by Chris Ritter

A wife was admitted to a hospice facility. Once the intake process was completed, she and her husband had a private moment to discuss the future. “When I’m gone,” the wife began, “and you choose to remarry, please promise that you won’t allow your new wife to use my golf clubs.”

“Don’t worry,” the husband reply. “She doesn’t even like golf.”

It’s one thing to think about the future after a covenant is dissolved. It is quite another to live like existing covenants… don’t.

The cabinet of the Iowa Conference released a statement called “Leading Now and Into the Future” (See also the FAQ Document) in which they operationalize an aspirational NCJ statement called “Covenant to Build BeLoved Community.” The document, an expression of “progressive incompatibilism,” commits to full inclusion of LGBTQIA+ people and practice. Those who agree with current church teachings are invited to disaffiliate from the UMC. The new language is in defiance of everything the UMC has taught about marriage and human sexuality. Namely, the UMC believes that marriage is between one man and one woman, only such marriages are to be celebrated in our churches, and that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.

Randy Robinson, writing in the neighboring Illinois Great Rivers Conference, defends the NCJ statement with these words (published in an email by “IGRC for Unity”):

The actions of the 2019 GC were, in spirit if not in law, overturned by the elections of the 2019 U.S. annual conferences. They overwhelmingly selected delegates to the 2020 General Conference who were committed to reversing 2019’s actions. The pent-up energy and uncompromising determination of this newly elected block of U.S. delegates will not be thwarted. By electing them, the U.S. church unmistakably rejected the actions of GC 2019. The actions of the NCJ are the long overdue fruit of the elections of 2019. This block of delegates now searches for ways other than “The Protocol” for the WCA/GMC to separate itself amicably (if possible) from The United Methodist Church. Leaders of delegations were asked to identify, if possible, their delegation members who intend to remain in The UMC. No less than 80% were identified as committed to remaining United Methodists. They are ready to begin the task of re-imagining The United Methodist Church beyond separation. It’s time for such an exercise to begin. It’s worth noting that the WCA/GMC has nearly completed its exercise of creating a Book of Doctrines and Discipline. One might even question the ethics of delegates who intend to separate from the UMC. The 20% of departing delegates to this NCJ conference were actually given the opportunity to weigh in on the future of The UMC! Will the founding General Conference of The Global Methodist Church ensure the seating of 20% of its delegates from The United Methodist Church?

So Randy is saying it is right for the NCJ Delegates to live now into what they hope to be once the covenant is dissolved. I would argue that progressives should do what traditionalists have been doing: Plan their future on their own dime instead of using offices that assume loyalty to the to Book of Discipline as printed. As it stands, traditionalists are funding their own planning plus the planning carried out by progressives. Of course, elections matter. Progressive clergy did better than in previous elections thanks to the work of outsider organizers running a block-voting strategy to shut traditionalists out. While duly elected, these delegations do not reflect the diversity of the conferences they represent. Lay elections in the U.S. for General Conference 2020 were much closer to representation chosen for 2019. Voting out a number of traditionalists does not change the view in our pews. It also does not change the Book of Discipline. Even with more U.S. progressives elected, traditionalists seem to have a narrow majority at the next General Conference. It is true that many of us plan to leave if the Protocol passes. But it will likely take a further General Conference (GC2024?) to green-light what the NCJ has done. If the past years has taught us anything, U.S. progressives have a poor track record of predicting the outcomes of General Conference. Africans are the new UMC majority and are still in the process of discerning their future. Regionalization plans do not enjoy anything close to the supermajority support they will need to be ratified. North Central Jurisdiction delegates are living in church that exists only in their minds.

What the Iowa Conference Cabinet has done is jump forward two (imaginary) General Conferences to invent and implement new standards out of whole cloth. This is “disobedience to the order and discipline of The United Methodist Church,” a chargeable offense. Every bishop and elder in the United Methodist church has promised before God to uphold the Book of Discipline and [in doing so] to defend the church “against all doctrines contrary to God’s Holy Word.”

Traditionalists are still United Methodists. The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church still governs our life. Winning a few more seats does not provide a mandate to violate our covenants. The Global Methodist Church does not yet exist. Disaffiliation, the exit pushed by NCJ delegates, makes a church independent and non-denominational. Most of us do not feel called to that. We need the Protocol to pass.

In the meantime, it is reasonable for United Methodists to expect that the UMC will be operated according to The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church. Those that refuse to do so, including bishops, should resign or otherwise disaffiliate. Those planning a new denominational marriage in the future should remember that those willing to cheat with you may someday be willing to cheat on you. Now is a good time to stand up for our agreed upon covenants and wait for decisions to be made by those with the authority to make them.

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