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?

    • betsy says:

      Your question is a valid one and there is already precedence for you concerns. UMC Conferences that have declared non-compliance re the official stance on sexuality have also declared non-compliance on two other issues decided by GC2016: severing ties with the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice and the official stance that does not designate Israel as The Aggressor in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As Rev. Tennent states, our problems stem from theological/spiritual disagreements and a structural change will not keep other presenting issues from surfacing. I recently read an article that reported the remaining traditionals in the Episcopal church are now in conflict with progressives over what the church’s official stance on Israel should be.

  • I sent this letter to the Virginia delegates, My first concern is the “One Church Plan” and the “Connectional Conference Plan” discount the Word of God as written in the Holy Bible. Our church doctrine should never be confused with laws for our congregation or used as some method to hold our laity accountable or responsible for specific actions. We can use this doctrine to encourage each other to lead a Christian life. The doctrine is designed to illuminate the congregation and the world of our interpretation of the Holy Bible. The two plans mentioned above use no biblical references and no reference to God’s wishes.

    Secondly, there is a desire to remove the wording, “the practice of homosexuality is inconsistent with a Christian lifestyle.” Apparently, there are those within our church that believe this makes those within the LGBTQ community to feel unwelcome. People feel welcome because of our ability to make relationships and not because of what is written in the Book of Discipline hidden on a bookshelf in the minister’s office. We are not here to adapt to the culture of possible visitors. We are here to make disciples of Jesus Christ and get them to conform to Christianity. If we used the proposed logic, then we may also offend community members that believe the practice of homosexuality is a sin and not visit our church. First and foremost, we cannot give away our self respect to attract new members. People recognize when we do not respect ourselves and will not attend. We also are apparently making this proposal for only 2% of our population according to the CDC while risking the possible attendance of others.

    A specific example of my concern is the black community and their obvious lack of presence in our church. We are called to end racism which is caused by a lack of relationship between blacks and whites (or any two races). A primary component to ending racism is to attend church together. The black community is more against the practice of homosexuality than the white community. It is counterintuitive to remove the wording on homosexuality from our doctrine and then expect to attract blacks so we can end racism. This also makes me think about an African population that we have brought to Christ under our current rules and now they may feel as though they are being betrayed.

    Third—the practice of homosexuality is a contributing factor to declining birth rates. God wants us to be fruitful and multiply. I have just started reading a book, America Alone, by Mark Steyn and first published in 2006 so the data is a little dated but still relevant to this discussion. In the book, Mr. Steyn describes how America has one of the highest birth rates among Christian nations at 2.1 children per couple. This is also the birth rate required to maintain a stable population. Meanwhile the birth rate among Muslim nations is much greater. If we believe in Jesus Christ, then we cannot adopt policies that reinforce our declining birth rates. The Christian birth rates in European countries are less than ours and Muslims are taking over those countries. Obviously homosexuality is not the primary cause of declining birth rates but we cannot ignore it either. I would say without evidence that our American society has become less masculine. I also surmise that less masculinity, more permissiveness to homosexuality, and declining birth rates can all be tied together.

    Fourth—the practice of homosexuality is only about sexual desire. Heterosexual sex is also about reproduction. God created sexual desire so that we would reproduce and not so that we would have sexual pleasure. If we rewrite our doctrine to ignore the practice of homosexuality as a sin, then we open the door to talk about sex for any fantasy. Twenty years ago, we were only considering homosexuality and now we are considering, bisexuality, transvestites, transgender, queers, and before long we will have to consider incest or children. For example, if two brothers want to become married, then they would be violating current incest laws even though incest laws were meant to prevent in breeding. In breeding does not exist among the homosexual community. If we rewrite the law to accommodate homosexual brothers, then we have to do the same for heterosexual brother and sister. The real problem is we have failed to identify as man and woman like God intended and are attempting to satisfy personal desires of the flesh. We are looking just at our desires instead of thinking about why God has given us guidelines to live by and what the future holds for a departure from what we currently view as Godly living.

    Fifth—before 1972, we did not address homosexuality because it was understood by significant portions of society that the practice was a sin. We set our doctrine on this issue at this point and have addressed the issue every four years since. In every case, the proposals to remove or change our rules have been defeated. Any person joining our church or clergy since then did so while the doctrine was written as it is today. They could have joined another church or started their own church but they elected to accept our rules. Rules for any organization are subject to change, but this issue is perhaps one of the most controversial and if we make changes, we will certainly be overturning a long established tenet that has been central to the majority of parishioners’ beliefs and some clergy. I feel like the liberal contingent of our church has lost eleven votes in a row and are now threatening us with departure if we cannot make a compromise when they knew the rules of our church before joining.

    It is estimated that 70% of the American congregation is conservative while 70% of the American clergy is liberal. Unfortunately the delegates do not reflect this proportion. That is the fault of the conservatives for which I am one. Further, conservatives tend to go into professions like law enforcement, military or business while liberals tend to go into professions like preaching, teaching, or media. That is not going to change. That also does not mean we should be letting liberals make up our rules for church or college. We have let our local pastors be the head of our nomination committees where we select our lay delegates to annual conference where we later select delegates to General Conference. Only the most naïve among us would assume the local pastor does not play a major role in the selection of lay delegate. I have been part of the nominating committee at my own church for six years and the head pastor carried nearly all of the influence in the selection of the lay delegate every time. If the liberals that have been packed onto the General Conference delegation cannot understand this, we stand no hope for success as a church. It is obvious; we have let liberals dominate the leadership of the church. The delegates should recognize this and avoid the mistake that leads to destruction of our church. We cannot change the rule or the selection of the delegates before next February.

    I have the list of members on the Commission on Way Forward. I do not know them but I have heard that at least one of them is from the LGBTQ community. That is like putting murderers on the jury for a murder trial. It is clear from the selection of commission members that the hierarchy of the church had one thing in mind and that is to overturn the rules that have stood since 1972 despite the eleven consecutive votes and eleven consecutive defeats. Despite a Bishop declaring the will of God was to defeat each of the proposals, the liberals have failed to show humility that God does not change.

    Sixth—I want and expect our denomination to be working toward being fifty percent conservative and fifty percent liberal. Politics divides people. Church brings people together. The liberals have already abandoned the church. You can witness this for yourself as you see the more conservative churches growing and the liberal churches losing attendance mostly to independent conservative churches. Meanwhile, when a liberal leaves the church, they quit going to church altogether. I may be the only conservative in the world that wants the church to be 50/50 so we can work together to resolve our differences. The One Church Plan and the Connectional Conference Plan both allow each congregation to vote on issues of same sex marriage. This will lead to one UM church becoming more and more liberal while another UM church becomes more and more conservative. This is contrary to my personal desires and I believe the desires of God. We would be aiding the media bringing politics into our churches where one church becomes heavy into one political party while another becomes heavy into the opposite political party. We should be working toward unity. Just because the words in the plan suggest unity does not mean unity will result. We are one body—one with Christ—and one with each other, but not if we get to vote on various issues that separate us. God wants liberals and conservatives to drink from the same cup so that we work together.

    Witness the denominations that have already voted to ignore the practice of homosexuality as a sin. They are falling apart. The Episcopal and Presbyterian (PCUSA) churches are dying. We should be learning something from this. We have a lot of congregations that are financially strapped and if we lose many of the more traditional and probably older parishioners, we will also have to think about shuttering more churches. We will lose fewer members if we stay with the Traditional Plan. Why should we change our rules and then split? Those who want to leave are more than welcome to leave. They knew our rules when they joined our church. Make no mistake about this. People are going to leave. Should people leave because the leadership has changed the rules or should they be leaving because they joined with the unrealized dreams of changing our rules? The people that knew the rules and joined our church anyway are the ones that should leave. I hope we stay together.

    Liberals have successfully normalized and politicized homosexuality to the point that we are discussing compromise. Compromise is for government. The practice of homosexuality is either a sin or it is not. Half of our body does not go to heaven and half to hell. This is a matter of salvation. Just because someone else says it is not does not make it so. Jesus died for my sins. If the church excuses the practice of homosexuality, then the sins of the homosexuals that rely on the church for guidance will be on the shoulders of the delegates that vote to excuse it. Perhaps, you thought I was being cute when I opened this letter with the words “unenviable task”. You have accepted the responsibility. Your decision goes beyond our rules. I am not the judge, but I can say with the confidence of a Christian, you are not the judge either. God did not give you the authority to determine the Word of God should not be taken so literally. Saying the word of God should not be taken so literally in the hallways of our church is one thing. Preaching it from the pulpit or using it to write the Book of Discipline is another. When we hear that the word of God should not be taken so literally for years on end, we convince ourselves it must be true. Be careful.

    Seventh—The practice of homosexuality is described as a sin in the bible. The practice of adultery is described as a sin in the bible. We penalize ministers that practice adultery. Are we going to maintain consistency and change our rules on adultery if we change our rules on homosexuality? I recently heard someone say that many homosexuals cannot help how they feel. Neither can the alcoholic, adulterer, or thief. We all have a different temptation and we all have to learn will power to overcome the temptation.

    I am pleading with you to not put your political desires ahead of the church. We cannot exonerate anyone into heaven or condemn them to hell. We can only state what is in the bible. There are places in the bible that are subject to diverse theology. Despite the personal desires of many people the practice of homosexuality is not one of them. Please do what is right for the church—select the Traditional Church Plan. You should not go to the Special General Conference as a unified force. You are each independent thinkers and if there is no expectation of receiving knowledge at the conference, then you should just mail in your vote. It is obvious from rumors that the selfish desires of a few who want to strong arm the rest of the Virginia delegation before you even go to the conference. You should not go to conference with preconceived ideas of how you are going to vote. Wisdom is not exclusive to Virginia. The future of our church rests on your shoulders. Ask yourself, why did you want and accept this responsibility? Is it for your glory or God’s?