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.

Hope, Compromise & the Indianapolis Plan

     The Indianapolis Plan is the only plan conceived by a group that represents the full theological diversity of the denomination’s stance on sexuality. At the table were people diametrically opposed to each other’s opinions, and for the purpose of crafting a realistic plan that is the diversity that matters most. As a result, the hopes and compromises in the plan reflect this diversity.

TRADITIONALIST COMPROMISES

    Some have accused the Indianapolis Plan of being a WCA inspired scheme. They deride the progressives and centrists who worked on the plan for selling out to the traditionalists. Yet, the details of the plan reveal four key compromises that the traditionalists made:  

     One, the centrist denomination will be the default position for American annual conferences. According to the plan, no annual conference will be required to take a vote. If they do not vote, then they will automatically become a part of the centrist denomination. No local church will be required to take a vote, and if they do not vote they will align with the choice (made by default or vote) of their annual conference. This gives centrists a huge home court advantage. A traditionalist could make the argument that this is unfair because our current policies are traditionalist. If it was a WCA plan, then the default position throughout the denomination would be to align with the traditionalist denomination.

     Two, the legal continuation of The United Methodist Church will be held by the centrist denomination. The unforeseen consequences of this concession may play badly for traditionalists depending on the fairness of centrists in the future.

     Three, the general agencies (other than those, such as Wespath, that will serve all future denominations) will become a part of the centrist denomination. One could argue that traditionalists never liked or supported them in the past. Some traditionalists, such as Billy Abraham, have argued that traditionalists should gain control to enact radical conservative reforms. Yet, if they want to pillage them for their resources and dominate their agendas, this will not happen in the Indianapolis Plan.

     Four, the plan offers only aspirational recommendations for denominational assets. If the centrists and progressives on the Indianapolis team were carrying the water for traditionalists, then we did a poor job of it. The plan leaves their buckets empty of any specific commitments for assets. The team explored a wide variety of specific proposals and we could not come to any agreement. Instead, we agreed to the general aspirational statement about assets. If this was a WCA inspired plan then the provision about assets would look very different.

    These features that are unfriendly to traditionalists is why the WCA’s endorsement of the plan came after much debate and was not unanimous. Like centrists and progressives, they too have their internal disagreements on how best to proceed.

      Centrists and progressives do not need to agree with traditionalists, but they need to listen closely to them in this present moment. From a traditionalist perspective, they believe that if anyone should leave the denomination it should be non-traditionalists. They will say that they have not violated the Discipline, unlike non-traditionalists who advocate a “stay and resist” strategy.  They too have their own version of “stay and resist” and characters practicing it.

CENTRIST COMPROMISES

     A realistic plan is a compromise. Just as the traditionalists compromised, so too did the centrists in three ways.

     One, a majority vote will be required to realign an annual conference or a local church. Centrists and progressives on the team preferred a two-thirds voting threshold because of the momentous nature of the decision. But when we analyzed a variety of scenarios and stories from other denominations, we felt that a majority vote could also work in many situations. Also, it is important to remember that General Conference has always used a mere majority vote to consider changing our policies on sexuality.

     Both types of voting thresholds are ideologically neutral; neither favors nor handicaps one particular position. A two-thirds vote could have the unintended consequence of creating a tyranny of the minority, like the malfunctions of the electoral college in Presidential elections. A majority vote threshold is a reasonable compromise if the American default position will be the centrist denomination.

     Two, the default position of central conferences will be the traditionalist denomination. We felt that this different standard was a reasonable compromise that reflects the general trends throughout the denomination.  

     The plan gives central conferences the full spectrum of choices and the authority to make their own decision. The plan allows for central conferences—and their annual conferences and local churches—to realign with the centrist denomination or become autonomous. The decision-making process (no requirement to vote; majority vote threshold; the option to realign at every level) is the same as in the United States.

     Three, the plan offers only aspirational recommendations for denominational assets. Centrists made proposals that were unacceptable to traditionalists.

PROGRESSIVE COMPROMISES

    Did the progressives compromise? Well, it depends on what kind of progressive you are.

     If you are a progressive who wishes to remain in a non-traditionalist United Methodist denomination, then your concerns are those of the centrists.

     If you are a progressive who longs to create a separate, liberationist denomination, then the plan offers a great opportunity. The path for creating it is streamlined to form it with 50 or more local churches across the denomination.

     The progressives compromised on the same issue that the traditionalists and centrists did: a specific formula for the appropriation of assets.

EVERYONE COMPROMISED

     Everyone compromised on the use of a qualifier with the name “United Methodist.” No one “wins” the name and the logo because the Indianapolis Plan is not conceived as a plan of expulsion of any one side.

In reality, we use qualifiers all the time. Many churches do not use “United Methodist” in their branding, and some churches use it as a qualifier, such as Church of the Resurrection (It is unclear to me which is the qualifier—Is “Church of the Resurrection” the qualifier of “United Methodist” or vice versa?).

      And everyone compromised on the assets. It is too complex and our group was too limited by our composition and time to offering anything more concrete. We turn this over to the good wisdom of the delegates.

     In keeping with the rules of General Conference, anyone can amend our petition. Traditionalists, centrists, and progressives will offer their own proposals for the assets. There may be ideas in other plans that fill this gap in the Indianapolis Plan. As a progressive, I hope General Conference will adopt the proposal for reparations and financial re-investment in UM Forward’s N.E.W. Plan.

REALITY CHECK

     Despite our different hopes for the future, we share a common view of our current situation. The denomination is at a stalemate and the most peaceful and productive way forward is a plan for separation. Any plan that attempts to defeat the Traditional Plan with a floor vote or stalling with delays through political maneuvering will only multiply the harm done in St. Louis. Whatever good that is left in the United Methodist Church will be destroyed.

          To be sure, the Indianapolis Plan is not perfect and there are legitimate critiques. But calling it a WCA plan says more about the critics’ view of reality.

     Like it or not, traditionalists won the vote in St. Louis. Not only have they won every vote on the issue of sexuality for the past 47 years, they are likely to win it again if a vote is taken to repeal the Traditional Plan at 2020 General Conference.

     Yes indeed, non-traditionalists made substantial gains in this year’s elections, but it is unclear whether they can flip enough central conference votes to achieve a majority.

     Even if non-traditionalists can win the vote, what they have won is a mortally wounded church kept alive by a dysfunctional institution.

      Maybe the critics think they can gain a better bargaining position, but I doubt it. It’s a gamble that will only create more animosity. It will permanently poison the United Methodist Church with a spiritual sickness of arrogance and bitterness.

     When non-traditionalists tell me that we should retake the vote on the Traditional Plan in Minneapolis, I am reminded of the words of Dirty Harry: “You have to ask yourself one question: Do you feel lucky? Well, do you punk?”

Final Version of the Indianapolis Plan

Below is the final version of the Basic Provisions of the Indianapolis Plan. Over the past weeks we have received feedback and sought input to craft the best possible plan for an amicable separation. Today, we filed a petition (see “Indianapolis Plan GC Petition” page) based on these provisions to create a new paragraph in The Book of Discipline. There is only one petition for the Indianapolis Plan, and it has been filed under Kent Millard’s name.

In the coming weeks, I and the other participants in the group will be sharing our reflections and explanations of the rationale, limitations, and aspirations of the Plan. Let us pray for the delegates as they consider this and many other proposals.

BASIC PROVISIONS OF AN INDIANAPOLIS PLAN

FOR AMICABLE SEPARATION

September 18, 2019

INTRODUCTION:

The 2019 special General Conference of the United Methodist Church highlighted the depth of the irreconcilable differences present in The United Methodist Church. 

Rather than continuing the quarrel over homosexuality at the 2020 General Conference, a group of Progressives, Centrists, and Traditionalists present these proposals as a possible pathway to amicable separation in The United Methodist Church.  The names of the participants are at the end of the document. 

We envision a new future for the people of The United Methodist Church to avoid further harm to one another, to United Methodists around the world, to the church universal, and to those with whom we strive to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  We seek to move away from the caustic atmosphere which has often marked conversation in the United Methodist Church into a new season where we bless one another as we send each other into our respective mission fields to multiply our witness for Christ.

We envision an amicable separation in The United Methodist Church which would provide a pathway to new denominations of the Methodist movement so we can all make new disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. These new denominations, though separate, will continue the rich heritage of the Methodist movement while being free to share their respective witnesses for Christ unhindered by those with whom they have been in conflict.  We will release one another to joyful obedience to Christ’s call on our lives. 

 BASIC PROVISIONS: 

1. The 2020 General Conference of The United Methodist Church would support an amicable separation plan by providing a pathway for the development of a Traditionalist United Methodist Church and a Centrist United Methodist Church.  A Progressive expression may emerge as a Progressive United Methodist Church or may be included in the Centrist United Methodist Church. Other denominations may emerge as well. (Names are placeholders and descriptive; each new denomination would choose their own name and may use “United Methodist Church” with an appropriate modifier if they so choose).

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

3. The Traditionalist United Methodist Church would be a global denomination that would maintain the current stance of the United Methodist Discipline regarding the practice of homosexuality. It would emphasize unity around doctrine, mission, and standards, leaner denominational structure, greater local flexibility, and accountable discipleship.

4. The Centrist United Methodist Church would be a global denomination that would remove from the Discipline the “incompatibility” language and prohibitions against same-sex weddings, ordinations, and appointments.  Centrist annual conferences and local congregations would make their own decisions regarding the ordination and appointment of homosexual persons and performing same-sex weddings in their conferences and congregations. It would practice faith with a generous spirit, emphasizing greater local flexibility within a deep commitment to connectionalism, social justice, and missional engagement that transforms the world for Jesus Christ.

5. A Progressive expression may emerge as a Progressive United Methodist Church that would be a global denomination that includes church-wide protection against discrimination based on race, color, gender, national origin, ability, age, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, or economic condition, and that practices full itinerancy of LGBTQIA+ pastors and same-sex weddings in all their churches. Another progressive expression may be the inclusion of progressives in the Centrist United Methodist Church.

6. Other denominations may be formed by a group of 50 or more local churches or by one or more annual conferences.

7. All denominations would have their own General Conferences or governing boards, books of Discipline, structure, polity, and finances.  Any local congregation which chooses to join one of these denominations would be relieved of the trust clause in order to take their assets and liabilities into the new denomination. 

8. Annual conferences in the United States would decide by a simple majority vote of those annual conference members present and voting with which denomination to align.  Annual conferences not making a decision would become part of the Centrist United Methodist Church by default.

9. Central conferences would decide by a simple majority vote of those members present and voting with which denomination to align.  Central conferences that do not make a decision would become part of the Traditionalist United Methodist Church by default. Annual conferences outside the United States could decide by a simple majority to align with a different denomination than their central conference. 

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

11. Clergy and ministerial candidates would decide with which denomination to align.  By default, they would remain part of the denomination chosen by their annual conference, unless they choose to affiliate with a different denomination.

12. Bishops (active and retired) would decide with which denomination to align.  By default, they would remain part of the Centrist United Methodist Church unless they choose to align with a different denomination. 

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

14. Annual conferences and local congregations could begin functioning in the new alignment beginning August 1, 2020, on an interim basis.  Annual conferences, local churches, and clergy choosing to align with a denomination other than the Traditionalist United Methodist Church would be exempt during the interim period, following the adjournment of General Conference 2020 to the start of the new denominations, from the provisions in the Discipline prohibiting same-sex weddings and the ordination, appointment, or consecration of self-avowed, practicing homosexuals. Inaugural General Conference sessions would be held in the fall of 2021, with the new denominations becoming fully functional as of January 1, 2022.  The Progressive United Methodist Church might launch at a later date, if desired. The opportunity to choose an alignment would remain open until at least December 31, 2028. 

15. Wespath, the United Methodist Committee on Relief, United Methodist Women, the General Commission on United Methodist Men, and The United Methodist Publishing House would continue as independent 501(c)(3) organizations with their own self-perpetuating boards of directors and would be able to serve any denomination that desires to receive services from them.

16. All other United Methodist boards and agencies would become part of the Centrist United Methodist Church with mutually agreed upon initial funding and subject to possible reforms and restructuring by the Centrist United Methodist Church.  Such boards and agencies could also contract to serve other denominations formed in this process.

17. The 2020 General Conference would provide continuing funding for Central Conference ministries during the 2021-2024 Quadrennium supported by all denominations.  All United Methodist conferences and congregations would be encouraged to continue support for Central Conference ministries regardless of denominational affiliation. 

18. A process and principles for allocating general church assets to fund transition to new denominations and to be devoted to the missional purposes of each denomination thereafter would be adopted by the 2020 General Conference.

19. Mandatory retirement provisions for all bishops would be waived until 2022 after the new denominations have become operational.  Jurisdictional conferences might not elect bishops in 2020, reconvening in 2021 or 2022 as part of the Centrist United Methodist Church. Central conferences would elect the number of bishops determined by the 2020 General Conference, as planned. This would allow a proper match of the number of bishops needed under these new conditions.  Bishops in other denominations formed in this process would be elected and assigned according to the provisions of those denominations.       

Here are the United Methodist Progressive, Centrist and Traditionalists Clergy and Laity who developed and signed this proposal for an amicable separation.  Organizational names are provided for informational purposes only and do not imply that these churches or organizations have endorsed these proposals:

Rev. Keith Boyette, President, Wesleyan Covenant Association, Fredericksburg, Virginia (Traditionalist)

Rev. Darren Cushman Wood, Senior Pastor, North United Methodist Church, Indianapolis, Indiana (Progressive)

Rev. Dr. Douglas Damron, Senior Pastor, Epworth United Methodist Church, Toledo, Ohio (Centrist)

Lynette Fields, Layperson, Florida Annual Conference, Orlando, Florida (Progressive)

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

Krystl D. Johnson, Layperson, Lay Delegate, Eastern Pennsylvania Conference, Chester, Pennsylvania (Traditionalist)

Rev. Thomas Lambrecht, Vice President and General Manager, Good News, Spring, Texas (Traditionalist)

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

Cara Nicklas, Layperson, Lay Delegate, Oklahoma Annual Conference, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (Traditionalist)

Rev. Dr. Chris Ritter, Directing Pastor, First United Methodist Church, Geneseo, Illinois (Traditionalist)

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

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

Bill Trimble & the Indianapolis Plan

At the heart of the Indianapolis Plan is the birthing of two or more Methodist denominations:

  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)
  • 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.

“¡Yo la tengo!” and the Indianapolis Plan

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.

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.

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.