Based on suggestions from our session at Leadership Institute, our team has started a new section to our newsletter to help explain the polity of the UMC. We have asked Rev. Amy Lippoldt to help answer these questions. 

Q: What actually changes on Jan 1, 2020 when the Traditional Plan goes into effect?

A: Perhaps not much. Since much of the Traditional Plan was ruled unconstitutional, its attempt to have ever escalating consequences for non-obedient clergy and Bishops was thwarted. Eight petitions did pass and they could cause real trouble for queer and pro-inclusion clergy. Much will depend on who is enforcing the Discipline and how creative or strict they want to be.
Newly effective legislation does the following:

  1. A marriage license now counts as “proof” of someone being a “self-avowed practicing homosexual.” A public statement of any kind does the same.
  2. Bishops are no longer allowed to consecrate, commission, or ordain “self-avowed homosexuals.” But a recent Judicial Council decision also said that anyone elected by a clergy session is properly credentialed and must be commissioned or ordained, a Bishop can’t refuse. This recent ruling seems to be in direct opposition to a Traditional Plan petition. Judicial Council will have to clarify itself, most likely through another case sent to them by a Bishop or Annual Conference next year.
  3. Boards of Ordained Ministry and district committees are to approve candidates who meet all the qualifications in the Discipline after a “full examination.” The General Board of Higher Ed and Ministry has issued a statement saying the current process in the Discipline constitutes a “full examination” and no further questions or documentation is required to meet the “new” standard. GBHEM is saying no question about sexuality is required, in their interpretation.
  4. There are changes to try and keep Bishops from quickly dismissing complaints. Bishops now have to write out why there is no basis in law or fact for the complaint and share that with the person who submitted the complaint. And in a “Just Resolution” “every effort shall be made” to have the author of the complaint agree. Importantly, this does not say they HAVE to agree. Just that a sincere effort shall be made. It will be up to Bishops to interpret this and how much power they let a complainant have.
  5. Regarding trials, there is a mandatory penalty of one-year suspension after a conviction for performing a same-sex wedding, and loss of credentials after the second conviction. Keep in mind that we have not had a guilty verdict after a trial in several years. This does not mean people aren’t being harmed by complaints but only that other means of ending the process have been used, rather than an actual trial. As of Jan 1, the church is also allowed to appeal cases to the Judicial Council if there are problems with the process. If a jury would just refuse to find someone guilty, the church still has no appeal.

As has been the case for years, a whole lot depends on the people involved in the process. The Traditional Plan wanted to make the process airtight, to remove any room for people to do other than kick out clergy who want a fully inclusive church. They succeeded in making things more complicated but it is far from airtight.  

Do you have a question for the UMC Polity Q&A? Send it to Rev. Amy Lippoldt.