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.

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Notes for a New Methodism

Rev. Darren Cushman Wood is the senior minister of North United Methodist Church in Indianapolis, Indiana and is an elder and full member of the Indiana Annual Conference. He is a graduate of the University of Evansville and Union Theological Seminary (New York). Darren was a delegate to the 2004 & 2008 General Conferences and a delegate to the 2000 & 2016 Jurisdictional Conferences. He is the author of "The Secret Transcript of the Council of Bishops" and "Blue Collar Jesus: How Christianity Supports Workers' Rights."

7 thoughts on “The Limitations of the Indianapolis Plan”

  1. My major problem with the Indy Plan is that it requires a level of connection with the conferences. Many of us who stand against LGBTQ agendas do not want to have any connection with churches that ignore and defy Scripture and we should not be forced to do so just to keep our property. We need a clear cut way out without penalty. Period.

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    1. David, take a closer look at the plan. The new denominations will be self-directed and autonomous. They will only share the services of Wespath, which will offer separate pension plans for each denomination. UMW, UMM, UMCOR and the publishing house become independent and can serve all the denominations but only if those denominations choose to work with them. After the formation of the new denominations there will be no formal connections among the conferences of those denominations unless the new denominations choose to create those connections. i think when you compare the Indianapolis Plan with the others you will see the difference.

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    2. Ok maybe I missed that in the plan. For the record, I’m not the only one that realizes the plan does not force connection. That being said, I do wish there was a way for a church to make a clean break if they just wanted to become an independent non-affiliated Methodist Church. Just curious, is there an “official” place to read the Indy plan so I make sure I have the right document?

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  2. Darren, the Traditionalist had a nearly completed plan for a new denomination before GC 2019. Our colleagues are rolling it out this weekend. Who is going to come up with the Centrist denomination and the Progressive denomination, when many of us still wonder why we have to form a new denomination. Central Conference Bishops have raised their concerns but no one seems to care and their voices must be heard and taken seriously.

    I believe there will be a plan that we have yet to see that could gain strong consensus that 1) will not dissolve the church, 2) will provide for our gracious exit for those like David wanting to depart the UMC and wanting nothing to do with the rest of us, 3) create a Regional Conference structure and 4) pave the way to restructure the UMC to be less top heavy and more missionally focused. I would encourage readers to not believe that the Indy Plan, with all of its shortcomings and 10,000 unspoken to details, is the best way forward. I would encourage prayer and openness about such a new plan coming to be. I am not resolved to dissolve the denomination in the way the Indy Plan proposes and I am not alone.

    I do appreciate your blogs, our dialogue, and our recent phone conversation. Are you open to another plan that could gain wide consensus because it has not only the three or four theological perspectives represented but also includes significant leadership voices from the diversity of Central Conferences? Could you see yourself considering such a plan if it comes forward and could be voted on as submittable legislation in the winter 2020? I would hope we would all be open to the Holy Spirit working in this way. I can tell you the Holy Spirit is working and I am hopeful. Thank you for the opportunity to share our prayerful opinions and convictions.

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    1. As I said in our phone conversation and in this post, my hope is that the delegates–who have the authority and diversity–will take the Indianapolis Plan and perfect it/modify it with ideas that may come from the other plans. If the delegates decide to not use the Indianapolis Plan as the framework for the final version of a plan, then I will trust that the Spirit has worked through them and the procedures of GC. As I said in this post, I think the delegates are wise enough to know that they must do this work in advance of GC.

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    2. I trust the delegates too, to make amendments and perfect all kinds of legislation, but the question has to do with what delegates might do in forming a plan before the 45-day deadline running up to General Conference. I know sometimes I fall in love with work that I have invested in, and want so badly for it to be the work that really matters. I can become closed to better ideas and plans, and believe me I have prayed about the Indy Plan and my convictions against it along these very lines.

      Some, but not all, of the Indy Plan drafters seem to be dug in on presenting it “as is” when there are many of us throughout our global church saying, “We don’t want to have two, or three or 30 or 50 new denominations.” I think it needs to be said that many of us are appreciative of the 12 of you who assembled yourselves in good faith to create a plan that would bring a peaceful solution. However, the 12 of you do not necessarily speak for 12 million United Methodists, especially with 6 million, or so, not represented at the table. Central Conference Traditionalists and many U.S. Traditionalists do not want to be in a homogenous denomination created around theological sameness. They do not want to change their church signs and have years spent on work to form the new denomination they have had to align with. There are also Central Conference Progressives (don’t forget this) and many Progressives in the U.S. who do not want to be in a theologically homogenous denomination. There are some of us who see the danger in our witness to the world and stifling of our own spiritual growth, if we promote denominations forming–two or three or 30 or 50, around people who think like “us” and not wanting to be with those who don’t think like us.

      I oppose the Indy Plan at it’s fundamental premise, because I believe cultural, theological, missional, diversity has been part of our struggle, but it is also our strength as United Methodist when we are not looking for uniformity of belief and praxis. I see much validity in the Connectional Table work on Regional Conferences, which would lead those of us committed to being together in the United Methodist Church, a much better way forward. The Regional Conference Plan (which also needs legislative work) would of course not work for Traditional Only’s, because they would lose their political grip on the Central Conferences giving them majority; but they want to leave anyway. They are rolling out the shiny new denomination today. Dissolving the denomination for the purpose of some to save face regarding this desire to “leave no matter what” is too high a price to pay and you know that this is a big underlying element of the Indy Plan. There are some Progressives Only who want to leave too, no matter what. They have had it with the conflict. We need to genuinely bless both in their desire for theological homogeny and pray for their approach to work, and make the exit fair and just.

      The Regional Conference Plan (and Social Principles work) was created with theologically and culturally diverse voices at the table of those committed to staying together as the UMC, with the expectation of us being together and not dissolved. An increasing number of Central Conference leadership voices are now supporting a Regional Conference Plan as a way forward. They are looking at other restructuring matters too, based on a premise of a large majority staying together here and abroad, while we expand our capacity for mission together and shrink our unaffordable, bureaucratic overhead. It will be a longtime before the global UMC can be uniform in our more divisive social and cultural divides, but many feel that it is time to embrace a respect for different mission fields and approaches. Many believe we can move forward embracing the “MUCH” that we have in common.

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