How We Got Here

It’s been nearly 50 years of conflict concerning human sexuality in the United Methodist Church. Over the last few General Conferences, there have been various plans for how to move forward as a denomination, but nothing has been implemented. Coming out of the 2016 General Conference, The Commission on a Way Forward was formed to address human sexuality matters and help the United Methodist Church find “a way forward.” They were to find a plan to help us resolve that which divides us as a church.

In November 2017, the Commission on a Way Forward released a report outlining three sketches of what a way forward might look like. These became a more formal report with three plans: the One Church Plan, the Connectional Conference Plan, and the Traditional Plan. These were to be addressed this coming week in St. Louis by 864 delegates from across the denomination and around the world. (The Simple Plan did not come from the Commission on a Way Forward but is favored by many progressives in the church.)

You can find a chart comparing four major plans here. Most, but not all, of the petitions are included in one of these four plans.

The Petitions

Any Organization, Lay Member, or Clergy Member in The United Methodist Church had the opportunity to turn in petitions related to the matters at hand. There are now 78 petitions that will be acted upon on the floor of General Conference and you can find them all in the Advance Daily Christian Advocate (ADCA). It has been the work of the Committee on Reference to determine which petitions will be addressed, making sure the petitions are “in harmony” with the purpose of General Conference.

The petitions fall into three broad categories:

  • Fifty-eight of these petitions are directly related to one of the major plans presently being put forward (One Church, Connectional Conference, Traditional/Modified Traditional Plan, and Simple Plan). Forty-eight of these came directly from the Commission on the Way Forward and others relate to the Simple plan and the “Modified Traditional Plan”
  • Other petitions provide what is called an “exit ramp” or “gracious exit” for churches wanting to leave the denomination.
  • Still, there are thirty petitions that have deemed “not in harmony” with the call for the special General Conference and will only be addressed if 2/3 of the voting members vote to consider them.

It will take time to address these proposals. Because of the size and diversity of the voting delegates Roberts Rules of Order will be enforced over the four days with three days to conduct official business. The Presiding Bishops have agreed to a Covenant as they recognize and accept their role in leading these proceedings where opinions, emotions, and convictions run high.

There is a full preliminary schedule in the Advanced Christian Daily Advocate.

Saturday, February 23 will be a day of prayer and no formal business will take place. On Sunday, after a first chance to speak for or against the plans, there will be an opportunity to prioritize the petitions. This could be the first chance to see which plan will be at the fore of discussion over the next couple of days. On Monday, February 25, the voting on petitions will move to the plan that garnered the most votes earlier before moving on to plans that received fewer votes.

It may be clear early in the process which plan has more proponents and is able to shape the discussion through Monday and Tuesday. While General Conference rules require that all petitions receive a vote in legislative committee, those that are prioritized are more likely to receive serious attention and potential inclusion on a consent calendar.

You can track the legislation here.

A handy glossary of legislative terms can be found here.

You can see it all on a livestream here.

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