by Chris Ritter
The following are significant resources generated from the United Methodist Way Forward process. I hope this will be useful for folks trying to better understand what is happening. Check back on this post often as I will be adding resources as I become aware of them. Realizing the potential for unfortunate omissions, I invite you to make suggestions in the comment section below.
Official Way Forward Resources
The commission has a rather light web presence. This might be due to the fact that their meeting are closed and they ultimately report to the Council of Bishops, not the entire UMC.
The three bishops that moderate the Commission on a Way Forward offer periodic status updates that can be found here:
Meet the 32 members of The Commission on a Way Forward
The Council of Bishops released the handbook prepared to help guide them through the Way Forward Process. It is called Finding a Way Forward: Resources for Witness, Contextual Leadership, and Unity. You can access it as a PDF file here.
The Commission’s Facebook Page and Twitter Feed
The Commission’s Facebook Page is current followed by over 5,000 people. It’s Twitter feed has over 500 followers.
There are three models being outlined by the Commission on a Way Forward for the Council of Bishops to consider. The Council of Bishops is taking a more active lead and will be the body putting forth recommendations to General Conference 2019 in St. Louis. (November 9, 2017 by UMNS)
At the February 2018 Council of Bishops meeting, only two of the three models were seriously studied. This is the report coming from that meeting.
Abingdon Press is in the process of releasing a suite of ten resources under the heading Faultlines: Holy Conversations about Human Sexuality. The link here takes you to a PDF summary of the books which are written from various perspectives. These resources can be ordered here.
Holy Contradictions: What’s Next for the People Called United Methodists? (February 2018) Essayists include Scott Kisker, Jim and Jennifer Cowart, Rob Fuquay, Jay Williams, Kim Reisman, Bryan Collier, Audrey Warren, Phil Wogaman, Eduard Khegay, Magrey deVega, Tom Lambrecht, Laceye Warner, Donna Pritchard, David Field, and Diane Kenaston. Edited by Brian Milford.
The Marks of Hope: Where the Spirit is Moving in a Wounded Church (March 2018) by Matt Rawle;
Living Faithfully: Human Sexuality and the United Methodist Church, a Four-Week Study (August 2017) by David L. Barnhart, Jr., Rebekah Jordan, Alex Joyner, and Jill M. Johnson.
The Fight for Marriage: Church Conflicts and Courtroom Contests (April 2018) by Phillip F. Cramer and Willam L. Harbison.
Our Strangely Warmed Hearts: Coming Out into God’s Call (April 2018) by Karen P. Oliveto.
The 19: Questions to Kindle a Wesleyan Spirit (May 2018) by Carolyn Moore.
Our Purpose is Love: The Wesleyan Way to Be the Church (May 2018) by David N. Field.
A New Church and a New Seminary: Theological Education is the Solution (May 2018) by David McAllister-Wilson.
The Arbinger Institute. (2006) The Anatomy of Peace: Resolving the Heart of Conflict. Oakland, California: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
This book has been studied by the Commission on a Way Forward and the Council of Bishops as a model for addressing conflict. It does not address the United Methodist Church or our divisions directly, but is often quoted and put forth as a recommended resource. Having inner clarity and peace (a “heart of peace”) is offered as a key to resolving conflict. A summary can be found here.
Booth, Karen (2012) Forgetting How to Blush: United Methodism’s Compromise with the Sexual Revolution. Franklin, Tennessee: Bristol House.
I have not read this one, but the book is reviewed as very well researched. A description by the publisher: “Tracing the historical, scientific, political, religious and cultural trends in relation to the sexual revolution, Karen Booth exposes many assumptions, alliances and errors that are rarely considered in the public dialogues and debates over the church’s stance on homosexuality.”
Cantrell, Wil. (2017) Unafraid and Unashamed: Facing the Future of United Methodism. Knoxville, Tennessee: Market Square Publishing.
Rev. Wil Cantrell is a two-time General Conference delegate from the Holston Conference and a member of the executive committee of the World Methodist Council. His book is a call to humility, understanding, and centrism. It is an accessible, 145 page, work that attempts to describe the impasse we face and offer a “maybe none of us have all the answers” sort of approach.
Field, David N. (2017) Bid Our Jarring Conflicts Cease: A Wesleyan Theology and Praxis of Church Unity. Nashville, Tennesee: General Board of Higher Education and Ministry.
David Field, Academic Coordinator for the Methodist e-Academy and lay member of the UMC in Switzerland, offers a theological basis for Methodist unity based on John Wesley’s emphases on inner holiness, the catholic spirit, and cautions against bigotry. This book has been recommended by the Uniting Methodist movement and is written from a progressive compatibilist perspective.
Greenway, Jeff, Pirona, Carlos, Ritter, Chris, Moore, Carolyn, Dunnam, Maxie, Forrest, Andrew, Reisman, Kimberly, and Boyette, Keith. (2017) A Firm Foundation: Hope and Vision for a New Methodist Future. Franklin, Tennessee: Seedbed.
The Wesleyan Covenant Association published this seven-chapter book as a study guide for United Methodists seeking to understand the issues that give rise to the work of the Way Forward Commission. WCA is a membership-based renewal organization that began in 2016. Rather than talking about homosexuality, the book lifts up a vision for a new Methodism that is faithful to the old. Topics discussed are the Lordship of Jesus, The Authority of Scripture, the work of the Holy Spirit, personal holiness, intentional discipleship, and global mission. There is an accompanying DVD that features discussion sessions hosted by Rev. Jessica LaGrone, a members of the Commission on a Way Forward.
Higher Education and Ministry (2017) Unity of the Church and Human Sexuality: Toward a Faithful United Methodist Witness. Nashville, Tennessee: General Board of Higher Education and Ministry.
This 572-page book grew out of a March 2017 Theological Colloquy held at Candler School of Theology and sponsored by the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry. The content of the colloquy can also be found free online. I speculate that the tone of the colloquy turned out to be less hopeful about unity than it was envisioned to be by the planners. One headline was Dr. William Abraham’s paper called “In Defense of Mexit: Disagreement and Disunity in United Methodism.” The 104 page study guide is conciliatory in tone and is designed for local church use. It is available as a free pdf here. The moderators of the Commission on a Way Forward recently mailed the study guide to every General Conference delegate.
Heidinger, James V. (2017) The Rise of Theological Liberalism and the Decline of American Methodism. Franklin, Tennessee: Seedbed.
This sizable book traces the development of theological liberalism within United Methodism and is predecessor bodies. It is a “how did we get here?’ sort of book with a clear ideological perspective. Dr. James V. Heidinger II served as president and publisher of Good News, an evangelical renewal ministry within the United Methodist Church, from 1981 to 2009.
Lawrence, William B. (2018) A Methodist Requiem: Word of Hope and Resurrection for the Church. Nashville, Tennessee: General Board of Higher Education and Ministry.
This 2018 release laments the current state of affairs while it attempts to describe what a United Methodist break-up might entail. The author, a professor of American Church History at Perkins School of Theology, reaches back to the split of 1844 for context. Details about how a split might affect church-related institutions is discussed, as is the trust clause. A Methodist Requiem is written from generally a progressive compatibilist point of view.
Online Interpretive Resources
Rev. Tom Berlin of Floris UMC in Virginia has been asked to give his famous sugar packet presentation in several different venues. It explains divisions in the U.S. in terms of four categories: progressive incompatibilists, progress compatibilists, traditionalist compatibilists, and traditional incompatibilists. (May 12, 2017)
Dr. Billy Abraham, Albert Cook Outler Chair of Methodist Studies at Perkins School of Theology, offers his hope that the United Methodist Church will move in the direction of classic Christian orthodoxy. (August 2016)
Rev. Dr. Robert Phillips, pastor emeritus of Peoria First United Methodist Church and retired Navy chaplain, offers his insights into the complex nature of our United Methodist dilemma. (9/20/2016)
James Howell, pastor of Myers Park United Methodist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, makes his appeal for UM unity. (11/27/2016)
The impact of United Methodist schism on U.S. annual conferences is discussed. (12/20/2017)
A brief history of the UMC’s debate over homosexuality by Chris Ritter. (4/21/2016)
This post maps the U.S. annual conferences that have officially taken a position of defiance to the General Conference of the United Methodist Church. (7/13/2017)
Chris Ritter describes the United Methodist Church as a flotilla of associated conferences, councils, and general agencies and discusses what this might mean if we chart separate courses. (9/6/2016)
From February 2018, this is a discussion of the possible shape of the “exit ramps” promised by the Commission on a Way Forward and their implications for the UMC. (2/13/2018)
This is a Circuit Rider Magazine piece by Chris Ritter in which he breaks down the reasons why our homogenized structure no longer fits our current reality. (4/1/2016)
Tom is a member of the Way Forward Commission and vice president of Good News. He writes insightfully about the issues under discussion.
David Scott is the Director of Mission Theology at the General Board of Global Ministries and often offers helpful perspectives on the Way Forward. See especially:
Fifty-Five Futures for the UMC (11/21/2017)
Recommended Reading: A Hybrid Way Forward (1/16/2018)
Unity and the Modern Denomination (11/28/2017)
“Let’s Make a Deal, #UMC Style” (11/14/2018) by Dr. David Watson, Academic Dean of United Theological Seminary. He reviews the three models offered by the Way Forward Commission.
“A Milepost on the Way Forward” (11/11/2017) Reflections on the November 2017 Status Update for the Commission.
“Brown Sugar: Walling Out the Global South” (5/18/2017) by Chris Ritter. This post explores how many otherwise inclusive folks want to nevertheless exclude the global church from decisions affecting the U.S.
“Why is Schism Such a Dirty Word?” (4/26/2017) by Shane Raynor. Borrowing a concept from the business world, Raynor suggests we may “spin off” a new type of Methodism that would allow us each group to better operate with a common mission.
“UMC Unity: The Oliveto Effect” (7/25/2016) by Dr. Chris Ritter. How the presence of Bishop Oliveto complicates efforts at church unity.
“Uniting Methodists and Diocesan Methodism” (10/23/2017) Bishop Scott Jones reflects on proposals by the Uniting Methodists group.
Lonnie Brooks analyses the Way Forward options. An experienced conference lay leaders from Alaska, Lonnie Brooks offers his analysis of the three Way Forward models. This link will take you to his various blogs on UM Insight.
“The Missional Split of 1844.” (3/28/2014 by Dr. Chris Ritter. A brief history of the last large-scale Methodism schism.
“UMC Separation Calmly Considered” (2/18/18) by Dr. Ted Campbell, Professor of Church History at Perkins School of Theology. Campbell argues that other factors besides human sexuality may come into play in a United Methodist separation.
“Barbarians to Bureaucrats: Why the UMC Needs Its Own Donald Trump” (1/9/2018) by Rev. Christy Thomas, blogger and retired clergy from Texas. This provocative piece makes the case that the UMC as an institution does not serve its constituents well and needs disruption.
Why Africans will Determine the Outcome of General Conference  by Dr. David Scott of the General Board of Global Ministries
The Global Nature of the United Methodist Church by Rev. Jerry Kulah of the Liberia Annual Conference. This is from 2008, but it represents the thinking of many African delegates to General Conference. Also see his address to General Conference 2016.
Legislative Proposals for General Conference 2019
An “Option One” Accountability Plan (COWF Model One)
Dr. Chris Ritter offers his thoughts on what The Commission on a Way Forward’s “Option One” might look like. He limits his proposals to things that can be accomplished within our current constitution.
Concerned Alaskans’ Local Option (COWF Model Two)
Concerned Alaskans, a group headed by long-time lay leader Lonnie Brooks, offers legislation that would enact the Local Option. They attempt to make it palatable by localizing our episcopacy: “…the election and consecration of Karen Oliveto to the office of Bishop has made the Local Option untenable without [constitutional] change.” The plan mandates constitutional amendments which require super-majority passage and 2/3 ratification votes around the world.
Hybrid Way Forward Legislation Version 2.2(COWF Model Three)
Dr. Chris Ritter offers a synthesis of the three Way Forward Models to create a structural solution that can be accomplished without amending our constitution. It probably fits best under Option Three, a multi-branch plan. It creates affiliated autonomous conferences within the U.S. that remain tied to the UMC through a pre-approved concordat agreement.
Movements and Caucuses
The largest group dedicated to the full inclusion of LGBTQI persons in The United Methodist Church. Much of their funding comes from outside the denomination.
Launched in October 2016 with around 1800 attendees at an organizational meeting in Chicago, WCA is a membership-based organization dedicated to an orthodox, global direction for the UMC. They had their second global gathering at The Woodlands United Methodist Church in October 2017 with dozens of live-streaming sites all over the nation. Over a thousand United Methodist clergy are dues-paying members of WCA. There are also individual lay members and entire congregations that have joined.
Love Prevails has vowed to disrupt United Methodist proceedings until their demands of full inclusion for LGBTQI people are met.
The Institute on Religion and Democracy’s wing dedicated to influencing The United Methodist Church in a conservative direction. UMAction has stood opposed to schism and has promoted accountability to the Book of Discipline‘s current language.
Good News has existed since 1967 as a major renewal group in the UMC. They publish Good News Magazine which is a primary resource for the evangelical/orthodox perspective within United Methodism.
From their website: “The United Methodist Queer Clergy Caucus (UMQCC) is made up of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex people who are called, commissioned, and ordained clergy in the United Methodist Church.”
A group dedicated to doctrinal renewal within United Methodism.
Some 250 United Methodists gathered in Atlanta in the fall of 2017 to support church unity and a “local option” solution. Some of these participants were part of a previous association called The Centrist Movement, which was based in West Ohio.
MFSA is a voice for progressive action within United Methodism.
This is a collection of thirteen member organization that bands together to influence voting at General Conference. (Its counterpart on the conservative side is called the Renewal and Reform Coalition.) Members of LYNC include: Affirmation, Black Methodists for Church Renewal, Fossil Free UMC, MARCHA: Metodistas Asociados Representando la Causa Hispano-Americanos, Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA), Methodists in New Directions (MIND), National Federation of Asian American United Methodists (NFAAUM), Native American International Caucus (NAIC), Pacific Islanders Caucus of United Methodists (PINCUM), Reconciling Ministries Network, United Methodist Association of Ministers with Disabilities, and Western Methodist Justice Movement (WMJM). Below is LYNC’s statement for the Commission on a Way Forward on their website.
The Renewal and Reform Coalition
The conservative counterpart to the progressive Love Your Neighbor Coalition (see above) is The Renewal and Reform Coalition. Like LYNC, this group bands together to influence voting at General Conference. Member organizations include: The Confessing Movement within The United Methodist Church, Good News, Lifewatch, RENEW, Transforming Congregations, and UM Action.
The Commission on a Way Forward solicited input from various caucus groups. This news story shares some of those.
Older Legislative Proposals (for General Conference 2016)
Adam Hamilton introduced the Local Option and invited people to sign on. Many did.
David Watson and Bill Arnold put forth a plan for unity through accountability. It gains quite a bit of traction, but the Way Forward Process tabled further discussion. The website for this plan is down, but here is a post I wrote that describes it.
This was a plan Chris Ritter wrote just before General Conference 2016 that provided a structural solution without amendments. The election of Bishop Oliveto made this unworkable in the author’s opinion.
Chris Ritter’s first plan to sort the U.S. church into two new jurisdictions.
A second version of the Jurisdictional Solution that keeps the current five jurisdiction but adds a sixth one for those who want their own rules on human sexuality.
Another Jurisdictional Solution that allows for a gradual sorting of annual conferences into different ministry rules.
Image Credit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d7zZstEIqLk