NOTE: The following is the text of a column that the Rev. Beth Ann Cook posted on her Facebook page and sent out by e-mail with her reflections on the recently completed 2019 General Conference. It is reprinted with her permission and edited lightly.
Fear of the LORD is the foundation of wisdom. Knowledge of the Holy One results in good judgment. Proverbs 9:10
February 28, 2019
General Conference 2019 is over. I’m still exhausted. I’m also reflecting on what a mess it was and how we got here.
I’m convinced that one of the problem is that Progressives and Centrists do not understand what motivates those who voted for the Traditional Plan at GC. In the Indiana Delegation we have had lengthy, difficult, and even painful conversations about our positions and why we can or cannot support certain things. The Commission on a Way Forward did this well. I wish that people through out the church had done the same.
Case in point: Dorothee Benz of New York went to the microphone and said that a delegate from Pennsylvania had said gay people should be drowned. That is not what she said — although I’m sure it is what she heard. The delegate from Pennsylvania quoted Scripture:
But if you cause one of these little ones who trusts in me to fall into sin, it would be better for you to have a large millstone tied around your neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea. Matthew 18:6, NLT
The Pennsylvania delegate was saying it would be better for us to be drowned in the sea than vote for the One Church Plan. We are setting the official teaching of the denomination. One day we have to stand in front of God and be held accountable for our actions.
United Methodists who support the church’s historic position on marriage believe that changing the definition of marriage would be wrong. They believe God will hold them accountable for these actions because if we endorse it we are teaching people false teaching.
Conservative delegates were begged, cajoled, threatened and allegedly offered bribes to change their vote between the Legislative Session and the final vote. Tom Berlin told us that passing the Traditional Plan was the equivalent of giving the church a fatal virus.
But conservative delegates did not budge. Why? The answer is Fear of the Lord. We simply could not do so. We believe that we will be held responsible for this and that it is something that goes against the will of our Lord and Savior. We know we will stand before him some day.
These actions were not remotely understood by the Council of Bishops, Adam Hamilton, or progressive leaders. Part of the problem is that we live in silos. Those in places like the Western Jurisdiction rarely have real conversation with people who believe what I believe. Even in places like Indiana and West Ohio where we are theologically diverse we tend to talk mostly with people who agree with us.
They were convinced that based on their influence, charisma, or positions of power they could force OCP. At one point during a meeting in the Indiana Annual Conference I said I felt like a goose being fattened for foie gras — force fed something I couldn’t swallow.
In the run up to GC2019 Wesleyan Covenant Association, Good News, Confessing Movement and Africa Initiative leaders reached out to the Council of Bishops and Progressive Leaders. Chris Ritter did everything he could to talk people into trying for the Connectional Conference Plan even though it required constitutional amendments. There was zero interest.
The effort to pass a gracious exit even stalled when Uniting Methodists and Mainstream UMC leaders such as Jim Harnish and Mark Holland doubled down on “no exit provisions should be passed.”
No matter how much the voices like mine said “you are heading us over a cliff,” we were ignored. Bishop Scott Jones, who leads the Texas Annual Conference, spoke loudly about this and was not just ignored but vilified for it.
Those who believe what I believe went into St. Louis knowing that we likely had enough votes to block the One Church Plan and pass the Traditional Plan.
I talked with Kent Millard, president of United Theological Seminary and retired elder from the Indiana Conference, after the prioritization votes. He asked if I was surprised. I told him that we were about 1-2% stronger than I expected, but the vote was pretty close to my expectation. He told me the Centrists/Progressives were stunned.
Honestly I was stunned that they were stunned.
They kept citing this statistic that 2/3rds of US United Methodists supported the One Church Plan. I never believed this is an accurate statement. I think their poll numbers were skewed. The United Methodist New Service published a recent poll that shows that more United Methodists in the US identify as theologically conservative than progressive.
Yet the Council of Bishops is much, much more progressive than the average UMC church. They were so sure that everyone would line up behind their leadership.
I wonder if the Council of Bishops and Progressive/Centrist leaders are willing to listen now that we’ve inflicted so much pain on each other in St. Louis?
Can we now try to understand each other?
Can we now try to find an actual way forward we can vote for without violating our deeply held convictions?
Can we seek some sort of Affiliated Autonomous arrangement?
I pray this is the case. I’m willing to work for this behind the scenes. If anyone from the more progressive side of the house wants to talk, I’m willing to do that. (Although I would like a few weeks off.)
I’m also crazy enough to pray that I get elected to go to General Conference in 18 months in Minnesota. I know Progressives in our annual conference are very unhappy with me. I’ve seen a lot of posts about Progressives and Centrists organizing for elections taking place at Annual Conference. So I have no idea if I can get elected again. But I feel called to it — even if I’m weary of the whole mess. (And as a member of the Commission on the General Conference and the Ethics Committee, I have to go to GC2020 no matter what.)
May the Lord help us overcome our misunderstandings.
I continue to pray Luke 6:31. Lord help us treat one another as we want to be treated. Help us be known as people who love.
Blessings and peace,