In my previous article I gave a brief history of the United Methodist Church’s difficult and divisive struggle over the issue of human sexuality. I explored how that struggle has impacted the denomination, and how failed attempts to reconcile differences over this issue have led the denomination to the place where it finds itself today, on the brink of separation.
Delegates to GC 2020 will be considering a number of proposals that, if approved, would in various ways allow for the amicable separation of the United Methodist Church into different denominations as a way to resolve the current impasse over the issue of human sexuality. Any of these plans would provide a way for annual conferences, churches, pastors, and lay persons who hold different biblical and Wesleyan perspectives on human sexuality, to become part of a new denomination that more faithfully reflects their theological understanding of scripture and the authority of the bible as it speaks to human sexuality.
While there are various proposals that will be considered at GC 2020, the one that is currently receiving the most attention is the “Protocol of Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation” (the Protocol) which was published in early January. After its’ release the Protocol was widely covered by major newspapers and other news organizations.
In remainder of this article, I want to briefly unpack the Protocol because from my perspective, I believe that the Protocol has the best plan for achieving a just, grace-filled, and amicable separation of the United Methodist Church.
The Protocol was developed by an informal group of sixteen United Methodists, called together by African Bishop John Yambasu. The group included members of several caucuses and organizations representing traditionalist, centrist, and progressive viewpoints on the issue of human sexuality. It included eight bishops from throughout the global UM connection. The representatives have pledged to work together to support the proposal and develop legislation to implement it.
The group work with attorney Kenneth Feinberg, who specializes in mediation and alternative dispute resolution. Feinberg, who served as Special Master of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund along with a number of other complex matters, provided his services pro bono.
The Protocol calls for a “respectful and dignified” separation with the possibility of continued cooperation around matters of shared interest.
In brief, the provisions of the Protocol are:
- The Protocol proposes that $25 million would be paid over four years to a form a new Methodist Traditionalist denomination with no further claims to UM assets.
- After separation, the current United Methodist Church would continue as the “Post-Separation” UMC, comprised of centrist and progressive annual conferences, churches, and pastors.
- $2 million would be reserved for other denominations that may be formed. And $39 million over eight years would be designated to support ethnic ministries worldwide as well as Africa University.
- Annual conferences, by a 57% majority, could vote to join a new Methodist denomination. If an Annual Conference does not take a vote on affiliation, it will remain part of the post-separation United Methodist Church.
- Central conferences could vote to join a new Methodist denomination by a two-third majority vote.
- Local churches could choose to join a different denomination than the one their conference joins by either a simple majority or a two-third majority vote. They would retain their property assets, and liabilities. Not voting at all implies remaining in the post-Separation United Methodist Church.
- Pension plans would remain in place for all clergy and lay employees regardless of which denomination they choose to affiliate with.
- The Protocol requests that all judicial and administrative complaints around LGBTQ matters be held in abeyance.
I realize that some of you will find the possibility of the separation of the UMC upsetting, and you have every right to feel that way.
As a cradle United Methodist, it causes me pain to think that the denomination that I was born into, and that has nurtured me and helped me grow in my faith for all of my 56, years, and in which I have been called by God to be in ministry will separate into different denominations. However, I also believe that such separation is inevitable because, after decades of divisive struggles, I see no other healthy way to resolve our impasse over the issue of human sexuality.
A just, grace-filled, and amicable separation would allow each new United Methodist denomination to focus more effectively on the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. And would make it possible for each to more faithfully share God’s grace, love, and hope.
I would invite you to be in prayer for our denomination in the coming months as we seek to move forward following the leading of the Holy Spirit.
For those of you who, like me, like lots of information, I have included a number of links at the end of this article that will allow you to explore in more detail the Protocol and the various other proposals that will be considered by GC 2020 delegates. The first one is a link to a pastoral letter by Bishop Laurie Haller where she discusses the Protocol and her response to it.
If you have questions or concerns about anything in this article, you can call or text me at 319-559-0678, or email me at email@example.com.