The Indianapolis Plan – A Few Reflections

Last week, I shared The Indianapolis Plan to the Leadership Institute 2019 gathered at The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Kansas City.  Here are a few of my reflections:

  • At the UMCNext meeting in May 2019, centrists and progressives gathered in Kansas City.  We were not of one mind.  Some wanted to stay in the UMC and resist the Traditional Plan.  Some wanted to work toward disaffiliation or even dissolution of the UMC.  Others felt like they could not stay in the UMC and needed to depart due to the harm done to their members and friends.  It was in that spirit that the centrist and progressive members of the Indy Plan participated in discussions around separation.  It was not because we had a desire to separate the UMC.  I think every centrist and progressive longed for unity and prayed that we could stay together as one church.  But we realized that may not be possible.  So, we participated to attempt to find a peaceful way forward.  As someone said last week, “we must walk together loosely, or part with a blessing.”  Our work was an attempt to find the mutual blessing if a separation becomes the only option.  We recognize that if traditionalist central conference delegates to General Conference value unity above all – keeping the UMC together – we won’t need an Indianapolis Plan.  If that is the case, the UMCNext Plan or the Connectional Table recommendation for regional conferences could be what our future looks like. Members of the Indy Plan simply wanted to offer a plan of separation that included voices from differing viewpoints – if General Conference feels amicable separation is the best way forward.
  • The Indianapolis Plan was initiated by Darren Cushman Wood, Kent Millard, and Keith Boyette – a progressive, a centrist, and a traditionalist.  A broad and representative group was invited.  Not all of those invited wanted to participate.  Some joined and quickly dropped out.  Others left later.  The facilitators continued to recruit a broad and diverse group throughout the process.  Some participated for a bit, then chose to depart.  The plan was released in its initial draft form in early August.  It was shared with board and agency heads, seminary deans, central conference delegates, caucus leadership groups, and many others.  It was also open for anyone and everyone to give feedback.  Much of that feedback shaped the final form.  Legal voices of Wespath helped to craft the language in several places – including how to define “legal continuation” of the UMC through the centrists.
  • The Basic Provisions and the actual legislation are found in previous posts.  I think one of the most important myths that needed to be dispelled is this: The United Methodist Church is not dissolved but has its legal continuation through the Centrist UMC in the Indy Plan (¶2556.2).  The legal definition provided is: “The United Methodist Church shall continue as a convention or association of churches, as a successor, for the constituent units that realign by choice or default with the Centrist UMC.”  Wespath does not support any specific plan, but did assist with the legal language of continuation.
  • The Indianapolis Plan group did not agree on how assets should be handled.  We couldn’t even agree on the starting number.  Traditionalists will submit their own asset division proposal and their legislation would be added in the new paragraph ¶2556, but it is important to point out that the Indianapolis group did not sign off on that particular asset legislation.  If separation occurs, it will be up to the General Conference to decide how assets would be handled.

“We must find a way to walk together loosely, or part with a blessing.”  Is either possible?  If we must separate, can we bear witness to Christ through our parting?  Our world needs both witnesses from the church more than ever – walking together loosely and parting with blessings.  I will continue to pray for unity, but I will also pray for a powerful witness to the world if we must go our separate ways.

The Indianapolis Plan – The Legislation

Total Number of Pages: 19
Suggested Title: New Denominations of United Methodism
Discipline Paragraph or Resolution Number, if applicable: New Discipline¶ 2556
General Church Budget Implications: None
Global Implications: Yes

Insert a new paragraph 2556 as follows and renumber any succeeding paragraphs.

¶ 2556 –Pathways to New Denominations of United Methodism

  1. Preamble– 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. 

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 that 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 that would provide a pathway to new denominations of the United 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. New Denominations –The United Methodist Church hereby creates a pathway for the development of new denominations of United Methodism as set forth below. The United Methodist Church shall continue as a convention or association of churches, as a successor, for the constituent units that realign by choice or default with the Centrist UMC. (Names used in this paragraph are placeholders and descriptive; each new denomination would choose its own name and may use “United Methodist Church” with an appropriate modifier if they so choose.)
  2. The Traditionalist UMCshall be a global denomination that will maintain the current stance of the Disciplineregarding the practice of homosexuality. It would emphasize unity around doctrine, mission, and standards, leaner denominational structure, greater local flexibility, and accountable discipleship.
  3. The Centrist UMCshall be a global denomination that will 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.
  4. A Progressive Denomination may be formed as a separate denomination under 2.d 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.
  5. Other Denominationsmay be formed by a group of 50 or more local churches or by one or more annual conferences. It shall be the responsibility of the leaders of any group of churches or an annual conference desiring to form another denomination to develop and promote the vision of that denomination.
  6. Name and Logo – Each denomination forming under this paragraph shall be permitted, but not be required, to continue to use the name “The United Methodist Church” with an appropriate modifier to distinguish itself from other denominations formed hereunder, and to protect the intellectual property of The United Methodist Church and its successors. Each denomination forming under this paragraph shall be permitted, but not be required, to use the cross and flame logo with modifications to distinguish itself from other denominations formed hereunder. The General Council on Finance and Administration shall have the continued responsibility to administer the name “The United Methodist Church” and the trademarks of The United Methodist Church. To effectuate this intent, prevent confusion and protect the intellectual property, the General Council on Finance and Administration shall ensure that the names chosen by the new denominations do not conflict with another denomination’s name, and that logo modifications are sufficient to distinguish each logo from another.
  7. Default Alignment – Unless otherwise specified herein, if a central or annual conference does not vote on alignment by the date specified, then that conference shall align by default with the Centrist UMC.
  8. Formation in the United States – The following shall be the process for churches in the U.S. aligning with the new denominations.
  9. Annual Conferences – Annual conferences may by simple majority vote of those members present and voting at a regular or called session choose to align with the Traditionalist UMC, the Centrist UMC, or form or align with another denomination formed under this paragraph. The annual conference shall consider this decision upon motion from the floor or may do so through its normal processes. The annual conference may also call a special session upon motion from the floor. When an annual conference considers more than two options, with none receiving the required majority vote, the annual conference shall hold a run-off vote of the two options receiving the most votes, so that one of them receives a majority.
  10. If the annual conference does not vote on alignment by January 1, 2021, it shall by default align with the Centrist UMC for the purpose of representation to the inaugural General Conferences of the new denominations. Annual conferences may choose a different alignment until at least December 31, 2028, under the provisions of this paragraph.
  11. Pension Matters – Generally, annual conferences shall continue to be responsible for pension liabilities under the Clergy Retirement Security Program, which is reflected in ¶ 1504.1, as plan sponsors. If the annual conference agrees to continue to be legally responsible for such obligations, it shall not be required to make any payment of unfunded liabilities prior to alignment. The General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits shall manage pension obligations pursuant to other paragraphs of the Disciplinethat address pension matters. In addition, for future clergy benefits, annual conferences aligning with the Centrist UMC shall continue as plan sponsors of the Clergy Retirement Security Program or whatever mandatory retirement plan is approved by the 2020 General Conference. For future clergy benefits, annual conferences that align with the Traditionalist UMC or other denominations formed under this paragraph may sponsor retirement plans offered by the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits designed to fit their polity and capacity.

iii.  Lay Equalizing Members– For the purposes of this decision, all lay equalizing members shall be elected, as required by ¶ 32, and not appointed. The number of lay equalizing members elected by or from any one charge shall not exceed the number of regular lay members elected by that charge. The formula used by the annual conference in the election of lay equalizing members shall be made public prior to the annual conference session at which the decision regarding alignment is made.

  1. If an annual conference takes a vote on alignment, it shall not take a subsequent vote to consider changing its alignment until at least 42 months have passed since the previous vote.
  2. Local Churches — Local churches in the U.S. that disagree with their annual conference’s alignment may by simple majority vote of those professing members present and voting at a regular or called charge or church conference choose to align with a denomination not chosen by their annual conference or join with 50 or more other local churches in forming another denomination of United Methodism. Churches not taking a vote shall by default remain in their annual conference under whatever alignment the conference has chosen. Local churches withdrawing to become independent shall use the process established by ¶ 2553, which shall include the prepayment of its share of unfunded pension liabilities determined under ¶ 1504.23.
  3. When a local church considers more than two options, with none receiving the required majority vote, the church shall hold a run-off vote of the two options receiving the most votes, so that one of them receives a majority.
  4. Local churches desiring to make an immediate decision on aligning with a new denomination may do so on or after July 1, 2020. Local churches may also make such a decision after their annual conference makes its decision. In order to be represented at the inaugural General Conferences of the new denominations, local churches must vote prior to July 1, 2021. Churches may choose a different alignment until at least December 31, 2028, under the provisions of this paragraph.

iii.  Regardless of other provisions of the Discipline that are not in the Constitution, the approval of the annual conference shall not be required for any church choosing to withdraw from the annual conference in order to align with a different denomination formed under this paragraph, nor shall the annual conference have the authority to hinder churches desiring to choose such a different denomination, as long as the conditions for withdrawal specified in this paragraph are fulfilled.

  1. Property– The local church shall retain all its property, assets, and liabilities (other than pension liability) in the denomination with which it aligns, whether by choice or default. The trust clause (¶ 2501) shall be suspended for purposes of these realignments, but shall continue to apply to local churches aligning by choice or default with the Centrist UMC. Application of any analogous clause to local churches aligning with the Traditionalist UMC or other denomination will depend upon the doctrine and church laws adopted by the denomination with which the church aligns.
  2. Pension Liabilities – The General Board of Pension and Health Benefits will reassign pension liabilities related to realigning local churches, and clergy who have served in them, pursuant to the terms of other paragraphs in The Book of Disciplineaddressing pension obligations for realigning local churches and annual conferences (e.g., ¶ 2555), or through an administrative process by which the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits is able to reassign liabilities and assets based on local church and clergy transfers among continuing plan sponsors.
  3. If a local church takes a vote on alignment, it shall not take a subsequent vote to consider changing its alignment until at least 36 months have passed since the previous vote.
  4. Formation Outside the United States – The following shall be the process for churches in the central conferences aligning with the new denominations.
  5. Central Conferences – Notwithstanding the terms of ¶ 572 or other provisions of the Discipline not in the Constitution, central conferences may by simple majority vote of those members present and voting at a regular or called session choose to align with the Traditionalist UMC, the Centrist UMC, or form or align with another denomination formed under this paragraph. The central conference shall consider this decision upon motion from the floor or may do so through its normal processes. The central conference may also call a special session upon motion from the floor. When a central conference considers more than two options, with none receiving the required majority vote, the central conference shall hold a run-off vote of the two options receiving the most votes, so that one of them receives a majority.

If the central conference does not vote on alignment by March 31, 2021, it shall by default align with the Traditionalist UMC for the purpose of representation to the inaugural General Conferences of the new denominations. Central conferences may choose a different alignment until at least December 31, 2028, under the provisions of this paragraph.

  1. Annual Conferences – Notwithstanding the terms of ¶ 572 or other provisions of the Discipline not in the Constitution, annual conferences that disagree with the decision of their central conference may by simple majority vote of those members present and voting at a regular or called session choose to form or align with a different denomination formed under this paragraph than that chosen by their central conference. The annual conference shall consider this decision upon motion from the floor or may do so through its normal processes. The annual conference may also call a special session upon motion from the floor. When an annual conference considers more than two options, with none receiving the required majority vote, the annual conference shall hold a run-off vote of the two options receiving the most votes, so that one of them receives a majority.
  2. If the annual conference does not vote on alignment by June 30, 2021, it shall by default align with the denomination or option chosen by its central conference for the purpose of representation to the inaugural General Conferences of the new denominations. Annual conferences may choose a different alignment until at least December 31, 2028, under the provisions of this paragraph.
  3. Lay Equalizing Members– For the purposes of this decision, all lay equalizing members shall be elected, as required by ¶ 32, and not appointed. The number of lay equalizing members elected by or from any one charge shall not exceed the number of regular lay members elected by that charge. The formula used by the annual conference in the election of lay equalizing members shall be made public prior to the annual conference session at which the decision regarding alignment is made.

iii.  If an annual conference takes a vote on alignment, it shall not take a subsequent vote to consider changing its alignment until at least 42 months have passed since the previous vote.

  1. The General Board of Pension and Health Benefits is directed and authorized to amend the Global Episcopal Pension Plan as necessary to account for the changes in alignment of central conferences and central conference bishops.
  2. Local Churches — Local churches in the central conferences that disagree with their annual conference’s alignment may by simple majority vote of those professing members present and voting at a regular or called charge or church conference choose to align with a denomination not chosen by their annual conference or join with 50 or more other local churches in forming another denomination of United Methodism. Churches not taking a vote shall by default remain in their annual conference under whatever alignment the conference has chosen. Local churches withdrawing to become independent shall use the process established by ¶ 2553, which includes prepayment of certain liabilities, to the extent such is applicable outside of the U.S.
  3. When a local church considers more than two options, with none receiving the required majority vote, the church shall hold a run-off vote of the two options receiving the most votes, so that one of them receives a majority.
  4. Regardless of other provisions of the Discipline that are not in the Constitution, the approval of the annual conference shall not be required for any church choosing to withdraw from the annual conference in order to align with a different denomination formed under this paragraph, nor shall the annual conference have the authority to hinder churches desiring to choose such a different denomination, as long as the conditions for withdrawal specified in this paragraph are fulfilled.

iii.  Local churches desiring to make an immediate decision on aligning with a new denomination under this paragraph may do so on or after July 1, 2020. Local churches may also make such a decision after their annual conference makes its decision. In order to be represented at the inaugural General Conferences of the new denominations, local churches must vote prior to September 1, 2021. Churches may choose a different alignment until at least December 31, 2028, under the provisions of this paragraph.

  1. Property– The local church shall retain all its property, assets, and liabilities in the denomination with which it aligns, whether by choice or default. The trust clause (¶ 2501) shall be suspended for purposes of these realignments, but shall continue to apply to local churches aligning by choice or default with the Centrist UMC, but only to the extent it applies under The Book of Disciplineand local law. Application of any analogous clause to local churches aligning with the Traditionalist UMC or other denomination will depend upon the doctrine and church laws adopted by the denomination with which the local church aligns, and the unique laws of the countries and secular jurisdictions in which the local churches, annual conferences, and central conferences are located.
  2. If a local church takes a vote on alignment, it shall not take a subsequent vote to consider changing its alignment until at least 36 months have passed since the previous vote.
  3. Interim Implementation – Any conference or local church taking a vote on alignment shall specify as part of that action the date on which it will become effective. When central conferences, annual conferences, and local churches vote to align with a denomination, they may begin to function under the requirements and structure of that denomination on or after August 1, 2020, on an interim basis.
  4. Annual conferences, local churches, and clergy choosing to align with a denomination other than the Traditionalist UMC shall 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 Disciplineprohibiting same-sex weddings and the ordination, appointment, or consecration of self-avowed practicing homosexuals.
  5. The interim Traditionalist UMC shall function under the umbrella and authority of the leadership group that develops and promotes its vision.
  6. The interim Centrist UMC shall function, as a successor to The United Methodist Church for the constituent units that realign either by choice or default with the Centrist UMC, under the terms of The United Methodist Book of Discipline and its existing structures, except as provided under subparagraph 12, below, and except that it would be explicitly exempt from all restrictions related to self-avowed practicing homosexuals or same-sex weddings. Clergy serving in such churches or in such annual conferences would also be exempt. All complaints, administrative or judicial processes, or disciplinary actions related to these restrictions shall be suspended in the interim Centrist UMC, beginning on the date on which conferences, local churches, or clergy designate their alignment with it until January 1, 2022, the date on which the Centrist UMC becomes fully operational.
  7. Any other denomination formed under this paragraph shall function during the interim under the umbrella and authority of the leadership group that develops and promotes its vision (¶ 2556.2).
  8. Apportionments shall be paid to the new denominations by congregations and conferences aligning with them in the interim. General church apportionments shall continue to be paid by all denominations through December 31, 2020. The new interim denominations shall assume responsibility for connectional expenses within each denomination as of January 1, 2021.
  9. Clergy Alignment– Clergy shall by default align with the denomination chosen by their annual conference. Clergy who wish to align with a different denomination than that chosen by their annual conference shall notify their bishop and the leadership of the denomination with which they desire to align. In order to be represented at the inaugural General Conferences of the new denominations, clergy must make such notification prior to July 1, 2021. Clergy may subsequently change denominations based on the processes adopted by their desired denomination.
  10. Appointments– If the clergy person’s current local church appointment decides to align with the same denomination as the clergy person, it is recommended that appointment be continued where possible until at least January 1, 2022, the final effective date of the new denominations. Thereafter, the clergy person’s appointment shall be determined under the process adopted by the new denominations.

If the clergy person’s current local church appointment does not align with the same denomination as the clergy person, the clergy person’s current bishop and the leadership of the denominations involved shall consult regarding a possible appointment. With the approval of the leadership of the church’s chosen denomination and the clergy person’s chosen denomination, a transitional appointment may be set, either in the current local church or another outside the clergy person’s chosen denomination. When a clergy person serves a transitional appointment outside his or her chosen denomination, the clergy person shall be required to abide by and satisfy the standards and requirements of the denomination in which he or she is appointed to serve. Conversations shall continue among the relevant leaders with the aim of finding an appointment for the clergy person within their chosen denomination in order to ensure security of appointment where such is required.

  1. Pensions— Generally, pension benefits earned by clergy persons in The United Methodist Church for service in the United States shall remain intact through these realignments, reassigned by the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits to annual conferences, or other organizations, in whatever denomination they affiliate with, subject, however, to the terms of the Clergy Retirement Security Program and other paragraphs of The Book of Disciplineunder which General Conference has directed and authorized for the General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits to administer pension matters. In the event annual conferences or episcopal areas in the central conferences that are currently covered by the same pension plan should align with multiple United Methodist denominations, the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits shall assist these conferences or episcopal areas in allocating pension assets and liabilities based on their new alignments.
  2. Candidates– It is recommended that candidates who are in process toward licensing, commissioning, or ordination be grandfathered into that point in the process in whichever denomination they want to align with, so that they would not have to repeat requirements for licensing or ordination. Boards of ordained ministry shall promptly forward the paperwork and files of candidates to the proper body in the new denomination when requested in writing by the candidate.
  3. Alignment of Bishops– Active and retired bishops shall by default align with the Centrist UMC. Bishops who wish to align with a different denomination shall notify the president of the Council of Bishops and the leadership of the denomination with which they desire to align prior to July 1, 2021. Service as active bishops in each of the new denominations shall depend upon the provisions adopted by that denomination.
  4. Election of Bishops in 2020 — Mandatory retirement provisions for all current active bishops shall be suspended until September 1, 2022. Bishops desiring to retire may do so, but are not required to do so. Retired bishops shall be assigned by the Council of Bishops in accordance with ¶ 49 to provide residential and presidential leadership for annual conferences in the Centrist UMC where needed on an interim basis.

Jurisdictional conferences may choose not to elect bishops in 2020, reconvening for election of bishops in 2021 or 2022 as part of the Centrist UMC, governed by the provisions established at the inaugural special General Conference for this denomination. This allows a proper match of the number of bishops with the need under the new conditions.

Central conferences may elect bishops in 2020-21 as needed and determined by the central conferences, based on the number of bishops allocated to each central conference by the 2020 General Conference.

Bishops in the other denominations, if those denominations choose to have bishops or an episcopacy, will be elected and assigned according to the provisions of those denominations.

  1. Institutional Affiliationa. Institutions or property owned or controlled by, associated with, or affiliated with an annual conference shall continue to be so owned, controlled by, or associated or affiliated with that annual conference in the denomination chosen by it, unless the institution is authorized to and changes its affiliation or acts to become independent according to its own bylaws.
  2. Institutions or property owned or controlled by or associated or affiliated with a jurisdiction or central conference shall belong to the denomination chosen by the majority of annual conferences in that jurisdiction or central conference, unless the institution is authorized to and changes its affiliation or acts to become independent according to its own bylaws.

12  General Church Agenciesa.  Notwithstanding other paragraphs in The Book of Discipline, the General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits (¶ 1501 et seq.), the United Methodist Committee on Relief (¶ 1315 et seq.), United Methodist Women, Inc. (¶ 1901 et seq.), the General Commission on United Methodist Men (¶ 2301 et seq.), and the United Methodist Publishing House (¶ 1601 et seq.) shall be authorized to take actions, to the extent necessary, to exist as nonprofit corporations in the state of their domicile, and as tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organizations with corporate ownership of all their assets and liabilities, notwithstanding ¶ 2501. Each of these organizations shall be authorized and empowered to amend their bylaws to establish and form their own self-perpetuating boards of directors, no longer subject to paragraphs of TheBook of Discipline that govern agency boards. They shall continue, at the outset, to carry out their mission as originally established by the General Conference, within their corporate tax-exempt purpose. These agencies shall be considered by the General Conference to be the legal successors of the agencies as they existed within The United Methodist Church, and it is the belief of The United Methodist Church that these organizations have associational, historical, and ecclesiastical ties with each other and with the historical United Methodist Church and its predecessors. Each organization is authorized to serve any denomination formed under this paragraph that desires to receive services from it. Each shall be encouraged to maintain ecclesiastical ties to all denominations formed hereunder, e.g., through establishing references to each in the governing documents of each new denomination, electing board directors who are professing members of each denomination, and maintaining other missional ties, to be considered an integrated auxiliary of the denominations it serves. Each shall remain accountable to the General Conference, but only for the services provided to the Centrist UMC, and shall be accountable to the highest legislative conference of other new denominations only for the services provided to each. The terms of the paragraphs of The Book of Disciplinegoverning these agencies, under each’s respective section of the Discipline, and the ¶ 700s shall be amended to conform to and be in harmony with the terms of this paragraph.

  1. The General Commission on Archives and History shall be renamed “The Institute on United Methodist Archives and History,” and shall be housed in a United Methodist institution (e.g., a seminary) as negotiated by the commission’s board and the institution, with the approval of the Council of Bishops. The commission shall retain all its assets and liabilities and shall receive financial support through modest apportionment funding from all denominations formed under this paragraph, distributed proportionally among them.
  2. All other general church boards and agencies shall continue in the Centrist UMC under the current Book of Discipline, subject to further possible reforms and restructuring by that new denomination. They shall be financially supported by, and accountable to, the Centrist UMC, but they may also contract to offer their services to other denominations formed under this paragraph.
  3. Allocation of Assets– The General Conference hereby establishes the process for allocating general church assets among the denominations formed under this paragraph to fund the transition to new denominations and to be devoted to the missional purposes of each denomination thereafter. (NOTE: different groups could submit different proposals for how the assets would be allocated, with General Conference making the final decision on the process.)
  4. Central Conference Funding– The General Conference hereby establishes the goal of maintaining current levels of funding for central conference operations and ministry through the 2021-24 quadrennium, funded by all denominations formed under this paragraph. The General Council on Finance and Administration shall compile a list of apportionment funding for central conference operations and ministry under the 2017-20 budget and shall apportion that amount to the various denominations annually throughout the quadrennium, adjusting for fluctuations in membership as the alignment process continues. These central conference apportionments shall be listed separately, so that each local church may determine how much of its apportionment is going to this central conference apportionment. Apportionment support for central conference bishops shall also be listed separately, even if it passes through the Episcopal Fund. General Council on Finance and Administration shall administer the funds received and distribute them pro-rata or in such other manner as has been the historical pattern. In addition, all denominations are encouraged to continue supporting Advance Special and other mission projects in the central conferences.
  5. Continuing Relationship– All the denominations formed under this paragraph may participate as members of the World Methodist Council and the Pan-Methodist Commission. The continuing relationship between and among the various such denominations may be memorialized in a covenantal concordat, or other form of ecumenical agreement negotiated on a bilateral or multi-lateral basis following the fully effective date of each denomination (January 1, 2022, or later).
  6. Inaugural General Conferences– The Centrist UMC shall hold a special General Conference as its inaugural General Conference during the fall of 2021. Other denominations formed under this paragraph are encouraged to hold an inaugural General Conference to be scheduled during the fall of 2021. Denominations that are not ready to form at that time may hold an inaugural General Conference at a later date, with a fully effective date for the denomination set by that General Conference.
  7. The Centrist UMCshall hold a special called General Conference to discuss the formal removal of all prohibitions related to LGBTQ persons and further define its stance related to ministry with and inclusion of LGBTQ persons. That special General Conference would also consider restructuring the Centrist denomination in light of the annual conferences and local churches that are no longer part of the Centrist UMC. The annual conferences of the Centrist UMC, including those that may be reformed by the jurisdictions after annual conference realignments, will elect delegates to the special session in 2021, under the terms of The Book of Discipline, particularly to replace delegates who have lost eligibility through no longer being members of a UMC annual conference or local church as a result of realignments.
  8. The Traditionalist UMCand other denominationsshall hold their inaugural General Conference to adopt governing documents that would govern the work of those denominations. Representation shall be elected under its and their associational rules or adopted doctrine, for example by those annual conferences choosing to affiliate with the denomination and also by groups of local churches and clergy that form in areas where their annual conference affiliates with another denomination.
  9. The fully effective dateof the new denominations shall be January 1, 2022, or a later date determined by each denomination.
  10. Legal Succession– For the purposes of legal issues such as pensions and assets, all denominations forming under this paragraph shall be considered legal successors of The United Methodist Church as relates to the portions thereof that are associated with the new denominations or organizations that align or associate therewith. The Centrist UMC shall inherit the current Book of Disciplinewith such modifications as it chooses to make. Other denominations may borrow provisions and language from the Book of Disciplinewithout such borrowing being considered an infringement of copyright. Furthermore, all denominations forming under this paragraph have associational, historical, and ecclesiastical ties with each other and with the historical United Methodist Church and its predecessors.
  11. Severability– If one provision of this paragraph is found unconstitutional, any other provisions not dependent upon that provision shall be severable and implemented as passed by General Conference.
  12. Precedence and Effective Date– All provisions of this paragraph shall take effect upon the adjournment of General Conference 2020. All provisions of this paragraph shall take precedence over any conflicting provisions in the Book of Disciplinenot in the Constitution.

The Indianapolis Plan – Final

I am putting the Indianapolis Plan Basic Provisions here.  I will be blogging on the provisions as we ended up over the next several days.  Traditionalists, Centrists, and Progressives did not agree on all provisions but we felt we needed to offer a different option to General Conference delegates related to separation.  We realized much of this plan, if used, will be modified.  We are praying for GC2020.

BASIC PROVISIONS OF AN INDIANAPOLIS PLAN ​​​​FOR AMICABLE SEPARATION​​​​       September 18, 2019

INTRODUCTION:

The 2019 special General Conference of the United Methodist Church highlighted the depth of the irreconcilable differences present in The United Methodist Church.

Rather than continuing the quarrel over homosexuality at the 2020 General Conference, a group of Progressives, Centrists, and Traditionalists present these proposals as a possible pathway to amicable separation in The United Methodist Church.  The names of the participants are at the end of the document.

We envision a new future for the people of The United Methodist Church to avoid further harm to one another, to United Methodists around the world, to the church universal, and to those with whom we strive to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  We seek to move away from the caustic atmosphere which has often marked conversation in the United Methodist Church into a new season where we bless one another as we send each other into our respective mission fields to multiply our witness for Christ.

We envision an amicable separation in The United Methodist Church which would provide a pathway to new denominations of the Methodist movement so we can all make new disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. These new denominations, though separate, will continue the rich heritage of the Methodist movement while being free to share their respective witnesses for Christ unhindered by those with whom they have been in conflict.  We will release one another to joyful obedience to Christ’s call on our lives.

BASIC PROVISIONS:

1. The 2020 General Conference of The United Methodist Church would support an amicable separation plan by providing a pathway for the development of a Traditionalist United Methodist Church and a Centrist United Methodist Church.  A Progressive expression may emerge as a Progressive United Methodist Church or may be included in the Centrist United Methodist Church. Other denominations may emerge as well. (Names are placeholders and descriptive; each new denomination would choose their own name and may use “United Methodist Church” with an appropriate modifier if they so choose).
2. The United Methodist Church would not be dissolved but would have its legal continuation through the Centrist United Methodist Church.
3. The Traditionalist United Methodist Church would be a global denomination that would maintain the current stance of the United Methodist Discipline regarding the practice of homosexuality. It would emphasize unity around doctrine, mission, and standards, leaner denominational structure, greater local flexibility, and accountable discipleship.
4. The Centrist United Methodist Church would be a global denomination that would remove from the Discipline the “incompatibility” language and prohibitions against same-sex weddings, ordinations, and appointments.  Centrist annual conferences and local congregations would make their own decisions regarding the ordination and appointment of homosexual persons and performing same-sex weddings in their conferences and congregations. It would practice faith with a generous spirit, emphasizing greater local flexibility within a deep commitment to connectionalism, social  justice, and missional engagement that transforms the world for Jesus Christ
5. A Progressive expression may emerge as a Progressive United Methodist Church that would be a global denomination that includes church-wide protection against discrimination based on race, color, gender, national origin, ability, age, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, or economic condition, and that practices full itinerancy of LGBTQIA+ pastors and same-sex weddings in all their churches. Another progressive expression may be the inclusion of progressives in the Centrist United Methodist Church.
6. Other denominations may be formed by a group of 50 or more local churches or by one or more annual conferences.
7. All denominations would have their own General Conferences or governing boards, books of Discipline, structure, polity, and finances.  Any local congregation which chooses to join one of these denominations would be relieved of the trust clause in order to take their assets and liabilities into the new denomination.
8. Annual conferences in the United States would decide by a simple majority vote of those annual conference members present and voting with which denomination to align.  Annual conferences not making a decision would become part of the Centrist United Methodist Church by default.
9. Central conferences would decide by a simple majority vote of those members present and voting with which denomination to align.  Central conferences that do not make a decision would become part of the Traditionalist United Methodist Church by default. Annual conferences outside the United States could decide by a simple majorityto align with a different denomination than their central conference.
10. Local churches disagreeing with their annual conference’s decision could decide by a simple majority vote of a charge or church conference to align with a different denomination.  All local church property, assets, and liabilities would continue to belong to that local church.
11. Clergy and ministerial candidates would decide with which denomination to align.  By default, they would remain part of the denomination chosen by their annual conference, unless they choose to affiliate with a different denomination.
12. Bishops (active and retired) would decide with which denomination to align.  By default, they would remain part of the Centrist United Methodist Church unless they choose to align with a different denomination.
13. Continuation of clergy and episcopal pensions would be provided for by assigning liability for the unfunded pension liabilities to the new denominations and by receiving payments from withdrawing congregations that choose not to align with created denominations.
14. Annual conferences and local congregations could begin functioning in the new alignment beginning August 1, 2020, on an interim basis.  Annual conferences, local churches, and clergy choosing to align with a denomination other than the Traditionalist Unite Methodist Church would be exempt during the interim period, following the adjournment of General Conference 2020 to the start of the new denominations, from the provisions in the Discipline prohibiting same-sex weddings and the ordination, appointment, or consecration of self-avowed, practicing homosexuals. Inaugural General Conference sessions would be held in the fall of 2021, with the new denominations becoming fully functional as of January 1, 2022.  The Progressive United Methodist Church might launch at a later date, if desired. The opportunity to choose an alignment would remain open until at least December 31, 2028.
15. Wespath, the United Methodist Committee on Relief, United Methodist Women, the General Commission on United Methodist Men, and The United Methodist Publishing House would continue as independent 501(c)(3)organizations with their own self-perpetuating boards of directors and would be able to serve any denomination thatdesires to receive services from them.
16. All other United Methodist boards and agencies would become part of the Centrist United Methodist Church with mutually agreed upon initial funding and subject to possible reforms and restructuring by the Centrist United Methodist Church.  Such boards and agencies could also contract to serve other denominations formed in this process.
17. The 2020 General Conference would provide continuing funding for Central Conference ministries during the 2021-2024 Quadrennium supported by all denominations.  All United Methodist conferences and congregations would be encouraged to continue support for Central Conference ministries regardless of denominational affiliation.
18. A process and principles for allocating general church assets to fund transition to new denominations and to be devoted to the missional purposes of each denomination thereafter would be adopted by the 2020 General Conference.
19. Mandatory retirement provisions for all bishops would be waived until 2022 after the new denominations have become operational.  Jurisdictional conferences might not elect bishops in 2020, reconvening in 2021 or 2022 as part of the Centrist United Methodist Church. Central conferences would elect the number of bishops determined by the 2020 General Conference, as planned. This would allow a proper match of the number of bishops needed under these new conditions.  Bishops in other denominations formed in this process would be elected and assigned according to the provisions of those denominations.

Here are the United Methodist Progressive, Centrist and Traditionalists Clergy and Laity who developed and signed this proposal for an amicable separation.  Organizational names are provided for informational purposes only and do not imply that these churches or organizations have endorsed these proposals.

Rev. Keith Boyette, President,
Wesleyan Covenant Association
Fredericksburg, Virginia
Traditionalist

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

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

Lynette Fields, Layperson
Florida Annual Conference
Orlando, Florida
Progressive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Indianapolis Plan :: Churches, Clergy, and Bishops

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

Basic Provisions – with my reflections following:


11. Local churches disagreeing with their annual conference’s decision could decide by majority vote of a church conference to align with a different expression. All local church property, assets, and liabilities would continue to belong to that local church.

  • A few thoughts:
  • If General Conference allows for annual conferences to leave and join a new denomination of Methodism, they should also allow remedy for local churches that disagree with the annual conference’s decision.  If an annual conference is allowed to leave, a church within the annual conference may choose to go with them (no vote required) or choose a different expression – remain in UMC or go with one of the new, birthed expressions (a vote is required here, or some active decision).
  • How that decision is made in a local church would need to be clearly defined.  What would the threshold be?
  • Like the annual conference threshold, this is an important determination.  A local church may leave an annual conference now.  A local church may also change annual conferences in certain circumstances.  Currently, the annual conference determines the basis for a local church to ‘disaffiliate’ since the annual conference owns the property of the church and the unfunded pension liability.  
  • Currently, the Indy Plan allows any local church that disagrees with the decision of their annual conference to align with another expression.  Only a simple majority – 50%+1, would be needed.
  • While this does sound fair and equitable, we return to the question of appropriate thresholds when property and membership are at stake.  I don’t know the local church votes totals of the recently disaffiliated congregations in the Mississippi Conference, but earlier instances of churches leaving had the votes at well over 90-95% in favor of leaving.   I led a church merger in the early 2000’s, led an adoption merger in 2017, and am in discussions with another church regarding adoption merger.  These decisions can be deeply painful for many.  The first merger I led, we used a simple majority threshold.  It passed 55%-45% and caused more pain than I could have ever imagined.  Families were split in two.  Friendships were broken.  I promised myself we would always use a super-majority in the future.  In 2017, we used a 2/3 threshold for an adoption merger in Houston.  The process took longer, but they voted to merge with Chapelwood at an 80% threshold.   What if a church votes 60% and cannot leave?  I realize this works both ways – see my thoughts on this below.  With annual conferences, my rationale is rooted in organizational integrity (2/3 is current threshold for overseas annual conferences to disaffiliate and become autonomous churches).  
  • A 2/3 threshold is more in harmony with local churches being reassigned conferences (BOD, par 41).  Judicial Council decision 1379 also made a broad statement that “any legislation of the General Conference permitting the ‘gracious exit’ of a local church must require at a minimum (1) the disaffiliation resolution be approved by a 2/3 majority of the professing members of the local church…”
  • While it may not seem ‘fair’ to some, it may be difficult to pass and secure anything less than a 2/3 majority for local churches to depart.
  • On a personal note; I advocate for the simplest solutions possible, but I am not sure how to simplify this.  There will be churches where the church votes 53%-47% to remain in the UMC/centrist/progressive expression, what happens to the 47% who desire a traditionalist church? They will have to make a decision to remain in their church or depart.  It breaks my heart.
  • A super majority vote threshold has traditionally been the threshold to change categories of membership (expel), suspend rules, change fundamental rules (constitutional and restrictive), etc.  This is reflected in our Book of Discipline and Judicial Council decisions.  
  • Point of clarity:: This provision is worded to sound like every church would own their own property if they move to a new expression or even remain in the UMC expression.  This needs to be clarified.  If a church remains in the UMC expression, the same trust clause would exist.  If a church moves to a traditionalist expression – I have no idea if they plan to have a trust clause or not – I would guess they would have to have a trust clause to offset pension liability.  Churches would still not own their property if they join one the expressions approved by General Conference.  Only if they leave to become independent after paying whatever is determined by General Conference and annual conferences.

12. Clergy would decide with which expression to align. By default, they would remain part of their annual conference in whichever expression their annual conference affiliates, unless they request to affiliate with a different expression.

  • Clergy can choose to transfer conferences or even leave the denomination now.  New expressions would develop ways to receive clergy similar to how annual conferences transfer clergy.  I would love to see a ‘full communion’ relationship.
  • The new expressions will need to define the role of clergy, how they will be deployed, etc.  
    • Will there be guaranteed appointments?
    • How will they be appointed?  Itineracy?  Call system?
    • I assume ordinations will be honored, but what will the process be for credentialing someone who moves into a new expression.  This will need to made be clear by the new expressions.

13. Bishops would decide with which expression to align. By default, they would remain part of the Centrist/Progressive UMC, unless choosing to align with a different expression. Service as active bishops in each of the new expressions would depend upon the provisions adopted by that expression.

  • This will be interesting…
  • By default, they will remain UMC bishops in the UMC – centrist/progressive expression.  The would have to make an active decision to join a new expression.
  • What will bishops be in new expressions?  This will need to be developed before any bishop would decide to join.  I will let bishops ask questions here…I’m not really sure what they would want to know before making any decision.

14. Continuation of clergy and episcopal pensions would be provided for by assigning liability for the unfunded pension liabilities to the new expressions and by receiving payments from withdrawing congregations that choose not to align with created expressions.

  • Wespath is working on all this and giving input to the different groups working on plans.
  • Local churches and pastors disaffiliating to become independent (not join a new Methodist expression) would have to pay GC19 approved withdrawal payments.  
  • Clergy terminating membership (other than join new expression), would be converted under GC19 terms.
  • There will be a way for churches’ liabilities to be transferred to new Methodist expressions, but those expressions will have to assume legal responsibility, prove to be financially viable, and have adequate governance, funding, etc. to work with Wespath.
  • There will need to be a transition period on all of this.  It will take time.

Next Up :: Timelines and Boards/Agencies

The Indianapolis Plan :: “Ay, There’s the Rub!”

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

Basic Provisions – with my reflections following:

———-

9. Annual conferences in the U.S. would decide by majority vote with which expression to align. Annual conferences choosing not to make a decision would become part of the Centrist/Progressive UMC by default.

  • As they say…’the devil is in the details’.  
  • Where the Indy group agrees:
    • there needs to be separation,
    • we want it to be as amicable as possible,
    • it should be fair and equitable, and
    • we should talk to one another as we try to work it all out.  
  • We disagree on the ‘how’.  This is also where we start to bump into the fundamental differences you will experience from the differing plans that are offered.  
  • General Conference delegates are the audience.  It doesn’t matter what the blogospheres and twitterverse think…it matters what the GC delegates think.
  • General Conference will make the decision about who could leave (conferences, churches, etc.) and how (the process).  The legislative committees of the General Conference will do their work, then GC will vote to determine who and how.  In order for any legislation to have a chance, it needs to have the following characteristics:
    • it must be simple (people have to understand it and it cannot be overly complex with too many moving parts),
    • it must gain broad agreement (even if traditionalists have a 51% majority, that is too close for complex petitions dealing with all sorts of nuances.  If you are voting ‘for or against’ homosexuality, you can get all the 51%…if you are talking about complex legislation with amendments that break up a denomination, ministries, and churches, the votes will start to wander all over the place.  We saw this a few times at GC19.)
    • it must strive do the least amount of harm possible (I have advocated at our meetings for all the center-right/center-left churches and pastors I know across the SE and SC jurisdictions.  They don’t want their local churches and conferences ripped apart with votes.  How does any plan mitigate the potential harm to communities and churches?) We must consider the thousands of churches and what the effects will be.
  • Can an annual conference leave?  It can if the General Conference approves a process for that to happen.  In the Bard/Jones Plan, they point to Section 9 of Petition 90041 of the Traditional Plan (2019 ADCA pp.187-88) as a key proposal allowing US annual conferences to leave the UMC.  This petition, or one like it, would need to be reintroduced and passed in 2020.  In the 2019 provision, an annual conference could leave by a simple majority vote – that is currently what is included in the Indy Plan.
    • I have some questions and concerns regarding a simple majority vote:
    • Is a simple majority a sufficient bar for an annual conference to leave?  General Conference can approve that threshold, but would that threshold potentially cause more harm?  I am deeply concerned for many SE and SC conferences that I am certain will have close votes on whether to depart for a new expression or remain.  I can’t begin to imagine the pain and harm among people who have been together for generations.
    • What ‘triggers’ a vote?  There is discussion about a 15% trigger…if 15% of the voting delegates at the annual conference session desire, a vote would occur to depart and join a new expression.  Is that trigger too low?  General Conference would have to decide the trigger threshold.
    • Say a 15% threshold passes, the vote is taken…52% of the delegates vote to leave and join a new expression…all done, right?  Maybe not…could there be another motion to re-vote?…15% threshold passes…would we vote again? Again? Again?  Would there be a rule that says you can only vote once?
    • Let’s say 15% passes, and the conference votes and the motion to leave is defeated by 52%.  Conference stays in the UMC, right?  What if the 48% refuse to leave and want to keep trying because they want the conference assets?  Will they remain and attempt a vote again the next year?  Since all the conference assets stay with the conference, what if a conference had a multi-million dollar endowment, or owned a major hospital, or had significant properties?  Will 48% of the conference simply walk away because they lost the vote by a few votes?  Is it right that 51% would take all the assets?  That said, I am also not in favor of dividing the conference assets 51-49%.  That is too complex and filled with chaos.  It has to stay together.  General Conference delegates may determine a higher threshold is required.
    • Many US annual conferences won’t have to worry about this.  But there will be conferences where the votes could be very close.  My conference, The Texas Conference, could very well be one of those.  I can’t imagine the war that will be waged leading up to a vote.  Even if the Bishop asked for a called annual conference in September of 2020, I can’t begin to imagine what it would be like to operate in that space.
    • I feel that any legislation that allows an annual conference to leave and take all their assets should have a 2/3 majority.  This is a standard for any major decision and this would be a very large decision.  A super-majority would reflect the will of the conference as a whole.  It may also assist if there are legal issues that follow.
    • Also, if we want fewer votes in local churches and less harm done, a 2/3 threshold approval means there will be fewer local congregations that will have to vote opposite of their conference – unless they fall slightly short of the 2/3 threshold.  This is where it cuts both ways.  If a conference gets 60% they can’t leave – more local churches would have to vote in that case.  It may only be a few conferences that fall into this category, but it would be devastating either way.  I’d prefer no local church votes.  That is what most people requested to the Commission on a Way Forward.

10. Central conferences would decide by majority vote with which expression to align or to become an autonomous Methodist church. Central conferences choosing not to make a decision would become part of the Traditionalist UMC by default. Annual conferences outside the U.S. could decide by majority vote to align with a different expression than their central conference.

  • Central Conferences are large regional bodies made up of annual conferences. There are 7 Central Conferences on 3 continents (3 in Africa, 3 in Europe/Asia, and 1 in Philippines) with a total of 74 annual conferences (30 in Africa, 20 in Europe/Asia, and 24 in Philippines).
  • If General Conference makes a decision to allow annual conferences to depart, it seems to me they will want to treat the global church conferences equally.  I am not sure how members of the Central Conferences will feel about different rules for them because they are outside the US.  
  • We have already heard from a few in Europe who desire the decision not be made at a Central Conference level, but rather the annual conference level – in the same way it is done in the US.  If the US church followed the Central Conference model, the US church would vote by Jurisdictions.  If an annual conference disagrees with the Jurisdictional vote, then the annual conference may vote to align with a different expression.
  • The DEFAULT to the Traditionalist UMC.  Why?  Traditionalists would say, “the vast majority of Central Conference is traditionalist.”  I don’t disagree with that.  But my question is this: can one ‘default’ into the ‘new’ thing?  Some would say the General Conference can make this happen.  But default by its very definition says a selection is made automatically or without active consideration due to the lack of a viable alternative.  I think the rationale behind all the defaults will need to be clearer to General Conference delegates in order to find support any type of default.  How does one default a United Methodist annual conference into a new denomination without that annual conference actively involved in that decision?  Can that even happen?  Would the General Conference approve that?

One thing has become clear: with the release of basic provisions from the Indy group and the release of the UMCNext plan, we all realize the Central Conferences are the key to the future direction of the UMC.  Does Africa/Philippines/etc want to depart the UMC and form their own, new denomination with traditionalist US Methodists?  Do they want to remain and refine the Traditionalist Plan?  Would they accept greater separation but desire to remain connected to the US UMC for the cause of mission and the kingdom?  If we knew the answer to these questions, we could stop talking ‘plans’ and start moving forward into whatever new future is before us.  I hope we don’t have to wait until May 2020 to know the answer to these questions.

I encourage Central Conference delegates to the General Conference in 2020 to speak out to all of us…to Indy Plan members…to UMCNext members…to the WCA members…to Good News members.  I long for all of us to work together so we can move forward in our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ!

Next Up :: Churches, Clergy, and Bishops

The Indianapolis Plan :: 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.