Postscript to A Reply to Hacking Christianity’s Criticism of the Indianapolis Plan

Well, about an hour after I posted my phone number, Jeremy Smith texted me his, and we talked this afternoon for over an hour. He let me spill my beans and I learned a lot from him. I wish him well with his blog.

I know it seemed strange for me to blog about not blogging last night. It is fair to fault me for being a minor hypocrite on that one. But the truth is, last night I was too lazy to look up his contact information online, and I did not want to carry it in my head and heart until the next day. I just wanted to enjoy the ballgame (Mets lost–to the Royals no less!).

Besides, I thought it might do us all some good to illustrate how we ought to communicate when things get distorted in social media. I think one of the symptoms of our denominational sickness is that the lived reality of the local church is not reflected in our conference relations. What would I do in my local church if I had a problem with someone? I’d give them a call instead of emailing or texting or talking about them behind their back.

Briefly, here are the things his blog got wrong about the plan:

Jeremy criticized the kinds of progressives in the group. I will explain how the group was formed in my next post.

His criticism that it is a “WCA plan” was based on a misunderstanding of the document he had been given. The version he had been given was a first draft written by Tom Lambrecht. At the beginning, we had a process for compiling input from the others that fell apart, so by default Tom’s version was the only one that got circulated. That draft was never approved by any of us, and it has since been replaced by several other versions.

Insofar as parts of Tom’s first draft are still reflected in the Basic Provisions is because he was a good note taker of our first meeting, not because he was manipulating the centrists and progressives. The key ideas came from all sides, which may be hard for some folks to believe that some centrists and progressives might actually agree with some traditionalists.

The problems Jeremy pointed out are the same points which our group has rejected or not decided on. Indeed, they are still points of deep contention.

In particular, the 50/50 asset split was discussed as one of several hypothetical scenarios but we never adopted it. It is not in our plan. The issue of assets is an issue that we may not be able to figure out. And that may be for the best.

So this is why we welcome your input.

Final note: the Mets won tonight 4-1.

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A Reply to Hacking Christianity’s Criticism of the Indianapolis Plan

Hi Jeremy:

I am one of the progressives involved with the Indianapolis Plan and I am hosting the meetings. There are several inaccuracies and outdated information in your post, which I am sure you did not intentionally mean to pass on to your readers.

So, give me a call. My cell is 317-966-2160. I’ll eventually blog my responses to your post so that everyone can read my response, but before I do I want to talk personally with you so that I do not misrepresent your position in my blog or do harm to the progressives who were invited to participate in the Indianapolis Plan but chose not to.

I don’t expect us to agree on anything and it is not my intention to convince you that what I am doing is right. I just think the right thing to do is to talk first before I write something.

But don’t call me tonight because the Mets are playing now, and I want to take a break from thinking about the shit in the denomination and enjoy the game.

The reason I want to talk directly with you instead of just replying with my blog or other forms of social media is because I believe in a new Methodism. The old Methodism of the United Methodist Church is marked by politicking and posturing, caucuses trying to get more power and institutionalists trying to hang on to power. I believe in a new Methodism that practices holy conferencing and is founded on grace rather than unrestricted assets, a church that fully and immediately embraces our LGBTQIA+ kin.  If I believe that then I need to live into that right now, which means that I need to talk with your rather than blog at you.  You can’t create a new Methodism by practicing the old Methodism. So give me a call.

I guess what’s got me stirred up is that earlier today I was reading Wesley’s “Plain Account of Christian Perfection” and I want to practice holy love instead of church politics. Since you and I are elders who have pledged to go on toward Christian perfection then let’s talk first and blog second.

By the way, feel free to post this publicly, I don’t give a shit about everyone having my number.

Introducing the Indianapolis Plan

Over the past several weeks I have hosted a conversation of traditionalists, centrists, and progressives committed to an honest exploration of the possibility of crafting a practical plan for peaceful and fair separation. It has become known as The Indianapolis Plan, so called because we held our first meeting at my church, North UMC, in Indianapolis. In addition to me, it is being facilitated by Kent Millard, President of United Theological Seminary, and Keith Boyette, President of the Wesleyan Covenant Association.

The following is a statement of Basic Provisions of the Plan. Those listed below are a part of our group. Others have been involved in this conversation and participated in our group beyond those listed here.

Keep in mind two things about this statement. One, the Indianapolis Plan is still a work in progress. We are still developing a detailed set of Notes to explain how this plan can be implemented. As one participant said, we are not of one mind, but we are moving toward consensus. Two, our plan is meant to be in conversation and reflection with other conversations happening around the denomination. I hope that the Indianapolis Plan is not seen as the final word, but rather that it will spur other ideas and solutions so that our delegates have the most comprehensive and thoughtful legislation with which to do their work.

I welcome your comments and questions to help us develop this plan. I will share more in the coming days about our process and the theological and spiritual foundation for it.

Basic Provisions of the Indianapolis Plan

The 2019 special General Conference of The United Methodist Church highlighted the depth of the irreconcilable differences present in the UM Church. We seek to envision a new future for the people of the UM Church, offer a different narrative, and avoid further harm to one another, to the UM Church and its members, to the church universal, and to those with whom we strive to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We desire to move away from the vitriol and caustic atmosphere that has too often marked conversation in the UM Church and move into a new season where for the sake of Christ we strive to bless one another, even as we send one another into our respective mission fields to multiply our witness to Christ.

We envision the UM Church birthing new expressions that will share a common heritage from the roots of Methodism, unbound from the conflict that has decimated the UM Church. These new expressions, though separate, will continue the rich heritage of the Methodist movement as currently expressed in the UM Church while being freed to present the best of who they are and their respective witnesses for Christ unhindered by those with whom they have been in conflict. We will send one another to our respectively defined missions and multiply as each expression reaches its mission field. In doing so, we will love one another even in the midst of our sharp disagreements. We will release one another to joyful obedience to Christ’s call on our lives.

1.The 2020 General Conference of the United Methodist Church would birth a Traditionalist United Methodist Church and a Centrist/Progressive United Methodist Church.  (Names are placeholders; each new denomination would choose their own name. Both can use “The United Methodist Church” with a modifier to distinguish the two if they so desire)

2.The United Methodist Church would not be dissolved but would have its legal continuation through the Centrist/Progressive United Methodist Church.

3.The Traditionalist UMC would be a global denomination that would maintain the current stance of the Discipline regarding the practice of homosexuality.

4.The Centrist/Progressive UMC would be a global denomination that would remove the “incompatibility” language, prohibitions against same-sex weddings and the ordination and appointment of self-avowed practicing homosexuals, and the funding restrictions on the promotion of the acceptance of homosexuality for its US-based annual conferences.

5.A Progressive Expression that practices immediate, full inclusion of and ministry with LGBTQ persons could initially be a part of the Centrist/Progressive denomination or could emerge as a separate denomination.

6.Central Conferences could align with any of the new expressions or become autonomous affiliated denominations.

7.Other Expressions may be formed by a group of 50 or more local churches or by an annual conference.

8. All expressions would develop a new General Conference, with its own Book of Discipline, structures, polity, and finances.

9. Annual conferences in the U.S. would decide by majority vote with which expression to align. Annual conferences choosing not to make a decision would become part of the Centrist/Progressive UMC by default.

10. Central conferences would decide by majority vote with which expression to align or to become an autonomous Methodist church. Central conferences choosing not to make a decision would become part of the Traditionalist UMC by default. Annual conferences outside the U.S. could decide by majority vote to align with a different expression than their central conference.

11. Local churches disagreeing with their annual conference’s decision could decide by majority vote of a church conference to align with a different expression. All local church property, assets, and liabilities would continue to belong to that local church.

12. Clergy would decide with which expression to align. By default, they would remain part of their annual conference in whichever expression their annual conference affiliates, unless they request to affiliate with a different expression.

13. Bishops would decide with which expression to align. By default, they would remain part of the Centrist/Progressive UMC, unless choosing to align with a different expression. Service as active bishops in each of the new expressions would depend upon the provisions adopted by that expression.

14. Continuation of clergy and episcopal pensions would be provided for by assigning liability for the unfunded pension liabilities to the new expressions and by receiving payments from withdrawing congregations that choose not to align with created expressions.

15. Annual conferences and local congregations could begin functioning in the new alignment beginning August 1, 2020, on an interim basis. Inaugural General Conference sessions would be held in Fall 2021, with the new expressions becoming fully functional as of January 1, 2022.

16. Wespath, UMCOR, UMW, and the United Methodist Publishing House would be established as independent 501(c)3 organizations with their own self-perpetuating boards of directors and would be positioned to serve any expression that desired to receive services from them.

17. All other agencies would become part of the Centrist/Progressive UMC with mutually agreed upon initial funding, subject to further possible reforms and restructuring by that new expression. Such agencies could also contract to serve other expressions formed in this process.

18. The 2020 General Conference would provide continuing funding for Central Conference ministries during the 2021-24 quadrennium, supported by all expressions.

19. A process and principles for dividing general church assets would be adopted by General Conference, to be implemented by an arbitration board.

20. Mandatory retirement provisions for bishops in the U.S. would be waived until 2022. Jurisdictional conferences would not elect bishops in 2020, reconvening for election of bishops in 2021 or 2022 as part of the Centrist/Progressive UMC. This would allow a proper match of the number of bishops with the need under the new conditions. Retired bishops may be used where needed to lead conferences until new bishops are elected. Bishops in the other expressions would be elected and assigned according to the provisions of those expressions.

Participants in the Indianapolis Group

Rev. Dr. Kent Millard, President, United Theological Seminary, Dayton, Ohio

Rev. Darren Cushman-Wood, Senior Pastor, North United Methodist Church, Indianapolis, Indiana

Rev. Keith Boyette, President, Wesleyan Covenant Association

Rev. Dr. Cathy Johns, Senior Pastor, Hyde Park Community United Methodist Church, Cincinnati, Ohio 

Rev. Judy Zabel, Senior Pastor, Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Rev. Tom Lambrecht, Vice President and General Manager, Good News

Lynette Fields, layperson, Florida Annual Conference

Cara Nicklas, Attorney, Lay Delegate Oklahoma Annual Conference

Rev. Dr. John E. Stephens, Senior Pastor, Chapelwood United Methodist Church, Houston, Texas

Krystl D. Johnson, Eastern Pennsylvania Conference

Rev. Dr. Doug Damron, Senior Pastor, Epworth United Methodist Church, Toledo, Ohio

Rev. Dr. Chris Ritter, Directing Pastor, First United Methodist Church, Genesco, Illinois

Lessons from Our Methodist Protestant Ancestors (Part 2)

I believe we must create a new Methodism, which may or may not develop within The United Methodist Church after General Conference. This new Methodism should not try to be original but must learn lessons from our heritage. That heritage will not be found in the mainline of American Methodism but on the margins in our forgotten history. Among our forgotten ancestors are the Methodist Protestants. I see five lessons we can learn from them:

1. A Positive View of Social Developments and the Interpretation of Scripture—They embraced the expansion of democratic reforms in the new republic and believed that adapting the church to society was biblical. Their theology was orthodox Wesleyan, but they were “liberal Methodists” (Ancel Bassett’s description in 1877).

    They echoed the modern-day Wesleyan Quadrilateral. This is part and parcel of United Methodism, and a new Methodism should inherit this gift.

2.Equality and Collaboration Between Clergy and Laity—From 1821 to 1824 layman William Stockton published the Wesleyan Repository, the only independent alternative to the official periodical, that published the writings of the Reformers. His commitment to creating a voice for equality in the church faced the ire of leaders who tried to enforce a gag order. When 22 laymen and 11 local preachers in Baltimore were expelled for expressing their reform ideas “a solemn meeting was convened of female members” who organized the opposition. “Nine ladies” penned “a declaration of sentiments” that concluded by saying, “we have determined to dissolve our connection with the Methodist Episcopal Church.” By that November the Reformers held a General Convention that was the forerunner for the new denomination. They pioneered lay delegates at annual and General Conference.

     Clericalism is a recurring sin in Methodism, and there is a United Methodist version of it which must be discarded by a new Methodism. Our Methodist Protestant ancestors left us a heritage of collaboration and shared authority between the laity and clergy.

3. A Different Form of Itinerancy—The crux of the Methodist Protestant practices was a check on episcopal authority. Before the separation, Reformers advocated for presiding elders to be nominated by bishops and then elected by the annual conference. Later, in the new denomination, circuit riders had the right to appeal their appointments. They allowed each annual conference to “adopt its own mode of stationing the preachers” and they elected an annual conference president to administer the process. They did not have bishops.

     One of the most vexing problems in the United Methodist Church is the dysfunction of appointment-making. We need a new form of itinerancy that gives real power to the laity in the decision making and puts the needs of the local church front and center. The witness of our Methodist Protestant predecessors tells us that there are other alternatives that are part of our heritage.

4. A Caution about How to Address Controversial Issues—The issue of slavery followed them into the new denomination as the controversy heated up in the 1830s. Their solution: let each annual conference decide. That did not stop the issue from resurfacing at General Conference. In 1842 when they turned it over to the authority of the annual conferences, they equivocated on whether to call it a sin. They passed this weak resolution: “The holding of slaves is not, under all circumstances, a sin against God; yet, in our opinion, under some circumstance, it is sinful, and in such cases should be discouraged….the General Conference does not feel authorized by the Constitution, to legislate on the subject of slavery.” By 1858 it divided them as much as it did the Methodist Episcopals.

     In addition, they wrestled with how far to follow the logic of their democratic principles. They debated back and forth deleting the word “white” when referring to suffrage for laymen in the church. As for women’s suffrage in the church, the northern branch agreed to delete the word “male” in the Constitution and directed the right of women to vote in church affairs in 1862. When they reunited after the Civil War in 1877 the issue of women’s and African American suffrage came up. They affirmed an imprecise affirmation and then in a resolution specified how each annual conference was to handle it: “[the Constitution] means that no person who enjoys the right of suffrage and eligibility to office in the State shall be deprived of these rights in the church.” But for those annual conferences in states where women’s suffrage is not the law, the annual conference could grant them.

     At the end of the day, you cannot defer dealing with a controversial issue for the sake of unity. Unity at all cost has not served the United Methodist Church well. A new Methodism must be clear from the outset about its commitment to inclusion, both in its rhetoric and its practices.

5. A Willingness to Be Smaller for the Sake of Integrity—The Methodist Protestants brought about 190,000 members into the 1938 merger, by far the smallest of the three denominations. The original reason for the separation had long been resolved in the Methodist Episcopal denominations. The Methodist Protestants had served their purpose—and too bad that the Methodist Church did not make their other insights a part of the new denomination. They could not have perfected their innovations if they had been larger.

     They remind us that being smaller is not a bad thing. Big numbers have always been the temptation of mainstream Methodists. A new Methodism must leave behind the United Methodist idolatry of numbers.

For more, order The Secret Transcript of the Council of Bishops

Lessons from Our Methodist Protestant Ancestors (Part 1)

Strange days lead to strange purchases. These strange days in the UMC drove me buy a copy of Ancel H. Bassett’s A Concise History of the Methodist Protestant Church from Its Origins published in 1877—and from the looks of it that was the last time it was published.

The Methodist Protestants are part of our heritage, being one of the three branches that merged back into the fold to form The Methodist Church in 1938. They were the smallest of the three and often overlooked in the story of mainline American Methodism. And yet, their story and heritage has become a touchstone for my thinking about our current crisis. The parallels are interesting, and their practices are instructive.

First, the parallels.

1. Conflict Over the Relationship Between Church and Society—Originally known as the Reformers, they advocated for greater democracy in the Methodist Episcopal Church in the 1820s. They believed that presiding elders (the forerunner of today’s district superintendent) should be nominated by the conference, the right of elders to appeal their appointments, and lay leaders to be delegates to annual conference. It was the direct and explicit application of Jacksonian democracy to Methodist connectionalism. The “Old Side brethren” opposed these democratic innovations and claimed that the church must not compromise its unique polity by conforming to society. The Methodist Protestants saw something positive in society and wanted to adapt to the times, but the Methodist Episcopals believed the church must remain distinct from society.

2. Disagreements Over the Interpretation of Scripture to Justify a Position—Nicholas Snethen, a leading Methodist Protestant, justified their reforms by appealing to scripture. Elaborate arguments were made based on their interpretations of the book of Acts. In turn, Bishop Soule and others defended the hierarchy with appeals to scripture. Churning beneath these different interpretations were different assumptions about the relationship between God, the church and society.

3. Attempts to Control the Problem with Authoritarian Leadership and Trials— The Reformers organized circuits of “union societies” that put into practice their democratic principles. The bishops and presiding elders dismissed reformers and put them on trial for publishing their ideas. Church trials abounded, starting in Baltimore and then more in Ohio. Reformers described the trials as rigged against them and they were expelled from the denomination.

4. Separations, Divisions and Reunification—The Reformers began having separate “general conventions” beginning in 1826 and created “articles of association.” The 1828 General Conference rejected their reform legislation and the appeals of expelled preachers William Pool and Dennis Dorsey. At its conclusion, Asa Shinn who defended them “sunk into despondency and went into a spell of insanity which continued for about half a year.”

     Two years later, the Methodist Protestants held their first General Conference. In time they consolidated with other earlier break away groups such as the Methodist Reformed Church (founded in Vermont 1814) and W.M. Stillwell’s society in New York as well as picking up some Methodists who had left in the 1790s with James O’Kelly.

     By the 1850s they were divided over the issue of slavery and tried in vain to resolve their disagreements by either not talking about it or letting it be an issue decided by each annual conference. None of it worked, and the western and northern annual conferences organized a separate “convention.” In time, they tried to merge with the Wesleyan Church and even took on a new name for the merger: The Methodist Church. But at the last minute, the Wesleyans backed out.

     By 1873, the Methodist Episcopal Church began admitting laymen as members of general conference and began courting southern Methodist Protestants to rejoin them.

      Instead, the southern branch of Methodist Protestants reunited with the western and northern branch in 1877. The two denominations held simultaneous conventions in Baltimore to approve the plan for reunification. Then on Wednesday afternoon, May 16, the delegates “marched along Lombard Street, one from the East, the other from the West, to the intersection of Fremont Street, where they met, single file,” joined arm in arm and then marched down to the Starr Methodist Protestant Church on Poppleton Street to their general conference.

     It would be another 61 years before they would reunite with the Methodist Episcopals—long after the original reason for the division had been resolved.

     “History never repeats itself, but it rhymes.” These days, United Methodists should listen closely to the tune of our ancestors.

For more, order my book The Secret Transcript of the Council of Bishops

A Study Guide to the Bard Jones Plan

Bishops David Bard and Scott Jones recently issued a plan for the future of the United Methodist Church that is already commanding attention on the road to the 2020 General Conference. It casts a big vision and there are many details left to be filled in. This post is a “study guide” to help you sort through the issues and wrestle with the questions that their plan raises.

The deadline for filing legislation is fast approaching and the more conversation and reflection that everyone can do will help with fashioning the best legislation so that next year’s general conference does not repeat the meltdown in St. Louis. Bard and Jones offer us a broad outline to guide those conversations.

YOUR LOCAL CHURCH

To begin the conversation, start with your local church. In the heady conversations about the fate of the denomination it is easy to lose sight of the local church. Yet, one mark of a good plan is whether it reflects and supports our local churches. Of course, this criterion differs greatly from congregation to congregation. Before you take a deep dive into the Bard Jones Plan, ponder these questions:

  • What has been your church’s experience with LGBTQ folks?
  • Has your church or a group within your church studied the issue of LGBTQ persons and the UMC?
  • What has the relationship been like between your church and your annual conference?
  • What has been your church’s experience of the appointment process?

THE BARD JONES PLAN

There are four broad issues to consider in the Bard Jones Plan:

1. The Vision:

“We envision a more vibrant and missionally effective Wesleyan movement that no longer spends significant energy debating questions of human sexuality and LGBTQ inclusion. To achieve this, we envision that the United Methodist Church will have no individual members in 2025 and that all current members, clergy, congregations and bishops will join one of two or three self-governing churches. The United Methodist Church would continue to exist as an umbrella organization to facilitate this new form of unity.”

The plan aspires to shape the unity of the new denominations around the Church’s mission. In the 18th and 19th centuries, Methodists were united by a common religious experience—an “orthopathy” (“right feeling”). There was more to our unity than a common liturgy (like Episcopalians) or shared creeds (like Presbyterians), even though Methodists had both. By 1939, the locus of unity had shifted from a common experience to a shared loyalty in an organizational system. Church unity was equated with being a part of the same denomination, and the hope for future unity was synonymous with various forms of organizational connections. The Bard Jones Plan marks a reversal of that trend and asks us to envision unity without being part of a single denomination.

Key Questions:

  • What unites the members of your local church?
  • What is the “Church”?
  • What unites all Christians into the Church and how should that unity be expressed?
  • What is the relationship between these 3 aspects of the Church: Mission, Unity, Renewal?

Key Scripture:  Isaiah 42:5-9; Ephesians 4:1-16

2. The 2 or 3 Self-Governing Churches:

“Each Church will select its own name. It will begin with the current Book of Discipline as modified by the following:

  • The Progressive Methodist Church Discipline will include the Simple Plan as presented in 2019, and would be further modified so that full inclusion of LGBTQ persons in marriage and eligibility for candidacy, commissioning, ordination and appointment was clearly affirmed.
  • The Open Methodist Church Discipline will include the Simple Plan as presented in 2019. The Progressive and Open Methodist Churches may decide to be a single Methodist Church.
  • The Traditional Methodist Church Discipline will include the Traditional Plan as presented in 2019. It will keep the current social principles and standards for ordination.

In 2022 each church will hold a General Conference which will re-write its Book of Discipline by majority vote of the delegates. That conference will have the right to choose whether or not to have a constitution. Each church will have the right to amend its doctrinal statements, adopt a new constitution, set its own standards for church membership and ordination and all other matters of polity and doctrine.”

This crux of this vision is the constitutionality of annual conferences being able to leave the denomination and realign. Judicial Council 1366 ruled that it was constitutional in their assessment of petition 90041, but the petition died in committee at the 2019 General Conference.

Notice that the Simple Plan (which removes the 8 references to LGBTQ discrimination in the Discipline) is the starting point for both the Open and the Progressive branches. The Progressive denomination “would be further modified so that full inclusion of LGBTQ persons in marriage and eligibility for candidacy, commissioning, ordination and appointment was clearly affirmed.” It is assumed that the Open Methodist Church would include traditional compatibilists who reject gay marriage and ordination of LGBTQ believers but who want to be a part of a denomination that includes different perspectives.

The plan also envisions several options for central conferences. Central conferences in Europe and Asia could affiliate with one of the 2 or 3 new denominations.  In addition to affiliating with one of these new United States-based churches, African central conferences could become an autonomous affiliated “UMC in Africa”.

Bard Jones raises questions about the nature of these new denominations and the process how annual conferences get there.

Key Questions:

  • How would an Open Methodist Church practice itinerancy for LGBTQ pastors while accommodating traditional compatibilists who will reject LGBTQ pastors?
  • Given that the relationship between centrists and progressives is evolving, does the timeline create a transition period for these identities and relationships to become clearer?
  • Should central conferences be treated differently? Why should central conferences be limited to picking only one church to affiliate with?
  • How do you avoid an indecision in an annual conference when there are three options and none of them gets a majority in a three-way vote?
  • If your annual conference had to vote to affiliate with one of these new churches, what would be your local church’s reaction?

Key Scripture: Ecclesiastes 3:1-8; Ephesians 2:11-22

3. The Trademark & General Church Agencies

The Plan envisions that the name may be shared by all, but no one is required to use it. It creates several institutional points of unity through shared agencies and proportional contributions to maintain them (GCFA, GCAH, Wespath, UM Publishing House, Black College Fund and AU Fund*). The rest of the general church agencies will continue in the Open Methodist Church.

Your perspective of the current effectiveness of the agencies will shape your vision for their future. Are they basically good but in need of upgrades? Or are they dysfunctional in need of vast reforms or even coming being discontinued?

On a deeper level, these issues are shaped by how you see the relationship between “unity” and “reform.” Is our greatest concern “unity” which may include some reforms? Or is “reform” the greater issue that should shape the our “unity”? Underneath our differences as “traditionalists,” “centrists,” and “progressives” is another major fault line: institutionalists versus reformers.

Key Questions:

  • How important is the name “United Methodist Church” and the symbol to your local church?
  • Should the most of the agencies belong to one denomination, or should all of them become independent non-profits the new denominations could contract for services?
  • Do we need to keep and share as many agencies and funds as the plan envisions? (For example, does GCAH need GCFA for ongoing funding?)

Key Scripture:  1 Kings 8; Luke 5:33-39

4. Denominational Assets

The Plan assumes that local church assets would go with them, but “divisible assets [of annual, jurisdictional, central conferences and general agencies] will be distributed to the churches in proportion to the numerical strength of their lay membership.” The nature and value of these assets is complex. It is estimated that there are about $1 billion in assets at the general church level, but this does not reflect their liabilities or the percentage of assets that are restricted. How the unrestricted assets of general church agencies are redistributed is related to their future (i.e. Do they become independent or housed with one of the new denominations).

For some, this issue is related to the financial relationship between the central conferences and the churches in the United States. It has been suggested that because the US-based churches give the overwhelming share of contributions they should be given more governance over those assets. Others have said that when an unrestricted gift has been entrusted to the denomination the donor no longer has authority to determine the future of that gift.

Underneath these issues are assumptions about the effectiveness of the conferences and agencies which administer these assets. And the question about good stewardship leads us back to the question about the church’s mission. Depending on how you define the mission determines, in part, whether they have been good stewards of those resources. And this brings us back to the question of whether you see the general agencies as basically sound or in need of drastic reforms. And around and around it goes.

Key Questions:

  • How does your local church talk about money? How would they define “good stewardship”?
  • Have the various conferences and agencies been good stewards of the resources entrusted to them?
  • What is “fair”?
  • If missional effectiveness drives the Plan, how should the distribution of assets reflect this?
  • Should new denominations be given seed money with which to start?
  • What might be the advantages of a new denomination not being given some of the assets from the UMC?

Key Scripture: Proverbs 11:1-5; 2 Corinthians 8:1-15

A Closing Hymn by Charles Wesley:

“What troubles have we seen, 
what mighty conflicts past, 
fightings without, and fears within,
since we assembled last!

Yet out of all the Lord 
hath brought us by his love; 
and still he doth his help afford, 
and hides our life above.”

*GCFA—General Council on Finance and Administration; GCAH—General Commission on Archives and History (housed at Drew University); Wespath—the pension board for the denomination; Black College Fund—an apportionment fund that supports 11 United Methodist-related historically black colleges and universities in the United States; AU Fund—an apportionment fund that supports Africa University which is located in Zimbabwe.

For more perspective, order my book The Secret Transcript of the Council of Bishops.

A Letter to Centrists

Dear Centrists,

     As a progressive, I celebrate that you are standing up and speaking out against the Traditional Plan.  You have amazed me with your success in getting centrists and progressives elected to General Conference. What we progressives tried to do for years, you have made real progress this year. It has been a successful political coalition.

     But our coalition is not tidy. We are in a time of transition and even the labels we use reflect the messy ambiguities of the moment. The traditionalists scratch their heads and wonder what the difference is between a centrist and a progressive. So do I. In fact, by the end of this letter I might need to use another label such as “liberationist.” And I have no problems being called “queer.” None of us like being called “incompatiblist.” So, you can call me almost anything—just as long as you call me for supper!

    As I have listened to you talk—and you talk a lot—here are some things I want you to stop doing and start doing:

  • Stop using the slash in “Centrists/Progressives.” It implies that we are more united than we really are. What happens is that the distinctive perspective of progressives is drowned out by centrists. I know you are not doing this on purpose, and it is so easy to do because our focus is on our shared opposition to the Traditional Plan.
  • Start giving us time and space to develop our vision and strategic interests. Just because we have a common opposition to the Traditional Plan does not mean we share a common vision for the future or even the same reasons for opposing the Traditional Plan. We progressives need more time to organize among ourselves.
  • Stop characterizing progressives who feel called to leave and start a new denomination as intolerant extremists and ideological purists. For me, the progressive non-negotiable is the immediate full inclusion of LGBTQ believers. What is unclear is how the 2020 General Conference should do this: immediate and uniform changes in the UMC; give birth to a new progressive denomination; create safe space within the UMC for the evolution of such a denomination; or create safe space for progressives within the UMC until the rest of the denomination is ready for full inclusion. Regardless, my desire is not driven by ideological purity but my missional pragmatism. My appointment is to North UMC, a large urban multi-staff church, and East Tenth UMC, a small urban neighborhood church. North’s membership includes many LGBTQ members for whom the fight is over and they want to get on with envisioning a new Methodism. North’s mission field is Indiana Youth Group, a city-wide LGBTQ youth program, and Trinity Haven, a soon-to-be transitional housing ministry for homeless LGBTQ youth. Every day that passes with us being identified with this denominational battle hurts our outreach. As for East Tenth, I have deployed a pastoral team to serve them, but I lost a team leader because he is a gay millennial who is unwilling to endure the ambiguities and abuse of the UMC. My “extremism” is driven by missional necessity.
  • Start listening closely to progressives. Many of you scoffed when you read what UM Forward said about you in  Loved and Liberated: “The greatest threat to queer liberation is centrism, not conservatism.” You don’t have to agree with that assessment, but do not dismiss it as irrational anger. I did not have a hand in writing the proclamation and I would not have used its rhetoric, but I agree with the fundamental ideas of UM Forward’s proclamation and there is much truth in their analysis.
  • Stop assuming that for progressives the problem is only 8 paragraphs in the Book of Discipline.  The issue of sexuality is inseparably intertwined with a host of other problems in the denomination such as racism, clericalism, corporatism, and size. You cannot solve the problem of sexuality without revamping other parts of our polity that perpetuate these other problems. For example, the problem is not ordination alone, but the combination of ordination and guaranteed appointment and an itinerant process that is trapped in a clergy-centric bureaucratic structure. For progressives, it is not good enough to have a United Methodist Church with a few tweaks. Could it be that the underlying difference between centrists and progressives is that centrists are more institutionalists and progressives are early adapters?
  • Start focusing on a new vision for Methodism. “Stay and resist” has served us well, but now is the time to focus on the good fruit that should yield. Envisioning new expressions of Methodism is the right conversation we should be having.

XOXO,

Darren