By JJ Mannschreck –
Speaking as a young clergy with a (God willing) long career in front of me, I think it’s important for me to explain why some of us are considering going with the Global Methodist Church (GMC).
1. The Definition of Progressive. There’s a lot of noise being made in the current church conversation about big tents and long tables. Progressive voices and institutionalists are talking about how welcoming they will be for traditionalist voices. “You don’t have to leave” they say, “we will make room for and respect all theologies.” And to be honest, I want to believe them. But if the issue of LGBTQ inclusion is a justice issue – which I’ve heard many, many times – then, at best, what we are going to see is a temporary tolerance.
The definition of progressive is that they understand their ideology as progress. Assimilation is built into their identity. One can assume that they can and will be very kind for a season – but eventually the call of justice will not be content to permit “oppressive theologies” in the room. There will probably be a few years in the Post Separation UM Church (PSUMC) where it will be safe and even comfortable for traditionalist clergy to do ministry. But it will probably get progressively worse for them as the years go by. For those nearing retirement, it might even be the easier choice to stay. But I am not near retirement. I am a young traditionalist clergy. I have no desire to be part of a tradition that will resent me just a little bit more every year for my entire career.
2. United By Mission Alone. It is time for all Methodist traditions (both PSUMC and GMC) to eliminate the Trust Clause. The Trust Clause coerces unity that isn’t really there. The Global Methodist Church has made it clear that autonomy in the local church will be the name of the game, whereas the PSUMC has no intention of getting rid of its hold over congregations. Without a legally binding, practical, and financial threat to keep unity in the ranks, the Global Methodist Church will rely on missional alignment. Rather than being yoked together by rule of law, we will be able to walk next to one another – and work together freely.
3. The Call System (and Guaranteed Appointments). Along with the trust clause, the itinerant system should be eliminated. The current method of appointment for pastors does have its conveniences – but the disadvantages significantly outweigh the advantages. It is a system that can very easily, even if accidentally, breed deep abuse and scandal. Beyond potential abuses, it enables toxic churches and ineffective clergy to point fingers at one another for decades without accountability. I’ve seen this in my own conference in countless examples. The Global Methodist Church is shifting only slightly, to a partial call system. This will be challenging at first. Churches will have a steep learning curve on interviewing pastors. Toxic churches will shrivel and ineffective pastors will struggle to find good churches, but all of those things will ultimately lead to a healthier denomination down the line.
4. Becoming a Minority. I am a very privileged, young heterosexual white man. While I may not come from a fabulously wealthy family and I never had a pony growing up, the reality is that I grew up in extremely comfortable conditions. I believe there is a racial and cultural realignment coming for the church – and I am here for it. I am eager to be a part of a church that is multiracial and where leadership is more equitably shared between Africans, Filipinos, and Caucasians from the United States, Europe, and Russia.
Our African brothers and sisters have lived with a system of inequity for decades. It saddens me to see progressive voices making a lot of noise about regionalization at the exact historical moment when multiracial voices are finding prominence in the power dynamics. Rhetorically, institutionalists talk a lot about diversity – they want Africans in the room – it just seems that they don’t want to have to listen to them. Regionalization is not justice. Make no mistake, it is an injustice issue, and nothing else. The Global Methodist Church, particularly the white conservatives in America, will have a lot to learn in a short amount of time. There is racism buried beneath the surface of some of our congregations, and we will have to deal with that if we are to flourish.
5. Governance Structure – the local Church. The core of my desire for movement to the Global Methodist Church lies in the nitty gritty of church organization. I don’t believe institutionalists or even progressives are bad people. I will miss many of my colleagues, and I wish them blessings in the future from the bottom of my heart. But when I look at the two structures, one system is simply better. For a long time the UM Church has paid lip service to the fact that the front lines of ministry are in the local church. And yet, in my experience and in what I have seen around the country, this is not a practical reality.
In my conference, pastors are actively running away from local church ministry, often seeking out the coveted conference level staffing positions. Despite the financial difficulties and combining of structures, the conference level staff continues to grow. In recent months, they have done a good job of re-orienting back toward the local church, particularly since COVID – but it is still an extremely top heavy structure. There’s a whole lot of apportionment money going to support these massive staffs and the resources they provide (which a majority of churches do not make use of). This is only more pronounced when we consider the massive dollar amounts attached to the work at the General Church level as well.
The Global Methodist Church is offering a far more streamlined organization. In dollars and cents, it will probably cost my church half what it currently does to be a part of that structure. On a practical level, we will send less money up to the denomination, and more money will be left for the local church to do ministry in our community. In rough estimation we expect to move from 14 percent of our budget going up to support the conference down to 7 percent. District Superintendents (or whatever they will be called) will not be seen as a promotional escape from local church ministry, but rather an extra responsibility – possibly on top of local church ministry – taken up as an honor. I have seen some say that the GMC’s Transitional Book of Doctrines and Discipline (which is significantly shorter than the current UMC BOD) is too short. Critics claim that clearly they didn’t think hard enough if they wrote such a streamlined structure. But I look at the bloated structures of the current UM Church and I believe that a simpler way is possible (and preferable).
What is not on my list of five points? The conversation about LGBTQ inclusion does not even arise (except perhaps tangentially in the first reason). I do not want to move to the Global Methodist Church because of a disagreement over homosexuality. Despite what progressives have been screaming for years, I don’t “hate” gay people. To be honest, I can easily make this decision without even considering that part of the discussion. I would make my way to the GMC on their call system alone, or their governing structures, or their removal of the trust clause. All of these are practical, straightforward reasons that the Global Methodist Church will be a stronger church in the long run.
I know that LGBTQ+ inclusion is the flashy headline. Mainstream media, if they notice this split at all, will talk about how the church is dividing over homosexuality. They have never had much interest in nuance, or really any differences that don’t grab people’s attention. I don’t expect a fair hearing in the public square. Inclusion may have been the lightning bolt that struck the church and lit the roof on fire – but after the flames died down, they revealed a rotting structure set on a leaky foundation. It’s time to build a new house.
For what it is worth, I will be entering through the doorway into the Global Methodist Church, just as soon as they unlock the door.
JJ Mannschreck is the pastor of Flushing United Methodist Church in Michigan.