For the past two weeks, I’ve meant to write a calming, pastoral letter about the upcoming called General Conference meeting in a few weeks, but I just haven’t gotten around to it. Then, today, I received the following in the mail from Mainstream UMC. I’ve decided to share it instead of writing one of my own.
The One Church Plan is a strong, calm oasis among the clanging gongs and noisy cymbals of the other options at General Conference. This well thought out One Church Plan was created by the Commission on the Way Forward, endorsed by the Council of Bishops, and upheld by the Judicial Council. It is not radical. It does not force anyone out of the church or segregate us by belief. The One Church Plan maintains the Unity of the Church to Make Disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World.
This rational plan stands in stark contrast to the chaos and crisis being ginned up by those who seek to divide the church. The Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA) posted another alarmist essay with made-up numbers guessing that “hundreds of congregations in every conference could lose twenty, thirty or forty percent of their membership” with the One Church Plan. Chris Ritter posted a guest blog that predicts, without evidence, “several hundred thousand US members will depart the existing denomination within 18 months” of the OCP passing. Tom Lambrecht has said plainly on video, “It is not possible for us to be in one denomination together.”
Schism is only possible if there is chaos and crisis. So those who seek to divide must create both.
The best thing we can do ahead of General Conference 2019 is take a collective deep breath. The 2016 General Conference asked the Bishops to lead. The Commission on the Way Forward represented all of us. They worked prayerfully for two years and came up with the One Church Plan as a genuine solution. Nearly 2/3 of the Council of Bishops prayerfully endorsed the One Church Plan. The Judicial Council prayerfully evaluated the One Church Plan and unanimously agreed that the United Methodist Constitution, “permits contextualization and differentiation on account of geographical, social, and cultural variations and makes room for diversity of beliefs and theological perspectives but does not require uniformity of moral-ethical standards regarding ordination, marriage, and human sexuality.”
The leaders of our church have prayerfully, calmly, and decisively spoken.
While some splinter groups are banging a drum of chaos and crisis, the leaders of our church have positioned us for mission and ministry in our diverse settings for the years ahead. Our leaders have reminded us, the only issue that should define our life together is faith in Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. Please pray that the Delegates of the 2019 General Conference can tune out the noise and follow the graceful way forward our leaders have prepared.
I would also add that the One Church plan will not change anything in our local church without the approval of this local church itself (by a vote of either the Church Council or a Charge/Church Conference).
Below is a statement posted on facebook yesterday [Friday, October 26, 2018] by Mainstream UMC. Information and elaborations contained in [brackets] are my additions for clarification.
The Judicial Council just released Decision 1366. It is very good news for the One Church Plan [the moderate plan] and devastating news for the Traditional Plan. Since the Connectional Conference Plan acknowledged the need up front for 8 constitutional amendments, the Judicial Council did not review it.
In short, the JC [Judicial Council] ruled only 3 minor provisions of the One Church Plan to be unconstitutional. But it ruled 7 of the 17 petitions of the Traditional Plan unconstitutional as well as 4 other provisions. It will take further review to see if the Traditional Plan can be revived by its supporters.
You can read the full decision on our website here (pro tip, you get the gist in the first 4 pages): https://mainstreamumc.com/…/10/JCD-1366-Docket-No1018-12.pdf 
An official, Great Plains Conference explanation of the three plans can be found here, or feel free to contact Jenny and me (John) with questions.
Here is the report from United Methodist news service, which includes the detail that the decision was unanimous.
 Mainstream UMC. Facebook post, October 26, 2018, 11:37 a.m., https://bit.ly/2RoWIFR.
Here’s the video of Rev. Dr. Mark Holland of Mainstream UMC speaking on the One Church Plan a few days ago (Wednesday, October 17, 2018) here at First United Methodist Church. You can visit them at MainstreamUMC.com/.
If you’re tired of hearing about the United Methodist Church’s position on homosexuality, then I would urge you to please stop reading right now. If you want a clear exposition on the Council of Bishops’ recent actions, then I would advise you to read this article.
In response to the last post, I was asked: “Is this direction good or will be more division?” My answer is twofold, I think that in the long run, this will be a good direction, but in the short run, there will be more division. There is already a great deal of division, and we are already losing people on both sides of this debate. In my experience, those who want to uphold the traditional interpretation of the Bible tend to leave loudly in anger, while those who want to be more affirming of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters tend to leave quietly with sadness. For this reason, to merely continue to hold onto the status quo is not really feasible. Something needs to be done, and the way forward that the bishops have chosen maintains the vital unity of the church (something for which King Jesus himself prayed).
We have been through this before. In 1844, the church split over the issue of slavery and was then reunited when, after the civil war, all the biblical citations that could be mustered in slavery’s defense become moot points. More recently, we argued about how closely we would adhere to Jesus’s strict teachings on divorce—I have a colleague who was encouraged to surrender custody of his child so that the churches he might be appointed to would not guess that he was divorced—but that is no longer a live issue. We all seem to have arrived at the understanding that regardless of Matthew 19:3-12 and Mark 10:2-12, divorce does not disqualify someone from full participation in the church. Until 1956, we disagreed over the ordination of women, with many citing 1 Timothy 2:12 to support their opposition to the practice, but, at present, I know of only one United Methodist who even questions it.
I give the examples above because they are reminders that we have had fierce arguments over divisive issues in the past, but a new consensus always eventually emerged. I think the same is true of the issue of homosexuality. This proposed way forward makes space for a new consensus to emerge.
The Council of Bishops has met and endorsed “The One Church Plan.” According to the summary on umc.org:
To find a way forward on the denomination’s homosexuality debate, bishops are recommending the church allow more freedom at the conference and local church levels.
Under what the Council of Bishops calls the One Church Plan, decisions about whether to ordain LGBTQ clergy or to officiate at same-gender unions would be made closer to the congregational level.
The plan would remove the restrictive language against the practice of homosexuality in the Book Discipline, the denomination’s policy book. The plan also adds assurances to pastors and conferences who in good conscience cannot perform same-sex weddings or ordain “self-avowed practicing” gay clergy that they don’t have to do so. 
Our understanding (Jenny’s and mine) is that if this plan is approved by General Conference (a big if) it would leave individual annual conferences to decide whether or not to ordain LGBT folk and individual congregations and pastors to decide whether or not marriages between same-sex couples would be performed in a local church. Bishop Saenz has a pastoral letter here: http://bit.ly/2jtP3qw.
 United Methodist Communications, “Bishops Propose Plan for Way Forward,” The United Methodist Church, May 04, 2018, accessed May 04, 2018, http://www.umc.org/news-and-media/bishops-propose-plan-for-way-forward.
The Judicial Council (the United Methodist version of the Supreme Court) has ruled that the consecration of self-avowed practicing homosexual is contrary to church law. The ruling was long and complicated, but you can learn more about it here. You can also read the response of Great Plains Bishop Saenz here. I’m still processing, so I don’t yet have that much to add except that I’m disappointed, but not surprised.
Links: www.umc.org/news-and-media/consecration-of-gay-bishop-against-church-law and
Bishop Scott J. Jones of the Great Plains Conference issued the following statement Monday morning in response to the attack on people at a nightclub early Sunday morning in Orlando, Florida.
As many of you know, a tragedy has befallen the community of Orlando, Florida, and, indeed, our entire country.
A gunman opened fire early Sunday morning inside a nightclub frequented by people in the LGBTQ community there. According to news reports, at least 49 people were killed and at least 53 people were wounded.
We are learning more details about the shooter, who himself was killed when he tried to engage police responding to the shootings. We are still learning more details about whether he had leanings toward terrorist organizations and why he targeted this particular establishment. But these things we do know for certain: Such violence can never be condoned, and all life is precious. And in this case, it appears people were targeted because of their sexual orientation.
News reports say that the people killed ranged in age from 20 to 50. These people were sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, spouses, college students, professionals – people from all walks of life. They were gunned down in this latest example of senseless violence in our country.
As my colleague Bishop Ken Carter of Florida said, may we “announce God’s unconditional love for all people and God’s desire for nonviolence through Jesus Christ who is our peace.”
Please join me in prayer for the victims and their families. Pray for the recovery of those who were wounded both physically and emotionally. Pray for our nation that such violence would be prevented and that we never again have to face such tragedy.
Here’s the summary of Great Plains Annual Conference proceedings for Friday, June 4, 2016 (the final day).
Here’s the summary of Great Plains Annual Conference proceedings for Friday, June 3, 2016.
Depending on how you count, I’m at least a day late, but here’s the summary for Thursday, June 2, 2016.