One Church Plan: Key Issues to Think About Before You Vote

Thursday, January 31st, 2019

The United Methodist Church will be meeting in General Conference on February 23-26 in St. Louis, Missouri. The General Conference has been called specifically to act on the report of the Commission on a Way Forward which was authorized at the 2016 General Conference. This 32 member commission has not produced a single “solution,” but have outlined three possible ways ahead.

The three plans are as follows:

Traditionalist Plan: This plan would affirm the current language about homosexuality in the Book of Discipline and seek to strengthen enforcement for violations of church law.

One Church Plan: The one-church model would allow different United Methodists in different places to make different decisions regarding ministry with or by LGBTQ persons rather than maintaining a single standard that operates everywhere throughout the worldwide church. This plan would remove all restrictive language from the Book of Discipline and give conferences, churches and pastors a “local option” to decide what they determine is best.

Connectional-Conference Plan: This plan would create three connectional conferences based on theology or perspective, each having clearly defined values (accountability, contextualization and justice). The three connectional conferences would function throughout the worldwide church and the five existing U.S. jurisdictions would be abolished.

The Council of Bishops has thrown their support behind the One Church Plan and they are actively supporting it through blog articles, websites (onechurchplan.org), and various video releases. The Traditionalist Plan has the support of a minority of bishops, who have struggled to have their voice heard. I endorse the Traditionalist Plan because it moves us closer to historic orthodoxy and has the most overwhelming support from Scripture, our Wesleyan heritage, and the global church. The One Church Plan, in contrast, has a number of serious problems. This essay seeks to highlight six of the key issues which are before us as we are asked to contemplate this solution as “the way forward.”

Issue #1: The Nature of Church Unity

The framers of the One Church Plan are clear that they are motivated primarily over a desire to maintain church unity. The One Church Plan is widely regarded as the only way to keep the church from hopelessly splitting into three or more factions. Therefore, this proposal is widely regarded as the greatest hope for “church unity.”

Our Episcopal leaders often remind us that they have sworn in their consecration vows to “uphold the unity of the church.” However, there seems to be confusion about what is meant by 
“church unity.” When some hear the phrase, “uphold the unity of the church” they think this is referring to the organizational and bureaucratic, churchly machinery known denominationally as the United Methodist church. This is not true. When Jesus said “I will build my church” He was referring to the people of God, the church of Jesus Christ throughout space and time of which He is the Lord and head. Our unity is rooted in that sacred unity. Our unity is in Jesus Christ. Our unity is in the gospel. Our unity is with the people of God around the world and back through time. If keeping the unity of the church was an organizational, denominational mandate, then there would never have been a Reformation. The Reformation was not fundamentally a schismatic movement – but the church’s greatest act of catholicity. It was a remembering of the ancient faith and a return to the apostolic message.

The word “unity” has a clear and compelling definition found in our Discipline which is quietly ignored. (See, par. 105, Doctrinal Standards and our Theological Task). Our unity is not found in our ecclesiastical structures, but in the gospel which is given to us in God’s Word. Every Bishop and Elder in the United Methodist church has promised before God to uphold the Discipline and to defend the church “against all doctrines contrary to God’s Holy Word.” That is the basis of church unity. We must not forget this.

Issue #2: Biblical Authority

The second issue at stake with the One Church Plan has to do with the nature of Scripture itself. In short, is Scripture authoritative in the life of the church, or not? This is not a question intending to nullify the role of tradition, reason or experience. The question is whether Scripture is one of several sources of authority, or if Scripture has a final voice in deciding doctrine among the people called Methodists. This leads to a second, but equally important question. If Scripture is authoritative, then how is the meaning of Scripture known and received in the life of the church? I am not convinced that the “crisis” within United Methodism is about who can have sex with whom. That is, of course, the leading presenting issue; but it has always been evident to many that the deeper issue has to do with the authority of Scripture and how we interpret and apply Scripture to the various issues which are before us.

The November 9th release from the Council of Bishops notes several “values” which are guiding the process. The three primary values noted were unity, space and contextuality. There is the notable omission that there is no reference to the value of the final decision being biblical or that, in the end, Scripture has any role in deciding this crucial issue. Am I the only one, or was anyone else absolutely stunned that the Council of Bishops would put out a pastoral letter about such an explosively contentious issue which needs to be resolved and threatens to tear our church asunder, and never mention the Bible or Scripture in the entire document?

Throughout my thirty-three years of ministry as an ordained United Methodist Church pastor there has been a notable and consistent lack of interest in Scriptural references to matters of human sexuality, not to mention the deep theological structures which underpin marriage in the Bible (e.g. creation account, theology of the body, body of Christ imagery, marriage supper of the lamb, etc.). To be fair, theologians and biblical scholars have been invited to deliver papers to the Commission. However, the influence this has had on conversations and proposals and blog postings, etc. in the wider church has been tepid. There are, of course, passing references to how certain broad biblical themes such as justice or mercy, but not the deep, thoughtful theological and biblical engagement with specific texts which is required.

The paucity of biblical engagement is due, perhaps, to a misunderstanding about the so-called “quadrilateral” which has been popularized in our denomination. The quadrilateral, rightly understood, is about the primacy of Scripture and the secondary role which tradition, reason and experience should play in our deliberations. We are, after all, the “people of one Book.” What the quadrilateral is not, is a statement of four equal values. Yet, in our deliberations one sometimes gets the impression that the quadrilateral has been flipped on its head. In our conversations, pastoral considerations and anecdotal stories tend to “rule the day.” In other words, we have turned the quadrilateral on its head and we often end up using experience as the definitive lens through which we understand scripture and tradition. It would be very helpful if our commitment to the primacy of Scripture as the final authority in the life of the church were to be made clear. Our Discipline says, “United Methodists share with other Christians the conviction that Scripture is the primary source and criterion for Christian doctrine” (p. 83). There is nothing wrong with highlighting values like “contextuality” and “space” but neither should be understood as primary values. The church deserves to see the biblical and theological evidence which supports the One Church Plan. It is very disconcerting that the website which the Council of Bishops released to support the One Church Plan (onechurchplan.org) contains no section on how this proposal relates to our biblical, theological or historical heritage as Christians.

Issue #3: Biblical Teaching Regarding Homosexuality

The New Testament contains numerous prohibitions against unauthorized sexual behavior. On this point, there can be no dispute. The question is whether any of these prohibitions would include homosexual acts, especially between consenting adults.

There are a number of passages, especially the so-called “sin lists” in the New Testament, which employ a range of Greek words which need exploration. The primary terms are as follows: porneia, akatharsia, malakos, komos, and arsenokoites. As I understand the “progressive” argument, they insist that what is condemned in the New Testament sin lists is not consensual, committed sexual activity between two men, but exploitative sin such as pederasty (sexual activity between a man and a boy). This argument is not entirely false. The New Testament does condemn a practice reflected in the Greek word “malakos” which refers to “effeminate call boys” which was a form of prostitution in the ancient world which was exploitative and would clearly fall under the category of pederasty. It is also true that there are some broad, more general words for sexual immorality used in the New Testament which do not specifically name any particular sexual behavior. The two most prominent examples are the words “porneia” (where we get our word pornography from) and “akatharsia.” Porneia means “sexual immorality” – a broad term for a whole range of sexual sins without specifically naming what those sins are. The word akatharsia means “sexually impure” or “immoral sexual sins.” Again, it is a broad term without specifically citing what sexual sins fall into that category. There are other broad words like komos which is used quite broadly to refer to everything from excessive eating, to general carousing, to sexual orgies, and so forth. Thus, the progressives are correct in noting that several of the terms in the New Testament do, in fact, refer specifically to pederasty or to broad terms which cover a range of sexual misconduct without specifically mentioning homosexuality.

The difficulty with this argument is that it ignores a mountain of other biblical evidence which makes it exceedingly difficult for progressives to, in the end, offer a convincing case. First, the word “arsenokoites” is also used in the “sin lists” of the New Testament. Arsenokoites means a “man who practices homosexuality.” There are several reasons why it is difficult to argue that this word refers only to pederasty. Arsenokoites appears in the Pauline sin list right along with the other terms. In other words, in I Corinthians 6:9,10 Paul specifically condemns “porneia” and “malakos” as well as “arsenokoites.” It is clear that “malakos” and “arsenokoites” are not interchangeable words. Paul says, “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” Furthermore, Paul would have been familiar with the Greek Old Testament (known as the Septuagint). It is this Greek word “arsenokoites” which is used in texts in the Old Testament such as Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 which quite explicitly condemn homosexual activity. This happens again in I Timothy 1:10 where he identifies both the general word “sexual immorality” (porneia) as well as homosexual practice (arsenokoites). (By the way, this passage is also where Paul condemns slave holding, dispelling the other common argument made by some of our leaders that the Bible somehow endorses slave holding and we now have better insights than they had). Of course, once it is clear that arsenokoites is forbidden by the New Testament, then it also would fall under the general categories of “sexual immorality” (porneia) and “sexually impure acts” (akatharsia).

Second, we also must not overlook Paul’s argument in Romans 1:26 where he states that “God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.” While there is legitimate debate about the full scope of the phrase “dishonorable passions” it is quite clear that Paul is not limiting the discussions to pederasty since he is referring more generally to departures from God’s natural design. In short, the New Testament is consistently negative about normalizing same-sex behavior, and nowhere in the Bible are there positive or affirming portraits of same-sex behavior.

Third, we must not forget the positive teaching from Genesis 2 which is quoted by Jesus in Matthew 19:5, 6: “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife and the two shall become one flesh.’” The New Testament only explicitly condemns 67 “named sins” even though we realize that sin is a much bigger category. Just because the New Testament never explicitly condemns polluting a river does not mean that we have license to do it. The New Testament theologically enshrines biblical marriage between a man and a woman and, as shall be developed in a future blog, all other sexual acts are disallowed. However, the theological case for marriage as between a man and a woman will have to wait.

But, for now, it is clear that the One Church Plan requires that we consider all of the language around sexual immorality in the New Testament as either generic, non-specific or only referring to a very tiny slice of sexual immorality; namely, pederasty. Yet, as we have seen, the exegetical case for this is not defensible. If we are being asked to sign off on this option and “agree to disagree” on this issue, then we will need to have a much better conversation about the biblical data which pertains to this question. I, for one, remain completely unconvinced by the progressive argument and am actually disappointed that they would argue so strongly about their commitment to biblical authority and yet provide no serious exegetical argument for the dramatic changes they wish to usher into the life and faith of the church. To move a named sin from a New Testament “sin list” and declare that we are now to regard it as a “sacrament” is unprecedented. Christians have every right to resist this doctrinal innovation which is being embraced by a few declining mainline denominations in the western world.

Issue #4: A Christian View of the Body

The 2016 General Conference established the Commission on a Way Forward to help the church resolve our differences over homosexuality. However, very quickly, the bishops moved the conversation beyond the issue of same sex marriage and broadened it to include allowing the church to permit the ordination of homosexual, bi-sexual, transgendered and gender non-conforming people. This appeared as early as the November 9 letter from the Council of Bishops which calls for a “way forward” for “LGBT inclusion.” By removing all prohibitive language from the Discipline, it renders the church silent on a whole range of issues. Indeed, the One Church Plan would allow any annual conference to ordain not only lesbian and gay persons (LG), but also bi-sexual (B), transgendered (T), and queer or gender non-conforming (Q) people.

This is entirely new ground and raises a range of new questions. It also demonstrates that the normalization of same sex relationships was never the “end” of any debate, but just the beginning of a whole new range of affirmed states, the end of which we do not yet know. If LG, then LGBT, then LGBTQ, what possible objection would the church raise against LGBTQIA, as so on. The point is, once the church is prepared to relinquish the natural gender distinction established in creation, then no other boundary can possibly hold.

Ordination for any ecclesial body is the highest and most sacred act of “setting apart” for ministry. Ordination is intended to embody and display holiness to the world through human vessels set apart for word and sacrament. It is surely among the most sacred honors a church bestows. The One Church Plan would invite bi-sexual and gender non-conforming persons into ordination without a clear explanation of how, or if, this might challenge our traditional theology of the body and human sexuality. We have spent 45 years discussing gay and lesbian relationships, but not 45 minutes on this. I could explore these in more detail, but I would like to focus on the ordination of transgendered persons. It is here that we see with greater clarity that our struggle has never actually been about who can have sex with whom. Our struggle is over the Christian view of the body. The affirmation of one’s decision to change their gender, either through hormonal therapy, or through various operative procedures, moves us towards a gnostic view of the body.

One of the fiercest theological struggles of the early church was the struggle against gnosticism. Gnosticism refers to a wide range of movements which claimed that they had special “knowledge” about reality. The word “gnosticism” comes from the Greek word “gnosis” for “knowledge.” One of the doctrines espoused by gnostics is that the material world is evil. The “spirit” or “inner light” of a person is trapped inside a body, which is regarded as untrustworthy or evil. The early Christians fiercely resisted gnosticism, as this struggle is found in many passages in the New Testament. The idea that a person might be a male trapped inside a female body, or a female trapped inside a male body reflects a low view of the body. The notion that someone who is biologically male or female can decide that they really are another gender, or no gender at all, because of some insight “on the inside” has enormous theological and ethical implications related to the Christian view of the body. Gnostics say, “you cannot trust your body, but your heart is pure.” Christians say, “your heart is deceitful, but your body can be trusted.” Indeed, for the Christian, the whole physical world has been declared “good.”

Any disassociation of the “real you” from your biological, God given, bodily identifiers has historically been regarded by Christians as a grave error because, in one stroke, it erodes two major Christian doctrines. First, it erodes the doctrine of creation. Creation, for the Christian is good and can be trusted. This is what makes scientific enquiry possible. Christians have always believed that there are moral boundaries inherent in the created order and one of these is that God created us “male and female.” This is declared in the creation account (Gen. 1:27), and reaffirmed by Jesus himself in his discourse on marriage and divorce (Matt. 19:4-6). Christians have never accepted the notion that we can autonomously decide what gender we are, or declare that we have no gender. Second, it erodes the doctrine of the incarnation. Christians fiercely opposed the gnostic view of the body because, in the end, it disparages the doctrine of the incarnation: Jesus Christ has come “in the flesh” (John 1:14). The Apostle John is so strong on this point that he says that anyone who does not recognize that Jesus came “in the flesh” (not just a spirit inhabiting a fleshly creature) is not of God, but of the spirit of the Antichrist (I John 4:1-3).

This historic Christian view of the body has absolutely nothing to do with the increasingly popularized “regional view” of sin which is being propagated in our church today. This argues that what is regarded as “sin” in the southern USA may not be regarded as “sin” in California. However, this kind of teaching can only be sustained through a “reader determined” method of interpretation which assumes that every reader of the Bible has the right to shape multiple potential “meanings” of a biblical passage for himself or herself. This is to be contrasted with an exegetical approach based on a careful reading of the original context and grammar of the Bible on its own terms which allows it to speak clearly to us God’s revelation.

Let us be clear. Transgendered people, like all people, have been created in the image of God and are men and women of infinite worth and should receive, like all people, the hospitality of churches who open their doors wide to all. There is nothing sinful about an attraction towards the same gender. Only our overly sexualized culture demands that all attractions culminate in sexual activity. Likewise, there is nothing inherently sinful about having a gender identity crisis. We all have struggles which the gospel addresses and which calls forth the wonderful pastoral gifts which Methodists are known and admired for. What must be opposed is any so-called “solution” which espouses a non-Christian view of the body.

Issue #5: Is There a Divine Design for Marriage?

One of the areas where I find myself in agreement with the progressives is their exasperation that we, as a church, might be known as “those people who are opposed to homosexuality.” This is a valid point. We must be known for what we are “for” not what we are “against.” The “progressive” solution is to essentially agree with much of the culture on their views of sexuality and the human body. In my view, this is neither wise nor prudent if one of our shared goals is to remain firmly within the bounds of historic Christian faith. The solution which would reinvigorate our church would be to re-cast the positive Christian vision of human sexuality and the theology of the body.

Our problem as a denomination goes back many decades because our vision for the very nature of Christian marriage itself has been lost. The whole notion that there might be a divine design to marriage is never addressed. In fact, many Christians, quite tragically, embrace the larger societal view of marriage. This is the popular narrative in broad form: Marriage is a way to find personal fulfillment and make you happy. Marriage is defined, so the narrative goes, as a legal arrangement which allows two people to fulfill each other’s emotional and sexual needs and desires, and find economic stability. Accepting this narrative is the source of many of our woes. Individual freedom, personal autonomy and fulfillment are very high values in the West and marriage has been domesticated to fit within that larger utilitarian framework. The culture has a utilitarian view which sees marriage as a commodity. We should have a biblical vision which sees marriage as covenant. The utilitarian vision sees the body of a man or woman as an object which can be assessed like a car – is it bright, new, shiny and full of power, or not. Is your body thin or fat; does it conform to the shapes we admire or not; is your hair the right texture and color, or not; are your teeth shiny and straight, or not. In the covenantal vision, the mystery and glory is that we have bodies and those bodies are beautiful to God because they are living sacraments in the world, an outward sign of an inward and spiritual grace, since all of the means of grace come through the physicality of the body.

Since the church has unwittingly accepted the wider culture’s view of marriage, we have very little room to maneuver. Once a functionalistic, commodity-driven, utilitarian view of marriage is accepted, then we really have no solid ground to stand on in opposing a whole range of new kinds of relationships which might be called marriage. As the mantra goes, “Why should we care who someone loves as long as they are happy?”

We must remember what Jesus did when he was asked the “burning question” of his day: “Can a man divorce his wife for any reason at all?” (Matt. 19:3). Rather than answer directly, Jesus directs them to return to story of creation and remember God’s original design for marriage. Jesus does not answer their question, he re-frames the question. We must learn to ask the right question. Unfortunately, the first right question is not, “should the church support same sex marriage?” or “should we permit the ordination of homosexuals?” Jesus’ reply teaches us that to answer that question without first understanding God’s original design tacitly ends up accepting all the broken presuppositions which gave rise to the question in the first place. The first right question is this: “What is God’s design for marriage?”

Jesus calls us back to the creational, covenantal and Eucharistic mystery of marriage. First, by creating us “male and female” God designed two different, complementary glories who come together as one. It is the primordial sacrament of creation which would someday become the grand metaphor for Christ and the Church celebrated in the marriage supper of the lamb. In Ephesians 5 when Paul commands husbands to love their wives, he tells us that he is speaking ultimately about the mystery of Christ and his church. In the Scriptures, the body is primarily a theological category, not a biological one. Second, marriage was designed to invite us into the mystery of creation by becoming co-creators with him. Through the miracle of childbirth, we actually participate with God in creation by becoming co-creators with him. Indeed, while honoring the special calling of celibacy, the church understands that the building of families is at the heart of God’s design. This is one of the many reasons why the church has never declared moral equivalency between marriage between a man and a woman and a homosexual marriage. Third, the family unit has been designed by God to reflect the mystery of the Trinity itself. Husband and wife become, through the gift of family, father and mother, and they stand before God with their children as a sign and seal of the Triune God. The family is meant to be a reflection of the Trinity with mutual gifts, submission, joyful exercise of kingly and queenly authority, love, discipline, self-donation, and becoming co-creators with God.

The Bible begins and ends with a marriage (Garden of Eden and Marriage Supper of the Lamb). It is one of the great threads which connects the great themes of creation, redemption, and even the Triune nature of God himself. We must reject the notion that marriage is merely a human institution which can be shaped or defined by a majority vote as we see fit. I plead with our church leaders, there are many things we can vote on in the church, but the definition of marriage is not one of them.

Issue #6: Holy Conferencing, the Wesleyan Way

I know that there is a general weariness about this issue and a sense that because we have been discussing it for 45 years, we should surely be able to decide one way or the other by now, and move on. However, the reason we cannot, and will not, be able to “move on” is that, despite 45 years of debate, we have never actually had a proper discussion about it. The driving questions raised in this article about the nature of church unity, the authority of scripture, the exegesis of key texts, the Christian view of the body, God’s design for marriage and so forth have all been silenced under much weaker questions.

We have all been subjected to endless vague questions which have been wearily imposed upon our beloved church: “Is it not time for the UMC to become more inclusive?” “Haven’t we been called to love all people?” “Just as we have evolved in our views regarding slavery and the role of women, is it not time to evolve our views regarding homosexuality?” We must insist that better questions be asked. There is too much at stake. Our church deserves our best thinking. Sometimes questions wrapped up in the word “inclusive” have tacitly carried the assumption that the church has some moral obligation to embrace every conceivable view which is put forward, even if it is a new doctrine invented last Tuesday. Sometimes the word “love” is ripped from its biblical rootedness in God’s covenantal holiness, turned into a modern emotional disposition, and then used as a lever to convince us that we cannot “love our neighbor” unless we also embrace the sins of our neighbor. Sometimes we are asked to believe that the church in disobedience to scripture (e.g. attitudes towards women, minorities, or slavery) is the same as the actual teachings of Scripture. Sometimes we hear the phrase, “my experience teaches me” as if experience is the final arbiter of any dispute, carrying more weight than Scripture itself. Sometimes we are given endless pragmatic arguments about how our empty pews will be filled with young people if we just “get on the right side of history.” Sometimes we are told that because same sex marriage is not explicitly condemned in the Apostles’ Creed, this is all “much ado about nothing,” neglecting the point that no sins are listed or mentioned in the Creed. Sometimes we hear statements which confuse the church’s glorious diversity with the accommodation of endless human preferences. Sometimes we are told that passages which have been abundantly clear to the church for 2,000 years are suddenly unclear and no one has a clue what they mean. We are not given an alternative solution to consider, and weigh on its merits. We are just lulled into the sea of what Michael Ovey ingeniously calls “imperious ignorance.” I could go on, but these are a few examples of the intellectually fragile position we have allowed ourselves to be pushed into.

What we desperately need is a proper, nuanced conversation about church history, biblical texts, theology and pastoral care. We must, frankly speaking, grow up and act like we are part of the church of Jesus Christ which stretches back through time and around the globe. We are not a human organization like the Kiwanis Club. We are the divinely commissioned church of Jesus Christ. We must have a rebirth of both catholicity and apostolicity. We must pray for a renewed encounter with our own vibrant tradition which continues to call us to be a people of “one Book” and to “spread scriptural holiness.”

Brothers and sisters, we need to recover a far more robust understanding of holy conferencing. The weak questions we have been grappling with has led to weak thinking, more divisiveness, and, at times, the shaming of those who adhere to the official position in the Book of Discipline. Weak questions have led to the incapacity to speak prophetically to a culture which is in such deep malaise. We have become like the doctor who thinks that he or she cannot properly treat any of their patients until they catch every disease that they have.

Mirslov Volf, the well-known theologian, statesman and author writes in his landmark book, Exclusion and Embrace, “Vilify all boundaries, pronounce every discrete identity oppressive, put the tag ‘exclusion’ on every stable difference – and you will have aimless drifting instead of clear-sighted agency, haphazard activity instead of moral engagement and accountability, and, in the long run, a torpor of death instead of a dance of freedom” (p. 64f). May the risen and exalted Christ wake us up from this protracted denominational slumber, for our only hope is in His divine action. This is not the time for either clinched fists or wringing hands. Rather, it is the time for open arms lifted up to the Lord of all who raised Jesus Christ from the dead. He can raise us up to new heights of proclamation, witness and hope. However, the only true “way forward” for our denomination, or any other in crisis, is to return to our biblical, historical and theological roots.

Comments

  • Roger P says:

    Dr. Tennent,

    This was an excellent article! This should be required reading for all UMC churches and Bishops. I found your statement here to be very relevant, “We must, frankly speaking, grow up and act like we are part of the church of Jesus Christ which stretches back through time and around the globe. We are not a human organization like the Kiwanis Club. We are the divinely commissioned church of Jesus Christ.”

    Praying that our sovereign God will step in and restore His Church.

    Thanks again for your wise insights,
    Roger

  • Author says:

    Ditto Roger! Excellent article and needs to be read aloud at this conference before anyone cast their vote.

  • David Wentz says:

    By far the best thing I’ve read on this topic in my 36 years as a UM pastor. I’ve thought long and hard about this issue, pastorally and theologically, but you raise a number of new areas that had not occurred to me. Thank you!

  • Alan Lee says:

    A very well thought out article about a subject that has already been decided. The conference will only rubber stamp it. The homosexual community has systematically infiltrated the conferences for the past 20 years. The Dark Web is filled with sites which instruct homosexuals on the methods to infiltrate and influence local and regional counsels. This conference will open the flood gates to the destruction of the UMC as we know it. None of the three options listed in this article can stop it…. total capitulation.

  • Rob Little says:

    Thank you for writing this informative and heartfelt essay. I am praying that all Methodist leaders will read the article before the conference meets later this month.

  • Laverne says:

    Thank you for this excellent article!!!! The best summary I’ve read on the issues tearing the UMC apart!! I pray our Bishops and delegates will read it. As Dr. Tennent sadly noted, it is the greatest tragedy that such a letter was never written or presented by any of our bishops.

  • An excellent essay! I hope the delegates to the special General Conference take the time to read it. Thank you Dr. Tennent.

  • Gary Bebop says:

    This article takes a courageous stand and sets forth incisive arguments in rebuttal and rebuke of the One Church Plan. We need this rallying cry. It needs to become a mandate. I hope Dr. Tennent will not let up in calling the church back from the edge of the abyss.

  • Tremendous and challenging words to our culture and sadly, to our church embedded in relativism. Thanks Dr. Tennent!

  • Laura says:

    Thank you, Dr. Tennent, for such a thorough examination of this issue. I decided I should also read the blogs posted on onechurchplan.org to expose myself to points of view different from my own. In “Scriptural Foundation for the One Church Plan,” Bishop Ken Carter proposes a “reconfiguration . . . in which love becomes the most determinative requirement.” (But the debate is not whether to love and include LGBTQ; it’s about how to best love and include, a distinction I think I got from an earlier Tennent blog.) Bishop Carter concludes, “I share this with you because I think one of our challenges is to provide a scriptural basis for the One Church Plan.” I was astounded to find outright confirmation that the plan came first; now let’s make Scripture support it. Per Dr. Tennent’s statement above, “There is the notable omission that there is no reference to the value of the final decision being biblical or that, in the end, Scripture has any role in deciding this crucial issue.”

  • Steve Soller says:

    Excellent! Do you know haw very, very seldom, in all of the discussion around the subject I have read, that an author references Matthew 19? It seems to be a third rail, perhaps because of previous arguments around divorce that have split the Communion. But it is a CRUCIAL point! Indeed, one that Adam Hamilton strenuously makes a point to avoid, while he sermonizes on “picking and choosing” among scriptures, and that he ONLY trusts Jesus (he must have a “red letter” bible to study then, as Jefferson had one that had eliminated all supernatural events, such as miracles)…and then fails to mention that Jesus himself defined Marriage in Matthew 19 and Mark 10! Thank you, Dr. Tennent!

  • Thank-you for the crisp and insightful view. It is helpful to be able to point others asking questions to resources that offer a strong foundation in accord with God’s enduring word and direction.

    May the Lord bless you as you have blessed us with this article.

  • Very excellent blog in support of the traditional plan! Issue #5 is particularly important in my opinion and has been relatively unmentioned in other discussions I have read.

  • Thankful for these insights! Thank you.

  • Chris says:

    Dr Tennent. I would like to thank you for taking a stand for the integrity of Scripture. While I am not a Methodist, I am an Ordained Minister with the Assemblies of God, and our roots are very much entrenched in classical Methodism. God Bless you

  • Janet Wehrle says:

    My heart resounds with what you have written. Being in the NJ Annual Conference, and even more so in north Jersey, I often feel so alone in my convictions. Your explanation of your points was so clear and so encouraging.

  • I am so glad that you see scriptural authority as the primary element of importance in this argument. I find that most (if not all) people I communicate with about this issue have no answer when I ask “On what authority do you support your belief?” I feel the world is waiting to see where we, as the Methodist Church” land on this issue. Will be hold the line and raise a banner of truth or crumble under the pressure of the culture. I fear that the vote will be deferred for fear they do not have the votes they need to support their cause. How might that be interpreted by a world looking for answers?

  • Reading this from within the British Methodist Church, I agree entirely with this article. The BMC seems to be on the brink of redefining marriage in 2020, so I wonder if there is scope for Methodists who hold to the traditional understanding of marriage and sexuality to join across jurisdictions? I don’t know what this might look like, but surely we could work it out?

  • I meant to add that Christopher West is worth checking out. He’s a Catholic who’s championed the ‘Theology of the Body’. This is his website:
    https://www.christopherwest.com/

  • God bless you, Dr. Tennent, for this thorough and compelling argument for the support of our Wesleyan heritage and doctrinal history! As a twice-grad of ATS with my MDiv. and Beeson DMin., my heart rejoices that you as our representative of the seminary continue to speak out against any plan that is not supportive of the conservative, traditional view of marriage, sexual identity, and ordination requirements. My heart aches for the UMC, and amidst anger and sometimes anxiety, is a deep mourning for those who have given their lives and livelihoods as called servants to this denomination over the decades. God bless you again. Richelle

    • I am of another mind and that is that we hurt so many when there is no need. The traditionalist approach is simply another way to say control and power. I strongly recommend the book, Changing Our Mind, by Dr. David Gushee. Since he authored the textbook on Christian ethics, Kingdom Ethics, perhaps that would widen a very narrow viewpoint. I am struggling to decide who is the one to translate scripture without any bias. It smacks of inerrancy.

  • Reca Seever says:

    I was very heartened to read your article. I fully believe in the Bible and what scripture says about the homosexual life style. I know Jesus said the church should never change to meet the world and I think that’s what is happening. Thank you for your scripture based insights into this issue.

  • Karen Bell says:

    Thanks Dr Tim. To bad you can’t be the voting one. I’m not sure how they think they can change the BIBLE. If God wanted an Earth of all men or all women he would have made it that way but he did not. He made man then woman and said go plenisy the earth. 2 men can not do that nor can 2 women. These bishops and elders took an oath to up hold the BIBLE not mans laws and one day they will be held accountable for their actions towards this. There cannot be enough prayers for this conference. I’m all for allowing homosexuals coming to church and my prayer would be that the message would penetrate their hearts and open their minds but I am not for nor will I set under a gay or lesbian so called pastor. If the conference allows this then I will take my stand and leave the Methodist faith and find a church that preaches and believes the Bible still stands as always. Thanks for your stand and knowledge of these plans and issues.

  • Dr. Tennet: You’re not quite right on the quadrilateral. If the primacy of scripture means that it simply trumps everything else, why even have a quadrilateral in the first place? No, the point of the quadrilateral is to say that scripture, tradition, reason, and experience are all in dialogue with one another so that you come away with a transformed interpretation of scripture. Secondly, in terms of your exegesis, questions remain from both sides. Both are lacking in my opinion, and it would be better to move forward with a little more humility, mercy and grace. Finally, if you want to continue down the path of oversimplifying things, then you could say that while conservatives generally agree that scripture is the final authority, progressives generally agree that Jesus is the final authority. This should be especially compelling given the fact that Jesus repeatedly reinterpreted scripture. Your argument is generally well thought out, but quite frankly still comes up way short.

  • Jory Fisher says:

    …and the greatest of these is love.

  • Keith Nester says:

    Jesus said he would build his church indeed….on the rock called Peter (Matthew 16:18-19). The Reformation was a indeed a schism. The Church needed (still needs) to be renewed, but when Luther jumped ship he did more than call people to holiness. He invented doctrine, gutted the Bible, and set the stage for all the chaos that the UMC is experiencing. Without the authority of the Church that Jesus founded, we are all left to our own interpretations of scripture, and thus here we are.

  • Ruth Ray says:

    I grew up in the Methodist Church. I left the Methodist Church in 1981. The pastor at the local Methodist Church got up on Christmas Sunday and said “what’s the big deal about the Virgin Birth.” It was a large church that had just spent big dollars on a new building. That was the beginning on an exodus of 30 families who left the Methodist Church and sought refuge in Bible teaching Evangelical churches.
    You are beating a dead horse that is leading people to hell. I’m so grateful God took my hand and lead me away from tradition. Sadly the Wesley Brothers would be broken hearted at the sham their dream has become.

  • This post makes me sad for our church. We will be on the wrong side of history if we take the traditionalists view. I pray that the voters will vote on the right side of history and choose to accept all and love all.

    • JAMES PALMER says:

      The worry of what society will think of you as they write a history book is indeed what is guiding many in their stances. Might I suggest worrying more about what happens in Eternity then what someone thinks of you here on earth.

      • I don’t want to be a part of a religion that uses it’s book as a weapon against people instead of using it as a guide on how to love people well. I will take whatever is coming to me in eternity and continue to be accepting of all people while here on earth.

        • David Fowler says:

          Jimmy,
          You are (no doubt) advocating for changing the Book of Discipline, that may happen. But if that effort succeeds the resulting Book of Discipline will then be used as a weapon against all of us ‘unaccepting’ conservatives. Actually you’re just advocating a future state of what you say you’re against now: People using a book against people.
          Truth is uou DO want to be part of a religion who used a book against people. You just want your people using it, against my people.
          Framed as they are, the Way Forward proposals strategically placed before GC2019, there will no doubt result in winners and losers, and you’ve stated what side you want to win.
          I don’t believe history is on your side, nor that those who hold a more normative view of scripture are on the wrong side of it.

          • Truth is I do not want to be a part of a religion that uses a book as a weapon. Yes, I want to change the book of discipline to a more loving book that accepts all people, just as I believe Jesus was accepting of all people. I believe we are charged as Christians to love people well no matter who they love. I know I am not going to change your stance on this just like you will not change mine. I believe with the Book of Discipline written as it is to exclude a group of people we are all losers. There is nothing normative about discriminating against homosexuals.