Delegate shares reasons for backing Traditional Plan
Editor's note: Delegates at the United Methodist Church's Feb. 23-26 General Conference in St. Louis voted in favor of retaining the denomination's ban on same-sex marriage and the ordination of gay and lesbian clergy. Delegates approved what was called the Traditional Plan, which maintained language in the denomination's Book of Discipline that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. A second proposal, which also proved popular but without the votes for approval, was the One Church Plan. This plan would allow individual churches and clergy to decide on gay weddings and Methodist conferences (regional jurisdictional bodies) to decide on the question of gay ordination. Since the gathering in February, the global denomination has been responding to the historic vote in various ways. Two Oklahomans with different viewpoints on the matter recently shared their views with The Oklahoman.
Metro-area resident Cara Nicklas served as a lay delegate to the recent General Conference gathering. Nicklas, a member of United Methodist Church of the Servant, shared her thoughts about the conference sessions and the resulting vote.
Q: What was your overall view of General Conference 2019 in St. Louis?
A: I was saddened that the divisive political discourse we see in our society invaded our church at GC2019. General Conference is supposed to be a time of “holy conferencing.” Delegates are invited to seek God’s wisdom through the Holy Spirit. I did not witness holy conferencing. When U.S. delegates purposely use parliamentary tricks designed to confuse our non-English speaking delegates, I would suggest we have lost our way as a church. On the positive side, I hope this General Conference was a visual reminder that we are a global denomination. It sets our denomination apart from other Protestant denominations. We are connectional — not congregational. The global nature of our denomination keeps us from interpreting Scripture solely within the context of our own culture. Our Wesleyan expression of the faith is cross-cultural in its appeal. When United Methodists in the U.S. start to embrace the participation of our international brothers and sisters, our church will be strengthened. U.S. delegates cannot continue to participate in General Conference with an arrogance that suggests our international delegates need our U.S. culturally influenced wisdom. I appreciate what our Russian, African, Filipino and German delegates bring to the table. I wish folks in the pews could have the tangible experience I have had with our international brothers and sisters. Q: What plan did you support and how did that plan fare at the General Conference?
A: I supported the Traditional Plan. The plan affirmed our church's definition of Christian marriage as between one man and one woman. Let me be clear. The issue was not whether gays and lesbians are welcome in our church. The issue was whether practicing homosexuals could be ordained and whether our clergy could officiate same-sex weddings. In other parts of our country, there has been widespread disobedience of our doctrine and discipline. Therefore, the Traditional Plan sought to strengthen the church’s accountability provisions. Our pastors enter into a covenant to uphold the Book of Discipline. The Traditional Plan sought to address the breaking of covenants. Although the Traditional Plan passed, opponents of the plan used tactics and tricks to prevent motions to be made on the floor that would correct some constitutional defects with the plan. They succeeded. Some accountability provisions passed while other provisions may be ruled unconstitutional by the church’s Judicial Council.
Q: People in the community-at-large have wanted someone to talk about where the Bible fits into the plan that ultimately was approved. Can you talk about that?
A: Unfortunately, our church has strayed from its Wesleyan roots. There is a lack of theological depth in our local churches. Our culture tells us there is no truth. We rely on our personal experience to interpret Scripture while disregarding how our interpretation might impact Eastern cultures. We decide first what we want to believe and then make the Bible fit in our box according to our own sensibilities. If the Bible never offends you or makes you feel uncomfortable, have you not created God in your own image? John Wesley opposed “proof-texting” or lifting a single verse from somewhere in the Bible, stripping it of its surrounding literary context, and using it to prove what it never intended to support. Wesleyans do not pick and choose which passages apply to our lives. We harmonize seemingly conflicting scriptures with what Wesley called "the whole tenor of Scripture." The Traditional Plan sought to uphold Wesleyan theology and practice. The plan emphasizes the need for us to commit to deep Bible study in community with others. When stronger teaching is returned to our churches, we will abandon misguided arguments. The suggestion that because we don’t follow the food laws in the Old Testament means we can ignore the passages on sexual ethics exposes an immature understanding of the teaching of the Bible as a whole. Well-meaning individuals claim the Bible says lots of things we ignore so we can ignore the teaching on same-sex relationships. Slavery and women in ministry are the most oft-used comparisons. There is a redemptive trajectory in the Bible away from the practices of slavery and away from women being regarded as mere property or sexual objects. The Bible does not condone slavery or prohibit women in ministry. That same trajectory away from same-sex relationships is not found in Scripture. I cannot adequately address this issue outside the context of Bible study in a small group, which is why I encourage all persons to find that setting for an in-depth discussion on these issues. Q: How are things now that you are back home in Oklahoma?
- Related to this story
- Article: OKC pastor decrys Methodist anti-gay stance
A: There has been a lot of discussion since my return home. Clergy and laity are anxious about the future of the United Methodist Church. I believe this moment in the life of our church will serve as the catalyst for revival. This could wind up being the most exciting time to be United Methodist.
Q: People who supported the One Church Plan and any plan that would allow for gay clergy and same-sex marriage in the Church are very vocal about their disappointment and disapproval of the vote at General Conference affirming the denomination's ban on gay clergy and same-sex marriage. People who supported the Traditional Plan don’t seem as vocal. Do you have any thoughts about why this is occurring?
A: Many of us who hold to a historical Biblical understanding of Christian marriage are reluctant to share our view. We are accused of being unloving and unenlightened so we tend to keep quiet. Mostly, we do not want our gay and lesbian family members and friends to doubt our love for them and our desire to be in relationship with them. We have lost the narrative on this issue. The prevailing argument is that love equals acceptance of behavior. It is an illogical argument which is only applied to LGBT issues. After all, I cannot imagine everyone agrees with my behavior. I am a sinner and my behavior is often not pleasing to God. I don’t claim that my conduct must be embraced in order to be loved by the church. Yet, the argument has won the day when it comes to the LGBT community.
Q: What would you like to see happen for the United Methodist Church?
A: I was asked, "Why is this a hill you want to die on?" We traditionalists didn’t ask for a battle on issues regarding human sexuality. We did not ask for the ugliness we witnessed at General Conference. But we simply cannot agree the definition of Christian marriage is based on geography (which is what the One Church Plan proposed). This isn’t our top priority. We long to see a church that refocuses its energy on bringing people to Christ and helping them grow in their walk with God. I hope the cage match we watched at GC2019 will lead us to repentance and a spiritual awakening so we as a church can shift our focus to matters of evangelism and discipleship. If not, I hope our leaders can find a way to amicably separate. That is my hope — not because I do not wish to be in unity with friends who differ with me, but because I do not want to be in a continual battle on issues of human sexuality.