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!”

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