Where I am right now #UMC" was originally posted on HackingChristianity.net. Please connect with the author UMJeremy on Twitter

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Help the Western Jurisdiction respond to the needs of United Methodists outside its boundaries. Fill out the survey here.

Holy Saturday Came Early

Lent is the liturgical season of 40 days leading up to when we remember Jesus’s death and resurrection. The last day of Lent is called Holy Saturday. It is the day after Good Friday where Jesus dies by brutal crucifixion and is laid in a tomb.  Holy Saturday is the day before Easter, and many churches use a dark and lonely liturgy, reflecting the felt absence of our Savior.

This year for The United Methodist Church, reeling after an awful General Conference, Holy Saturday sure feels like it came really early. It feels like our hope is dead. Right now many people feel like the disciples sequestered away, their hope dead, their dreams dashed, and very identities marred. 

We are waiting for the women to come and tell us that Christ is alive. We are sinking in the muck, the rain, the swamp of isolation and abandonment, waiting to be shown a glimmer of light that will remind us our hope is still alive for freedom. 

A Light from the West?

At the last few minutes of General Conference, Rev. Donna Pritchard of the Oregon-Idaho delegation (full disclosure: I was a reserve delegate for the same delegation) shared this statement by the Western Jurisdiction: 

We have long appreciated the richness of the global diversity of our United Methodist Church and have embraced opportunities to join with you all in the work of making disciples for the transformation of the world.

We also understand the purpose of the Church to be in mission and ministry. Consequently, we in the West have been functioning for years as One Church committed to full inclusion, seeking to be a home for all God’s people.

Today we acknowledge the fracture of this body, yet we worship a God who tells us that the body of Christ has many parts, all equally valued. Rooted in Wesleyan tradition, grounded in Scripture and committed to mission and ministry, the Western Jurisdiction intends to continue to be one church, fully inclusive and open to all God’s children, across the theological and social spectrum.

We know from experience we are stronger when we live together as progressives, traditionalists, and centrists in our Church. Many times during this Conference we have sung or prayed or blessed each other with the reminder that we need each other.

We also know there are others who feel the same way today, so we invite you to be in dialogue with us as we move forward together into a future with hope.

May God continue to bless us for the sake of the world. Thank you.

The Bishops of the Western Jurisdiction followed up with a video where they repeated the affirmations above and pledged to be in connection and support beyond our borders.

You can see more resources on the Western Jurisdiction website.

But what does it mean? What does it mean that the West will “continue to be…committed to full inclusion” and that it will “be in dialogue” with non-WJ laity and clergy and bishops “as we move forward together.” What does that mean?

Be In The Room Where It Happens

In March, conversations will be had with the Western Jurisdiction leadership as to what role the West will take in this Denomination that has ceased to be a Church for all people.

I’ve heard it expressed many times that we need to extend the fair treatment and open ministry that we practice in the West beyond our borders. So the question is what do United Methodists beyond the West need or want from the Western Jurisdiction?

This is where you come in.

As a blog that has a large readership in the South and Bible Belt among moderates and progressives (and masochistic Traditionalists), I’ve volunteered to ask you questions and get your direct and honest feedback as to what you want or need from the Western Jurisdiction at this time. To get you in the room where it happens so whatever is crafted is shaped by the needs of those in places of risky ministry and harm.

So…what do you need?

  • What does your congregation NEED to continue its vital ministry?
  • What does your pastor NEED to be safe and empowered in their leadership?
  • What do you HOPE would come from the Western Jurisdiction?
  • Do you HOPE the West will create a new thing that you can be a part of?
  • Do you not need any of that, but just want liturgical or devotional resources to better serve the LGBTQ and progressive community you are in?
  • WHO do you need to be connected with? People outside your context, or people closer in that need community and collaboration? 

Please respond by filling out the Survey here.

And share this blog post (NOT THE SURVEY) so folks know what they are contributing to!

(Full disclosure: I’m not on the Western Jurisdiction leadership. I am gathering information to share with those elected leaders as they discern a way forward.)

Responses Are Private

Here’s the short survey Form. My pledge is that I will compile and pass on legitimate responses to the Western Jurisdiction leadership. I will not pass on names and identifying information, but I will retain them in case a follow up or response is desired, in which case I’ll send those privately.

In the past, I’ve been trusted with stories of pay disparity and #MeToo stories of clergywomen, so I have a track record of holding these requests and responses in confidence. 

I hope you contribute to this conversation. And hurry: the form closes the evening of March 13th.

Your turn

Click here for the Google Form survey. It will be active until March 13th.

Thoughts?

Thanks for reading, commenting, and sharing with your friends on social media.

The article "#UMC Request: Help the West care for the Rest!" was originally posted on HackingChristianity.net. Please connect with the author UMJeremy on Twitter

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An anonymous clergywoman writes the following in response to the question “Why don’t you just leave?” asked by Traditionalists seeking a denomination without progressives or LGBTQ persons.

Here’s her answer:

===

CC0 License
You Loved Me First

By: Anonymous

In the hours and days after this General Conference, I’ve found myself disgusted with false equivalencies between traditionalists and progressives.  Many bishops, instead of taking a clear stand, chose to speak of two near-equal sides harming one another. False. Progressives came to the conference with a hand outstretched, with plans that said we still needed one another.  They came begging and pleading, not for a liberal church, but for a unified one that made space for everyone. Traditionalists came with a view that progressives had nothing of value to give this church and sought to cut all ties through a punitive plan that would force us out.  These are not equal in any way. One came with cruelty, the other with sacrifice.

When asked why they are so unwilling to make space for us, many traditionalists answer with questions like, “Why did you join a church you didn’t agree with?  Why do you join and try to change us?” These questions hurt me deeply because it’s akin to asking a son why he joined a family. I didn’t join a church with whom I disagreed.  This church is the church of my birth. This church loved me first. It claimed me at my baptism. This church adopted me. It raised me. It formed me. It confirmed me. And now, this church does not want the daughter it raised.  We’ve been rejected by the mothers and fathers of this church and it didn’t happen overnight. This process of rejection is laborious, painful and ongoing.

I wasn’t surprised by the outcomes or arguments at this General Conference.  Oh how I wanted to be! I wanted so much for our mothers and fathers to open their arms, extend their hands, and wipe away tears.  And this church taught me to hope in the power of the Holy Spirit and the power of love and vulnerability and so, I came, like others, with all the hope I could muster. I knew the votes would be a razor thin margin–I know my parents well.  

So many groups within our family and beyond our family worked for years to make sure that thin margin holds fast. Boards of Ordained Ministry stacked by bishops with conservative voices, increased support for very conservative non-UM seminaries, strong slates of delegates, promises of support to those in the Central Conferences, training people how to vote before General Conference begins, para-church organizations like Young Life training our youth in Biblical literalism while withdrawing support from young people’s ministries within the UMC, hiring youth workers who come from Southern Baptist traditions, and using confirmation curriculum from more conservative sources than the UMC.  Desperately, our parents try to raise sons and daughters they want to keep and consistently their discipleship creates sons and daughters they need to throw out.

It couldn’t be that our church raises faithful, thoughtful children who, when wrestling with Scripture and praxis, find the stances of the church aren’t quite fitting anymore.  It couldn’t be these evangelical sons and daughters are being moved by the power of the Holy Spirit. It couldn’t be these recalcitrant children are clinging to their Wesleyan heritage and the love they knew since their baptisms.  No. These children were led astray at some point, are doing harm, and must be aborted.

The problem is, dear mother church, dear father church, you produce children like me.  Children you call deformed or abominations. But it is not because of a flaw in boards of ordained ministries or seminaries or youth leaders or curriculum or general agencies or the Social Principles.  You have to work so hard to keep us from growing up this way because your polity and praxis, your foundation in prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying grace, your very General Rules and Articles of Religion, produce us.  

As you look us in the eyes and vote us out, as you praise God with our songs and our voices while breaking our spirits, as you accept our tithes and fund organizations trying to remove us from your presence, we fight back, with the language you gave us.  With the faith you raised in us. The love of Jesus you taught us saved us.

Thank you broken Body.   You gave me my baptism. You called me a child of God.  You did this. You brought me in. And if you are staying Wesleyan, I contend that no matter what your rules are around exclusion, you will continue to give birth to and raise children like me.  We aren’t going away–even when you vote to bind our hearts for justice and call it love. Your harming us, your breaking up families, your pushing, doesn’t make us leave. We will keep being born.

I’m United Methodist. I love who we are and what we believe.  I’m not able to simply join another church because I don’t fit anywhere else. And so, I keep showing up to a battle already lost, with arms outstretched and tears on my face, forcing you to make me leave.  I don’t turn my back on you. I am always hoping, one day you will love me the way you did at my baptism. When my arms were outstretched and tears were on my face and you embraced me, calling me Child of God.

===

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The article "You Loved Me First #UMC" was originally posted on HackingChristianity.net. Please connect with the author UMJeremy on Twitter

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A guest post as the first response to United Methodist General Conference by a United Methodist layperson with a long affiliation with General Conference.

===

For Such a Time As Now!

Joey Lopez

This week, The United Methodist Church’s best-kept secret was on full display. No, I am not referring to our long-standing disagreements about LGBTQ people or what some call “human sexuality.” Rather, the secret uncovered this week was that the institutional church has long been experiencing a slow death.

Loss of Hope or Hope Misguided

Over the past several years, I have been actively involved at the most institutional level of The United Methodist Church. I was a reserve delegate at the 2012 General Conference. From 2014 to 2018, I sat on the board of Board of Directors of Methodist Federation for Social Action, the church’s oldest social justice caucus. And, I served on the Love Your Neighbor Coalition’s leaderships team leading up to the 2016 General Conference, where I directed many of the public actions and witnesses. 

The more involved I was at the institutional level, the harder it became to hope that the church could ever be something different. My experience at the 2012 General Conference led me to leave the ordination process. It became clear that seeking ordination as an openly queer person would only distract me from pursuing God’s calling in my life. It was clear to me that process was designed to “weed out” anyone not white, US-born, straight, and male.

Leading up to the 2016 General Conference, I shifted my career from working with United Methodist congregations to working with people of faith across the Southeastern U.S. to advocate for marriage equality and LGBTQ non-discrimination protections. I chose to work specifically within Presbyterian Church U.S.A.—mobilizing people of faith to step out of their pews and into the streets for racial justice, gender justice, and LGBTQ rights. 

Finding myself somewhere between strangely warmed and the frozen chosen, I began fading the out of the roles I held in The United Methodist Church after the 2016 General Conference. I was no longer sure I had anything left to offer the church or those working for justice within it. More than anything, I felt like we kept perpetuating the same systems we were desperately trying to dismantle. 

Shortly after 2016, I joined the planting team of a new church. This congregation dreamed of bringing liberation to its community and was driven by four core values: belong, be still, become, and be bold. From the beginning, we were explicit and unapologetic about who was welcome in our community. We made a point to welcome people of color, queer and transgender people, and the growing homeless population in our community. We lived out this welcome by boldly showing up for these communities, accompanying the work of justice already under way. We rooted ourselves in deep, genuine relationship. Being part of this worshipping community, I realized I was not at a loss of hope for the church. My hope had simply been in the wrong places. 

It is Time for the Season of AND

My time in these spaces outside of The UMC taught me that welcome did not have to happen in incremental steps. God’s abundance means that we never have to choose who to welcome first or what justice issue to support first. Liberation for the church is not a matter of a glass half full or half empty. We can simply refill the glass. Liberation is not mapped out by small pieces of a larger puzzle. It is the full picture all at once.

This got me thinking about Mordecai’s words to Esther: 

“Don’t fool yourself into thinking that, just because you are in the imperial palace, you will be the only Jewish person to escape. If you insist on remaining silent at this time, vindication and liberation will come to our people through another source, but both you and your family will surely die. Who’s to say?—you may have come into the royal court for just this moment.” (The Inclusive Bible, Esther 4:13-14)

There was no clear strategy for queer liberation. The long time power brokers of the progressive church chose institutional preservation and stability over the voices of those most impacted. Our power brokers did not take note of Mordecai’s words. He is telling Esther to not forget her roots. That she may be in a the palace but that will not protect her. Far too many of our leaders stayed in the comfort of their palace and hoped for the best. So, our “left flank” was watered down between a plan to simply remove the harmful language (without offering any protections) and a plan that would mostly maintain what we’ve known to be unjust for fifty-plus years.

We have sought incremental steps toward justice—fighting battles we thought we could win. Often our calls for liberation have been tempered, making sure we don’t rock the boat too much at once. This impulse comes from many places: from elders who have been on the journey for a long time, allies who are worried about sacrificing their privilege, from ourselves having been worn down by the church’s posture, convinced we only deserve one piece of the puzzle at a time, and even from the institutions we have built to advocate on our behalf who are driven by self preservation.

For as long as I have been seeking the full inclusion of LGBTQ people into the life and ministry of The United Methodist Church, we have been driven by an ethics of “or”—marriage or ordination, U.S. or global, annual conference by annual conference or general conference. The time for compromise surely has passed and, frankly, never should have been. Over and over, scripture tells us not to compromise on justice. This special session of the General Conference could never deliver any more than the petitions passed.

So, what if the church dies?

It is time to admit that the church as we know it has been dying for a very long time. A mentor of mine often asks, before leading groups in liberation work, “What happens if this institution dies today?” I wonder, what would we as United Methodists do differently if we operated as a “resurrection people,” aware that our church has been laid in the tomb and that we have 3 days (times a hundred, give or take a few) to prepare for resurrection? How would we prepare?

On social media, Bishop Karen Oliveto frequently posts a prayer by Carlo Carretto which reminds me to stay humble and why I am still connected to the church. The prayer starts out “How much I criticize you, my church, and yet how much I love you!” Its final lines are:

“No, I cannot be free of you for I am one with you, even if not completely you. Then too, where would I go? To build another church? But I could not build one without the same defects. And again, if I were to build another church, it would be my church, not Christ’s church. No, I am old enough. I know better.”

Respectfully, I disagree. It will be hard to start something new, for I too am one with the church, though not completely. And, granted, I could not build something new without my own sins projected onto it. However, this new church cannot and should not and will not be built by any one person alone.  

The dying church we have lived with since 1968 was built to support the wellbeing of a select group of people. There is anti-blackness embedded in its teachings. Its “mission work” has exported homophobia and transphobia just as much as “development” or “Christian aid.” Sexism and misogyny are built into its foundations, justified to maintain a false sense of purity. 

The decisions of the special session of the General Conference are a legacy of these sins we have chosen to ignore as a church. We are culpable and have participated in them either as colonizers, exporting false teachings to other continents, or as those who reinscribe colonial logics, blaming an entire continent for earnestly believing what we taught them to believe.

So, it is time to begin dreaming of a new church. Heeding Carlo Carretto’s warning, we must be honest about the sins we will likely carry with us. We must name and confess, where we come from often and always so we can hold ourselves true to our history and to our commitment to being something different. We must build something new together and not in secret. We are doing a new and joyous thing. Why hide it under or bushel? Or in a back room? Or behind legislation and Robert’s Rules of Order? 

The decision of the special session of the General Conference is devastating. However, it is not a loss of hope. We can never lose because there will always be queer people baptized, confirmed, and ordained into the church every day! So, let us see justice like Mordecai, dream with Carlo’s prayer in mind, and together build a church that makes known God’s heart.

Joey is a life long United Methodist from the south and is a recent transplant to the Pacific Northwest. He has organized with faith communities for racial justice, gender justice, and LGBTQ liberation. Joey enjoys supporting and resourcing communities in their work toward liberation. 

===

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The article "For Such A Time As Now! #UMC" was originally posted on HackingChristianity.net. Please connect with the author UMJeremy on Twitter

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The Judicial Council has spoken YET AGAIN about the Traditionalist Plan. And the end result is the Traditional Plan turned a General Conference into the Fyre Festival.

Fyre

Both Netflix and Hulu recently had documentaries about the Fyre Festival, a musical event that promised to be the experience of the century and ended up being a complete disaster. 

Watching both documentaries this past month, it struck me how it was avoidable at so many steps along the way, but a fraudster at every turn kept the long con going until a lot of people were hurt (workers and laborers on the island it was to be on) or embarrassed (the hundreds of people who flew to a unprepared location). The only good that came from that festival was a renewed sense of skepticism of dazzling promotions, and a question of the value of “influencers” on social media who sold the festival in the first place.

A similar event is taking place in St. Louis now at The United Methodist Church’s General Conference 2019.

What went wrong?

The purpose of this General Conference was to find a way forward through the LGBTQ debate in the UMC. The Commission on A Way Forward provided two commission-created plans.

But in the last minute, the Council of Bishops, in order to go from a supermajority (2/3) to a 90% majority of support for some reason, forwarded a privately-created Traditional Plan as well.

While offering multiple paths was done seeking unity instead of majority, it ended up giving majority support to a plan that was not constitutional.

Majority Support for an Illegal Plan

The privately-created TP had myriad constitutional issues, according to the Judicial Council. 

In  Decision 1366 , the Judicial Council said the following about the Traditionalist Plan:

  1. Too Adversarial: “The Council of Bishops was not designed to function as an inquisitional court responsible for enforcing doctrinal purity among its members.“ So the JC struck down many provisions that made the Episcopacy more adversarial than constitutionally conceived.
  2. Too Fixated on The Gay instead of Overall Upholding of Discipline: “The General Conference…cannot reduce the scope of the board [of Ordained Ministry’s] examination to one aspect only and unfairly single out one particular group of candidates (self-avowed practicing homosexuals) for disqualification.” Many of the doctrinal assent requirements and due process violations were singling out LGBTQ issues, so they were overreaching the JC’s interpretation of fairness (as fair as it can be, I guess, when it comes to discrimination against LGBTQ persons).
  3. The Heart Is Heartless: The biggest question was how the JC would handle Petition #10, the “heart of the Traditionalist Plan,” that provides a way for churches and annual conferences to leave the denomination that they find too intolerant of LGBTQ persons. The decision is a lot to wade through, but essentially the only thing left in this section is that annual conferences can choose to leave the denomination, but individual clergy and churches cannot in the same way. Which reduces the likelihood of it working (see below).

All in all, of the 17 petitions that constitute the  Traditionalist Plan, 8 were constitutional and 9 were not (7 were outright unconstitutional, and 2 had sections declared unconstitutional).

For comparison, there were only three sentences which were declared unconstitutional in the  One Church Plan’s petitions, but those were irrelevant to the overall novelty of the “unity in diversity” approach of the OCP.

( Read our original coverage here )

We Alone Can Fix

To these legal concerns, there have been multiple rounds of “fixes.”

  1. First, Rev. Thomas Lambrecht published corrections and amendments to the The response to the legal challenges  here.
  2. Second, one of the proposed ways to fix it is via substitute of another plan called the Modified Traditional Plan that would be an alternative path to parts of the Traditional Plan. But the  ruling came back that a critical component is not constitutional . So that won’t work either.
  3. Finally, Maxie Dunham had a 30 page document of fixes and amendments. He did not follow the requests of the official processes and the document was not translated or distributed beyond caucus group efforts.

In short, a vast amount of money, resources, legal minds, and effort is being put into propping up a broken plan. And at every end, it keeps being kicked down.

Prophetic words by JJ Warren

As a brief interlude, Upper New York lay delegate JJ Warren had an impassioned speech on the floor, which you can view here.

JJ said:

We desire a church that seeks the justice of God. A Church that doesn’t waste its money on a conference and come out with no decision because it was unconstitutional. 

The pain that would happen from this crucifixion of putting th entails in our Methodist Church, the pain of this death might be worth a resurrection, but I’d like to see first if that can happen together with being called unconstitutional with whatever we decide.

It turns out JJ was portentious.

Judicial Council – Penultimate Word

Finally, today, the Judicial Council AGAIN looked at the Traditional Plan in Decision 1377. 7 petitions are STILL unconstitutional out of 17, and two were already unconstitutional before we got here. Link forthcoming when it is available.

While the UMC will spend the afternoon likely trying to perfect them, the end result will be that GC will pass an illegal plan, or at least a plan with its most restrictive components cut out of it. In other words, a failure to do anything novel to correct the path of The UMC to this point.

The Fyre Festival was a long con. We see now that the United Methodist Church spent $3million to pass Exit Petitions (or to pass nothing of substance). The result is that the UMC will lose influence in the world and regard for being a “Do Nothing General Conference.”

And it was all because of a long con and insistence that the Traditional Plan would deliver. It never could. And we see it was never meant to.

The Fyre

What will we tell our congregations when we get home that all we did was protect clergy pensions and church property of exiting congregations?

What will we tell our congregations when we get home that we wasted $3million dollars on legislation that got voted unconstitutional?

What will we tell LGBTQ people, who were beaten up all week, that they were useful tools to pass money and property legislation?

We’ve been conned. We are trapped on an island that cannot sustain us and that we are depleting its resources and grace.

And we’ve been left holding the bag.

Your turn

Thoughts?

Thanks for reading, commenting, and sharing on social media.

The Cross and Flame is the registered trademark of The UMC, handled by GCFA. On this post, it is not used with permission but under fair use for the purposes of parody.

The article "The Traditional Plan Turned #UMCGC Into Fyre Festival" was originally posted on HackingChristianity.net. Please connect with the author UMJeremy on Twitter

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Our common polity requires that our life together matches up with our agreed-upon rules—much like how American secular laws have to match up with the Constitution. The United Methodist Church is the same way—but one plan has consistently been outside of the law.

The Plan written outside of the Process

When the Traditional(ist) Plan was first included in the Commission on A Way Forward, the Commission members were very clear that it was different than the other plans. The One Church Plan and the Connectional Conferences Plans were written together at the Commission. The Traditional(ist) Plan was instead written by a small group of Bishops (including SCJ Bishops Scott Jones and Robert Mueller) outside of the AWF process. So it was included in the report, but it was not written by the commission.

When you consider all that follows, we now see that contributed to it being the most legally fraught way forward for The UMC.

Round One: Judicial Council Strikes it down

In Decision 1366, the Judicial Council said the following about the Traditionalist Plan:

  1. Too Adversarial: “The Council of Bishops was not designed to function as an inquisitional court responsible for enforcing doctrinal purity among its members.“ So the JC struck down many provisions that made the Episcopacy more adversarial than constitutionally conceived.
  2. Too Fixated on The Gay instead of Overall Upholding of Discipline: “The General Conference…cannot reduce the scope of the board [of Ordained Ministry’s] examination to one aspect only and unfairly single out one particular group of candidates (self-avowed practicing homosexuals) for disqualification.” Many of the doctrinal assent requirements and due process violations were singling out LGBTQ issues, so they were overreaching the JC’s interpretation of fairness (as fair as it can be, I guess, when it comes to discrimination against LGBTQ persons).
  3. The Heart Is Heartless: The biggest question was how the JC would handle Petition #10, the “heart of the Traditionalist Plan,” that provides a way for churches and annual conferences to leave the denomination that they find too intolerant of LGBTQ persons. The decision is a lot to wade through, but essentially the only thing left in this section is that annual conferences can choose to leave the denomination, but individual clergy and churches cannot in the same way. Which reduces the likelihood of it working (see below).

All in all, of the 17 petitions that constitute the Traditionalist Plan, 8 were constitutional and 9 were not (7 were outright unconstitutional, and 2 had sections declared unconstitutional).

For comparison, there were only three sentences which were declared unconstitutional in the One Church Plan’s petitions, but those were irrelevant to the overall novelty of the “unity in diversity” approach of the OCP.

(Read our original coverage here)

Round Two: Judicial Council strikes the Substitute Legislation

The response to the legal challenges by the author and by others has been “We can fix it.” One of the ways to fix it is via substitute of another plan called the Modified Traditional Plan that would be an alternative path to parts of the Traditional Plan.

Yesterday, the Bishops requested a ruling on whether the substitute legislation was constitutional. The ruling came back late last night: It is not constitutional. Specifically:

“Absent clear grant of constitutional authority, transfers from one central conference to another central conference and from a jurisdictional conference to a central conference are constitutionally prohibited. The creation of the global episcopacy committee would also blur the lines between the responsibilities of the jurisdictional committees on episcopacy and those of the central conferences.”

The ruling also noted that the Book of Discipline stipulates “that the complaint process against bishops is handled by the jurisdictional conference and the jurisdictional committee on episcopacy.” Placing that responsibility under a global episcopacy committee would be unconstitutional, the council said.

So both the primary legislation and the substitute legislation’s key components have been struck down, all with a common theme: it moves accountability away from peers and towards distant bodies.

Staggering Forward

At the Good News Breakfast today, the narrative was the same: We will stumble forward and issue ANOTHER substitute legislation later today. Another one that hasn’t been vetted by the Judicial Council. Another one that was written outside of a communal legislative process. Another one written by the same people and the same perspective that believes Accountability is not with peers but with faceless superiors—which is about as anti-Wesleyan as you can get.

Will the delegates tire of the ceaseless pledges and promises that are broken and illegal? Today we will know.

So today we see if people will continue to support the fraught legislation called The Traditional Plan because it feels aligned with their values of law and order, even though it is neither legal or orders our life towards goodness and grace. Let us be in prayer that Reason, Scripture, Tradition, and Experience overwhelm the desire for predatory Methodism to become part of our common life together.

Thoughts?

Thanks for reading, commenting, and sharing on social media.

The article "Why do “Law and Order” UMs support a lawless Traditional(ist) Plan?" was originally posted on HackingChristianity.net. Please connect with the author UMJeremy on Twitter

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Credit: Teri Tobey, PNW Annual Conference

So here we are. General Conference 2019. The place where LGBTQ inclusion and exclusion in The United Methodist Church might find a step forward towards inclusion or find even more rigid restrictions on LGBTQ persons and allies.

The UMC was created in 1968 from the merger of the Methodist Church (see edit below) and the Evangelical United Brethren Church. It only took four years to add the first restrictions on LGBTQ people in 1972. It’s been a long season of exclusion in the church since that fateful Conference.

In the Broadway musical Hamilton, the long winter of battles between the British and American forces is captured in the song Stay Alive as Washington and Hamilton strategize how to prevail against a superior foe:

[Washington:]
There’s only one way for us to win this
Provoke outrage, outright
Don’t engage, strike by night
Remain relentless ’til their troops take flight

[Hamilton:]
Make it impossible to justify the cost of the fight

[Washington:]
Outrun 
Outlast
Stay alive ’til this horror show is past.

This might reflect the experience of progressives and LGBTQ persons at General Conference 2019. Because it definitely feels like we are just trying to survive in a church that seemingly wants to legislate us out of existence.

The Traditionalists are incredibly organized

Over the decades, those opposed to progressive and mainline values have created numerous structures and organizations within and alongside United Methodism. 

Through the Mission Society ( 1984  parallel to the General Board of Global Missions), Bristol House Books ( 1987  parallel to Abingdon), and the RENEW network ( 1989  tiny antagonistic group to UM Women), traditionalists created a parallel structure that provided books, women’s fellowship, and missionaries for congregations to support outside of United Methodist oversight, accountability, or connectional leadership.

Alongside these were numerous caucus groups: Good News Magazine (1966), Confessing Movement, Lifewatch, the Institute on Religion and Democracy, and others. Bristol Books became part of Asbury Seedbed a few years ago. And just before GC2016, the Wesleyan Covenant Association came about as well, to fulfill their part of the 2004 plan. 

These organizations provide material and financial support to defeat progressive values and inclusive polity from being passed by General and Annual Conferences, as well as support for court cases to declare anything that sneaks through as unconstitutional and remove clergy that step out of line.

Finally, a few days before General Conference 2019 (and 2016), the Africa Initiative retreat (that was sponsored by Good News) included a reported 200 delegates from Africa and shared the conservative renewal groups’ messaging, voting guides, and process strategy with the delegates from Africa. Of course, Africa will vote independently as delegates from Africa, but the organized way the Traditionalist values were communicated in a retreat setting is undoubtedly effective. 

In short, there’s no ambiguity: the majority culture in The United Methodist Church is conservative and their natural affinity to Traditionalist leadership is the best organized. While The UMC has many great progressive and mainline values in its polity and practices, it does so only after being deemed acceptable by this majority culture (or they just haven’t removed them yet). 

The Moderates are trying to be organized.

As reported on Rev. Chris Ritter’s blog, the Uniting Methodists, a middle-Methodist or moderate group that has been taking the lead on passing the One Church Plan, had one of their strategy documents leaked. 

I’ve seen bursts of hysteria on the Twitters, alleging it is trying to “control or shut down votes” and other comments. I’m sorry to say veteran GC people like me are unbothered by it. Since 2004, I’ve been involved in strategy sessions and seen strategy documents from all the caucus groups, progressive and traditionalist alike, and there’s nothing surprising about the document. In fact, it’s rather low level organizing, written for public dissemination. For people who support the Traditionalist Plan to be clutching their pearls over this document is to deny their side is doing the same things

The bright spot for moderate organizing has been the Mainstream United Methodists which have put out a steady beat of solid articles and content supporting the One Church Plan. Another joy was several annual conferences where moderates organized with progressives to elect more moderate delegations in 2016 (like West Ohio and Alabama West Florida). 

In short, for the first time at General Conference, moderates and middle-Methodists are organizing. It’s refreshing, but as with any inaugural effort, there will be missteps and apprehension at opposing the Traditionalist renewal group juggernauts. 

The Progressives and LGBTQ are just trying to survive. 

Progressives have been organized for a long time as well. Since the founding of the United Methodist Gay Caucus in 1974 (which would later become Affirmation) and the Reconciling Congregations Program in 1984 (which would become Reconciling Ministries in 2000), progressives have sought LGBTQ inclusion mostly by reducing harm: by watering down harmful legislation or inserting “agree to disagree” language. In recent years, LGBTQ groups like the Queer Clergy Caucus and Love Prevails have taken the cutting edge of witness to heart in public statements and protests. 

While progressives are a minority party in United Methodism, creative minorities are able to carve out safe havens for LGBTQ people in United Methodism. The Western Jurisdiction has become a haven for progressives and LGBTQ persons to serve openly because accountability (as Wesley intended) is held at the annual conference level, among clergy peers. The constitutional separation of powers structure of The UMC allows for such diversity. 

The purpose of the Traditional(ist) Plan is to eradicate those safe havens and instead encourage them to leave United Methodism. But even if it passes, it will be unable to remove accountability from the Annual Conference level. So it will be a non-starter to anything new in The UMC, just making like a little bit worse.

Without a truly progressive plan that affirms LGBTQ persons explicitly to rally behind, I see the task of progressives and LGBTQ persons at General Conference is to survive. To be alive at the end of this week. To have safe spaces, either carved out officially by the One Church Plan, or ones that the Traditional(ist) Plan can’t touch. And then we move on from there to whatever is next.

Your turn

Thoughts?

Thanks for reading, commenting, and sharing on social media. 

The article "Progressives: Stay alive ’til this show is past" was originally posted on HackingChristianity.net. Please connect with the author UMJeremy on Twitter

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