A guest post by Jamie Westlake

Adam Hamilton is clearly grieving and angry about the loss of his favored way forward, the One Church Plan.  But he definitely is someone with the ability to help lead us to some new Methodist expressions. Hamilton suggests that there are three options:

  1. Double down on the One Church Plan and take another crack at it by ongoing resistance, pressure, and acts of disobedience to the Discipline in the hope that such actions would bring needed change in 2020.
  2. Create a new structure for the denomination- something similar to the Connectional Conference Plan, which didn’t gain much traction before or during General Conference. Hamilton suggests having two or three Central Conferences in the United States.
  3. He sees the potential for compatibilist conservatives, centrists, and progressives to form a new United Methodist movement that removes the incompatibility language from the Discipline.

It appears to me from his article that Hamilton prefers to lean into option two and three when he says, “Shortly after Easter leaders from these various groups will need to come together to determine if a new structure is viable, or if forming an entirely new United Methodism is the better option.” I hope I am reading him correctly. Option one keeps us locked in the zero sum game of never ending conflict. It’s long past time to acknowledge our irreconcilable differences, wish one another well on the journey, and figure out what we can do well together. The United Methodist Church is not a debating society, and we have been debating this contentious issue for far too long.

The recent General Conference was an awful experience from every side of the aisle, and we should do everything possible to avoid a repeat performance in 2020. Besides, pushing the OCP again isn’t likely to produce a different result given the fact that at least 30 African delegates had visa issues. Will that happen again? Even if it does occur again, the US loses 22 delegates, Africa gains 18 delegates, the Philippines gains two delegates, and the total number of delegates will go down by two. If advocates of the OCP were right that they had 2/3 of the US delegates supporting their plan, it’s hard to see how the math works for a strategy of doing the same thing and expecting a different result.

Option Two will require mutual cooperation and the willingness to do something bold together. Is it possible? Of course, it is. Is it likely for us to trust one another enough before General Conference 2020 to engage cooperatively and boldly on a plan that will put enough space in our togetherness? No, it’s not likely, but it’s worth trying. I hope to see the leaders of the Council of Bishops along with supporters of the OCP and the Traditional Plan sit down, break bread, and have conversations sooner than later about what might be possible given our current state of affairs- the OCP can’t pass and too many people in the US and Western Europe can’t stand the accountability measures being pursued in the TP.

Option 3 acknowledges that it’s time…it’s time to separate not with rancor and animosity, but releasing one another from the conflict for the sake of the mission. I suspect that GC2019 was a “Paul and Barnabas moment” for many people. “Their disagreement was so sharp that they separated.” (Acts 15:39) They were in complete agreement about the most important issue facing the early church in Acts 15 as they presented their case in lock-step with one another before the Jerusalem Council. They declared and it was agreed that we are not saved by Jesus and circumcision; rather we are saved by His grace through faith alone.

Guess what? Our disagreement is so sharp that, if option two proves to be unattainable, it will be best for us to separate. We will still be brothers and sisters in Christ in the universal church, but we will be a part of different denominations in much the same way I can’t be a Southern Baptist, because I believe in infant baptism and the ordination of women. I can still do a lot of cooperative ministry and mission with Southern Baptists given that we don’t have to fight about these issues every time we get together.

If I am reading him correctly, I am in complete agreement with Adam Hamilton that we should pursue options two and three over the next year leading up to General Conference. Let’s not do what we just did all over again. As Chris Ritter said, “Our people can’t unsee this.” Most of the Traditionalists in my sphere of influence talk about how there were “no winners” at GC.

Wesleyan Covenant Association was abundantly clear from its inception in 2016 that they couldn’t support any plan featuring the “local option” like the OCP, especially if it didn’t include a gracious exit provision. This led to the contingency planning that many supporters of the OCP criticized. Yes, if the OCP had passed, many United Methodist churches and pastors would be looking to a new Methodist expression as envisioned by the WCA as a landing place. This is precisely what Hamilton is advocating for now. I support this effort and I am glad he’s attempting to gather like-minded folks together to discuss what the future holds for a “new United Methodism.” Options two and three will need to be discussed and pursued not just by the group Hamilton seeks to assemble, but by all of us.

But please…please…let’s not repeat General Conference 2019 in 2020.

 

Jamie Westlake is an elder in the Florida Conference and serves as the Senior Pastor at New Hope UMC where they seek to make more and better followers of Jesus Christ as one church in two languages and three locations.