Tuesday, August 21, 2018

The Best Reasons to Oppose the One Church Plan Aren't Good Enough

My support for the One Church Plan (OCP) is unequivocal. This has disappointed some of my friends on both the theological left and right. There are good reasons for this. For me, they just aren't good enough reasons. 

In this post I share what, for me, are the single best arguments against it from the left and right. This is subjective, of course. For example, I'm persuaded that one can make a scriptural argument for either position. I've made those arguments and held both positions at different times in my life. So I'm not arguing scripture in this post. To me the best arguments against the OCP relate to inclusion and tradition.

The Argument from the Left

As soon as I voiced support for the OCP some of my friends called me a traitor. For many years I fell into the camp of a traditional compatibilist. Now I suppose I'm a progressive compatibilist. I fully understand, though, those who see the OCP as a compromise on a basic God-given right. The argument is that we would not be "compatibilists" on racism or sexism so why would we be compatibilists on heterosexism? It's a good argument. I hope that we can all reject racism and sexism today.

The answer, for me, is that progress is important. Let me use a different analogy. I'm opposed to the death penalty, which is legal in Kansas where I live. If I was a legislator and had the opportunity to vote to abolish the death penalty I would. But what if that wasn't a politically viable option? What if a bill came up that did not abolish the death penalty but did eliminate it as an option for 60% of the crimes that it is currently an option for? I would vote for that bill, too. 60% is not enough, but it is better than the status quo. In the same way, the OCP is not enough. My hope is that the day will come when we are as clear on this as we are on racism and sexism (which, note, doesn't mean neither racism nor sexism have been eliminated.) That's not where we are right now. I will take the possibility of significant progress over the status quo any day.

The Argument from the Right

So I'm not a "traditionalist" when  it comes to LGBTQ inclusion. I am pretty traditional, or even conservative, in a number of other areas. I value history and believe it can be a guide for our future. For me, the best argument to maintain our current position as a denomination is the clear Christian witness for the last 2,000 years. As best as I can tell ordaining and marrying "self avowed practicing homosexuals" is a departure from the large majority of Christianity over the entire course of Christian history. We should take that very seriously. In fact, if it wasn't for the clear harm that we are doing to LGBTQ people this might be a strong enough argument to persuade me to stay with the status quo even though I personally disagree with it. But the weakness of the argument actually comes from its own strength.

I have argued elsewhere and continue to maintain that if the United Methodist Church splits into progressive and traditional denominations it will not be long before the traditional group has to deal with the question of women's ordination. To be clear, I believe the leadership of conservative caucuses who say that they don't intend for this to be questioned. But I also believe the individuals who have told me that they already do question it, including high-ranking conference officials who have shared that many churches refuse to accept women as pastors. But the best argument to end women's ordination is the exact same argument used to reject LGBTQ ordination. 

The largest branch of Christianity in the world is the Catholic Church. A full 50% of Christians are Catholic. The Catholic church does not allow women to be priests.

Roughly 12% of Christians are some form of Eastern Orthodox. Again, by and large women are not ordained.

That leaves about 37% of Christianity as Protestant, the only grouping that allows women's ordination. Except in the United States the largest Protestant body is the Southern Baptist Convention - which does not ordain women. In fact, the United Methodist Church is the largest denomination that does ordain women. It is also the only mainline denomination that ordains women and does not ordain people who are LGBTQ. In fact, by my count only about 11% of people in the U.S. are members of a denomination that allows for women's ordination. 

When you account for today's statistics along with the whole scope of Christian history, the hard reality for traditionalists is that women's ordination is only slightly more popular than LGBTQ ordination. If we want to be in harmony with Christian tradition and with our sister denominations around the world then we have already moved too far beyond the norm.

Helenor Davison was ordained in the Methodist Protestant Church, one of our ancestor denominations, in 1866. She was the fourth woman ordained in a denomination in the United States (the second was a woman in the Wesleyan Church, which also has Methodist ties). I'm glad that we chose to buck such a solid Christian norm so that Rev. Davison's calling and the calling of so many of her descendants-in-faith including many of my colleagues could be fulfilled.We are richer because of it. So it is for my colleagues and could-be colleagues who happen to be gay.

Bottom Line

There are certainly other arguments as well as these two. It is clear to me that the OCP is not an unambiguous final answer to a deep question. It is a compromise. Compromises by their very nature leave people on both sides unsettled. But I've found that much of life, including my faith life, is often unsettled. We often must wrestle with the next right decision. God journeys with us but does not always make all the answers clear. I believe the OCP is the best way for us to continue journeying together for this season.


  1. Odd that you see the Traditional Plan as giving the opportunity for requesting not to receive women pastors. The Traditional Plan is the only one which explicitly does not allow for this type of request. In the terms of our current Discipline, this is settled. However, the OCP introduces again the possibility of churches stating a preference of pastors who are approved in the denomination (at least parts of the denomination). Seems like you are trying to link the prohibition against same sex pastors with the now existing guarantee for ordaining women being appointed. Now which plan is open the proverbial door? I believe the OCP opens up a lot of room for appointment trouble which the current Discipline handles, (Yes I know this is not a plug for the LGBTQ folks, but a plug against everybody doing what they want to do.)

    1. Hi,

      I don't see the TP giving that permission. I see a conservative denomination as almost inevitably reopening that question. In other words, I'm not thinking about 2019. I'm thinking about 2024 or 2028.

  2. I'm struggling to reconcile your comment that 11% of people are members of denominations that allow woman ordination. Are you implying the UMC is too progressive in comparison to other churches and that women should be grateful to be where we are? I do not feel we should hold back and wait for the others to catch up. Please clarify your position. Thank you