Indianapolis Plan Values Amicable Separation (Part II)

The 2019 General Conference of The United Methodist Church. Photo by Kathleen Barry, UMNS.

By Thomas Lambrecht –

As noted last week, 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. You can read the first part of my analysis 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, a Centrist UM Church, and possibly other denominations, including a Progressive UM Church.

This blog continues to talk about the unique values and advantages of the Indianapolis Plan.

All denominations formed under the Indianapolis Plan could use (but are not required to use) the “United Methodist” name with a modifier to distinguish one denomination from another (e.g., Liberationist United Methodist Church, United Methodist Church of the Philippines). The use of the name is not important for many United Methodists in the U.S. However, it is an extremely important issue for some in the central conferences outside the U.S. In Africa, the United Methodist name is a well-established and trusted brand that opens doors and protects the church from capricious governmental actions that might threaten the property or ministries of the church there. They also told us how difficult, cumbersome, and expensive the process is to change a corporate name. We heard from many that they could not support a plan that would require them to change the name of the denomination they are part of. The same is true of the cross and flame logo, which is widely used in Africa and the Philippines to demarcate the United Methodist Church brand. Denominations could continue to use (but are not required to use) the logo with modifications to distinguish one denomination from another.

The Indianapolis Plan provides a new, less costly way to handle pension liabilities. Rather than require an up-front payment of pension liabilities (as in the current local church exit provision), this plan allows Wespath to reallocate those liabilities to the new denominations based on which annual conferences, local churches, and clergy choose to align with each denomination. We engaged in extensive conversation with legal experts at Wespath about how to handle pensions. They were eager to cooperate (without implying any endorsement of our plan) and provided significant legal language for the Indianapolis Plan legislation that they believe addresses the concerns over pensions. Since the money for unfunded pension liabilities may never be needed, it makes more sense to transfer the liability, rather than requiring churches and annual conferences to pay the liability up front. Local churches that withdraw to become independent would still be required to pay for unfunded pension liabilities before withdrawing.

The Indianapolis Plan envisions a General Conference-approved equitable plan for allocating general church assets among the resulting new denominations. While the UMC Next Plan proposes the gift of some financial resources to a new Traditionalist UM Church, the Indianapolis Plan envisions an equitable division of general church assets among all denominations formed in this process. Such a division of assets would not require any boards or agencies to be dissolved or any property to be sold. Rather, liquid assets and investment properties could be divided proportionally based on membership. Where there are donor restrictions on assets, those restrictions would be maintained. While the Indianapolis conversation group did not have time to agree upon a formula for allocating assets, different groups have submitted proposals for how such an allocation might be done. The General Conference and its legislative committee will determine how the process would work. The group agreed that disputes would be settled by appeal to an arbitration board, making any resort to civil courts or lawsuits unnecessary.

The Indianapolis Plan offers a short timeline, allowing expeditious movement into the new denominations for those who are ready, while leaving the door open for alignment decisions for the next eight years. The plan envisions annual conferences making alignment decisions before the end of 2020, with local churches that disagree making their decisions by mid-year 2021. General Conferences forming the new denominations would take place in fall 2021. The new denominations would be fully functional under their new governing documents on January 1, 2022. This timeline allows the new denominations to form and get on with ministry, rather than being mired in the decision-making process. At the same time, annual conferences or local churches (more likely) could change their alignment through the end of 2028. This allows those who are not ready to make a decision right away to live into the possibilities and make a decision later. However, no annual conference or local church could take a vote to reconsider its alignment unless three or four years had passed since its previous vote on the matter.

The Plan creates an interim implementation for those ready to move immediately into a new denomination. Annual conferences and local churches that make a quick alignment decision could begin to live under their new denomination beginning August 1, 2020, on an interim basis. In addition, jurisdictions would be encouraged not to elect new bishops in 2020 but wait until 2021 or 2022 to do so, based on the annual conferences that remain in the Centrist UM Church. This would avoid having a surplus of bishops who do not have an annual conference in which to serve. Central conferences would likely not see any change in their annual conference alignments and could elect bishops as planned in 2020.

The interim implementation will allow immediate change to how churches and annual conferences function, in order to curtail further conflict. Traditionalists would immediately be free of the pressure to change their position on marriage and sexuality and could begin moving in a robustly proactive ministry direction. At the same time, centrists and progressives would immediately be free of complaints, trials, and disciplinary processes over same-sex weddings or the ordination or appointment of self-avowed practicing homosexuals.

Some have pictured amicable separation as a divorce. Our group has instead pictured this process as The United Methodist Church giving birth to new children. The UM Church as it has been will exist no more. But it will exist through the new denominations that inherit the characteristics of the parent denomination. Each of the “children” will be different from each other. But they will all be part of the United Methodist family and heritage.

The underlying motive for taking this path is to broaden and multiply the mission of the church. As different denominations, we will be able to reach more people with the good news of Jesus Christ, make more disciples, and see more ways in which the presence of God’s Spirit transforms the world. We will be able to focus our energies and resources on mission and ministry, rather than fighting, power, and control. Each new expression of the church will be able to reach people that the other denominations cannot reach.

As the plan states, “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.” May it be so.

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

Comments

  1. “May it be so.” Indeed.

    Since one of the big issues with the African UMC is maintaining the name (and Cross & Flame logo), I’m wondering if there is a way to negotiate at GC2020 for the Traditional UMC to simply maintain the “United Methodist Church” name and logo, since we will still be connected denominationally to the African UMC in the future?

    Here’s my logic/reasoning: The Traditional Plan passed GC2019 (with the help of the African/overseas UMC delegates). So perhaps this gives us some rationale (and clout?) for keeping the UMC name/logo. We are releasing a great deal (boards, agencies… seminaries?) to the Progressive/Centrist group when the new denomination will be formed – is that a good negotiating piece for us to simply keep the old name – and thereby bring the African delegates on board to vote for the Indianapolis Plan?

    Maybe I’m dreaming of pie-in-the-sky, but it seems to me that we still have the momentum (via votes and the 2019 vote) going into GC2020. I guess it would depend on how badly progressives want to keep using the name (along with getting so much of what they will take with them, in spite of not passing the One Church Plan at 2019).

  2. I agree that this plan is amicable at the annual conference level: it will protect all clergy of their incomes and pensions. It will not be at all amicable at the local church level- it will be chock full of division, resentment, resignations, and many church closures. Maybe it is unavoidable, but the clergy are the ones that want to change sexual sins and have this debate- not the laity- and they are the ones that are not members of the local church.

  3. Gary Bebop says

    Tom’s work has explanatory power. He sets forth a reasonable argument, hard to argue against its merits. It’s time for Traditionalists to acknowledge that in this life there will be great battles to be fought. This one is worthy of our repentance and our resolve. There is more at stake than we speak openly about.

  4. I have a few problems with this. The first one starts with this.
    “The General Conference and its legislative committee will determine how the process would work. The group agreed that disputes would be settled by appeal to an arbitration board, making any resort to civil courts or lawsuits unnecessary”
    Assuming GC can actually come up with a process is a big assumption. Given the rancor and gridlock we saw at last GC I have my doubts they can do this. And who will be staffing this arbitration board? Given the trust deficit within The UMC it is unlikely that this will work. Arbitration only works if all parties are acting in good faith. I have no confidence that will happen.

    The next problem is that the decision to depart is made at the conference level. In the conference in which I am a member the delegation is 50% clergy and 50% lay. The clergy are far more progressive than the laity and the progressives have been very effective at pushing their people into getting elected as delegates to GC. The result is a voting delegation that is at odds with the membership. We do not have representatives at GC who represent the views of the members. That is not how it works. Our delegates do not “campaign” to be delegates representing constituencies. A 75% annual conference vote represents 50% of the members. When the time comes, conferences may vote to go one way while a majority of the members want to go the other way. The result will be people simply walking out the door. When conferences go progressive you can bet that will be the day you hear checkbooks slamming shut all across the land. Money is the only vote progressives understand.
    And what happens to our feckless bishops? When a conference votes to go traditionalist over the objection of the progressive bishop how will that work? Dragging the same progressive bishops into a traditionalist conference will simply start the entire ugly process all over again. I suspect there are far more progressive bishops in this country than there are progressive conferences. How does the episcopal fund deal with that?
    The only way this will work is if each and every individual charge conference, pastor and bishop decides independently which path to declare. The majority of charge conferences should determine how an annual conference goes. Where there is a mismatch between the charge conference and the pastor the pastor must be reassigned to a church of similar persuasion. Same goes for bishops and annual conferences. It will not work otherwise.
    “Our group has instead pictured this process as The United Methodist Church giving birth to new children. The UM Church as it has been will exist no more. But it will exist through the new denominations that inherit the characteristics of the parent denomination. Each of the “children” will be different from each other. But they will all be part of the United Methodist family and heritage.”

    Your group needs to remove the rose colored lenses. This Indianapolis plan only looks good on paper at first glance. Digging into the details it seems to me to be a denomination killer.

    • Gary Bebop says

      No one can make a foolproof plan. We cannot control the levers of power or manipulate the mechanisms of local choice to achieve a perfect outcome. Plans must be undertaken with courage and prayer, but outcomes are in God’s hands. Proverbs 16:3 and 9.

    • I tend to agree- this plan lets the clergy quietly decide it all at the annual conference, and then local church members who decide to try to get their local church to go against their ac (and pastor) will be branded as bigots and naysayers.

      Lots of churches will shutter in this plan. But perhaps, from the ac perspective, downsizing is seen as the method that both protects their clergy and closes down lots of their small churches. The umc has been adopting the corporate mentality for decades; downsizing shouldn’t surprise anyone.

  5. Jim Wolfgang says

    I wish Mike, T.D., and Kevin had been advisors when this “Indianapolis Plan” had been agreed upon, their analysis of the coming problems this plan if accepted will bring seems spot on to me. If the Centrist group is given the “The United Methodist Church” legal title so as to avoid further disruption, why would they have any compulsion to use a “modifier” to identify themselves as distinct from “Progressive U.M.”, and “Traditional U.M.”? Having the legal right to the “The United Methodist Church” title they could simply claim the legal right to call themselves that title irregardless of what agreement they had made in the Indianapolis Plan. I suspect the traditional believing United Methodists have been again outmaneuvered and the Indianapolis Plan will be our capitulation. Given the opportunity to leave an annual conference, I can imagine many local churches will simply become independent and these will be largely traditional in belief. I very much doubt the courts in our states will uphold a trust clause against a local church after the denomination has selectivly laid it aside. Giving the “Centist” group the legal claim to “The United Methodist Church” was very unwise. That should have been kept by the “Traditional” group, it was the majority as the 2019 General Conference proved and we had a narrow majority of the 2020 delegates. How sad to see this once great denomination, the truest expression of the New Testament church, a worldwide growing movement of Christianity over 11,000,000 strong shipwrecked over of all things, the practice of homosexuality!

  6. As I alluded to above, I only hope that evangelical/traditionalists (from the WCA, Good News, IRD and other organizations) are having serious face-to-face conversations with African leaders and delegates to create a coalition that can bring about an amicable separation that is just.

    As mentioned above, the clergy are liberal for the most part. So they are going to fight to keep as many churches in the Centrist (LOL, what a joke of a name!)/Progressive so that they have a guaranteed paycheck. I agree with the comments above about the laity not really having representation at Annual Conference and GC levels; this has been so skewed by our system. Therefore I also agree that laity will continue to walk if they do not feel like they have a voice at the table (locally and in their conferences).

    I learned many years ago (from Keith Boyette, no less) that local churches and local church members do not realize how much power they really have. They simply need to tell their pastors, D.S.’s and Bishops that there will be no more money if they are not heard and taken seriously. This kind of talk really ticks off Bishops and others, but it’s true – nothing will stop them in their tracks like shutting off the money spigot.

  7. As we move toward General Conference 2020 with all the various and competing petitions to be presented there, I stand committed to God and confident in the Wesleyan Covenant Association with my membership renewal thereof. I pray that all orthodox-traditional Methodist who have not joined WCA will do so shortly.

    WCA has been resolute, transparent, forthcoming, and unequivocally clear in its position from the beginning — “a vibrant, vital Methodist witness to the Gospel whether from WITHIN the UM Church or through the LAUNCH of something NEW.

    ————————————————————————————

    Confidence for the Future

    The Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA) is so grateful for your partnership with us as a member. Membership in the WCA must be renewed annually and it is now time for you to renew in order to continue your membership.

    Thanks to your investment as a member of the WCA, we have shared the message of the importance of contending for the historic Christian faith with hundreds of thousands of Methodists from around the world. Many individuals and churches have joined you as members of the WCA. We have formed regional chapters in almost all of the annual conferences of The United Methodist Church in the United States, and we are working closely with our partners in conferences outside the United States.

    With the adjournment of the special 2019 General Conference, the work of the WCA has never been more important. While gratified by the reaffirmation of our historic teachings, much remains to be done to restore good order and missional effectiveness in the UM Church. We are confident God is at work in and through us to ensure a vibrant, vital Methodist witness to the Gospel whether from within the UM Church or through the launch of something new. Your membership in the WCA is a concrete statement of where you stand and provides important resources for the work that we are doing to ensure a faithful future.

    Please click the button below to renew your membership today. We are grateful for your continued membership in the WCA.

    In Christ,

    Keith Boyette, President
    Wesleyan Covenant Association

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