The Indianapolis Plan – A Few Reflections

Last week, I shared The Indianapolis Plan to the Leadership Institute 2019 gathered at The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Kansas City.  Here are a few of my reflections:

  • At the UMCNext meeting in May 2019, centrists and progressives gathered in Kansas City.  We were not of one mind.  Some wanted to stay in the UMC and resist the Traditional Plan.  Some wanted to work toward disaffiliation or even dissolution of the UMC.  Others felt like they could not stay in the UMC and needed to depart due to the harm done to their members and friends.  It was in that spirit that the centrist and progressive members of the Indy Plan participated in discussions around separation.  It was not because we had a desire to separate the UMC.  I think every centrist and progressive longed for unity and prayed that we could stay together as one church.  But we realized that may not be possible.  So, we participated to attempt to find a peaceful way forward.  As someone said last week, “we must walk together loosely, or part with a blessing.”  Our work was an attempt to find the mutual blessing if a separation becomes the only option.  We recognize that if traditionalist central conference delegates to General Conference value unity above all – keeping the UMC together – we won’t need an Indianapolis Plan.  If that is the case, the UMCNext Plan or the Connectional Table recommendation for regional conferences could be what our future looks like. Members of the Indy Plan simply wanted to offer a plan of separation that included voices from differing viewpoints – if General Conference feels amicable separation is the best way forward.
  • The Indianapolis Plan was initiated by Darren Cushman Wood, Kent Millard, and Keith Boyette – a progressive, a centrist, and a traditionalist.  A broad and representative group was invited.  Not all of those invited wanted to participate.  Some joined and quickly dropped out.  Others left later.  The facilitators continued to recruit a broad and diverse group throughout the process.  Some participated for a bit, then chose to depart.  The plan was released in its initial draft form in early August.  It was shared with board and agency heads, seminary deans, central conference delegates, caucus leadership groups, and many others.  It was also open for anyone and everyone to give feedback.  Much of that feedback shaped the final form.  Legal voices of Wespath helped to craft the language in several places – including how to define “legal continuation” of the UMC through the centrists.
  • The Basic Provisions and the actual legislation are found in previous posts.  I think one of the most important myths that needed to be dispelled is this: The United Methodist Church is not dissolved but has its legal continuation through the Centrist UMC in the Indy Plan (¶2556.2).  The legal definition provided is: “The United Methodist Church shall continue as a convention or association of churches, as a successor, for the constituent units that realign by choice or default with the Centrist UMC.”  Wespath does not support any specific plan, but did assist with the legal language of continuation.
  • The Indianapolis Plan group did not agree on how assets should be handled.  We couldn’t even agree on the starting number.  Traditionalists will submit their own asset division proposal and their legislation would be added in the new paragraph ¶2556, but it is important to point out that the Indianapolis group did not sign off on that particular asset legislation.  If separation occurs, it will be up to the General Conference to decide how assets would be handled.

“We must find a way to walk together loosely, or part with a blessing.”  Is either possible?  If we must separate, can we bear witness to Christ through our parting?  Our world needs both witnesses from the church more than ever – walking together loosely and parting with blessings.  I will continue to pray for unity, but I will also pray for a powerful witness to the world if we must go our separate ways.

The Indianapolis Plan – The Legislation

Total Number of Pages: 19
Suggested Title: New Denominations of United Methodism
Discipline Paragraph or Resolution Number, if applicable: New Discipline¶ 2556
General Church Budget Implications: None
Global Implications: Yes

Insert a new paragraph 2556 as follows and renumber any succeeding paragraphs.

¶ 2556 –Pathways to New Denominations of United Methodism

  1. Preamble– 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. 

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 that 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 that would provide a pathway to new denominations of the United 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. 

  1. New Denominations –The United Methodist Church hereby creates a pathway for the development of new denominations of United Methodism as set forth below. The United Methodist Church shall continue as a convention or association of churches, as a successor, for the constituent units that realign by choice or default with the Centrist UMC. (Names used in this paragraph are placeholders and descriptive; each new denomination would choose its own name and may use “United Methodist Church” with an appropriate modifier if they so choose.)
  2. The Traditionalist UMCshall be a global denomination that will maintain the current stance of the Disciplineregarding the practice of homosexuality. It would emphasize unity around doctrine, mission, and standards, leaner denominational structure, greater local flexibility, and accountable discipleship.
  3. The Centrist UMCshall be a global denomination that will 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.
  4. A Progressive Denomination may be formed as a separate denomination under 2.d 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.
  5. Other Denominationsmay be formed by a group of 50 or more local churches or by one or more annual conferences. It shall be the responsibility of the leaders of any group of churches or an annual conference desiring to form another denomination to develop and promote the vision of that denomination.
  6. Name and Logo – Each denomination forming under this paragraph shall be permitted, but not be required, to continue to use the name “The United Methodist Church” with an appropriate modifier to distinguish itself from other denominations formed hereunder, and to protect the intellectual property of The United Methodist Church and its successors. Each denomination forming under this paragraph shall be permitted, but not be required, to use the cross and flame logo with modifications to distinguish itself from other denominations formed hereunder. The General Council on Finance and Administration shall have the continued responsibility to administer the name “The United Methodist Church” and the trademarks of The United Methodist Church. To effectuate this intent, prevent confusion and protect the intellectual property, the General Council on Finance and Administration shall ensure that the names chosen by the new denominations do not conflict with another denomination’s name, and that logo modifications are sufficient to distinguish each logo from another.
  7. Default Alignment – Unless otherwise specified herein, if a central or annual conference does not vote on alignment by the date specified, then that conference shall align by default with the Centrist UMC.
  8. Formation in the United States – The following shall be the process for churches in the U.S. aligning with the new denominations.
  9. Annual Conferences – Annual conferences may by simple majority vote of those members present and voting at a regular or called session choose to align with the Traditionalist UMC, the Centrist UMC, or form or align with another denomination formed under this paragraph. The annual conference shall consider this decision upon motion from the floor or may do so through its normal processes. The annual conference may also call a special session upon motion from the floor. When an annual conference considers more than two options, with none receiving the required majority vote, the annual conference shall hold a run-off vote of the two options receiving the most votes, so that one of them receives a majority.
  10. If the annual conference does not vote on alignment by January 1, 2021, it shall by default align with the Centrist UMC for the purpose of representation to the inaugural General Conferences of the new denominations. Annual conferences may choose a different alignment until at least December 31, 2028, under the provisions of this paragraph.
  11. Pension Matters – Generally, annual conferences shall continue to be responsible for pension liabilities under the Clergy Retirement Security Program, which is reflected in ¶ 1504.1, as plan sponsors. If the annual conference agrees to continue to be legally responsible for such obligations, it shall not be required to make any payment of unfunded liabilities prior to alignment. The General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits shall manage pension obligations pursuant to other paragraphs of the Disciplinethat address pension matters. In addition, for future clergy benefits, annual conferences aligning with the Centrist UMC shall continue as plan sponsors of the Clergy Retirement Security Program or whatever mandatory retirement plan is approved by the 2020 General Conference. For future clergy benefits, annual conferences that align with the Traditionalist UMC or other denominations formed under this paragraph may sponsor retirement plans offered by the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits designed to fit their polity and capacity.

iii.  Lay Equalizing Members– For the purposes of this decision, all lay equalizing members shall be elected, as required by ¶ 32, and not appointed. The number of lay equalizing members elected by or from any one charge shall not exceed the number of regular lay members elected by that charge. The formula used by the annual conference in the election of lay equalizing members shall be made public prior to the annual conference session at which the decision regarding alignment is made.

  1. If an annual conference takes a vote on alignment, it shall not take a subsequent vote to consider changing its alignment until at least 42 months have passed since the previous vote.
  2. Local Churches — Local churches in the U.S. that disagree with their annual conference’s alignment may by simple majority vote of those professing members present and voting at a regular or called charge or church conference choose to align with a denomination not chosen by their annual conference or join with 50 or more other local churches in forming another denomination of United Methodism. Churches not taking a vote shall by default remain in their annual conference under whatever alignment the conference has chosen. Local churches withdrawing to become independent shall use the process established by ¶ 2553, which shall include the prepayment of its share of unfunded pension liabilities determined under ¶ 1504.23.
  3. When a local church considers more than two options, with none receiving the required majority vote, the church shall hold a run-off vote of the two options receiving the most votes, so that one of them receives a majority.
  4. Local churches desiring to make an immediate decision on aligning with a new denomination may do so on or after July 1, 2020. Local churches may also make such a decision after their annual conference makes its decision. In order to be represented at the inaugural General Conferences of the new denominations, local churches must vote prior to July 1, 2021. Churches may choose a different alignment until at least December 31, 2028, under the provisions of this paragraph.

iii.  Regardless of other provisions of the Discipline that are not in the Constitution, the approval of the annual conference shall not be required for any church choosing to withdraw from the annual conference in order to align with a different denomination formed under this paragraph, nor shall the annual conference have the authority to hinder churches desiring to choose such a different denomination, as long as the conditions for withdrawal specified in this paragraph are fulfilled.

  1. Property– The local church shall retain all its property, assets, and liabilities (other than pension liability) in the denomination with which it aligns, whether by choice or default. The trust clause (¶ 2501) shall be suspended for purposes of these realignments, but shall continue to apply to local churches aligning by choice or default with the Centrist UMC. Application of any analogous clause to local churches aligning with the Traditionalist UMC or other denomination will depend upon the doctrine and church laws adopted by the denomination with which the church aligns.
  2. Pension Liabilities – The General Board of Pension and Health Benefits will reassign pension liabilities related to realigning local churches, and clergy who have served in them, pursuant to the terms of other paragraphs in The Book of Disciplineaddressing pension obligations for realigning local churches and annual conferences (e.g., ¶ 2555), or through an administrative process by which the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits is able to reassign liabilities and assets based on local church and clergy transfers among continuing plan sponsors.
  3. If a local church takes a vote on alignment, it shall not take a subsequent vote to consider changing its alignment until at least 36 months have passed since the previous vote.
  4. Formation Outside the United States – The following shall be the process for churches in the central conferences aligning with the new denominations.
  5. Central Conferences – Notwithstanding the terms of ¶ 572 or other provisions of the Discipline not in the Constitution, central conferences may by simple majority vote of those members present and voting at a regular or called session choose to align with the Traditionalist UMC, the Centrist UMC, or form or align with another denomination formed under this paragraph. The central conference shall consider this decision upon motion from the floor or may do so through its normal processes. The central conference may also call a special session upon motion from the floor. When a central conference considers more than two options, with none receiving the required majority vote, the central conference shall hold a run-off vote of the two options receiving the most votes, so that one of them receives a majority.

If the central conference does not vote on alignment by March 31, 2021, it shall by default align with the Traditionalist UMC for the purpose of representation to the inaugural General Conferences of the new denominations. Central conferences may choose a different alignment until at least December 31, 2028, under the provisions of this paragraph.

  1. Annual Conferences – Notwithstanding the terms of ¶ 572 or other provisions of the Discipline not in the Constitution, annual conferences that disagree with the decision of their central conference may by simple majority vote of those members present and voting at a regular or called session choose to form or align with a different denomination formed under this paragraph than that chosen by their central conference. The annual conference shall consider this decision upon motion from the floor or may do so through its normal processes. The annual conference may also call a special session upon motion from the floor. When an annual conference considers more than two options, with none receiving the required majority vote, the annual conference shall hold a run-off vote of the two options receiving the most votes, so that one of them receives a majority.
  2. If the annual conference does not vote on alignment by June 30, 2021, it shall by default align with the denomination or option chosen by its central conference for the purpose of representation to the inaugural General Conferences of the new denominations. Annual conferences may choose a different alignment until at least December 31, 2028, under the provisions of this paragraph.
  3. Lay Equalizing Members– For the purposes of this decision, all lay equalizing members shall be elected, as required by ¶ 32, and not appointed. The number of lay equalizing members elected by or from any one charge shall not exceed the number of regular lay members elected by that charge. The formula used by the annual conference in the election of lay equalizing members shall be made public prior to the annual conference session at which the decision regarding alignment is made.

iii.  If an annual conference takes a vote on alignment, it shall not take a subsequent vote to consider changing its alignment until at least 42 months have passed since the previous vote.

  1. The General Board of Pension and Health Benefits is directed and authorized to amend the Global Episcopal Pension Plan as necessary to account for the changes in alignment of central conferences and central conference bishops.
  2. Local Churches — Local churches in the central conferences that disagree with their annual conference’s alignment may by simple majority vote of those professing members present and voting at a regular or called charge or church conference choose to align with a denomination not chosen by their annual conference or join with 50 or more other local churches in forming another denomination of United Methodism. Churches not taking a vote shall by default remain in their annual conference under whatever alignment the conference has chosen. Local churches withdrawing to become independent shall use the process established by ¶ 2553, which includes prepayment of certain liabilities, to the extent such is applicable outside of the U.S.
  3. When a local church considers more than two options, with none receiving the required majority vote, the church shall hold a run-off vote of the two options receiving the most votes, so that one of them receives a majority.
  4. Regardless of other provisions of the Discipline that are not in the Constitution, the approval of the annual conference shall not be required for any church choosing to withdraw from the annual conference in order to align with a different denomination formed under this paragraph, nor shall the annual conference have the authority to hinder churches desiring to choose such a different denomination, as long as the conditions for withdrawal specified in this paragraph are fulfilled.

iii.  Local churches desiring to make an immediate decision on aligning with a new denomination under this paragraph may do so on or after July 1, 2020. Local churches may also make such a decision after their annual conference makes its decision. In order to be represented at the inaugural General Conferences of the new denominations, local churches must vote prior to September 1, 2021. Churches may choose a different alignment until at least December 31, 2028, under the provisions of this paragraph.

  1. Property– The local church shall retain all its property, assets, and liabilities in the denomination with which it aligns, whether by choice or default. The trust clause (¶ 2501) shall be suspended for purposes of these realignments, but shall continue to apply to local churches aligning by choice or default with the Centrist UMC, but only to the extent it applies under The Book of Disciplineand local law. Application of any analogous clause to local churches aligning with the Traditionalist UMC or other denomination will depend upon the doctrine and church laws adopted by the denomination with which the local church aligns, and the unique laws of the countries and secular jurisdictions in which the local churches, annual conferences, and central conferences are located.
  2. If a local church takes a vote on alignment, it shall not take a subsequent vote to consider changing its alignment until at least 36 months have passed since the previous vote.
  3. Interim Implementation – Any conference or local church taking a vote on alignment shall specify as part of that action the date on which it will become effective. When central conferences, annual conferences, and local churches vote to align with a denomination, they may begin to function under the requirements and structure of that denomination on or after August 1, 2020, on an interim basis.
  4. Annual conferences, local churches, and clergy choosing to align with a denomination other than the Traditionalist UMC shall 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 Disciplineprohibiting same-sex weddings and the ordination, appointment, or consecration of self-avowed practicing homosexuals.
  5. The interim Traditionalist UMC shall function under the umbrella and authority of the leadership group that develops and promotes its vision.
  6. The interim Centrist UMC shall function, as a successor to The United Methodist Church for the constituent units that realign either by choice or default with the Centrist UMC, under the terms of The United Methodist Book of Discipline and its existing structures, except as provided under subparagraph 12, below, and except that it would be explicitly exempt from all restrictions related to self-avowed practicing homosexuals or same-sex weddings. Clergy serving in such churches or in such annual conferences would also be exempt. All complaints, administrative or judicial processes, or disciplinary actions related to these restrictions shall be suspended in the interim Centrist UMC, beginning on the date on which conferences, local churches, or clergy designate their alignment with it until January 1, 2022, the date on which the Centrist UMC becomes fully operational.
  7. Any other denomination formed under this paragraph shall function during the interim under the umbrella and authority of the leadership group that develops and promotes its vision (¶ 2556.2).
  8. Apportionments shall be paid to the new denominations by congregations and conferences aligning with them in the interim. General church apportionments shall continue to be paid by all denominations through December 31, 2020. The new interim denominations shall assume responsibility for connectional expenses within each denomination as of January 1, 2021.
  9. Clergy Alignment– Clergy shall by default align with the denomination chosen by their annual conference. Clergy who wish to align with a different denomination than that chosen by their annual conference shall notify their bishop and the leadership of the denomination with which they desire to align. In order to be represented at the inaugural General Conferences of the new denominations, clergy must make such notification prior to July 1, 2021. Clergy may subsequently change denominations based on the processes adopted by their desired denomination.
  10. Appointments– If the clergy person’s current local church appointment decides to align with the same denomination as the clergy person, it is recommended that appointment be continued where possible until at least January 1, 2022, the final effective date of the new denominations. Thereafter, the clergy person’s appointment shall be determined under the process adopted by the new denominations.

If the clergy person’s current local church appointment does not align with the same denomination as the clergy person, the clergy person’s current bishop and the leadership of the denominations involved shall consult regarding a possible appointment. With the approval of the leadership of the church’s chosen denomination and the clergy person’s chosen denomination, a transitional appointment may be set, either in the current local church or another outside the clergy person’s chosen denomination. When a clergy person serves a transitional appointment outside his or her chosen denomination, the clergy person shall be required to abide by and satisfy the standards and requirements of the denomination in which he or she is appointed to serve. Conversations shall continue among the relevant leaders with the aim of finding an appointment for the clergy person within their chosen denomination in order to ensure security of appointment where such is required.

  1. Pensions— Generally, pension benefits earned by clergy persons in The United Methodist Church for service in the United States shall remain intact through these realignments, reassigned by the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits to annual conferences, or other organizations, in whatever denomination they affiliate with, subject, however, to the terms of the Clergy Retirement Security Program and other paragraphs of The Book of Disciplineunder which General Conference has directed and authorized for the General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits to administer pension matters. In the event annual conferences or episcopal areas in the central conferences that are currently covered by the same pension plan should align with multiple United Methodist denominations, the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits shall assist these conferences or episcopal areas in allocating pension assets and liabilities based on their new alignments.
  2. Candidates– It is recommended that candidates who are in process toward licensing, commissioning, or ordination be grandfathered into that point in the process in whichever denomination they want to align with, so that they would not have to repeat requirements for licensing or ordination. Boards of ordained ministry shall promptly forward the paperwork and files of candidates to the proper body in the new denomination when requested in writing by the candidate.
  3. Alignment of Bishops– Active and retired bishops shall by default align with the Centrist UMC. Bishops who wish to align with a different denomination shall notify the president of the Council of Bishops and the leadership of the denomination with which they desire to align prior to July 1, 2021. Service as active bishops in each of the new denominations shall depend upon the provisions adopted by that denomination.
  4. Election of Bishops in 2020 — Mandatory retirement provisions for all current active bishops shall be suspended until September 1, 2022. Bishops desiring to retire may do so, but are not required to do so. Retired bishops shall be assigned by the Council of Bishops in accordance with ¶ 49 to provide residential and presidential leadership for annual conferences in the Centrist UMC where needed on an interim basis.

Jurisdictional conferences may choose not to elect bishops in 2020, reconvening for election of bishops in 2021 or 2022 as part of the Centrist UMC, governed by the provisions established at the inaugural special General Conference for this denomination. This allows a proper match of the number of bishops with the need under the new conditions.

Central conferences may elect bishops in 2020-21 as needed and determined by the central conferences, based on the number of bishops allocated to each central conference by the 2020 General Conference.

Bishops in the other denominations, if those denominations choose to have bishops or an episcopacy, will be elected and assigned according to the provisions of those denominations.

  1. Institutional Affiliationa. Institutions or property owned or controlled by, associated with, or affiliated with an annual conference shall continue to be so owned, controlled by, or associated or affiliated with that annual conference in the denomination chosen by it, unless the institution is authorized to and changes its affiliation or acts to become independent according to its own bylaws.
  2. Institutions or property owned or controlled by or associated or affiliated with a jurisdiction or central conference shall belong to the denomination chosen by the majority of annual conferences in that jurisdiction or central conference, unless the institution is authorized to and changes its affiliation or acts to become independent according to its own bylaws.

12  General Church Agenciesa.  Notwithstanding other paragraphs in The Book of Discipline, the General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits (¶ 1501 et seq.), the United Methodist Committee on Relief (¶ 1315 et seq.), United Methodist Women, Inc. (¶ 1901 et seq.), the General Commission on United Methodist Men (¶ 2301 et seq.), and the United Methodist Publishing House (¶ 1601 et seq.) shall be authorized to take actions, to the extent necessary, to exist as nonprofit corporations in the state of their domicile, and as tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organizations with corporate ownership of all their assets and liabilities, notwithstanding ¶ 2501. Each of these organizations shall be authorized and empowered to amend their bylaws to establish and form their own self-perpetuating boards of directors, no longer subject to paragraphs of TheBook of Discipline that govern agency boards. They shall continue, at the outset, to carry out their mission as originally established by the General Conference, within their corporate tax-exempt purpose. These agencies shall be considered by the General Conference to be the legal successors of the agencies as they existed within The United Methodist Church, and it is the belief of The United Methodist Church that these organizations have associational, historical, and ecclesiastical ties with each other and with the historical United Methodist Church and its predecessors. Each organization is authorized to serve any denomination formed under this paragraph that desires to receive services from it. Each shall be encouraged to maintain ecclesiastical ties to all denominations formed hereunder, e.g., through establishing references to each in the governing documents of each new denomination, electing board directors who are professing members of each denomination, and maintaining other missional ties, to be considered an integrated auxiliary of the denominations it serves. Each shall remain accountable to the General Conference, but only for the services provided to the Centrist UMC, and shall be accountable to the highest legislative conference of other new denominations only for the services provided to each. The terms of the paragraphs of The Book of Disciplinegoverning these agencies, under each’s respective section of the Discipline, and the ¶ 700s shall be amended to conform to and be in harmony with the terms of this paragraph.

  1. The General Commission on Archives and History shall be renamed “The Institute on United Methodist Archives and History,” and shall be housed in a United Methodist institution (e.g., a seminary) as negotiated by the commission’s board and the institution, with the approval of the Council of Bishops. The commission shall retain all its assets and liabilities and shall receive financial support through modest apportionment funding from all denominations formed under this paragraph, distributed proportionally among them.
  2. All other general church boards and agencies shall continue in the Centrist UMC under the current Book of Discipline, subject to further possible reforms and restructuring by that new denomination. They shall be financially supported by, and accountable to, the Centrist UMC, but they may also contract to offer their services to other denominations formed under this paragraph.
  3. Allocation of Assets– The General Conference hereby establishes the process for allocating general church assets among the denominations formed under this paragraph to fund the transition to new denominations and to be devoted to the missional purposes of each denomination thereafter. (NOTE: different groups could submit different proposals for how the assets would be allocated, with General Conference making the final decision on the process.)
  4. Central Conference Funding– The General Conference hereby establishes the goal of maintaining current levels of funding for central conference operations and ministry through the 2021-24 quadrennium, funded by all denominations formed under this paragraph. The General Council on Finance and Administration shall compile a list of apportionment funding for central conference operations and ministry under the 2017-20 budget and shall apportion that amount to the various denominations annually throughout the quadrennium, adjusting for fluctuations in membership as the alignment process continues. These central conference apportionments shall be listed separately, so that each local church may determine how much of its apportionment is going to this central conference apportionment. Apportionment support for central conference bishops shall also be listed separately, even if it passes through the Episcopal Fund. General Council on Finance and Administration shall administer the funds received and distribute them pro-rata or in such other manner as has been the historical pattern. In addition, all denominations are encouraged to continue supporting Advance Special and other mission projects in the central conferences.
  5. Continuing Relationship– All the denominations formed under this paragraph may participate as members of the World Methodist Council and the Pan-Methodist Commission. The continuing relationship between and among the various such denominations may be memorialized in a covenantal concordat, or other form of ecumenical agreement negotiated on a bilateral or multi-lateral basis following the fully effective date of each denomination (January 1, 2022, or later).
  6. Inaugural General Conferences– The Centrist UMC shall hold a special General Conference as its inaugural General Conference during the fall of 2021. Other denominations formed under this paragraph are encouraged to hold an inaugural General Conference to be scheduled during the fall of 2021. Denominations that are not ready to form at that time may hold an inaugural General Conference at a later date, with a fully effective date for the denomination set by that General Conference.
  7. The Centrist UMCshall hold a special called General Conference to discuss the formal removal of all prohibitions related to LGBTQ persons and further define its stance related to ministry with and inclusion of LGBTQ persons. That special General Conference would also consider restructuring the Centrist denomination in light of the annual conferences and local churches that are no longer part of the Centrist UMC. The annual conferences of the Centrist UMC, including those that may be reformed by the jurisdictions after annual conference realignments, will elect delegates to the special session in 2021, under the terms of The Book of Discipline, particularly to replace delegates who have lost eligibility through no longer being members of a UMC annual conference or local church as a result of realignments.
  8. The Traditionalist UMCand other denominationsshall hold their inaugural General Conference to adopt governing documents that would govern the work of those denominations. Representation shall be elected under its and their associational rules or adopted doctrine, for example by those annual conferences choosing to affiliate with the denomination and also by groups of local churches and clergy that form in areas where their annual conference affiliates with another denomination.
  9. The fully effective dateof the new denominations shall be January 1, 2022, or a later date determined by each denomination.
  10. Legal Succession– For the purposes of legal issues such as pensions and assets, all denominations forming under this paragraph shall be considered legal successors of The United Methodist Church as relates to the portions thereof that are associated with the new denominations or organizations that align or associate therewith. The Centrist UMC shall inherit the current Book of Disciplinewith such modifications as it chooses to make. Other denominations may borrow provisions and language from the Book of Disciplinewithout such borrowing being considered an infringement of copyright. Furthermore, all denominations forming under this paragraph have associational, historical, and ecclesiastical ties with each other and with the historical United Methodist Church and its predecessors.
  11. Severability– If one provision of this paragraph is found unconstitutional, any other provisions not dependent upon that provision shall be severable and implemented as passed by General Conference.
  12. Precedence and Effective Date– All provisions of this paragraph shall take effect upon the adjournment of General Conference 2020. All provisions of this paragraph shall take precedence over any conflicting provisions in the Book of Disciplinenot in the Constitution.

The Indianapolis Plan – Final

I am putting the Indianapolis Plan Basic Provisions here.  I will be blogging on the provisions as we ended up over the next several days.  Traditionalists, Centrists, and Progressives did not agree on all provisions but we felt we needed to offer a different option to General Conference delegates related to separation.  We realized much of this plan, if used, will be modified.  We are praying for GC2020.

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 majorityto 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 Unite 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 thatdesires 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

The Indianapolis Plan :: Timelines, Boards, Assets

Recently, The Indianapolis Plan – Basic Provisions was released to the United Methodist Church.  It was designed by a group of United Methodists  – ‘traditionalist, centrist, and progressive’ (I will use these terms for shared understanding realizing some, including me, think they are easily misused and limited). The facilitators were Kent Millard, Darren Cushman-Wood, and Keith Boyette. I was invited to participate in this group as one of the centrists.  Over the coming days, I will share my thoughts on the Indy Plan, speak to some of the strengths of the plan, and point to some of its weaknesses.  I will also point to what I believe are the biggest obstacles.  I hope the comments you share on social media and on this blog will be helpful in not only refining the Indy Plan as we continue our work but help all of United Methodism find a way forward.  I think it would be helpful for General Conference delegates if you share your thoughts related to what the future needs to look like for Wesleyan Methodism around the world.  I will be faithful to post all comments that are helpful and none that are harmful on this blog.  The Indy group welcomes feedback as we continue to refine the plan.

Basic Provisions – with my reflections following:


15. Annual conferences and local congregations could begin functioning in the new alignment beginning August 1, 2020, on an interim basis. Inaugural General Conference sessions would be held in Fall 2021, with the new expressions becoming fully functional as of January 1, 2022.

  • The Indianapolis timeline will need to be examined to see if it is reasonable and realistic.  General Conferences for new expressions – traditionalist and progressive expressions could be established as they see fit.  The continuation of the UMC will be restricted by the current Book of Discipline’s rules on calling a General Conference.

16. Wespath, UMCOR, UMW, and the United Methodist Publishing House would be established as independent 501(c)3 organizations with their own self-perpetuating boards of directors and would be positioned to serve any expression that desired to receive services from them.

  • We will need to clarify what we mean by ‘independent’.  Will they no longer by governed by the UMC?  No longer have boards elected by the UMC?  If they are serving multiple expressions, this type of autonomy may be best.
  • Wespath will be able to create/envision a way to serve multiple denominations with boards made up of members they select from the differing denominations.
  • There are legal issues here that will need to be examined regarding the tax-exempt purposes, legal considerations, and Wespath’s need to be associated with the UMC (and other like expressions) to keep their proper status as a benefits operator.  Wespath will have to give clarity on these needs.

17. All other agencies would become part of the Centrist/Progressive UMC with mutually agreed upon initial funding, subject to further possible reforms and restructuring by that new expression. Such agencies could also contract to serve other expressions formed in this process.

  • We need more clarity here and the agencies would need to speak into this process as it relates to any legislation.  
  • What is “mutually agreed upon initial funding”?  Would this be mediated before General Conference?  Is that even possible before GC20?
  • There will be questions as to whether any of the resources (restricted or unrestricted) monies can be taken from any board or agency.  Some believe we can put all the reserves in a ‘pool’ and distribute them equally to new expressions.  This will require some due diligence by legal counsel as to the possibility of whether that can occur.  Can one give money to a charitable organization for the purpose of supporting that specific organization, then ask for it back…or ask for it to be pooled with other monies and distributed to new organizations that are outside the intent of the original gifts?
  • One big question:  What happens to the associated UMC organizations/entities?  Children’s Homes, Foundations, Retirement Homes, Conference Camps, etc.?  Will they remain with the annual conferences?  Most of them have tax-exempt status under the UMC umbrella.  What if they don’t want to go with the annual conference?  What if they want to leave the annual conference to join a new expression?

18. The 2020 General Conference would provide continuing funding for Central Conference ministries during the 2021-24 quadrennium, supported by all expressions.

  • Central Conference support is a big question.  People from all expressions desire to remain connected to Central Conferences, but how will that happen if they join a new expression?  The easiest way is to budget support in the General Conference budget over the next four years.  But that raises some questions?
    • Will the new denominations/expressions support this?  How can that be controlled or mandated?  What if the money from new expressions doesn’t come in as expected?  Would the budgeted amount be reduced based on those payments not received?
    • What if churches in the UMC choose not to pay that apportionment?  How will that budget item be paid?

19. A process and principles for dividing general church assets would be adopted by General Conference, to be implemented by an arbitration board.

  • This is the most difficult and divisive part of our conversations.  The Traditional UMC wants 50% of the UMC assets.  Centrists/Progressives want to “budget/send” money with new expressions but not ‘pool and divide’ assets.  What amounts are we talking about?  Everything?  Reserves?  Restricted and Unrestricted?  Properties?  We realized quickly that this discussion will require professional mediation.  There are too many hard lines on each side to come to agreement.  
  • The assets, including reserves, belong to the agencies.  They are separately incorporated.  There are so many restrictions to consider that it would be impossible to put those assets in a ‘pool’.  The easiest way to allocate monies to new expressions is to keep the UMC intact and use the General Conference budget process to budget the proportionate share of monies paid out over time.  The UMC may (I’m not sure on this) be able to move unrestricted reserves for other uses…but a new expression probably can’t make that happen.

20. Mandatory retirement provisions for bishops in the U.S. would be waived until 2022. Jurisdictional conferences would not elect bishops in 2020, reconvening for election of bishops in 2021 or 2022 as part of the Centrist/Progressive UMC. This would allow a proper match of the number of bishops with the need under the new conditions. Retired bishops may be used where needed to lead conferences until new bishops are elected. Bishops in the other expressions would be elected and assigned according to the provisions of those expressions.

  • This will need to be vetted as to whether it can be done without constitutional amendment.  Would we do the same for the entire UMC including Central Conferences?

I will plan to share updates from our ongoing discussions as we adapt this plan.  The Indianapolis Group has and is adding voices from differing caucuses, agencies, and perspectives as they weigh in to what we have shared so far.

My hope is that any separation of the UMC will bear witness to the highest ideals of our Christian faith.  I long for the church to show the world that while we may not agree, we can separate in a way that highlights love for God and one another.

The Indianapolis Plan :: Churches, Clergy, and Bishops

Last week, The Indianapolis Plan – Basic Provisions was released to the United Methodist Church.  It was designed by a group of United Methodists  – ‘traditionalist, centrist, and progressive’ (I will use these terms for shared understanding realizing some, including me, think they are easily misused and limited). The facilitators were Kent Millard, Darren Cushman-Wood, and Keith Boyette. I was invited to participate in this group as one of the centrists.  Over the coming days, I will share my thoughts on the Indy Plan, speak to some of the strengths of the plan, and point to some of its weaknesses.  I will also point to what I believe are the biggest obstacles.  I hope the comments you share on social media and on this blog will be helpful in not only refining the Indy Plan as we continue our work but help all of United Methodism find a way forward.  I think it would be helpful for General Conference delegates if you share your thoughts related to what the future needs to look like for Wesleyan Methodism around the world.  I will be faithful to post all comments that are helpful and none that are harmful on this blog.  The Indy group welcomes feedback as we continue to refine the plan.

Basic Provisions – with my reflections following:


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

  • A few thoughts:
  • If General Conference allows for annual conferences to leave and join a new denomination of Methodism, they should also allow remedy for local churches that disagree with the annual conference’s decision.  If an annual conference is allowed to leave, a church within the annual conference may choose to go with them (no vote required) or choose a different expression – remain in UMC or go with one of the new, birthed expressions (a vote is required here, or some active decision).
  • How that decision is made in a local church would need to be clearly defined.  What would the threshold be?
  • Like the annual conference threshold, this is an important determination.  A local church may leave an annual conference now.  A local church may also change annual conferences in certain circumstances.  Currently, the annual conference determines the basis for a local church to ‘disaffiliate’ since the annual conference owns the property of the church and the unfunded pension liability.  
  • Currently, the Indy Plan allows any local church that disagrees with the decision of their annual conference to align with another expression.  Only a simple majority – 50%+1, would be needed.
  • While this does sound fair and equitable, we return to the question of appropriate thresholds when property and membership are at stake.  I don’t know the local church votes totals of the recently disaffiliated congregations in the Mississippi Conference, but earlier instances of churches leaving had the votes at well over 90-95% in favor of leaving.   I led a church merger in the early 2000’s, led an adoption merger in 2017, and am in discussions with another church regarding adoption merger.  These decisions can be deeply painful for many.  The first merger I led, we used a simple majority threshold.  It passed 55%-45% and caused more pain than I could have ever imagined.  Families were split in two.  Friendships were broken.  I promised myself we would always use a super-majority in the future.  In 2017, we used a 2/3 threshold for an adoption merger in Houston.  The process took longer, but they voted to merge with Chapelwood at an 80% threshold.   What if a church votes 60% and cannot leave?  I realize this works both ways – see my thoughts on this below.  With annual conferences, my rationale is rooted in organizational integrity (2/3 is current threshold for overseas annual conferences to disaffiliate and become autonomous churches).  
  • A 2/3 threshold is more in harmony with local churches being reassigned conferences (BOD, par 41).  Judicial Council decision 1379 also made a broad statement that “any legislation of the General Conference permitting the ‘gracious exit’ of a local church must require at a minimum (1) the disaffiliation resolution be approved by a 2/3 majority of the professing members of the local church…”
  • While it may not seem ‘fair’ to some, it may be difficult to pass and secure anything less than a 2/3 majority for local churches to depart.
  • On a personal note; I advocate for the simplest solutions possible, but I am not sure how to simplify this.  There will be churches where the church votes 53%-47% to remain in the UMC/centrist/progressive expression, what happens to the 47% who desire a traditionalist church? They will have to make a decision to remain in their church or depart.  It breaks my heart.
  • A super majority vote threshold has traditionally been the threshold to change categories of membership (expel), suspend rules, change fundamental rules (constitutional and restrictive), etc.  This is reflected in our Book of Discipline and Judicial Council decisions.  
  • Point of clarity:: This provision is worded to sound like every church would own their own property if they move to a new expression or even remain in the UMC expression.  This needs to be clarified.  If a church remains in the UMC expression, the same trust clause would exist.  If a church moves to a traditionalist expression – I have no idea if they plan to have a trust clause or not – I would guess they would have to have a trust clause to offset pension liability.  Churches would still not own their property if they join one the expressions approved by General Conference.  Only if they leave to become independent after paying whatever is determined by General Conference and annual conferences.

12. Clergy would decide with which expression to align. By default, they would remain part of their annual conference in whichever expression their annual conference affiliates, unless they request to affiliate with a different expression.

  • Clergy can choose to transfer conferences or even leave the denomination now.  New expressions would develop ways to receive clergy similar to how annual conferences transfer clergy.  I would love to see a ‘full communion’ relationship.
  • The new expressions will need to define the role of clergy, how they will be deployed, etc.  
    • Will there be guaranteed appointments?
    • How will they be appointed?  Itineracy?  Call system?
    • I assume ordinations will be honored, but what will the process be for credentialing someone who moves into a new expression.  This will need to made be clear by the new expressions.

13. Bishops would decide with which expression to align. By default, they would remain part of the Centrist/Progressive UMC, unless choosing to align with a different expression. Service as active bishops in each of the new expressions would depend upon the provisions adopted by that expression.

  • This will be interesting…
  • By default, they will remain UMC bishops in the UMC – centrist/progressive expression.  The would have to make an active decision to join a new expression.
  • What will bishops be in new expressions?  This will need to be developed before any bishop would decide to join.  I will let bishops ask questions here…I’m not really sure what they would want to know before making any decision.

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

  • Wespath is working on all this and giving input to the different groups working on plans.
  • Local churches and pastors disaffiliating to become independent (not join a new Methodist expression) would have to pay GC19 approved withdrawal payments.  
  • Clergy terminating membership (other than join new expression), would be converted under GC19 terms.
  • There will be a way for churches’ liabilities to be transferred to new Methodist expressions, but those expressions will have to assume legal responsibility, prove to be financially viable, and have adequate governance, funding, etc. to work with Wespath.
  • There will need to be a transition period on all of this.  It will take time.

Next Up :: Timelines and Boards/Agencies

The Indianapolis Plan :: “Ay, There’s the Rub!”

Last week, The Indianapolis Plan – Basic Provisions was released to the United Methodist Church.  It was designed by a group of United Methodists  – ‘traditionalist, centrist, and progressive’ (I will use these terms for shared understanding realizing some, including me, think they are easily misused and limited). The facilitators were Kent Millard, Darren Cushman-Wood, and Keith Boyette. I was invited to participate in this group as one of the centrists.  Over the coming days, I will share my thoughts on the Indy Plan, speak to some of the strengths of the plan, and point to some of its weaknesses.  I will also point to what I believe are the biggest obstacles.  I hope the comments you share on social media and on this blog will be helpful in not only refining the Indy Plan as we continue our work but help all of United Methodism find a way forward.  I think it would be helpful for General Conference delegates if you share your thoughts related to what the future needs to look like for Wesleyan Methodism around the world.  I will be faithful to post all comments that are helpful and none that are harmful on this blog.  The Indy group welcomes feedback as we continue to refine the plan.

Basic Provisions – with my reflections following:

———-

9. Annual conferences in the U.S. would decide by majority vote with which expression to align. Annual conferences choosing not to make a decision would become part of the Centrist/Progressive UMC by default.

  • As they say…’the devil is in the details’.  
  • Where the Indy group agrees:
    • there needs to be separation,
    • we want it to be as amicable as possible,
    • it should be fair and equitable, and
    • we should talk to one another as we try to work it all out.  
  • We disagree on the ‘how’.  This is also where we start to bump into the fundamental differences you will experience from the differing plans that are offered.  
  • General Conference delegates are the audience.  It doesn’t matter what the blogospheres and twitterverse think…it matters what the GC delegates think.
  • General Conference will make the decision about who could leave (conferences, churches, etc.) and how (the process).  The legislative committees of the General Conference will do their work, then GC will vote to determine who and how.  In order for any legislation to have a chance, it needs to have the following characteristics:
    • it must be simple (people have to understand it and it cannot be overly complex with too many moving parts),
    • it must gain broad agreement (even if traditionalists have a 51% majority, that is too close for complex petitions dealing with all sorts of nuances.  If you are voting ‘for or against’ homosexuality, you can get all the 51%…if you are talking about complex legislation with amendments that break up a denomination, ministries, and churches, the votes will start to wander all over the place.  We saw this a few times at GC19.)
    • it must strive do the least amount of harm possible (I have advocated at our meetings for all the center-right/center-left churches and pastors I know across the SE and SC jurisdictions.  They don’t want their local churches and conferences ripped apart with votes.  How does any plan mitigate the potential harm to communities and churches?) We must consider the thousands of churches and what the effects will be.
  • Can an annual conference leave?  It can if the General Conference approves a process for that to happen.  In the Bard/Jones Plan, they point to Section 9 of Petition 90041 of the Traditional Plan (2019 ADCA pp.187-88) as a key proposal allowing US annual conferences to leave the UMC.  This petition, or one like it, would need to be reintroduced and passed in 2020.  In the 2019 provision, an annual conference could leave by a simple majority vote – that is currently what is included in the Indy Plan.
    • I have some questions and concerns regarding a simple majority vote:
    • Is a simple majority a sufficient bar for an annual conference to leave?  General Conference can approve that threshold, but would that threshold potentially cause more harm?  I am deeply concerned for many SE and SC conferences that I am certain will have close votes on whether to depart for a new expression or remain.  I can’t begin to imagine the pain and harm among people who have been together for generations.
    • What ‘triggers’ a vote?  There is discussion about a 15% trigger…if 15% of the voting delegates at the annual conference session desire, a vote would occur to depart and join a new expression.  Is that trigger too low?  General Conference would have to decide the trigger threshold.
    • Say a 15% threshold passes, the vote is taken…52% of the delegates vote to leave and join a new expression…all done, right?  Maybe not…could there be another motion to re-vote?…15% threshold passes…would we vote again? Again? Again?  Would there be a rule that says you can only vote once?
    • Let’s say 15% passes, and the conference votes and the motion to leave is defeated by 52%.  Conference stays in the UMC, right?  What if the 48% refuse to leave and want to keep trying because they want the conference assets?  Will they remain and attempt a vote again the next year?  Since all the conference assets stay with the conference, what if a conference had a multi-million dollar endowment, or owned a major hospital, or had significant properties?  Will 48% of the conference simply walk away because they lost the vote by a few votes?  Is it right that 51% would take all the assets?  That said, I am also not in favor of dividing the conference assets 51-49%.  That is too complex and filled with chaos.  It has to stay together.  General Conference delegates may determine a higher threshold is required.
    • Many US annual conferences won’t have to worry about this.  But there will be conferences where the votes could be very close.  My conference, The Texas Conference, could very well be one of those.  I can’t imagine the war that will be waged leading up to a vote.  Even if the Bishop asked for a called annual conference in September of 2020, I can’t begin to imagine what it would be like to operate in that space.
    • I feel that any legislation that allows an annual conference to leave and take all their assets should have a 2/3 majority.  This is a standard for any major decision and this would be a very large decision.  A super-majority would reflect the will of the conference as a whole.  It may also assist if there are legal issues that follow.
    • Also, if we want fewer votes in local churches and less harm done, a 2/3 threshold approval means there will be fewer local congregations that will have to vote opposite of their conference – unless they fall slightly short of the 2/3 threshold.  This is where it cuts both ways.  If a conference gets 60% they can’t leave – more local churches would have to vote in that case.  It may only be a few conferences that fall into this category, but it would be devastating either way.  I’d prefer no local church votes.  That is what most people requested to the Commission on a Way Forward.

10. Central conferences would decide by majority vote with which expression to align or to become an autonomous Methodist church. Central conferences choosing not to make a decision would become part of the Traditionalist UMC by default. Annual conferences outside the U.S. could decide by majority vote to align with a different expression than their central conference.

  • Central Conferences are large regional bodies made up of annual conferences. There are 7 Central Conferences on 3 continents (3 in Africa, 3 in Europe/Asia, and 1 in Philippines) with a total of 74 annual conferences (30 in Africa, 20 in Europe/Asia, and 24 in Philippines).
  • If General Conference makes a decision to allow annual conferences to depart, it seems to me they will want to treat the global church conferences equally.  I am not sure how members of the Central Conferences will feel about different rules for them because they are outside the US.  
  • We have already heard from a few in Europe who desire the decision not be made at a Central Conference level, but rather the annual conference level – in the same way it is done in the US.  If the US church followed the Central Conference model, the US church would vote by Jurisdictions.  If an annual conference disagrees with the Jurisdictional vote, then the annual conference may vote to align with a different expression.
  • The DEFAULT to the Traditionalist UMC.  Why?  Traditionalists would say, “the vast majority of Central Conference is traditionalist.”  I don’t disagree with that.  But my question is this: can one ‘default’ into the ‘new’ thing?  Some would say the General Conference can make this happen.  But default by its very definition says a selection is made automatically or without active consideration due to the lack of a viable alternative.  I think the rationale behind all the defaults will need to be clearer to General Conference delegates in order to find support any type of default.  How does one default a United Methodist annual conference into a new denomination without that annual conference actively involved in that decision?  Can that even happen?  Would the General Conference approve that?

One thing has become clear: with the release of basic provisions from the Indy group and the release of the UMCNext plan, we all realize the Central Conferences are the key to the future direction of the UMC.  Does Africa/Philippines/etc want to depart the UMC and form their own, new denomination with traditionalist US Methodists?  Do they want to remain and refine the Traditionalist Plan?  Would they accept greater separation but desire to remain connected to the US UMC for the cause of mission and the kingdom?  If we knew the answer to these questions, we could stop talking ‘plans’ and start moving forward into whatever new future is before us.  I hope we don’t have to wait until May 2020 to know the answer to these questions.

I encourage Central Conference delegates to the General Conference in 2020 to speak out to all of us…to Indy Plan members…to UMCNext members…to the WCA members…to Good News members.  I long for all of us to work together so we can move forward in our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ!

Next Up :: Churches, Clergy, and Bishops

The Indianapolis Plan :: Two, Three, Four, or More?

Last week, The Indianapolis Plan – Basic Provisions was released to the United Methodist Church.  It was designed by a group of United Methodists  – ‘traditionalist, centrist, and progressive’ (I will use these terms for shared understanding realizing some, including me, think they are easily misused and limited). The facilitators were Kent Millard, Darren Cushman-Wood, and Keith Boyette. I was invited to participate in this group as one of the centrists.  Over the coming days, I will share my thoughts on the Indy Plan, speak to some of the strengths of the plan, and point to some of its weaknesses.  I will also point to what I believe are the biggest obstacles.  I hope the comments you share on social media and on this blog will be helpful in not only refining the Indy Plan as we continue our work but help all of United Methodism find a way forward.  I think it would be helpful for General Conference delegates if you share your thoughts related to what the future needs to look like for Wesleyan Methodism around the world.  I will be faithful to post all comments that are helpful and none that are harmful on this blog.  The Indy group welcomes feedback as we continue to refine the plan.

Basic Provisions – with my reflections following:

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3. The ‘Traditionalist’ UMC would be a global denomination that would maintain the current stance of the Discipline regarding the practice of homosexuality.

4. 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.

5. 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.

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  • As to the ‘names’ – names are simply place holders.  New expressions would name themselves.  They would also define themselves (this is important work that must be done before conferences and churches make decisions – traditionalists will release their vision this fall, centrists are working on a vision for a centrist church, and progressives have cast vision as well).  The Indy group uses simple, general definitions to assist visualization:
    • The ‘traditionalist’ UMC would be a new, birthed denomination.  As I shared in a previous post, the General Conference cannot start a new denomination, but the WCA (Wesleyan Covenant Association), or another group, can organize a new denomination.  The General Conference would pass legislation that would allow conferences and local churches to leave the UMC and affiliate with the new denomination(s).  Conferences, churches, and pastors who wish to remain in a denomination that upholds a traditional understanding of marriage and ordination – including restrictions prohibiting LGBTQ+ persons from these practices – would find a place here.  
      • Note: There may be conservative groups that emerge to the ‘right’ of what is defined here as the ‘traditionalist’ expression. General Conference cannot create new expressions.  Any new expression would have to meet thresholds established by the General Conference and use the exit provisions approved at General Conference. (see Provision 7)
    • The ‘centrist/progressive’ UMC would be the continuation of the current UMC – organizationally, structurally, and polity-wise (with restrictive language removed regarding marriage and ordination). This is a continuing body that inherits the current connectional system that has been the UMC with its boards, agencies, apportionments, and Book of Discipline.  While it is the continuing UMC, it is considered a new expression due to the fact that the restrictive language regarding LGBTQ+ persons would be removed.  There is an agreed need to reform and transform the UMC going forward.  Conferences, local churches, and pastors who desire to remain in the connectional system that has been the UMC would find a place here.  It would be understood that the UMC would be reformed by (but not limited to): removing restrictions/mandates around LGBTQ+ marriage and ordination, addressing organizational limitations, engaging in a new vision for the future, etc.  The UMC would be renamed to reflect this new expression and direction.  It could be named simply ‘The Methodist Church’.
    • The ‘progressive’ UMC expression should be available in the same way that a ‘traditionalist’ expression would be available.  A new denomination would need to be formed first, then conferences, churches, and pastors who wish to be a part of that new expression would use the same legislation as traditionalists to join the new expression.  Conferences, churches, and pastors who wish to be in a denomination where LGBTQ+ marriage, ordination, inclusion, and justice for all persons are mandated immediately and expected of every pastor, church, and conference would find a place here.
      • There may be progressive groups, or others, who emerge with different hopes, visions, and aspirations who desire their own expression. General Conference cannot create new expressions.  Any new expression would have to meet thresholds established by the General Conference and use the exit provisions approved at General Conference. (see Provision 7)

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6. Central Conferences could align with any of the new expressions or become autonomous affiliated denominations.

7. Other Expressions may be formed by a group of 50 or more local churches or by an annual conference.

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  • Provision 6 says Central Conferences could align with any of the new expressions or become autonomous affiliated denominations.  There are 7 Central Conferences on 3 continents (3 in Africa, 3 in Europe/Asia, and 1 in Philippines) with a total of 74 annual conferences (30 in Africa, 20 in Europe/Asia, and 24 in Philippines).  We have heard from Central Conference bishops, pastors, and members regarding the Indy Plan.  We recognize there is still work needed on how Central Conferences will make decisions related to any plan moving forward.  They must be given substantial input in the coming months as they will heavily influence any decision of our global church.  Conferences outside the US desire the same ability to self-determine as US conferences.  In another post, I will discuss the “default’ positions for conferences mentioned in Provisions 9 and 10 (and why that may not be a viable option).  Central Conferences are made up of many annual conferences that don’t necessarily agree with each other on the issues before us.  The Indy Plan sections regarding Central Conferences will need broader input to assist General Conference in approving legislation that is simple yet will stand the scrutiny of Judicial Council.
  • Provision 7 allows any group of 50 churches or any conference to begin their own denomination.  This was an item that has been in the traditionalist’s plan for a long time and remains in this plan for any other group that feels they cannot remain in the UMC.  This would also allow additional expressions beyond the two or three mentioned in this plan.
  • Other Reflections:
    • Traditionalists feel two options are sufficient (in fairness, they do add “50 or more churches or a conference could do their own thing” to their plan).  I was surprised to learn many progressives agree with traditionalists on this point.  The centrists in our group advocated for more than two expressions.  At first, we advocated for three – realizing we had fellow disciples who want to be in a fully progressive, liberated church now.  We were told by progressive leaders that only two options were needed.  This is why the plan is worded the way it is.  I have added the possibility of even more options because this plan would allow for it – but I am personally speculating on these. 
    • “Two choices benefit traditionalists.”  Two choices reduce all of our struggles and differences into a binary decision on human sexuality.  This is not a healthy way to make important decisions.  Our partisan culture makes this attractive, but it is not healthy.  We need to think more deeply about the decisions we will make related to the future of our church beyond a vote for or against one issue.
    • “Three choices benefit centrists.”  Honestly, as a centrist, I believe this is true.  When I speak to many center-right and center-left pastors in the Southeast and South Central Jurisdictions, they recognize the significant movement on the issues of LGBTQ+ inclusion in their churches.  They also know there is much work to be done.  They, and a lot of their members, want to live in a loving, ‘big-tent’ church.  Having more than two options moves us away from a ‘binary’ choice on one issue and allows many UMs to stay in a denomination that expresses: “We may not all think alike, but can we not all love alike?”
    • “We shouldn’t have a third, progressive denomination – they can’t afford it or sustain it.”  Before you get angry with me, this is something told to me by more than one progressive leader.  As I advocated strongly for multiple options, I was told by progressive leaders that we only need two.  I can’t speak into this as it relates to progressive conversations.  There may or may not be appetite for other progressive expressions, but it seems that should be a grass-roots choice.  I’m not sure I want to ‘force’ anyone to remain in a church that goes against their conscience and belief.

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8. All expressions would develop a new General Conference, with its own Book of Discipline, structures, polity, and finances.

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  • I’m not sure whether we should include this.  Each new church would decide this as needed. General Conference will not determine this for a new denomination.  The Centrist/Progressive UMC would, as the continuation of the UMC which will inherit the connectional system that is the UMC, keep General Conference, Book of Discipline, structures, polity, and finances as they currently are now.

Next Up: “Ay, There’s the Rub!”