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. My hope is that we won’t spend time arguing over human sexuality. I think we all realize we don’t agree which is why we are discussing separation. I think it would be more 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 two introductory paragraphs were written to frame our work. Here they are with some reflections added:
“The 2019 special General Conference of The United Methodist Church highlighted the depth of the irreconcilable differences present in the UM Church.”
- Everyone agrees that February 2019 was painful for everyone. Once the Traditional Plan passed, the entire auditorium in St. Louis was filled with pain and anger. GC19 was a battleground with little room for compromise. In the days and months following, we realized we need to do something different. Most people I know don’t want a repeat of GC19. But we must be honest here…there are those on both sides that are more than willing to fight again if they feel they are not being treated fairly. This is why we are attempting a larger conversation.
“We seek to envision a new future for the people of the UM Church, offer a different narrative, and avoid further harm to one another, to the UM Church and its members, to the church universal, and to those with whom we strive to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We desire to move away from the vitriol and caustic atmosphere that has too often marked conversation in the UM Church and move into a new season where for the sake of Christ we strive to bless one another, even as we send one another into our respective mission fields to multiply our witness to Christ.”
- Two items here:
- First, we are all seeking a new future, but we are stuck together as we work it out. We don’t have a Pope and the only body that can work a solution is General Conference. We have to get this right. I believe a simpler solution with fewer petitions has the highest probability of success. Harm has been done and is being done. The disagreements are irreconcilable. We agree we have to find some type of separation – whether they be new expressions, one group leaving, disaffiliations, or dissolution (we discussed all of these). If we can bless one another in our parting, that would be a wonderful witness to the world…but that can only happen if we find some shared agreement on how to create sufficient separation. If it becomes a fight with a win/lose mindset, I am concerned about the damage not only in the UMC but the damage of our witness to the world.
- Second, ‘respective mission fields’ makes sense if we are talking geography, but it doesn’t make sense theologically…at least not to me. I would rather say we are sending one another out to be faithful in our witness to Christ and multiply the kingdom of God. ‘Respective’ is defined as ‘belonging or relating separately to each of two or more things’. For me, the mission fields we enter into are not separate to the new expressions. We may reach and teach those we meet differently, but it’s all the same patch of ground.
“We envision the UM Church birthing new expressions that will share a common heritage from the roots of Methodism, unbound from the conflict that has decimated the UM Church.”
- Decimated is harsh word. For those of us who have been immersed in the conflict or harmed by one another, this may be accurate. But there are many churches that are doing good ministry, sharing the Gospel, reaching people, loving people, engaging needs, and embodying grace. The work of the church has continued and will continue. There are a lot of churches in the US and around the globe that are vibrant. There are churches on both sides of this disagreement that are doing well…and there are churches on both sides of this disagreement that are struggling.
- We must recognize there are many issues causing United Methodist decline – not just our disagreement on human sexuality. We need separation but only so we can devote time and energy into the other limiting factors that keep us from reaching people for Christ.
“These new expressions, though separate, will continue the rich heritage of the Methodist movement as currently expressed in the UM Church while being freed to present the best of who they are and their respective witnesses for Christ unhindered by those with whom they have been in conflict. We will send one another to our respectively defined missions and multiply as each expression reaches its mission field. In doing so, we will love one another even in the midst of our sharp disagreements. We will release one another to joyful obedience to Christ’s call on our lives.”
- I’ve already spoken to “respectively defined missions” and “its mission field”. See above.
- As to new ‘expressions’…
- In our Indy group, we are of one mind on the need for separation. We are not of one mind on the best way to separate. We each have different desires and goals as to what a separation will mean for those we attempt to represent.
- We discussed dissolution of the denomination. I am not in favor of dissolution. The Indy Plan is not dissolution but we had to work hard to get there. I commend those who deeply desired dissolution and how they realized it was not a realistic path forward for us. My concerns with dissolution are rooted in its complexity and unforeseen consequences. If something doesn’t go right, we can’t come back and fix it. Our UM polity forces us to make this as simple as we can. The UMC may dissolve someday, but that needs to be an organic process…not legislated without significant time and study.
- Dissolution would be long and messy, fraught with legal battles. We believe we need a plan that moves forward quickly and can be accomplished at GC2020. Churches and members on all sides desire relief now.
- Dissolution could not address the massive inertia in many of our local churches. Many churches don’t want to vote, don’t want to leave, don’t want to change what they are doing, and don’t want to deal with this issue. We can judge that however we want, but it is an organizational and cultural axiom that has more power than we realize. One may call it institutionalism, inertia, fear, apathy, or laziness…but it is real. Who will bring along the thousands of churches that won’t know how to move forward if the UMC is dissolved? How would that happen? Many could default into a camp that is not a good fit…then we have to go through this all again?
- If the UMC stays intact, the General Conference, GCF&A, and other entities will have the authority to implement each part of separation including any allocation of assets. General Conference cannot begin a new denomination, but it can pass legislation that would allow annual conferences to choose to depart the UMC. I will discuss more details on all this in upcoming posts since it is included in the provisions without a lot of detail.
Up Next: All Things New…Or Some Things?
I hope this will inspire you to share your thoughts, concerns, and questions not only for our group, but to assist all General Conference delegates as they prepare for their work in 2020.