The Indianapolis Plan :: Two, Three, Four, or More?

Last week, The Indianapolis Plan – Basic Provisions was released to the United Methodist Church.  It was designed by a group of United Methodists  – ‘traditionalist, centrist, and progressive’ (I will use these terms for shared understanding realizing some, including me, think they are easily misused and limited). The facilitators were Kent Millard, Darren Cushman-Wood, and Keith Boyette. I was invited to participate in this group as one of the centrists.  Over the coming days, I will share my thoughts on the Indy Plan, speak to some of the strengths of the plan, and point to some of its weaknesses.  I will also point to what I believe are the biggest obstacles.  I hope the comments you share on social media and on this blog will be helpful in not only refining the Indy Plan as we continue our work but help all of United Methodism find a way forward.  I think it would be helpful for General Conference delegates if you share your thoughts related to what the future needs to look like for Wesleyan Methodism around the world.  I will be faithful to post all comments that are helpful and none that are harmful on this blog.  The Indy group welcomes feedback as we continue to refine the plan.

Basic Provisions – with my reflections following:

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3. The ‘Traditionalist’ UMC would be a global denomination that would maintain the current stance of the Discipline regarding the practice of homosexuality.

4. The ‘Centrist/Progressive’ UMC would be a global denomination that would remove the “incompatibility” language, prohibitions against same-sex weddings and the ordination and appointment of self-avowed practicing homosexuals, and the funding restrictions on the promotion of the acceptance of homosexuality for its US-based annual conferences.

5. A ‘Progressive’ Expression that practices immediate, full inclusion of and ministry with LGBTQ persons could initially be a part of the Centrist/Progressive denomination or could emerge as a separate denomination.

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  • As to the ‘names’ – names are simply place holders.  New expressions would name themselves.  They would also define themselves (this is important work that must be done before conferences and churches make decisions – traditionalists will release their vision this fall, centrists are working on a vision for a centrist church, and progressives have cast vision as well).  The Indy group uses simple, general definitions to assist visualization:
    • The ‘traditionalist’ UMC would be a new, birthed denomination.  As I shared in a previous post, the General Conference cannot start a new denomination, but the WCA (Wesleyan Covenant Association), or another group, can organize a new denomination.  The General Conference would pass legislation that would allow conferences and local churches to leave the UMC and affiliate with the new denomination(s).  Conferences, churches, and pastors who wish to remain in a denomination that upholds a traditional understanding of marriage and ordination – including restrictions prohibiting LGBTQ+ persons from these practices – would find a place here.  
      • Note: There may be conservative groups that emerge to the ‘right’ of what is defined here as the ‘traditionalist’ expression. General Conference cannot create new expressions.  Any new expression would have to meet thresholds established by the General Conference and use the exit provisions approved at General Conference. (see Provision 7)
    • The ‘centrist/progressive’ UMC would be the continuation of the current UMC – organizationally, structurally, and polity-wise (with restrictive language removed regarding marriage and ordination). This is a continuing body that inherits the current connectional system that has been the UMC with its boards, agencies, apportionments, and Book of Discipline.  While it is the continuing UMC, it is considered a new expression due to the fact that the restrictive language regarding LGBTQ+ persons would be removed.  There is an agreed need to reform and transform the UMC going forward.  Conferences, local churches, and pastors who desire to remain in the connectional system that has been the UMC would find a place here.  It would be understood that the UMC would be reformed by (but not limited to): removing restrictions/mandates around LGBTQ+ marriage and ordination, addressing organizational limitations, engaging in a new vision for the future, etc.  The UMC would be renamed to reflect this new expression and direction.  It could be named simply ‘The Methodist Church’.
    • The ‘progressive’ UMC expression should be available in the same way that a ‘traditionalist’ expression would be available.  A new denomination would need to be formed first, then conferences, churches, and pastors who wish to be a part of that new expression would use the same legislation as traditionalists to join the new expression.  Conferences, churches, and pastors who wish to be in a denomination where LGBTQ+ marriage, ordination, inclusion, and justice for all persons are mandated immediately and expected of every pastor, church, and conference would find a place here.
      • There may be progressive groups, or others, who emerge with different hopes, visions, and aspirations who desire their own expression. General Conference cannot create new expressions.  Any new expression would have to meet thresholds established by the General Conference and use the exit provisions approved at General Conference. (see Provision 7)

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6. Central Conferences could align with any of the new expressions or become autonomous affiliated denominations.

7. Other Expressions may be formed by a group of 50 or more local churches or by an annual conference.

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  • Provision 6 says Central Conferences could align with any of the new expressions or become autonomous affiliated denominations.  There are 7 Central Conferences on 3 continents (3 in Africa, 3 in Europe/Asia, and 1 in Philippines) with a total of 74 annual conferences (30 in Africa, 20 in Europe/Asia, and 24 in Philippines).  We have heard from Central Conference bishops, pastors, and members regarding the Indy Plan.  We recognize there is still work needed on how Central Conferences will make decisions related to any plan moving forward.  They must be given substantial input in the coming months as they will heavily influence any decision of our global church.  Conferences outside the US desire the same ability to self-determine as US conferences.  In another post, I will discuss the “default’ positions for conferences mentioned in Provisions 9 and 10 (and why that may not be a viable option).  Central Conferences are made up of many annual conferences that don’t necessarily agree with each other on the issues before us.  The Indy Plan sections regarding Central Conferences will need broader input to assist General Conference in approving legislation that is simple yet will stand the scrutiny of Judicial Council.
  • Provision 7 allows any group of 50 churches or any conference to begin their own denomination.  This was an item that has been in the traditionalist’s plan for a long time and remains in this plan for any other group that feels they cannot remain in the UMC.  This would also allow additional expressions beyond the two or three mentioned in this plan.
  • Other Reflections:
    • Traditionalists feel two options are sufficient (in fairness, they do add “50 or more churches or a conference could do their own thing” to their plan).  I was surprised to learn many progressives agree with traditionalists on this point.  The centrists in our group advocated for more than two expressions.  At first, we advocated for three – realizing we had fellow disciples who want to be in a fully progressive, liberated church now.  We were told by progressive leaders that only two options were needed.  This is why the plan is worded the way it is.  I have added the possibility of even more options because this plan would allow for it – but I am personally speculating on these. 
    • “Two choices benefit traditionalists.”  Two choices reduce all of our struggles and differences into a binary decision on human sexuality.  This is not a healthy way to make important decisions.  Our partisan culture makes this attractive, but it is not healthy.  We need to think more deeply about the decisions we will make related to the future of our church beyond a vote for or against one issue.
    • “Three choices benefit centrists.”  Honestly, as a centrist, I believe this is true.  When I speak to many center-right and center-left pastors in the Southeast and South Central Jurisdictions, they recognize the significant movement on the issues of LGBTQ+ inclusion in their churches.  They also know there is much work to be done.  They, and a lot of their members, want to live in a loving, ‘big-tent’ church.  Having more than two options moves us away from a ‘binary’ choice on one issue and allows many UMs to stay in a denomination that expresses: “We may not all think alike, but can we not all love alike?”
    • “We shouldn’t have a third, progressive denomination – they can’t afford it or sustain it.”  Before you get angry with me, this is something told to me by more than one progressive leader.  As I advocated strongly for multiple options, I was told by progressive leaders that we only need two.  I can’t speak into this as it relates to progressive conversations.  There may or may not be appetite for other progressive expressions, but it seems that should be a grass-roots choice.  I’m not sure I want to ‘force’ anyone to remain in a church that goes against their conscience and belief.

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8. All expressions would develop a new General Conference, with its own Book of Discipline, structures, polity, and finances.

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  • I’m not sure whether we should include this.  Each new church would decide this as needed. General Conference will not determine this for a new denomination.  The Centrist/Progressive UMC would, as the continuation of the UMC which will inherit the connectional system that is the UMC, keep General Conference, Book of Discipline, structures, polity, and finances as they currently are now.

Next Up: “Ay, There’s the Rub!”

The Indianapolis Plan :: All Things New…Or Some Things?

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.  We welcome feedback.

Basic Provisions – with my reflections following:

  1. The 2020 General Conference of the United Methodist Church would birth a Traditionalist United Methodist Church and a Centrist/Progressive United Methodist Church. (Names are placeholders; each new denomination would choose their own name. Both can use “The United Methodist Church” with a modifier to distinguish the two if they so desire)
    1. I am not sure that the General Conference can “birth” a new denomination, but a new denomination can be formed – by the WCA, for example –  and the General Conference can create legislation that allows annual conferences, local churches, jurisdictions, and central conferences a mechanism to join a new expression.  
    2. I prefer the wording, “birth a new Traditional United Methodist Church and reform/renew the UMC into a new Centrist/Progressive expression of the United Methodist Church.  This is more in alignment with number 2 – “the United Methodist Church would not be dissolved but have its legal continuation through the Centrist/Progressive United Methodist Church.”
    3. One of the big obstacles we struggled with – and still do today if you keep up with social media and the various plans/ideas – is the way we define what we are doing with our words.  ‘Form follows function’ for each of the plan you will see lifted up.  If a group simply wants one side to leave, the plan will come across as cold and unkind, seeking to put the departing group at a disadvantage.  If the plan creators truly believe we need to birth new expressions, well…the form will reflect that.  It is important to me that we give serious consideration to the many thousands of churches out that are stuck in inertia – they don’t want to deal with this, they don’t want to change, they don’t want to vote (it is easy to dismiss them, but we can’t – many are ‘sheep without a shepherd’ in this).  I often advocate for as little change as possible (I have been called an ‘institutionalist’ in all this, which is really funny to those who know me well).  I’m starting with “what” – the product.  That’s not a bad thing.  It is actually kind and empathetic to the needs of United Methodists all around the world that fear the unknown change.  But in this process, I am also confronted with the vision…the “why”…or better stated, what new thing does God desire in this?  We all have to ask ourselves some deep questions about what we want to see on the other side.  I found that traditionalists and progressives actually share a lot in common in this area.  They align on vision more than they think – they are reformers and not afraid to operate without nets.  Centrists – like me – desire more stability.  We need all of these voices together.  There is value in stability, but we also need resurrection and transformation.  I’m rambling now, so I will move on…
    4. In all the ‘plans’ you will read, ask this: Is one group leaving and everyone else staying?  Is everyone being asked to move into something ‘new’.  In our early conversations as everyone brought ‘their’ plans and advocated for them, it was obvious that the traditionalists wanted a way forward that has everyone entering into something ‘new’.  It is no secret they wanted dissolution (but so did some progressives, to be honest).  The centrists at the table said, “dissolution of the church is a non-starter” (see paragraph above).  It benefits centrists to have the UMC remain intact – inertia, kindness, empathy for so many churches out there.  It benefits traditionalists to have everyone choose something new – more churches would face a binary choice and we all know there are deeper issues to consider – it is not binary. 
    5. The assumption by many centrists and progressives is, “WCA has wanted to leave for 20 years”, so why don’t they just leave.  In my opinion, the United Methodist Church is in a very different place than other mainline churches in the US that have separated over this issue.  Whether we agree with it or not, the United Methodist position on marriage and ordination is still a traditional position.  I know, I know…many in the US do not agree and will live in opposition, but it is still the law of the church.  In other denominations, the position on homosexuality CHANGED and the conservative/traditionalists had to leave on principle…they lost, and they left.  The same thing would have happened in the UMC had the Simple Plan or One Church Plan passed in February 2019.  The WCA would have formed a new denomination and they would have left because they would have lost.  But the Traditional Plan passed.  This puts the UMC and the WCA in a different position than our Presbyterian or Episcopalian friends.  How do you win the vote and then turn around and leave?  No one does that, but we expect WCA and Good News to do that.  The UMC is also a global church.  The voices from around the world matter.  Much of the UM global church doesn’t want a dissolution, they don’t want to leave, but they also want a traditional view of marriage.  How do we simply disregard their voices?  We will have to find ways to compromise where all voices are heard.  One does not have to agree with what I am saying, but we must strive to understand it if we are to find common ground. 
    6. This is why the Indianapolis Group landed on NOT dissolving the United Methodist Church, but did agree that we ALL need to enter into new expressions.  
      1. There are a lot of people saying the Indy Plan is ‘dissolution’.  We obviously define the word differently.  I have always opposed dissolution and still do.  People may not like the plan, but I’m not sure it can be defined as a plan of dissolution.  If the denomination is simply renamed (remove United), if we remove the restrictive language, we keep all boards and agencies intact, we continue to remain connected to Central Conferences (those that don’t choose to leave), the General Conference remains as is, Judicial Council remains, Council of Bishops remain, episcopacy is the same, Jurisdictions, Constitution, all remain as they are right now – the Book of Discipline is exactly the same minus the restrictions against LGBTQ+ folk…I don’t define that as dissolution (the reformation will come after the separation).  The traditionalists really wanted dissolution and when we said no, they moved to half-dissolution.  When we said no, they wanted to dissolve boards and agencies.  We said no.  I will give them credit.  They realized that we were not going to agree to dissolution, that the global church doesn’t have the stomach for it, it would be filled with legal complications, and it would not pass at General Conference.  It would also cause everyone to dismiss the Indy Plan from the beginning.  The traditionalists moved a lot on this point.  The language ‘new expressions’ for everyone was a compromise, but we also felt it represents the vision God has for all of us to enter into something new.
      2. I have already stated in previous post my rationale against dissolution so I won’t repeat it here (although I may repeat it again in the future).
    7. Finally, I am a fan of simply renaming the United Methodist Church, “The Methodist Church” (which I believe we have legal ownership of, but I am not sure.)  Everyone agrees the UMC needs some radical reformation.  The removal of restrictive language in the Discipline on marriage and ordination alone makes us a very different denomination…and we are longer “United”.  I personally don’t have a problem dropping ‘United’.  Any church sign in the US can keep United Methodist if the stay in The Methodist Church.  There won’t be a squad roaming around policing signs.  The new, birthed traditional expression will obviously brand themselves to differentiate.

So I end with provision number 2:  The United Methodist Church would not be dissolved but would have its legal continuation through the Centrist/Progressive United Methodist Church.

Next Up :: Two, Three, Four, or More?

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