by Chris Ritter
This month marks the release of Where Do We Go from Here? from Market Square Books. I am one of twenty-four United Methodists offering a chapter in response to the title question. Pre-orders are now being accepted and the book will soon be available on Amazon and through Cokesbury. All royalties go to the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR).
Here are four excerpts from my chapter, entitled “2020 Visions.”
On the Connectional Conference Plan:
A self-avowed, practicing traditionalist, I was perhaps the most recognizable delegate supporting the Connectional Conference Plan at GC2019. I now believe that door to be firmly shut. Conferring with African delegates convinced me they could never support such a diversification of ethical teachings under the umbrella of the UMC. African United Methodists do not have the urgency and anxiety around this issue that we in the West do. Like the One Church Plan, they view the CCP as the UMC lending its good name to the practice of homosexuality. Lack of African support is fatal to the ratification process needed by any structural plans capable of keeping all the current players in the same denomination. While a grand structural solution might have worked with strong episcopal support prior to 2019, the CCP is now dead.
On an exodus of progressives:
The prospects of a protracted denominational war of attrition are wearisome. Many progressives have come to view General Conference as a game that cannot be won. Whatever else the One Church Plan was, it was not a stable solution for United Methodism. It was only acceptable to Progressives as a transitional state to full inclusion. To go back to General Conference 2020 and argue otherwise would betray some important core principles of justice. Given what progressives want from GC2020 is something they know they cannot get, one solution is simply to not show up. Deciding not to play the old game allows space to organize something new.
On formal division:
If debating human sexuality again is fruitless, and if ad hoc separation is impractical, and if staying in the same institution is too complicated, that leaves us with one other option: formal division. Under this scenario General Conference 2020 would come together to decide on terms of divorce. Many, including a number of United Methodist academics from across the theological spectrum, have concluded this is the point at which we have regrettably arrived. But it is not as easy as simply deciding to separate. The UMC constitution stands in the way. It will need to be altered or otherwise navigated if conflicts are to end.
On the future of our general agencies:
I believe there are ways to mitigate the win/lose dynamic. One option is to spin off the general agencies of the UMC as autonomous non-profits that provide services to whatever judicatory might require them. Instead of our general agencies being run by boards populated by the jurisdictional conferences, they would operate under boards perpetuated by their own processes. Annual conferences, whether inside or outside the UMC, could contract with these agencies for services related to pensions, discipleship, ordained ministry, etc. The general agencies would have to survive in the free market instead of receiving funding from a denominational umbilical cord. Change will come to our general agencies regardless. A draconian cut in agency funding has already been recommended to GC2020 due to denominational decline.
The anticipated release date is May 15, 2019.