A little over three weeks ago, the Rev. Keith Boyette, president of the Wesleyan Covenant Association, held a conference call for leaders of WCA regional chapters. On that call, he shared with us some details of ongoing negotiations among leaders from the traditional and progressive sides of the church, and he also asked the regional WCA leaders to take a survey to help shape those negotiations. This morning, he sent an e-mail providing an update that can be shared publicly.
Here is what the Rev. Boyette says in his e-mail:
Thank you to each of you who participated in the recent survey concerning potential paths forward in resolving the irreconcilable conflict in The United Methodist Church. I want to provide you with an update on the dialogue in which I am participating and comment on a recent article you may have seen.
As I shared with you in our last set of conference calls, a dialogue is underway involving recognized leaders associated with the One Church Plan (OCP) and the Traditional Plan (TP). Ten persons have been involved in the dialogue – five from each group. The group has agreed that the specific identity of its participants is to be confidential at this time. I am obviously one of the participants and I have chosen to disclose my participation. The group has further agreed not to attribute statements made to specific individuals.
Participants in the dialogue have agreed there is a desire to avoid repeating the experience of St. Louis in Minneapolis, but what this means is unclear.
Both camps are preparing for another confrontation in Minneapolis, focusing on the election of delegates for GC 2020 and the preparation of legislation to implement their positions. TP proponents are focused on adopting those portions of the TP that were either not enacted at GC 2019 or which were declared unconstitutional. OCP proponents are focused on enacting some version of the OCP or perhaps even enacting the Simple Plan.
Thus far, both groups are trying to ascertain each other’s plans and what are their non-negotiables. Both groups acknowledged some form of separation (or multiplication of Methodist expressions) might be needed to resolve the conflict. Both groups have made efforts to discern how much separation their constituencies would regard as necessary, and where any amount of ongoing connection would be possible.
The TP group relied upon surveys conducted by the WCA and Good News. In terms of preference, those surveys revealed our constituency favors a complete separation creating two or three successor denominations to the UM Church. Some or all of the existing UM boards and agencies would be spun off as independent 501(c)(3) entities. Successor denominations would have the option of contracting with those entities for services, but would not be required to do so. There was less support for grouping the existing UM boards and agencies in something like an UM association, preserving the UM name, and permitting the successor denominations to contract for such services as they desired from the UM association. And a distant third option was to push forward for the TP’s full adoption and implementation. It calls for supporters of the full inclusion agenda to voluntarily exit the UM Church, or face disciplinary actions and trials that could result in their forced removal if they remain and violate the Discipline.
The OCP group primarily relied upon two meetings (held in Dallas and Atlanta) to take the pulse of its constituency. A recent article by Adam Hamilton essentially summarizes where the OCP group understands its constituency to be. The OCP constituency has moved a considerable distance since GC 2019. Prior to GC 2019, they were almost universally opposed to providing a gracious exit for any churches and to any division of the UM Church. Now they report about 50 percent of their constituency favors a strategy of “stay, resist and work to provide WCA congregations with a gracious exit,” and 50 percent favors the adoption of legislation to multiply Methodist expressions into two or three new denominations.
The deadline for submitting legislation for GC 2020 is September 12.
Here are the options that could be considered by the TP Group:
Based on Adam Hamilton’s article referenced above, here are the options being considered by the OCP group:
Adam Hamilton’s article states that OCP leaders who gathered in Dallas and Atlanta were equally divided between these two options. Those who favored the OCP plan to have a meeting at Church of the Resurrection from May 20-22 during which they will have further conversation about these options.
Hopefully this gives you context to interpret Adam Hamilton’s article and to see how what he is sharing in the article fits into the dialogue between TP leaders and OCP leaders. Further dialogue between TP proponents and OCP proponents is planned.
By Chuck Griffin
Holston WCA Chair
Something happened at General Conference 2019 that we have not fully contemplated. In passing the Traditional Plan, we opened ourselves to renewed ministry with gays, lesbians and other people struggling with sexual and gender identity issues.
Now wait a minute, some of you may be thinking, the LGBTQ+ community says we insulted and ignored them. But therein lies a basic problem: We’ve allowed a portion of that community to act as if they speak for all. In the process, a significant number of gay, lesbian and bisexual Christians have been made to feel invisible, even though they seek a relationship with us and clearly can work alongside us in the ongoing mission of the historic, orthodox church.
I did not go searching for this softer-spoken LGBTQ+ crowd. They came searching for us, reaching out to Wesleyan Covenant Association leaders through a group called Revoice after GC2019 was over.
“We are in solid agreement with your statement on Marriage and Sexuality, listed on the WCA website,” an extended e-mail from their organization said.
These Christians describe their sexual and gender orientations as “non-straight,” but they also believe the Bible is clear about sexual sin. They are like any other Christians who are willing to say, “I am prone to sin, but with God’s help, I’m striving for holiness.”
As followers of Jesus Christ, they hope to live obediently by receiving loving support from an understanding church community. We Methodists would say they seek to go on to perfection, along with all the rest of us sinners saved by grace. Had the UMC rejected the Traditional Plan, we would have been just another mainstream church telling them, “It’s okay—go ahead and live into that sin troubling you so deeply.”
These are not people who advocate radical conversion therapies or who think they simply need to pray harder for healing, as much as they might welcome healing. Like any thoughtful Christian who respects God’s revelation in Scripture, they understand the depth of their brokenness. They treat their orientations as a part of their lives to be managed through discipleship, and in the process they say they serve God in better ways.
Many of them, perhaps the vast majority, choose to pursue celibacy, a lifestyle long honored by the Bible and the historic church. They do this even though celibacy is considered odd in our culture, which heavily emphasizes sexual fulfillment as the sure path to true happiness. Some Revoice Christians manage to have fulfilling traditional marriages and families, with the help and understanding of a loving opposite-sex partner.
What We Gain Together
I have to admit, much of this was new to me. I have heard the talking points from the highly vocal “it’s not a sin” crowd, and I also am aware of the extreme solutions promoted by far-right or fundamentalist Christians. The approach of the Revoice Christians to their non-straight orientations is very different, rooted in deep exploration of Scripture and gentle reliance on the grace of God. They also express a poignant desire for substantial, deep friendships with like-minded Christians, something they often are denied in conservative churches when their orientations are known.
As orthodox Methodists, we need to offer our hand of fellowship to them in this confusing time. And with our Wesleyan legacy, we also should be quick to recognize a body of believers deliberately seeking what we would call sanctifying encounters with the Holy Spirit.
We also have much to learn from them. As traditional Christians, we continue to be very open to the “other oriented,” but many of us find ourselves puzzled about how to move forward in the current climate.
One excellent resource is “All but Invisible: Exploring Identity Questions at the Intersection of Faith,” a book by Revoice founder Dr. Nate Collins, a Ph.D. theologian with ties to Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Collins recognizes his own “non-straight” orientation, but with the help of God and his understanding wife, Sara, he says he has successfully learned to live in a biblically sound marriage.
I hope to bring an in-depth review of this sometimes-complicated book in the near future. I say “sometimes complicated” in as positive a way as possible. I ran into several sections of the book where I needed to stop and meditate on a new idea. I’m still working through much of what he proposes, and any internet search will quickly demonstrate Collins is controversial, even within his own seminary. Many of these controversies center on the use of language, a challenge for any people leading the way among so many cultural and theological land mines.
Back to St. Louis?
Revoice can do much to help us shape our thinking about orthodox outreach ministries, and I agree with Collins’ goal that in the area of human sexuality, we should “focus our efforts on helping the church to be a place where gay and lesbian men and women can discover the abundant life that the gospel promises them.”
One particular learning opportunity is the Revoice19 conference June 5-8, in, of all places, St. Louis. Yes, it’s the week before our own Holston Annual Conference, but I’m feeling a call in that direction. If, after further exploration, some of you are feeling the same call, let me know.
Many of our delegates say they returned from the St. Louis General Conference feeling beaten down and discouraged by the animosity there. Wouldn’t it be remarkable if some of us could return from the same city a few months later with a renewed understanding of how to engage the LGBTQ+ community in a positive way?
Regardless of what happens in the deeply divided UMC in the next year or so, orthodox Methodists have to rediscover how we are called to be in ministry with those who differ from the mainstream in sexual orientation. Revoice’s invitation to a relationship may be just what we need.
This video from the Rev. Rob Renfroe summarizes what happened at General Conference 2019. Let’s be sure to lift up prayers of thanks for those who worked so hard these last few days on our behalf in St. Louis.