What Am I Afraid Of? Learning to Release Anger

What does it feel like to live afraid? Afraid of the world? Afraid of people? Afraid of the pandemic? Afraid of politics? Afraid of conflict over anything and everything? What does it feel like to lose friendships that are special to you? What does it feel like to feel as if you’ve failed at the very thing God called you to do in your life?

I recently asked a wise friend, “Why am I angry all the time?”  His response shocked me. He said, “Anger and fear cannot share the same space. None of us like to be afraid and so we fill those spaces with anger – it pushes the fear away.”  He then asked, “John, what are you afraid of?”

Unfortunately, there are a lot of answers to that question. If I want to resist anger and not let it take up so much space in me, I must confront the very things I am afraid of. I can honestly say (whether I am blind to this or not) that I have never lived my life afraid. But over the past 20 months, there have been many things that I fear. I am afraid of losing friendships. I am afraid of losing church members. I am afraid of being ill-equipped. I am afraid of failing.  But here is the rub: It is true that if I lose these things, it will hurt deeply. But loss and pain are not the end of life in Christ. As a matter of fact, Christ taught us that loss, suffering, pain, and even death are not the end. I may be afraid, but the loss of these things does not mean the end of life in Jesus.

So, I am giving some space to my fears…not so they have power over me or so that they debilitate me…but so that I can remember that I can be afraid, and trust that God’s got this. I’m ready to be done with anger.  Maybe you are as well. But we must first acknowledge we are afraid.  I’m finding that as I do this, I can hear God’s words about fear in a new way.

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” – Psalm 23:4

“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” – Psalm 27:1

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.” – Psalm 46:1-3

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” – Luke 14:27

“He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day.” – Psalm 91:4-5

A Vision of Unity from Africa

I have been in a lot of meetings over the past several years regarding the impasse in the United Methodist Church over human sexuality.  I have always believed in the unity of the church and fought for it.  I also realized that we were doing more harm by not figuring out some sort of space in the church over this issue…whether that be separation or even a split.  There are people on both sides of this debate who feel they cannot remain in the United Methodist Church.  The recent Protocol for Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation would provide a framework for those who feel they cannot remain in the United Methodist Church over this issue by birthing new denominations of Methodism.  I lament the separation and the negative impact it will have on our mission, but we need to get to a place where we can focus on the central reason we exist as the church.

The Preamble of the United Methodist Church’s Constitution reads, “The church is a community of all true believers under the Lordship of Christ. It is the redeemed and redeeming fellowship in which the Word of God is preached by persons divinely called, and the sacraments are duly administered according to Christ’s own appointment. Under the discipline of the Holy Spirit the church seeks to provide for the maintenance of worship, the edification of believers, and the redemption of the world. The church of Jesus Christ exists in and for the world, and its very dividedness is a hindrance to its mission in that world.”

Over the past year, I have been in conversation with some African Bishops in the United Methodist Church.  A few weeks ago, Bishop John Yambasu (Sierra Leone) sent me the following email, which he gave me permission to share:

“At this time in our long and confusing journey, I believe continued dialogue is a major step in attaining understanding and moving forward to a peaceful way of resolving our current unresolved debate on human sexuality. And I thank you so much for sharing your perspectives on the future of the UMC. For us in Africa and the Central Conferences, we believe the earlier we get this debate behind us the better for the work of mission that God has called us to. Each day, millions of people around the world are dying of hunger, lack of water and preventable and treatable diseases. It seems to me that our denomination has become insensitive to the needs of the world around us. Rather we have become too occupied with this debate on human sexuality and shamefully investing God’s resources into this debate. 

Fortunately, dissolution is no more the issue before us. We are talking about separation.  It seems to me that many of the critical issues cannot be resolved now until separation happens. For now, we can only guess that there will be two denominations that will emerge after the separation – The Renewal and Reformed Coalition and the Post Separation UMC. While I cannot say for sure what will happen in the New denomination that is being led by WCA, I can safely say that;

  1. General agencies, including Wespath, will now stay as part of the structure of the Post separation UMC. 
  2. Africa will remain in the post separation UMC and Traditional
  3. The Centrist/Progressive coalition in the US will remain in the post separation UMC, and;
  4. Some traditionalists in the US will remain in the post separation UMC.

How this will work out for the post separation US church with centrists, progressives and traditionalists remains to be figured out.  We need special prayers for God’s guidance to help us address this matter. What the Central Conferences and the Connectional Table are proposing is for each region – Africa, Europe, Philippines and the US to become a Regional Conference with each regional conference (hopefully) having its own book of discipline that will provide for dealing with contextual issues.”

In a recent session hosted by Stan Copeland at Lover’s Lane UMC in Dallas, Texas, Bishop Mande Muyombo (Northern Katanga, Tanzania) said this, “the challenge we have here in defining the word conservative, or more ‘traditionalist’ – we may have had here in the honeymoon talk that you heard – but the challenge that we have right now is that word is being interpreted for our people in the wrong way.  In as much as I disagree with my LGBTQ person, I have to recognize his or her dignity.  If I chase that individual out of the church, I’m wondering if I’m preaching the Gospel.  The Gospel of love that Professor Empeche alluded to.  And I think for the African church, that is the challenge we have.  We cannot be perceived as people who come to oppress other people because of what we legislate.  I think we have the challenge to reform ourselves and look into each other.  If we are going to chase away people from the church, I am wondering…if we are still the church.  So, again, I want to emphasize that point that the time has come for us to move into regional conferences, respect each other’s space, and give each other time to build relationships and talk to one another and be submissive and vulnerable to the work of the Holy Spirit.”

I hate to say this, but it’s been a while since a United Methodist Bishop has inspired me…and now I’m inspired by two!  These Bishops have really challenged me.  The African United Methodists are actually leading us forward.  They are casting a vision to remain together as one church while allowing for regional, contextual flexibility on issues that are “non-essential” as relates to salvation.  I didn’t think it was possible, but I am reminded that with God, all things are possible.  They are teaching and leading us toward a new unity even in the midst of our disagreement on the issues confronting our church.  They do not agree with same-sex marriage or LGBTQ ordination, but they can be a part of a church where that would occur in another context.  They can also recognize and humbly ask for forgiveness for the harm done through previous UMC legislation.  We may not all agree, but their words and actions may lead the United Methodist Church toward a powerful and transcendent understanding of unity taught by both Jesus and Paul.

I understand not everyone in Africa may agree with Bishops Yambasu and Muyombo, but I am grateful for two Bishops in our church that take the words from our Preamble seriously,”The church of Jesus Christ exists in and for the world, and its very dividedness is a hindrance to its mission in that world.”

“If We Are Going to Chase People Away From the Church, Are We Still The Church?”

Years ago, I had a young man come to me in tears.  He and his wife were divorcing after 10 years of marriage with 3 children together.  There was no affair or abuse: they “grew out of love”.  He told me, “no one is innocent in this…she just had the guts to walk away.”  It was a tragic situation.  But it grew worse.

He had been teaching a youth Sunday school class at their church.  He loved it.  They were a couple of strong faith even in the midst of their marriage falling apart.  The church he was attending was her family’s church.  Her parents had been there most of their lives. The preacher visited the young man.  Using the Bible, he told him, “you can’t teach our young people anymore since you are getting a divorce.”  The young man tried to explain to no avail.  He accepted the decision.  But then, at the end of the conversation, the pastor said, “you need to leave this church.  The Bible is clear: a man cannot divorce his wife.  We cannot allow you to remain unless you repent and reconcile.  And…her family was here first.”

The young man came to see me since we knew each other.  We prayed and shed tears.  It wasn’t long before he drifted out of church completely.  To this day, he still won’t attend church because of the harm done.  I share this not to point to the pastor, or the young man, or the wife, or her family…I share it simply to show that there are times we close the doors of the church to people.  When we do, are we still the church?

Last weekend, Bishop Mande Muyombo of the North Katanga Conference in the Democratic Republic of Congo (a conference with over 2,000 churches) humbled everyone at Lover’s Lane United Methodist Church last Saturday with a radical statement about what it means to be conservative and an amazing confession.  (I strongly encourage you to watch these two videos.)  Following his confession, the entire colloquy gathered together to ask for forgiveness for their actions as well.  He asked a question that has echoed in my heart all week: “If we are going to chase people away from the church, are we still the church?”

Bishop Muyombo is a traditionalist.  He does not agree with same-sex marriage.  But he is obviously wrestling with God’s Word – as many of us are – regarding exclusion of any of God’s children.  African, Filipino, and other international United Methodists want to keep the church unified even though they disagree with the practice of same sex marriage (there are some who want separate the church as well).  The same thing is occurring in our US United Methodist churches.  The difference is this: those on each side of this issue believe the other side is radical.  The choice seems binary: either leave the UMC to join a conservative Methodist Church that will exclude all LGBTQ folk; or stay in the UMC where the liberals will lead the church toward no truth, no beliefs, and no values.

This binary choice is false.

First, a new traditionalist Methodist Church does not feel they are “chasing away” LGBT folk.  They will welcome anyone and everyone, but they will stand firm that LGBT lifestyle is a sin and those practices cannot be lived out, blessed, or allowed in their church.  This will be a church of traditional non-compatiblists.  It won’t be a church for everyone, but it will be a church centered on Jesus and God’s Word.

Second, remaining in the United Methodist Church does not mean it will become a raging, liberal, socialist (please feel free to fill in any word here that may scare you if you are a traditionalist non-compatiblist) church.  On the contrary, as Bishops Muyombo and Yambasu (from Sierra Leone, who convened the recent Protocol separation plan) make clear, the UMC will remain a church with great diversity and contextual flexibility.  This will be a church of traditional compatiblists, centrists, moderates, and progressive compatiblists. It won’t be a church for everyone, but it will be a church centered on Jesus and God’s Word.

It is deeply distressing that our church feels it must split, but I for one am ready to return all my focus and energy on making disciples of Jesus Christ!  And I want to be part of a church that doesn’t chase anyone away.

Chapelwood and the Future of The United Methodist Church

On Friday January 3, major news outlets reported the press release from a broad group of United Methodist leaders who have agreed in principle to a separation over the issue of human sexuality.  The Washington PostNew York Times, Christianity TodayCNN, and many others reported on the details agreed upon in the Protocol of Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation.  As with any news these days, some of the headlines and reporting may mischaracterize the proposed plan.  News outlets and Bishop’s statements also don’t reveal how the potential separation may impact our local churches.  I want to share a few clarifying statements and give clarity on how this potential separation could impact Chapelwood UMC.

First, let me give you the simple synopsis of what this agreement means. I encourage you to read the actual protocol in the link above and read some of my previous blog posts about the Indianapolis Plan to give you background on some of the rationale for decisions.

  • This plan is not a final decision.  It is a plan being submitted to the General Conference of the United Methodist Church for deliberation in May 2020.  There are some agreed upon principles within it, but keep in mind – only the General Conference can make decisions affecting the United Methodist Church.
  • This plan will allow the formation of a new traditionalist Methodist denomination that would disallow same-sex marriage and ordination of LGBT persons.  That new denomination would be formed by the Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA) and would follow their newly proposed Book of Doctrines and Discipline for a New Methodist Church.
  • This plan would allow for the continuation of the United Methodist Church.  The UMC would remain intact with our Book of Discipline.  The only difference is that the restrictive language disallowing same-sex marriage and ordination of LGBT persons will be removed.  Each pastor, local church, and annual conference would decide whether they would do weddings or ordain clergy.
  • This plan allows churches, annual conferences, and central conferences to choose if they want to remain in the United Methodist Church or leave to join the new, traditionalist Methodist denomination.  All churches would keep their properties and assets.
  • Finally, the plan calls for an immediate moratorium on all charges/complaints addressing restrictions in the Book of Discipline related to self-avowed practicing homosexuals or same-sex weddings.  While someone could still file charges, the agreement calls to hold the complaints in abeyance until the agreed upon separation is finalized.  This will allow churches and pastors to begin living into ministry as they feel called.

How Does All This Affect Us at Chapelwood?

I love Chapelwood United Methodist Church.  We are a diverse community of faith that loves Jesus.  We impact the world for Christ in many different ways.  We are made up of multiple worship communities who each live out Christ’s love in contextually relevant ways.  Chapelwood, Mercy Street, The Center for Christian Spirituality, Fair Haven, Upper Room, Generaciones, and Oikon Chapelwood each seek to embody God’s grace as we receive it to all who need it!  Our pastors reflect ethnic and theological diversity.  At Chapelwood, we don’t agree on everything.  But we do agree on the essentials of the faith – the orthodox tenets of Christianity which we find in scripture, reflected in the Christian creeds (Apostle’s, Nicene), taught in John Wesley’s sermons and notes on the Old and New Testament, reflected in The General Rules of the Methodist Church and in our Articles of Religion.

If you have listened to me preach or speak at all over the past 6 years, you know that I believe the central focus of the Bible is this: God’s love seeks to renew humanity through Jesus Christ.  The life and ministry of Jesus Christ is the primary way we see God intersect with the world.  If you want to know what God would do in any given situation, look to Jesus.  In Matthew 9, Jesus says, “those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’  For I have come not to call the righteous but sinners.”  The truth is we are ALL sinners.  We must all learn what Jesus means when he says he desires mercy over sacrifice.

The church must be open to all.  No one should be told they do not belong at the table with Jesus Christ.  The issues of same-sex marriage and ordination of LGBT persons will continue to be debated in the United Methodist Church.  There will be a lot of theological diversity within the UMC going forward, as there has been in the past.  You can be a part of a family with different views.  I just completed a week with my family in town arguing religion and politics!  We don’t agree on everything, but we love each other and we would never break fellowship over our disagreements.

There are many resources that address the different views Christians have on same-sex marriage and ordination of LGBT persons. One that I have found enlightening is a one-hour video by two friends and fellow professors at Candler School of Theology at Emory University – the Rev. Dr. Kevin Watson and the Rev. Dr. Kendall Soulen.  There is also a 30-minute follow up Q&A where they list their biblical references again.  They are friends who offer differing perspectives of Biblical interpretation regarding marriage within Christian communities.  I love the fact that they are friends and co-workers who engage in intellectual dialogue with different perspectives of scripture.  They engage in this conversation with love and kindness.  I hope this will be a model for us at Chapelwood.

Final thoughts:

  • As senior pastor, I want it to be clear that I will be leading Chapelwood to remain in the United Methodist Church.  There are two primary reasons for this.  First, the new traditionalist Methodist denomination will be very different in structure, practices, and beliefs from the United Methodist Church that exists today.  I included a link above to the new Book of Doctrines and Discipline for this church.  The changes are far more than simply disallowing same-sex marriage.  Simply put, leaving the UMC would deeply change Chapelwood’s identity, structure, practices, and beliefs.  Second, remaining in the United Methodist Church fully embraces who we are and what we have always stood for as Chapelwood.  We believe in embodying God’s grace to everyone!  Everyone is welcome to join us at God’s table as we struggle peacefully to live out our lives of discipleship.  We won’t do it perfectly, but we will be the kind of family that welcomes everyone!  Our leadership is aware of our direction and is supportive.  I have stated to our leadership on many occasions that Chapelwood will not make a hard right or left turn theologically.
  • In 2020, there will by many opportunities – dialogues, classes, and small groups – to discuss the differing ways we read and understand scripture.  We need to engage in conversations about the differing ways we read the Bible.  We need to grow in our Biblical literacy on ALL issues.
  • I encourage you to meet with any of our pastors (and even retired pastors) to discuss this issue with them one on one.  Our pastors have differing views on homosexuality, but we are all supportive of Chapelwood and we are all supportive of remaining in the United Methodist Church.  We love living in a diverse community of faith.
  • Chapelwood will continue to be a church made up of people with differing beliefs on the issue of homosexuality.  Life in community can be messy.  I’m okay with that.  We are a church filled with differing political opinions as well.  But, we are also of one mind when it comes to God’s kingdom work and the impact we make for Christ Jesus.
  • Our missional focus will not change.  We will continue to make disciples, embody grace, and impact the world.

Please be in prayer for our church and all our members.  I am praying for peace, understanding, love, and kindness.  I am also praying for calm in the midst of storms.

Look for opportunities coming soon to engage in further discussions on the future of Chapelwood and the UMC.  I am really excited about The Impact of Generosity sermon series in January and know that God will bless us as we engage in our annual stewardship campaign.  I look forward embodying God’s grace with you.

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.



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.


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

Rev. Darren Cushman Wood, Senior Pastor
North United Methodist Church
Indianapolis, Indiana

Rev. Dr. Douglas Damron, Senior Pastor
Epworth United Methodist Church
Toledo, Ohio

Lynette Fields, Layperson
Florida Annual Conference
Orlando, Florida

Rev. Dr. Cathy Johns, Senior Pastor​​​​​
Hyde Park Community United Methodist Church
Cincinnati, Ohio

Krystl D. Johnson, Layperson​​​
Lay Delegate, Eastern Pennsylvania Conference
Chester, Pennsylvania

Rev. Thomas Lambrecht, Vice President and General Manager
Good News
Spring, Texas

Rev. Dr. Kent Millard, President
United Theological Seminary
Dayton, Ohio

Cara Nicklas, Layperson​​​​​​
Lay Delegate, Oklahoma Annual Conference
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Rev. Dr. Chris Ritter, Directing Pastor
First United Methodist Church
Geneseo, Illinois

Rev. Dr. John E. Stephens, Senior Pastor
Chapelwood United Methodist Church
Houston, Texas

Rev. Judy Zabel, Senior Pastor
Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church
Minneapolis, Minnesota

The Indianapolis Plan :: Timelines, Boards, Assets

Recently, 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:

15. Annual conferences and local congregations could begin functioning in the new alignment beginning August 1, 2020, on an interim basis. Inaugural General Conference sessions would be held in Fall 2021, with the new expressions becoming fully functional as of January 1, 2022.

  • The Indianapolis timeline will need to be examined to see if it is reasonable and realistic.  General Conferences for new expressions – traditionalist and progressive expressions could be established as they see fit.  The continuation of the UMC will be restricted by the current Book of Discipline’s rules on calling a General Conference.

16. Wespath, UMCOR, UMW, and the United Methodist Publishing House would be established as independent 501(c)3 organizations with their own self-perpetuating boards of directors and would be positioned to serve any expression that desired to receive services from them.

  • We will need to clarify what we mean by ‘independent’.  Will they no longer by governed by the UMC?  No longer have boards elected by the UMC?  If they are serving multiple expressions, this type of autonomy may be best.
  • Wespath will be able to create/envision a way to serve multiple denominations with boards made up of members they select from the differing denominations.
  • There are legal issues here that will need to be examined regarding the tax-exempt purposes, legal considerations, and Wespath’s need to be associated with the UMC (and other like expressions) to keep their proper status as a benefits operator.  Wespath will have to give clarity on these needs.

17. All other agencies would become part of the Centrist/Progressive UMC with mutually agreed upon initial funding, subject to further possible reforms and restructuring by that new expression. Such agencies could also contract to serve other expressions formed in this process.

  • We need more clarity here and the agencies would need to speak into this process as it relates to any legislation.  
  • What is “mutually agreed upon initial funding”?  Would this be mediated before General Conference?  Is that even possible before GC20?
  • There will be questions as to whether any of the resources (restricted or unrestricted) monies can be taken from any board or agency.  Some believe we can put all the reserves in a ‘pool’ and distribute them equally to new expressions.  This will require some due diligence by legal counsel as to the possibility of whether that can occur.  Can one give money to a charitable organization for the purpose of supporting that specific organization, then ask for it back…or ask for it to be pooled with other monies and distributed to new organizations that are outside the intent of the original gifts?
  • One big question:  What happens to the associated UMC organizations/entities?  Children’s Homes, Foundations, Retirement Homes, Conference Camps, etc.?  Will they remain with the annual conferences?  Most of them have tax-exempt status under the UMC umbrella.  What if they don’t want to go with the annual conference?  What if they want to leave the annual conference to join a new expression?

18. The 2020 General Conference would provide continuing funding for Central Conference ministries during the 2021-24 quadrennium, supported by all expressions.

  • Central Conference support is a big question.  People from all expressions desire to remain connected to Central Conferences, but how will that happen if they join a new expression?  The easiest way is to budget support in the General Conference budget over the next four years.  But that raises some questions?
    • Will the new denominations/expressions support this?  How can that be controlled or mandated?  What if the money from new expressions doesn’t come in as expected?  Would the budgeted amount be reduced based on those payments not received?
    • What if churches in the UMC choose not to pay that apportionment?  How will that budget item be paid?

19. A process and principles for dividing general church assets would be adopted by General Conference, to be implemented by an arbitration board.

  • This is the most difficult and divisive part of our conversations.  The Traditional UMC wants 50% of the UMC assets.  Centrists/Progressives want to “budget/send” money with new expressions but not ‘pool and divide’ assets.  What amounts are we talking about?  Everything?  Reserves?  Restricted and Unrestricted?  Properties?  We realized quickly that this discussion will require professional mediation.  There are too many hard lines on each side to come to agreement.  
  • The assets, including reserves, belong to the agencies.  They are separately incorporated.  There are so many restrictions to consider that it would be impossible to put those assets in a ‘pool’.  The easiest way to allocate monies to new expressions is to keep the UMC intact and use the General Conference budget process to budget the proportionate share of monies paid out over time.  The UMC may (I’m not sure on this) be able to move unrestricted reserves for other uses…but a new expression probably can’t make that happen.

20. Mandatory retirement provisions for bishops in the U.S. would be waived until 2022. Jurisdictional conferences would not elect bishops in 2020, reconvening for election of bishops in 2021 or 2022 as part of the Centrist/Progressive UMC. This would allow a proper match of the number of bishops with the need under the new conditions. Retired bishops may be used where needed to lead conferences until new bishops are elected. Bishops in the other expressions would be elected and assigned according to the provisions of those expressions.

  • This will need to be vetted as to whether it can be done without constitutional amendment.  Would we do the same for the entire UMC including Central Conferences?

I will plan to share updates from our ongoing discussions as we adapt this plan.  The Indianapolis Group has and is adding voices from differing caucuses, agencies, and perspectives as they weigh in to what we have shared so far.

My hope is that any separation of the UMC will bear witness to the highest ideals of our Christian faith.  I long for the church to show the world that while we may not agree, we can separate in a way that highlights love for God and one another.

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 Misuse of Anger

“Of the Seven Deadly Sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back – in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you.”
– Frederick Buechner

Christ Driving the Money Changers from the Temple, by Theodoor Rombouts

In Ephesians 4:26, Paul says, “be angry but do not sin”.  Paul seems to allow for an Anger that does not reach the level of sin.  In the Old Testament (notably in the Psalms), God is frequently depicted as angry.  In the New Testament, we find Jesus angry as he throws the money changers and merchants out of the Temple.  In the Bible, righteous indignation seems to be an appropriate response to offenses committed against God (Ps. 119:53; Mk. 3:5).  There is a place to respond in Anger, but this Anger is something distinctly less permanent than deeply-rooted wrath or hostility. We all struggle to distinguish between getting angry for injustice versus becoming an angry person.  Anger is needed in some situations of injustice. It is better than callous indifference.  So how do we determine if our anger is indeed righteous or sinful?  We should ask ourselves these questions:

  • Does our expression of Anger lead to love, wholeness (shalom), or healing?  Is it building up others and the body of Christ?  Are we helping to bring healing to someone or some group that has been oppressed or abused?  If the answers are “yes” – then perhaps your expression of Anger is righteous.
  • On the other hand, does my expression of Anger lead to division, destruction, animosity, alienation, or separation?  This kind of Anger would be hard pressed to be “righteous”.

Paul also writes in Ephesians 4:27, “do not make room for the devil”.  When Anger takes up residence within us, we become ‘angry people’. Angry people sow division, destruction, animosity, alienation, and separation.

It seems to me that good people in our society and churches are responding to injustice with Anger.  But they are allowing that Anger to consume them and others in destructive ways.  We are not always good at using Anger in beneficial ways.  Our goal should be to leverage our Anger into love, wholeness, healing, and building up the body of Christ.  We all need to stop and ask this question: Has injustice led me to righteous Anger?  If so, am I leveraging that Anger to build up the body of Christ?  Or, have I allowed that Anger to ‘make room for the devil’ in my life?  Good people, motivated by injustice, are right to get angry.  Too often, many of them lose control of the Anger.  It controls them. The good they want to do is followed by a wake of destruction and brokenness.  I pray we can find ways to harness the passion of righteous Anger to build the body of Christ.

Mercy is the quality that stands against Anger. All the Anger words – wrath, bitterness, resentment, vengeance, judgment, etc. – are devoid of mercy. The person who swims in the current of God’s mercy already has a leg up in dealing with Anger.  God’s love at work in the world is “mercy”…mercy extended toward friends and enemies, those like me and those unlike me, toward those of every race and tribe. Mercy is a distinctly “God-like” quality.

You may be angry for the right reasons; but be careful that your Anger does not consume you and lead to destruction.

The Terrible Temptation for the United Methodist Pastor

Last week, I preached on Sloth. Or, as the ancient Christians referred to it, Acedia.  I shared a personal testimony that of the Seven Deadening Sins, this one has affected me the most in recent days, weeks, and even years.  I believe it also affects many of my brothers and sisters who are in ministry in the United Methodist Church as we have been battling over the issue of human sexuality.

I have heard it said that many United Methodist pastors are going through the stages of grief.  Others are dealing with naturally occurring depression triggered by this difficult event.  But for me, Acedia/Sloth is my struggle.  Acedia was always thought to be linked to vocation and it was considered the monk’s (pastor’s) most dangerous temptation.  The vows we take to proclaim the Gospel and make disciples are foolishness to the world.  We have given our lives to this vocational calling.  We put all our chips in the UMC/Wesleyan basket.  We bet everything we have on this and we are uncertain of the future.  I truly believe that this “fight” in our denomination has led many pastors to lose focus, become listless, and find themselves spiritually sluggish.

We must do all we can to stay focused on the main thing.  However, that is easier said than done.

Kathleen Norris writes this about Sloth/Acedia: “At its Greek root, the word acedia means the absence of care.  The person struggling with acedia refuses to care or is incapable of caring.  When life becomes too challenging and engagement with others too demanding, acedia offers a kind of spiritual morphine: you know the pain is there, yet can’t rouse yourself to give a damn.” (from Acedia and Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer’s Life)

Thomas Aquinas thought of Sloth as a “paralysis of the will to continue,” which begins with dissatisfaction and ends in desperation.  He went on to say that the slothful person loses sight of the goal of life.  Sloth is a fundamentally spiritual issue – a sadness in relation to belief and practice.  Aquinas thought that joy and charity were the opposites to Sloth. After all, we should find joy in following Christ and that joy should generate love!

John Cassian believed that the spiritual person’s Acedia/Sloth could be disguised as good deeds, or even fighting the good fight.  When we help others and fight for a cause, we can distract from the interior work we need to do.  Cassian said the religious person beset by the “foul mist of acedia decides that he/she should pay their respects to others and visit the sick.”  The hidden good work is of value here.

William May wrote, “The soul in the state of sloth is beyond sadness and melancholy.  It has removed itself from the rise and fall of feelings; the very root of its feelings in desire is dead.  That is why, for the medieval moralist, sloth was…the most terrifying of sins.  It is sin at its utter most limit.  To be human is to desire.  The good person desires God and other things in God.  The sinful person desires things in the place of God, but they are still recognizably human inasmuch as they have known desire.  The slothful person, however, is a dead person, an arid waste…their desire itself has dried up.” (from Sinning Like a Christian)

I shared these steps on Sunday that I am using to battle Acedia/Sloth, and I wanted to share them again:

  1. Make a firm intention to keep on keeping on.  Take the next right step.
  2. Bite off small spiritual disciplines and tackle humble activities.
  3. Care for others (this causes us to stop turning inward)
  4. Pay attention to your inner life.
  5. Make a vow of stability (the Benedictines make this vow so they are forced to deal with interior issues in the face of difficult situations/locations)
  6. Look for joy.  It is all around, but acedia/sloth blinds us.


Reading Paul Again…For the First Time

This will be a odd blog post.  It’s just passages of scripture.

I recently returned from Greece and Turkey with a group of 50 of my new closest friends from Chapelwood.  We followed in the footsteps of Paul and I wanted to read all of Paul’s letters again several times – to see if I noticed anything new in light of the trip.

I have to admit the divisions of the world (and the church) do color my readings.  What I discovered reading Paul again was a friend and co-laborer.  Paul is a mentor.   He is doing exactly what I am doing…fighting every day to share the Gospel and keep the followers of Jesus together so they can effectively change the world.  In every letter, Paul is trying to manage the divisions in his churches.  Paul is strict with those who are dividing the church.  But if you read all of them together, you see the larger themes: he encourages them to love, be kind, forgive, bear with weaker members.  Paul is trying to keep the church together so they can be a visible testimony to the power of Christ in the world.

I found it transforming.  I hope you will as well.  And if you feel going to Greece will help you in your readings, let me know! 😉

I urge you, brothers and sisters, to keep an eye on those who cause dissensions and offenses, in opposition to the teaching that you have learned; avoid them.  For such people do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites…

– Romans 16:17-18

Now, I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose…Has Christ been divided?

– 1 Corinthians 1:10, 13a

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!  All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.  So, we are ambassadors for Christ…

– 2 Corinthians 5:17-20a

For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another.  For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

– Galatians 5;13-15

I encourage you to live as people worthy of the call you received from God. Conduct yourselves with all humility, gentleness, and patience. Accept each other with love, and make an effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit with the peace that ties you together. You are one body and one spirit, just as God also called you in one hope. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all, who is over all, through all, and in all.

– Ephesians 4:1-6

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.  Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.  Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.  Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus…

– Philippians 2:1-5

Put to death, therefore, whatever in your is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry).  On account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient.  These are the ways you once followed when you were living that life.  But now you must get rid of all such things – anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth.  Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in the knowledge according to the image of its creator.  In that renewal there is no longer Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!

– Colossians 3:5-11

Now concerning love of the brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anyone write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another; and indeed you do love all the brothers and sisters throughout Macedonia.  But we urge you, beloved, to do so more and more, to aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we directed you, so that you may behave properly toward outsiders and be dependent on no one.

– 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12

Take note of those who do not obey what we say in this letter; have nothing to do with them, so they they may be ashamed.  Do not regard them as enemies, but warn them as believers.

– 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15

Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.

– 1 Timothy 4:12

Remind them of this, and warn them before God that they are to avoid wrangling over words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening.  Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth.  Avoid profane chatter, for it will lead people into more and more impiety, and their talk will spread like gangrene…have nothing to to do with stupid and senseless controversies; you know that they breed quarrels.  And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to everyone, and apt teacher, patient, correcting opponents with gentleness,  God may perhaps grant that they will depend and come to know the truth…

– 2 Timothy 2:14-17a, 23-25

Remind them to be subject to the rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show every courtesy to everyone.  For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, desipicable, hating one another.  But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and the renewal of the Holy Spirit…I desire that you insist on these things, so that those who have come to believe in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works; these things are excellent and profitable to everyone.  But avoid stupid controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.  After a first and second admonition, have nothing more to do with anyone who causes divisions since you know that such a person is perverted and sinful, being self-condemned.

– Titus 3:1-11

So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me.  If he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account.  I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand: I will repay it.

– Philemon 17-19