General Conference 2020: A preliminary look at key legislation

General Conference 2020: A preliminary look at key legislation

October 17, 2019

By: Christa Meland

Next May, 15 months after the top legislative body of The United Methodist Church voted to adopt the Traditional Plan, delegates at the 2020 General Conference will consider alternative options for a way forward. (View all General Conference 2019 coverage here.)
 
The Traditional Plan, approved at the 2019 Special Called Session of General Conference, maintains that homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching” and increases penalties for self-avowed gay clergy and clergy who officiate same-sex weddings.
 
In recent months, several groups within the denomination have submitted legislation for the 2020 General Conference to consider.
 
The following list, adapted and expanded upon from a report originally published on the Greater Northwest Area of The United Methodist Church website, is not exhaustive but includes plans that have been distributed publicly. Given that some of these plans were made public before the 2020 legislation deadline, some proposals may have been modified before they were submitted; what is below represents the most up-to-date information about each plan that's publicly available at this time. Additional proposals have been submitted, will be published in the Advance Christian Daily Advocate (planned to be released in February), and will also be available for consideration by General Conference delegates. 

The United States as a Regional Conference:

Summary: This legislation would create a new structure, a regional conference, for churches in the United States. Under this proposal, U.S. United Methodists would vote on initiatives that solely affect the United States and leave General Conference to address truly global matters. The regional conference would have the power to make some changes to the Book of Discipline, excluding portions that a General Conference may designate “non-adaptable.”
Learn more: Plan proposal  | FAQ Narrative | Press release – July 23, 2019

Bard-Jones Plan:

Summary: Under this legislation, an annual conference would choose to join one of three groups tentatively being called the Traditional Methodist Church, the Open Methodist Church, and the Progressive Methodist Church. The Traditional Methodist Church would begin with a Book of Discipline that includes the Traditional Plan. The Open Methodist Church and Progressive Methodist Church would begin with a Book of Discipline modified to include the Simple Plan as presented in St. Louis, which called for eliminating restrictions on same-sex unions and ordination of gay persons as clergy, as well as removing the church’s official position that homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching.”
Learn more: Plan proposal | UMNS report – August 8, 2019

Indianapolis Plan:

Summary: This legislation envisions a Traditionalist United Methodist Church that would maintain the denomination’s current restrictions on same-sex weddings and ordination of gay clergy. A separate Centrist/Progressive United Methodist Church would remove those restrictions, as well as church teaching that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. The legislation holds out the possibility of a third denomination, a Progressive United Methodist Church, that would practice immediate full inclusion of LGBTQ persons.
Learn more: Plan proposal | UMNS report – August 13, 2019

UMC Next Plan:

Summary: This legislation would keep intact The United Methodist Church as a denomination while allowing for greater regional autonomy across the connection. The doctrinal standards in the The Book of Discipline would be retained, but the language and policies that have excluded LGBTQ persons would be removed. Pastors would be able to determine if a couple is ready for marriage and it would be up to annual conferences to determine if a candidate meets the criteria for ordination. This proposal calls for the passage of proposed legislation that would create a U.S. Regional Conference to deal with matters affecting only the U.S.
Learn more: Plan proposal UMNS report – August 19, 2019

New Expressions Worldwide (N.E.W.) Plan:

Summary: This legislation would dissolve The United Methodist Church and form four new global denominations instead. The new Methodist expressions would be traditionalist, moderate, progressive, and liberationist in orientation. A special General Conference before 2024 would take up the plan of separation, and a moratorium on complaints, charges, and church trials related to the church’s restrictions around homosexuality would be in place until separation occurs.
Learn more: Plan proposal | UMNS report – September 25, 2019

Plain Grace Plan:

Summary: This legislation proposes a period of discernment leading to the creation of “fresh expressions of Methodism” that various like-minded groups could form. Each new form of Methodism would remain in “full communion” with The United Methodist Church through at least 2028 and potentially beyond, meaning that each would accept the validity of the other’s baptism and ordination, but no denomination would be forced to accept doctrine, polity, members, or ministers. The legislation also includes a “gracious exit” option for churches that don’t want to commit to the “gracious affiliation” process this plan calls for.
Learn more: Plan proposal | Executive summary | Plan timeline

Oppose Dissolution | Preserve Unity Plan:

Summary: This legislation asks General Conference to allow further study with the goal of developing a new form of church organization that creates unity in mission while allowing for contextual ministry in matters that divide us, including ministry with and the full inclusion of LGBTQ persons. The legislation calls on the Connectional Table and the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters to collaborate on this effort and supports proposed legislation that would create a U.S. Regional Conference to deal with matters affecting only the U.S.
Learn more: Plan proposal | UMNS report – October 2, 2019

Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.