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Why the One Church Plan is a bad idea

By the Rev. Joseph F. DiPaolo*

With the 2019 session of General Conference just months away, many United Methodists are seeking information on the various plans and petitions to be considered in St. Louis.

Our bishops and other leaders have expressed support for the so-called “One Church Plan,” which would remove existing language in the Book of Discipline on sexuality and marriage. It would let every annual conference and local church choose their own paths. Supporters say that this is the best way to move us forward in ministry together, and treat fairly all parties and perspectives.  

I disagree. Here is why the One Church Plan is a bad idea:

  1. It will bring conflict and division to nearly every local church. The UMC is a conciliar church. That means we seek to discern the will and leading of God corporately, deliberating together in delegated governing bodies we call conferences, with General Conference the highest authority.Local churches may agree or not, but they have had no authority to change our teachings or policies. The One Church Plan changes that. The conflict, which has proven so divisive at the conference level, will now be pushed down to every local church. Most of our churches contain people on both sides of the issue. Hundreds of congregations in every conference could lose twenty, thirty or forty percent of their membership, if compelled to debate and vote on the meaning and practice of marriage.
  2. It disfranchises the laity. Under the plan, the decision of annual conferences, whether or not they will ordain and deploy practicing homosexuals as pastors, will be made by the clergy. The executive session alone of each annual conference will vote on the issue, which consists almost entirely of clergy (plus some laity from the Board of Ordained Ministry).The laity will be almost entirely shut out of that momentous choice, as will all local pastors, who have no vote on matters of ordination. This seems very un-Methodist, in that it elevates the judgment of the ordained to a privileged status; and it runs counter to our long history of having laity and clergy work together on an equal basis to discern God’s leading.
  3. It is an incoherent evasion of responsibility. The plan would declare to the world that The United Methodist Church cannot discern the will of God for the use of sex, or God’s design for marriage. Every local church and pastor will “do what is right in their own eyes.” (Judges 21:25) Do we not believe that God has revealed his will to his people on something so basic to our everyday lives?We will wind up with one UM Church preaching that God’s design for marriage is only between a man and a woman, while the UM Church down the street preaches that God’s will is for the union of two men or two women. This is simply incoherent. The General Conference should clearly declare its belief as to one way or the other, rather than passing the buck and evading its responsibility.
  4. It relies on trust in our leaders that isn’t very high. The One Church Plan promises that the consciences of all pastors and congregations will be respected. None will be compelled to host or perform same-sex marriages; nor will any be prohibited from doing so. But how will that work? There will be no structural changes to our system. As we know, many churches are divided; so how will superintendents and bishops determine what “respecting the conscience” of a given congregation means?We know of bishops in the past who were determined to force changes on congregations, to bring them into line with the bishop’s preferred policies. We are being asked to trust that such things won’t happen again. Sadly, the trust levels of our clergy and laity in our leaders isn’t very high.
  5. It rewards bad behavior. We have been wrestling with sexuality for decades, but it has never before threatened to divide us. That is because, until a few years ago, all understood that we were all were morally obligated to live under the same teachings and rules embodied in the Discipline.Let’s be honest: the threat of schism that looms before us now is the result of a small group of clergy and laity who have chosen to break the covenant that binds us together, defy the will of General Conference, and engage in ecclesial disobedience. They have been unable to convince a majority of delegates to embrace their ideas, and so have attempted to force change by actions which look a lot to me like hostage-taking: “Give us what we want, or we wreck the church!” The One Church plan rewards that covenant-breaking, and establishes a precedent that can be used by others in the future.

The thoughts above apply only to our North American context. How will our non-U.S. membership react, especially in Africa, when the headlines around the world proclaim the UMC has embraced gay marriage? If the experience of other religious bodies (like the Anglicans/Episcopalians) is any indication, they will not remain long in communion with a church that has embraced what they believe to be sin.  And even within the United States, sibling denominations which have moved to a “local option” approach like the One Church Plan have been in membership freefall.

Wherever we stand on the question of marriage, it should be clear that the One Church Plan will not keep us as one church. It is a formula for chaos, conflict, and accelerated decline.   

The Rev. Joseph F. DiPaolo is the lead pastor of First UMC Lancaster and a clergy delegate to General Conference. He serves on the UMC’s Commission on General Conference, which is planning the Feb. 23-26, 2019 special session.

Let us make 2019 “The Year of Civility”

Bishop’s Christmas & New Year’s Video: The gifts of God for the people of God

Hello, I’m Bishop Peggy Johnson, of the Eastern Pennsylvania and the Peninsula-Delaware Conferences of The United Methodist Church.  

I bid you grace and peace in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.  I celebrate with you this special time of the year: Advent, Christmas and the New Year: 2019.  May your churches and homes be filled with peace.

As we look to the Scriptures, I am reminded of the words of the Apostle Paul taken from II Timothy 1:7 where he writes “God has not given us a spirit of fear.”  

There is a lot of trouble happening around this world right now: natural disasters, wars, rumors of war, trouble at our border, with years of immigration concern.  There is a lot of fearful talk as well.

But God has not given us a spirit of fear.  Fear is never from God. Fear can be summed up as “False Evidence Appearing Real.”  That popular acronym reminds us that we should never fear.

God does not give us fear; but God has other, better gifts to share with us. At this time of the year we are doing some Christmas shopping and buying material gifts. However, the gifts of God are spiritual, and those gifts last forever.  Here are some of God’s gifts:

1) Power

The power of God comes from the Holy Spirit that helps us overcome difficult circumstances.  The Spirit gives us faith and strength in times of need. Also, the Spirit endows each of us with unique talents for mission and ministry, so that we all have parts to play in building up the Body of Christ.

2) Love

Perfect love casts out fear.  God’s gift of love is Jesus Christ, who was born among us long ago.  He was God’s love incarnate, but he also came to die for our salvation. His love was sacrificial, and that kind of love never fails.  The love of Jesus is available to all of us.

3) Self-Control

Self-Control is so important.  It is especially critical how you control the way you talk.  There is a lot of negative rhetoric and fearful talk going around these days.  

I would like to proclaim that the year 2019 be “The Year of Civility,” tempered by the power of God. God can help us control our tongues.  

Remember: before you say something, ask yourself, “Is it true?” “Is it necessary?”  “Is it kind?” If it doesn’t pass these three tests, then don’t say it. And remember to practice saying positive things about your enemies.  Even a broken clock is right two times every day. The same is true of your worst enemy.

Power, Love and Self-Control. These are the gifts of God for the people of God to help us to overcome fear and life’s challenges.

I shall close with a poem by Horatius Bonar (1861)

O love that casts out fear,
O love that casts out sin,
O stay no more without,
But come and dwell within.

True sunlight of the soul,
Surround us as we go.
So shall our way be safe,
Our feet no straying know.

Great love of God, come in!
Thou Spring of everlasting peace,
Thou living water come.
Spring up in us and never cease.

Love of the living God
Of Father and of Son
Love of the Holy Ghost,
Make now our hearts as one.

Homecoming: A Thanksgiving homily

Home-goings and homecomings. That’s what Thanksgiving is about for many people. Many will travel home or welcome family and friends home this week. The profound gratitude we feel for home and for reuniting with loved ones, are a big part of Thanksgiving’s timely importance to us.

There are many home-leavings, home-goings and homecomings throughout Scripture. And while some homecomings are happy occasions, many are not without challenges. Yet, somehow God seems to bring his people, especially his heroes, back home.

God sent Moses home to Egypt and to his people, after many years spent in exile. Out of a burning bush, God instructed and empowered this man of two worlds to bring his Hebrew people good news of God’s favor and God’s intention to rescue them from brutal bondage. God also sent Moses to tell Pharaoh to “Let my people go.” That was a powerful homecoming—a good one for the Jewish people; a bad one for their oppressors.

After many years of also hiding in exile, the Lord sent Jacob home to face his brother Esau, whom he had wronged. Jacob feared his brother’s wrath and prepared himself for defensive battle. But that was unnecessary, for Esau was ready to forgive his brother and welcome him home.

“Return to the land of your fathers and to your relatives,” God tells Jacob. “I will be with you.” (Genesis 31:3) Read More

Fulfilling our ministry ‘received in the Lord’

The Apostle Paul penned his letter to the Colossians as he sat in a prison cell.  People have a lot of time to think and pray while they are in prison.  Paul wrote inspiring words to edify and encourage early believers during his long periods of imprisonment.

His epistles typically end with a seres of personal greetings and admonitions. The letter to the Colossians is no exception.  But I was captured by Paul’s imperative words to Archippus: “See that you fulfill the ministry that you have received in the Lord.”

We don’t know much about Archippus. Paul was specifically calling him out in this letter, perhaps because he was procrastinating.  We believe that he did heed the Apostle’s words. Church tradition teaches that Archippus later became the first bishop of Laodicea in Phrygia and was martyred for the faith.

Paul’s words can be directed to all of us as well: “See that you fulfill the ministry that you have received in the Lord.”  Be it a church ministry or any service rendered anywhere for the Lord, your own unique call is a gift from God to be pursued and fulfilled.

This Sunday, November 25, churches will receive our annual United Methodist Student Day offering that enables many students to receive higher education and pursue their future careers in Christian leadership. Nothing could be more important for us as a church than to prepare our now and next generations of leaders. Read More

Quest for justice, mercy: One Size Fits All?

By Bishop Peggy Johnson
My son Gabriel appeared in a recent Facebook post donning a Halloween costume in which he is dressed as a cactus.  It is quite clever, and perhaps he chose this outfit because he works as a botanist at the Smithsonian Science Lab and loves plants.

When I asked him about it, he said he purchased it at Walmart, and it is labeled “One Size Fits Most.” He said I could borrow it anytime I wanted to dress up like a cactus.  This is likely not going to happen.

First, I don’t like plants all that much and secondly, “One Size Fits Most” never works for me. They are always too big. I can just imagine falling down steps in this unfitting cactus costume that my six-foot tall son fits into quite well.

Does one size fit most?  It is an important question to ponder as we consider our social issues in the world today. Is there a place for uniformity, or is it important to recognize our differences with respect and grace?  Yes and no. Read More