A Progressive Pan-Methodism?

Last week I attended the Wesleyan Theological Society’s annual meeting which was held at Nazarene Theological Seminary in Kansas City. Over its 55-year history, WTS has tended to lean conservative but has always included more theological diversity than liberal United Methodists would assume.

This year was no exception. Among the dozens of papers presented, there were a few that articulated a positive application of Wesleyan theology for LGBTQIA persons (to my knowledge, no paper advocated for LGBTQIA discrimination). Keegen Osinski, a Vanderbilt librarian, presented ‘Don’t Be Sorry, Be Better: Queer Power and Wesley’s Caution Against Bigotry.’ She is working on a manuscript for Wipf and Stock for a book on queering Wesley. Emily Burke shared ‘Wesley, the Spirit, and the Gender Non-Conformity/Transgender Community.’

There were presentations, including my case study of my congregation’s development of ‘The North Declaration’ which summarizes the Wesleyan foundation for their practices of inclusion.

At the meeting, I encountered many—mostly young but not all—Nazarenes, Wesleyans, and Free Methodists who long for an inclusive Methodist church. They are motivated by their Wesleyan belief in the holy love of God and their passion to follow Jesus.

At the same time WTS was holding forth in Kansas City, left-leaning United Methodists gathered in Dallas for UM-Forward’s Lenten Gather to explore the possibilities of a ‘Liberation Methodist Church.’ It was a follow up to their Advent Gathering in Colorado last year. If the Protocol—or some version of it—creates a pathway for the creation of new Methodist denominations, this group of liberationists want to be ready to offer an alternative to a centrist-dominated UMC.

In the coming months and years, there may be a rare opportunity to create a fully inclusive Methodist denomination whose roots are wider than the remnants of UMC. We progressive/liberationist United Methodists who are ready to get on with being a new Methodism must not limit our scope to our current denominational ties. We have Nazarene, Wesleyan, Church of God, and Free Methodist siblings who are also feeling the same call of the Holy Spirit. None of us will be large enough to go on our own. Given the looser polities of those denominations, there are already a few churches that have disaffiliated from them because they are attracting a younger generation. They might want to affiliate with a new Methodist denomination that supports their practices of inclusion.

There is a much-needed gift that our non-United Methodist siblings can bring to us United Methodists. They have been formed by the Holiness Tradition and the deep practices of discipleship that are often lacking among mainline progressives. Personally, I feel more comfortable with them because of their holiness. It is a far better theological foundation for inclusion than the liberal pluralism of mainline Protestantism. It speaks to my Wesleyan heart and it is the antidote United Methodist congregations need.

The history of American Methodist schisms is full of stories about disparate groups finding their way to unite with one another. Could it be that we are on the cusp of a similar moment? We must be attentive to the movement of the Holy Spirit.

The North Declaration

In these strange days, it is hard to say what a progressive church should be prepared to do after General Conference. The right question to ponder is not “what” but “who.” Over the past nine months, my congregation, North UMC, has been discerning who they are as Methodists.

The conversation began in the wake of the 2019 General Conference adopting the Traditional Plan. The leadership said, “We are Methodists, but we are NOT that kind of Methodists.” A writing team was formed to lead the congregation through a process to understand and articulate who they are as Methodists who practice full inclusion of LGBTQIA believers.

The result is “The North Declaration.” (Pdf version is available on their website)

The North Declaration

Epiphany 2020

Introduction

North United Methodist Church is an inclusive congregation with a heritage and a hope of welcoming all people and honoring the diversity in our congregation for the mission of Christ and to the glory of God. We are a church where spiritual journeys meet, and throughout our history we have engaged complex and controversial issues with study and honest conversation that has enriched our journey.

Our denomination is currently in a moment of crisis that creates an opportunity for us to reexamine and clarify who we are as Methodists.

This statement is the result of a congregational process of theological reflection and conversation. It expresses the Wesleyan foundation of our congregation’s life and mission. Its purpose is to be educational and informative for this moment in the life of our congregation and denomination.

This declaration is not a comprehensive summary of church doctrine. We acknowledge that there are other ways to express one’s beliefs in our congregation and the denomination.  This declaration only addresses how the issues of sexuality relate to our core Methodist beliefs. We realize that there are additional issues, such as racism and neo-colonialism, which have complex relationships with issues of sexuality. We see this declaration as one small part of a larger vision of liberation.

Our prayer is that God will use this declaration to inform and inspire the reader as they grow in grace.

The Declaration

Image of God

We believe all persons are created in the image of God. We see God in the uniqueness of each person and we experience God through loving one another and being loved by one another.

We reject any interpretation of God’s image that limits it to one sexual orientation or gender identity.

Sin

We believe sin is any human action, attitude, policy, or system that violates the image of God in humanity. All persons are drawn to sin and participate in sinful behavior and systems.

We reject the naming of any sexual orientation; gender identification, and loving, same-sex intimate relationships as sinful and reject the shaming of people for being the persons God created them to be.

Prevenient Grace

We believe God’s prevenient grace protects all persons from the full effects of sin through relationships, spaces, and social movements that are safe, affirming, and draw us away from life-threating shame and show us that we are loved by God.

We reject that God’s prevenient grace is experienced only through the church. We refuse to believe that God cannot work through that which the church has ignored or rejected.

Repentance

We believe that repentance is a conscious decision to turn to God and away from harming others and ourselves, and to accept the freedom and power God gives us to resist evil, injustice, and oppression.

We reject harmful acts of repentance such as emotional manipulation, shaming, and conversion therapy that lead a person to reject who God created them to be.

Justifying Grace

We believe that justifying grace is God’s unconditional acceptance and forgiveness. It is uniquely expressed to each person who receives it by faith in Christ.

We reject that one must be cisgender, be straight, act straight, or be celibate to receive justifying grace.

Sanctifying Grace

We believe that sanctifying grace (holiness) is the indwelling work of the Holy Spirit restoring our lives and renewing the world with the love and liberation of God.

We reject any idea of holiness that requires a person to deny or attempt to change their sexual orientation or gender identity to be a whole person in Christ.

The Church and Ordination

We believe the church is the work of the Holy Spirit bringing together all who seek to love and serve Christ through our diversity. We believe the church is called to be a means of grace to the world. We believe that the Spirit calls LGBTQIA believers into ordained ministry for the sake of the church’s mission, and the church must open its practices to the work of the Spirit.

We reject any definition or practice of the church that grieves the Holy Spirit by delaying reforms, by placing institutional preservation over the calling of our siblings in Christ, or by allowing some parts of the church to discriminate.

Marriage

We believe marriage is a covenant of mutual love and service between two persons whom God has brought together to deepen and express their faith.

We reject any definition of marriage that limits it to only a man and a woman.

Scripture

We believe the purpose of scripture is to be a means of grace through which the Holy Spirit breathes life into our relationship with God, ourselves, and others. We believe the Spirit accomplishes this when we study the Bible with prayer, scholarly inquiry, and communal reflection.

We reject any theology that uses the Bible to exclude, shame, or perpetuate violence against LGBTQIA persons.

CONCLUSION

As Wesleyans, our best theology is sung.  A deeper and fuller understanding of this declaration comes by singing together:

Love divine, all loves excelling,
Joy of heaven to earth come down:
fix in us thy humble dwelling,
all thy faithful mercies crown:
Jesus, thou art all compassion,
pure, unbounded love thou art;
visit us with thy salvation,
enter every trembling heart.

Breathe, O breathe thy loving Spirit
into every troubled breast;
let us all in thee inherit,
let us find that second rest:
take away our bent to sinning;
Alpha and Omega be;
end of faith, as its beginning,
set our hearts at liberty.
Come, Almighty to deliver,
let us all thy life receive;
suddenly return, and never,
nevermore thy temples leave.
Thee we would be always blessing,
serve thee as thy hosts above,
pray and praise thee without ceasing,
glory in thy perfect love.

Finish, then, thy new creation;
pure and spotless let us be:
let us see thy great salvation
perfectly restored in thee;
changed from glory into glory,
till in heaven we take our place,
till we cast our crowns before thee,
lost in wonder, love, and praise.

Adopted by the Board of Directors of North United Methodist Church, Indianapolis, Indiana, USA on 22 January 2020.

TERMINOLOGY

Cisgender-denoting or relating to a person whose sense of personal identity and gender corresponds with their birth sex

Gender Identity– a person’s perception of having a particular gender, which may or may not correspond with their birth sex

LGBTQIA– Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning, Intersex, Asexual/Allies

Sexual Orientation– a person’s sexual identity in relation to the gender to which they are attracted

Straight– a heterosexual person

REFERENCES

 Articles of Religion (AR) & Confession of Faith (CF)John Wesley’s Sermons & WritingsCharles Wesley’s Hymns & Other Sources
Image of God The One Thing Needful. II.2] The Image of God. I.1-4 Original Sin. III.5United Methodist Hymnal (UMH) 346 v.5  
SinAR. Article VII CF. Article VII      The One Thing Needful. I.2 The Mystery of Iniquity. § 2 The End of Christ’s Coming. I.10] The Great Privilege of those that are Born of God. II.2 Sermon on the Mount. VI. III.13 God’s Love to Fallen Man. §1Collection of Hymns for the Use of the People Called Methodists (COH) 106  
Prevenient GraceAR. Article VIII    The Scripture Way of Salvation. I.2 The Spirit of Bondage and of Adoption. II.1 Thoughts Upon Slavery. III.8, IV.8, V.7COH 114 UMH 339, 386  
Repentance The Way to the Kingdom. II.1UMH 34, 355
Justifying GraceAR. Article IX CF. Article IXJustification by Faith. II.5; IV.2COH 127 UMH 363, 385
Sanctifying GraceCF. Article XI        Justification by Faith. II.1 The Great Privilege of those that are Born of God. § 2 On God’s Vineyard. I.5 On Zeal. II.5 The First-Fruits of the Spirit. I.3, 6 The Witness of the Spirit, Part Two. V.1,3 The Great Privilege of those that are Born of God. III.2 A Plain Account of Christian Perfection. ¶ 27 Christian Perfection. I.1-8; II.1; III.8UMH 384, 388, 422
Church and OrdinationAR. Article XIII CF. Article V    On Baptism. II.3 On Zeal. II.5 The Catholic Spirit. § 4 The Character of a Methodist. § 18UMH 550, 553, 566, 606, 616
ScriptureAR. Article V & VI CF. Article IV  Notes on NT, Romans 12:6 Preface to Sermons on Several Occasions. ¶ 5UMH 595, 603

Comparing the Protocol with the UMC Next & Indianapolis Plans

Last week United Methodists received news that representatives of various caucuses and of the Council of Bishops agreed to a Protocol for the separation of the denomination that will be presented at General Conference. As reported, it represents a significant compromise of various plans and proposals. Two of the major plans that appear to have influenced the Protocol were the Indianapolis Plan and the UMC Next Plan.

This chart compares the Protocol with those two plans (the Protocol is in the center to illustrate how the other two feed into it). Legislation for the Protocol has not been crafted yet, and it may be useful for delegates to see the gaps and the details in the other two plans to assist their work of perfecting legislation.

 Indianapolis Plan (‘New Denominations of United Methodism’)Protocol (‘Protocol of Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation’)UMC Next Plan (‘Next Generation UMC’)
SignatoriesUS-Based Traditionalist Caucus Leaders, American Centrist & Progressive LeadersUS-Based Traditionalist, Centrist & Progressive Caucus Reps; US & CC Bishops; a clergyperson from Philippines CCAmerican Centrist & Progressive Leaders, including US bishops; a General Secretary & a US DS
Vision of SeparationFormation of a traditionalist and a centrist churches with option for a progressive church; legal continuance of UMC through a centrist church; all may use UMC name & logo with a modifierFormation of a traditionalist church and possibility of other denominations; UMC continues post-separationUMC remains intact; COB may recognize other denominations that are formed by former UMC local churches; new denominations formed may use UMC name & logo with ‘a secondary moniker’
Issue of SexualityTraditionalist church retains traditional teachings on sexuality; Centrist church implements SP and OCP post-separation; Progressive church policy of church wide policy & practice of same-sex weddings & ordination of LGBTQ personsPotential changes in post-separation UMC (see timeline)Removes from Discipline: traditional definition of marriage, ‘incompatibility’ statement, prohibition on ordination of LGBTQ persons ban on funding LGBTQ programs Expanded definition of inclusion in BOD; Asks for a 2023 GC special session to ‘expand and codify the full participation and leadership of LGBTQ persons in ministries and mission of the Church’
US Regional Conference See timelineSupports adoption of CT proposal for US Regional Conference
Process for Forming New DenominationsTraditionalist & Centrist churches=CC, AC, local church voting options;

Progressive church=50 local churches and/or 1 AC; CC may form or align with another denomination
Traditionalist church=CC, AC, local church voting options  Formed by local churches, not ACs;

Recognition of new denomination ‘based on scale, polity, and shared Christian ministry and mission;’ COB authorized to ‘determine whether an association of local churches qualifies as a New Denominational Expression of Methodism’ and whether UMC enters into an ecumenical agreement with them; Does not limit the number of New Denominational Expressions of Methodism
Voting EligibilityAC CC Local ChurchesAC CC Local ChurchesLocal Churches only, no AC or CC voting
Voting ProcessVoting is voluntary;

If not vote, default position: US AC=centrist church CC=traditionalist church

Non-US AC=the decision of their CC

Local Churches=the decision of their AC or CC
Voting is voluntary;

If no vote, default position:
US AC=UMC
CC=UMC

Non-US AC=the decision of their CC

Local Churches=the decision of their CC
Voting is voluntary;


If no vote, default position=UMC
Voting ThresholdsMajority at all levelsCC=2/3

AC=20% approval to take vote; 57% to separate from UMC [in both US and CCs]

Local Church=church council determines: Majority or 2/3
2/3
Local Church property, assets, liabilitiesReleased from trust clause; local church retains all assets & liabilitiesReleased from trust clause; local church retains all assets & liabilitiesReleased from trust clause; local church retains all assets & liabilities; (see requirements below)
Local Church apportionments, other feesNo requirements other than legally binding agreements (e.g. loans)“At separation, such a local church shall not be required to pay any sums to the Annual Conference other than previously documented loans”GCFA provides standardized separation agreements: ‘shall not be required to pay more than 12 months of apportionments;’ Other liability payments to AC required; Payment terms at ‘a reasonable rate of interest’ and ‘shall not exceed ten (10) years;’ Transfer of pension liability to the new denominational expression if there is an ecumenical agreement; AC may develop additional requirements; Requires AC majority vote
Dissafiliation to become an independent local churchRelies on ¶ 2553Affirms ¶ 2553Above mentioned requirements and pension liability payments
PensionsWespath continues services; Liabilities assigned to new denominations or, to local church if it becomes independentWespath continues services; Liabilities assigned to new denominations or, to local church if it becomes independentWespath continues services; Liabilities assigned to new denominations or, to local church if it becomes independent
AC, JC, CC property, assets, liabilitiesRetained by those entitiesRetained by those entitiesRetained by those entities
AC, CC related-institutionsAffiliate with the denomination of their AC, CC unless their bylaws allow for realignment  
General Boards & AgenciesBecome independent to service new denominations: Wespath UMCOR UMW UMM UM Publishing House All other continue in the centrist churchRemain part of a post-separation UMC; may provide grant money to traditionalist church to address racismRemain part of UMC; May form agreements to serve new denominations
Financial Agreements“A process and principles for allocating general church assets to fund transition to new denominations and to be devoted to the missional purposes of each denomination thereafter would be adopted by the 2020 General Conference.”  GCFA budgeted for 2021-2024: $25m for the traditionalist church$2m escrowed for other potential denominations GCFA budgeted for 2021-2028 (with $13m contributed by the traditionalist church): $39m to address “systems of systemic racial violence, exploitation and discrimination” (includes earmarks for National Plans and AU)Grants for New Denominational Expressions; Differing amounts based on: # churches & #professing members; Based on amounts remitted to ACs for general apportioned funds in most recent fiscal year  
Moratorium (Abeyance) on Complaints & Charges during Transition PeriodYesYesYes
Timeline2020
At end of GC—moratorium
Aug. 1—new denominations may begin operating on interim basis;temporary suspension of retirements & election of bishops
July 1—local churches may begin voting



2021
Jan. 1—Deadline for US AC vote
Mar. 31—Deadline for CC vote
Fall—inaugural GCs for new denominations (Progressive church may be given extended time)

2021-2022 Retirement & election of bishops

2021-2024
All denominations support funding for CC ministries 2028 Dec. 31—Deadline for final votes on realignments of CC, AC, local churches
2020
Jan. 1—abeyance began
At end of GC—formation of new denominations begins












2021
May 15—deadline to register new denominations with COB
July 1—deadline for US ACs to take affiliation vote
Dec. 31—deadline for CCs to take affiliation vote


















2024
Dec. 31—Deadline for local church affiliation vote; final payment to traditionalist church and other denominations





2028
Final payment to address systemic racism
 
Unspecified
COB calls 1st session of post-separation UMC GC, which may consider constitutional amendment for a US regional conferenceIf US regional conference is adopted, COB calls for first session of such conference to consider legislation to repeal TP and other changes related to LGBTQ persons
2020
At end of GC—moratorium; local church disaffiliation options begin; formation of new denominations begin
Aug. 1—Commission on the 21st Century Church begins work on proposal for (1) new constitution; (2) ‘lean & nimble governance structure;’ (3) role and relationships of general agencies; (4) provisions for a US regional conference structure























2023
Autumn—GC special session to act on Commission’s recommendations










2025
Dec. 31—deadline for local church disaffiliation options

Testimony of a Radical Methodist

     In every crisis there is an opportunity, and in the current crisis of the United Methodist Church there is an opportunity for us to rediscover the roots of our Methodist identity. According to Merriam-Webster such moments are ‘radical:’ ‘of, relating to, or proceeding from a root.’

     The roots of my Methodist identity have led me to this ‘radical’ conclusion: a church-wide policy and practice of marriage equality and ordination of LGBTQIA believers who are called to ministry are the faithful fruit of our Methodist roots.   

      Anything less—such as the One Church Plan disguised in the UMC Next’s plan—or anything that delays this—such as the Connectional Table’s U.S. Regional Conference proposal—poisons those roots and will bear bad fruit.

     What are the roots of Methodism? Simply put, it is Jesus Christ in your heart. It is the love of God which we have been given in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit forgiving, freeing, reforming, and animating us from the inside out to love others, especially our enemies and opponents, and to do the works of mercy, justice and peace in the name of Jesus. It is the Spirit of the risen Christ filling us with love to be the agents of liberation.

     For those keeping score of my theology, this is the doctrine of holiness, sanctification, Christian perfection, perfect love to use Wesleyan parlance. It is theosis, to put it on the broader theological map. The doctrinal basis for this is a thorough-going Trinitarian understanding of God that includes a deeply orthodox affirmation of the Incarnation.

     I know that there are other progressive United Methodists that arrive at these non-negotiables by way of liberal Protestant theology. But not me. When I speak of divine love, it is not an abstract ideal or a human aspiration; it is the gift of the Holy Spirit. When I talk about the Incarnation, it is not the watered-down reinterpretation of the creeds; it is the actual hypostatic union of the Second Person of the Trinity kind-of-stuff. Ireneaus and Athanasius, as well as Cone and Gutiérrez, inform and inspire my thinking.

     The root of Methodism produces radical fruit. If you really believe in Orthodox teachings then this heart-felt religion is no opiate of the masses or Americanized consumerist faith. True Methodism includes both altar calls and picket lines. If it is really Jesus the Incarnate and Risen One in your heart then it will lead you to acts of nonconformity and liberation. The Jesus who is in your heart was the one who confronted the Pharisees, fed the hungry, ate with the outcasts, and ran the money changers out of the Temple. He will do no less when he takes up residency in your heart.

     Just as Jesus lives in my heart, so too does Jesus live in the hearts of my LGBTQIA kinfolk. I have experienced the witness of the Holy Spirit in them. They manifest the fruit and the gifts of the Spirit. They lead our churches in the Spirit and they witness to the love of Christ. Any interpretation of scripture that rejects their ministries and marriages is an interpretation that blasphemes the Holy Spirit.

     Despite our sexual and gender differences, there is a deeper spiritual unity. Out of this spiritual unity comes the affirmation—not the suppression—of our diversity. It is an affirmation grounded in the Incarnation, and the Holy Spirit creates this unity without uniformity. This unity in the Spirit of Christ is the fundamental nature of the church. This is the root definition of a Methodist church.

    If this is the root of Methodism, then the work of the Holy Spirit takes precedence over organizational unity and institutional preservation. This is why the starting point for renewal must include

‘church-wide protection against discrimination based on race, color, gender, national origin, ability, age, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, or economic condition, and that practices full itinerancy of LGBTQIA+ pastors and same-sex weddings in all their churches (Indianapolis Plan, Basic Provision #5).’

    Many centrists argue that we need to give people time to grow into this, that you cannot dump it on them. They are partially right; one dimension of sanctification is gradual growth in grace. However, gradualism applies to the individual’s faith development. It should not be the official policy of the denomination. Making gradualism our policy does nothing but grieve the Holy Spirit and poisons the roots of Methodism.

      Indeed, for me—a straight, white guy—to continue to make progress toward Christian perfection means that I need to be part of a church with such a clear policy that creates the kinds of practices and relationships that decenter my privileged sins and challenges me to receive the Holy Spirit through others who are different from me.

     Given the current political dynamics in the UMC, I feel that the only option, at this time, is to support the formation of a new Methodist denomination whose orientation is this kind of holiness. I do not believe it is possible for the United Methodist Church to become that kind of church. Our dysfunction is too deeply entrenched. Unity for the sake of institutional preservation (disguised in the rhetoric of “missional” and “global”) reinforces relationships and attitudes that do not foster the love of Jesus in our hearts.

What we must seek is revival. A revival of holy love is the roots of Methodism. In the future, God will give us new forms of unity, but only after we return to our roots.

[Postscript: Given the recent development of Protocols for separation, the possibility of a liberationist Methodist denomination remains unclear. I have real concerns about its practical viability. In that case, we may not see the formation of a denomination but rather an association within the post-separation UMC that looks different from the current progressive caucuses. Revival takes many forms but what is clear is that it will not find expression in the current political organizations whose livelihood is drawn from this present conflict.]

    

Comparing the Traditional Plan & Next Generation UMC Plan

The Indianapolis Plan is often compared to the Next Generation UMC Plan (UMC Next) as if they are opposites. The real comparison should be between UMC Next and the WCA’s Traditional Plan. Both envision the UMC remaining a single denomination with those who disagree being forced to comply or invited to leave. Several other features run parallel as this chart illustrates.

 Traditional PlanNext Generation UMC Plan
DesignersAmerican Traditionalist LeadersAmerican Centrist & Progressive Leaders
Unity in UMCUMC remains 1 denominationUMC remains 1 denomination
Policy on SexualityReaffirms current teachings on sexuality, marriage, ‘self-avowed, practicing homosexuals’ & continues ban on funding LGBTQ programs/organizations.Removes: traditional definition of marriage, ‘incompatibility’ statement on sexuality, prohibition on ordination of ‘self-avowed practicing homosexuals’ & ban on funding LGBTQ programs/organizations. Expanded definition of inclusion in BOD.
Implementation of Sexuality PolicyContinuation of the Traditional Plan as adopted by 2019 GC with the following additions:
*Respondents in just resolutions ‘commit to abide in the future by the provisions’ in BOD;
*Empowers COB to place a bishop on involuntary leave or retirement;
*Creates a council relations committee & an administrative review committee on COB for adjudicating whether a bishop will be placed on involuntary leave or retirement;
*Mandates fair hearing process;
*Ensures right of appeal to JC;
*BOOM members, bishops, AC secretaries certify that members of BOOM will ‘uphold, enforce, and maintain’ BOD;
*BOOM shall conduct full examination of candidates, ‘including but not limited to ¶ 304.1-3.’
Immediate moratorium on complaints & charges related to LGBTQ issues. Removal of Traditional Plan provisions in BOD. Asks for a 2023 GC special session to ‘expand and codify the full participation and leadership of LGBTQ persons in ministries and mission of the Church.’
Global StructureCurrent structureSupports adoption of CT proposal for US Regional Conference Creation of a ‘Commission on a 21st Century Church’ which will propose:
*A new constitution ‘lean and nimble governance structure;’
*Revised roles and relationships of general agencies;
*Provisions for a regional US structure.
Calls for a special session of GC in 2023 to act on the commission’s recommendations.
Formation of New DenominationsNot determined by GC or COB (See AC disaffiliation)Formed by local churches, not ACs;
Recognition of new denomination(s) ‘based on scale, polity, and shared Christian ministry and mission;’
COB authorized to ‘determine whether an association of local churches qualifies as a New Denominational Expression of Methodism’ and whether UMC enters into an ecumenical agreement with them;
Allows new denomination(s) to use ‘United Methodist’ and UMC insignia with ‘a secondary moniker;’
Does not limit the number of New Denominational Expressions of Methodism;
Agreements with new denomination(s) may include financial support for transition period (budgeted by GC);
Transition period provided for formation of the new denomination(s)
Options for local churches who disagree with policies*Disaffiliation from UMC: *Based on declaration that denomination’s policies are ‘harming its ministry;’
*GCFA provides standardized separation agreements (no additional AC requirements);
*Pay any unpaid apportionments for the 12 months prior;
*Release from trust clause.

Pension liabilities:
*If affiliating with a denomination formed of former UMC congregations—pension liabilities transferred into new denomination;
*If becoming independent—mandatory contribution for pension liabilities at 50% of pro rata share
 
Requires church conference called by church council or 10% or more of professing members; Simple majority vote; No AC vote required
Disaffiliation to become an independent local church:
*Based on denomination’s policies violate their ‘conscience around issues of human sexuality;’
*GCFA provides standardized separation agreements;
*AC may develop additional requirements ‘shall not be required to pay more than 12 months of apportionments;’
*Release from trust clause;
*Pension liability payments required;
*Other liability payments to AC required
*Payment terms at ‘a reasonable rate of interest’ and ‘shall not exceed ten (10) years;’
*Church conference called by church council 2/3 ;
*vote required (by simple majority vote);

Process for ‘changing their relationship with the United Methodist Church through a new denominational expression of Methodism’:
*Same as above except for:
*Notification of congregation shall include information about the proposed new denominational expression;
*Transfer of pension liability to the new denominational expression if there is an ecumenical agreement.
Options for ACs who disagree with policiesDisaffiliation from UMC Based on disagreement with denomination policies related to sexuality;
Simple majority vote;
Retains sole responsibility for pension liabilities;
Local churches’ right to remain UMC by church conference majority vote.

Clergy in disaffiliating AC may remain UMC upon request & may continue to serve current appointment for up to 2 years until a suitable appointment is found in UMC
No option  
General boards & agenciesRemain part of UMCRemain part of UMC;
May form agreements to serve new denominations
Finances/assetsGrants for Disaffiliating ACs:
1-time grant for transitional expenses (formula: $7.50 per member; min. $20,000; max. $1.25m);
from GC budget  
Grants for New Denominational Expressions, differing based on:
*Number of churches
*Number of professing members
*Amounts remitted to ACs for general apportioned funds in most recent fiscal year
COB oversees grants;
Use of professional mediator;
from GC budget
Timeline2020 at end of GC—local church & AC disaffiliation processes begin2020 at end of GC:
*moratorium;
*local church disaffiliation options; & formation of new denominations begin.
*Aug. 1—Commission on the 21st Century Church begins work

2023:
*Autumn—GC special session to act on Commission’s recommendations

2025:
*Dec. 31—deadline for local church disaffiliation options

Abbreviations: AC—Annual Conference; BOD—Book of Discipline; BOOM—Annual Conference Board of Ordained Ministry; COB—Council of Bishops; CT—Connectional Table; GC—General Conference; GCFA—General Commission on Finance & Administration; JC—Judicial Council; LGBTQ—Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning; WCA—Wesleyan Covenant Association.

The Limitations of the Indianapolis Plan

     I believe it is God’s will that United Methodists separate into different denominations. Our disagreements over the status of LGBTQIA believers are irreconcilable. Our differences over the work of the Holy Spirit are incompatible. The deep dysfunctions in our tradition are unsolvable as long as we remain a single denomination.

     For everything there is a season and now is the season to “tear down” so that we can “build” more faithful ways to be Methodists (Eccl. 3:1,3).

     But there is a gap between knowing this general direction and the specific steps. Legislative changes at General Conference are only a few of those steps. Just as important is discernment and diplomacy before General Conference and conversation and cooperation after General Conference.

     This is true of the Indianapolis Plan. There are limitations to the Plan. Even though I believe General Conference should adopt it, there are many ways in which it should be refined by additional legislation, diplomacy, and discernment.  

INTENTIONAL LIMITATIONS

      There are a number of intentional limitations in the Plan designed to give us freedom to follow the Spirit in ways that we cannot see at this point in time.

      We were intentional not to over-describe the new denominations. Rather, we felt it necessary to give a basic starting point so that the leadership of those new denominations will not be hamstrung by us. For example, the names and the modifiers (if they choose to continue to use UMC) should be made by the new denominations and not imposed by this General Conference.

     The Indianapolis Plan does not “legislate from the grave” what the relationships should be among those new denominations. Personally, I would like to see substantial connections among those new denominations. For example, I favor local congregations that are predominately “traditional compatibilists”  being federated churches of a Traditionalist UMC and a Centrist UMC. However, the decision to allow for such a dual affiliation should not be made by the General Conference of the old order.

A key issue General Conference will have to decide is the degree of ongoing connections future denominations should have. The delegates may decide that there should be more connections than the Indianapolis Plan recommends.

UNAVOIDABLE LIMITATIONS

      There are limitations to the Indianapolis Plan that were unavoidable because of the short timeline and limited resources we had to do our work. Some of these limitations are inevitable because the political situation in the denomination is still evolving. There is a lot of time between now and next May for things to change.

     Some of these limitations reflect that any process of separation will require non-legislative initiatives. The ending of one era and the beginning of another is more about formation than legislation. At its best, the Indianapolis Plan offers the framework for this additional work to be accomplished with the least amount of animosity and injustice.

     A good example of these limitations is the Plan’s recommendation for the reallocation of assets. We were unable to come to an agreement on a detailed plan, and I think that was the work of the Spirit limiting our work.

     There may need to be modifications to the timeline. The Plan is sensitive to the two ends of the spectrum—There is a quick resolution for those who are ready to start the new denominations (as early as August 2020) and a generous deadline for folks who will need a long time to decide (December 31, 2028). But in between, I suspect the delegates will need to do more work and amend the deadlines for the formation of these new denominations. There may need to be transitional structures, such as a commission, to facilitate the separation.

    The majority vote threshold and its impact on local churches may require more discernment that will come from the wide array of perspectives among the delegates. Even though I believe a majority vote is the best option, changing the threshold would not fundamentally alter the framework of the Plan (however, it will substantially alter the outcome).

TRUST THE DELEGATES AND THE SPIRIT

     Some have suggested to me that the crafters of the Indianapolis Plan should hammer out a compromise with the makers of other plans. We should not give caucuses too much power or overestimate their influence. One should also remember that the Indianapolis Plan is a realistic compromise plan.  

      Now that the petitions have been filed, the negotiations and compromises should be done by the delegates. Only the delegates have the authority to make the final decision. I am confident that the delegates will engage in conversation and discernment before General Conference. I trust the Holy Spirit to work through them and I am praying for them.

     And what if they mess it up? I trust the Holy Spirit to work through them and I am praying for them. The church is saved by grace, not by petitions, compromises, and diplomacy.

Hope, Compromise & the Indianapolis Plan

     The Indianapolis Plan is the only plan conceived by a group that represents the full theological diversity of the denomination’s stance on sexuality. At the table were people diametrically opposed to each other’s opinions, and for the purpose of crafting a realistic plan that is the diversity that matters most. As a result, the hopes and compromises in the plan reflect this diversity.

TRADITIONALIST COMPROMISES

    Some have accused the Indianapolis Plan of being a WCA inspired scheme. They deride the progressives and centrists who worked on the plan for selling out to the traditionalists. Yet, the details of the plan reveal four key compromises that the traditionalists made:  

     One, the centrist denomination will be the default position for American annual conferences. According to the plan, no annual conference will be required to take a vote. If they do not vote, then they will automatically become a part of the centrist denomination. No local church will be required to take a vote, and if they do not vote they will align with the choice (made by default or vote) of their annual conference. This gives centrists a huge home court advantage. A traditionalist could make the argument that this is unfair because our current policies are traditionalist. If it was a WCA plan, then the default position throughout the denomination would be to align with the traditionalist denomination.

     Two, the legal continuation of The United Methodist Church will be held by the centrist denomination. The unforeseen consequences of this concession may play badly for traditionalists depending on the fairness of centrists in the future.

     Three, the general agencies (other than those, such as Wespath, that will serve all future denominations) will become a part of the centrist denomination. One could argue that traditionalists never liked or supported them in the past. Some traditionalists, such as Billy Abraham, have argued that traditionalists should gain control to enact radical conservative reforms. Yet, if they want to pillage them for their resources and dominate their agendas, this will not happen in the Indianapolis Plan.

     Four, the plan offers only aspirational recommendations for denominational assets. If the centrists and progressives on the Indianapolis team were carrying the water for traditionalists, then we did a poor job of it. The plan leaves their buckets empty of any specific commitments for assets. The team explored a wide variety of specific proposals and we could not come to any agreement. Instead, we agreed to the general aspirational statement about assets. If this was a WCA inspired plan then the provision about assets would look very different.

    These features that are unfriendly to traditionalists is why the WCA’s endorsement of the plan came after much debate and was not unanimous. Like centrists and progressives, they too have their internal disagreements on how best to proceed.

      Centrists and progressives do not need to agree with traditionalists, but they need to listen closely to them in this present moment. From a traditionalist perspective, they believe that if anyone should leave the denomination it should be non-traditionalists. They will say that they have not violated the Discipline, unlike non-traditionalists who advocate a “stay and resist” strategy.  They too have their own version of “stay and resist” and characters practicing it.

CENTRIST COMPROMISES

     A realistic plan is a compromise. Just as the traditionalists compromised, so too did the centrists in three ways.

     One, a majority vote will be required to realign an annual conference or a local church. Centrists and progressives on the team preferred a two-thirds voting threshold because of the momentous nature of the decision. But when we analyzed a variety of scenarios and stories from other denominations, we felt that a majority vote could also work in many situations. Also, it is important to remember that General Conference has always used a mere majority vote to consider changing our policies on sexuality.

     Both types of voting thresholds are ideologically neutral; neither favors nor handicaps one particular position. A two-thirds vote could have the unintended consequence of creating a tyranny of the minority, like the malfunctions of the electoral college in Presidential elections. A majority vote threshold is a reasonable compromise if the American default position will be the centrist denomination.

     Two, the default position of central conferences will be the traditionalist denomination. We felt that this different standard was a reasonable compromise that reflects the general trends throughout the denomination.  

     The plan gives central conferences the full spectrum of choices and the authority to make their own decision. The plan allows for central conferences—and their annual conferences and local churches—to realign with the centrist denomination or become autonomous. The decision-making process (no requirement to vote; majority vote threshold; the option to realign at every level) is the same as in the United States.

     Three, the plan offers only aspirational recommendations for denominational assets. Centrists made proposals that were unacceptable to traditionalists.

PROGRESSIVE COMPROMISES

    Did the progressives compromise? Well, it depends on what kind of progressive you are.

     If you are a progressive who wishes to remain in a non-traditionalist United Methodist denomination, then your concerns are those of the centrists.

     If you are a progressive who longs to create a separate, liberationist denomination, then the plan offers a great opportunity. The path for creating it is streamlined to form it with 50 or more local churches across the denomination.

     The progressives compromised on the same issue that the traditionalists and centrists did: a specific formula for the appropriation of assets.

EVERYONE COMPROMISED

     Everyone compromised on the use of a qualifier with the name “United Methodist.” No one “wins” the name and the logo because the Indianapolis Plan is not conceived as a plan of expulsion of any one side.

In reality, we use qualifiers all the time. Many churches do not use “United Methodist” in their branding, and some churches use it as a qualifier, such as Church of the Resurrection (It is unclear to me which is the qualifier—Is “Church of the Resurrection” the qualifier of “United Methodist” or vice versa?).

      And everyone compromised on the assets. It is too complex and our group was too limited by our composition and time to offering anything more concrete. We turn this over to the good wisdom of the delegates.

     In keeping with the rules of General Conference, anyone can amend our petition. Traditionalists, centrists, and progressives will offer their own proposals for the assets. There may be ideas in other plans that fill this gap in the Indianapolis Plan. As a progressive, I hope General Conference will adopt the proposal for reparations and financial re-investment in UM Forward’s N.E.W. Plan.

REALITY CHECK

     Despite our different hopes for the future, we share a common view of our current situation. The denomination is at a stalemate and the most peaceful and productive way forward is a plan for separation. Any plan that attempts to defeat the Traditional Plan with a floor vote or stalling with delays through political maneuvering will only multiply the harm done in St. Louis. Whatever good that is left in the United Methodist Church will be destroyed.

          To be sure, the Indianapolis Plan is not perfect and there are legitimate critiques. But calling it a WCA plan says more about the critics’ view of reality.

     Like it or not, traditionalists won the vote in St. Louis. Not only have they won every vote on the issue of sexuality for the past 47 years, they are likely to win it again if a vote is taken to repeal the Traditional Plan at 2020 General Conference.

     Yes indeed, non-traditionalists made substantial gains in this year’s elections, but it is unclear whether they can flip enough central conference votes to achieve a majority.

     Even if non-traditionalists can win the vote, what they have won is a mortally wounded church kept alive by a dysfunctional institution.

      Maybe the critics think they can gain a better bargaining position, but I doubt it. It’s a gamble that will only create more animosity. It will permanently poison the United Methodist Church with a spiritual sickness of arrogance and bitterness.

     When non-traditionalists tell me that we should retake the vote on the Traditional Plan in Minneapolis, I am reminded of the words of Dirty Harry: “You have to ask yourself one question: Do you feel lucky? Well, do you punk?”