Considering Bard-Jones

COMMENTARY By Thomas Lambrecht –

Bishops Scott Jones and David Bard are to be commended for taking the plunge into the difficult work of both envisioning an alternative future and then describing how the church might move into that future. Many of the ideas that are currently floating around the church are operating at the 30,000-foot level. We need to look at plans that get down into the practical details of how this might actually work for the church.

On the plus side, Bard-Jones provides a fair amount of space between the Traditional, Open, and Progressive groups, envisioning them as separate denominations. This approach recognizes the reality that most United Methodists have come to understand we can no longer coexist in one denomination.

Significantly, both the Open and Progressive expressions would be based on the Simple Plan, removing all restrictions on same-sex marriage and ordination, without any corresponding conscience protections for “traditional compatibilists.” This, too, is a recognition of the current reality that even those in the “centrist” camp want to move into a position of affirming same-sex relationships, to which ultimately everyone would need to agree.

At the same time, Bard-Jones preserves some amount of connection between the expressions through several shared agencies governed by shared boards elected proportionately from the various expressions. The plan also mandates regular meetings between leaders of the expressions for coordination and cooperation. One wonders if this might be too much connection for some.

Bard-Jones also envisions that divisible assets would be distributed among the expressions in proportion to the lay membership of each new denomination.

The plan stipulates that each new expression would begin with the current Book of Discipline with modifications unique to each stance on ministry with LGBTQ persons. But why shackle the new expressions with having to start from the current Discipline? Why not allow each one to start from scratch in constructing a new Discipline to govern a new denomination?

Perhaps the biggest obstacle for Bard-Jones is the idea that, by 2025, The United Methodist Church would have no members. In other words, it is expected that all current United Methodists would move into one of the new denominations. (Central conferences would also have the option of becoming an autonomous stand-alone denomination.) However, in the interest of avoiding having to deal with constitutional amendments, the plan does not force annual conferences to vote to join one of the new denominations. What would happen if some annual conferences decided not to decide? What if they refused to vote to leave The United Methodist Church for one of the new expressions? That could create a mess, with some proclaiming themselves the inheritors of the UM Church and trying to continue on with the current structure, while others leave and form new denominations.

The idea of ending The United Methodist Church in favor of several new denominations acting separately in line with their differing theological perspectives is laudable. It is questionable whether many centrists would support this approach, since it comes close to dissolving The United Methodist Church. And it is doubtful that such an approach can be accomplished without recourse to a constitutional amendment process.

While the Bard-Jones Plan takes some steps in a good direction, there are some unresolved issues that would need to be worked out. Taking the best ideas from several different approaches might lead to a hopeful future for the UM Church. This is an issue the 2020 General Conference delegates will need to sort out..”

Thomas Lambrecht is a United Methodist clergyperson and the vice president of Good News.    


  1. Jim Wolfgang says

    The best part of this plan is it fairly requires each of the dividing “expressions” to find a new name for what they really are: new denominations. No one, especially the progressive/centrists should inherit the “United Methodist” name, that is simply fair. Why the progressive/centrists would have the name when they have wrecked the denomination and have never been the majority is a major irritant concerning the “Indianapolis Plan”. If they are given the U.M. name for their denomination are they actually then a new denomination? No, they are simply allowed to take it over. What have the traditional minded United Methodists been striving to uphold all these years since 1972? The vote at the 2019 Special General Conference meant nothing and we should have enacted the “One Church Plan” if the Indianapolis Plan is supported: they are virtually the same in principle, no wonder the “Centrists” like it. The once great United Methodist Church is heading to shipwreck due to the covenant breaking progressive/centrists, and since we are dissolving the denomination why does it matter if something is constitutional, we are “blowing up” the Discipline, it goes down with the ship. The Bard/Jones plan may not be perfect, but it is fair.

  2. CENTRISTS? The implication seems to be that they hold the key. In that they agree with same-sex marriage in our denomination and the ordination of self-avowed practicing homosexuals (plus ..BTQ+ sexual practices) in our denomination, then why are they called centrists or call themselves centrists? What is a CENTRISTS in this schism?

    The BIBLE. Why has the Bible been taken out of the conversation and replaced with a mostly secular approach looking like usual and customary secular politics? How did the progressives pull that one off?

    I’m sure there are those who would say, “where have you been? A Biblical approach for a solution to this schism was abandoned long ago. This is now a secular fight — never mind the Bible, Methodist doctrine, Wesleyan theology, and 2000 years of universal Christianity”.

  3. David F Miller says

    An interesting article. However I have two concerns.
    First, why did we allow ourselves to be called Traditionalists. This term carries images of people resistant to change, who insist on doing things the same way without reason. I prefer the term Orthodox or Biblical. Why do we surrender the language fight.
    Second, the image of mostly white clergy from the United States meeting to determine the future structure of the United Methodist Church in isolation from our African, Asian and Latin American brothers and sisters seems to be racist. A very bad image from long ago when whites lorded it over minorities. Any plan must include the leaders of the international Church from the beginning.
    I think that just as in divorces or corporate takeovers or dissolutions, the UMC should be dissolved and joint property sold with the proceeds being divided amongst the individual congregations on a per capita basis. Pension plans can be frozen at their present levels to be collected at age 65. Clergy and administrators would negotiate for future compensation from the new denomination they join. The UMC is a corporation and it should be dealt with as such.

  4. The traditionist want to keep the church as it is so why not let those who want to change the church be the ones to leave and form their own denomination? There is no reason for those who don’t want change to leave.

  5. A Retired U.M. Pastor says

    As a member of the older generation and a U.M. retired pastor, and an Orthodox Christian Believer, one would think that I might not be for changing the U.M.C. But during my lifetime I have been watching the decline of EVERY mainline denomination, including the U.M.C. It should be very apparent that in 20 years there could only remain one small conglomerate of merged-together denominations that in the most gracious of terms would be called The United Protestant Church in America. Anyone who is half-awake must admit to this, and I do not believe that anyone who heeds the Gospel Call of our Lord Jesus Christ would desire this as a legacy for our future generations. It is obvious that something is wrong, very wrong, and that change is definitely needed. What the local congregation needs to understand is that unless something DOES change, their local church is not going to survive. We are no different as denominations than the major corporations who have had to re-structure – or go bankrupt. So, if we even pretend to think that we can maintain an Orthodox/Conservative/Biblical/Wesleyan/Traditional/Evangelical local congregation while our management at all levels will not cease to govern by increasingly liberalized standards, we are not only kidding ourselves, we are paving the highways for the bulldozers that will come to turn our sanctuaries into brew-pub restaurants or museums. Wake up, oh sleeper, for you must change something today, or you will sooner than you think have nothing to change. Your house is not sitting on the rock at present; it is being built upon sand, and the wind and rain are already beating down upon it. Wake up!

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