Simple Plan v. One Church Plan: Are Progressives Splitting the Vote?

There have been some arguments made in progressive circles that a vote for the Simple Plan is a vote away from the One Church Plan. I’ve seen it often enough that it bears scrutiny and dismissal, and I’m thankful for UMForward allowing me this space to do that.

I don't believe that argument is valid given the structure of General Conference voting, and what I suspect will be the process on the first day of Conference, February 24th. I write the following as informed speculation to dismiss concerns that the Simple Plan is taking away support for other plans, including the One Church Plan.

There are currently six plans under consideration: two written by the Commission, one submitted along with the Commission plans, and three well-known ones submitted by other folks (perhaps more or less depending on the “in harmony” process by the Committee on Reference and attempted floor additions). Regardless of the final number, there will be a time for General Conference 2019 to decide which plan to support, choosing between several directions.

Since General Conference Commission is not revealing the process of voting on the plans yet, let's consider two scenarios that are the most likely.

Two Scenarios
There are two ways votes are taken at General Conference: Pluralities or Majorities. What might happen to these six plans under the two types of votes?

The Plurality Scenario is a multiple choice vote. General Conference does plurality votes for elections to Judicial Council, and our annual conferences do plurality votes to elect delegates to General Conference and Jurisdictional Conference. You type in the number of the person(s) you are voting for, and they receive a vote. The person with the most votes is elected, or if there is an unmet threshold, there is no election and we try again. In this scenario, using plurality voting, people cast a vote for their preferred plan out of six, and then we see the results. In this scenario, a vote for Simple Plan IS a vote away from the One Church Plan.

On the other hand, the Majority Scenario is a single choice vote. General Conference traditionally does this vote type for everything: do you agree to this legislation or do you not? Do you want to proceed or do you not? Do you want to suspend the rules, or do you not? You vote YES or NO, and then the majority prevails (or the super-majority, depending on the threshold needed).

With the plans under consideration, General Conference 2019 could vote on them one at a time ("Do you support OneChurch as the way forward for the UMC at this time? Yes or No") and then entertain a motion to support the plan that had the most affirmations. In this scenario, a vote for the Simple Plan IS NOT a vote away from the One Church Plan.  

You can see that the type of vote that General Conference chooses to use affects whether progressives would have to choose between the Simple Plan and the One Church Plan, or whether they can support both.

Which one will General Conference do? In my experience of attending four General Conferences, plurality voting is only done for the election of individuals. It is not done for legislation. While this is a unique situation, I don't think they would do plurality voting to decide between multiple options.

My prediction is that the General Conference will do majority votes one at a time on the first day of Conference (Sunday, February 24th). After the votes are taken, then the Plan with the most support can be the first one considered by the body on Day Two (Monday) when the actual legislation maneuvering takes place by the whole committee.

In that prediction, a vote for the Simple Plan would not detract from support of the other plans. It may seem to be less supported than the other plans right now, but when delegates realize they can support the Simple Plan without removing support of other plans, then I think its support will increase.

I get why progressives are concerned about splitting the vote given that the unified votes for the Traditional Plan will only be overcome by standing firm. But I think the above shows that progressives are not splitting the vote when it comes to the Simple Plan and the other plans. We can support multiple plans that we can “live with” so long as we present a united front against the Traditionalist Plan.

A progressive United Methodist can support the Simple Plan without taking away votes from other plans as acceptable alternatives. The goal is the liberation of LGBTQ persons and the righting of a church sick with sinful polity against LGBTQ persons. Whether the Simple Plan places us further down that road is the discernment of each individual.

I support the Simple Plan because it makes room for all without forcing a change of mind or heart from on high. I believe it reaffirms the Annual Conference as the basic unit of Methodism and allows us to move together toward a more just future. May the coming months of creeping Plan dissatisfaction cause delegates to take a second look at this simple way for United Methodism to move forward together to a future with hope.

Rev. Jeremy Smith
(he/him) is the Pastor of First United Methodist Church in downtown Seattle
and Blogger on Progressive Christianity at

Rev. Jeremy Smith