Council of Bishops Attempts to Clarify Confusion It Created

A Statement from the Wesleyan Covenant Association

The United Methodist Church’s Council of Bishops (COB) released a statement today trying to clear up the confusion it created with the release of a prior statement and a variety of interpretations of it that came from a number of bishops.

According to the latest statement it appears the only plan a majority of the council is willing to put before the special, called General Conference in February 2019 is what some bishops cleverly call the One Church Model (essentially a “local option” approach that advocates liberalizing the church’s sexual ethics, teachings on marriage, and ordination standards).

While the COB stated in its May 4, 2018 statement that the majority of bishops affirmed the One Church Model, it also said, it “affirmed that the Connectional Conference Plan and the Traditionalist Plan held values that are important to the life and work of the church and will be included in the final report to the Special Session of General Conference.”

Based on that previous statement many people across the UM connection interpreted it to mean that all three plans would be presented to the Special General Conference for consideration with the understanding that a majority of the bishops were recommending the local option approach. According to press reports it was clear some bishops believed this interpretation was correct as well.

Furthermore, a number of bishops characterized the vote on the various plans in different ways.  Some claimed an “overwhelming” majority supported the local option approach, while others said the vote was relatively close. Unfortunately, the council’s leadership has said it has no plans to release the votes, or how each bishop voted on them. To date, United Methodists still do not know how many of the active bishops voted for the local option approach or who they are.

The Wesleyan Covenant Association has repeatedly pointed to its October 2016 Chicago Statement that reads in part: “A plan that requires traditionalists to compromise their principles and understanding of Scripture, including any form of the ‘local option’ around ordination and marriage, will not be acceptable to the members of the Wesleyan Covenant Association, stands little chance of passing General Conference, would not definitively resolve our conflict, and would, in fact, lead to the fracturing of the church.”

At the 2016 General Conference, a local option approach, very similar to the one a majority of the bishops are now proposing, failed to gain traction in legislative sections, and many believed the plan would have failed if it came to the floor for a full vote.

Given that over 90 percent of the delegates from the 2016 General Conference will be the same delegates voting in 2019, the WCA believes the majority of the bishops are making a grave mistake in attempting to put another local option plan before the delegates in St. Louis. It strikes the WCA as a terrible waste of the Commission on a Way Forward’s time, talent, and resources to propose only one of the three plans it submitted to the council, particularly when the 2016 General Conference could have disposed of an almost identical proposal three years ago.

Essentially, millions of dollars will have been spent on commission meetings, special meetings of the COB, a pending, special Judicial Council meeting, and of course the called 2019 General Conference in St. Louis simply to revisit a plan that was before the General Conference in 2016 and was destined for failure.

The WCA believes the council’s lack of transparency, its confusing statements on its deliberations, its unwillingness to release the vote totals for each plan and how individual bishops voted on each of them has only further eroded the level of trust United Methodists have in the Council of Bishop’s leadership. Its handling of this important process between the close of the 2016 General Conference to the present has harmed its reputation and embarrassed the church.

Given its failure to manage the process in a fair, transparent, and professional manner, the WCA calls upon the council to defer to the work of the Commission on a Way Forward and the will of the General Conference. The WCA believes all three plans should be put fully before the duly elected 2019 General Conference delegates.