Conservative members within the United Methodist Church (UMC) are preparing their case against pro- LGBTQ Methodists in a showdown slated for next month before the denomination’s highest court where they will be defending the “Traditional Plan” passed last month that strengthened the church’s position against homosexuality and same-sex marriage.
During the United Methodist Judicial Council scheduled to meet April 23–26 in Evanston, Illinois, LGBTQ activists within the church will argue that the Traditional Plan passed on February 24 at the UMC General Conference is unconstitutional.
“The official April docket includes two items: the first being from Pastor Timothy Bruster of the Central Texas Annual Conference requesting that the Judicial Council review the ‘constitutionality, meaning, application and effect of the adopted legislation referred to as the Traditional Plan,’” The Christian Post (CP) reported. “The second item came from the UMC Council of Bishops, who submitted a request on March 6 for the Judicial Council to determine the constitutionality of Petition 90066, which changes the denomination’s policy on congregation disaffiliation.”
The great UMC divide?
There is the possibility that the LGBTQ-supporting leadership and members of the UMC could break off from the mainline denomination over the homosexuality acceptance issue, as the subject of securing money and possessions before officially separating has come to the table.
The UMC’S pro-LGBTQ Council of Bishops (COB) are challenging the petition passed last month, based on a number of contentions.
“[T]he Council of Bishops opposed the petition, which allows for an easier dismissal process for congregations – including allowing them to keep their property and financial assets,” CP’s Michael Gryboski informed.
COB contends that the Judicial Council ruled the petition was unconstitutional because it did not include the annual conference as the body ratifying a local church vote to change affiliation.
“The amendment made by adoption of the minority report does not cure the constitutional problem with the petition,” COB argues in its request, according to a COB press release issued March 6. “There still is no requirement that the decision of the local church be ratified by the annual conference; therefore, the COB believes the amended petition is also unconstitutional.”
Good News Magazine Vice President and General Manager Rev. Thomas Lambrecht announced that the constitutionality of each section of the Traditional Plan will be considered by the Judicial Council.
“They will determine which parts of the plan are consistent with the UM Church Constitution and can therefore be implemented as passed,” Lambrecht told CP in an interview Thursday. “They will also be ruling on the disaffiliation petition that set a process for local churches to use in leaving the denomination while keeping their property and assets. They will determine whether that disaffiliation process is consistent with the UMC Constitution, and therefore, be able to take effect.”
He noted that his organization is providing assistance on arguments and legal briefs for a number of General Conference delegates – the only members who have standing to provide legal arguments concerning the controversial Traditional Plan.
LGBTQ activists challenging the Traditional Plan are arguing in briefs they recently filed that the entire plan that was passed should be struck down so that the homosexual culture is embraced within the UMC.
Lambrecht said that there is a “fairly low” chance of the Traditional Plan being struck down, but he noted that there is a possibility that the Judicial Council will agree with the LGBTQ activists within the denomination.
“Their operating principle is to try to save as much of any legislative package as possible.,” Lamrecht pointed out. ”So, it is more likely that the Judicial Council will only strike down those parts of the plan that do not pass constitutional muster.”
Wesleyan Covenant Association President Keith Boyette is confident that the UMC made it loud and clear last month exactly where the consensus of the church stands on the issue of human sexuality – which is in accordance with biblical teachings on the subject.
“[S]erving as an advocate for one of the General Conference delegates, [I have] been designated as an interested party in the proceedings,” Boyette explained to CP. “If the Judicial Council rules that a portion of the Traditional Plan is unconstitutional, such a ruling would not change the fact that the 2019 General Conference defeated the One Church Plan and reaffirmed the church’s teachings on marriage, ordination, and human sexuality.”
American UMC conservatives bailed out by Africa?
Last month’s determination to not embrace the LGBTQ lifestyle in the church was largely credited to the African members of the UMC who more predominantly stand on the side of Scripture when it comes to human sexuality.
“On Feb. 26, the UMC special session voted 438–384 in favor of adopting the Traditional Plan for resolving the denomination's internal debate over sexual ethics, which has threatened to bring schism to the denomination,” Gryboski recounted. “The Traditional Plan succeeded largely because delegates representing Africa and other overseas regional bodies within the UMC voted overwhelmingly in favor of it.”
Regardless of who exactly is responsible for the UMC’s decision last month to uphold biblical values within its clergy and congregations, a large divide remains within the denomination – one that could result in a major rift in the church in the near future.
“Conservatives within the denomination celebrated the vote result as an affirmation of sound Christian teaching, while liberals within the denomination saw it as harmful to LGBT individuals,” Gryboski noted.
Just how quickly the UMC will affirm – or reject – last month’s decision to honor sexuality as laid out in the Bible depends on the outcome of next month’s meetings, but if church leaders support the Traditional Plan, it will not be officially enforced in the United States for several months after next month’s gathering – and even longer for overseas churches.
“Normally, the Judicial Council releases a decision within days of the conclusion of a meeting,” Gryboski informed. “If the church court upholds the Traditional Plan, it will take effect on New Year’s Day 2020 for congregations based in the United States and then 12 months after the 2020 General Conference for congregations based outside of the U.S.”
Where do they really stand?
With the United Methodist Church gaining a reputation as one of the more liberal Christian denominations – especially due to many in its clergy being vocal regarding their pro-LGBTQ stance – many have been led to the belief that the church is predominantly progressive when it comes to embracing the homosexual agenda, but polls show otherwise.
“Although the United Methodist Church is often described as a liberal, mainline Protestant denomination, in reality, the body is much more split – even in the United States,” The Atlantic stressed. “In a poll of its American members, the denomination found that 44 percent of respondents described their religious beliefs as traditional or conservative, 28 percent said they are moderate or centrist, and 20 percent identified as progressive or liberal.”
Even though the survey did not specifically ask about LGBTQ issues, the debate over biblical versus secular teachings concerning human sexuality continues to be a decisive theological dividing line in the denomination, and UMC delegate Aislinn Deviney from Rio, Texas, argues that Methodists must stick to the Bible to preserve the denomination.
“There are thousands of us in churches … fiercely committed to a traditional definition of marriage: one man and one woman,” Deviney insisted, according to The Atlantic. “I am a young, evangelical delegate. We young evangelicals want you to know that we are here, and we are striving to leave a legacy of scriptural holiness for generations to come.”
But other young delegates – such as Alyson Shahan from Oklahoma – who were heavily influenced in the pro-LGBTQ culture of education, the mainstream media and the entertainment industry, tend to disagree with biblical morality on sexuality issues, as they promote inclusion within the church.
“I am a 32-year-old, and I am one of the youngest delegates here. For a denomination who claims so desperately to want young people in our churches, maybe we need to reevaluate,” Shahan expressed in an Atlantic report. “This body is not where the disciple-making happens. Thank the good Lord, am I right?”
This secular worldview discounting biblical teachings on human sexuality was echoed by Adam Hamilton, the pastor of a prominent Methodist congregation in Kansas who promotes LGBTQ inclusion in the UMC.
“With the Traditional Plan that adds teeth [to Methodist standards and discipline around LGBTQ issues], you’ve not only alienated progressives, but also centrists,” Hamilton claimed, according to The Atlantic. “Do you think these churches will quietly accept this regressive Traditional Plan with teeth? Will these churches protest less, or more, for LGBTQ persons in the future? You’ve inspired an awful lot of people who were not really engaged in this struggle before, and for that, I thank you.”