Will the UM Church Be the First?

Image by Marco Verch

By Tom Lambrecht –

Over the last 20 years, I have witnessed friends and colleagues in other mainline denominations struggling with principled disagreements over the definition of marriage and the role of LGBTQ persons in the church. It was always clear to me that these other denominations were just a few years ahead of where the conflict in The United Methodist Church would lead. I hoped United Methodists could deal with our differences in a more Christ-like manner. Now, we are presented with that opportunity.

The two other mainline churches most like the UM Church in governance structure are The Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian Church (USA). Both are relatively hierarchical in their structure and both have trust clauses that restrict local churches from leaving the denomination with their property.

The Episcopal Church ordained its first openly gay bishop in 2003, which touched off a firestorm in the denomination and in the worldwide Anglican Communion. At the same time, some dioceses (equivalent to our annual conferences) began affirming the blessing of same-sex unions. Openly gay priests were allowed beginning in 2006. Permission for priests to bless same-sex unions, subject to the bishop’s approval, was given denomination-wide by the 2009 General Convention (equivalent to our General Conference). In 2015, the General Convention permitted same-sex marriage, unless a particular bishop forbid it in his or her diocese. In 2018, same-sex marriage and ordination of LGBT persons was required in all dioceses.

As these developments took place over a 15-year period, more and more conservative Episcopal congregations and even a few dioceses sought to leave that denomination and start a new one. The Anglican Church of North America was formed to preserve traditional biblical values. However, the General Convention made no provision for local churches or dioceses to depart with their property. Instead, the denomination adopted a “scorched earth” policy, challenging in court every attempt to depart with property.

Since 2003, The Episcopal Church nationally has spent over $45 million in court costs for lawsuits over property. Local churches and diocese have probably spent an equivalent amount, meaning that the denomination as a whole has probably spent nearly $100 million in lawsuits. Although a few congregations and dioceses prevailed, most lost in court, meaning that the denomination could keep their property. Remarkably, this included congregations whose buildings pre-dated the formation of The Episcopal Church in 1785.

The Presbyterian Church (USA) removed restrictions against ordaining partnered homosexual persons in 2010, which was ratified by the various presbyteries (equivalent to our annual conferences) in 2011. In 2014, their General Assembly changed the definition of marriage to “two people,” a change that was ratified by the various presbyteries in 2015. Many conservative congregations left the denomination for other, more conservative Presbyterian denominations, and a new traditionalist Presbyterian denomination (ECO) was formed.

However, the PC(USA) General Assembly did not provide a specific path for local congregations to exit from the denomination, but left it up to each presbytery to develop its own policy. Some presbyteries were generous in allowing congregations to depart with their property, while others were very strict, requiring high payments or refusing exits altogether. The national church bureaucracy pressured the lenient presbyteries to toughen up their stance and require higher payments from departing congregations. A number of congregations found themselves in court, trying to defend their property. Again, millions of dollars were spent on legal costs, and a highly contentious atmosphere prevailed.

What was the impact on membership?

The Episcopal Church went from nearly 2.3 million members in 2003 to under 1.7 million in 2018. That represents a loss of over 600,000 members, or more than 26 percent. That works out to the loss of nearly 40,500 members per year (a rate of 1.8 to 2.4 percent per year).

The Presbyterian Church (USA) went from over 1.8 million members in 2010 to less than 1.4 million in 2018. That represents a loss of over 450,000 in only eight years, or more than 25 percent. That works out to the loss of nearly 57,000 members per year (a rate of 3.2 to 4.1 percent per year).

By comparison, The United Methodist Church has averaged just over 1 percent membership loss since 2000, although since 2012 the membership decline has increased to 1.6 percent per year, and it hit 2.1 percent in 2017.

It seems that this approach of moving into a “local option” on homosexuality, coupled with drastic attempts to keep churches from leaving, has only accelerated the decline of these two denominations. In addition, the denominations have been embroiled in ugly and vitriolic disputes over property and the right to exit the denomination. Such a highly conflicted atmosphere is not conducive to making disciples of Jesus Christ, as we have seen in our own denomination since 2012.

The United Methodist Church has an opportunity to do things differently – and better. As the 2020 General Conference approaches, we can arrive at a fair plan of separation that allows annual conferences and local churches to choose their ministry direction without heavy-handed interference from denominational bureaucrats. Instead of fighting over every last penny, we can provide for a fair distribution of resources to each new denomination coming out of this separation and seek to offer love and consideration to each other as we go our separate ways. The Golden Rule comes to mind, “Treat others as you yourselves want to be treated.”

The Indianapolis Plan offers a framework for just such an equitable plan of separation. It allows annual conferences and local churches to decide by majority vote whether to identify with a “One Church Plan” denomination, a denomination that upholds traditional biblical values, or a fully affirming progressive denomination. No matter which direction is chosen, annual conferences and local churches get to keep their property. The plan further envisions the General Conference approving a fair way to divide up general church resources among the separating groups, since all shared in contributing to those resources. Disputes would be settled through binding arbitration, rather than resorting to expensive lawsuits. A two-year process of separation would enable each group to be free of the conflict and free to pursue the ministry of the church in the way it believes is most faithful to God’s intent.

The UMC Next Plan, however, does not provide for fair separation, but continues the fighting in 2020 and beyond. It would call for the denomination to change its stance on marriage and sexuality by defining marriage as between “two people,” and it would remove all restrictions on the ordination of practicing homosexuals. If this change is attempted at General Conference 2020, it in itself would cause a major fight and is not at all likely to pass. At the very least, the plan calls for a moratorium enacted in 2020 on all enforcement of the Discipline regarding same-sex weddings and LGBT ordination, which would be a highly controversial and conflict-ridden decision and again unlikely to pass. The plan provides that any congregation (but not an annual conference) that disapproves of the switch to a “One Church Plan” denomination could withdraw by a two-thirds vote (not a majority). The plan calls for a task force to develop a formula for giving some general church resources to the departing traditionalists, but not a fair division of the general church assets. So rather than allowing a choice between equal alternatives, the UMC Next Plan forces traditionalists who cannot agree to a “One Church Plan” to leave the denomination – if they can muster a supermajority vote of their local congregations. This will result in thousands of congregations having to take a vote to leave the church, engendering disruptive conflict in local churches. Churches where a majority favors disaffiliation, but not two-thirds, would probably lose a sizable chunk of their congregation, severely damaging their ministries.

So far, annual conferences have taken a hardline approach to churches wanting to leave the denomination. The exit path enacted in St. Louis was supposed to give a fair and straightforward way for churches to leave the denomination. I have spoken with a law firm that is working with churches wanting to leave the UM Church. They have dealt with around 800 congregations of varying theological perspectives that are interested in leaving. However, in every case, the annual conference has imposed additional requirements and in some cases onerous payments on local churches wanting to leave. This is contrary to the spirit, if not the letter of the exit path that was enacted in St. Louis. If we go down the same pathway that The Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian Church (USA) took, we will only create a generation’s worth of hard feelings against the church and fail to demonstrate to the world that Christians can treat one another differently.

It is time for the delegates to General Conference to acknowledge that separation is necessary, as well as beneficial for the church through the multiplication of different forms of United Methodist ministry. What matters is that we do the separation in a fair and loving way, not trying to punish one another for our disagreements or gain the last ounce of flesh from those with whom we cannot pursue common ministry. We need to let one another go in as fair and loving a way as possible. The United Methodist Church has the opportunity to show the world that we can resolve our conflict in a peaceful way, in the spirit of Jesus Christ. We can learn from the mistakes of those who have faced these issues before us and be the first denomination to take a different approach. After all, the world is watching

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

Comments

  1. A majority vote by annual conferences is a joke since annual conferences do not represent the membership. Traditionalist churches stuck in an annual conference that votes to stay with the OCP will have to fight their way out depsite the fact that their views on marriage are the same as the BOD. This is nonsense. And we can trust General Conference to come up with a way to divide property. Good luck with that. We saw how GC was practically paralyzed by endless motions and amendments and points of order last time. Wait until you see what happens next time. And who are these binding arbitrators? Arbitration only works if there is some measure of trust and there is very little of that left in The UMC.

  2. Phil Brewster says

    What is the effect of the Indianapolis Plan on the traditionalist congregations in Africa and the Philippines? Will the new traditionalist UM church incorporate those congregations? Does worldwide ministry in effect probably belong to the new traditionalist UM church?

    • Thank you for your question, Phil. We anticipate that all of Africa and most of the Philippines would join a new traditionalist UMC. We definitely want to continue being a global denomination. There will also be parts of Europe who will probably join with the traditionalist UMC.

      • Jeffrey A. Rub says

        With God’s help, “We can get there from here”!!!

      • Phil Brewster says

        Thanks. Do you (or supporting organizations) have an estimate on the geographical dispersion of traditional churches if the IP is successful? How do you solve the problem of having a high percentage of traditional laity but a minority of traditional clergy? Will many traditionalists be left too far away from a traditional church? Is it safe to say that a truly national traditional UM church will be the work of many years and decades? Will there be seminaries to support a traditional church or is that part of rebuilding? Thanks again for your all of your frank comments which clarify where we traditionalists find ourselves.

        • Phil, it is difficult to estimate the geographical concentration of traditionalist churches. There is traditional strength in a band of states from Iowa straight east to West Virginia. There are also many traditionalist churches in the South. The most northern tier of states and the far west are sparsely populated by traditionalists, as is New England, but there are traditionalist churches there and opportunities for viable mission churches. Church planting in these areas will be a high priority of the new traditionalist denomination. Unfortunately, there will be some communities where there is no traditionalist UM church, just as there will be some communities where there will be no centrist or progressive UM church. Where there is critical mass of people, new congregations can be identified and fostered.

          Regarding clergy supply, there will undoubtedly be a shortage of traditionalist pastors. We will be relying heavily on licensed local pastors. In addition, those graduating from seminary will have a shorter and easier road to ordination in the new traditionalist denomination, which should be attractive. I believe the new traditionalist denomination will have recommended or approved seminaries where candidates for ministry can attend. They exist right now. Some are on the current UM approved list and some are not. I believe there is adequate opportunity for a traditionalist seminary education currently in existence. Some parts of the country may be ripe for a second campus of an existing school or for a new seminary. I believe more of our efforts will go toward enhancing clergy education in Africa and the Philippines, as well as Europe.
          Tom Lambrecht

          • Addressing the shortage of traditionalist pastors:

            There are traditional/conservative/evangelical pastors from a number of other denominations who would be very at home in a new traditional evangelical Wesleyan denomination. I believe some of these pastors, perhaps unable to find a call in their own denominations (because of an overabundance of clergy, believe it or not!) would be open to serving in and becoming new Wesleyan/Methodist pastors.

            I served for a few years in the Evangelical Covenant Church, and their theology is very compatible with Wesleyan-Arminian theology (they have some Wesleyan roots, actually). They are graduating many young clergy from seminary who sometimes struggle to find a “call” – so they could find a home among us. There are, of course, others as well (Nazarene, Wesleyan, Free Methodist).

            God will provide pastoral leadership as we move forward!

  3. Tom,

    Thanks for another helpful article explaining the positive ramifications of the Indianapolis Plan and the negative impact of the UMNext plan, Simple Plan, etc.

    I’ve been looking for some public support (online, in print, etc.) of the Indianapolis Plan from Progressives or Centrists, since several of them helped develop the plan. It would be helpful to see some public support across the theological spectrum for the IP, otherwise, how can it develop some momentum as we move toward GC2020?

  4. Tom,

    Does the Indy plan end the trust clause? If so, then why let the AC vote at all. If it does not get rid of the trust clause, then you have not ended the problem at all.
    Thank you,

    • Thank you for your question, Reynolds. The Indianapolis Plan does not end the trust clause in the UMC. Rather, it provides a way for annual conferences and local churches to align with a new denomination (in practical terms setting aside the trust clause). The annual conference votes first to decide which of the possible denominations to align with. That is to help minimize the number of local churches that have to vote. If a local church agrees with the decision of its annual conference, it would not need to vote.

      It will be up to the new denominations whether to have a trust clause. Presumably, the centrist UMC will continue to have one. The traditionalist UMC will undoubtedly do away with the trust clause.
      Tom Lambrecht

      • Tom,
        You point out, “if a local church agrees with the decision of its annual conference, it would not need to vote”. Without some sort of vote, poll, etc. at the local congregation level, how would it be known if that congregation agreed with its annual conference or not? What if a member or members of a congregation disagreed with the annual conference, could that member or members request and get a congregation vote?

        • Thank you for your question, Anthony. There is a mechanism in the Indianapolis Plan for congregation members to petition their local church for a vote on alignment. Before making such a request, it would be good for people to have at least a good estimate that they will be able to gain a majority vote for whatever alternative they are proposing. It does no good to rile up a church and precipitate a vote if you know you only have about 20 percent of the members who agree with you. But there is a mechanism to request a congregational vote.
          Tom Lambrecht

          • And there it is. As a traditionalist my choices are;
            1. Stay within a conference that is likely to go progressive
            2. Walk away
            3. Initiate a fight within my local church.

            Even though my local church is probably about 80/20 on the traditionalist side I doubt if there would be enough energy to engage in a church divisive vote. It will simply wither away.

            The traditionalist position is the official position of The UMC and should be the default not the other way around. The Indianapolis is a stab in the back to those traditionalists who have been supporting the WCA efforts to stand firm and hold to a traditional view of marriage.

          • Kevin, if your church is truly 80 percent traditionalist, there should be no problem in obtaining a majority vote to align with a traditionalist denomination. It would not be much of a fight with those percentages. If there is “not enough energy” to take a principled stand for the Scriptures instead of going along with an “anything goes” teaching on sexuality, then I wonder just how traditionalist the congregation really is. In addition, the traditionalist denomination will offer a lot of positives for its churches, including lower apportionments, less bureaucracy, more focused ministry, and an end to the conflict. We believe churches will want to identify with a new traditionalist denomination.

            If the UMC Next Plan passes and traditionalist churches have to leave the denomination, would your church be willing to take a vote then? Unless there is unity around a plan of separation, it is nearly as likely that the UMC Next Plan would pass as for the rest of the Traditional Plan to pass. The votes will be very close. We see the IP as a way to move peaceably into a better future for all branches of the church.

            Tom Lambrecht

          • I tend to agree with kevin here. The Indianapolis plan works on paper, but will be extremely divisive in the local church. Perhaps this is unavoidable, but I wonder.

            I still adhere to the fact that any plan that passes will have to have the defaults for the local church determined by the majority at general conference. It makes absolutely no sense that any local church should have to vote in order to adhere to the majority stance of general conference.

            Let’s be honest here. The reason this plan insists that the default for local churches is with their annual conference is because liberal annual conferences know they would not have enough money to pay their clergy if the default for local churches is with the global majority.

            I maintain that this issue started as, and continues to be, a clergy issue. Most laity think our clergy should follow the rules and if they disagree they should leave. Why is our church forcing this battle down to the local church? Why can’t our clergy respect this institution and their laity? Why does the UMC and its clergy seem only concerned about their incomes and political opinions? Where is God among our leaders? I am familiar with the Catholic church and i am astounded that the level of clericalism in the UMC greatly exceeds anything the laity encounters in the catholic church.

  5. It was my understanding that the United Methodists spent three years and several million dollars deciding The Way Forward.

    The Special General Conference on The Way Forward in 2019 voted to affirm the wording in the Book of Discipline concerning homosexuals and homosexual marriage. The Conference voted to provide accountability for those that defy the Book of Discipline. The Conference voted to provide an exit path for those that could not abide with the Book of Discipline. This exit path included being current on Annual Conference apportionments and pension liabilities.

    That was what the legislative body of the United Methodists decided was The Way Forward.

    Help me understand why Methodists who voted on this Way Forward need to form a new denomination.

    • Ken,
      All of your observations are correct and I have seen the same question elsewhere here recently. I have followed this closely, though, and the aftermath of the GC2019 was most likely why this proposed path (and some others) were born.
      The traditionalists clearly have had a majority of GC delegation, consisting of a minority of the USA constituency and an overwhelming majority of the church outside of the USA.
      If clergy did not get half of the votes, the delegations would be more conservative overall.
      With that said, the traditionalists came out with the position of strength having the majority.
      The progressives, however, have largely and convincingly vowed to stay and not to abide by the Discipline — exit path notwithstanding.
      The progressives also claim to have contributed the largest share of the money to build the denomination’s institutions.
      Essentially, the battles of the past decades would be fought over and over.
      All of this was much less consequential before same-sex marriage became the law of the land in the USA. The timeline is obvious; prior to this, the debate was more about homosexual practice itself and the ordination of clergy who are/were actively in same-sex relationships. Now, though, the definition of marriage itself has been added to this discussion: what kind of marriages will be performed in UMC churches and by UMC clergy? This is a true reckoning.
      I believe as well that the churches outside the USA, though most would seem to affirm the Biblical teaching, are presently more immune to the impact of this controversy due to the overall culture and/or the countries in which they live. This is why you see some Africans and those from the Philippines who are making statements supportive of continued unification.
      When you put all of this together, though, along with a large number of USA bishops who will probably not enforce the Discipline, we are here.
      Some have understood that the best way forward is to go ahead and divide at this time.

      • Mike,

        Thank you for your reply.

        It is my understanding that The Way Forward is to hold accountable those who defy the Book of Discipline. This includes defrocking clergy. Over time, the number that defy the Book of Discipline would be reduced, the problem reduced and the United Methodist Church preserved. Isn’t that The Way Forward for which the 2019 Special General Conference voted?

        • That is exactly the way forward that was passed by GC and it is what we should be pursuing. The Indianapolis Plan throws that away.

        • You are correct, Ken. The 2019 General Conference voted to increase accountability for clergy. The obstacle to that is bishops who are unwilling to enforce the Discipline. Unfortunately, the aspects of the Traditional Plan that passed in 2019 that were constitutional did not include an enhanced accountability process for bishops. That means that recalcitrant bishops could in all likelihood continue to prevent the disciplining of clergy who violate the Book of Discipline. We are uncertain about whether we can enact in 2020 the needed additional accountability measures. The vote will be very close. At the very least, this is a recipe for continued fighting in the church for the next four to eight years.

          Given the widespread disobedience and the unwillingness of bishops to enforce the Discipline, a different way forward is to negotiate a plan of separation. That is what the Indianapolis Plan seeks to provide. The IP would end the conflict immediately and allow the different groups to form different denominations that could focus on ministry instead of the conflict. We believe this has a better chance of bringing about a renewed and vital traditionalist United Methodist denomination than attempting to “purify” the current UMC.
          Tom Lambrecht

          • Tom,
            Thank you for your reply.

            If the 2019 Special General Conference did not include accountability for Bishops that defy the Book of Discipline, then accountability for Bishops should be included in the 2020 General Conference. Isn’t that a simple fix?

            Am I missing something?

          • Ken, the fix is relatively simple, but not easy. We have legislation submitted to GC 2020 to do so. As I have indicated elsewhere, we are working with a 5 to 25 vote margin in our favor. Such a close vote means that some or all of the new accountability measures may not pass. The proposal utilizes the Council of Bishops to engage in greater accountability for fellow bishops. But if the individual bishops on the Council are not in favor of such accountability, it won’t happen. So it is possible, but there are roadblocks in the way of establishing greater accountability for bishops.
            Tom Lambrecht

  6. Andrew P Spore says

    I think the smartest move any congregation could make upon choosing to separate is to say, “Here, take this crumbling albatross of a building. It’s demanding too much of our resources anyway. Good luck trying to sell it. Bye!”

  7. The Indianapolis Plan is the Umbrella Plan (putting Humpty Dumpty together again). It appears not enough glue ( consensus) for 1 plan has been arrived to form a majority for passage of any of the plans A sub group should be formed and hash out an easy exit plan and amend any plan that reaches the floor for vote to supersede or replace or add as an addendum to that plan before final vote of it.

  8. John Bryan says

    There are 2 matters that need consideration here.
    First, Jesus said “on this rock I will build MY church”; not the UMC’s church, not the progressives’ church and not even Tom Lambrecht’s church. And not Adam Hamilton’s church. Jesus’s church!

    Second, there is a book titled “The Myth Of The Dying Church” by Glenn Stanton. What I take from the hard, cold statistics cited is that as “mainline” Protestant churches become more wishy washy, more focused on Grace and less on truth and the Bible, the churches are losing members at an alarming rate.

    In contrast, Bible based, non denominational, evangelical churches are growing. Young people are going to these non denominational churches in greater numbers than they are going to mainline Protestant churches.

    My view is that our churches need to stick with the Word; Jesus and the entire Bible. Our churches should be encouraging people to read and study all of God’s Word, not just the parts we like.

    I pray the UMC will stick with the Traditional Plan. It will be painful, but Jesus never promised it would be easy. People who don’t wish to understand and follow Jesus and God’s Word will drift away to churches that are basically social clubs that invoke but don’t follow Jesus. Those social club churches will eventually pass away and Jesus’ church will remain. I pray the UMC will be Jesus’ church above all.

    I don’t have a vote, but I have strong feelings. I pray the UMC remains faithful, but if not, I will find a church that does. Peace and prayers for all of you.

  9. I agree with Ken. Why do we want to surrender our church. We won the vote just a few months ago. If the progressive members don’t like what Jesus said about this matter let them leave with their property like we voted to do at the general conference in St.Louis. The IPAS seems to me too be a bad plan destined for failure along with all the other plans I have read thus far.

  10. RONALD URBANO KEITH MARTIN says

    Pastor Tom,
    I am a Christian, Wesleyan, conservative, traditional Methodist, as is most of my local congregation in an Annual Conference which is also the aforementioned. The past two weeks, as a Sunday School teacher, I have printed material about the Indianapolis Plan and a most recent article (October 2) by Rev. Dr. Timothy Tennent in order to give explanation. As I understand, the IP will “implement”, “initiate”, three “United Methodist” denominations, Traditionalist, Centrist, and Progressive, all under the “United Methodist” umbrella. The former will keep the BOD as is, based upon the Bible, while the latter two, will change the BOD to adjust to secular standards. I informed that funds, contributions, would still “sent” to the “United Methodist Church.” Commentary then ensued reflecting the opinion that, they, members in the Sunday Class, a microcosm of the congregation and the Annual Conference, did not want to be connected to the Progressive and Centrist groups because of changes to the BOD and funds and contributions. Commentary was made also that, we, as Christians, come to relationship with our God on His terms firstly and not the terms of a secular world. The Bible cannot be changed to reflect the BOD. The BOD is second to the Bible.

    • The Basic Provisions of the Indianapolis Plan regarding, among other key, essential, necessary provisions — FINANCES:

      7. All denominations would have their own General Conferences or governing boards, books of Discipline, structure, polity, and finances. Any local congregation which chooses to join one of these denominations would be relieved of the trust clause in order to take their assets and liabilities into the new denomination.

  11. RONALD URBANO KEITH MARTIN says

    Furthermore, personally, along with other members, we do not want to be attached to a group of Methodists with three BODs. Really? Also, the term “United” is becoming very unpopular when referenced with the Methodist Church. United Brethren is long gone. Since 1968, secularism has crept into the Methodist church and caused division and disunity. A small group has caused a big problem.

  12. Many of these johnny-come-lately ripostes of Tom Lambrecht’s article are the equivalent of firing wildly into the air. In basketball, we call this “garabage time,” the scraps sought in the final frenzy of a game that’s already been decided. WCA is pressing forward with the Indy Plan. It’s time to join up.

  13. Many of these johnny-come-lately ripostes of Tom Lambrecht’s article are the equivalent of firing wildly into the air. In basketball, we call this “garbage time,” the scraps sought in the final frenzy of a game that’s already been decided. WCA is pressing forward with the Indy Plan. It’s time to join up.

    • WCA:

      We regretfully support the separation of The United Methodist Church, and in doing so, we support the principles outlined in the Indianapolis Plan for Amicable Separation. If a mutually agreeable plan of separation does not occur, we support the full implementation of the Traditional Plan.

      • But, should things go south for traditionalists and traditionalists leaning centrists at General Conference 2020, a new traditionalist denomination would be awaiting, thus eliminating the anxiety of having to go independent. Therefore, it is crucial that the revised exit plan that Tom and group are proposing be passed.

        From WCA:

        WCA’s first Global Legislative Assembly empowered a task group to draft a Book of Doctrines and Discipline that could serve as a working document for a renewed and reformed United Methodist Church or, if necessary, an entirely new church.

  14. Steven J Soller says

    These plans all seem, though complex, as ultimately straightforward, i.e. not as “messy” as continuing the battle. And they presume they will limit the attrition caused by continued infighting. It’s believed that it will be an easier split, with large sections of the country splitting one way while others go the other way. But this is not the case. In most congregations there is a split between Progressive, Centrist (whatever THAT means) and Traditionalist. And when the church goes one way, certain members will necessarily feel left out, disenfranchised, marginalized, and ultimately they will leave. Once this split occurs, the departures seen in other denominations WILL occur, not matter how equitable and fair you think that split may be.

    • Spot on. The simplest thing to do would be to enact simple, generous exit plans for local churches and clergy that won’t or don’t want to abide by gc decisions. And then let things fall where they may.

      The problem here is that our liberal leadership does not want to leave because they don’t want to do the work, they don’t want to lose their incomes, and they don’t agree with each other about their beliefs or goals. If the liberal clergy has the votes at this new gc, i assume that they will enact their agenda on the whole UMC without remorse or exit provisions.

      Having a peaceful split sounds nice and it may work relatively well in larger suburban churches, but it will be a disaster in small town and rural churches- places where if you initiate dissent within your church, you are left with resentments and divisions that last decades in communities where you have to deal with your fellow churchmen on a daily basis- as your banker, school teacher, bus driver, nurse, snow plower, mechanic, etc. On top of this, most of these churches will not survive a loss in membership that this division will cause.

      It simply is not possible to please everyone. No matter what gc decides, there will be winners and losers. Every plan for splitting that i have seen tries to minimize the losers among the clergy and leadership, and forces the battle onto the laity in the local church.

      If this plan were truly splitting, why wouldn’t it automatically split each ac into 2 divisions with the default for the local church be to the gc majority?

  15. Steven J Soller says

    For example, in my case I attend a Church in Colorado (the North Denver area). We are in the Annual Conference governed by the lesbian “Bishop”. The split in my church is perhaps 25% traditional, 45% centrist, and 30% progressive. And there doesn’t seem to be a hairs breadth of difference between the “centrists” and the “progressives”. So I await the GC 2020 and what I expect another “victory” by traditionalist, expecting that immediately thereafter the “bishop” will lead the AC to split off, she will direct the clergy to hold church conference to vote to join this new “denomination”, and I and my wife and other traditionalists, unwilling to see “our” church led to become Glide Church, swiftly depart to either one of the few and usually far away traditional churches or perhaps no church at all.

  16. Tom, I have a question. Suppose all sides stick to their guns, insist on winning and nothing is resolved. I won’t lie that I think this is the most likely outcome. After another uglier, longer repeat of GC2019 and nothing happens some AC’s give up and decide to leave the UMC. I know there is no provision in the BOD for an AC to leave, but if they do what will be done. Are we also going to waste millions forcing churches and AC’s to remain in the UMC? What type of witness will that be to the world?

    • Thank you for the question, Scott. I agree that one option is that nothing is resolved, and no plan passes. We have submitted legislation to GC 2020 that would create a separate path for annual conferences to depart from the UMC. This is not part of any plan, but a stand-alone proposal. In addition, we have submitted a revised exit path for local churches. Regardless of whether or not a plan is passed by GC 2020, we hope these two proposals are passed, so that there are options for conferences and churches that cannot in good conscience remain, whatever the outcome. I do not see the general church spending money to try to force annual conferences to remain, as our general church resources are all pretty much tied up in the various agencies. We don’t have $45 million like the Episcopalians to duke this out in court. Some annual conferences might try to force local churches to remain, but if enough churches try to leave at the same time, that will become impractical for the conference. Obviously, we would rather see a negotiated settlement, but there are options in the absence of one.
      Tom Lambrecht

      • Tom,

        Why would you allow AC to leave and take all churches with it. It is my understanding that most AC are now liberal. You are taking a victory and turning it into a defeat. Just allow individual churches to leave. Why are you so happy to give all power to AC. This makes no sense.

        • Thank you for your question, Reynolds. The vote of the annual conference would presumably represent where the majority of churches are within that annual conference. The Indianapolis Plan then provides that local churches can vote to align with a different denomination than their annual conference. In this way, fewer local churches will have to vote. If we insist that every local church vote in order to choose which denomination to align with, there will be many divisive fights.

          Your question shows a basic misconception about the Indianapolis Plan. It is not about churches “leaving.” It is about all of us choosing among two or three options which new denomination we want to align with. That is the basic difference between the IP and the UMC Next Plan. That plan calls for traditionalists to leave. The IP is a true plan of equal separation. That is why we have annual conferences choosing first, and then local churches that disagree can choose differently from their annual conference.

          What we consistently heard from local churches during the Commission on a Way Forward process was, “Don’t make all local churches vote.” The process of the IP is a way to allow fewer local churches to have to vote.
          Tom Lambrecht

          • Tom

            The problem is that the AC might try and stop churches from voting. They could then use the trust clause as a weapon. I is to part of several Presbyterian churches that had to pay their way out. I think you are be very generous about how the other side is going to play this. You are assuming the best while they are planning for the worst. Do you have any game plan when the bring out all the tricks at the next GC

          • Thank you, Reynolds. Assuming the Indianapolis Plan is adopted, there are safeguards that protect the local congregation’s right to vote and explicitly to take their property and assets with them without any other payment to the annual conference. We have tried to ward off the tricks that annual conferences are pulling with churches now. We have also submitted a revised exit path (stand alone) for local churches that attempts to forestall those tricks, as well.
            Tom Lambrecht

      • Tom thanks for the reply. I hope if nothing else the legislation allowing individual AC’s to leave and a revised and less costly exit plan for individual churches as the most important and likely legislation to pass. It will prevent ugly battles and law suits. In the end allowing AC’s/churches that are not happy to be with us may be the most organic and peaceful way of settling this whole thing.

        • It will prevent ugly battles at gc and ac. It will promote ugly battles, resentments, and church closures at the local church. It may be unavoidable, but let’s face the reality that most congregations are split in the 40/60 range. And most people do not want to be engaged in a church fight. While it is difficult for our clergy to give up their jobs, it is not difficult at all for our laity to leave when they feel they can no longer witness to the insanity.

  17. Tom,
    Will there be a “none of the above” option for churches that reject all three of the aforementioned choices for amicable separation that will allow them to exit the denomination with their resources?
    If there isn’t, then the so-called freedom to choose given by the Indianapolis Plan comes off as being something like the kind that is offered by a car salesman who doesn’t care what kind of car you buy as long as you buy one of the ones that is offered for sale on his lot.

    • Thank you for your question, John. The Indianapolis Plan allows for local churches to withdraw and become independent based on the separate process that General Conference already passed. Since that exit path has been called into question due to a tainted vote, and because the exit path proved to be too expensive, we have proposed a revised exit path for local churches as a stand-alone measure that would allow churches to leave and become independent. Furthermore, any group of 50 local churches could leave together and form a new denomination. If you could get 50 churches to agree on forming some type of congregational association or network, for example, that would be allowed under the Indy Plan. We were trying to give everyone options.
      Tom Lambrecht

  18. Rev. Joseph Richmond says

    Thank you Tom, for all your efforts in these trying times.
    After reading private notes from my family member the Rev. Dr. Fred Corson who was elected Bishop by the 1944 Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference of The Methodist Church and elected President of the Council of Bishops in 1952. He also served as President of the World Methodist Council in 1961 and was assigned the Philadelphia episcopal area, where he served until his retirement in 1968. He saw many problems developing within the Council of Bishops, including their egotistical stances as almost all powerful beings, which I believe has led us to where we currently find ourselves.
    Without the true Biblical Leadership of this piece of our governing body we have fallen into Biblical and Administrative chaos. If they were indeed following Christ instead of their own quest for Power, Prestige and of course Payment, our denomination as a whole would not be floundering in this quagmire. So, in your opinion how do we now continue, without eliminating or severely limiting this interference which is quite literally in open rebellion to General Conference and even the rulings of our Judicial Council?
    Especially, since on Jan. 1, 2020 many of these should be brought up on charges and one immediately dismissed based upon the 2019 Traditional Plan passing.

  19. Tom, you accurately point out, “The UMC Next Plan, however, does not provide for fair separation.”. Actually, that is a generous assessment. Reading statements from Adam Hamilton, the point person and an original proponent of the local option/one church plan, are most disturbing. He seems to see running traditionalists off, in the midst of continued fighting, as the way forward.

    Tom, I am sure Hamilton and colleagues were invited to the Indianapolis meeting. It seems that if Hamilton and his group had of been part of the Indianapolis Plan, we would be headed to General Conference 2020 with a winnable, amenable way forward.

    Why does it appear that Hamilton and colleagues do not want a peaceful path?

    • Why do you think the progressives don’t want a fair plan of separation? It’s for the same reason many of our bishops have kept screaming, “Unity at any cost!” when they themselves were promoting disunity as much as anyone else by not taking God’s Word seriously. Those who refuse to listen to and obey God’s Word typically see themselves as intellectually superior to those of us who do take the Word of God seriously. In a church where everyone is progressive, there are few to whom progressives can feel superior, unless it might be someone whose ideas are not as weird as theirs. The progressives need us traditionalists to maintain their identity of superiority.

  20. Hi Tom,

    I guess I wasn’t direct enough in asking my question above:

    Are there any progressives or centrists who have come out publicly in support of the Indianapolis Plan? It would be helpful if there were a wider “coalition” across the theological spectrum offering support to the IP – especially since it looks like the UMNext Plan has a lot of support (and THAT plan would be detrimental to traditionalists and traditional churches/Annual Conferences).

    Thank you, Tom.

    • Thanks for re-asking your question, Mike. There are some prominent centrists involved in crafting the Indianapolis Plan, most notably Kent Millard, who is the president of United Theological Seminary in Dayton, OH (one of our 13 UM seminaries). He has been writing in support of the plan. We are currently working on securing endorsements from people across the theological spectrum and hope to have more support in the future. We don’t have an IP newsletter, like Mainstream and Uniting Methodist have, so it is more difficult to get our message out.
      Tom Lambrecht

  21. Sad, not happy, but in support of the plan says

    Folks,

    I think we are missing something important here. The fact of the matter is that there has been a massive split in the denomination about a whole host of issues for years, even decades; social, political, and spiritual.

    I’m not real happy about it since the General Conference has spoken, and just like secular leftists, the leftists in the church refuse to abide by anything except their position. Their immoral and disgusting labeling of people like us that continues to this day is exactly how the secular progressive left fights its battles.

    After seeing and hearing with my own eyes how the bishop currently assigned to the annual conference I am assigned to felt about the 2019 GC it is obvious he will never conform to the Discipline, and he will just fall into lock step with the leftist/socialist secular groups he agrees with. How many more annual conferences and bishops have to show their disdain for the process, people, and structure they lead before we decide to leave. To use a well-worn phrase they are choosing this hill to defend until the end, it’s time to let them do it. Let God show us who s right in this situation.

    It’s just time to be done with them, in my eyes much of the church hierarchy has no legitimacy left. I would prefer to have a hard time in a denomination that is faithful to Scripture and loves all people, than be labeled a bigot because we do not accept the idea that those who practice deviant sexual behavior are perfectly able to serve as clergy, a stance that harms people, especially the young, vulnerable, and hurting. If that means we leave money on the table so be it. If that means we rid ourselves of the radical pro-death abortion stance of the denomination and so many other politically radical positions, let us celebrate it. It will be worth it in the end..

  22. Gary Bebop says

    Tom’s note that the fix is “simple but not easy” should sober all wishful thinking Traditionalists. The delegate margin at 2020 will be razor thin. The Western Jurisdiction is intensifying its stranglehold of the conversation. Progressive annual conferences are adamant about their property rights and indifferent to the pleadings and fawnings and historical claims of local churches. Too much treasure is at stake. The Indy Plan is a compromise and a shaky one, at that. But it’s the best plan out there. The Indy Plan was never intended to plunder annual conferences through the exit of local churches.

  23. Tom,

    Thank you for your reply.

    I’m glad that there will be legislation before the 2020 General Conference to hold Bishops that defy the Book of Discipline accountable.

    Would it not be better to put energy toward passing that legislation rather than spending energy on complex reorganization plans like those defeated at the 2019 Special General Conference on The Way Forward?

    Am I missing something?

    • Ken,

      The only thing you’re missing is reality.

      The reality is, even if GC2020 passes legislation to hold the Bishops accountable, it is meaningless when they have no qualms about disobedience. Many US Bishops have already shown they do not respect the BOD, will not enforce it, and will not submit themselves to it any longer. We have a “bishop” who is married to a same-sex partner who is “serving” in the Mountain Sky conference. Her Jurisdiction refuses to address her illegal election even though the Judicial Council has asked them to do so.

      This kind of disobedience (what progressives think of as just civil disobedience to oppressive church rules) will simply continue and we will see the division in our church continue, while membership continues to drop and money is withheld (rightly so, I believe) by local members and churches who are fed up with this kind of “leadership”.

      So our only realistic answer to this is to acknowledge that this kind of disobedience will continue, and find a way of amicable separation that helps us all move forward, heal, and do meaningful ministry as we are led by scripture and the Holy Spirit.

      • Mike,

        Thanks for your reply… My wife tells me I miss reality on a regular basis and she knows me pretty well.

        My understanding is that the defect in the Traditional Plan that needs addressing is the accountability of Bishops by a global body (the Council of Bishops) instead of a regional one (Jurisdictional Council).

        The various votes for the Traditional Plan were passed with 75-100 vote margins. It would seem to me that, parliamentary tricks not withstanding, the 2020 General Conference should be able to fix the Bishop accountability problem.

        • Hi, Ken.

          The vote in St. Louis was a margin of 54, meaning that 27 people changing their minds would flip the decision. We believe our margin in 2020 in Minneapolis will be less than 25, meaning that 13 people (or fewer) changing their minds or not voting would flip the decision (out of 862). That is 1.5 percent of the total. It will be very close. It is not assured that we would be able to pass the bishop accountability “fixes.”

          And the only fix that seems to be constitutional is to put the power in the hands of the Council of Bishops to place a bishop on leave or retirement against their will. Such would require a majority vote of the Council of Bishops. Right now, a majority favors the One Church Plan, so it appears unlikely that a majority of the COB would favor punishing a fellow bishop that does not enforce the Discipline. The projection for bishop elections in 2020 is that we could not elect a traditionalist bishop in any of the five jurisdictions. This means the traditionalist position would actually lose votes on the COB as a result of those elections. The prospect of the COB imposing discipline on one of the bishops appears unlikely in the short term. Things could change in 20 years, but most traditionalists are unwilling to keep spinning our wheels for the next 20 years hoping that the situation will change.

          Tom Lambrecht

          • Thanks for that “reality check” Tom. I’m with you – I don’t want to see the church suffer and shrink for 20 more years while we wait hopefully for a new reality to happen.

            I’ll retire in the next 6-9 years, so I can make it, but I’m ready to build a new future for following generations!

  24. The Progressive/Centrist focal point is discrimination — that is, discrimination against people identified within the LGBT+ identity group. The argument goes — the UMC practices institutional discrimination against these people thus causing them great harm. This is obviously a powerful argument in our modern, secularized culture, especially American culture. They will arrive at General Conference 2020 armed with this argument to convince sufficient numbers of delegates to overturn the Traditional Plan and pass a plan to run traditionalists off, thus liberating the church of this bigotry and discrimination.

    Was Paul practicing discrimination at the Corinth Church? Was Paul saying that God practices discrimination? For those who refuse the free gift of salvation — if not inheriting the Kingdom of God is discrimination, then yes. But, Paul told those who had been SAVED from the slavery of sin the most uplifting words in all of Scripture, “you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God”

    So, which way will our delegates vote? Will they go with the culture, or will they go with Jesus in his love, death, resurrection, and repentance preached for the forgiveness of sins in his name?

    ————————————————————————————

    1 Corinthians 6:9-11 New International Version (NIV)

    9 Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

  25. Jim Markel says

    Pastor Tom,
    First, I’d like to express my appreciation for the leadership that you and Rob have shown in the GN movement during these trying times. But, I must add that “as for me and my house,” we are moving on. I’ve allowed my spirit to sink or soar based entirely too much on the news for the UMC battlefront. From my perspective, I’ve watched as the Traditional group in the church won a God-given victory during the GC2019, only to see the same group reverse course and willingly pledge to unequally yoke themselves to other UM’s, who have little use for scripture or the Book of Discipline. I understand that, from a secular point of view, this may be rationalized as “a half of a loaf is better than no loaf at all.” However, we should never allow ourselves to be guided by secular wisdom. If the Traditional forces are convinced that staying yoked with those who do not believe God’s Word, then the denomination’s obit has already been written. I’ve found a small church from my EUB background that seems content to believe in His unerring Word, worship Him in spirit and truth and present a consistent and evangelical witness to the world. I’ve invested too many years and too many prayers in a cause that ultimately decided to surrender, upon the heels of a God-given victory. My new church is small, but we are faithful to His word and I have no cause to offer explanations for the diverse beliefs and actions of other churches in our connection. God bless.

    • Thank you for your comments, Jim. I certainly understand the frustration and need to “move on.” I’m glad you have found a new church that helps you grow spiritually and serve Christ with your life. I want to clarify that the Indianapolis Plan does NOT envision that the Traditionalist UMC and the Centrist or Progressive UMC would continue to be “yoked” together. There would be no organizational ties between the new denominations. They might each receive services from common agencies, like Wespath, Archives and History, or the Publishing House. But they would not be structurally yoked together in any way. We are talking about amicable separation here, not being together under some type of umbrella organization. I hope this helps clarify.
      Tom Lambrecht

  26. Traditionalists have a 4th quarter lead, but they must stay in the game and play to the end. There is no abdication now, no premature victory celebrations, no taking a knee. This is the “good fight” of contending for the faith.

  27. Jeffrey Parker says

    This isn’t a football game. But if it were — the I. P. is a punt after fighting our way to a fourth and inches on our opponent’s 40 yard line.

    Because we’re winded. And, anyway, although our opponents are cheating to beat the band, why they’re essentially just as righteous as we are, merely headed in a different “mission direction”.

    • Thank you for your thoughts, Jeffrey. I don’t regard the Indianapolis Plan as a “punt,” but a different way of trying to accomplish our final goal, which is a traditionalist denomination that is separate from and free of the fighting. We are indeed headed in a different “mission direction.” It does no good to malign our opponents, no matter how they might malign us. We need to treat them with love and respect, even in the midst of sharp disagreement.
      Tom Lambrecht

      • Jeffrey Parker says

        “3 … But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. 4 For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough…
        …6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.10 For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant[b] of Christ…”

        2 Cor. 11, Galatians 1

        As difficult as GC2019 was, up until this moment it was always clear that WCA and traditionalists drew a bright line on the issues of human sexuality & marriage and stood on the side of that line illuminated by holiness and GOD’s Word. By compromising with the progressives, by allowing the progressive heresy as the default, and by papering over the doctrinal divide by calling their false teaching “choosing another mission field” or “a principled disagreement”, the I.P. (and WCA) have blurred that bright line. That deterioration of positional clarity is disconcerting, and I fear that it *will* come back to bite us during this process and beyond.

        Nevertheless, I pledge my prayer and support to passing I.P. in May.

        Peace & Blessings, Tom, in Jesus’ name.
        Jeff

  28. OK, so you find a way to “amicably separate” into two (or three?) branches of the UMC. The Traditionalists, the Progressives (and the Centrists?) It all looks fine and everyone is satisfied when it is all said and done?

    If history shows us anything though, there will be those who will try and infiltrate the Traditionalist churches and get them to “change their way” by voting to move that church over to the Progressive side.

    Will there be anything in the process that says once a church chooses to go one direction it is that path forever? Or will there be the option for a church to “change their mind” in the future and move over to the other path?

    If this is the case, I see no end to the conflict. It may go underground, but it will still be there, always in the background.

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