by Stephen Cady
Bishop Webb is right. The United Methodist Church as it currently exists is no longer tenable. In addition to doing immeasurable harm, the passage of the so-called Traditional Plan served as a clear rejection of a theologically diverse denomination and a repudiation of compromise. John Wesley once asked, “Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike?”
The answer, it seems, is no.
Those of us advocating for an inclusive church have not sought unanimity, merely liberty. Responding to the call of the gospel of Jesus Christ, we long for the freedom to embrace our gay and lesbian siblings through the rite of Christian marriage and to affirm their demonstrated gifts for ordained ministry. We are willing to be in the same church as those who think differently than us about this issue. The passage of the Traditional Plan tells us that the feeling is not mutual.
The American church largely favors compromise. By most counts, nearly nearly two-thirds of U.S. delegates voted in favor of the One Church Plan. Unfortunately, it was not enough. The unholy alliance of our most uncompromisingly conservative U.S. delegates with delegates from several central conferences meant that the One Church Plan never even made it out of the legislative committee (though not for lack of trying). Given the changing demographics of the American Church, it seems clear that the One Church Plan was the last realistic hope for a legislative solution to our current schism. The only remaining solution at this point, short of divine intervention, is structural change within the denomination.
It is possible, as Bishop Webb suggests, that the structural solution lies in the retooling of something like the Connectional Conference Plan. If this were the case, it should not be three “connections” but rather two: unity or traditional. We could support an expression of Wesleyan Methodism that allows for a range of theological understandings of LGBTQ+ clergy and same-gender weddings to coexist within the same Church. Our fear, as demonstrated by the action of the General Conference, is that we will again stand alone in that desire.
Another possible structural change would be for the United States (as a whole or in individual jurisdictions) to become its own central conference with more ability to govern itself. This would certainly be the most just solution for the global Church. For too long the U.S. church has treated central conferences as dependent children. It is time to build better relationships. A U.S. central conference would help the Church begin to view central conferences not as an exception but as a core part of the work of the Church. This mutuality would help us all live into God’s call for us in our own contexts while not enforcing one biblical interpretation over all others. It no longer makes sense for central conferences to have a stranglehold on U.S. governance nor for central conference delegates to have to fly thousands of miles to vote on an almost entirely U.S.-centric polity. Unfortunately, hard-hearted traditionalists recognize that this solution would almost certainly lead to an immediate repeal of the current discriminatory language in the U.S. discipline. As such, we fear it has little chance of passing.
It seems the only other viable structural solution to this quagmire is divorce. No one believes divorce is good, but sometimes it is best. Ironically, we have gotten past the biblical prohibitions against divorce to recognize its necessity from time to time. This may be one of those times.
We in the Upper New York Conference who want a fully inclusive Church stand with the Western Jurisdiction, the German Executive Committee, and the many others who have roundly and unequivocally denounced the Traditional Plan as causing unnecessary and lasting harm. Further, given the imminent necessity for structural change, we call upon Bishop Webb, the Upper New York Board of Ordained Ministry, and other members of the conference leadership team to, as an act of grace, impose an immediate moratorium on any punitive action related to human sexuality.
Finally, we remain committed to working with anyone who in good faith and Christian love longs to find an expression of Wesleyan Methodism that leaves space for differing views to co-exist. In the spirit of John Wesley, “‘If your heart is as my heart,’ if you love God and all [humankind], I ask no more: ‘give me your hand.’”
The Rev. Dr. Stephen Cady
Asbury First United Methodist Church, Rochester, New York