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General Conference approves Traditional Plan

Posted: February 26 2019 at 09:54 PM

General Conference maintains language on the ordination of LGBTQI persons,
same-gender marriages in The United Methodist Church

Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey observes the results from a Feb. 26 vote for the Traditional Plan, which affirms the church’s current bans on ordaining LGBTQ clergy and officiating at or hosting a same-sex marriage. The vote came on the last day of the 2019 General Conference in St. Louis. Photo by Paul Jeffrey, UMNS.

ST. LOUIS – After four days of prayers, debates, and voting, delegates at the Special Session to General Conference, the United Methodist Church's top lawmaking assembly, approved the Traditional Plan that affirms church policies on homosexuality and strengthens enforcement. The vote was 438 to 384.

The Council of Bishops' recommended One Church Plan, which would have left questions of marriage up to individual churches and clergy, and ordination up to conferences failed in the Legislative Committee on Feb. 25.  The vote was 53 to almost 47 percent.

More than 820 clergy and lay delegates from all over the world met from Feb. 24-26 in St. Louis to discuss and act on the report of the Commission on a Way Forward, over the issue of human sexuality.  

Late in the afternoon on Feb. 26, the delegates approved a motion to ask the Judicial Council, the highest court in the denomination, to review the constitutionality of the approved legislation.

The Judicial Council will address the request at its next scheduled meeting April 23-25 in Evanston, Ill.

Near the end of the day, delegates voted to adopt the minority report for one of the petitions on disaffiliation, which then passed. 
 
When the Traditional Plan vote was announced and flashed on the screen, some in the room erupted with observers singing “Blessed Assurance.” A group of delegates gathered in a circle and joined in with the singing. 

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LGBTQ supporters rally and sing in the entry of the Dome at America's Center in St. Louis Tuesday evening after the vote by the General Conference to approve the amended Traditional Plan.

LGTBQ supporters in the bleachers went into a call and response, some chanting, "no, no, no",  in protest of the vote.
 
A handful of observers unhappy with the day's legislative results tried to gain entrance to the plenary floor, but security officers blocked them and eventually moved them through turnstiles farther away from the doors. The protesters continued to chant their demand to be admitted.

"I'm going back and forth between being heartbroken and crying to total disbelief," said NIC Delegation Chair Elisa Gatz. "It seems so surreal. It seems like we were there talking about something completely different. That wasn’t what we were called to do and that isn’t how you treat people."

NIC Clergy delegate Rev. Gregory Gross, who is an openly gay deacon, expressed pain and grief over the General Conference's decision. "What's going through my mind is that people made it very clear they don’t want me in their church," said Gross who added it may be time to talk about a new expression of Methodism.  "What happened this week is not the grace of the United Methodist Church and it's not the grace that John Wesley taught us. We need to find a place where we can really live that out." Watch here for more reaction from some of the NIC delegates.

Aurora District Superintendent Rev. Jeffry Bross and his 81-year-old father Rev. Bill Bross, a retired United Methodist clergy from the Wisconsin Conference, were among the 3,000 observers at this historic Special Session. The father-son pair offered prayers to all those who may be hurting from the decisions made.  "To the  LGBTQI community,  know that your sacred worth is not affected by the votes of people, hear that strongly," said Bross. "God’s love is bigger than this General Conference."

The Rev. Billy Bross, who first preached from the pulpit at age 18, expressed his disappointment in the decisions of this General Conference. "It feels like we are going backward rather than forward and I always want the church to go forward," said Bross who added he also remains hopeful. "We will always be people of God and we will find a way to make it work. We may not make it together with all the people we’ve been marching with together, but somehow or another, there will be a continuation of who we are and what we stand for." Watch here video reflections from the Brosses.

At the end of a brief closing worship, Council of Bishops President Kenneth H. Carter wished everyone in attendance “the peace of the Lord in the midst of all you have experienced.” 

Bishop Carter later said that bishops will have to do a lot of outreach after this General Conference, especially to progressives who feel hurt by what transpired.

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Bishop Dyck speaks to NIC delegates, clergy and observers during the lunch break at the Special Session to offer prayers and words of assurance. "I think, for the time being, we need to take care of ourselves, take care of each other and stay in love with God as we begin to let some clarity come," she said.

“We are going to do a lot of outreach to progressives to say 'we see you',” he said during a press conference after General Conference adjourned. Carter is also the leader of the Florida Conference, which has congregations across the theological spectrum. The General Conference is the highest legislative body in the church and the only group who can decide church law and speak officially for the global denomination. 

 "What do we do the day after? First, we grieve. Then we go and make disciples of Jesus Christ," wrote Bishop Sally Dyck on Facebook on Feb. 27.  "Making disciples means becoming incarnate love and grace to each other and our communities." The Bishop will release her post-General Conference statement on Friday, March 1. It will be posted on the NIC website and sent in a special eNews.

What is the Traditional Plan?

The Traditional Plan keeps the current language around sexuality and increases accountability by streamlining the processes to enforce penalties for violations of The Book of Discipline related to marriage and ordination of LGBTQI persons.  Some parts of the Traditional Plan were ruled unconstitutional, and it will take some time to clarify which parts will become part of our church law and which parts will not.   

“We continue to teach and believe that all persons are welcomed in the church, all persons are persons of sacred worth and we welcome all to receive the ministry of Jesus.  Human sexuality is a topic on which people of faith have differing views,” said Bishop Ken Carter, president of the Council of Bishops, after the conference ended. “Despite our differences, we will continue to work together to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world and share God’s love with all people.”

Standing in Solidarity

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Rockford area clergy stand in solidarity with the LGBTQ community.

Many churches across the Northern Illinois Conference displayed signs of welcome to the LGBTQ community. Bethany of Fox Valley UMC signage was changed to read, "We are not changed at all! No matter who you are, you are all masterpieces of God."

In Rockford, several clergy stood outside near a busy intersection with signs that read, "God loves LGBTQ people and so do we." Read more from the Rockford Register Star.

What is the next step for the UMC?

Since the legislation is not the official church law until January 1, 2020, the bishops are urging all United Methodists to stay focused on the mission that glorifies God and reaches new people with the gospel.  Bishops will be holding meetings with clergy and laity in their annual conferences on how details will be handled in each area.

Post-General Conference Debriefings will be held in three locations on two days in the Northern Illinois Conference on March 30 and March 31. 

Saturday, March 30 at 9:30 a.m. - Location: Orland Park: Faith UMC, 15101 S 80th Ave., Orland Park.

Saturday, March 30 at 2 p.m. - Location: Barrington UMC, 98 Algonquin Rd., Barrington.

Sunday, March 31 at 3 p.m. - Location: Oregon UMC, 200 S. 4th St., Oregon.

*United Methodist News contributed to this report

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