Live Stream on The Way Forward Featuring Bishop Scott J. Jones 

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Q&A Continued

Bishop Jones will be online answering as many questions as possible until 5 P.M., May 12. 

 

It seems evident that the theology of the UMC seen through an American lens is quite distinct from the theology of the UMC seen through a global lens. In Council of Bishop talks, how is the preference for the global connection being protected?

All three plans allow for the maintenance of our global connection and all presume that the theological convictions of our church continue to unite us, except for the issues of human sexuality.

 

Can you provide biblical support for marriage and ordination as proposed in two of these plans?
Many persons have written in support of those perspectives and I refer you to their books, articles and blogs.

 

Are there different spiritual questions associated between the three proposed plans?

I regard the three plans as embodying different understandings of unity, sanctification and anthropology (creation of women and men). For me, these doctrinal categories are spiritual questions.

 

How much did the question of unity with other churches - in our communities and worldwide - come into the discussion?

Within the Council of Bishops it was mentioned but not a major topic of conversation. Some other churches are more liberal and some are more conservative and we seek to maintain ties to as many as possible.

 

What does the Bible say about where we are as a church?

I believe that there are Bible-believing Christian people who support each of these models. Several of the proponents of each have written books outlining why they think their interpretation of Scripture supports their position. I refer you to those books and authors.

 

I’m sorry, but isn’t all the “contextualization” simply relativism?

There are excellent United Methodist congregations that hold multiple worship styles on the same Sunday morning. Sometimes they are labled “contemporary” and “traditional”. This is an example of contextualizing the gospel for different groups of people. It is possible that someone can use the word contextualization and stray from the authentic gospel of Jesus. But I know people who faithfully adjust certain optional aspects of Christian practice to fit their mission field. That is authentic contextualization. The question here is what is “optional” and what is “essential”.

 

Define contextualize? What is the UM source for that word?

I suggest you read the report when it is published. I do not know of a UM source for the use of the word.

 

To what extent was the Commission on A Way Forward guided by Scripture concerning "Unity?" (For example, Jesus' prayer for all believers or the case study in Acts.)

I believe that the  Commission was guided by the Mission, Vision and Scope in its charge and that they have developed several models of unity. See my blog on the idea of different forms of unity at www.extremecenter.com.

 

In regard to the three plans, do any of them propose changes in our "political" process?  (My belief is that discord in our church is due, in part, to our imitation of secular politics.)

United Methodists believe in making decisions in conferences governed by Robert’s Rules of Order. I believe politics is present whenever a group of persons is acting together on something they value. The only question is whether our politics are governed by Christian values or other values.

 

Where do we get a swag-shirt like the Bishop's?

Contact someone in the Annual Conference office. I have four of them and I love them!

 

CHURCH PROPERTY ‘TRUST CLAUSE’ – mention has been made that for any/all of the options some relaxation (moratorium) or actual revocation of the Trust Clause would be a consideration so those clergy, churches, annual conferences who due to conscience would leave can do so without forfeiture of property.  What is the status of this matter as it comes from the Commission on the Way Forward and Council of Bishops?

At the present time, the procedures for a congregation to withdraw from the denomination are under the trust clause and no change is being proposed. We will see if the Traditional Model includes a provision for an entire annual conference to become an affiliated autonomous church.

 

Bishop Jones stated “Every time a Central Conference tries to change the Book of Discipline to their context and it went to the Judicial Council, it has been defeated.” That is technically true, but it doesn’t address the variety of changes that didn’t get taken to the JC and are still in practice today. Is your claim that the Central Conferences use the exact same Book of Discipline that we use, with zero modifications beyond translation? If not, are those changes agreeable to you?

There are a variety of ways in which annual conferences around the world follow the Book of Discipline. There is wide recognition of the need for Central Conferences to be able to adapt the Book of Discipline. But formal adaptation by Central Conferences on matters deemed to be “connectional” is currently not allowed. For example, no annual conference anywhere in the world is permitted on principle to refuse to ordain women. The Committee on Central Conference Matters is currently working on a proposal for the 2020 General Conference regarding what is adaptable and what is not.

 

What do you foresee will come because of the approval of Constitutional Amendment #5 regarding the consecration and legitimacy of election of Bishop Oliveto?

That is unclear and I will not speculate on what might happen.

 

The Texas Annual Conference

If Texas Annual Conference debate on resolutions related to the Way Forward are heated, what principles will guide you as a moderator?

I will urge all members of the Conference to speak to the issues and not to personalities and to treat each other with respect. I hope we all embody convicted humility. But members are free to say things with which other members will disagree. I hope to maintain an atmosphere of mutual respect and Catholic Spirit.

 

You’ve said you believe the Texas Annual Conference will remain 90% unchanged by the 2019 General Conference. What is the basis for your assertion?

Actually I said I expect it to remain 95% unchanged. I am not prepared to give all of the reasons behind my prediction except to say that one idea seems highly unlikely to me. There was action at the last Jurisdictional Conference to suggest that our northern districts might be reassigned to the North Texas Conference if we have a reduced number of bishops. I do not believe there will be a redrawing of conference boundaries.

 

The One Church Model

Under the One Church Model, if a previously ordained minister in an annual conference later “came out” as homosexually active, could church law allow for such a person to be forcibly defrocked?

Under the One Church model, a previously ordained minister could self-identify as a practicing homosexual and would be in no danger of any complaint so long as his/her sexual activity is confined to a monogamous marriage between two people.

 

In the One church model would any “funds” in a conference that did not support “homosexual marriage or ordination possibly go to conferences, clergy or churches that did conduct homosexual marriages and or ordain homosexual persons.

That is a complicated question and I suggest you carefully review the One Church model when it comes out. It does adjust the funding of bishops’ salaries so that each episcopal area sends in sufficient funds for the compensation of its own bishop, but not in a way to provide complete protection for this concern. At the same time, it still prevents general agencies from using any apportioned funds for the promotion of homosexuality.

 

Under the One Church Model, if the local church prohibits same-sex marriage services in the church, will the pastor still be able perform same gender marriages in outside venues, and if so,  how will that impact the appointment process if the church does not desire a pastor who is willing to do so.

The pastor will have the option to decide which marriages to perform. A downside of the One Church Model is that the appointment process is much more complicated. A full member or commissioned elder must receive an appointment and so some churches may receive a pastor who does such weddings whether or not they approve of such practices. Proponents of the plans believe this can be handled by bishops who would not send a pastor to a church with a different perspective on this issue.

 

In the One Church Model, would every local church and Pastor get to decide if they wanted to conduct homosexual marriages? Even if that conference voted NOT to ordain homosexual persons?

In the One Church Model the questions of performing same-gender marriages is reserved to the pastor. The question of whether the church building could be used for same-gender ceremonies is made by the local church. The question of ordination of self-avowed practicing LGBTQ persons is made by the annual conference. So yes, under the One Church Model an annual conference could vote not to ordain self-avowed practicing LGBTQ persons and any pastor in the conference could go ahead and do same-gender weddings.

 

If the One Church Model is passed could there be a possible legal liability for Pastors who chose NOT to perform homosexual marriages?

The One Church Model specifically protects pastors from having to do any ceremonies contrary to their beliefs. There is no identified legal liability in US or State law that would put them at risk, either.

 

Bishop Jones stated the One Church plan would incredibly complicate itineracy of clergy and bishops. Bishops tell me they already do appointments based on a variety of qualifications: are they more relational, are they more systems, are they more executive, etc.  And yes: how is the match of their theologies and styles? So how does one more “official” check mark break the camel’s back when you already do it unofficially?

At the present time, all United Methodist clergy have a commitment to preach and maintain official United Methodist doctrine. There are boundaries they may not cross. On an issue as divisive as LGBTQ full inclusion and same-gender marriage, under the One Church model we would be operating with incompatible doctrines. If a progressive conference had 20 conservative pastors who are unwilling to perform same-gender marriages but only 10 full-time appointments for those persons, and still had an obligation for appointing them, the bishop would then have to force those progressive churches to take someone as pastor who did not fit them. The opposite would apply to conservative conferences.

 

The Connectional Conference Model

Isn’t it true that the Connectional Conference plan might require or lead congregations to have to vote on these issues in their church?

In the One Church Model, no local church has to vote. Every local church has the option to vote. In the Connectional Conference model the decision starts with the Jurisdictional Conference. In our case, the South Central Jurisdiction would vote about which Connectional Conference it would join. If an annual conference agreed with that choice, it would not vote but, upon motion of one of its members it could vote to join another Connectional Conference. That Annual Conference decision would be the default for all of its local churches. If a local church did not vote, it would follow its Annual Conference. But if it or a member of its charge conference made the motion, it could vote to join a different Annual Conference in order to belong to a different Connectional Conference. 

 

The Traditionalist Model

How could the Council of Bishops recommend the Traditionalist Model when it is not yet written?

The Council of Bishops did not recommend the Traditionalist Model. It voted to forward the Model to the General Conference for action based on the sketch provided to it.

 

How does the Traditionalist Plan meet the requirements of the mission, vision, and scope of A Way Forward? I know it is still being written. 
The sketch we received provides for a new form of unity. It seeks to bless progressive conferences as they form a new denomination that can be fully inclusive of LGBTQ persons. It provides for a similar kind of unity that the UMC has with the AME, CME and AMEZ denominations today but envisions closer cooperation on mission.

 

What the Traditionalist model does, that the others fail to as declared at this time, is to resolve that crisis by enforcing the BOD.  In the face of our current lack of fidelity to the clergy covenant, if left unresolved, can there be any way forward that really advances unity?

Please read the plans carefully when they are published. Each of them embodies a form of unity and each one allows more flexibility. Whether they would or could be implemented is another judgment call the General Conference would have to make.

 

What measures do you think need to be taken to ensure compliance with whatever plan is approved to counter what has been to date a breach of faithfulness to the covenant by clergy and bishops to the Book of Discipline?

I anticipate that the Traditional Model will have legislation for enhanced accountability. But because of our Jurisdictional Structure and the principled disobedience of nine annual conferences and their bishops, enhanced accountability is hard to achieve. The Traditional Plan should be carefully studied to see if it adequately answers your question.

 

General Conference

I’m guessing that the General Conference will be as divided as the Commission and the Council and that no plan will receive approval.  What then?

You are correct in perceiving that there is a fourth possibility—no action at all. The One Church Model and the Traditionalist Model each require a majority vote and so are more likely to pass. As a leader of the UMC, I have to thinking about contingency plans in case nothing passes the special session of General Conference, but I am not willing to speculate in public.

 

Is there a real possibility that we will continue with the process and come away with no resolution to this issue?

Yes.

 

Will only one plan be approved by the general conference in February 2019?

Once the General Conference convenes, it is able to make its decisions any way it wants to. Presumably it would not pass amendments to the Book of Discipline that are contradictory. However, there are some ideas in each plan compatible with another plan, so some sort of hybrid is possible.

 

Do you think all three plans will be available for General Conference delegates to vote on? Which plan do you believe has the best chance of passing the General Conference?

I thought the Council of Bishop’s decision was that all three models would be on the agenda for the General Conference to act on with the One Church Model being recommended and thus the main motion. However, several of my colleagues have publicly expressed a different understanding and several of them have agreed with me. I expect that all three models will be considered, either in the Council of Bishops’ report, or as petitions from annual conferences or individuals, or as a motion on the floor after the General Conference convenes. I will not speculate about which one has the best chance of passage.

 

If the called General Conference passes a plan will it require ratification (even if there are not constitutional amendments)?

The only decisions of the General Conference that require ratification are amendments to the Constitution of the UMC.

 

Are plans being made for how the results of the General Conference will be communicated and what steps maybe required for congregations to map their way forward under whatever is passed?

Preliminary conversations have been held within the Texas Annual Conference, but until we know what the three plans are in detail it is premature to think about how to respond to different outcomes.

 

Can a plan pass the called General Conference on a simple majority or does it need a or 2/3rds vote?

As currently formulated, either the One Church Model or Traditional Model can be passed by majority vote. The Connectional Conference Model includes constitutional amendments which require a 2/3 vote of General Conference delegates and a positive vote by 2/3 of the aggregate number of annual conference members.

 

Will the called General Conference operate under the rules from the 2016 General Conference?  If not has though been given to how the rules will be developed and approved?

The Rules of the General Conference in force on February 23 are the rules in force at the adjournment of the 2016 General Conference. A design team is at work crafting a process for the special session to do its work, but if they want a different process they will need to get a majority vote of the General Conference to amend the rules.

 

Will the Judicial Council have the opportunity to review the legislation and amendments for these models before General Conference 2019 to see if they are in harmony with our constitution and restricted rules?

There has been discussion about the October meeting of the Judicial Council reviewing the three plans. This will be after the deadline for petitions but before the General Conference convenes. I believe such a review would be helpful but it requires the Council of Bishops to request it.

 

Delegates

Will The Commission on a Way Forward/Council of Bishops report will make all three plans actionable petitions which UMC delegates can act on?

I believe the motion passed by the Council of Bishops was to forward all three plans as actionable. Clearly some bishops have a different interpretation of what we did, and I do not know of a way to resolve that discrepancy before July 8. Neither the Council nor its Executive Committee is scheduled to meet between now and then. If the Judicial Council allows petitions, I would expect all three plans to be submitted as actionable items by some group or annual conference. If the Judicial Council does not allow petitions, the Connectional Conference and Traditionalist models can be introduced as motions on the floor to amend or substitute for the One Church model.

 

What training will delegates have before February 2019? Will delegates poll membership before February? How and when?

The General Conference delegation met yesterday to discuss these issues. They will meet in the future as well.

 

If the entire plan is not released until July 8th and the deadline to submit responses for the February meeting is July 8th, how are people supposed to make informed decisions?
First, there are people who are suggesting to the Judicial Council that no petitions should be allowed other than the Council’s report. The Judicial Council will decide that question. If the Judicial Council allows petitions in their interpretation of Paragraphs 14 and 507 of the Book of Discipline, then people should submit petitions based on paragraphs in the Book of Discipline dealing with human sexuality. I am personally in favor of the three plans being published as soon as possible and long before July 8. I believe in transparency and sharing of information and I believe the issues of translating them and writing the historical narrative can be handled much more rapidly.

 

Bishop, you said you asked for full disclosure and transparency and it was defeated.  Please define "full disclosure" and "transparency" as you saw it then and see it now.

I want the three models published as soon as possible. Some bishops want to delay publication until the last minute. That serves full disclosure. I am uncomfortable having information about proposed legislation coming before the General Conference that is not being shared openly with annual conferences and delegates.

 

The Local Church

What does leadership look like for us as members of the local church? The Commission and council have had opportunity to meet and lead. Bishop, what is the best way for us as local church to lead?

I recommend leading with faith, hope and love. I want leaders to embody convicted humility (Catholic Spirit) and mutual respect. I want leaders to keep the main thing the main thing. Important as this is, our mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. I think more of our leadership time should be spent on evangelism and the We Love All God’s Children emphasis than on talking about this issue. Beyond that, the answer about leadership around this issue is different in each congregation. I suggest pastors and lay leadership talk honestly about the best way to handle it in your congregation. Talk with your District Superintendent to craft a good strategy.

 

If there is a split, has there been any thoughts on how to present a change for the UMW? 

I do not know of any conversations about the future of UMW with regard to these plans.

 

Can you tell me if the plans to be presented by July 8, 2018 will include a detailed "gracious exit" plan for those churches that may want to leave the denomination?  

At the moment, neither the One Church model nor the Connectional Conference model has a plan for gracious exit. The sketch we were given in November for the Traditionalist model had a plan for an annual conference to exit, but we will see if that makes it into the final report.

 

The Bishop said the Defined Benefit portion of clergy pensions is the church's responsibility "for up to 89 years." Where does that number come from? That will be helpful in my conversations with my local church.

A 25 year old newly commission pastor is serving right now. He/she is gaining a defined benefit in the 2017-18 conference year. If he/she serves 45 years and retires at age 70 but has married someone at age 60 who lives another 44 years, the surviving spouse is owed benefits in 2107. There are ways of predicting the current liability for those benefits and many conferences have pension reserves that under normal circumstances would cover them.