Author: Rev. Dr. Mark R. Holland, Executive Director, Mainstream UMC
Since the release of the “Protocol of reconciliation and grace through separation” there have been a rush of expectations for General Conference 2020. It is important to remember that the Protocol is only the first step. It will not create the church we all want. It will simply stop the harm in the church we have. The fighting will end and there will be a binding abeyance (moratorium) on the harm against LGBTQ persons and their allies for the first time in 48 years. This is a great blessing that we can all celebrate. Praise the Lord!
The Protocol was unanimously endorsed by individuals representing Mainstream UMC, Uniting Methodists, UMC Next, Reconciling Ministries Network, Methodist Federation for Social Action, Affirmation, Wesleyan Covenant Association, Institute on Religion and Democracy, Good News, Confessing Movement, and Bishops from the US, Africa, Europe, and the Philippines.
The Protocol does not separate the church into “Liberal” and “Conservative” or “Holy” and “Unholy.” The Protocol keeps the vast, diverse UMC together in one denomination. It allows those, on both the far “Left” and the far “Right,” who do not want to live in a theologically diverse church to leave. Surprisingly, with these two groups, it is not even their hardline counterparts with whom they take issue, it is the “centrists” they scorn. Both sides save their harshest language for those of us who love both sides and believe that there is divine GRACE in living together with difference.
Meanwhile, back home, EVERY one of our local churches GRACEFULLY lives this diversity EVERY single day. Does anyone really want to force a vote in their local church? No! Forcing a vote will only polarize the last place on Earth (or at least the last place in America) that generously values difference. What percentage of your local church to you want to vote out? My guess is zero. The Protocol protects every annual conference and every local church from this vote. You do not have to do anything to continue being United Methodist. At the same time, the Protocol allows those who cannot abide theological diversity to form their own theologically homogenous denominations. The Protocol allows all of us to move forward unfettered from the fight.
The post-separation UMC will be a place where all will find a home: Traditionalists, Centrists, and Progressives. It will be a church that not only tolerates difference but celebrates the richness we each bring to the table. This is the church that the vast majority of the global church wants to celebrate; this is a church of GRACE. This revitalized UMC will remind the world that we are all moving on to perfection, and we are moving on together. Without the polarizing influences pulling us from one side or the other, the United Methodist Church will be revitalized to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
Thoughts about Patience:
We cannot be patient with harm. The harmful Traditional Plan and the harmful, exclusive language targeting LGBTQ persons must change. The abeyance (moratorium) stops this harm. Right now, the abeyance is based on the promise of all sides agreeing. After General Conference 2020 the abeyance will be the rule of the church.
While the harm of complaints and trials is stopped, the harmful language will remain (in place but ineffective) for a short season. It is unrealistic to expect Traditionalists in the US and the Central Conferences to vote this language out at General Conference 2020. If the shoe were on the other foot and we were leaving, would we do them a favor and put the harmful language in? Of course not. This means that we need patience for the next steps. We need to do the next steps with a sense of urgency; but we also must do the next steps right. The church is too important for a hastily cobbled structure. The abeyance buys us time to do this prayerfully and thoughtfully with maximum input from around the globe.
Starting now we need everyone to envision the kind of church we want to be. Many of us believe this will include regional structures. One question among many is, do we want the US to be a single regional conference, or five, based on our current jurisdictions? Interesting pros and cons for either. Next, we must envision the process to accomplish this new structure. There will no doubt be another special General Conference or two (sigh). We must remember, the delegates to General Conference 2020 were voted in with a purpose. The next General Conference delegates will be elected with a different purpose, to build a new global structure so we can be in mission together. And these next delegates will only be elected from the annual conferences who want to be in a theologically diverse church and yet desire to remain in mission together.
Article VI, sections 5 & 6 of the Protocol are fatally flawed and unconstitutional. They were a great idea but are likely not to be included in the final legislation. There is simply no justification for calling together only post-separation delegates during GC 2020…as no annual conference has decided who to join and elected delegates to represent them. Further, there is no justification for calling together a US regional conference during GC 2020 that, even if it passed by 2/3 vote at General Conference, would need to be ratified by 2/3 of the annual conferences to take effect. Pushing forward with an unconstitutional process is both unnecessary and frankly, beneath the stature of our church. We need to do this right. If these groups are called together, it should only be for aspirational (non-binding) holy conferencing.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, the Protocol is a gift to the church. The Protocol stops the harm. The Protocol is a groundbreaking first step to creating the church we want to be. That is a lot! And that is all it is. It is no less, but certainly it is no more. We must do everything in our power to get the Protocol across the finish line at General Conference 2020. THEN, we must pull together to build our church.
Let us start now envisioning what abundance God has in store for the United Methodist Church moving forward!
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From the center: Read Mainstream UMC Board Member Tim Crouch’s essay on the value of centrists: https://mainstreamumc.com/blog/the-wesleyan-character-of-methodist-centrists/
From the far right: Read Rob Renfroe of Good News Magazine as he questions the credibility of centrists: https://goodnewsmag.org/2018/10/september-2018-editorial/
From the far left: Read UM Forward’s disdain for centrists: https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5b7fa689c3c16a93686201f4/t/5cf47770e7967500010c6e10/1559525233196/LOVED+AND+LIBERATED+-+Final.pdf
Read the Protocol itself here: https://mainstreamumc.com/documents/resources/2020SignedProtocolStatement1.pdf
Read Mainstream UMC’s article about the Protocol here: https://mainstreamumc.com/blog/great-news-negotiations-reach-compromise/
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