In 1962, NY Mets center fielder Richie Ashburn and shortstop Elio Chacón, who only spoke Spanish, kept running into each other when fielding fly balls. So they worked out a system. When Ashburn went for it he would yell, “¡Yo la tengo!” (“I’ve got it!” in Spanish) and Chacón would know to back off. Yet in one game, fielder Frank Thomas, who understood no Spanish and had missed the team meeting when the solution was worked out, ran into Thomas. After getting up, Thomas asked Ashburn, “What the hell is a Yellow Tango?”
Misunderstandings abound about the Indianapolis Plan for those who were not in the meetings. To help you read it in the right light, let me describe how it came about, how participants were selected, and my understanding of the nature of the group.
I would also recommend that you read centrist John Stephen’s blog for another perspective, and, to date, Keith Boyette’s description is accurate.
The Nature and Purpose of the Group
At the end of May, Kent Millard and I were frustrated that we and many others were unable to begin exploring models for dissolution/separation at the UMC Next meeting in Kansas City. He and Keith Boyette began a conversation and Keith reached out to me after Memorial Day. I suggested that we pull together a small gathering of traditionalists, centrists and progressives to have a conversation about what a practical plan might look like.
We were deeply aware that time is running out to craft good legislation, and so we pulled together an exploratory meeting which took place at North UMC in Indianapolis on June 27-28. There were only two conditions for that first meeting. One, participants needed to be willing to engage in a conversation about how such a plan might work. We did not want to waste time debating whether separation should take place, but rather we wanted to focus on how it might work. Two, they had to make a commitment to practice confidentiality until everyone in the group agreed to how we would communicate our work.
There are some appropriate analogies for the group: It is a design team, as one progressive participant put it; it is a think tank, as another traditionalist participant saw it.
The Composition of the Group
The short timeline and the purpose of the group influenced how it was put together. We limited the size to about 12 so that we could work efficiently. Kent, Keith and I agreed to recruit three or four others from our respective perspectives; neither had a veto on the others’ invitees.
The first person I invited was an RMN board member, and when he declined, I consulted with an RMN staff member to help me find someone who would provide more racial, geographical and identity diversity. Because the group needed more laypersons, I invited Lynette Fields who brings extensive mission experience from SEJ and a long commitment to inclusion.
At the conclusion of our introductory June meeting, it became apparent to Lynette and me that we needed additional progressives with formal ties to RMN and other progressive groups. We consulted with David Meredith who put me in contact with Jan Lawrence, Executive Director of RMN. She agreed to serve. A leading LGBTQ person of color whom Jan recommended also agreed to join.
At the conclusion of the June meeting, a first draft of ideas had been prepared by an individual, but it had not been vetted or endorsed by the group. However, it was leaked and became the source of misinformation on Hacking Christianity (see my previous post).
The day prior to our next all-group meeting, Jan and the fourth progressive withdrew from the group.
I am grateful for Jan’s brief engagement with the group and respect her decision to step down because it was too complicated for her to be in multiple conversations and groups.
The group has sufficient theological diversity, but it is a fair critique to point out its other limitations. Perhaps a plan should be crafted by a panel of official representatives from the various caucuses, but I don’t think it is possible given our political climate and the impending deadline. I will leave it up to the reader to decide whether the Indianapolis Plan should be dismissed solely on the basis of who is in the group rather than the contents of the Plan.
Going Public with the Plan
Since then, the group went through several drafts until we came to the conclusion that we needed to issue a statement of Basic Principles as we continue to perfect what we hope will be an accompanying set of Notes. We entered into this public phase because portions of older, outdated drafts were appearing in the press and on social media. So, to avoid misimpressions and to receive constructive criticism we issued our Basic Principles first.
We welcome your feedback on the Plan.