Sunday, July 29, 2018

What's Wrong with the "Traditionalist Plan" - a partial list

I believe in keeping an open mind going into any deliberation and vote. I also believe there are so many problems with the "Traditionalist" plan authored by some of our United Methodist Bishops that I can't conceive of how I could ever come around to voting for this set of petitions. Why? Let me count just some of the reasons:

1. This plan is supposed to bring accountability - but it is the only legislation, perhaps in the history of the UMC, whose authors themselves are unaccountable. Officially the petitions were submitted by Tom Lambrecht, but Lambrecht didn't write them - "a few members of the Council of Bishops" did. Those bishops have not shared who they are, so the authors of petitions calling for accountability have no accountability themselves.

2. It twists the definition of "self-avowed practicing". One of these days I'll blog about why this is an almost nonsensical phrase to begin with. Today is not that day. Today, I'll just remind you that the long-standing United Methodist definition involves genital contact. Following up on a poor Judicial Council ruling, the first petition of the "traditionalist" plan codifies that practicing now also means "living in a same-sex marriage, domestic partnership, or civil union ...". OK, you can define it that way if you want to but then you can't pretend the issue is gay sex. There is such a thing as a sexless marriage. The group most likely to be in one? Lesbians. One might think that an evangelical would celebrate two women who are committed to each other as chaste life partners. This petition criminalizes them.

3. It turns our bishops against each other. Granted, this has already happened when a small group of bishops write legislation directly opposed to a reportedly 60-40 vote within the council (Officially, we've been told the vote was more than 50% and less that 66%. Unofficially the 60% figure has been reported). The second petition in the "traditionalist" bundle actually calls on the bishops to vote each other off the island (puts them on involuntary retirement) on the recommendation of the "council relations committee".

4. Speaking of, this plan is so much of an inquisition that it forms a new committee for the sole purpose of kicking out bishops. It's the aforementioned council relations committee. The committee is formed in the fourth petition. The third petition specifies that those bishops kicked out and into retirement will receive no benefits after six months. Oh - unless I'm missing something this no benefits situation applies to retired bishops, also. They too can be kicked out by the inquisition committee.

5. I call it an inquisition committee because that's what it is. "The Council of Bishops shall refer to the Council Relations Committee any bishop who is unwilling to certify that he or she is willing to uphold, enforce and maintain The Book of Discipline relative to self-avowed practicing homosexuals." Every bishop has to sign this document. If you don't, you're kicked out.

6. Please note, and this is probably the most important item in this whole list, this inquisition committee and the question it is charged with is proof that this whole debate is about sex, not doctrine. Proponents of the traditional interpretation of Scripture have repeatedly asserted that the real issue is not sex. The real issues is doctrinal. It's really about the authority of Scripture. I believe that many are sincere in this understanding. But note that there is not one word about doctrine or the authority of Scripture in this entire plan. Zero.

In 2003 Bishop Joseph Sprague was brought up on charges of violating our doctrine. You can read about it here. Lambrecht himself was one of the people who brought charges. Personally, I'm not a fan of many of Sprague's beliefs. But there is nothing in the "traditionalist" plan that would prevent somebody with nontraditional beliefs like Sprague from being consecrated as a bishop. The charges against him didn't involve the issues of the day. If Sprague or someone like him agreed not to perform same-sex marriages he could continue as a bishop. If this is really about doctrine why is there no doctrinal language? This is one reason I put "traditionalist" in quotes. I'm pretty traditional. This plan isn't.

7. Or maybe it's not about sex. Maybe it's about just being gay. Because petition 5 references only  "self-avowed homosexuals." It is possible that this was a mistake. But if it was a mistake then it was a consistent mistake - all three references in the petition are to "self-avowed homosexuals". Combined, these three mentions mean that "practicing" or not, no gay person can be ordained deacon or elder, commissioned on the deacon or elder track, or consecrated as a bishop. Let me say that again - even a committed celibate Lesbian, gay, or bisexual person is prohibited from commissioning, ordination, or consecration as a bishop.

There are 17 petitions all together. That's the first five. There are many more problems that I'll share over the next several days. Note that none of the reasons I've given even have anything to do with whether it is appropriate for an LGBT person to be married or ordained. These are reasons that every United Methodist regardless of their views on human sexuality should be concerned about the "traditionalist" plan.

I'm a clear supporter of the One Church Plan instead. Is it perfect? Absolutely  not. But we left Portland in 2016 unanimous that we can't continue with the status quo. The plausible alternatives before us are the flawed One Church Plan and the fatally flawed Traditionalist Plan. This plan is so problematic that we can't possibly approve it.


  1. I didn't realise that the bishops were charged with developing a plan.
    Also, I'm not hearing any love in your explanation. The Way Forward is all about empathy and understanding.

    1. Hi Arthur,

      The bishops were not charged with writing a plan. A small group of bishops believed that a "traditionalist" plan needed to be in front of us so they put one together.

      I love people; I don't necessarily love products. I believe that the authors of this plan wrote it with the best of intentions. I also believe that they made some significant mistakes in writing it, some of which were unavoidable.