by Chris Ritter
GC2020 convenes in just eighty-one days and delegates must be ready to do their best work. A big piece fell into place with the announcement of the ground-breaking Feinberg Separation Protocol on January 3. It calls for U.S. Traditionalists to form a new Methodist Church and the rest of the global denomination to live together, if they so elect, in a UMC where the U.S. Church is regionalized. There are big questions about whether central conferences will join the new denominations, form their own, or accept regionalization within the post separation UMC.
The most discussed vehicle for regionalization is the Connectional Table’s U.S. Regional Conference Plan. It allows the U.S. to customize the Book of Discipline in ways more extensive than the adaptations long allowed to central conferences. As the name suggests, the plan was written to privilege the needs of the United States.
The Connectional Table’s Plan has some significant weaknesses:
- Inequity. It adds a fourth layer of conferencing in the U.S. while the rest of the world gets three.
- Top-Heavy. The UMC struggles to fund our existing boards and agencies. The plan envisions a potential new set of national agencies and boards created to serve the U.S. Region.
- General Superintendency. It requires Africa and other parts of the world to accept a general superintendency that includes LGBTQ bishops.
- Bad Options for Africa. If Traditionalist central conferences cannot accept gay bishops in the UMC, they would need to take the exit allowed by the Protocol. Under the Protocol they would need to vote by a 2/3 majority while U.S. conferences would vote themselves out by 57%. Voting themselves out, Africa would lose all access to the UMC name/insignia along with their representation in GBGM, UMCOR, Africa University, and other important structures.
- Uncertainty. The plan requires constitutional amendments with uncertain reception in African conferences. The last regionalization plan to be passed at GC2008 was soundly rejected in Africa. Failure of the amendments would leave the psUMC in further crisis.
- Polarization. If the regionalization amendments are passed, the post-separation UMC will have a General Conference more polarized than it is today. The U.S. will be more Progressive and hold the power to adapt the Discipline. Africa will continue to claim a bigger percentage of a General Conference retaining significant reserve powers (like defining budgets and setting limits for what can be regionalized). This arrangement seems inherently unstable.
- Timeline. Traditionalists will not support passage of the present regionalization plans at GC2020. Some planners now discuss a specially-called General Conference for fall of 2021 or spring of 2022 to approve the amendments needed for regionalization. If approved, it will be another 18-24 months of waiting to discover the results of ratification votes.
Add to these weaknesses the fact that General Conference has become a chaotic and dysfunctional way to run a denomination. Meeting in such a large, international body every four years makes us clumsy instead of nimble. The language translation effort alone costs millions of dollars. By the time massive amounts of legislation are processesd and bundled into consent calendars, most delegates leave these global meeting not exactly sure what they did. Sanity is the ability to stop doing what is no longer working. The U.S. Regional Conference would go through all the labors of a General Conference only to have the U.S. delegates meet a second time to change it all back to U.S. preferences.
My interest in the psUMC is as a United Methodist clergy with deep concerns for the central conferences. The Separation Protocol meets the needs of the congregation I serve well enough (even though it is far from ideal). I hope GC2020 accepts the Protocol as written, and approves a much more stable vision for regionalized United Methodism. There are lessons to be learned from our Anglican brothers and sisters who have organized themselves globally into a family of regional churches… a Communion. Amidst all the talk of separation I hope we don’t miss an opportunity to take a step back and think big.
What is a Communion?
A communion is a family of autonomous (but related) denominations and/or regional churches. The Orthodox churches have full communion with each other among their autocephelous (independently headed) churches. Anglicanism is an example much closer to United Methodism.
In Anglicanism there is nothing like a General Conference. An Anglican Consultative Council meets every three years. Member churches are granted either one, two, or three seats depending upon their size. Term limits of six years are imposed and a few at large members are added for expertise. The total Council is around 70 members and all are seated with 2/3 consent of the body. A Secretary General elected by the council hires whatever staff is needed. There is also a group of trustees elected by the council that meets annually and oversees a group much like our General Council on Finance and Administration. All Anglican bishops gather only once every decade for the Lambeth conference. The heads (primates) of the various churches meet somewhat more often.
The apparatuses of the Communion are overall much leaner than that of the constituent churches. A Council of this limited scope is sufficient because it is not trying to directly govern all the member churches. It is only responsible for shared expressions of Anglicanism. Each church has its own governance to suit their mission.
Communions are not without conflict. The Episcopal Church, for instance, was suspended for three years by the 2016 meeting of the primates. The issue was… wait for it… the topic of human sexuality. But disagreements within the Communion do little to disrupt the operation of each member church. No church is held captive or coerced by the Communion. It operates as a cooperative fellowship of denominations.
The United Methodist Communion of Churches
Last summer I accepted the challenge from a member of the Judicial Council to imagine a new constitution for United Methodism. This vision was submitted in legislative form to GC2020 and includes detailed transitional procedures that take us from United Methodist Church to United Methodist Communion of Churches. The new constitution would be approved alongside the Feinberg Separation Protocol. U.S. Traditionalists could leave immediately under the Protocol or form a church under the provisions of the new constitution.. Here are the highlights:
- GC2020 would debate, perfect, and approve the new constitution transforming The United Methodist Church into the United Methodist Communion of Churches.
- The Feinberg Protocol would also be adopted at GC2020 and churches could move immediately under those provisions. They are compatible.
- If the new constitution is ratified, General Conference 2020 would be the last General Conference.
- Self-selected Drafting Teams would meet to envision new denominations of United Methodism. Each would produce a 1,000-word vision statement available for public review and endorsement via UM Communications.
- Existing annual and central conferences each take votes on affiliation based on the vision statements and endorsements. If no group garners a majority there is a run-off between the top two choices. Annual conferences elect delegations to the convening conference of the church they select.
- Individual congregations may select a choice different from their annual conference and move into that choice without financial penalty. They may participate in the convening conference by the basis of representation established by that body.
- The new United Methodist denominations would meet to organize. All new churches have access to the United Methodist name and insignia. They would need to add a modifier like “The United Methodist Church of Africa,” “The United Methodist Church of America,” “Evangelical United Methodist Church,” or “The United Methodist Church, Philippines.” Member churches are not required to use the name and insignia.
- Clergy stay with their annual conference by default but may transfer if the so choose.
- Bishops would select a United Methodist denominational body. Bishops superintend only the church they have selected and there serve and are held accountable.
- Once the new constitution is ratified, GCFA is granted the authority to amend the Book of Discipline and the budget so as to best facilitate the transformation. This temporary power exists until the United Methodist Governing Council is formed. GCFA will also manage the timeline, not to extend beyond December 31, 2024.
- Central conference funding is to be continued at the rate set by GC2020 for the 2021-2024 quadrennium.
- Institutions may affiliate with one of more member churches and/or with the Communion generally.
- The trust clause transfers to the new denominations who may do with it what they will.
- The primary focus on The United Methodist Communion is the continued work of the General Board of Global Ministries and UMCOR. Wespath is prominent and may select their own board. The general agencies of The United Methodist Church would adapt to service the entire Communion.
- As member churches organize they elect representatives to the United Methodist Governing Council which is comprised of 60-100 members with equal numbers of clergy and laity. The Governing Council would meet annually to oversee the agencies of the communion and attend to other business of the Communion.
- A fellowship of bishops meets at least every four years as a forum for theology and best practices of ministry.
A Better Deal for Africa… and Everyone Else
There are any number of advantages to the approach suggested here. Unlike the U.S. Regional Conference Plan, the Communion allows all groups to design a new future (from scratch if they like) that makes sense for them. Rather than simply divide, United Methodism multiplies. Africa does not have to choose between gay bishops on the one hand and loss of the name, insignia, and GBGM on the other. They can become, if they choose, The United Methodist Church of Africa with proportional representation on the Communion’s Governing Council. The constitution envisions continued episcopal salary support for Africa.
Progressive and Centrist United Methodists would have the opportunity to design the church or churches they want, unencumbered with the uncertainties inherent in the CT regionalization plan. The new church would negotiate their own contract with the UM general agencies for their services. Structure would be defined by their own General Conference and Book of Discipline.
Check It Out…
I realize it is late in the game for a new, far-reaching structural plan to surface. But the current leading structural plan is insufficient. It will not gain the supermajority support it needs at GC2020 and my Centrist/Progressive friends may be waiting a full quadrennia for a U.S. Regional Conference, if that is even possible. The Protocol is one important piece. Now let’s work on a smart plan for regionalization.
You can read the legislation here. You can also find it on page 304 of the ADCA, Volume 2, Section 1.
thank you for this alternative. Like many, I had concerns for Africa and the use of UM and insignia. I will read it all again more slowly but the “communion” concept rests well with me.
Chris, as a progressive I try to listen to and be open to all sides. Including your blog. (good wok) So I have some questions for you. Unlike the One Church plan I have a gut feeling the protocol legislation will pass at 2020 GC. ( very large majority) How many traditional conservatives(churches and annual conferences) do you think will leave the UM church? How can a smaller post- separation United Methodist Church support a world church? Regardless if the regional conferences are created by General Conference. There will still be a heavily funded unified budget for a worldwide church. Post-separation United Methodist Church will inherit . So for example, the 2020 GC will be creating and approving 5 new Episcopates in African. https://www.umnews.org/en/news/looking-at-where-to-put-new-african-bishops (sorry for the old story) So if the protocol legislation is passed. And in another year 45-50% or higher annual conferences and churches leave United Methodist Church. Who’s going pick up the tap? We already have a hard time paying the bills with the current church?
Thanks for reading and commenting. I don’t believe either side of the US split will be able to maintain all we do today… unless we continue to work together on some things. There seems to be consensus that 10-25% of the US church will vote into the ntMC.
Chris I don’t disagree with your numbers.(I think the numbers will be higher aka Southeastern Jurisdiction ) Again, I just got this gut feeling there’s going to be a massive financial fall out and hurting throughout the connection.I feel the train has left the station and nobody cares on both sides. Sweet Jesus, pray with and for us pray for us sinners,now and at the hour of our death.
Financial instability is the harbinger of a doubtful outcome. The more attenuated the process becomes, the less chance that this complexity survives reality. I admire your devotion and acumen immensely, but when panic takes the wheel who will be able to rein it in?
When panic takes the wheel, Jesus pulls a gun and barks, ‘move over.’ Or, in less theological terms, when the emotions kick in (and you are right that they will) sound leadership keeps focused, cool and on mission…and takes the panic types by the warm hand and helps them refocus. Real leaders are mostly yet to emerge as in the Civil War, when consistently good leaders began to stand out…such as Brother Ritter.🤗
I would be consoled if Chris Ritter were a delegate. Unfortunately, traditionalists were swept in the last election.
In a world where trust is a currency more precious than gold I place a lot of trust in your words. I do not say that to be flattering but to emphasize how valuable your answer is to this question. It regards one sentence in the section on implementing the Protocol. “The trust clause transfers to the new denominations who may do with it what they will.”
Where is the assurance that this will ever actually happen? In all the links, legislation, and FAQs I can’t find the answer.
Thanks much, Keith. On a mission trip for fourteen 8th graders this weekend. I will be out of pocket for a couple days.
I really like your plan for Churches within a Communion; I like it better than the Protocol, in fact. However, for the same reason I like it better than the Protocol, I don’t see how it is compatible with the Protocol. I see how you think of it as compatible, because you are a reasonable person who wants to give people free choice. But a lot of the people we are dealing with are not reasonable and do not want to give people free choice.
You can probably see where I’m going with that already, but here is the main issue:
Your plan allows every Annual Conference to freely choose which new Methodist Church they want to belong to. I think that’s brilliant. Have a few vision teams write a few proposals, have each AC vote on which one fits them best. If there is no majority, there is a runoff between the top two, and then majority wins. Brilliant! Wouldn’t it be nice if we could get the most vocal institutionalist progressive/centrist leaders to agree with that! But they would hate that, because they *need* the “incumbency” that is built into the Protocol. They would be scared to death of any plan that gave the people of the UMC actual free choice to follow their conscience and convictions into new future realities.
I pray to God that attitude can change. I would be thrilled if a plan like you describe could pass. It makes so much sense. But there is another way to accomplish roughly the same thing; and that would be to amend the Protocol. To pray that some progressive/centrist/institutional hearts will soften a bit between now and then, that they might allow the discussion and not throw a fit, and to simply amend the Protocol to allow a *simple majority* vote on whether to join the Traditional branch (or a more progressive/liberationist branch if a Conference wishes); AND to also amend it to allow the Cross-and-flame to be used by present-day UMC Central Conferences for as long as they wish into the future. It would be so simple.
Thank you for advancing the discussion as you always do.
I keep telling people your site is essential reading for people who want to have quick access to the multiple viewpoints surrounding possible separation. This post provides invaluable insight.
Two quick thoughts:
1. The further I get into the weeds the more concerned I am about the Protocol’s proposed mechanism for separation. I have serious doubts that it can work in the real world. I’ll continue to explain why in additional posts at my site, PlaneGrace.com.
2. Many of the ideas in your plan also exist in the Plain Grace Plan, including Full Communion, continued Missional support (through 2028) and the opportunity for new denominations to form (beyond the vision statement) before central conferences, annual conferences and local churches take a vote to join. Consequently, I think your approach is one that deserves a a long hard look. It’s closer to my own thoughts than any other alternative I’ve seen.
Thanks for investing so much of yourself into this process. Blessed are the peacemakers.
This debate over various “plans” is largely held in a bubble.
Frank, if you think the average layperson is tracking with this cascade of “plans” then you, sir, will be shocked when more vote with their feet in the days ahead, as many are already voting with their withheld donations.
As with the BSA, organizations that progressives cannot convert to their thinking, become targets for destruction.
The tombstone over the UMC will read, “Died at the hands of an aggressive LGBTQAI+ agenda.”
I don’t think the average lay person is tracking plans, never have thought this. I understand that most of what I write is to a limited audience. I understand many people are voting with their feet and many will do on May 16 regardless of whether a plan is passed. No plan will revitalize the United Methodist Church. The most any plan can do is set the stage for the emerging new denominations (including the new look United Methodist Church as a new denomination) to have the opportunity to be blessed by God and grow. I do believe that God will grow a faithful and obedient people. I would like to think that those persons in leadership position’s will be good shepherds, but I have no illusion on that point either. While I may agree with you about the epitaph, others predict that a traditionalist denomination will have a tombstone with an epitaph that reads “Died at the hands of an aggressive anti-LGBTQAI+ agenda.” God knows which prediction is right, it may be they are both right.
I previously wrote: “Most of my posts deal with process. The process of General Conference or the process for separating. I’d like to think that such work is that which is recognized in I Corinthians 12:27-28 and described in NT Wright’s translation as “organizational gifts”. Hopefully my posts are viewed as an effort to help insure that everything is “done in a seemly fashion, and in proper order.” I Corinthians 14:40 (NT Wright).
As we prepare for what will happen at GC 2020, doesn’t Jesus admonish us to count the cost? “Don’t you see? Supposing one of you wants to build a tower; what will you do? You will first of all sit down and work out how much it will cost, to see whether you have enough to finish it. Otherwise, when you’ve laid the foundation and then can’t finish it, everyone who sees it will begin to make fun of you. ‘Here’s a fellow,’ they’ll say, ‘who began to build but couldn’t finish!’” Luke 14:28-30 (NT Wright). GC 2020 needs to consider the cost of the tower we may build.
GC 2020 will not perform the mission critical work of the church, it will largely focus on organizing the mission critical work. In one podcast Wright observed that the church is those people among us who say their prayers daily and love one another. As I observe the world around me, I see that the greatest work for the kingdom is being done by clergy and laity who are faithfully praying daily and loving one another. That is the mission critical work of the church.”
The whole post is here https://planegrace.com/gc-2020-who-i-am-and-who-im-not/.
I suspect the average layperson who is not tracking the plans is the same layperson who is doing the mission critical work of
‘faithfully praying daily and loving one another”. I give thanks for them and fully appreciate my work, or work on any plan, is not kingdom critical work. God, through Jesus Christ, will continue Kingdom building until His kingdom comes, on earth as it is in heaven.
Thanks, as always, for your feedback and insights.
Here’s an example of progressive hypocrisy: The current US Ambassador to Germany has been nominated to be the (acting) Head of US Intelligence.
Richard Grenell is whip smart, very articulate, extremely competent, and widely respected in global diplomatic circles. A fine nominee. And an openly gay man.
Now stand back and watch how the progressives oppose him.
“Philip Wingeier-Rayo: Obituary of The United Methodist Church” via UM & Global. The Dean of Wesley Theological Seminary drafts an obituary for the UMC. (Added 2-19-2020)
Very creative piece. Unfortunately, Dean Wingeier-Rayo omits that which is always noted by the clergy speaking at a funeral. Namely, what brought death to the deceased.