After a week of meetings in Chicago, the Council of Bishops of the United Methodist Church have come to a conclusion: Come 2019 when the denomination meets for its General Conference, they will recommend the UMC adopt the One Church Plan. The One Church Plan will effectively give individual churches the right to decide whether they will perform same-sex marriages and ordain LGBT people as clergy.
The Council cited the diversity and global presence of the UMC as big factors in its decision. “The Council’s prayerful deliberation reflected the diversity of the global denomination on the matter of homosexuality and many other matters. The Council affirms the strength of this diversity and our commitment to maintain the unity of the church,” Council of Bishops President Ken Carter said in a press release.
The Council of Bishops reviewed three plans—The Traditionalist Plan, the One Church Plan and the Connectional Conference Plan—as it met this last week as part of the denomination’s ongoing effort to prevent a schism over the issue of homosexuality. A separate council, the 32-member Commission on a Way Forward, formulated the three plans after the 2016 General Conference determined a workable solution was needed to address the question of homosexuality in the UMC. The Commission was asked to “do a complete examination and possible revision of every paragraph of the Book of Discipline concerning human sexuality and explore options that help to maintain and strengthen the unity of the church.”
Details of the three plans presented to the Council of Bishops have not yet been released. The statement from the UMC indicated that an entire report of the three plans will be released no later than July 8, 2018. A Special Session of the General Conference is scheduled to meet February 23-26 in St. Louis, Missouri, where it is assumed the denomination will vote on whether to adopt the One Church Plan or not.
In the press release, The One Church Plan is described this way:
The One Church Plan allows for contextualization of language about human sexuality in support of the mission; and allows for central conferences, especially those in Africa, to retain their disciplinary authority to adapt the Book of Discipline and continue to include traditional language and values while fulfilling the vision of a global and multicultural church.
This plan also encourages a generous unity by giving United Methodists the ability to address different missional contexts in ways that reflect their theological convictions. The One Church Plan removes the restrictive language of the Book of Discipline and adds assurances to pastors and Conferences who due to their theological convictions cannot perform same-sex weddings or ordain self-avowed practicing homosexuals.
From this description, it appears The One Church Plan would call on conferences within the UMC to determine how to adapt the Book of Discipline to reflect its own theological views on sexuality.
The endorsement of the Council of Bishops for The One Church Plan does not mean it is set in stone. In February 2019, delegates to the General Conference will vote on the three plans and decide which to implement.