Centrists, progressives, and traditionalists work toward a fair plan of separation

Guest Commentary by Keith Boyette –

The Rev. Keith Boyette. Photo courtesy of Wesleyan Covenant Association.

In the aftermath of the 2019 Special General Conference, people across The United Methodist Church have wondered, “What now?” The General Conference decided. Some vehemently disagreed. Statements of defiance were issued. Acts of resistance continue to occur. And new groups have emerged (e.g., UM Next and UM Forward). Looming on the horizon is the May 2020 General Conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Many believe a parting of ways is the only viable way forward.

In this environment, a group of diverse leaders from across the UM Church recently gathered in Indianapolis to explore whether a different and more hopeful narrative might emerge. Assembled by the Rev. Dr. Kent Millard, president of United Theological Seminary, the Rev. Darren Cushman-Wood, senior pastor of North United Methodist Church in Indianapolis, and myself, the dialogue’s purpose was to determine whether those from different perspectives could create a mutually agreed upon plan of separation.

The Indianapolis Group acknowledged the 2019 Special General Conference demonstrated that differences in the UM Church are irreconcilable, that no pathway exists to bridge those differences, and therefore, the group should work for a plan of separation. Most of all, the participants sought to find a way to avoid further harm to the people of the UM Church, to the church universal, and to those with whom we strive to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

This week, these leaders released a draft of Basic Provisions of an Indianapolis Plan. Inviting us to move away from the vitriol and caustic atmosphere that has marked conversation in the UM Church, this group of leaders asks us to 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. The solution is not found in further rounds of power politics, but in our finding a way to create space for God to do new things in our fractured body.

The plan envisions the UM Church birthing two or three new churches or expressions that would operate independently of each other but share a common Methodist heritage. These new expressions would be freed to present their respective witnesses for Christ unhindered by the conflict of the past 50 years.

The group is committed to using the plan’s basic provisions to craft legislation for the 2020 General Conference. It intends to file the legislation by the September 18 deadline for submitting petitions.

The Indianapolis Plan’s goal is to eliminate rhetoric of winners and losers, or of one group staying in the UM Church and another leaving. While contemplating a parting through the birthing of new expressions, the plan does not call for the dissolution of the UM Church. It also does not require constitutional changes for its implementation.

The plan proposes the UM Church birth at least two new expressions that would be separate from one another – a traditionalist one committed to the UM Church’s current statements regarding its sexual ethics, teachings on marriage, and ordination standards, and a centrist (and progressive) one committed to making substantial changes in those statements. Additional expressions, perhaps a progressive one, could be birthed at the same time. Each expression would continue to be global in nature, and would develop their own doctrines, ethical standards, polities, and administrative and financial bodies. Persons from across the UM Church agree the current conflict is but a presenting issue of much deeper conflicts. Each expression would resolve those deeper conflicts according to its respective understanding of and vision for its expression.

In an effort to minimize the necessity of contentious votes being taken in local congregations, the plan would have annual conferences make initial decisions about affiliations with the new expressions. A local church would only vote if it disagreed with the decision made by its annual conference.

Importantly, a local church’s property and assets would be unaffected by its decision to align with one of the expressions. A local church’s continuing liability for pension payments would transfer into the new expression with which the church aligns. Thus, there would be minimal cost associated with a local church aligning with a particular expression.

Significantly, annual conferences and local churches could begin functioning on an interim basis in the new expressions as early as August 1, 2020, providing immediate relief from the present conflict.

Provisions are also made for the continued operation of the UM Church’s boards and agencies without requiring the new expressions to fund or use their services. Each of the new expressions would continue funding for Central Conference ministries in Africa, Europe and Eurasia, and the Philippines through 2024. This transitional period would allow the new churches a period of transition and stabilization and continued partnerships in these regions.

The Rev. Kent Millard. Photo courtesy of United Theological Seminary.

The 2020 General Conference would provide a process and principles for distributing general church assets of the UM Church once the new expressions were established. An arbitration board would determine the distribution of those assets.

The Indianapolis Plan is not a proposal from any specific group. Significant work is ongoing to ensure the plan’s basic provisions would be implemented generously and equitably among the new expressions.

The 2020 General Conference rapidly approaches, and surely no one wants a repeat of St. Louis, Missouri, in Minneapolis. Finding an outcome that resolves the conflict while honoring those who hold diametrically opposing positions is not easy. The Indianapolis Plan is one attempt to offer a hopeful option for the future.

The participants in the Indianapolis dialogue dare to believe God will provide a way for us to move into a hopeful future devoid of the internal focus and conflict which has dominated our life together.

Rev. Keith Boyette is the president of the Wesleyan Covenant Association and an elder in the Virginia Conference of The United Methodist Church. This commentary was distributed by the Wesleyan Covenant Association and is reposted by permission.

To read Sam Hodges report for United Methodist News Service on the Indianapolis Plan, click HERE.

Comments

  1. Because of the wider theological spectrum of people involved with putting the Indianapolis Plan together, I’m hopeful (and prayerful!) that it will get serious consideration at GC2020.

    I’m in Minnesota, and so when I saw that Judy Zabel was one of the persons who worked on this, it increased my hopes of the likelihood of progressives getting behind this plan. I don’t know Judy well, and we’re theological opposites (at least when it comes to same-sex marriage, gay ordination, etc.), but she’s reasonable and well respected, as are the others who contributed to this.

    Let’s pray that this can truly become a way forward for us all.

  2. Thank GOD!!! At least Brothers and Sisters are talking with each other in the Spirit of Christ!! May the Lord bless these efforts!!

  3. Larry Wiggins says

    I take issue with items 2, 9, and 11 of the list of 20 provisions. Why would the UMC continue through the progressive/centrist church when the traditional plan is in the majority? Why would conferences not making a decision become part of the Centrist/Progressive UMC when the the C/P UMC is the minority postition? And finally, is there a way for a church to leave with it’s property and finances intact with out remaining a UMC if we do not support this proposal. I for one do not want to be painted with a broad brush as a “United Methodist” when I do not and will not support the progressive/centrist
    positions and agenda, and believe they should not use the United Methodist name and logo which they have drug through the mud for decades. The call of the Southern Baptist denomination appears more appealing than this watered down progressive win monstrosity of a plan. This makes it seem again as if it is all about the “money” and preserving the jobs of clergy and bishops who do not have their memberships best interests at heart.

    • Paul Larrimore says

      Larry, I agree with you but have you considered that joining the SBC from where I am from, that means totally accepting a different Doctrine and Teaching ??

    • Larry Wiggins says

      I grew up and was baptized Southern Baptist, but I married a fine UM lady. Here in Georgia there is no internal turmoil over marriage and ordination in the Southern Baptist denomination.

  4. I have a question of how this would work for either a progressive/centrist church in a traditionalist Annual Conference or a traditionalist church within a progressive/centrist Annual Conference. How would that local church know which they are without taking a vote? In my experience most local churches have a blend of all three groups along with multiple shades of each within the congregation. And as a follow-up question, how would someone considering attending a future Methodist church know which way that church follows? Will we use different names to distinguish our affiliation?

  5. Ken Quattlebaum says

    I thought that we spent three years before the 2019 General Conference talking about this. Then the 2019 General Conference voted on The Way Forward.

    The vote reaffirmed the wording in the Book of Discipline. The vote provided consequences for those who defy the Book of Discipline. The vote provided an exit path for those who can’t abide with the Book of Discipline. That seems to be The Way Forward.

    Am I missing something?

    • Paul Larrimore says

      Ken, a committee found the VTE illegal due to 4 voters that didn’t have proper credentials to vote. Only 4. But that makes the entire ballet void. The Bishops have sent this to the JC to determine and stamp it as so making what happened in February 2019 as if it never happened. That’s why here we go again trying to make a plan passible at the GC 2020.

      • Ken Quattlebaum says

        Paul,
        I shall observe with great interest how the Judicial Council handles this issue. Will they rule before the deadline for submitting petitions to the 2020 General Conference?

  6. The traditionalists denomination: a continuation of the present UMC.

    A progressive denomination: a break with the present UMC and establishment of a new expression.

    A centrists/progressive denomination: see progressive denomination above.

  7. Jim Wolfgang says

    I am with Larry Wiggins about the use of “United Methodist” linked with a progressive/centrist “expression”. Frankly, if the denomination is to split without lasting hard feelings, no one gets to be called “United Methodist” to the exclusion of the other expressions. I would consider it shameful to link the denomination’s name to the rhetoric and tactics that the progressive’s/centrist’s have used, especially since the 2019 general conference; this should be non-negotiable. Each expression needs a new name for these are actually new denominations, hopefully able to work together for mutual benefit.

    • I agree with you Jim. These new plans, including the Indianapolis plan all seem to be rather murky when it comes to following the BOD, and ambiguous concerning supporting the agencies. I say we make a cleaner split, with a much more pared down supporting structure with strict rules on Bishops as championed by the WCA.

  8. w.f. meiklejohn says

    I read the statement: “The Indianapolis Group acknowledged the 2019 Special General Conference demonstrated that differences in the UM Church are irreconcilable, that no pathway exists to bridge those differences, and therefore, the group should work for a plan of separation” and am profoundly disappointed. You’ve given up! You refuse to try! It’s your way or the highway. You’ve decided to take your ball and go. Bon voyage.

  9. I am firmly behind this effort known as the Indianapolis Plan, as it is a step forward from trying to pick winners and losers. It is a win win proposition. I really don’t see the likelihood of annual conferences being defaulted into the Progressive/so-called Centrist wing, as I think any Traditionalist leaning annual conference will jump at the chance to vote to go Traditionalist and the reverse happening with the Progressive Conferences. This sounds like our best chance to move forward though the devil is in the details of the drafted legislation. Is the name and a logo worth fighting over in the grand scheme of things? I don’t think so if it means we can move past this impasse and start dwelling on our separate missions of worshiping God as we understand what he expects of us and bringing people to Christ. I say give it a chance.

    • Paul C Draper says

      There are many of us who have seen this struggle go on publicly and with under the table deals for near 50 years. When a dominion bent on overthrowing another realizes they do not have the higher ground, they plot to disillusion their foe. Either by deception or resigning themselves to a temporary cease-fire or pretend armistice. Not one moment in these past 40 some odd years have the bishops and leaders supporting LGBTQ ceased their agenda for domination. Politics are bad enough, but there are many who have bore the brunt of disagreeing with bishops in the past and have been disavowed from having any voice. We wonder, though we parted ‘in good standing’ if we will ever see so much as a penny of our retirement funds. But this is not what is most important. What is most important is that some group remain faithful to the Word of God.

  10. I have the same questions and concerns as Larry Wiggins and Harold. In the Indianapolis Plan, why would the “legal continuation” of the UMC be through the Central/Progressive churches, especially considering it is they who want to change the Book of Discipline (point #2)? Also, why is Central/Progressive expressions the “default” position of Annual Conferences in the US (point #9)? What if the bishop of an annual conference, such as I am in, has already declared non-compliance with the decision in St Louis without allowing any real input/voting from individual churches and members? Who will guarantee our voices be heard in such a case?

    • Diane,

      I would think that an elected lay or clergy delegate within an Annual Conference could bring a petition/resolution asking for a vote of the conference on which way they want to affiliate.

  11. Gary Bebop says

    The Indianapolis Plan appears to be able to squeeze through the narrow keyhole of assets and liabilities. Local churches may have their fights about affiliation, but they have a reasonable path (and a liberating one) for the future. No local need waste its treasure to escape a burdensome ideological yoke.

  12. This is a great plan for progressive believers in progressive annual conferences and for traditional believers in traditional annual conferences. It will be abandonment for everyone else. I agree that this plan will please the institutional leaders and clergy by never leaving them without a job.

    Just to be clear- in annual.conferences outside of the US south, this plan will make it very hard for traditional believers to call for a vote in their local church to go against their annual conference. They will be labeled as bigots, homophobes, and trouble makers- all because they just want to vote. And most of these churches will not vote in order to avoid conflict.

    I still think that the default for not voting should be to the traitional expression. Why should the people who want to stay with the apostolic faith be the ones having to push for a vote?

    I think this plan looks great in theory- but it will be very bloody at the local church level. But it may prove to be a boon to neighboring Catholic, Baptist, and non denominational churches.

    • I agree with you. This plan is going to be a disaster in 2020. Wait and see. Those of us stuck in Progressive ACs will be ridiculed and called every name, as we already are, if we don’t go along with the Progressives. I am a member of a small conservative church in MD and my pastor is trying his best to fly under the radar with our extremely liberal bishop. This will leave it to our laity to stand up and lead the way in being the voice of reason in GC 2020.

  13. It appears to me that the Indianapolis Plan is a disguised plan as a substitute for the failed One Church Plan. The Plan as outlined here appears to have a lot of fluff and no substance to back up effective implementation that would occur if it were passed. The Leaders of the Plan, do not have any indication to me besides their titles; as to their background for preparing this Plan, as to competence in finance, administration, career aptitudes, has one Laity of Leadership,and how does this group effectively represent Traditionalist and Progressives. Also will your Plan have time before GC2020 for the Judicial Council give you a Preliminary audit as to being Constitutional or not for delegates to make a reasonable representative valid vote on it?

  14. This is a major helpful advance. Remember, our denomination has a wicked problem, that is not mostly about sex. US decline will continue no matter what we say about gay marriage if the other larger issues also are not addressed. That said, now is the time for a “satisficing” approach, a term coined by Nobel economist Charles Simon. The liberals have made clear they will not conform to church teaching on issues of trans-gay-drag-lesbian-bisexual expressions of our fallen humanity (and heterosexual-types lead the list in acting out, ‘lest any should boast’). This is an approach that may well be ‘good enough’ to enable a sufficiently gracious parting that witnesses to a secular world that expects nothing but conflict from us; it brings freedom to institute the many profound changes not related to sex that any vibrant Wesleyan body will need in a re-birthed Methodism. Work the plan…the alternative from left and right is to ‘destroy the village to save it,’ crazy policy 50 years ago in another life and equally crazy now.

  15. If this plan ensures the local churches have a choice, regardless of district or annual conference influence, it is a good path to pursue. Agree with others that the name UMC should be retired. We are no longer united, so time to move on.

    • I also think the “UMC” name should be retired, mostly because it is a tarnished “brand”.

      But remember, the “United” in our name comes from the “Evangelical UNITED Brethren” Church who joined with the “Methodist” Church in 1968 – so it’s not really about us being “united” in our theology, mission, polity, etc., but a reminder of our heritage in two previous denominations.

  16. Some pastors and DS’ may be surprised when congregations vote and they find themselves without willing followers, or far fewer than they believed they had.

    • Would the ultimate finally be reached with such a plan —- the ultimate being a congregation-by-congregation vote across the global denomination? To be transparent, honest, and truthful — could it be avoided? Perhaps General Conference would have to mandate that each local church vote by majority.

      But, the red flags immediately start waving. It looks like our civil political model, certainly in America, and the accompanying secular dialogue could easily dominate such a debate and vote in the West since secular politics has already taken a front row seat here, even a dominating position in a number of places.

      How could each and every member across the United Methodist Church be presented with the Bible (specific Scriptural references) as the only source of information — minus any secular/political interference — prior to casting his/her vote? Each contingent — traditionalist, progressive, and centrists, should be mandated to present a brief that is Biblically specific that supports its proposed denomination for each person to read and discern prior to voting.

      Of course the traditionalists denomination is already presented — our current, on paper, UMC. But, traditionalists would be compelled to go into the archives, dust off, and present the church anew to those who do not know or those who know but need a refresher. As for the progressives and centrists (difference?), they would have to present a Biblical case of refuting our present church, certainly its position on sexual ethics, marriage, and ordination standards

      People would certainly need to be presented the Bible, not politics, before they vote. For far to long, the Bible has been too often left in the bookcase in this conflict. Let us go to the Bible and make our decision!

  17. Initially I had hopes for the Indianapolis Plan for the UMC but, after thinking about it, I don’t agree with any conference having to vote to stay Traditional when, in fact, it is. I feel it puts the Traditional group in the awkward position as rebels against the UMC.

  18. Gary Bebop says

    Let’s not forget that the question before the church is whether (or not) to remain faithful to the historic biblical message about creation, marriage, and morality. No amount of fussing about plans erases this question. This question is an indelible stain on our conscience, and we would be wise to pay attention.

    • Amen, That is the very essence of this conflict, and liberals are working 24/7 to either suppress that or eliminate it entirely from the debate. They are using all tactics available to them to discredit traditional church teachings and steer people away from the Bible. It looks like they will stop at nothing.

      However, each and every Methodist should be strongly challenged to turn from these secular political tactics and come face-to-face with the Bible and throughly study it with relation to creation, marriage, and sexual morality in order discover what he/she, not someone else, believes is said there in order to make a Bible based decision.

      Traditionalists must seize this moment and aggressively defend the present United Methodist Church and the BIBLE that it stands on using targeted, specific SCRIPTURE between now and General Conference 2020. Yes, it’s time to start quoting Scripture loudly and clearly. Traditionalists must stop being intimidated, stop being manipulated, stop being badgered, stop being timid, and stop being silenced. Dispense with falling prey to the political correctness game, the secular political game, and the bullying game and boldly proclaim the Word of God every day in every way available from now until General Conference while challenging every Methodist to which church he/she wants to be affiliated with —- the historic Bible/Wesleyan Methodist church or a new Bible questioning/non-Wesleyan Methodist church. Furthermore, it is way past time that progressives be challenged at every opportunity to cite specific Scripture, not secular political talk, that supports their position.

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