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GC 2019 passes the Traditional Plan

Young Adults present petitions representing 15,000 others around the world

Passage of the Traditional Plan, a petition on disaffiliation and shout outs to Judicial Council were all part of a day of passionate debate inside The Dome in St. Louis. 

KATHY L. GILBERT | HEATHER HAHN | JOEY BUTLER
United Methodist New

February 26, 2019 | ST. LOUIS — After hours of delaying tactics by opponents, the United Methodist General Conference 2019 delegates passed The Traditional Plan 438 to 384.

A last-ditch effort to bring the One Church Plan back was defeated in the morning and was followed by efforts to amend the Traditional Plan to address constitutionality issues raised by the Judicial Council, the church’s top court.

The Rev. Tim McClendon, South Carolina, called for a vote on the Traditional Plan as amended, which affirms the church’s current bans on ordaining LGBTQ clergy and officiating at or hosting same-sex marriage.
 
Later, the Rev. Timothy Bruster, Central Texas, made a motion to request a declaratory decision by the Judicial Council on the constitutionality of the Traditional Plan. The motion passed 405-395. The Judicial Council will address the request at its next scheduled meeting April 23-25 in Evanston, Illinois.

Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey chaired the afernoon plenary.
Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey observes the results from a Feb. 26 vote for the Traditional Plan, which affirms the church’s current bans on ordaining LGBTQ clergy and officiating at or hosting same-sex marriage. The vote came on the last day of the 2019 General Conference in St. Louis. ~ umns umns photo/Paul Jeffrey

The Rev. Gary Graves, secretary of General Conference, said any piece of legislation that the Judicial Council declares unconstitutional will not be included in the Book of Discipline, the denomination’s policy book.

Near the end of the day, delegates voted to adopt the minority report for one of the petitions on disaffiliation, which then passed. 

Legislation closed with an omnibus motion to reject any remaining petitions.
 
At the end of a brief closing worship, Council of Bishops President Kenneth H. Carter wished everyone in attendance “the peace of the Lord in the midst of all you have experienced.” 

When the Traditional Plan vote was announced and flashed on the screen, the room erupted with observers singing “Blessed Assurance.” Some delegates gathered in a circle and joined in with the singing. 

The delegates on the floor and people in the bleachers went into a call and response, chanting in protest of the vote.
 
A handful of observers unhappy with the day’s legislative results tried to gain entrance to the plenary floor, but security officers blocked them and eventually moved them through turnstiles farther away from the doors. The protesters continued to chant their demand to be admitted.

Bishop Carter said that bishops will have to do a lot of outreach after this General Conference, especially to progressives who feel hurt by what transpired.

“We are going to do a lot of outreach to progressives to say we see you,” he said during a press conference after General Conference adjourned. Carter is also the leader of the Florida Conference, which has congregations across the theological spectrum.

In an interview after the close of the 2019 General Conference, Bishop David Bard, Michigan Conference, considered where the church goes from here. “First of all,” he said, “it’s really important to acknowledge that our current language about LGBTQ people is experienced by most of them as tremendously hurtful. They feel marginalized in the church.” He encouraged United Methodists to “acknowledge that pain and hurt and stand with each other in the midst of that.”

Bard also offered a reminder that, “A lot of the future about the United Methodist Church is unknown” right now. For those who “may feel like you are just done with the church, today,” he suggested they, “take a couple of steps back and engage your thinking as well as your feeling.” Bishop Bard plans share a letter that can be read in the churches across Michigan this Sunday, March 3. Watch the Facebook Live interview with Bishop David Bard, done Tuesday evening, February 26.

Consultation among officers on a call for a Judicial Council rulling.
Following the announcement of a Judicial Council ruling that found several parts of the Traditional Plan unconstitutional, church officials confer during a pause in the Feb. 26 plenary session of the 2019 General Conference in St. Louis. ~ umns photo/Paul Jeffrey

  
Bishop Scott Jones of the Texas Conference said in a statement that the vote resolves a long-standing debate about how the church “can best accomplish our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
 
“This decision is consistent with our denomination’s historic stance on human sexuality, outlined in the Book of Discipline since 1972,” Jones said.

“We will continue to welcome lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and queer persons to our churches and affirm their sacred worth. I pray we, as a denomination, can now move forward, working with each other in the spirit of Christian love and joining together as one. We are stronger together in serving God’s mission as a diverse body of Christ,” Jones said. 

One strategy opponents of the Traditional Plan embraced was to essentially “run out the clock” with amendments. 

The Rev. Mark Holland, a Great Plains delegate, waved a stack of amendment forms and said, “We’re gonna amend until the monster trucks roll in,” referring to the conference’s need to stop business by 6:30 p.m. and evacuate the facility for a truck rally. Holland leads Mainstream UMC, which lobbied hard for the One Church Plan.
 
Many opponents’ amendments took the stance that, biblically speaking, any pastoral or episcopal candidate who is divorced or remarried is as ineligible as one who is a “self-avowed practicing homosexual.”

Lay reserve delegate from Michigan, Alex Plum/Michigan, spoke during the debate of the Traditional Plan. “Why are we only focused on one small part of morality,” Plum asked. “Jesus says much about divorce, about unity in marriage and this body stands silent.” Plum then recalled a statement he heard at the 2008 General Conference. He concluded, “In American footfall, after that tackle is made, you can’t keep running and jumping and ‘piling on.’ God have mercy on us for treating our brothers and sisters so unequally. God have mercy on us for piling on. Can we not just love one another?”

In the morning, after passionate speeches, prayers and tears, the “one, last shot” for the One Church Plan was defeated by a vote of 449-374. The plan was defeated the day before in the first vote. 

The Rev. Tom Berlin, Virginia Conference, spoke for a minority report for the One Church Plan that was submitted Feb. 25. A minority report is a substitution for the report of the legislative committee.

“I have a love of the church that sometimes I do not even understand,” he said in presenting the report to the denomination’s top lawmaking assembly. “Sometimes I get emotional when I talk about it because I catch a glimpse of what we can be with God’s help.”

Berlin told delegates that approving the One Church Plan did not force any pastor or church to perform same-sex marriages, nor did it force anyone to change what they believe about the Bible. But the plan would allow conferences to ordain LGBTQ pastors, as well as allowing churches to host and pastors to officiate at same-sex marriages.

Delegates join hands in prayer.
Delegates join hands in prayer on the floor of the 2019 United Methodist General Conference in St. Louis following the presentation of a minority report in support of the One Church Plan. The Rev. Tom Berlin of the Virginia Conference, who gave the report, is in the front row (wearing tie). ~ umns photo/Mike DuBose

“If the Traditional Plan is voted in, it will be a virus that will make the American church very sick,” he said. “Many pastors are going to leave, many annual conference will leave. … There will be trials, and they will be on the news. The only news about the church will be about people we don’t serve.”

And he warned the virus would cross oceans and make the whole church sick.

However, other delegates stood to talk about following God’s “true word.”

Nancy Denardo, Western Pennsylvania, cited Scriptures in her argument against the One Church Plan.

“Friends, please stop sowing seeds of deceit,” she said. “I’m truly sorry if the truth of the Gospel hurts anyone; I love you and I love you enough to tell the truth.”

The Rev. Jerry Kulah, a Liberia delegate and leader of the Africa Initiative coalition, argued for the Traditional Plan. 

“The Traditional Plan is not only traditional but biblical; it ensures God’s word remains foundational to the life and growth of the UMC. I submit we love our LGBTQ friends,” he said.

Lyndsey Stearns, West Ohio, a young person who described herself as a future pastor, spoke in favor of the One Church Plan and told the body in the past 24 hours, 15,529 young people had signed a statement in support of unity.

The statement says young people are not all of the same mind about LGBTQ people.

“And yet through working together, sharing stories, and worshipping side by side, we have seen each other’s gifts and fruits for ministry! We have witnessed the incredible ways that God is working through each of us in our own unique contexts.”

Stearns said, “I read John 17 and it ruined me. I could not unhear the words of Jesus.”

Aislinn Deviney, Rio Texas, who described herself as a young evangelical delegate, said many young people “fiercely believe marriage is between one man and one woman.”

“We are here at the table because of our dedication, not because we demand a place because of our age,” she said. “We speak for ourselves. We all have family and friends who are LGBTQ that we love and value.”

Delegates and bishops pray at General Conference before a crucial vote.
Florida delegates Rachael Sumner (front left) and the Rev. Jacqueline Leveron (front right) of the Florida Conference join in prayer with bishops and other delegates at the front of the stage before a key vote on church policies about homosexuality during the 2019 United Methodist General Conference in St. Louis. ~ umns photo/Mike DuBose

Rey Hernandez, Philippines, said cultures are not the same around the world but the One Church Plan is “beautiful in our unity.”

“With the help of the gifts of Holy Spirit, I believe what we are trying to agree on is to spread the Gospel,” he said.

Before the vote, Berlin once again told delegates to follow the Golden Rule of Jesus.

“Be consistent, and modify the Book of Discipline to eliminate all the divorced, all those who cohabit before marriage and apply those standards to yourself first,” he said.
 
There are clergy and bishops who would have to surrender their credentials for violating those Scriptures, he added. “But I don’t think that’s the church you want.”

The Rev. Joe Harris, chair of the legislative committee, addressed the delegates.

“After all the passionate debate, all I can say is God is with us and God will be with us and the Holy Spirit will guide us. Continue to do what you said you wanted to do yesterday, reject One Church Plan and continue on Traditional Plan.” 

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