Protocol on Track

Rob Renfroe
rrenfroe@goodnewsmag.org

As we begin a new year, I know many United Methodists are wondering, “Where do things stand regarding the protocol for separating the church? Is it still on track? Why haven’t we heard much about it lately?” 

The Protocol for Reconciliation and Grace through Separation was created by a sixteen-member panel of leading traditionalists, centrists, and progressives, including several bishops.  Advocacy groups spanning the theological spectrum, including Good News, the Confessing Movement, the Wesleyan Covenant Association, Reconciling Ministries Network, UMC Next, and Mainstream UMC all endorsed the Protocol. 

It seemed certain the protocol would be passed at General Conference 2020 and we who want to maintain the Bible’s teaching on sexuality and those who wish to change United Methodism’s Scripturally-based standards would be able to go our separate ways. But the COVID pandemic caused General Conference to be postponed and the focus of the church has rightly been on helping those who are suffering during this difficult time. So, the protocol has taken a back seat these past several months.

General Conference is now scheduled for this coming August. There is some discussion about the possibility of holding a virtual Conference with delegates being able to participate online from home or gathered together in several regional centers across the world. Whether virtually or in person, the plan at present is for General Conference to convene in August and to take up the protocol. The protocol and the future of the UM Church will again take center stage. 

So, what’s the status of the protocol and the likelihood of its passage? Despite some talk that the General Conference might again be postponed because international delegates may find travel restrictions due to the pandemic (see page 22), we believe it is still on track and will be passed by General Conference this year.

Not everyone agrees. Some bishops have reported to us privately that commitment for the protocol is waning among some of their colleagues. Due to our many years of division and the economic effects of the pandemic, general church apportionments are being paid at the lowest rate ever. More “institutional” bishops are concerned about the future viability of the denomination and what the departure of traditional congregations will mean for the UM Church going forward. 

Nevertheless, we are optimistic that by this time next year, General Conference will have made a way for annual conferences and congregations who wish to depart to do so.

No one wants to repeat what happened at the General Conference in St. Louis. Earlier this year Bishop Cynthia Harvey, president of the Council of Bishops, stated her support of the protocol, “We could not continue the harm we were doing to each other; we needed a better way… it became very clear that [separation] was the next step we needed to take.” 

The pandemic has changed many things, but it has not changed our need to put an end to the fighting and the division that has done so much harm.

The various advocacy groups mentioned above as supporting the protocol have been the ones in the trenches, strategizing, recruiting, organizing, and competing against each other to carry the day at General Conference. None of these groups has stated a change in their commitment to the protocol. 

Recently, the Western Jurisdiction, the most liberal in the UM Church, issued a statement under the heading “Where Love Lives.” In their press release, Bishop Karen Oliveto, president of the Western Jurisdiction’s College of Bishops said, “The Western Jurisdiction is committed to living out our belief that God’s church is open to all. The Protocol for Reconciliation and Grace through Separation offers a way forward to begin easing the five decades of pain created by the wounds inflicted on LGBTQ persons by the church.”

It appears that the primary group that might work against the protocol’s passage is the institutional bishops, who are the same ones who have wanted to deny the depth of our division in the past. They are the ones who have offered the false hope that we could find a way to be one church with two different views of the Bible and competing sexual ethics. And they are starting to create the narrative that now is not the time for separation because the institutional UM Church cannot survive it.

We are optimistic. We believe the protocol is likely to pass. But we are also realistic. The battle is not yet over. Voices opposing separation are likely to surface. Progressives have already been to Africa telling bishops, pastors, and delegates they should remain within the continuing UM Church in order to continue receiving the financial support for their ministries they are accustomed to. (They conveniently ignore the fact that the dramatic decline in apportionment payments is already resulting in cuts to funding for African ministry, and that the departure of many traditionalist American congregations will further diminish the continuing UM Church’s ability to financially support ministry in Africa.)

The protocol was negotiated in order to avoid a contentious and litigious separation. Failure to pass the protocol or something like it could result in the acrimonious splintering of the denomination costing millions of dollars in legal fees.

After attending and working for our biblical views at seven past General Conferences, I know nothing is ever certain until the last vote has been taken. I also know how important it is that we remain vigilant and active as we prepare for General Conference. 

Traditionalists will continue to reach out to our partners in Africa and in other parts of the world to keep support for the protocol strong. Additionally, we will be staying in touch with bishops who support the cause of a peaceful separation. 

We are so close to creating a new future for faithful Methodists. Passing the protocol will allow Bible-believing churches and annual conferences to step into that new day with their property and congregations intact. One last push and the battle will be over.

Comments

  1. Luke Landers says

    Bishops don’t vote.

    • No reason for UMC Bishops to vote — they can just ignore the vote of those who do with virtually no real consequences thereof.

  2. I am hopeful for the passage of the protocol, but I have a hard time seeing that many official church leaders and prominent pastors are going to sit by and let it happen without a fight. I hope I am wrong. Look at how fewer people they will have to control. Like civil governments, church governments offer many places in which one person has authority over others. Look at the number of such positions in our UMC. Look at all the ways a “successful” pastor can manipulate parishoners to swallow the pastor’s personal agenda, even when it is not scriptural. Look at the political games people play to get in such powerful positions. It seems to be about personal power when the façades are removed. Many such leaders seem to have no idea how opaque they really are not! Why this love of power over people? It is for the same reason I have a love of such power—the Fall. The Fall affects every organization and individual, be they liberal, evangelical, secular, or of a non-Christian religion. The only thing I know of that can counter the effects of the Fall is for a person to allow themselves to be filled with the very life of the One who is not fallen, and learn to love those under their authority instead of loving the control they have over people. John Wesley called that perfect love.

  3. John McCurdy says

    When is Christian America going to wake up?
    This is not just about a heretical, minority segment of the UMC, who by the way should be the ones planning to leave the denomination.
    This is about a US Congress who passed legislation forbidding, in word and print, any reference to gender.
    Gender matters, always has , always will….to true Christians at least.
    We don’t need more turn the other cheek Christians, we need more Crusader Christians, unafraid to stand up for their beliefs.

  4. I have written about this outcome more times than I can count. Progressives set the stage for this schism and the end result they are seeing now. The progressive new UMC will be unable to survive financially. Guy’s like Adam Hamilton pushed the narrative that traditionalists have harmed the LGBTQIA+ community by not being welcoming. As far back as I can trace the Discipline has been very clear on “welcoming” gays. But have no doubt, these outlandish statements by progressive bishops were intended to divide us as a denomination along lines of straight or gay.

    Following the special general conference, liberal bishops announced they would not follow the discipline as ratified. They proudly announced in the UMC News Service that they were ordaining gays and lesbians. Same-sex weddings in the church followed. The lesson they taught us is that no matter what the discipline says, they will always do what they want.

    So where are we, the gays that the progressives thought they were courting packed their bags, and started a new denomination ahead of the general conference. The Liberation Methodist Connexion, i.e. the LGTQUIA+ church is off and running. Now the liberal progressives are really believing what the general conference on finance told them early last year, that there was no financial path to the survival of the new UMC.

    I don’t want to say “I told you so,” to the progressives, but I did. This all falls squarely in the court of you asked for it, and now you’re going to get it. UMC charges in our neck of the woods have closed up or are about to because of liberal policies and actions that do exactly the opposite of “do no harm.”

    Our breakaway church MoyockChristian.org continues to flourish and grow, absent the snarky politics of liberal bishops. God’s plan is fulfilled by those who actually walk with Jesus Christ instead of those trying to be two steps ahead of Him.

    May the Peace of Jesus Christ be with all of you ahead of the general conference.

    • wil meiklejohn says

      Brother Thom; Appreciate your perceptions and enthusiasm, however I have some concerns as I read through your response.
      E,g,
      “Progressives set the stage for this schism”-seems to be a significant amount of The Blame Game.
      “The progressive new UMC will be unable to survive financially”-seem to recall a passage about not ‘laying up treasures on earth’; i.e. it needs to be about people and not about ‘THINGS’,
      “I don’t want to say ‘I told you so’…but I did” -and continue to keep rubbing it in
      “This all falls squarely in the court of you asked for it”-so much for love!
      “and now you’re going to get it”-that approach is assured to work to ‘harden hearts’
      “the snarky politics of liberal bishops”-seem to recall a passage about
      ‘Judge not, lest you be judged in the same way
      “May the Peace of Jesus Christ be will all of you”-Wow! After all of the smarmy, self-righteous, spewings you try to justify them with ‘the
      Peace of Jesus Christ’?
      I believe that God created every person and loves every person unconditionally. We may not see eye-to-eye but we need to able to walk arm-in-arm. John Wesley put it a slightly different way; viz.
      “If your heart is with my heart, give me your hand”. I extend my hand to you as we rejoice in God’s gift of life perhaps maybe viewing it in different ways rather than right/wrong.

  5. Below is part of the spin posted on the conference website by the North Georgia Conference liberal Bishop prior to the pandemic in anticipation of the May, 2020 General Conference. The BIG LIE was launched and will now pick up steam headed to August by the liberal elite trying to fool as many as possible in order to hang on to as much of the institutional church and its MONEY as possible.

    ———————————————————————————-

    Message from the North Georgia Conference Cabinet on the
    Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation

    1 – 16 – 2020

    (1) This Protocol offers a path for The United Methodist Church to continue to be a denomination for those with traditional, centrist, and progressive perspectives. The post-separation United Methodist Church will continue to have room for divergent perspectives and value diversity as an essential component of our faith.

    (2). The Protocol also offers a path to separate for those whose convictions do not allow them to continue to be United Methodist.

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