Q&A on A Way Forward and the General Conference Session
Process Questions | General Conference Session and Delegates | Responses of Individuals and Local Churches
Responses of the Conference and Bishop | Questions asked of the Bishop | Central Conferences
Ethics Violations | Finance and Property | Other
During the Baltimore-Washington Conference live stream session on March 2, questions about the results and implications of decisions made at the February session of General Conference were submitted.
Q: Briefly, what was decided by General Conference?
A: The General Conference delegates passed by a 438-384 vote the Traditional Plan, which retains restrictions against “self-avowed practicing homosexual” clergy and officiating at or hosting same-sex marriage ceremonies and requires stricter enforcement for violations of church law.
The Traditional Plan was one of the plans that came out of the work of the special commission. The One Church Plan, which would have left questions of marriage up to individual churches and clergy, and ordination requirements up to conferences, was defeated.
The delegates also approved an exit plan for churches that want to leave the denomination with their property. Local churches that elect to leave must pay unpaid apportionments and pension liabilities.
Two petitions were approved to deal with the pension liabilities of departing churches and the accrued benefits of departing clergy. 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. Delegates amended the legislation to say “nothing in the
The other petition spells out that any clergy members who end their relationship with a conference will be treated as “terminated vested” participants, meaning their accrued benefits would be safe and converted to an individual account balance.
Q: Where can I read the plan that passed?
A: The approved legislation and amendments are available here.
Q: Where can we get a copy of the Traditional Plan as amended, with notations about which parts were already ruled unconstitutional?
A: The petitions that
The parts of the Traditional Plan that the Judicial Council has held constitutional include an augmented definition of “self-avowed practicing homosexual,” to say it includes people “living in a same-sex marriage, domestic partnership or civil union or is a person who publicly states she or he is a practicing homosexual.” Also previously held constitutional is legislation that sets a minimum penalty for clergy performing a same-sex wedding of one year’s suspension without pay for the first offense and loss of credentials for the second. (Source: UMNS)
Q: Who makes up the Judicial Council? What will they be voting on? Is that the last word? Where can one see the Judicial Council's explanations on their previous decisions of what is constitutional or not?
A: The Judicial Council is a nine-member group of clergy and laity, elected every four years at General Conference, that functions similar to the United States Supreme Court. They are the final word because the Judicial Council is the highest judicial body or "court" of The United Methodist Church and all their decisions are final.
The Judicial Council determines the constitutionality of acts or proposed acts of the General, Jurisdictional, Central, and Annual Conferences. It acts on these either on
The Judicial Council, in the case of the Traditional Plan, will be voting on whether or not certain petitions relating to it are constitutional. Tom Starnes’ presentation March 2 (see above for link) contains information on what those petitions are.
You can search previous decisions by the Judicial Council here.
Q: What does “constitutionality” mean?
A: The United Methodist Church has a constitution, contained in its Book of Discipline. The Constitution was approved as part of the Plan of Union for the merger of The Evangelical United Brethren Church and The Methodist Church in 1968. It establishes the basic outline for the organization of the denomination as well as establishing the office and role of the bishop. The Constitution establishes the Judicial Council as the body to rule on matters of church law as passed by the General Conference.
The Judicial Council determines the constitutionality of acts or proposed acts of the General, Jurisdictional, Central, and Annual Conferences. It acts on these either on
Any changes to the Constitution of The United Methodist Church must be approved first at General Conference by a 2/3rd vote, and then approved by 2/3rds of total votes at all the Annual Conference Sessions.
Q: Can the petitions be enacted if they are “unconstitutional”?
A: Petitions can be (and have been) voted on that were previously declared by the Judicial Council to be unconstitutional. Nothing prevents General Conference delegates from doing so. However, any petition, ruling or decision of law that is deemed unconstitutional does not take effect and is not included in the Book of Discipline.
Q: Why wasn't the constitutional review done prior to the vote?
A: The Traditional Plan has significant parts of which have been deemed unconstitutional by the Judicial Council not once, but twice. During the General Conference session, the court ruled that nine petitions (out of 17) dealing with the Traditional Plan were unconstitutional. They also ruled that the sentence of another petition was unconstitutional.
Last October, at the Judicial Council meeting in Switzerland, the Traditional Plan was deemed largely unconstitutional, the Council ruling that nine of the petitions were unconstitutional.
Q: Why weren't the makers of the Traditional Plan allowed to correct the unconstitutional petitions?
A: They were. As with any petition handled on the floor of any General Conference, amendments, substitutions
Q: When will the Judicial Council rule on the constitutionality of the Traditional Plan? Will the entire plan be struck down if one item of it is ruled unconstitutional or will some parts possibly be upheld?
A: The Judicial Council next meets April 23 – 26, in Evanston, Ill. According to news reports, if one item (petition) of the Traditional Plan is ruled unconstitutional, it has no effect on the overall plan. In other words, one petition deemed unconstitutional does not affect another petition.
Q: What will happen if, when the Judicial Council meets in April, they deem the Traditional Plan to be unconstitutional?
A: According to Gary Graves, Secretary of the General Conference, who spoke after the conclusion of the Special Session, any piece of legislation that the Judicial Council declares unconstitutional would not be included in the Book of Discipline, the denomination’s policy book. One petition deemed unconstitutional does not affect another petition.
Q: When would whatever parts of the Traditional Plan that are held to be constitutional take effect?
A: January 1, 2020.
Q: We have heard about a so-called “gracious exit” plan that was adopted. What does that mean?
A: A petition (#90066) that would allow a United Methodist church to “disaffiliate” with the denomination was amended, voted on, and approved. However, the church’s Council of Bishops has asked the Judicial Council to rule on whether or not this petition, as amended, is constitutional. You can read the amended petition in the brief filed by the Council of Bishops.
Q: Where can one see the Judicial Council's explanations on their decisions of what is constitutional or not?
A: Visit http://www.umc.org/decisions/search .
Q: Is there a possibility the Traditional Plan could be overturned at GC2020? Is the One Church Plan irrevocably dead, or can it be reintroduced in 2020?
A: One General Conference cannot bind another. That is, it cannot force another (future) General Conference to do its bidding. Thus, all elements of the Book of Discipline (except for certain paragraphs as outlined in Section III, “Restrictive Rules” of the Constitution) as amended (that is – any petitions that are deemed constitutional by the Judicial Council and therefore added into the 2016 Book of Discipline) are eligible for amendment. Thus, elements of the Traditional Plan may be reintroduced, as
Q: Will there be a transition plan for local churches to follow to get to implementation by January 2020?
A: The Baltimore-Washington Conference has no such plan at this time.
Q: If the traditional plan holds and moves forward January 2020, does this mean all openly gay clergy will be removed or does there need to be a complaint regarding their removal?
A: Under the rules of the denomination, contained in the Constitution of The United Methodist Church, “The General Conference shall not do away with the privilege of our clergy of right to trial by a committee and of an appeal…” (¶20) Clergy
Q: Will pastors and deacons have to answer and sign documents related to LGBTQIA identity? Will they be excluded from participating as clergy in the BWC?
A: Petition 90041, which sought to “Implement Gracious Accountability,” was referred to Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters. The Committee did not support it, by a vote of 28 to 4, with 5 abstentions. Thus, the matter was not voted upon by the Special Session.
Q: What will become of Bishop Karen Oliveto and all the other clergy who announced at General Conference that they were homosexual?
A: There is a process in The United Methodist Church whereby clergy and bishops (who are consecrated to the office, not ordained to it; thus, all bishops are still Elders in the church) may have charges placed against them. Those policies and procedures are detailed in ¶2702 of the 2016 Book of Discipline.
¶ 2702.1 states that “A bishop, clergy member of an annual conference (¶ 370), local pastor, clergy on honorable or administrative location, or diaconal minister may be tried when charged (subject to the statute of limitations in ¶ 2702.4) with one or more of the following offenses: (a) immorality including but not limited to, not being celibate in singleness or not faithful in a heterosexual marriage; (b) practices declared by The United Methodist Church to be incompatible with Christian teachings, including but not limited to: being a self-avowed practicing homosexual; or conducting ceremonies which celebrate homosexual unions; or performing same-sex wedding ceremonies; (c) crime; (d) disobedience to the order and discipline of The United Methodist Church; (e) dissemination of doctrines contrary to the established standards of doctrine of The United Methodist Church; (f) relationships and/or behavior that undermines the ministry of another pastor; (g) child abuse; (h) sexual abuse; i) sexual misconduct including the use or possession of pornography, (j) harassment, including, but not limited to racial and/or sexual harassment; (k) racial or gender discrimination; or (l) fiscal malfeasance.”
Q: If our church supports our pastor to perform same-sex marriage, even if he or she is suspended, can't our church still decide to keep him or her as our pastor, or would the conference step in and decide who will be the replacement for that year?
A: The United Methodist Church uses the itinerant system for clergy deployment for ordained Elders, provisional Elders, and Associate Members. Under our system, bishops make appointments.
“Elders in full connection with an annual conference by virtue of their election and ordination are bound in
“The itinerant system is the accepted method of The United Methodist Church by which ordained elders, provisional elders, and associate members are appointed by the bishop to fields of labor. All ordained elders, provisional elders, and associate members shall accept and abide by these appointments. Bishops and cabinets shall commit to and support open
Q: Do pastors have to marry people at all? Or can a local church pastor refuse to preside at all weddings?
A: The duties and responsibilities of a pastor are outlined in the 2016 Book of Discipline in ¶340. In ¶340.a.3.a, it lists as a duty, “To perform the marriage ceremony after due counsel with the parties involved and in accordance with the laws of the state and the rules of The United Methodist Church. The decision to perform the ceremony shall be the right and responsibility of the pastor.” (emphasis added)
Q: How do annual conferences select delegates to the General Conference?
A: Delegates to General Conference are elected at Annual Conference Sessions. The delegates from the Baltimore-Washington Conference to the 2020 General Conference, to be held in Minneapolis, Minn, will be elected at the 2019 Annual Conference Session, May 29-June 1, in Baltimore. Click here for more info.
Q: How does one run for General Conference 2020?
A: Click here for more information.
Q: If a church votes to disaffiliate, will they still be Methodists but have their own Book of Discipline or will they become an entirely new denomination?
A: This is a hypothetical question and one we can’t answer.
Q: Is it true that queer folks were not lifted up in prayer on Saturday's day of prayer until they asked to be?
A: Yes. On the morning of the day of prayer, the delegates prayed for specific regions of the world. An informal group of LGBTQ delegates brought their concern that there had been no reference to LGBTQ people. That was remedied as Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett of North Alabama issued an emotional call to prayer. “We need to care for one another, stretch the hand of sacred love to one another, knowing we are children of God. With the heart of Jesus, we move into prayer time specifically for LGBTQ siblings that are here and around the world.”
Q: Will the voting decisions of individuals at GC19 be made public?
A: No. The voting of the delegates is confidential.
Q: A number of commenters in social media have been quick to blame the Wesleyan Covenant Association, Good News, and others for behind-the-scenes efforts to push the Traditional Plan through GC2019. Delegates, in your experience, was this true? If so, do you believe this influence was inappropriate or unfair?
A: Several of the delegates expressed interest in hearing the points of view of a variety of voices in The United Methodist Church. No delegates reported that their opinions or thoughts were swayed in any inappropriate or unfair manner.
Q: What do I say to my LGBTQ brothers and sisters who are fed up with the church? I have a gay friend who wants to join my church. What should I tell him?
A: While it will not assuage the pain of frustration being caused, assure your brothers, sisters
Q: What does this General Conference ruling mean for my local church, a “moderate” but theologically diverse group?
A: The United Methodist Church continues to be a church of the “big tent.” The margin of difference that decided most of the votes at General Conference was 45-55 percent. The church’s stance is also multi-dimensional. While ¶161 in the Book of Discipline states that the church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers it incompatible with Christian teaching, it also affirms that all people “are individuals of sacred worth, created in the image of God. All persons need the ministry of the Church in their struggles for human fulfillment, as well as the spiritual and emotional care of a fellowship that enables reconciling relationships with God, with others, and with self.” It goes on to say, “We affirm that God’s grace is available to all. We will seek to live together in Christian community, welcoming, forgiving, and loving one another, as Christ has loved and accepted us. We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends. We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons.”
Q: What is the best way that the youth can start to be involved and have their voices heard?
A: One of the best ways for youth, and for all people, is to follow their interests, giftedness and passion into paths of serving in the church. As part of the community, they should be encouraged and not be afraid of speaking out, asking questions, and letting their thoughts and voices be heard.
Q: At my church, we have a family of six about to leave, even though they acknowledge that they are deeply loved by the local congregation. Others are already half way out of the door. What can we do now to stop this attrition, which poses an existential threat to a small church like ours?
A: There are no easy answers. Focus on what matters most to God, to the community and to each member. Let your church’s strengths define its identity. Be honest with people, let them know what an essential part they play in the body of Christ.
Q: What should churches or individuals be doing while we wait for the Judicial Council and Annual Conference?
A: Pray and continue to focus on discipleship, and mission and ministry that transform the world.
Q: Who am I to question that the will of God was done by GC? Why should I remain a UM rather than leaving to work on the development of a new expression of Methodism?
A: Working at discerning the will of God is an important spiritual practice. In your reflections, consider what you most love and value about United Methodism and let those thoughts guide your thinking about the future and how you will be connected to God and to the church.
Q: What does it mean to be a Reconciling Church? For churches that want to be publicly inclusive in this time, would you recommend that they seek to become reconciling congregations?
A: Reconciling churches intentionally seek the inclusion of people of all sexual orientations and gender identities in both the policy and practices of The United Methodist Church. Congregations proclaim their welcome to all. Claiming this label is a matter for the whole congregation to decide. You can learn more at the Reconciling Ministries Network webpage. According to the RMN website, there are 22 reconciling churches in the Baltimore-Washington Conference.
Q: If our church vocally and actively rejects this plan, and welcomes our LGBTQIA community, will our church be punished?
A: Offering hospitality and welcome to all people is never a cause for punitive action.
Q: Since the action of General Conference, there are members in local congregations expressing a need to leave the congregation. Can you give us a word please about "a Way Forward" for those who are feeling a need to break the connection?
A: Please stay. At least for this season, do not take any rash actions or make plans you may regret after time has passed, and tempers and emotions are not as raw. Please also continue to pray and know that you are being prayed for.
Q: Traditionalists are being demonized. Is our conference leading a “resist” movement?
A: No, the Baltimore-Washington Conference continues to be one of the most theologically diverse in the denomination. That anyone is being “demonized” is unacceptable in the BWC.
Q: As queer clergy, the church made very clear that our credentials are not safe or secure. Some of us are unable to hide back in the closet. Should we be considering handing in our credentials?
Q: What is your advice to someone who is queer and sensing a call to ordained ministry, knowing that the official stance of the UMC forbids
A: Pursue your call. Remember, we worship a God of unexpected things. Remember, too, that the ordained clergy is just one path of discipleship.
Q: Is it unrealistic or rude to ask and receive a direct answer to our home church pastor if he/she would have voted for the Traditional Plan or the One Church Plan?
A: It would not be rude to ask; however, you should also be prepared if pastors
Q: How would you advise progressive pastors of conservative congregations, particularly as they seek to welcome all people?
A: Good pastors can preach, share and live the Gospel will all people, progressive and conservative. Go back to the basics and “offer them
Q: The petitions enacted by the GC do not take effect until Jan 1, 2020. Will these new rules have
A: Not directly. The rules of the 2016 Book of Discipline continue to govern the Annual Conference.
Q: How will the Conference act in the future as it considers LGBTQ candidates for ordained ministry? Specifically, candidates who are in same-sex marriages?
A: While it may seem like an incomplete answer, there is no way to predict how events will unfold at future Annual Conference Sessions. For this year, the Board of Ordained Ministry has met to bring forth the candidates it endorses. The Clergy Session will meet May 29 to vote on these candidates. If any candidates in same-sex marriages are approved, Bishop Easterling will decide if she will ordain them. But each of those incidents will unfold in its own time. Because of the Ruling of Law just issued by the Judicial Council, it is expected by many that T.C. Morrow and Joey Heath-Mason will come before the Clergy Session. It is also not possible now to predict now how the Judicial Council will decide on the Traditional Plan when it meets April 23-26.
Q: Does the upholding of the provision for self-avowed Elders only affect candidates for ordination or do they also affect current serving clergy? (Grandfather clause?) What will happen to the LGBTQ persons who are already clergy?
A: The provision against self-avowed practicing homosexuals affects all clergy. There is no grandfather clause. However, charges would need to be brought against a clergy person before any action was taken against them. Those charges and processes are detailed in ¶2702 of the 2016 Book of Discipline.
Q: How will the bishop respond to clergy who have charges brought against them for officiating at a same-sex wedding?
A: The bishop will not respond to hypothetical questions or to the specifics of individual cases that might come before her.
Q: As we are talking about following the Book of Discipline for same-sex weddings and LGBTQ clergy, will the process for dealing with chargeable offenses outlined in the Book of Discipline be followed fully by our Conference for all violations on human sexuality and boundaries by clergy (for example: for those clergy who are unfaithful in marriage)? How about for all other chargeable offenses outlined in the Book of Discipline?
A: For a chargeable offense (¶2702) to be acted upon by the conference, charges would have to be formally brought against a clergy person. The conference takes every form of accused clergy misconduct seriously.
Q: Could our Annual Conference vote to be non-compliant like some of the other AC's have? Was that the vote we took last year?
A: If a resolution comes before the Annual Conference members, they could vote. Last year’s vote was to support and encourage the adoption of a denominational plan forward for the full inclusion of
Q: Can we make a stand against this as a conference and choose to be a One Church Conference? Can we exit the UMC as a conference
Q: Our Council of Bishops endorsed the One Church Plan and many of us sitting in U.S. pews thought this would carry, giving everyone a way to peacefully coexist while still united. What will the Council of Bishops do to regroup and take the lead in A Way Forward, as we are hearing the Western Jurisdictional Bishops are doing? .... Are the NEJ Bishops organizing in a similar way?
A: The Northeastern Jurisdiction College of Bishops continues to discuss this issue and support one another in ministry. However, there is no plan among them for organized resistance to the Traditional Plan.
Q: If the Judicial Council upholds the legislation pertaining to BOOM membership, would the Annual Conference Nominations Committee at this year's Annual Conference Session nominate new board members to replace current members who would not be compliant on 1/1/2020?
A: Board of Ordained Ministry members are not nominated by the Annual Conference Nominations Committee. They are nominated by the bishop. If the legislation is upheld and enacted,
Q: Will the conference
A: There was nothing in the traditional plan that directly addressed our federated and union churches. Therefore, they will continue to function and live out their mission and ministry as they have done prior to the Special General Conference.
Several questions were addressed specifically to Bishop LaTrelle Easterling about, among other issues, whether or not she would ordain a person in a same-gender marriage and how she would resist evil, injustice
The bishop will not respond to hypothetical questions. She did issue a Pastoral Letter on March 11, which shares some of her thoughts about the Special Session of General Conference and when law and grace find themselves at odds. In her letter, she wrote: “I agree with many who have articulated that this is a time of crisis within The United Methodist Church. This is also an opportunity for the Baltimore-Washington Conference to rise above exclusionary practices to say unequivocally that we will recognize the dignity and sacred worth of all. Take heart, beloved, and do not place a period where God places a comma. God is not done with us yet!” Read the letter.
Q: Since the practice of homosexuality is illegal in many countries, but not in the United States, and the One Church Plan could not have passed there, but could pass in the US, and other issues particular to individual nations will often divide us, has any thought ever been given to a reorganization of the UMC on national levels, yet retaining communion as a global church, similar to that of the Anglican communions?
A: That is one option being discussed, but we are not aware of any organized attempt at bringing the needed legislation forward to the 2020 General Conference. (Stay up to date on this kind of information by subscribing [free] to the Daily News Digest from United Methodist News Service.)
Q: I believe the long-standing agenda for the 2020 General Conference includes a report back on possible restructuring options for the UMC. At least some of those were aimed at creating more autonomy for the US part of the UMC (comparable to autonomy the Central Conferences have). Can you explain a bit about what is expected to come to the GC20 on this subject? Can you also speak to how that might impact the actions just taken at GC19?
A: We are not aware of any organized attempt at bringing the needed legislation forward to the 2020 General Conference to create a Central Conference in the United States. (Stay up to date on this kind of information by subscribing [free] to the Daily News Digest from United Methodist News Service.)
Q: What is the breakdown in the vote on the Traditional Plan in the delegation between the US and Europe, Asia, and Africa?
A: Voting at General Conference is done electronically and anonymously. That is, there is no record of how
Q: Taking into account the cultural differences that exist between the United States and other countries (Africa, Russia, Philippines, etc.) would it be possible to have the United Methodist Church be re-aligned to have UMC (USA); UMC (Africa): UMC (Europe); UMC (Eurasia), etc.? We could all be connected globally, but each region would have its own rules that take into consideration their individual cultures. Other denominations have structures according to beliefs such as Presbyterian Church (USA); Presbyterian Church in America: and numerous Baptists associations including Southern Baptists and American Baptists.
A: Yes, this is possible. However, previous attempts by earlier General Conferences have failed to obtain the needed votes to pass such legislation.
Q: Is there a way that Central Conference churches can be strongly encouraged to become independent Methodist Churches so that cannot dictate what The United Methodist Church stands for?
A: The United Methodist Church is a global church divided into annual conferences (geographic regions) throughout the world. Each of these annual conferences elects representatives (delegates) to General Conference based on its membership and other statistics.
As the church is growing in Africa and elsewhere (i.e., in the Central Conferences), but declining in membership in the United States, there is a shift in the number of delegates coming to each General Conference. For example, in 2016 and 2019, thirty percent of the delegates came from Africa (260 out of 864). In 2020, that number will be 32.25 percent (278 out of 862).
In the United States, there were 504 delegates to the 2016 and 2019 General Conferences, or 58.33 percent (540 ÷ 864). In 2020, that number drops to 482 delegates, or 55.92 percent (482 ÷ 862).
Q: Can you explain something about the ethics investigation that was begun at GC19 regarding allegations of vote buying through payments of cash or giving of other things of value? If such allegations were found true, what would be the implications of such a finding with regard to the votes cast by delegates who either gave or received bribes? Or the implications to their qualifications to serve as delegates at future GC’s?
A: According to the Feb. 27 Daily Christian Advocate, a delegate raised a concern regarding an alleged violation of the Rules of Order. The Committee on Ethics brought several people in for conversation but reported, “At this time, the committee is unable to substantiate the allegation.”
Q: What are the financial implications of the Traditional Plan?
It was brought up again by the Rev. Joseph Daniels and Bishop McKee said, “any of the financial implications that we found on this are minimal and by
Q: Will our UM colleges and seminaries be bound to any provisions of the Traditional Plan? In other words, can they still educate and nurture LGBTQIA students
Q: Why aren't we letting the process work itself out prior to discussing the implications?
A: United Methodists believe that holy conferencing is a spiritual discipline. Many people believe that the sharing of information, viewpoints and ideas assist in helping people understand the possibilities before the church. Informed disciples are usually better, more faithful disciples.