Why the pivot to #GC2019 Connectional Conferences Plan support?

Category: ALL, Technology

January Surprise!

It’s common wisdom that the two front-runners for the future acceptable form of The United Methodist Church (see 1000 word summary here) are the One Church Plan and the Traditionalist Plan, and a distant, distant second is the Connectional Conferences Plan (CCP).

But an odd thing happened in the past month in United Methodism. First, Bishop Scott Jones, a documented opponent of the One Church Plan, released a video calling the Connectional Conferences Plan the true “one church” plan and praised it.

Then, the moderators for the Commission on A Way Forward put out a press release reminding folks to pay attention to the CCP, stating:

“we encourage the church to wrestle seriously with the fact that God does make all things new and not set aside the Connectional Conference Plan as too complicated or too different. “

Finally, Bishop Gary Mueller (Arkansas AC) issued a white paper and a UMNews article on the CCP. And some bishops have been contacting delegates directly to encourage them to take a second look.

What gives? Why the interest now?

What is the Connectional Conferences Plan?

From our 2018 analysis, as currently written, the Connectional Conferences Plan (CCP) would do away with the five jurisdictions in the U.S. and replace them with three (non-geographical) connectional conferences, each with its own theological viewpoint and response to issues related to LGBTQ inclusion. You can imagine a progressive (full inclusion), traditionalist (continued full exclusion), and moderate (each church chooses their own way, basically a limited One Church plan) conferences, but there are probably other ways to do it.

These connectional conferences would continue to operate under the big umbrella of United Methodism, sharing common doctrinal standards, jointly supporting mission and ministries outside of the U.S., and utilizing a shared general church administrative infrastructure, although not all conferences would pay into them equally.

The process is complex: lots of constitutional amendments and legislation that would have to be done carefully. It is also the only plan forwarded by the Commission that didn’t receive Judicial Council review, because of those constitutional amendment requirements. And finally, its full implementation is 6-10 years, during which the UMC will look very different!

This was our conclusion:

The United Methodist Church has a long history of mergers, schisms, reunifications, and offshoots. Our current unique quality is being both progressive and conservative evangelical together, holding in tension our various streams of social action, holiness, pietism, and others. This plan is supported by most academic circles who see it as the best way to maintain our various streams.

But to HX, what the plan does is take The UMC back in time. Back to before the EUB merger in 1968. Back to the non-geographic conferences created in 1939. It removes our affinity and affiliations to name-only. I doubt it would increase our affections, only our animosity, as the sadly accurate joke goes.

Maybe that’s okay. Maybe we need some breathing space and to prioritize our rigid Traditions over Scripture’s call for mutual growth. But knowing the human tribalism and polarization culture that is at a peak right now, I don’t see an extended time-out helping us grow more together in love.

In conclusion, the Connectional Conferences Plan’s goal is not to create a reconciled church over the divisive debate over LGBTQ inclusion. Its goal is to preserve the institutional structures and cater our programs to our polarities. Maybe at the end of the day, that’s the best we can hope for.

I would go further now and say that, if adopted, the Connectional Conferences Plan is the first step towards an official church schism (split), which I know many American conservatives want, but many, many Central Conference (areas beyond the USA) regions absolutely don’t want.

Why the interest now?

I think there are a couple of factors that contribute to its interest now.

First, there’s the narrative that we are divided into One Church Plan and Traditionalist Plan camps, and there’s little middle ground between them. Shifting energy towards the CCP, which can be framed as a way for both camps to coexist, seems to be the driving reason to try to gauge the interest. I don’t think it is because either side is seeing erosion of their support–that would be a mistake to assume.

Second, there’s the erroneous belief that we will be forced to choose between different directions for United Methodism in a single vote, and thus drawing votes away from the frontrunners helps the other frontrunner. In this case, encouraging One Church Plan supporters to support the CCP is believed to draw those votes away from the One Church Plan, and thus benefit the Traditionalist Plan. I’ve debunked that here, but it probably continues as a tactic.

Third, I stand apart from some progressives who are saying “hey, this means they are abandoning the Traditionalist Plan!” No. Keep vigilant. As I wrote before about how manipulating the number plans affects our decision-making process, bringing the focus back to a different plan takes the heat off of the Traditionalist Plan. For progressives, our focus should be defeating the Traditionalist Plan as a violation of common dignity and our Wesleyan heritage, so resting from that opposition is a grievous error.

But there’s another more ominous problem with the CCP: is it being set up to be taken down?

Biggest problem: CCP is easiest to defeat

The Connectional Conferences Plan requires constitutional amendments to change how jurisdictions and annual conferences work. This is the second-highest threshold for a bill to become polity: 2/3 of the delegates and then 2/3 of the annual conference delegates ratify it before it becomes law. So the barrier to passage is much higher than the 50% + 1 threshold for many of the other plans.

There’s a political strategy to throwing support behind a plan that then fails…and then calling people to unite around your preferred plan. So putting false hopes into a basket that is easiest to defeat is a legislative strategy to support the Traditionalist Plan (we previously discussed this type of legislation shenanigan in this post).

But even if it passes General Conference, conservatives have killed this type of advancement before. General Conference has voted for a constitutional amendment, and then conservative annual conferences vote it down. It happened with the 2016 Amendment for women’s equality (the first time), and it happened in 2008 with the Constitutional Amendments to create a central conference in The United States. They passed General Conference, and then were defeated by conservative annual conferences.

So yes, there’s a political strategy here, at least on the part of conservative Traditionalists. Either at GC, or after, the CCP is easiest to defeat and thus continue the unjust status quo, or encourage folks to support the Traditionalist Plan. Take heed.

Your turn

Life together is hard, and the plans before us are creative, tired, or just plain mean. Delegates should enter General Conference with eyes wide open to the marketing, legislative, and emotional tactics to take our focus away from Christ and our call to be Christ’s church. May our days ahead be filled with prayer, discernment, and care for one another.

Thoughts?

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