by Chris Ritter
In Part One and Part Two, I outlined challenges with the Feinberg Separation Protocol and began to explore possible solutions. If you have not read those posts I would ask that you do so now. Since the release of Part Two, I received some important feedback from Rev. Forbes Matonga, a key clergy delegate from Zimbabwe and candidate for the episcopacy. He agrees with the analogy that Africa is treated like the unfortunate child of divorcing parents. The timeline urgency is a Western concern:
Africa is not in a hurry. We have no timeline worries! While the West loses time, Africa makes time for that which matters to her! We can not be forced to make hasty decisions. We are patient to do what God, the Owner of both Time and the Church has to say!
The frenetic angst of the U.S. Church is being met with the patient ferment of our African brothers and sisters. Is there a way for GC2020 to do right by Africa, give Westerners their overdue separation, and not give up the significant ground that has been gained in the Feinberg negotiations? I believe there is.
Taken on the grand scale, the Protocol is actually two pieces of legislation. One is the carefully negotiated separation document. The other is a regionalization plan for the remaining psUMC. There are several such plans submitted to GC2020, the most prominent by far is the U.S. Regional Conference Plan submitted by the Connectional Table. The plan was drafted well before the Protocol was negotiated and was not designed specifically for the post-separation reality. I suggest GC2020 leave the Protocol as is and do the hard work on a comprehensive structural plan that better defines a workable future.
I reviewed the Connectional Table’s Proposal back in December. It compartmentalizes the United States by adding to the present top-heavy bureaucracy. The U.S. gets an additional layer of conferencing the rest of the world does not get. The US Regional Conference can call itself into session as often as it likes and can build U.S.-only agencies. It anticipates General Conference will be shorter, but significant matters of budget, the scope of customization, and general agency management are left as reserved GC powers. I believe the primary challenges facing the Protocol are with this other legislative package. It is a hurried patch at a time when a completely new design is required.
The U.S. Regional Conference Plan presumes that Africa will stay in a post-separation UMC, accepting oversight by LGBTQ bishops and separation from exiting U.S. Traditionalists of undetermined number. It saddles the psUMC with an unstable jurisdictional system and the financial burden of general agencies that are unsustainable even before the separation. It exposes the psUMC to significant risk of regionalization being defeated during global ratification. Paired with the Protocol, it forces U.S. Traditionalists of all stripes (and there are many) to choose between being part of a thoroughly progressive church or completely starting over.
A Better Solution
Most U.S. traditionalists want to leave now. Africa and the U.S. need to better define their future relationship. GBGM and UMCOR must somehow survive. I wrote my best idea for that and submitted it as GC2020 legislation. (See page 304 of the ADCA, Volume 2, Section 1). It reframes The United Methodist Church as The United Methodist Communion of Churches. The legislation also happens to be highly compatible with the Feinberg Separation Protocol.
Under the plan, the current UMC constitution is replaced with one that creates the United Methodist Communion. Detailed processes allow our various congregations, conferences, etc. to be sorted into new denominations. It is up to the denominations whether they ultimately want to be part of the Communion, but most certainly will. The Feinberg Protocol would be approved as-is and sit alongside The UM Communion legislation. U.S. Traditionalists would leave immediately under the provisions of the Protocol. They can later join the Communion as they determine.
The United Methodist Communion would be led by a Governing Council of 60-100 people that meets annually. General Conference 2020 would be the last. GCFA would have the authority to amend the Discipline (following ratification) in order to enable sorting and facilitate the formation of the Governing Council. The general agencies would continue and serve all the Communion’s member denominations with special emphasis being given to the General Board of Global Ministries. None of the denominations that form under the new Constitution would be The United Methodist Church, but they could be The United Methodist Church of America, The United Methodist Church of Africa, The United Methodist Church of Western Europe, The Covenant Methodist Church, etc. The cross and flame could be adapted and used by each as desired.
I wrote the Communion legislation with Africa in mind. It allows them to keep the United Methodist name and logo and their relationships with GBGM. They aren’t forced to choose sides in a U.S. divorce. We all move together into more spacious relationships. You can also find the legislation here. I take no pride of ownership. It is there for the delegates at GC2020 to hash out, chop up, and reinvent. They may want to add a judiciary, etc. I would rather see us debate the terms of the new constitution than revisit the Protocol. There is time at GC2020 to do so. All groups would be free to caucus on the future United Methodist denominations needed.
The ground gained by the Feinberg Protocol must be retained. Would Traditionalists support The United Methodist Communion legislation with the assurance that they are not forced to be part of it? I think they would… IF Africans expressed a preference for it. A better deal for Africa is a more stable solution for all involved. A future United Methodist Church of Africa would be free to partner with the new traditional Methodist Church in the U.S. in any way it sees fit, whether they joined the UM Communion or not. The psUMC would gain greater control over shaping its own future.
United Methodists have a lot to pray/talk/study about between now and May 15. The Protocol answers some key questions and creates new ones. I think delegates at GC2020 might do well to design a future that makes sense for its largest unified voting bloc located in its fastest growing region.