A couple of weeks ago, Talbot Davis on the "Ministry Matters" blog made a post entitled "A Plea To My Centrist Friends in the United Methodist Church". As one of founders of what we call the United Methodist Centrist Movement, he seemed to be reaching out to all my colleagues who proudly will serve GC 2016 under the centrist moniker. I pondered his thoughts, and decided that it might be a good idea to respond back. So before General Conference begins in a month or so, here are three thoughts and one plea as a Centrist I'd like our Traditionalist friends to ponder.
First, traditionalist friends you don't have to panic about GC 2016, or any future GC because math is on your side. The ever-growing African delegation assures a traditionalist majority at GC perpetually. So when it comes to human sexuality there are really only two likely outcomes at GC 2016. The most likely outcome is that the current language (and all the legal wrangling that goes with it) in the Book of Discipline will be maintained. Maybe this doesn't bring you much comfort given the all the upheaval the past four years, but at least in principle your desire for the BOD language to remain the same is secure.
The other less likely - but still possible - outcome is that the current BOD language will be replaced with a proposal written by four of our colleagues entitled the "C.U.P. Plan". I say this is "less likely, but possible" because you have a simple majority this year, but you'll need a few of us centrists to lean your way for the "CUP Plan" to see the light of day.
In case you don't know what the Cup Plan is, here's a summary. It will...
- strengthen the current BOD language around the prohibition of same-sex marriage and same-sex ordination
- end our current practice in the United States of maintaining order in our respective conferences usurping the authority of our respective conference Board of Ministry, order of clergy, cabinet, and bishop on matters of human sexuality
- mandate suspensions and expulsions without what we in western civilization would recognize as "due process" for those who conduct same-sex ceremonies, essentially creating an entirely new class of offense above and beyond all others
- allow those churches and clergy who have had enough of the United Methodist Church to leave with property and pension in tact after a "discernment period" of sixty days (remember this one... we'll talk about it more later)
- One built on the doctrine of the Wesleyan movement, but leaves behind the deaf-to-change bureaucracy who only really seemed to care about us in terms of "nickels and noses" and the preservation of their own position/power.
- One that assigns the decisions of marriage and ordination to each of it's local churches and pastors to work out as best for their context.
- One that only seeks pastors strong in character and committed to creating healthy local churches where they can be effective in partnership with laity in all different types and kinds of settings
- One that asks for, say, 3% of General Operating Expense as the only apportionment.
- One that, without layers upon layers of denominational staffing and an impossible decision making process, can focus it's available resources on new church starts and church revitalization toward the end of what is the heart of any denomination - strong local churches
- A denomination without bishops or a method for assigning church leadership that was perfect for an era when the horse and walking were the main modes of transportation
- One that would insure you wouldn't need a boatload of debt to become a pastor