Dear Steve,

I can check one item off my list of life goals. I have now had an “Open Letter” addressed to me. “United Methodist World” has no shortage of open letters these days. But we don’t hold a candle to the original Methodists. As he changed the Christian landscape of his day, Wesley wrote and received dozens of public letters. And now, the landscape is shifting once again. I appreciate you taking the time to read and write about my Two Methodisms Comparison Chart.

The chart originated as a conversation tool for the leaders of the church I am appointed to serve. Our church council required a side-by-side comparison of what might likely emerge from the Feinberg Separation Protocol’s adoption. It was only after receiving repeated requests from outside my congregation that I decided to share it online. What began as an afterthought turned into the most read post of the year! People are sharing it so widely, I suppose, because they are hungry for accessible information.

I worked to make the chart as objective as possible. When it was first released, different folks took issue with this or that detail. I incorporated many suggestions into the chart through five revisions. While I remain open and grateful to constructive critique, I stand by my work. Your own remarks on the chart are there in the comment section for all to read and consider.

I was a bit surprised you chose an open letter to critique an informational chart. The obvious response to a chart you deem defective is to produce a chart that you feel is not. But that’s not really the issue, is it? You seem opposed to any side-by-side comparison of the UMC and GMC.

Does the Protocol present us with a binary choice? So far, I believe it does. While it is possible that any number of denominations could conceivably emerge from the Protocol separation process, it currently appears that only two will. In addition to the post-separation UMC, we have only the Global Methodist Church that has announced their intentions or organize.

The Liberation Methodist Connexion (LMX) has organized but does not seem to have the 100 congregations necessary to qualify under the Protocol. Even if they did, they would still be ineligible because they formed before the Protocol was passed (the Protocol’s “deal” is only good for denominations that form after its passage). There have been rumors of individual annual conferences that might seek status as an autonomous denomination. But these efforts seem to have been subsumed into the GMC effort. Individual congregations that are disaffiliating have nothing to do with the Protocol legislation. If another viable option under the Protocol emerges, I will add a column to the chart.

Let me briefly respond to your other specific concerns. First, you take issue with the idea that the UMC will be different from today in terms of teachings on abortion and embrace of theological pluralism.

Along with homosexuality, abortion has been a hot-button issue throughout United Methodism’s history. The last major battle on this front was a successful effort on the part of traditionalists in 2016 to require the Women’s Division and General Board of Church and Society to cease lending the United Methodist name to the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. In spite of this restriction, the GBCS soon thereafter used our apportionment dollars to lobby the U.S. Congress for public funding of abortions. With traditionalist leadership leaving to form a new denomination, the resistance to pro-choice political advocacy will be weakened. Both the current and (suggested) revised Social Principles offer a nuanced pro-choice position. I feel very safe in describing the position of the post-separation UMC as “likely nuanced pro-choice.”

Rather than retaining the long and complex UM statement on abortion, the Wesleyan Covenant Association suggests the following simple language for the Global Methodist Church: ““We believe that life is a holy gift of God whose beginnings and endings are set by God, and that it is the particular duty of believers to protect those who are powerless to protect themselves, including the unborn. We believe human life begins at conception and abortion
ends a human life.” This is the language I included in the chart.

With regards to theology, the chart describes the likely future of the post-separation UMC as “Pluralistic, flexible per ‘Our Theological Task,’ with Articles and Confession retained as historic markers.” When the UMC approved its theological framework in 1972, the New York Times offered this headline: “Methodists Back Theological Pluralism.” No attempt was made to reconcile the Methodist Articles of Religion and the EUB’s Confession of Faith. Instead, a theological document speaking of four sources of UMC doctrine (scripture, tradition, reason, and experience) was adopted. I don’t believe there is any serious question whether the post-separation UMC will be a theological “big tent” in which multiple theologies simultaneously move forward. That is offered as one of its selling points. When the Protocol was announced, President of the Council of Bishops, Cynthia Fiero Harvey told reporters: “My prayer is that the post-separation United Methodist Church will continue to be a big tent church, a place where everyone can be the best that God has called them to be — the best expression of what it means to be a United Methodist.”

The Global Methodist Church has announced its intended foundational theological documents. After Holy Scripture itself, a hierarchy of sources is listed. As Foundational Documents, we have the Apostles Creed and Nicene Creed, along with the Christological definition of Chalcedon. These sources are shared with the wider Body of Christ and reflect Christian orthodoxy. Next there are constitutive standards that define Global Methodism: The Articles of Religion of the Methodist Church and the Confession of Faith of the Evangelical United Brethren Church. The convening General Conference of the Global Methodist Church is expected to empower a commission to merge these documents into a single theological statement in modern vernacular. Another layer are “Normative Wesleyan Standards”: The sermons of Wesley and his Explanatory Notes on the New Testament. Along with the Methodist General Rules, these documents are under a restrictive rule.

One church will be a big tent, theologically speaking, guided by the Quadrilateral. The other will focus more closely track with historic summaries of the faith. This is the difference I tried to capture with the chart.

Finally, you mention that I failed to include information unfavorable to the Global Methodist Church. You specifically cite a statement on congregational fidelity found in the Transitional Book of Doctrines and Discipline. The transitional discipline guides the GMC until a convening general conference can be seated. The statement says that if a congregation advances doctrines or engages in practices inconsistent with the GMC, it may be disaffiliated. Maintaining an option for involuntary disaffiliation, the paragraph states, is intended to protect the integrity of the church. A disaffiliated church, however, would leave with their properties intact and there is a process of appeal. Compare this to the UMC where Mt. Bethel UMC experienced the seizure of its properties and assets by the conference trustees without due process, hearing, or appeal. I am not sure the UMC would benefit in a side-by-side comparison related to congregational rights.

You are troubled by the amount of authority vested in the Transitional Leadership Council (TLC). We have an apples and oranges comparison problem in this regard. Unlike the UMC, the GMC does not yet exist. There is no body authorized to meet and speak for the denomination. The bishops, clergy, and laity of the TLC are doing this work until a General Conference can be seated. What you are seeing is the difference between a church already established and one that is not yet organized. The GMC intends to function under similar structural rubrics as the UMC (General Conference, regional conferences, districts, with equal lay and clergy representation, etc.)

Again, thank you for the opportunity to dialog on these matters. I believe the chart is fair and objective. The fact that so many people continue to access it tells me that it meets a need for concise and objective information. I am happy to add anything you may post to the UM Fallout Compendium.

Grace & Peace,

Chris Ritter

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