Bishops in the United Methodist Church, a denomination long divided on questions of LGBT equality, have proposed allowing individual pastors and regional church bodies to decide whether to ordain LGBT clergy and perform same-sex weddings.
The Council of Bishops endorsed what its members call the One Church Plan Friday after several days of meetings in Chicago, the council announced in a press release. The church currently considers homosexuality “incompatible with Christian teaching” and does not allow “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” to become clergy members, according to its Book of Discipline. It also does not offer church weddings to same-sex couples. Some clergy and congregations have defied these policies..
The One Church Plan is one of three the bishops will present at the church’s General Conference next year, but it is the one that has their backing. Another, the Traditionalist Plan, would maintain the current language in the Book of Discipline. The third, the Connectional-Conference Plan, would allow congregations to align with one of three conferences based on their policies on LGBT issues. One conference would be traditional, another progressive, and the third would allow for a variety of policies. But this would several amendments to the denomination’s constitution. The plans were formulated by a 32-member church body, the Commission on a Way Forward.
“There was strong affirmation for the One Church Plan because it fulfills most closely the mission, scope, and vision that we set out for the commission’s work,” said Bishop Bruce Ough, outgoing president of the Council of Bishops, in a video recorded after the announcement.
According to the press release, “The One Church Plan allows for contextualization of language about human 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.
“This plan also encourages a generous unity by giving United Methodists the ability to address different missional contexts in ways that reflect their theological convictions. The One Church Plan removes the restrictive language of the Book of Discipline and adds assurances to pastors and Conferences who due to their theological convictions cannot perform same-sex weddings or ordain self-avowed practicing homosexuals.”
At the church’s last General Conference, in 2016, delegates voted to defer action on LGBT issues pending further study, and the denomination then created the Commission on a Way Forward to do that study. A General Conference is usually held every four years, but a special session of the conference will meet a year early, next February in St. Louis, to consider the three plans.
The church has a global membership of 12.5 million, with 7 million of those members in the U.S. It is the third largest Christian denomination in the U.S., behind the Roman Catholic Church and the Southern Baptist Convention.