GC2019 Updates

In the aftermath of the 2019 special General Conference, there has been a great deal of misinformation communicated concerning what legislation was adopted and its current status.

Teachings on Definition of Marriage, Ordination Standards and Sexual Ethics Upheld

First, by its rejection of the One Church Plan by a vote of 436 (53 percent) to 386 (47 percent) during the Legislative Committee on Monday, February 25 (DCA at p. 459), and by a vote of 449 (55 percent) to 374 (45 percent) during the final session of the General Conference on Tuesday, February 26 (DCA at p. 493), the UM Church’s teachings on the definition of marriage, ordination standards, and sexual ethics remain as currently stated in the 2016 Book of Discipline. This action of the special General Conference is not under review by the Judicial Council, the denomination’s Supreme Court.

Traditional Plan Adopted as Amended

On Tuesday, February 26, the special General Conference adopted petitions 90032 – 90040 and 90042 – 90047 of the Traditional Plan by a vote of 438 (53 percent) to 384 (47 percent). (DCA at p. 515). A motion was then adopted by a vote of 405 to 395 requesting a “declaratory decision from the Judicial Council on the constitutionality, meaning, application, and effect of the Traditional Plan as amended, pursuant to ¶ 2609.1 of The Book of Discipline” (DCA at pp. 519, 523). The Judicial Council will issue a declaratory decision during its April 2019 session (April 23-26 in Evanston, Illinois).

The Judicial Council had previously ruled on the constitutionality of these petitions on two prior occasions. First, in Decision 1366, the Judicial Council reviewed the constitutionality of these petitions at the request of the Council of Bishops. Second, in Decision 1377, the Judicial Council reviewed the constitutionality of these petitions at the request of the Legislative Committee of the special General Conference.

Pursuant to ¶ 508 of the Discipline, those portions of the Amended Traditional Plan declared constitutional by the Judicial Council will be effective on January 1, 2020.

Importantly, certain of the Traditional Plan petitions adopted by the special General Conference have already been declared constitutional by the Judicial Council in Decisions 1366 and 1377, and will go into effect on January 1, 2020:

90032 (expanding the definition of self-avowed, practicing homosexual)

90036 (prohibiting bishops from consecrating as a bishop a person who is a self-avowed, practicing homosexual, or from commissioning or ordaining a person the Board of Ordained Ministry has determined is a self-avowed, practicing homosexual or fails to carry out the disciplinary mandated examination)

90042 (establishing minimum penalties for performing a homosexual or same-sex wedding ceremony)

90043 (prohibiting the Board of Ordained Ministry from approving or recommending any person for candidacy, licensing, or ordination who does not meet qualifications for ministry based on full examination and thorough inquiry, and requires the bishop to rule any unqualified candidate out of order and not eligible to be acted upon by the clergy session)

90045 (requires a just resolution to state all identified harms and how they shall be addressed)

90046 (requires the complainant to be a party to the just resolution process and that every effort be made to have the complainant agree to any resolution before it takes effect)

90047 (grants the church right of appeal based on egregious errors of church law or administration)

Additionally, the special General Conference adopted an amended petition 90037 (requiring that persons nominated to boards of ordained ministry certify he or she will uphold, enforce and maintain the Discipline in its entirety, including but not limited to all qualifications for ordination) addressing constitutional issues identified in Decisions 1366 and 1377. This amended petition should be held constitutional in April 2019 and go into effect on January 1, 2020.

The special General Conference adopted several petitions that had previously been held unconstitutional in Decisions 1366 and 1377. Amendments were ready to be offered to address the constitutional defects, but parliamentary maneuvering by those who opposed the Traditional Plan prevented presentation of those amendments. Thus, the following petitions, adopted by the special General Conference, are likely to be held unconstitutional by the Judicial Council:

90033 (provides process by which the Council of Bishops places a bishop in the retired relationship with or without their consent – no right of appeal provided)

90034 (provides process by which the Council of Bishops places a bishop in an involuntary leave status – no right of appeal provided)

90035 (provided a process for accountability for bishops through the Council of Bishops; constitutional issue – no right of appeal provided)

90038 (requires Board of Ordained Ministry to conduct an examination to ascertain whether an individual is a practicing homosexual and certify that the examination has occurred; prohibits recommendation of an individual to clergy session if it is determined that the individual is a practicing homosexual)

90039 and 90040 (requires annual conference to certify that the bishop nominates only persons to Board of Ordained Ministry who upholds, enforces, and maintains the Discipline related to ordination and marriage of practicing homosexuals, and imposes consequences for failing to do so)

Petitions 90041 (ADCA at p. 186) and 90048 (ADCA at p. 195) were not adopted by the special General Conference (DCAat p. 387).

Exit Ramp for Local Churches

On Tuesday, February 26, the special General Conference also adopted by a vote of 420 (52 percent) to 390 (48 percent) (DCA at  p. 523) legislation providing an exit ramp for local churches. The legislation was “effective as of the close of the 2019 General Conference.”

As adopted, a new ¶ 2553 was added to the Book of Discipline as follows:

¶ 2553. Disaffiliation of a Local Church over Issues Related to Human Sexuality.

  1. Basis—Because of the current deep conflict within The United Methodist Church around issues of human sexuality, a local church shall have a limited right, under the provisions of this paragraph, to disaffiliate from the denomination for reasons of conscience regarding a change in the requirements and provisions of the Book of Discipline related to the practice of homosexuality or the ordination or marriage of self-avowed practicing homosexuals as resolved and adopted by the 2019 General Conference, or the actions or inactions of its annual conference related to these issues which follow.
  2. Time Limits—The choice by a local church to disaffiliate with The United Methodist Church under this paragraph shall be made in sufficient time for the process for exiting the denomination to be complete prior to December 31, 2023. The provisions of ¶ 2553 expire on December 31, 2023 and shall not be used after that date.
  3. Decision Making Process—The church conference shall be conducted in accordance with ¶ 248 and shall be held within one hundred twenty (120) days after the district superintendent calls for the church conference. In addition to the provisions of ¶ 246.8, special attention shall be made to give broad notice to the full professing membership of the local church regarding the time and place of a church conference called for this purpose and to use all means necessary, including electronic communication where possible, to communicate. The decision to disaffiliate from The United Methodist Church must be approved by a two-thirds (2/3) majority vote of the professing members of the local church present at the church conference.
  4. Process following decision to disaffiliate from The United Methodist Church—If the church conference votes to disaffiliate from The United Methodist Church, the terms and conditions for that disaffiliation shall be established by the board of trustees of the applicable annual conference, with the advice of the cabinet, the annual conference treasurer, the annual conference benefits officer, the director of connectional ministries, and the annual conference chancellor. The terms and conditions, including the effective date of disaffiliation, shall be memorialized in a binding Disaffiliation Agreement between the annual conference and the trustees of the local church, acting on behalf of the members. That agreement must be consistent with the following provisions:
  5. a) Standard Terms of the Disaffiliation Agreement. The General Council on Finance and Administration shall develop a standard form for Disaffiliation Agreements under this paragraph to protect The United Methodist Church as set forth in ¶ 807.9. The agreement shall include a recognition of the validity and applicability of ¶ 2501, notwithstanding the release of property therefrom. Annual conferences may develop additional standard terms that are not inconsistent with the standard form of this paragraph.
  6. b) Apportionments. The local church shall pay any unpaid apportionments for the 12 months prior to disaffiliation, as well as an additional 12 months of apportionments.
  7. c) Property. A disaffiliating local church shall have the right to retain its real and personal, tangible and intangible property. All transfers of property shall be made prior to disaffiliation. All costs for transfer of title or other legal work shall be borne by the disaffiliating local church.
  8. d) Pension Liabilities. The local church shall contribute withdrawal liability in an amount equal to its pro rata share of any aggregate unfunded pension obligations to the annual conference. The General Board of Pension and Health Benefits shall determine the aggregate funding obligations of the annual conference using market factors similar to a commercial annuity provider, from which the annual conference will determine the local church’s share.
  9. e) Other Liabilities. The local church shall satisfy all other debts, loans, and liabilities, or assign and transfer them to its new entity, prior to disaffiliation.
  10. f) Payment Terms. Payment shall occur prior to the effective date of departure.
  11. g) Disaffiliating Churches Continuing as Plan Sponsors of the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits Plans. The United Methodist Church believes that a local church disaffiliating under ¶ 2553 shall continue to share common religious bonds and convictions with The United Methodist Church based on shared Wesleyan theology and tradition and Methodist roots, unless the local church expressly resolves to the contrary. As such, a local church disaffiliating under ¶ 2553 shall continue to be eligible to sponsor voluntary employee benefit plans through the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits under ¶ 1504.2, subject to the applicable terms and conditions of the plans.
  12. h) Once the disaffiliating local church has reimbursed the applicable annual conference for all funds due under the agreement, and provided that there are no other outstanding liabilities or claims against The United Methodist Church as a result of the disaffiliation, in consideration of the provisions of this paragraph, the applicable annual conference shall release any claims that it may have under ¶ 2501 and other paragraphs of The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church commonly referred to as the trust clause, or under the agreement.

The Council of Bishops has asked the Judicial Council to rule on the constitutionality of this legislation. The Judicial Council will rule on the legislation’s constitutionality during the session held in Evanston, Illinois, from April 23-26, 2019.

What Now?

The exit ramp for local churches is effective as of February 26, 2019; however, because its constitutionality will be reviewed by the Judicial Council during its session from April 23-28, 2019, churches will not be able to exit under its provisions until the Judicial Council rules.

Many important provisions of the Traditional Plan adopted by the special General Conference have already been found constitutional and will go into effect on January 1, 2020. The remaining provisions of the Traditional Plan adopted will be reviewed by the Judicial Council during its April 23-26 session.

The teachings of the UM Church on the definition of marriage, ordination standards, and sexual ethics remain as they were before the special General Conference.


Summary provided by Rev. Keith Boyette, who is president of the Wesleyan Covenant Association and an ordained elder in the Virginia Conference of The United Methodist Church.

Other Notes from General Conference

Tuesday, February 26, 7:30 PM  
• By a vote of 438 to 384 (53.3 percent), the General Conference adopted the Traditional Plan, parts of which will not be able to go into effect because they are unconstitutional.

Parts that will go into effect are:
• Expanded definition of “self-avowed homosexuals” to include persons living in a same-sex marriage or union or who publicly proclaim themselves to be practicing homosexuals
• Explicitly prohibits bishops from consecrating bishops, ordaining or commissioning clergy who are self-avowed practicing homosexuals
• Requires all persons nominated to serve on the annual conference board of ordained ministry to certify that they will uphold and enforce the Book of Discipline’s standards for ordained clergy
• Establishes a minimum penalty for clergy convicted of performing a same-sex wedding of a one year suspension (first offense) and loss of credentials (second offense)
• Explicitly prohibits district committee and conference board of ministry from recommending a candidate for ministry who does not meet the standards, and orders the bishop to declare any such unqualified candidate out of order
• Prohibits a bishop from arbitrarily dismissing a complaint against a clergy person
• Requires the involvement of the complainant in all stages of the resolution process and that every effort must be made to have the complainant agree to any just resolution
• Allows the church to appeal the verdict of a trial court in cases of egregious errors of church law or administration
• Petitions defining how clergy pensions are to be handled when a clergy person or congregation leaves the denomination
• An exit path for congregations seeking to leave the denomination with their property, in exchange for one (extra) year’s apportionments and payment of pension liabilities. (Comment: This legislation will probably not go into effect because it is believed to be unconstitutional.)

Official Statement of the United Methodist Church

Human sexuality is a topic on which people of faith have differing views. We are a diverse and global church, and because of that, we have cultural, generational and geographical differences. A majority of delegates voted to maintain the UMC’s stance with additional accountability for enforcing those provisions.

It remains to be seen how this will impact the denomination. Despite our differences, we will continue to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world and share God’s love with all people.

We believe that all persons are children of God and are of sacred worth. Our church is open to people of all nations, ethnic groups, ages, and sexual orientations.

A Statement from the Smoky Mountain District:  What was the outcome of the called session of the General Conference?

We retained our language in the Social Principles which includes our affirmation that all persons are of sacred worth and created in the image of God and that we are committed to be in ministry for and with all persons. Within that statement we maintained the language that the practice of homosexuality is considered incompatible with Christian teaching. We also reaffirmed our current stance on prohibiting the performance of same-gender marriages by our clergy or in our churches and prohibiting the ordination of self-avowed practicing homosexuals.

It became clear that we were not ready to take the step of removing or modifying our current disciplinary language to change our position on same-sex marriage or ordination as proposed in the One Church or Simple plans.

While we passed the Traditional Plan, it also became clear that much of this material was not fully prepared to be in in compliance with our constitution or supported by the committee on central conferences. The approved legislation is under review by our judicial council and the parts that are in compliance with the constitution will be determined when the council meets in April.

As has been true at every General Conference, the expected passionate convictions of the delegates and observers was evident as the legislative debate occurred. While some were reassured by the outcome of our legislative work, others were greatly disappointed.

As always, the fruits of our ministry continue to be in our local church settings, in the relationships we build with each other and our communities, and in the ministries we share as a larger church as we work in partnership all around the world. We continue our commitment to our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

Monday, February 25, 5:00 PM.  The legislative session of the General Conference has voted that 2 petitions related to clergy pensions and 2 petitions related to disaffiliation are approved to be considered in the plenary session of the General Conference tomorrow.  Also approved to be considered at the plenary session is the Tradional Plan (as amended) and the Simple Plan.  The One Church Plan was not approved to be considered at the plenary session of the General Conference tomorrow. One other petition related to disaffiliation was not approved to be considered tomorrow as well.  Those petitions which were approved will be the business of the General Conference tomorrow.

 

Sunday, February 24, 5:00PM. At its opening session, the General Conference prioritized petitions to be considered in its business during this session.  Highest prioriy was given to a petition relating to pensions (in case the denomination divides). Second highest riority was given to consideration of petitions related to The Traditional Plan.  Fifth highest priority was given to petitions related to consideration of the One Church Plan.  Third, fourth and sixth highest priority was given to three petitions proposing different methods for churches to disaffiliate (or leave) with the denomination and how that would take place- with our without property and what financial obligations must be met, etc. Many other petitions were presented for condieration, but by a wide margin, these were deemed the highest priority by the delegates present. 

Sunday, February 24, 4:00 PM- Sessions of the General Conference can be streamed live to your devices by visiting the website www.umc.org. 

What Is on the Horizon?

Today thhrough Tuesday, our denomination will be in the midst of a General Conference (called GC2019) in St. Louis. In the January Newsletter, an attempt was made to address frequently asked questions about this upcoming conference. Here, more frequently asked questions will be addressed. As always, if you have additional questions, contact the pastor.

 

Who will be voting on these potentially historic changes in our denomination?

Our constitution sets the number of delegates from each annual conference and the number is proportional to the number of United Methodists in each annual conference (much like the US House of Representatives). Delegates and alternates, equally clergy and laity, were elected from around the world by their own Annual Conferences to attend GC 2019 back in 2016.

 

What is the name of our annual conference and who are our delegates to GC 2019?

Our church is part of the Holston Annual Conference and our delegation consists of 6 Clergy and 6 Lay persons.

Clergy: Kim Goddard, Sandra Johnson, Carol Wilson, Will Cantrell, Randy Frye, and Mark Flynn plus 2 alternates.

Laity: Del Holley, Emily Ballard, Becky Hall, John Tate, Bob Lockaby, Karen Wright plus 2 alternates.

 

What is the difference between a representative and a delegate?

A representative carries the decision of those who elected them to the larger body, but delegates vote as they choose on legislation presented for a vote. By our electing the delegates we have elected from the Holston Conference, we are saying we trust them to do what they think is best for our conference.

 

What is the history of the UMC regarding the issue of human sexuality?

Our present statement regarding homosexuality was added to The Discipline in 1972 after debating the issue at General Conference. Forty-four years later, the 2016 General Conference was still debating the issue. Delegates for the last 40 years have spent an extraordinary amount of time and energy on topics surrounding human sexuality. Some in our denomination see the issue as a “civil rights” issue and have begun engaging in willful defiance of church law resulting in same sex weddings being conducted in UM churches and LBGT persons being ordained by a few annual conferences.

 

How have changes in the cultural view of LGBT issues impacted the situation? As American culture seems to be changing its views on homosexuality in general and same sex marriage in particular, these changes have emboldened “progressive” segments of the UMC to do more to strive for change in our denomination’s position on these issues.

Are the General Conference delegates voting on what the Bible says about human sexuality? Because good, loving Christians disagree over this issue and how to interpret what the Bible says about these matters, people on both sides will say they are following the teaching of Scripture.

 

Is the purpose of GC2019 to settle all questions related to Biblical interpretation and Christian ethics surrounding inclusion of LGBT persons once and for all? No. The purpose of GC2019 is to discern how the church can move more faithfully into the future given that large numbers of United Methodists strongly disagree about these issues and are unlikely to reach agreement at any point in the future.

 

What are the most likely scenarios which will arise then GC2019 adjourns?

Here are the 3 most likely outcomes of the General Conference.

  1. GC2019 passes the Traditional Plan or a modified version of it. This plan moves the denomination toward a more conservative theological position, strengthening the current ban on same-sex marriages and ordination of LGBT persons. Each church and annual conference will be allowed to stay or leave the denomination as they choose and keep their property and assets. More than likely, the Holston Conference would vote to remain in the more conservative denomination. Most likely, churches that cannot live with this position would leave and form a more “progressive” denomination.
  2. GC2019 passes the One Church Plan or a modified version of it. If this takes place, a large number of conservative congregations have declared that they will leave and become a part of a more conservative Wesleyan denomination. Holston will most likely continue not to ordain LGBT persons and each church will have to decide whether or not to allow same-sex weddings in its sanctuary.
  3. GC2019 is unable, due to legal rulings, protests or indecision, to make any decision on the matters before it. If this takes place, things within the UMC will remain as they are now, with a ban on same-sex marriages, and no ordination of LGBT persons “officially” recognized. However, the same conservative churches that have promised to leave under the One Church Plan have also announced they will leave under this scenario to for a new conservative Wesleyan denomination.

 

What is our church doing leading up to GC2019?

Pastor Albee has convened a “Future Team” made up of the administrative leadership of our church (Trustees, Finance, PPR, Lay Leader, etc.) and others representing various age levels to talk all matters relating to the future of our church. Those meetings are announced in the church bulletin and are open to anyone.

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