Heart-shaped stress balls were handed out to those entering The Dome at America’s Center as United Methodists gathered today for the final day of the Special-Called General Conference. It was a fitting welcome as delegates met for another day of legislation to determine the highly-debated way forward on issues related to homosexuality.
A somber tone filled the auditorium as all in attendance felt the gravity of the decisions to come, as well as those made in during the past three days.
During morning worship, John 14: 27 was read offering reassurance. Jesus was comforting His disciples when he said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you…Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”
Bishop Gregory Palmer of the Ohio West Episcopal Area presided over the morning session, spontaneously singing the words from ‘Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus as he began, “Oh for grace to trust Him more.”
As plenary commenced, the Judicial Council announced that nine petitions approved yesterday (90033, 90034, 90035, 90037, 90038, 90039, 90040, 90059, 90066) as part of the Traditional Plan were deemed unconstitutional. The second sentence of another petition (90045) that addressed just resolutions was also found unconstitutional.
The delegation also approved two petitions recommended by Wespath Benefits and Investments, the denomination’s pension agency. One requires that any local church that withdraws or is closed must pay, at a minimum, its fair share of unfunded pension liability for their annual conference.
The other approved Wespath petition spells out that clergy members that end their relationship with a conference will be treated as “terminated vested” participants, meaning their accrued benefits would be safe but they could not add benefits. Delegates amended the legislation to state “nothing in the foregoing would prevent annual conferences collecting other obligations from local churches.”
The One Church Plan, which was voted down yesterday, was presented to the delegation today as a minority report, pitting it against the majority report, the Traditional Plan. Before voting, delegates and bishops came together in the center of the floor for a time of prayer. As they made their way back to their seats, This Little Light of Mine erupted spontaneously.
After impassioned speeches and prayers, the delegation voted 449 to 374 that the One Church Plan minority report would not be substituted for the Traditional Plan, which affirms the church’s current stance on ordaining LGBTQ+ clergy and officiating at or hosting a same-sex marriage. It also prescribes minimum penalties if a trial resulted in conviction.
Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey, Louisiana President-Designate for the Council of Bishops, presided over the afternoon session.
Carlene Fogle-Miller, a delegate from Florida, called a point of order about rumors amongst the body of bribery in exchange for votes. Delegation voted (417 to 388) to refer the issue to the Committee on Ethics.
An amendment to Petition 90037 of the Traditional Plan regarding the composition of the Board of Ordained Ministry passed 428-391. (The updated language was an attempt to make the petition constitutional.)
At 4:55 pm, Bishop Harvey moved to vote on the Traditional Plan (Except 90041 and 90048) as amended. It passed with 53% (438 to 384).
The decision for some was filled with satisfaction. For others, it was filled with anguish, which was initially expressed as Blessed Assurance lyrics sprung from observers. “This is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior all the day long.” Some delegates came to the center of the floor in a circle and joined in with the singing. They entered into a call and response with members of the crowd, chanting in protest of the vote.
Despite the chanting that continued from the crowd after a recess (“Stop the harm! Stop the harm!”), the delegation resumed its business.
Indiana delegate Beth Ann Cook addressed the committee regarding church exit. “One lesson we teach every child [in our daycare at church] is that we should treat one another as Jesus taught us to…treat others as we want to be treated,” she said. “The intended process is how I would want to be treated if I was the one hurting.” Delegates voted to adopt the minority report about church disaffiliation for one of the petitions on disaffiliation, which then passed.
Because of the unconstitutional parts of the Traditional Plan, the delegation voted (405-395) to send the Traditional Plan to the Judicial Committee for review. The council will address the request at its next meeting April 23-25, 2019.
The business decided at General Conference will take effect January 1, 2020.
*For a full report on all business covered during General Conference, please refer to UMNews.