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.
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.
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.