Seven Reasons Why the “One Church” Plan Should Be Rejected

Saturday, May 19th, 2018

For several years now United Methodists have been living in expectation that in 2019 we will finally resolve our long struggle over the issue of human sexuality.  A special General Conference has been set for February, 2019 to resolve the issue.  The Commission on a Way Forward has worked diligently since 2016 to provide various options, though the Council of Bishops has endorsed the “one church” option, which is a renaming of the previously rejected “local option.”  This “solution” would remove any references to sexuality or gender identity norms in our Discipline and allow local churches to make their own decisions regarding membership and pastoral appointments of LGBTQ persons, and annual conferences would make decisions regarding ordination. It is highly unlikely that this option will pass for the following reasons:

First, the “One Church” option creates a moral equivalency between Christian marriage and same sex marriage which has been consistently rejected by the entire church through all time. Even the United Methodist General Conference has rejected it multiple times. Why the Bishops would endorse a plan which has been rejected over and over is mystifying to many of us. Western culture is, quite evidently, in a state of moral collapse, and it has been exceedingly difficult for mainline churches to accept a new role as a cultural outsider, rather than their long-standing position as a cultural insider. It is long past the time to realize that many of the values of contemporary western culture are no longer consistent with historic Christian faith.

Second, by creating a moral equivalency between Christian marriage and same sex marriage, we violate the clear teaching of the New Testament which teaches that while all sinners are objects of God’s love, the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian faith. The General Church has no authority to regard as holy and sacramental a behavior which is repeatedly condemned in the New Testament. (For more on this, see my earlier piece, “Is homosexual practiced condemned in the New Testament?”)

Third, the “One Church” option creates an even wider latitude and moral equivalency than we were originally led to believe. It is now no longer about normalizing “gay” and “lesbian” behavior, but a whole range of new sexual identities, including “bi-sexual” “a-sexual” “intersex” and “queer.” As I have said in previous articles, we have spent 45 years arguing about homosexuality, but we have not spent 5 minutes discussing any of these other sexual identities.

Fourth, the “One Church” option promotes a completely false idea of church unity. It confuses our structural, organizational unity with the unity which can only be found in Christ and the gospel. Our problems are spiritual and theological, not pragmatic and structural.  This is our agreed upon definition of church unity:  “Church unity is founded on the theological understanding that through faith in Jesus Christ we are made members-in-common of the one Body of Christ” (par. 105, Doctrinal Standards and our Theological Task). Church unity is not fundamentally about whether or not the bureaucratic and administrative structures of the United Methodist Church remain in-tact. It is ultimately about our unity in the gospel itself.

Fifth, the “One Church” option is a major concession to a Gnostic view of the body which the church has opposed since the first century. The proposal not only affirms gay and lesbian marriage and ordination, but it also blesses a whole new view of the body, represented by transgenderism. The church has never accepted the idea that our gender identity is socially, rather than biologically, determined.  The theological implications for this are enormous and, once again, we have not discussed this for five minutes as a church, it has just been rolled into the “one church” plan under the “catch all” LGBTQ. However, these letters refer to much more than sexual practice. They also refer to gender identity, attitudes about the human body, and so forth. (For more on this, see, my earlier piece on the “new gnosticism”)

Sixth, by endorsing the “one church” option, the Council on Bishops have, tragically, and with the most far reaching implications, unwittingly endorsed a post-modern view of truth. The council is offering us two completely different “orthodoxies” – one which says that homosexual practice is “incompatible with Christian faith” and one which says it is “compatible with Christian faith.” One Methodist church in town would be teaching that homosexual behavior is a sin; the other Methodist church down the street would teach that it is a sacrament. One church would teach that it is a sin for which Christ died; the other church, a sign of wholeness. The fact that the document actually proposes this without blinking just might be an indicator that we have now embraced a post-modern view of truth. Indeed, this just might be one of the clearest examples of a truly post-modern document in the United Methodist Church. We are now being asked to read the Discipline the way post-moderns have been reading the Bible itself. The Discipline would become, in their view, a document with no objective vision of truth, or standard of morality. Instead, it invites us to formally legislate permission for each church to live in their own personal narratives and construct their own edifice of meaning and “private interpretation,” not because we do not agree on the objective truth of the Bible, but because we have abandoned any sure knowledge that such objective truth can even be known.

Finally, let us not be lulled into thinking that this is merely a cultural debate, reflecting the regional tensions present in the country as a whole. I have had the privilege of pastoring large churches in New England, most right in Massachusetts, one of the most liberal states in the country. Yet these churches are all solid stalwarts of orthodoxy. Likewise, there are many churches in the southern jurisdiction who are committed to heterodox views of human sexuality and the nature of the human body. Brothers and sisters, this is not merely a cultural problem, but a deeply theological challenge.

All those who remain committed to historic faith, biblical orthodoxy, and a view of truth which is based on biblical revelation, must unite and vote “no” to the “One Church” option.

Comments

  • Dan metzger says:

    “The theological implications for this are enormous and, once again, we have not discussed this for five minutes as a church, it has just been rolled into the “one church” plan under the “catch all” LGBTQ. “

    Could you please explain the theological implications? And I’m confused by what you mean saying we have not discussed this for five minutes as a church. I feel like I’ve had every conversation possible on this topic, and the potential of it all for United Methodist church. So to say that we have not had discussion on this seems odd. So while I understand that you disagree with this theologically, I am confused by your implication that the results of a more progressive decision would be completely catastrophic for the church. In what way do you see the one church option for hampering our ability to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world?

  • paul morelli says:

    On your sixth point, I wonder if pastors might be censored for preaching against LBTQ because if the restrictive language is removed, would they have any “church legal” protection for preaching it is a sin?

  • A “deeply theological challenge” it is! It is a direct assault by Satan on what God has clearly said. Methodism and its structure would be irrelevant if it were not for it’s role in the faith of so many people. Methodist leadership’s attention, it’s focus, should be primarily on seeking the holiness that God has commanded for His people. God could and would bless that. He cannot and will not bless this debate and focus on perversions.

  • Gary says:

    Oops. I hit enter and hadn’t entered any comments. Sorry. – I assume you know the history of divorce and remarriage in the Methodist Church in the early to middle 20th century. As you know, divorce and remarriage is discussed more in the New Testament than is homosexuality. The solution to the question of having divorced and remarried clergy and allowing second marriages to be performed in churches involved removing the language from the Book of Discipline. Since that time, while we lament divorce as a sign of a broken marriage, we treat divorce and remarriage with grace. How is that any different than than today and the One Church Plan? Or will the new WCA denomination (assuming an eventual schism) ban divorce and remarriage?

  • Woody Clark says:

    I vote NO on one Church option.

  • Larry Smiley says:

    Many things have never been sorted out since I attended ATS 1969-1972, at least to my knowledge, scientifically and theologically. From the perspective of what would be most beneficial for preservation of the United Methodist Church, my opinion is that it would mean maintenance of the current disciplinary standards. All that means to me is that a larger segment of the membership would be preserved as the United Methodist Church. It is purely operationally desirable. Somehow we have become tangled up in an enigmatic Ancient Near Eastern Mystery Cult as interpreted by a bunch of Medieval and post Medieval Europeans. It is still all about power and not a bit about the teachings of a powerless Jewish Rabbi.

  • Gary Bebop says:

    The One Church plan is a bluff. The progressive sect is wagering that Wesleyan-holiness legacy folk lack a plan, a resolve, and a leader.

  • Thank you Dr. Tennent for laying out your argument against the One Church plan. I disagree with many of your points but I appreciate you taking the time to articulate them. I had considered refuting some of them, but something you said caught my eye.

    I’m interested in your statement that “Western culture is, quite evidently, in a state of moral collapse, and it has been exceedingly difficult for mainline churches to accept a new role as a cultural outsider, rather than their long-standing position as a cultural insider.”

    What do you use to support that statement? Here are some moral indicators that suggest the reverse of what you say (based mostly on stats for America as emblematic of Western society):

    • Civilian violence has been decreasing for the last 25 years.
    • War has been declining rather steadily.
    • Overt racism and sexism are declining (I now know that our last lynching was in 1981 thanks to the new memorial in Montgomery that opened this year).
    • Divorce and infidelity are at their lowest rate since 1970. Even the views of infidelity as morally acceptable has decreased since 2000.
    • Teenage pregnancy is at its lowest rate in 40 years.
    • The abortion rate has been decreasing since 2000.
    • The combined adoption/foster rate has been increasing since 2000.
    • Charitable giving has increased every year since 1976 except for 3 years.
    • The number of NGOs has increased since their inception.
    • Even Christians may be seen as more moral as we don’t burn people alive (or drown them) for doctrinal disagreements any more 🙂

    Perhaps the statistics on Americans going to church or self-defining as Christian is what you consider a “moral collapse” given less people are going to traditional churches? I see this as a failing of traditional churches to be relevant to culture or providing answers to the difficult and morally ambiguous questions of our current context.

    In my talks with other UMC believers, I’ve noticed an interesting commonality. Those who see society in general (and Western society specifically) in a state of decline tend to fight against affirming same sex marriage and standing in the tension of not affirming but not condemning. Those who see society as in the process of being redeemed and renewed are much more open to the possibility that same sex marriage is an unexpected part of the redemption process. The first perspective, when plumbed, often ends in some form of wide scale persecution of the church and a hopeful rapture. Thus, the first view seems to be rooted in fear and distrust of the surrounding culture whereas the second is rooted in hopeful faith that our careening zigzag is upward motion.

    That said, what is the obvious evidence of our moral collapse?

    BTW – a link for some of the stats I gave above: https://www.economist.com/democracy-in-america/2012/03/02/our-great-moral-decline

  • Mike says:

    I am a retired minister of 43 years in service, and was elected to our delegation for three General Conferences. I vote “NO” to the One Church Plan

  • Debbie says:

    This week was our annual conference central Texas.
    Today was the last day. We did not get to vote on this issue. We weren’t given the option. The people who are working on the way forward and higher ups the are making the decisions. They are changing the marriage between a man and a woman to marriage between adult and adult. It is clear Texas is changing and the culture is winning.
    God help us.

  • SK Ashley says:

    The Bible tells us that God and His Word are the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. Why are people trying to make this so complicated? It seems that some have not read His word, the Truth.

  • BPatMann says:

    It make one wonder, if the “One Church Plan” is passed today, will we be debating in ten years a new plan that will allow the local congregations to decide whether to put up asherim in their churches?