1. "Neither plan is a compromise"
The "no compromise" approach from the progressives would be to propose adding human sexuality to the list of protected statuses in the Book of Discipline (BOD). That would ensure that no annual conference could choose to deny ordination and no pastor could deny marriage based solely on sexual orientation. It would be a reversal of the current position we hold. That is not what is being proposed. Renfroe says it is no compromise becks it would give progressives the "ability to ratify their position wherever they have sufficient votes. Yes, but it would also give precisely that same authority to traditionalists who have sufficient votes. And if a progressive or traditionalist couldn't serve in good conscious in the conference where he or she is a member then transferring to another conference would be a reasonable alternative. Having that alternative makes it more unreasonable that a pastor could perform a same-gender wedding and not be charged. Standards could actually be better enforced. Every pastor could have part of what they want but not all of what they want. That's pretty much the definition of a compromise.
Renfroe further says that all this assures for traditionalists is that they'll have to keep fighting the same fights (my paraphrase). I'm wondering which plan has been proposed that would ensure that our debate is over. I haven't seen that plan yet.
2. "Both plans would make many pastoral appointments difficult if not impossible."
I have not spoken with the bishops that Rev. Renfroe has. They have a remarkable insight to be able to make a statement like only three churches in an episcopal area would accept a pastor who would perform a same sex marriage. Perhaps I have more esteem for my clergy colleagues than Rev. Renfroe. The old maxim "you stop being prophetic when the people stop listening" should surely help a number of pastors opt not to perform same-gender marriages. Given that, the statistic that only somewhere around 3% of the population is gay, and the reality that same-gender marriage is already a reality for those who most desire it, it seems unlikely that there will be a huge rash of pastors performing same-gender weddings if our denomination allows them to be done.
3. "Both plans would bring the heightened tension of General Conference into our annual conferences and into our local churches."
I was at General Conference 8 and 20 years ago, but not 4 years ago. My experience was like Rev. Renfroe's - divisive is a good word. Have church trials reduced that tension in annual conferences? Have bishops' pronouncements? Are our annual conferences immune right now to this debate? And now that the Supreme Court has ruled and public opinion has swayed do we really believe the debate will stay out of the local church? There is, I think, some truth to this charge on the Hamilton/Slaughter plan. I think that plan has some other technical issues that will prevent it from being approved. But the Connectional Table plan would result only in "lobbying" of pastors, not church members. Again, I trust that my clergy colleagues have the integrity to make the correct pastoral and theological stand regardless of the lobbying of members.
4. "Both plans will cause many of our traditional members to leave our congregations and the UM Church.
Let me grab a couple specific quotes:
"Many pastors will feel forced to leave the denomination and will do all they can to take their congregations with them." I encourage Rev. Renfroe to use his position and persuasion to urge schismatic pastors to allow the congregations they serve to make their own decisions.
Citing the huge sums of money lost by Episcopal Church lawsuits, both plans "will guarantee that the same costly litigation will take place among United Methodists." We're not Calvinists. That future hasn't been determined yet. I believe that the numbers that would leave are exaggerated. Regardless, I would hope that we could find a way for those who cannot live within this voluntary organization to leave. Lawsuits are unnecessary.
5. "Even if traditionalists accepted either plan, it would not end the battles regarding marriage and sexuality."
This is likely true - and pretty strong evidence that even Rev. Renfroe recognizes deep inside that the proposals actually are compromises. If they were not compromises then there would be nothing left for the progressives to battle over. And if Rev. Renfroe is right on point 4 then there wouldn't be enough traditionalists left to battle. These are self-contradicting points. You have to pick which one to argue. Because this is a kind of compromise proposal, I suggest that point 5 is true. The debate will not be over because the large majority of our membership will remain intact when they realize that they are in conferences that will not agree to having pastors who are gay and their pastors choose not to perform same-gender weddings.
6. "Our African brothers and sisters would be disenfranchised."
This statement is embarrassing. 1) African UMs have 30% of the vote at General Conference. How can a group with 1/3 of the vote be disenfranchised? 2) Central Conferences have the ability to choose portions of the BOD to modify but the US conferences and jurisdictions do not have that same power. So, in fact, a unanimous Africa and a minority of U.S. delegates could bind the entire United States to a decision that African churches could then ignore. (A unanimous Africa would need at most 40% of US delegates to have a voting majority). It is Africa who could actually disenfranchise the US, not the other way around.
7. "Both plans require a change in our UM polity."
No. Our polity is clear that pastors have sole authority in who to marry - unless they are asked to marry two people of the same gender. Our polity is clear that Boards of Ordained Ministry and the clergy session of annual conference have the authority to determine who is qualified and called to ordained ministry - unless they are gay. Our current statements on sexuality are an anomaly to our otherwise consistent polity. The political conservative in me knows that centralizing authority tends to cause problems. We have centralized a decision that should be left to the annual conferences and local pastors as our polity dictates in virtually every other case.
8. Both plans give homosexuality a preferred status in comparison to other issues that divide us."
It is interesting, once again, that Rev. Renfroe has move away from his stance that this is not a compromise position. "Agree to disagree" language would precisely be a compromise. And, as such point 8 is valid in the case of a substantial change to paragraph 161F in the BOD. It is not true in matters of marriage and ordination. He compares the acceptance of homosexuality to ordination of women and infant baptism. What Rev. Renfroe has missed is yet another critical distinction. Both women in ministry and infant baptism are part of our doctrinal standards. There is absolutely nothing - and I mean nothing - in our doctrinal standards that directly speaks to our stance on homosexuality. Zero.
This is why the CT proposal, or the Hamilton/Slaughter proposal, or my own proposal are all better ways forward than the status quo. All three plans
1) Return the authority to the annual conference and local pastor that our polity intends
2) Allows standards to be better enforced, not less enforced, by helping pastors move to regions that are a better fit.
3) Allows African and other central conferences to self-determine as they currently do AND allowing U.S. conferences that same ability.
4) Returns human sexuality to its proper place in our conversations - an important conversation, but NOT a doctrinal conversation.
And this is perhaps the one place that Rev. Renfroe and I agree - but it is an important one. We would both like to serve God in the church "to transform broken lives, heal wounded souls and save those who are drowning in a sea of confusion and sin." We have more than 40 years of experience that the approach we are taking is not working. I hope we are willing to try something new in 2016.