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. We welcome feedback.
Basic Provisions – with my reflections following:
- 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)
- I am not sure that the General Conference can “birth” a new denomination, but a new denomination can be formed – by the WCA, for example – and the General Conference can create legislation that allows annual conferences, local churches, jurisdictions, and central conferences a mechanism to join a new expression.
- I prefer the wording, “birth a new Traditional United Methodist Church and reform/renew the UMC into a new Centrist/Progressive expression of the United Methodist Church. This is more in alignment with number 2 – “the United Methodist Church would not be dissolved but have its legal continuation through the Centrist/Progressive United Methodist Church.”
- One of the big obstacles we struggled with – and still do today if you keep up with social media and the various plans/ideas – is the way we define what we are doing with our words. ‘Form follows function’ for each of the plan you will see lifted up. If a group simply wants one side to leave, the plan will come across as cold and unkind, seeking to put the departing group at a disadvantage. If the plan creators truly believe we need to birth new expressions, well…the form will reflect that. It is important to me that we give serious consideration to the many thousands of churches out that are stuck in inertia – they don’t want to deal with this, they don’t want to change, they don’t want to vote (it is easy to dismiss them, but we can’t – many are ‘sheep without a shepherd’ in this). I often advocate for as little change as possible (I have been called an ‘institutionalist’ in all this, which is really funny to those who know me well). I’m starting with “what” – the product. That’s not a bad thing. It is actually kind and empathetic to the needs of United Methodists all around the world that fear the unknown change. But in this process, I am also confronted with the vision…the “why”…or better stated, what new thing does God desire in this? We all have to ask ourselves some deep questions about what we want to see on the other side. I found that traditionalists and progressives actually share a lot in common in this area. They align on vision more than they think – they are reformers and not afraid to operate without nets. Centrists – like me – desire more stability. We need all of these voices together. There is value in stability, but we also need resurrection and transformation. I’m rambling now, so I will move on…
- In all the ‘plans’ you will read, ask this: Is one group leaving and everyone else staying? Is everyone being asked to move into something ‘new’. In our early conversations as everyone brought ‘their’ plans and advocated for them, it was obvious that the traditionalists wanted a way forward that has everyone entering into something ‘new’. It is no secret they wanted dissolution (but so did some progressives, to be honest). The centrists at the table said, “dissolution of the church is a non-starter” (see paragraph above). It benefits centrists to have the UMC remain intact – inertia, kindness, empathy for so many churches out there. It benefits traditionalists to have everyone choose something new – more churches would face a binary choice and we all know there are deeper issues to consider – it is not binary.
- The assumption by many centrists and progressives is, “WCA has wanted to leave for 20 years”, so why don’t they just leave. In my opinion, the United Methodist Church is in a very different place than other mainline churches in the US that have separated over this issue. Whether we agree with it or not, the United Methodist position on marriage and ordination is still a traditional position. I know, I know…many in the US do not agree and will live in opposition, but it is still the law of the church. In other denominations, the position on homosexuality CHANGED and the conservative/traditionalists had to leave on principle…they lost, and they left. The same thing would have happened in the UMC had the Simple Plan or One Church Plan passed in February 2019. The WCA would have formed a new denomination and they would have left because they would have lost. But the Traditional Plan passed. This puts the UMC and the WCA in a different position than our Presbyterian or Episcopalian friends. How do you win the vote and then turn around and leave? No one does that, but we expect WCA and Good News to do that. The UMC is also a global church. The voices from around the world matter. Much of the UM global church doesn’t want a dissolution, they don’t want to leave, but they also want a traditional view of marriage. How do we simply disregard their voices? We will have to find ways to compromise where all voices are heard. One does not have to agree with what I am saying, but we must strive to understand it if we are to find common ground.
- This is why the Indianapolis Group landed on NOT dissolving the United Methodist Church, but did agree that we ALL need to enter into new expressions.
- There are a lot of people saying the Indy Plan is ‘dissolution’. We obviously define the word differently. I have always opposed dissolution and still do. People may not like the plan, but I’m not sure it can be defined as a plan of dissolution. If the denomination is simply renamed (remove United), if we remove the restrictive language, we keep all boards and agencies intact, we continue to remain connected to Central Conferences (those that don’t choose to leave), the General Conference remains as is, Judicial Council remains, Council of Bishops remain, episcopacy is the same, Jurisdictions, Constitution, all remain as they are right now – the Book of Discipline is exactly the same minus the restrictions against LGBTQ+ folk…I don’t define that as dissolution (the reformation will come after the separation). The traditionalists really wanted dissolution and when we said no, they moved to half-dissolution. When we said no, they wanted to dissolve boards and agencies. We said no. I will give them credit. They realized that we were not going to agree to dissolution, that the global church doesn’t have the stomach for it, it would be filled with legal complications, and it would not pass at General Conference. It would also cause everyone to dismiss the Indy Plan from the beginning. The traditionalists moved a lot on this point. The language ‘new expressions’ for everyone was a compromise, but we also felt it represents the vision God has for all of us to enter into something new.
- I have already stated in previous post my rationale against dissolution so I won’t repeat it here (although I may repeat it again in the future).
- Finally, I am a fan of simply renaming the United Methodist Church, “The Methodist Church” (which I believe we have legal ownership of, but I am not sure.) Everyone agrees the UMC needs some radical reformation. The removal of restrictive language in the Discipline on marriage and ordination alone makes us a very different denomination…and we are longer “United”. I personally don’t have a problem dropping ‘United’. Any church sign in the US can keep United Methodist if the stay in The Methodist Church. There won’t be a squad roaming around policing signs. The new, birthed traditional expression will obviously brand themselves to differentiate.
So I end with provision number 2: The United Methodist Church would not be dissolved but would have its legal continuation through the Centrist/Progressive United Methodist Church.
Next Up :: Two, Three, Four, or More?
John, I must have missed it in the prior blog, but what is WCA?
Sorry Martin, all the insider language. The WCA is the Wesleyan Covenant Association. GN is Good News. Both are traditionalist groups that advocate for traditional positions on marriage and ordination – between man and woman.
I’m so glad you’re sharing your observations, thoughts, hopes with all of us., John. I believe in faith, hope, and clarity, and your posts provide all three! Thank you for the obvious effort you’ve given (and will continue to give) as a delegate to jurisdictional conference. Keep us posted. Keep us thinking. Keep us praying.elaineScott
Let me echo the words of appreciation for your well thought out hopes and dreams for our church John. I know there will be plans and ideas from other sources and I look forward to reading them. Perhaps a new expression will give us the energy needed to focus on the message of God’s eternal grace.
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