Constitutionality of Way Forward plans goes before UMC top court this month

By Jessica Brodie

This month, The United Methodist Church’s top court is expected to review the final report of the Commission on a Way Forward and rule on whether the proposed legislation for General Conference 2019, including petitions, is constitutional.

That court, the Judicial Council, will gather Oct. 23-26 in Zurich. The matter is on the court’s docket along with other items.

The Commission on a Way Forward was appointed by the UMC’s Council of Bishops to examine paragraphs in The Book of Discipline concerning human sexuality and help the full church explore ways to move beyond its impasse around ministry and human sexuality. The commission’s final report has now been released in English, French, Portuguese and Swahili, the four official languages of General Conference. The Council of Bishops has called a Special Session of General Conference Feb. 23-26, 2019 in St. Louis with the purpose limited to receiving and acting on that report.

Eight South Carolina clergy and eight South Carolina laity are among the 864 total who will serve as delegates to the 2019 Special Session. The 16 from South Carolina were elected in 2015 by Annual Conference (see box for names and emails).

This fall and winter, some districts and churches in South Carolina will be holding listening sessions to discuss the plans and other concerns.

The Greenville District will hold several listening sessions throughout the district. Dates and locations will be announced soon. For more information, contact Greenville District Lay Leader Michael Cheatham, who is a delegate to General Conference. His email is [email protected].

The Columbia District is planning to hold a pastors’ training Nov. 8, plus an informational meeting for laity in early January. More details will be announced soon.

If your district or church is holding a listening session, let the Advocate know by Oct. 10 at [email protected]. A list of sessions will run in the November Advocate.

What are the three plans?

The three plans developed by the Commission on a Way Forward are designed to lead the denomination forward in unity despite differences over views on human sexuality. Other petitions in harmony with the call beyond these three plans may also be submitted for consideration at GC2019. Varying groups and caucuses in the UMC have offered support for different plans.

The plans are:

  1. The One Church Plan: This is the plan recommended by the Council of Bishops; it allows for contextualization of language about 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. In recommending this plan, the COB said it gives United Methodists the ability to address different missional contexts in ways that reflect their theological convictions. It removes the restrictive language of the Discipline and adds assurances to pastors and conferences who, because of their theological convictions, cannot perform same-sex weddings or ordain self-avowed practicing homosexuals.
  2. The Traditionalist Plan: This affirms the current language in the Discipline, which states “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching” (Para. 304.3).
  3. The Connectional-Conference Plan: This creates three connectional conferences based on theology or perspective, each having clearly defined values (accountability, contextualization and justice). The three conferences would function throughout the worldwide church; the five existing United States jurisdictions would be abolished.

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