A Simple Plan

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The report of the Commission on a Way Forward that sets the stage for the work of the special session of General Conference has not been officially released, but its presence in Judicial Council documents provides details and confirms what we already knew. All of the Commission’s proposed church models include aspects that can be used to discriminate against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, and Asexual (LGBTQIA+) persons. Additionally, there are some in the United Methodist Church who would propose a “traditionalist” model that would seek to remove queer clergy, our queer lay siblings, and our supporters from the denomination. Before the details of the report became available, the deadline for alternate petitions to General Conference came and went. Based on the information available at the time of the deadline, the leadership of the United Methodist Queer Clergy Caucus (UMQCC) submitted a proposal that maintains solidarity with our queer siblings in more conservative conferences and seeks to end discrimination against LGBTQAI+ people in the UMC.

Our proposal requires neither constitutional amendments nor hundreds of pages of technical translations. The UMQCC proposes simply to remove the language from the Book of Discipline that excludes LGBTQIA+ people from full participation in the church.

The UMC can choose to remove the restrictive language from our Book of Discipline without forcing the hand of those who are still wrestling with the idea of the full inclusion of LGBTQAI+ persons in the church. Removing the Disciplinary language that prohibits LGBTQIA+ inclusion does not require any United Methodist clergy to perform a same-gender wedding. Individual congregations would be allowed to continue in their own discernment.

Let us be diligent and faithful in practicing the first of John Wesley’s General Rules—"Do no harm.” For us, this means simply asking the UMC to no longer endorse the discrimination LGBTQAI+ people have faced. We know that even if our proposal goes forward, the discrimination will continue, but this is a first step.

Perhaps most importantly, removing the discriminatory language in the Book of Discipline opens opportunities for new members, service, relationship, and congregations. Where we are now restricted, we will be freed to include previously excluded LGBTQIA+ persons.

The General Conference is a human body, fraught with the frailty and human limitation. Past experience has shown that the progress through this body is ponderous and magnifies our brokenness, even as it has the potential to do much good. And so we place our hope in Christ alone; in the Christ who calls each of us by name. We in the UMQCC will continue to be true to this calling, will continue to work for the full inclusion of every person in the UMC, and will continue to proclaim God’s love in the world.

Legislation for A Simple Plan 

A Simple Plan - Step #1

Amend ¶161.C as follows:

C) Marriage—We affirm the sanctity of the marriage covenant that is expressed in love, mutual support, personal commitment, and shared fidelity between a man and a woman. We believe that God’s blessing rests upon such marriage, whether or not there are children of the union. We reject social norms that assume different standards for women than for men in marriage. We support laws in civil society that define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

Rationale: In the Wesleyan tradition we aim to live by the admonition to do no harm. Revising sections of the Book of Discipline that prevent people from being full participants in the life of the United Methodist church alleviates some of the harm the United Methodist Church causes to LGBTQIA+ people.

 

A Simple Plan - Step #2

Amend ¶161.G as follows:

G) Human Sexuality—We affirm that sexuality is God’s good gift to all persons. We call everyone to responsible stewardship of this sacred gift.

Although all persons are sexual beings whether or not they are married, sexual relations are affirmed only with the covenant of monogamous, heterosexual marriage.

We deplore all forms of the commercialization, abuse, and exploitation of sex. We call for strict global enforcement of laws prohibiting the sexual exploitation of children and for adequate protection, guidance, and counseling for abused children. All persons, regardless of age, gender, marital status, or sexual orientation, are entitled to have their human and civil rights ensured and to be protected against violence. The Church should support the family in providing age-appropriate education regarding sexuality, to children, youth, and adults.

We affirm that all persons are individuals of sacred worth, created in the image of God. All persons need the ministry of the Church in their struggles for human fulfillment, as well as the spiritual and emotional care of a fellowship that enables reconciling relationships with God, with others, and with self. The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching. We affirm that God’s grace is available to all. We will seek to live together in Christian community, welcoming, forgiving, and loving one another, as Christ has loved and accepted us. We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends. We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons.

Rationale: In the Wesleyan tradition we aim to live by the admonition to do no harm. Revising sections of the Book of Discipline that prevent people from being full participants in the life of the United Methodist church alleviates some of the harm the United Methodist Church causes to LGBTQIA+ people.

 

A Simple Plan - Step #3

Amend ¶304.3 as follows:

304.3. [Reserved] While persons set apart by the Church for ordained ministry are subject to all the frailties of the human condition and the pressures of society, they are required to maintain the highest standards of holy living in the world. The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church.

Rationale: In the Wesleyan tradition we aim to live by the admonition to do no harm. Revising sections of the Book of Discipline that prevent people from being full participants in the life of the United Methodist church alleviates some of the harm the United Methodist Church causes to LGBTQIA+ people.

 

A Simple Plan - Step #4

Amend footnote 3 of ¶310.2(d) as follows:

In adopting the statements in ¶¶ 304.2 and 310.2d on the moral and social responsibility of ordained ministers, the General Conference seeks to elevate the standards by calling for a more thoroughgoing moral commitment by the candidate and for a more careful and thorough examination of candidates by district committees and boards of the ministry. The legislation in no way implies that the use of tobacco is a morally indifferent question. In the light of the developing evidence against the use of tobacco, the burden of proof would be upon all users to show that their use of it is consistent with the highest ideals of the Christian life. Similarly, regarding beverage alcohol, the burden of proof would be upon users to show that their action is consistent with the ideals of excellence of mind, purity of body, and responsible social behavior.

Therefore, the changes here do not relax the traditional view concerning the use of tobacco and beverage alcohol by ordained ministers in The United Methodist Church. Rather they call for higher standards of self-discipline and habit formation in all personal and social relationships. They call for dimensions of moral commitment that go far beyond any specific practices which might be listed. (See Judicial Council Decision 318.)

The General Conference, in response to expressions throughout the Church regarding homosexuality and ordination, reaffirms the present language of the Disciplineregarding the character and commitment of persons seeking ordination and affirms its high standards.

For more than 200 years candidates for ordination have been asked Wesley’s Questions, including “ . . . Have they a clear, sound understanding; a right judgment in the things of God; a just conception of salvation by faith? . . .” (¶ 310). All candidates agree to make a complete dedication of themselves to the highest ideals of the Christian life and to this end agree “to exercise responsible self-control, by personal habits conducive to bodily health, mental and emotional maturity, integrity in all personal relationships, fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness, social responsibility, and growth in grace and the knowledge and love of God” (¶ 304.2).

The character and commitment of candidates for the ordained ministry is described or examined in six places in the Book of Discipline (¶¶ 304, 310.2, 324, 330,

333, and 335). These say in part: “Only those shall be elected to full membership who are of unquestionable moral character and genuine piety, sound in the fundamental doctrines of Christianity, and faithful in the discharge of their duties” (¶ 333).

The statement on ordination (¶ 304.2) states: “The Church expects those who seek ordination to make a complete dedication of themselves to the highest ideals of the Christian life . . . [and to] agree to exercise responsible self-control by personal habits. . . .”

There are eight crucial steps in the examination of candidates. They are:
(1) The self-examination of the individual seeking ordination as he or sheresponds to God’s call in personal commitment to Christ and his church.
(2) The decision of the committee on pastor-parish relations, which makes thefirst recommendation to the charge conference when a member seeks to become acandidate for ordained ministry.
(3) The decision of the charge conference, which must recommend the candidate.
(4) The decision of the district committee on ordained ministry, which mustrecommend the candidate to the conference Board of Ordained Ministry and,where applicable, the decision of the district conference.
(5) The decision of the Board of Ordained Ministry, which must recommenddeacon’s ordination and provisional membership. See Judicial Council Decisions513, 536, 542.
(6) The decision of the clergy members of the annual conference, who mustelect candidates to provisional membership.
(7) The recommendation of the Board of Ordained Ministry for deacon’s orelder ’s ordination and full membership.(8) The election to deacon’s or elder ’s ordination and full membership by theclergy members of the annual conference.

All clergy members of the annual conference are accountable as to characterand effectiveness to the annual conference throughout their entire ministry.

The General Conference has made it clear in the “Doctrinal Standards andOur Theological Task” (Part III of the Discipline) that Scripture, tradition, experience, and reason are our guidelines. “United Methodists share with other Christians the conviction that Scripture is the primary source and criterion for Christiandoctrine.”

 

In the Social Principles, the General Conference has said that we “do not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice incompatible with Christian teaching.” Furthermore, the Principles state that “we affirm the sanctity of the marriage covenant that is expressed in love, mutual support, personal commitment, and shared fidelity between a man and a woman. We believe that God’sblessing rests upon such marriage, whether or not there are children of the union. We reject social norms that assume different standards for women than for men in marriage.” Also, “we affirm the integrity of single persons, and we reject all social practices that discriminate or social attitudes that are prejudicial against persons because they are single.”

The General Conference affirms the wisdom of our heritage expressed in the disciplinary provisions relating to the character and commitment of ordained ministers. The United Methodist Church has moved away from prohibitions of specific acts, for such prohibitions can be endless. We affirm our trust in the covenant community and the process by which we ordain ministers.

In our covenant we are called to trust one another as we recommend, examine, and elect candidates for the ordained ministry and conference membership. See Judicial Council Decision 480.

Rationale: In the Wesleyan tradition we aim to live by the admonition to do no harm. Revising sections of the Book of Discipline that prevent people from being full participants in the life of the United Methodist church alleviates some of the harm the United Methodist Church causes to LGBTQIA+ people.

 

A Simple Plan - Step #5

Amend ¶341.6 as follows:

341.6. [Reserved]Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches.

Rationale: In the Wesleyan tradition we aim to live by the admonition to do no harm. Revising sections of the Book of Discipline that prevent people from being full participants in the life of the United Methodist church alleviates some of the harm the United Methodist Church causes to LGBTQIA+ people.

 

A Simple Plan - Step #6

Amend ¶613.19 as follows:

613.19.To ensure that no annual conference board, agency, committee, commission, or council shall give United Methodist funds to any gay caucus or group, or otherwise use such funds to promote the acceptance of homosexuality or violate the expressed commitment of The UMC “not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends” (¶ 161G). The council shall have the right to stop such expenditures. This restriction shall not limit the Church’s ministry in response to the HIV epidemic, nor shall it preclude funding for dialogs or educational events where the Church’s official position is fairly and equally represented.

Rationale: In the Wesleyan tradition we aim to live by the admonition to do no harm. Revising sections of the Book of Discipline that prevent people from being full participants in the life of the United Methodist church alleviates some of the harm the United Methodist Church causes to LGBTQIA+ people.

 

A Simple Plan - Step #7

Amend ¶806.9 as follows:

9. It shall be responsible for ensuring that no board, agency, committee, commission, or council shall give United Methodist funds to any gay caucus or group, or otherwise use such funds to promote the acceptance of homosexuality or violate the expressed commitment of The United Methodist Church “not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends” (¶ 161G). The council shall have the right to stop such expenditures. It shall not limit the Church’s ministry in response to the HIV epidemic.

Rationale: In the Wesleyan tradition we aim to live by the admonition to do no harm. Revising sections of the Book of Discipline that prevent people from being full participants in the life of the United Methodist church alleviates some of the harm the United Methodist Church causes to LGBTQIA+ people.

A Simple Plan - Step #8

Amend ¶2702.1 as follows:

Rationale: In the Wesleyan tradition we aim to live by the admonition to do no harm. Revising sections of the Book of Discipline that prevent people from being full participants in the life of the United Methodist church alleviates some of the harm the United Methodist Church causes to LGBTQIA+ people.

  1. A bishop, clergy member of an annual conference (¶ 370), local pastor,clergy on honorable or administrative location, or diaconal minister may be tried when charged (subject to the statute of limitations in ¶ 2702.4)with one or more of the following offenses: (a) immorality including but not limited to, not being celibate in singleness or not faithful in a heterosexual marriage; (b) practices declared by The United Methodist Church to be incompatible with Christian teachings, including but not limited to: being a self-avowed practicing homosexual; or conducting ceremonies which celebrate homosexual unions; or performing same-sex wedding ceremonies;(ca)crime; (db) disobedience to the order and discipline of The United Methodist Church; (ec) dissemination of doctrines contrary to the established standards of doctrine of The United Methodist Church; (fd) relationships and/or behavior that undermines the ministry of another pastor;(ge) child abuse;(hf) sexual abuse;(ig) sexual misconduct including the use or possession of pornography, (jh) harassment, including, but not limited to racial and/or sexual harassment; (ik) racial, or gender discrimination; or (lj) fiscal malfeasance.