The “Progressives” Are Desperate, the “Conservatives” Are Weary, but God Is Still Holy

Friday, October 2nd, 2015

The United Methodist Church is in the full throes of a crisis, with deep divisions over our response to homosexual practice and the ordination of self-avowed homosexuals.  The latest attempt to resolve this crisis is a plan known as “a local option proposal compromise.”  This plan has emerged through the good faith efforts of a group of conservatives, progressives and moderates who have worked hard to find common ground.  The long awaited plan was finally released.  The basic thrust of the plan is as follows:

1) We all agree to change the Discipline to say that “sincere Christians disagree” on the issue of homosexuality and we remove the language which says that homosexual practice is incompatible with Christian teaching.
Congregations spend a year in prayer and discernment as to whether they will allow same sex weddings on their property or receive a practicing gay or lesbian person as their pastor.  A 2/3 vote would allow it.
2) Pastors, even when churches oppose, may conduct same sex weddings off site.
3) Congregations who cannot accept the new Discipline or the new practices in the church may, after a year of prayer and discernment, leave the church with a 2/3 vote.
4) If a church leaves, they must repay any loans to the conference and also pay two years of apportionments in full.
5) If the payment is made, the church retains their buildings and other assets.

In my view, this plan should be rejected.  Despite the cultural wave flowing against the church, the “progressives” have already been looking at the make-up of delegates who will be attending General Conference in 2016.  They do not have the votes to change the Discipline. The African delegates will be 3% higher than in 2012, and the U.S. delegation – as a whole – is actually more conservative than in 2012.  We must understand that the progressives agreed to this plan because they are desperate.  They also know that we are weary of fighting.  Of course, there will be more public shaming of the conservatives than ever before, and the demonstrations in Portland will be the stuff of daily news.  Welcome to life on the margins of a post-Christendom society.  But, we cannot forget that the Discipline will not be changed unless we can be enticed to cast our votes for that change.  This latest proposal is an attempt to find “a way forward” to get the conservatives to raise their hand and vote for a change in the Discipline.  This plan calls for an agreement by conservative delegates to permit homosexual practice and ordination in the church and then wait for a year before we can leave.  We then make a payment at the exit door (two years of apportionments) and receive our buildings as a consolation prize.

Brothers and sisters, it is never right to do wrong.  How can we vote to change the Discipline after forty years of faithfulness on this issue?  The UMC has voted eleven times on this issue, and all eleven times, the progressives have been defeated.  They now propose a Faustian deal whereby we surrender our conscience and raise our hands to give them the votes they cannot produce on their own.  They get the UMC, they get a progressive Discipline, they get our absence as we will no longer be around to impede their further dismantling of historic Christian faith, and, don’t forget that we will also be publicly betraying much of the African delegation.  What do the conservatives get for all this?  We get our buildings.  Really?

We should remember a lesson from the last General Conference in Tampa.  The few hopeful votes which took place were later vacated by the Judicial Council.   How will it feel after we have agreed to change the Discipline and permit homosexual practice in the church, yet during the “year of discernment” the Judicial council determines that the Trust Clause (par. 2501) makes it unconstitutional for the UMC to allow exiting churches to retain their buildings?

There is also a powerful pragmatism which is at play when we say, “OK, we have to vote for something unconscionable, but, in the end, we get to keep our land and buildings and we can keep on ministering to our people.”   But, again, it is never right to do wrong.  What good will the buildings be to us if we only receive them through these means?   Let’s be inspired by those faithful Episcopalians and Presbyterians who have already walked this painful road.  I personally know of many congregations who walked out of multi-million dollar facilities and found themselves in a school cafeteria.  Now, ten years later, they have rebuilt new buildings and, in the process, have re-discovered the true meaning of the body of Christ.

We must not allow this compromise plan to loosen our resolve or divide us.  We must keep voting with our biblical, historic convictions as we have been.  If the UMC decides to keep allowing covenant breaking, then we have the wonderful New Room Covenant which will allow us to stay in the church, keep all of our assets and preach the gospel, disciple new believers, etc.  Why should we be the ones who leave the church?  As long as our official Discipline reflects historic Christian teaching (as it currently does) then we are on the right side of the line, and all the squawking and disobedience by the progressives over the next four years can just be background noise as we move on in the work of the gospel.