Indianapolis Plan Values Amicable Separation (Part I)

Photo by Nick Youngson. Alpha Stock Images.

By Tom Lambrecht –

The conversation group working on the Indianapolis Plan has come to agreement and submitted the final version of a plan for an amicable separation in The United Methodist Church. As the document states, “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.” Readers can find the final version of the plan here.

This plan (of which I am one of the authors) envisions the UM Church giving birth to new denominations of United Methodism.

  • A Traditionalist UM Church would maintain the current stance of the Discipline regarding same-sex marriage and the ordination of LGBT persons.
  • A Centrist UM Church would remove all the restrictions related to same-sex marriage and LGBT ordination, allowing individual annual conferences and local churches to make those decisions (essentially a “One Church Plan” denomination).
  • A Progressive UM Church that celebrates and mandates same-sex marriage and LGBT ordination in all its churches could form immediately, and/or progressives could find a home in the Centrist UM Church.
  • Other denominations could be formed by any annual conference or group of 50 congregations.

These new denominations would be separate from one another, with different Books of Discipline, separate finances, and different theological perspectives. However, all would share a common Wesleyan, United Methodist heritage and doctrine. All could use the name “United Methodist” with a modifier to distinguish it from the other denominations. All could use a version of the cross and flame logo modified to fit their particular denomination. Future blogs will talk more about the nuts and bolts of this plan and how it might work.

What are the unique values and advantages of the Indianapolis Plan?

It is the only plan made public up to this point that was crafted by persons representing diverse theological perspectives. The group contained five traditionalists, five centrists, and two progressives. (Attempts were made to enlist more progressives, but those approached were unable or unwilling to participate. However, progressive groups were consulted as the plan developed.) As such, this plan seeks to take into account the values and interests of all three groups. It represents a compromise among the three for the sake of ending the fighting and helping the church move into a positive and fruitful future.

It is the only plan that seeks division/separation rather than expulsion. By now, the leaders of all three groups — traditionalists, centrists, and progressives — have publicly stated that separation of some kind is the only way to move forward in a positive direction. Most other plans, however, envision a forced departure of one group or another from the church. The UMC Next Plan would essentially force traditionalists to leave the UM Church by changing the church’s definition of marriage and allowing LGBT ordination. Continuing to perfect the Traditional Plan by increasing accountability and closing loopholes would essentially force progressives to leave the UM Church or be subject to complaints and disciplinary procedures.

Only the Indianapolis Plan treats all perspectives equally, forcing no one to “leave” the church, but at the same time creating new denominations and allowing anyone to choose which new denomination to be part of. Nowhere in the plan is this more clearly seen than in the ability of central conferences, annual conferences, and local churches to make the decision on which denomination to align with by majority vote, rather than a super-majority (2/3) vote. If one group is “leaving,” a super-majority vote would make sense. But if all are choosing between equal alternatives, then a majority vote is more appropriate. Under the Indianapolis Plan, there are no winners or losers, people “leaving” and people “staying.” The plan attempts to treat all parties equally.

The Indianapolis Plan does not dissolve The United Methodist Church, but provides for its legal continuation through the Centrist UM Church. This is necessary in order to avoid constitutional amendments, which would require a 2/3 vote of General Conference and a 2/3 vote of all the annual conference members. This plan can be passed by a majority at General Conference and implemented immediately, rather than having to wait up to two years for the ratification vote. Legal continuation of the UM Church is also necessary because of legal issues that may need to be cared for in the process of separation that we may not even be aware of at this point.

But the Centrist UM Church will not simply be a continuation of The United Methodist Church as it currently exists. It will “do business as” the United Methodist name with a modifier. It will change its 48-year moral teachings and requirements around LGBT persons. It will consider making the United States its own central conference, able to adapt the Discipline differently in the U.S. than in other countries. It will undoubtedly change its structure to address the loss of perhaps one-third of its U.S. membership. Even the UMC Next Plan (from the centrists and progressives) envisions the creation of a “Commission on the 21st Century Church” that would “prepare a comprehensive structure and governance plan” to be enacted by a future General Conference. The Centrist UM Church will be in this sense a new denomination.

The Indianapolis Plan seeks to minimize the need for local congregations to vote as much as possible. Taking ideas from the Commission on a Way Forward proposals, this plan envisions central conferences and annual conferences voting on which denomination to align with. Only those local churches disagreeing with their annual conference alignment would need to vote. Because the General Conference cannot mandate that central conferences and annual conferences vote, the plan provides that U.S. annual conferences that do not vote would automatically become part of the Centrist UM Church. Central conferences and annual conferences outside the U.S. that do not vote would automatically become part of the Traditionalist UM Church. These defaults were determined based on our understanding of where most annual conferences would probably end up.

At the same time, it will be easy to trigger a vote in an annual conference. If the annual conference does not announce its intention to vote, any member can make a motion during the session of annual conference that it does take a vote. If the motion passes, the conference would have to take a vote. In addition, the plan allows the annual conference itself to call a special session of the annual conference if needed in order to take such a vote on alignment.

If the goal is to gain support across the theological spectrum for a fair and equitable plan that allows the different parts of the church to move easily into new denominations that can operate independently based on different theological perspectives, the Indianapolis Plan is best suited to accomplish that goal. Future blog posts will continue to explore the values and provisions of the Indianapolis Plan.

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

 

Comments

  1. This is by far the best plan I have seen out there, but I doubt it has a chance to happen, unless Thomas has been able to round up the support of the Africans. The mainstream usa people still are insisting on winning and rewriting to BOD to suit them. This plan would but unless all the US delegates get behind it, it will not happen. The Progressives want out, which this plan would allow. The Africans are insisting on not giving up on the UMC and want to maintain control. Currently they are insulated from all the controversy in this country, which is where the problem actually is. Sometime in the next few GC’s they will have total control of the denomination and can make it into their own image. My guess is they are willing to wait patiently for that day and I really don’t blame them. They sided with the traditionalists for GC2019 and won. From their perspective the issue is settled and why should they give up the denomination that they love and have worked so hard to preserve. They go to local meetings that are peaceful and generally everyone agrees, while we go to meetings and can’t express our feelings, to prevent an argument, or we go to meetings where we feel we are in a religion that we don’t even want to be a part of. That goes for people of both sides. I have no idea what the solution is, and have dim hopes for a peaceful resolution for next year. A vote for individual disaffiliation would be very painful to my congregation, unless the denomination is actually splitting and we are forced to pick a new denomination. A local Lutheran congregation is going through this pain now.

  2. Aimee Mitchell says

    I solved the problem with my local United Methodist church being assigned a super liberal pastor who believes that Jesus was a racist and a misogynist by attending a Presbyterian church that can hire/fire their own pastor and whose pastor actually believes in the Bible. The Methodists need to get their act in gear while there are still conservative and middle of the road Methodists left. I have found Presbyterians to be similar enough to Methodists that I am staring to not care if the UMC makes it or not. Sad, but true.

  3. To Tom and colleagues of this plan:

    https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+5%3A9&version=NIV

    A centrist denomination sounds like an oxymoron. Is it possible to sincerely believe two diametrically opposites at the same time? Or, are the centrists just progressives in disguise?

    Are we already a split church, progressive and traditionalist, and making that official in the least harmful way should be our prayer?.

  4. The Indianapolis Plan is like a group of people who don’t like to follow sustaining administrative rules of committing themselves to unity. You get to go to the cafeteria and pick the rules you will follow. If you can get 50 churches to settle on the same rules, then you can be a separate unit under the umbrella of being a Methodist in name. This is like some Insurance Companies with a big umbrella that has smaller Insurance Companies to cover different categories. Same as a Prime Contractor with many Subcontractors to complete a project. Regardless the Organization name it requires a Manager to co-ordinate the functioning of all the smaller groups. Logistics for assembling this kind of organization seems doubtful for the short time to get it together for GC2020.

  5. This plan is no good and gives too much power to AC. I hope all plans fail and we carry on. There is no reason to give up now. I never seen winners try to become losers so quickly

  6. Scott’s comment brought something to mind that has been niggling at me for a while: Are traditionalists in too big a rush to bolt?

    I also have very little hope for any sort of peaceful resolution in 2020. As usual nobody is on the same page about anything. At best, it feels like the attempt to resolve this monumental problem at GC2020 is nothing more than throwing a handful of different colored Jell-O at a wall and seeing what sticks. My overall sense is that GC2020 is a black hole of unpredictability.

    Are traditionalists dead set on having this resolved next year? Or are you prepared to wait and see exactly what GC2020 produces? Patience might prove the better answer in the long run, especially for local churches.

  7. Five traditionalists, five centrists, two progressives. And from what I have seen a centrist is simply a progressive who is willing to tolerate traditionalists for now. Of the 12 people in this group how many were from Africa? If the answer is zero then this is simply Americans dictating to the Africans how things are going to go. Not sure that will go over too well.

  8. In deference to Tom, I like what is being proposed. He’s both a skillful negotiator and an artful communicator. Tom has the savvy of crystal clear thinking. In a time of muddle-headed and fearful thinking, panic and resignation, Tom remains resolute, cheerful, transparent, and boldly Methodist in his thinking. Others may be boastful and cunning, mean-spirited and self-promoting, reckless, ruthless, even ridiculous, but not Tom. He’s going to tell the truth, not throw shade, and he’s going to be fair at the bargaining table. Traditionalists would be wise to recognize a leader raised up expressly for what lies ahead at GC2020.

    • I’d like to echo these sentiments, and add that Tom and other traditionalists have traveled to Africa and have had many conversations with them. Hopefully that trust can help them move forward and support the Indianapolis Plan…there are still several months to have conversations and try to build a coalition at GC2020.

      The African leadership has said they want to continue as the United Methodist Church. As part of the future Traditional UMC (or whatever we call ourselves), perhaps the African church could continue to use that name (because it has positive “public relations” value for them). There are ways to work things out for the future of a new “methodist” movement.

  9. Idealist who is Hopeless says

    “It is the only plan that seeks division/separation rather than expulsion…Only the Indianapolis Plan treats all perspectives equally, forcing no one to “leave” the church, but at the same time creating new denominations and allowing anyone to choose which new denomination to be part of.”

    It is a well-written hope, but I fear it is not reality. A major problem the denomination has suffered under for a long time is that one group of people in the church dominated the hierarchy and refused to let others have a say or a stake in what the denomination did.

    My concern is that ‘division’ will be quickly become just another word for ‘expulsion’ when the agreement is fleshed out and put into practice. Maybe that doesn’t matter, since ‘His grace is always sufficient for our needs’, but it seems that the Traditionalists are going to be on the losing end when this is all said and done.

    The Centrist and Progressive divisions envisioned in this plan will not have a very difficult time staying together as one body, while ridding themselves of the Traditionalists who were useful when they gave and stayed quiet and out of the way.

    No matter what happens the General Conference will be interesting next year. Good luck with this plan.

  10. Random thoughts: while I think this plan is the best hope forward for Traditionalists, a tactical error was made by not having representation from the Central Conferences, especially from Africa, so as to have a chance for buy-in when it comes time to vote. Lesson learned. Those who suggest patience if nothing positive comes from GC 2020 are basically telling American Traditionalists to accept perpetual marginalization within the Denomination in the U.S. and forced support for a bloated liberal-minded bureaucracy that continually expresses its disdain for Traditional-minded belief and those who support that belief. No thank you. Please explain why I should remain faithful to a man-made institution, the UMC, when its leaders refuse to be faithful to their oaths to uphold our BOD and to Scripture as understood by 2000 years of believers. No thank you. As I have said many times, faithfulness to the Triune God and righteous living has to be more pleasing to God than faithfulness to a human denomination. Finally, I have become weary of Traditionalists who view our impasse as a fight to be won or lost. There is no “winning.” There can be a “losing” if laity continue to leave because of disgust over the institutional inability of the UMC to heal itself. I believe the Indianapolis Plan offers the best hope forward, as all will have to give up something to remain viable and true to their beliefs. I pray God inspires Rev. Tom and the folks at WCA as he did Moses to lead His people out of the mess in which we find ourselves due to years of misguided leadership.

  11. If nothing else is passed next year I hope at least a resolution allowing AC’s to leave the UMC and churches that dissent with that decision can switch to another AC will be passed. Do it by majority vote. This will at least prevent a lot of money from being wasted on lawsuits. This alone may let the issue sort itself out. I have seen comments that an AC could not survive as a stand alone denomination and I have to ask why. Other than providing pastors that are often a poor fit for a church and coordinating clergy health care and pensions how do they actually benefit the individual churches? There are all kinds of associations that provide aide in finding pastors and benefit plans. I’m sure an individual AC or an association of them could do the same. This process has been US clergy driven which is the fatal flaw. Nobody worked with the Africans and nobody is talking to the laity. Read their comments and you will realize how unhappy they are. Clergy please note the people that pay our salaries do not have student loans to pay or pension contributions to the church they have to pay. Nor are they bound individually to pay apportionments to leave the church. They can and are voting with their feet. They have a lot of churches to choose from and few feel a sense of denominational loyalty. This is exaggerated in the UMC as we don’t have a coherent single theology that we teach. Our theology seems to change with every pastor. Not good for “brand loyalty”! We ignore the laity at our peril!!

  12. If the traditionalist plan had not passed we would be discussing a separation. The traditionalist plan passed and we are discussing a separation. What was the point of even voting on the plan? Did Tom Lambrecht simply waste all that effort drafting the petitions for GC 19? I understood the purpose to be an effort to right the UMC and put us all on a true path. I am feeling extremely disappointed with this Indianapolis plan. If this is what we were trying to do all along then why should I remain in The UMC? I am disgusted with this. Liberalism has infected our schools, our public institutions and our politics. I had some hope that maybe my denomination could be saved. Doesn’t look like it. We need to stand and fight not run away.

    • Kevin,

      As I noted in another article post here, the passing of the Traditional Plan at GC2019 forced the Progressives hand: they have shown their true colors, and it is THEY, NOT Traditionalists, who have thrown the denomination into crisis; THEY are the ones who are breaking the Discipline (and breaking scripture).

      In such a large denomination, there’s no one person – or even group (other than GC – and people are ignoring GC’s clear decisions) – that can control, predict or drive the decision about what to do about our crisis. It has to be worked out step by step. 2019 happened; the Traditional Plan passed. Clearly, Progressives (and many Centrists) want to ignore the will of General Conference. So it is now perfectly clear that we are at an impasse. There is no middle ground, there is no way to find unity in one church body.

      I hope, like many, that a final decision to separate can be made at 2020. I’ve served in the UMC for 25 of my 31 years of ministry (so far); like most of us I’m weary of the battle and ready to move on. We need to pray that we can find a way to do that, or we will continue to see losses and more infighting – none of which helps us reach people for Christ.

      • It would seem that a good disaffiliation plan needs to be passed FIRST and FOREMOST in 2020, with ALL signing on, BEFORE any votes are taken on an amiable separation plan, a forced separation plan, or a stand-on-the-2019-decision plan since an actually workable disaffiliation plan seems to be the only thing at present that most seem to be recognizing as a realistic and needed path.

        https://www.umnews.org/en/news/9-new-england-churches-consider-disaffiliation

      • What was the original purpose of the traditionalist plan? If it was merely to force the hand of the progressives then a lot of work was done for nothing. We all know where the progressives stand. If it was to right the course of The UMC which was my understanding then we should not pursue a walk away path. On 1 January traditionalists should start writing charges against all those pastors who are in violation and keep the pressure on until the progressives cry “uncle” and the Western Jurisdiction leads the way out for progressive churches. Then we negotiate separation not before. To negotiate a separation now is to give up negotiating leverage and in the process lose the support of traditionalists like me who still are willing to fight for The UMC. So what is it going to be? What is the end state that Tom Lambrecht is working towards?

  13. I just don’t understand how two, three or more churches with distinctly different views on the values of Christianity can be “United”. The truth is we will not be united and this will only complicate the issues. Please reconsider your thoughts on the renaming and move on.

    • It’s unfortunate that the word “United” in our name is representative of the Evangelical UNITED Brethren Church that merged with the Methodist (Episcopal?) Church in 1968. I think the reason the Indianapolis Plan keeps it in the name is because of this historical reality.

      I personally think that if we move on (forming new denominations), it’s time for a new denominational name – like the Baptist group did that became “Converge” a few years ago.

  14. I have been Methodist/UM all my life, and would hate to see United Methodism end, but what are we trying to save? Nothing but an organization with lots of valuable real estate, or are we seeking to save a powerful representative of the Kingdom of God? The issues that divide us are already settled in other denominations. The progressives could join most any of the other “seven sister” denominations and have all the freedom they want to promote any unbiblical view they want without serious consequences. The evangelicals, if they dont want one of the baptistic, or pentecostal, or. charismatic independent churches (hardly any Wesleyan), could be right at home with the Free Methodists, the Wesleyans, the Nazarenes, and others—all of which came from the existing Methodist church of their day, and all of which adhere to historic Methodist doctrine with perhaps some variations. Does the United Methodist Methodist Church reveal, better than any other group, the Kingdom of God? Hardly. Can we? absolutely—if God is the One who makes it happen by changing us!

  15. The Adam Hamilton cavalcade appears to be taking a “stand your ground” stance and the Queer community hardening its claims on the future of the church. But will sober-minded Progressives accept a future stripped of the resources Traditionalists contribute? And will Traditionalists consent to bear the scorn and slanders of victorious Progressives in such a captive church?

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