Reclaiming Our Methodist Roots with The Simple Plan
If you are a Wesleyan purist like myself and would like to see the United Methodist Church more closely resemble John Wesley's original movement, then you should strongly consider The Simple Plan.
I'm not going to lie: my heart breaks for my LGBTQIA+ friends who have had to endure the horrible injustices the church has delivered unto them. I personally find it hard to move past that, but I acknowledge that not everyone feels the same way I do. We can find common ground in The Simple Plan by examining its benefits to traditional Methodism.
I'm constantly bombarded by social media posts about how we are letting culture seep into our beliefs and degrade our interpretation of the Bible. In that light, I find it important to point out that the word "homosexual" doesn't appear in the Bible until 1946, about 54 years after the first recorded usage of the word (1). For context, we've only had the word "homosexuality" in our lexicon for a tenth of Christian history. Let's be clear: the moment "homosexual" entered into our Bible translations was the moment we caved into culture, reading more into the Bible than its authors could have possibly intended.
Like many of you, I've read all of Wesley's published sermons and most of his Biblical commentary. He doesn't weigh-in on "homosexuality" or even same-sex attraction. Indeed, there was no mainstream cultural conception of "homosexuality" at the time (2). Believing that the Bible or Wesley speak directly to modern conceptions of "homosexuality" is in essence a cultural interpretation, regardless of what you believe about "homosexuality". Thus, the removal of this cultural language by The Simple Plan serves to decouple our scripturally held beliefs from shifting cultural realities.
Similarly, our own Methodist use of "homosexuality" in the Discipline is only 47 years old and is in no way foundational to the Methodist movement. I don't think it's inherently wrong to have cultural interpretations of the Bible, but a large institution like the United Methodist Church cannot by its nature represent the cultural realities of every individual church and member. We recognize this in the allowances given to the Central Conferences to interpret the Discipline in light of their own cultural contexts.
As a Church, we've strayed far from our Class Meeting origins and their unique system of accountability. In a class meeting, individuals would confess their sins. In turn, their classmates would covenant to hold them accountable through a ministry of prayer AND presence throughout the week. Class groups were diverse, spanning different economic classes in a time when rich people paid for the best pews in the Anglican Church. In a Class meeting, a poor person and rich person alike, could look each other in the eye and covenant to hold each other accountable (3). Why not do it the same way with an LGBTQIA+ person and a heterosexual person?
This is a far cry from what we have now, where a faceless individual in one Conference can bring charges against a person in another conference whom they've never met, never had to look in the eye, have no responsibility towards, and where their accused doesn't know their heart. The Simple Plan takes accountability out of the hands of impersonal bureaucracies and places it back in the hands of your peers (as Wesley did), be it your local church members, or your own Board of Ordained Ministry.
I've heard from a number of individuals at smaller, more rural churches (read: the average United Methodist Church) on both sides of the fence who are concerned right now. They worry not that their church will be divided, but that "A General Conference decision outside of our control will cause one, or two, or three families to leave, which would be just enough to knock us out of sustainability." By simply removing the controversial language, The Simple Plan affords these churches the freedom to address matters of human sexuality on their own terms, in their own time, inside their own house; the way a Methodist Class meeting would have done it.
One of the reasons I fell in love with Methodism is the radically different way in which the movement was founded and rose to prominence. I know many of you feel the same way. It's no secret that we've strayed far from the path. I see The Simple Plan not as a radical move in a new direction, but rather a radical move back towards our roots. Some would even call it repentance.
Rev. Wil Ranney is an Ordained Deacon in the Iowa Annual Conference who specializes in Digital Ministry
Photo by Zach Reiner