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 :: 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:

———-

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.

———-

  • 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)

———-

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!”

The Indianapolis Plan: The Introductory Paragraphs

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.

The Indianapolis Plan – My Experience

This week, The Indianapolis Plan – Basic Provisions was released to the United Methodist Church.  It was designed by a group of UMs  – ‘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.    My simple definition of a centrist is a compatibilist – whether center-left or center-right – we had both as our part of the centrists on the Indy team.  I attempted to represent the many centrist pastors and churches I have known and currently know who have differing views on marriage and ordination of LGBTQIA+ persons, but long to remain unified as one church in the midst of our disagreements. My hope has always been that we could remain unified as a church – even in the midst of our differences on many issues.  I realize that is not possible for some in our denomination.  Therefore, I believe some type of separation is needed in order for us to focus on our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

I have not blogged much the past two years or more because I have focused work in my local congregation.  I wanted to do my best to prepare Chapelwood UMC in Houston, Texas for the many possibilities in our future.  Chapelwood has always been a cutting edge, inclusive church in many ways. Chapelwood is very diverse with differing views on human sexuality, worshiping on multiple campuses, all while reaching multiple contexts and demographics.  Over the past couple of years, we peacefully struggled together regarding our understanding as a church on this issue, as well as other issues.  We do not all agree, but we do agree that we want to be a church where all are welcome and included in life and ministry.

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 will be helpful in not only refining the Indy Plan as we continue our work, but help all of United Methodism to 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.

Before I discuss the actual plan (in the soon to follow posts), let me begin by sharing my experience of those who gathered for this work.

We all came in with our assumptions and positions.  We prayed.  We shared Holy Communion.  We advocated.  We laid down ‘non-negotiables’.  We tried to define our constituencies.  We listened.  We struggled.  We had to take time apart.  We shed some tears at the weight of the whole thing.  Whatever anyone says about someone (caucuses or individuals), you don’t really know their heart until you share a meal and a beer with them – I’m talking about me drinking beer…not anyone else.  I honestly believe that each person was open to the process.  I made friends with those I disagree with on these issues.  I don’t know where it all lands, but we strived to not operate by the toxic political structure of our world.  It is important to me that we embody God’s grace as we receive it to those who need it.  I felt God’s grace extended to me.  I hope I extended it to them.

Simply put, this has not been easy or fun.  But the people who gathered are seeking a way to live into the future that is faithful with their beliefs.  There are more voices needed around the table.  I will tell you there were other voices and other caucuses that spoke into this process.  I won’t share the extent…I will leave that to them.  I want every person in that room to be my brother and sister in the same church, but I realize that won’t happen in the same denomination.  For now, we struggle with a way forward that creates space for people to live faithfully.

Next Up:  The Introductory Paragraphs

Difficult Questions About Embodying Grace

“Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing. It is for this that you were called—that you might inherit a blessing. For

‘Those who desire life and desire to see good days, let them keep their tongues from evil and their lips from speaking deceit; let them turn away from evil and do good; let them seek peace and pursue it.For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.’

Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil. For Christ also sufferedfor sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring youto God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit…”

– 1 Peter 3:8-18

At Chapelwood United Methodist in Houston, Texas, we strive to be defined by how we ‘embody grace’.  We say, “we embody grace as we receive it to those who need it…and everyone needs it!” We take this seriously because this is exactly what God did in Jesus Christ…God was embodied through the life and ministry and resurrection of Christ.  We believe we are now called to embody Christ in the world…to give substance to the grace offered for the salvation of the world.  This leads to some difficult questions for Christ-followers in the days in which we live:

How does a Christian live in the world?

What does it mean to have a heart that is distinctly formed by the Spirit of God?

What is the stance from which the follower of Christ is to live his/her discipleship?

And what does it mean to live from that stance when it seems as if the entire world is doing life from other stances and other values?

1 Peter raises some legitimate concerns given the values of the world in which the early Christians lived.  Their world, like ours, was hostile to the values and beliefs of the Christian faith.  The early leaders of the faith wanted to weave the values of Christ into their young congregations…especially in the midst of their persecution.  The concern then and now is…”How do I hold fast to the promise of God’s blessing and at the same time act appropriately (with the Spirit of Christ) toward those who seem hostile to the faith?”

These are questions we still wrestle with today.