The United Methodist Church’s judicial council, the church’s highest court, has ruled to uphold major portions of the “Traditional Plan,” a measure that will provide stricter enforcement of the denomination’s rules against homosexual ordination and gay marriage.
The nine-member panel, which essentially functions as the UMC’s Supreme Court, was tasked with reviewing the legislation that was passed 438-384 last February during a special session of the General Conference in St. Louis. The council’s goal was to ensure the legislation didn’t violate the denomination’s constitution, which contains guidelines about church structure and processes.
As expected, the council upheld the core of the Traditional Plan but overruled several pieces of the plan. The court rejected legislation that would have:
- added accountability for bishops who did not enforce the church’s rule;
- required denominational leaders to certify that they would abide by the rules;
- required a board of ministry to conduct “an examination to ascertain whether an individual is a practicing homosexual,” allowing review of the individual’s social media.
However, the court ruled to uphold:
- a more detailed definition on what it means to be a “self-avowed, practicing homosexual”;
- added mandatory penalties for pastors who violate these rules;
- stricter policy regarding the commissions of bishops and church trials.
The largest mainline Protestant denomination in the U.S., the UMC boasts about 7 million members in America and 12.6 million worldwide. The passing of the Traditional Plan was seen as a landmark decision, closing a decades-long dispute over gay marriage and clergy.
Liberal United Methodists largely backed the “The One Church Plan,” which would have allowed regional bodies and local congregations to determine their own stance on homosexuality and same-sex marriage.
Delegates from overseas, particularly Africa, Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe, were a key factor in passing the Traditional Plan.
Opponents of conservatives had formed an alliance known as UMC-Next to discuss the best path forward for those who share their views. Leaders of the group have suggested that centrists and liberals should consider leaving en masse to form a new denomination or stay in the UMC and resist from within, hoping to convince conservatives that they should be the faction that departs.
Opponents of the Traditional Plan will have a chance to overturn it at the UMC’s next General Conference in May 2020, but the UMC’s conservative bloc is expected to grow even stronger.
The Rev. Thomas Lambrecht, vice president and general manager of Good News magazine, celebrated the result, stating that the UMC “sent a clear message that we will maintain traditional Biblical moral standards on marriage and human sexuality.”
“We will not forsake Scripture as our primary authority,” he said. “We will remain united with our global United Methodist brothers and sisters with shared common ethics.”
Under the judicial council’s ruling, individual churches will be allowed to disaffiliate with the UMC if two-thirds of the church community agrees, and if the church meets certain financial requirements.