At the heart of the Indianapolis Plan is the birthing of two or more Methodist denominations:
- 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)
- The United Methodist Church would not be dissolved but would have its legal continuation through the Centrist/Progressive United Methodist Church.
- The Traditionalist UMC would be a global denomination that would maintain the current stance of the Discipline regarding the practice of homosexuality.
- 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.
- 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.
It is a plan for separation. It is not a plan for expulsion because all new expressions are being birthed rather than just one. No one would be getting kicked out by the other.
Birthing is a good metaphor because the church, any church, is founded on God’s grace and not our works of trying to save the current church. It is our Mother God who gives birth to the church.
It is also a plan that hopes for a different kind of unity. Currently, we are united by a common membership in the same denomination. The Indianapolis Plan envisions a unity based on a shared heritage, initially a shared name, shared responsibility for past pension obligations, and the option for sharing additional administrative services. As a separation plan, we hope that it will prepare the context for new ways for us to be united without needing to be members in the same denomination.
Critics claim that the Plan violates the Wesleyan vision of Christian unity. They are appalled that we would craft such a plan. They believe that we are caving into the current political climate in America.
The critics are probably right that if John and Charles Wesley were alive today, they would argue against this plan. Indeed, for years they argued for remaining in the Church of England. And yet, John enacted separation the moment he laid hands on those young men he ordained to go to America. And, as soon as he died the leadership of the movement moved toward formal separation.
But the criticism of the Indianapolis Plan is based on a false assumption. It assumes that unity necessitates being members of the same denomination.
We do not agree with that assumption. We believe that new forms of unity are possible. However, we do not spell those out in our Plan because, well, ours is a plan for separation from what has been. At best, it sets the stage for new forms of unity that are to come. But it does not attempt to dictate what those new forms will be. That will be left up to the new denominations when they create their own polities.
Critics are also basing their definition of unity on another false assumption. Organizational uniformity is not the same as unity. To suggest that the primary vehicle for unity must begin with membership in the same denomination is nothing more than a reflection of a modernist form of coercion into a single metanarrative. One could argue that the Indianapolis Plan is reflective of a post-modern understanding of unity that does not require the metaphysics of violence.
Ok, so much for cheap philosophy.
For me, the Indianapolis Plan is the hope for a different kind of unity because I knew and loved Bill Trimble.
Rev. Bill Trimble was a Free Methodist pastor and a graduate of Asbury. I am a United Methodist and a graduate of Union Theological Seminary in New York. He a Republican, I a Democrat. We met on the Near Eastside of Indianapolis in the early nineties when he was pastoring First Free and I at East Tenth Street. As urban ministry so often does, we became friends through shared ministry—because when you are working with the poor denominational politics and political ideology take a back seat.
Bill was my anam cara, “soul friend.” For a time, we were part of a band meeting, but mostly we just shared and prayed together as friends.
When I needed prayer, I went to Bill. When my son was diagnosed with Aspergers’ Syndrome and had to be hospitalized in a psychiatric unit at age eight, I went to Bill in the middle of the night. I curled up in a ball at the altar in his church and he laid hands on me.
To be sure, I have close friends and spiritual bonds with other United Methodists. But Bill was the one I shared the deepest spiritual connection. I think our bond was deeper because there was a degree of separation from the inevitable pressures of being members in the same annual conference of the same denomination. Every United Methodist ought to have a Free Methodist with which to have a bitch session.
We were united, but we were not in the same denomination. We shared a common Wesleyan faith, but we were not part of the same church.
When I think of the kind of unity that the Indianapolis Plan hopes to make space for, I think of Bill. The Plan hopes for a new form of unity based on the work of the Spirit in the bond of peace that does not require organizational uniformity or denominational coercion. We can practice “catholic spirit” and be in different denominations (Indeed, that was Wesley’s original use of the term).
Bill was married to Jan. They met at Asbury. They adopted Katie and I baptized her. A few years later, Jan was diagnosed with cancer and eventually died. At the time, he was serving an appointment in a small rural town in Indiana.
Bill had the spiritual gift of faith. After Jan died, he felt God calling him and Katie to move back to the old neighborhood. I was highly skeptical. I counseled him to keep his appointment and spend a year saving up his money and looking for work.
He did not listen to me. He left his appointment without the prospects of a job or a home and he and Katie moved back to Indianapolis. And God opened doors for him to find work, buy a home, and eventually marry Tracy. He found his way back into ministry as a hospital chaplain.
Then he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Bill died about four years ago.
Throughout these past couple of months as I have been working on the Plan, I have been getting up in the middle of the night with a paragraph of the Book of Discipline or an email from Tom Lambrecht rattling around in my brain. Because we have had to practice confidentiality, I have not shared our work with my United Methodist friends.
After a while of lying in bed, I would begin to think, “God, I miss Bill.” If he were alive, I could get him up in the middle of the night and he’d pray for me and all of us United Methodists.
Instead, these days, I get up and head off to Starbucks to write this damn blog and argue with Tom’s drafts, all the while the barista wonders why this guy with a brief case is waiting for her to unlock the door.
I guess the way I see the unity of the Indianapolis Plan boils down to the fact that I miss my friend. And I hope I can have as much faith as Bill did to follow Christ into the unknown of the new expressions of Methodism.
Now I understand why the Catholics pray to saints. It is not because they do not have direct access to Jesus. They just like talking with their friends in heaven. And I believe that through the Holy Spirit, my friendship with Bill continues and one day will be fulfilled in heaven.
But until that day, do not call me a heretic if I pray:
Hail, Bill, full of grace,
the Lord is with thee;
blessed art thou amongst Free Methodists.
Holy Bill, brother in Christ,
pray for us United Methodists,
now and at the hour of our death. Amen.