Dr. Bill Arnold is a friend and dialogue partner. I got to know him first by our common work on the University Senate. We both care very much about the church, the work of ministry, and theological education. We are committed to the UMC and would see denominational division as a very sad and regrettable course of action. Lately we’ve had numerous conversations about the state of the church, the talk of division and its precipitating factors, and what might be necessary for the unity of the UMC going forward. After considerable conversation and counsel with other colleagues, we have developed a list of suggestions that we think would help to preserve the unity of the UMC if implemented.
These are not proposals that will resolve our differences around the matter of same-sex practices (intimacy, marriage, ordination), nor will they change our basic polity and allow a local or jurisdictional option around matters of sexual ethics. Dr. Arnold and I have read some such proposals, and, while we appreciate their ingenuity and creative thinking, neither of us sees them as plausible. (We have offered some critique of these proposals here and here). The main reason is that most would require some, and probably several, constitutional amendments, which are very hard to achieve. Further, they tend to require too great a change to the system of governance around which the UMC is built. We have a system of conferences—General, annual, jurisdictional, and charge, that have been developed to function as a more or less coherent system. Changing one part in a significant way would affect the other parts as well.
If any proposals for GC are to go through, they should probably be quite modest. In that spirit, then, Dr. Arnold and I wish to offer the following modest proposals, which are intended only to restore our polity to proper functioning, rather than restructure the denomination to accommodate irreconcilable perspectives.
(1) Suspension of the Trust Clause (BOD ¶2501) for one quadrennium specifically and only for the purpose of allowing local churches who cannot in good conscience live within the parameters of our Social Principle on human sexuality to leave the denomination with full ownership of their properties.
(2) Addition of new paragraph to BOD ¶248 allowing local churches to use the Church Conference as a venue for voting to leave the denomination. New paragraph at the end of existing ¶248: “The church conference may be convened for purposes of withdrawing the local church from The United Methodist Church for reasons of conscience related specifically and exclusively to the Social Principle on human sexuality (¶161F) and the Qualifications for Ordination (¶304.3). Ordained clergy of said church conference may withdraw to unite with another denomination under the provisions of ¶361.1. The local church of said church conference shall be released from the requirement of the trust clause of ¶2501. The local church shall retain full rights to its properties. Debts upon such properties and any other debts payable by that local church are assumed by the local church.”
(3) Empowerment of the General Board of Pension & Health Benefits to allow clergy who cannot in good conscience abide by our Social Principle on human sexuality to leave with full benefits.
(4) Amendment of the language around “just resolutions” in the Discipline. The definition of “just resolution” in 363.1(c ) is clear that “the person filing the complaint” must be included among the parties finding satisfactory resolution. Surprisingly, some have found ways to exclude complainant(s) as the “appropriate persons” entering into a such written agreement, as defined in “Just Resolution in Judicial Proceedings” (2701.5). We call upon GC2016 to refine the terminology of both the definition of “just resolution” (paragraph 363) and its implementation in the judicial proceedings to prevent complainant(s) from being excluded in the future (paragraph 2701.5).
(5) Election by the General Conference of a set-aside bishop to enforce and implement policy within the Council of Bishops.
(6) Empowerment and requirement of the set-aside bishop and Council of Bishops to hold their members accountable to the Book of Discipline.
(7) Creation of a “bishop emeritus/a” status for retired and inactive bishops; in order to maintain emeritus/a status, retired bishops shall uphold their vows at consecration and are to be held accountable to the episcopal vows and subject to correction and discipline of the Council of Bishops and set-aside bishop. Additionally, bishops emeritus/a would be removed from membership in the Council of Bishops, leaving bishops emeritus/a without voice or vote in the Council of Bishops.
We submit these seven proposals for your consideration, critique, and discussion, and we hope that they make a helpful contribution to our ongoing discussion in the UMC. We realize that no plan for moving forward will be perfect, and that there are problems that attend what we’ve written here, just as there are with any plan. We think, however, that these proposals are plausible and realistic, and that their implementation would help to restore order to our denominational life together.
What do you think?