by David Livingston, Pastor of St. Paul’s UMC in Lenexa, KS
Getting the Facts Straight
As the Special Session of General Conference draws close, it is especially important for all delegates and interested United Methodists to gain as clear as possible a sense of the facts before us. There are and will continue to be legitimate differences of opinion and conflicting interpretations of implications of potential decisions, but there are also some realities we all ought to be able to agree upon. Tom Lambrecht of Good News recently posted comments about impacts on clergy that he perceives as possible from the One Church Plan (OCP). There are several misinterpretations that should be corrected.
Respect for Different Opinions
The One Church Plan makes more options for ministries and holy conversations possible. But it does not force people to engage in practices or conversations or even take votes, unless their faith communities want to do so. Tom Lambrecht rightly notes that the OCP gives clergy a freedom that they have not previously had to marry same-sex couples. He says, “The downside of this freedom is that local congregations would also gain the right to make decisions that until now have been made at the general church level.”
Impacts on Congregations
Certainly one of the most important benefits of the OCP is that it allows congregations to engage in holy conversations and make decisions that up to now have been suppressed or prohibited. Evidently, some fear having hard conversations in the local church about such matters. But no counselor would suggest that a family should categorically avoid such encounters. Certainly we don’t find Jesus avoiding hard conversations with his disciples. Nevertheless, if a congregation isn’t ready, doesn’t see the need, or chooses not to enter into discussions about same-sex marriage, under the OCP they have the complete right to make that choice. The OCP opens up more options about matters that affect the lives and faith of our people. It does not force conversations or votes.
No Need for Schism
The OCP takes great pains to honor the consciences of all people in these matters. In fact, the OCP explicitly protects individual conscience no matter what stance one assumes regarding same-gender relationships.
In his sermon “On Schism,” while acknowledging that there are specific situations when a person may need to leave a church, John Wesley speaks about this in a way that is entirely relevant to our current circumstances. “Suppose the Church or society to which I am now united does not require meto do anything which the Scripture forbids, or to omit anything which the Scripture enjoins, it is then my indispensable duty to continue therein” (On Schism, II.7. emphasis added).
Freedom to Choose
Tom Lambrecht asserts that “Many evangelical clergy by conscience could not continue to serve in a denomination that they believe has contradicted Scripture…” But there is nothing in the OCP that requires any layperson, clergyperson, local church, annual conference, jurisdiction, or central conference to take any action. Any anxiety generated by pastors who choose to leave the denomination is caused by their own decisions, not by the OCP. There is nothing in our Wesleyan heritage and teachings and nothing in the OCP that introduces new reasons for any clergyperson to relinquish their credentials.
Tom Lambrecht points out that under the Modified Traditional Plan (MTP), “For clergy who are willing to abide by the current requirements of the Book of Discipline, there would be little change.” And the truth is that there would be no change for those same clergy under the OCP. And yet, to the contrary, with the MTP any clergy whose consciences lead them to differ from unbending interpretations that are advocated for inclusion in the Book of Discipline could find no place within our communion.
The One Church Plan Honors Conscience
We can all agree that, as Lambrecht says, “In some ways, clergy may have the most to lose if the General Conference is not able to find a constructive way for the church to move forward.” But by careful and prayerful work, and with the endorsement of nearly two-thirds of our bishops, we do have a way forward that makes room for all.
Let’s choose then to move forward, together.
For accurate information about how plans being considered by the General Conference could impact clergy pensions, please see Wespath’s FAQs.