Articles

Jan 22 2020

Pastor Mike at Aztec Methodist Church

There has been much furor about a recent set of news release by a group that is making a proposal to split the United Methodist Church. Some secular news organizations suggested that a decision has been made to do this. This is not true.

Only the General Conference can make decisions for the denomination. The called session of the General Conference last February was to have settled the position of the Church, but much debate has been going on since then. Various groups have met to make new proposals to the General Conference coming up in May. Some were groups with a specific agenda, either conservative or liberal. Some were mixed groups that included people from both sides of the issues. These groups have been proposing various new solutions to the seeming impasse. Some proposals call for maintaining the unity of the church. Many of the proposals do call for a split in the denomination. Groups that met last year have made specific proposals. The four that have received most attention are described below.. 

The largest group (over 100 people from both sides of the issue) came up with “the Indianapolis Plan”. This would split United Methodists into 3 denominations, one traditionalist, once centrist, and one progressive. The Centrist would continue the name of “United Methodist Church”. Annual Conferences could decide by majority vote which denomination to join, while retaining all of its assets. Similarly a local congregation could by majority vote join another denomination than their annual conference, again retaining all of their assets and liabilities. Clergy would be free to join whichever denomination they choose. Each new denomination would set its own organization and policies. Wespath (the clergy pension program), UMCOR, UMW, UMM and the UM Publishing House would become independent of any of these denominations, and serve all of them together. This plan would see inaugural General conferences for each denomination by the Fall of 2021. Churches could change denominations, taking their assets with them until 2028. The plan is outlined at indyplanumc.org.

A proposal called “New Expressions Worldwide” would end up with four denominations (traditionalist, moderate, progressive and liberationist), and the UMC would dissolve. Again Annual Conferences, Local Churches, and clergy could decide which denomination to join (though it would require a 2/3 vote to do so). No structures would be set for the new denominations, though each would hold an organizing Conference by 2024. General church assets would be “divided equitably.” General agencies again would become independent to serve all new denominations. Details can be found at um-forward.org/the-new-plan. 

The “Next Generation UMC” plan would preserve one denomination, but reverse the decisions made in 2019. Conferences and Churches could leave the denomination taking their assets with them and form a new denomination. The church would have a commission to propose a new constitution and governing structures that would be implemented by the fall of 2023 at a called session of General Conference. Details can be found at umcnext.com/legislation.

The Connectional Table (a group of church leaders that meets regularly to give direction to the Church between sessions of General Conference) has proposed a restructuring of the church that would establish a US Regional Conference that would set the US Church on a similar footing with the Central Conferences in other parts of the world, allowing it to make modifications to the discipline which are more conducive to a US environment. This would require constitutional amendments which must be passed by a 2/3 majority and General Conference affirmed by 2/3 of all Annual Conference members voting. The proposed legislation is at umc.org/en/content/connectional-tables-us-regional-conference-legislation-now-available

Into this group of proposals comes the “Protocol” proposed by 16 people from various sides of the issue. They would split the denomination into two (allowing for others if churches desired them). The traditionalists would split off from the UMC. Annual conferences would decide which denomination to join by a 57% majority vote. Local churches could decide by a majority vote (or perhaps 2/3’s). Assets would be retained by Annual Conferences and Churches. $25 million would be paid to the new traditionalist denomination, with a total of $2 million would be set aside for other denominations that might be formed. Specific legislation is still under consideration on other issues. The trouble with this proposal is that it has missed the deadline for submitting legislation to the General Conference. So despite all the press releases and hype over this proposal, unless an Annual Conference holds a special session in the next month or so to submit this plan, it is unlikely to be considered at General Conference. The protocol can be found at cdnsc.umc.org/-/media/2020/01/03/15/48/protocol-of-Reconciliation-and-Grace-through-Separation

Of course General Conference in May could disregard all of these proposals and continue with the status quo, or choose some amalgam of these proposals. We need to stay calm and keep the UMC in our prayers during this period, while at the same time continuing to make disciples in our own communities.