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!
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