If you’ve been following the drama that is United Methodist politics, you’re probably aware of the recent statement by the Council of Bishops. The Council recently met in order to deliberate on the report submitted by the Commission on a Way Forward. After prayerful consideration, our bishops offered the following statement, which I quote from UMC.org:
Having received and considered the extensive work of the Commission on a Way Forward, the Council of Bishops will submit a report to the Special Session of the General Conference in 2019 that includes:
- All three plans (The Traditionalist Plan, The One Church Plan and the Connectional Conference Plan) for a way forward considered by the Commission and the Council.
- The Council’s recommendation of the One Church Plan.
- An historical narrative of the Council’s discernment process regarding all three plans.
Rationale: In order to invite the church to go deeper into the journey the Council and Commission have been on, the Council will make all the information considered by the Commission and the Council of Bishops available to the delegates of the General Conference and acknowledges there is support for each of the three plans within the Council. The values of our global church are reflected in all three plans. The majority of the Council recommends the One Church Plan as the best way forward for The United Methodist Church.
I was surprised when I read this because, up to this point, I understood that the traditionalist model was off the table. The way I read the Council’s statement, however, it looked like all three plans would be considered legislatively at the conference. Then I started reading Twitter (which is, admittedly, not a good idea in times of anxiety). Some people interpreted the statement like I did. Some interpreted it to mean that the Plan Formerly Known as the Local Option, now the One Church Plan, would be brought forward. The other two plans would be part of the “historical narrative.” Some tweeters were simply confused. I now count myself among the ranks of this last group.
Perhaps it’s only my own lack of acuity, but I have questions…lots and lots of questions… I’m hoping those of you who are wiser than I in the ways of the General Conference can help me out.
The crux of the matter seems to be with the interpretation of the words “submit a report.” Does “submit a report” mean “submit as legislation”? Does it mean “submit as a narrative of the Council’s deliberations”? In other words, will the bishops somehow make all three plans available to be voted up or down? Were this the case, we would be in a place very similar to the 2016 General Conference prior to the formation of the Commission on a Way Forward.
Will the Council submit only the One Church Plan as legislation? If that’s the case, why in the world are our bishops betting the farm on a plan that, in one way or another, has been voted down at three General Conferences?
Any mention of a “gracious exit,” moreover, is missing from the Council’s statement. Is an exit ramp still in the mix?
And finally, here’s my big question: how are these three plans going to prevent a division of the UMC? The traditionalist plan will compel some progressives to leave. The One Church Plan will compel many conservatives to leave. The multi-branch plan could preserve many of our organizational structures, but it forces us to ask the question of whether a church, properly construed, can simultaneously embrace multiple positions on significant moral issues. (For that matter, the One Church Plan raises the same question.)
We’re supposed to learn something more on July 8. I sure hope we do. An old boss of mine once told me, “You can clarify better with clarity than you can with ambiguity.” This advice, which sounds like it came off of a list of Yogi Berra quotations, has stuck with me over the years. It’s so easy in situations of conflict or tension to speak in vaguaries so as to ease pain of necessary direct communication. But right now we need clarity, not ambiguity. We need to know what we’re facing and what our options are. So roll on July 8, and may the Lord bless us all with the fruit of the Spirit in the difficult days ahead.