**NOTE** This post is aimed primarily at fellow UMs, but may be of interest to any who are concerned with the future of evangelicalism, rightly dividing the Word of Truth, and making disciples for Jesus Christ. While there are sharp (and deeply held) convictions about the issues described below, my goal is and always will be to speak the truth in love, even if others do not consider my words to be so. There is no intent of animus, and I love each of my fellow UMs with the love of Christ. If there is any fault or error below, the blame rests with me.
A Brief Refresher
The current United Methodist Church [UMC] is the product of a merger which occurred in 1968. Since that time, membership and vitality of the UMC in America may be fairly characterized as “on the decline.” American UMC membership has declined by approximately 4 million since the merger. In contrast, the UMC in Africa and the Philippines and other parts of the world is growing. Further, there appears to be a large disconnect between the laity in the pews and the episcopacy [bishops] and institutional leadership of the UMC Boards and agencies, and most denominational seminaries. The laity [and thankfully many pastors] tend to be more conservative and traditional in their views than these denominational leaders. The chief issue between UMs over the last several years concerns human sexuality and the definition of marriage.
Not just a Sexuality Issue
Every four years at General Conference [GC], petitions to change the historic teaching of the UMC on human sexuality [which prohibits ordination of practicing homosexuals and same-sex marriage ceremonies] are brought forward, and are continually defeated with substantial and generally growing margins. I (along with many other evangelicals) believe the crux of this debate to be the larger issue of the authority and sufficiency of Scripture. I believe that God created humanity [in His image], and also created marriage between one man and one woman. Any expression of sexuality outside these bounds is not in harmony with Scripture. That said, homosexuality is no more a sin than heterosexual adultery, or other forms of sex outside monogamous heterosexual marriage.
2019 Called General Conference
The UMC convened a called GC in 2019 to address potential solutions, ahead of the regularly scheduled GC2020. The GC2019 affirmed [yet again] the traditional stance of the UMC. While the vote caused consternation and resentment among many, I believe it was the correct decision and again reflected the views of many in the pews. The vote was also important in that it led to a greater understanding of the need to explore options for separation. A diverse group representing both traditional and progressive viewpoints has since met and adopted a Protocol Statement supporting a plan of “amicable separation,” and a pledge to support legislation at GC2020 to implement this plan.
Perhaps some in the denomination have not wanted to contemplate the “break-up” of the current UMC [understandable to a point), but it has been an inevitability for some time. We are and have been a much divided denomination. Having to endlessly deal with the same issue at successive General Conferences detracts from our mission [“You have nothing to do but save souls” – John Wesley]. Thus, I was pleased to read that a group had reached agreement to allow UM annual conferences, individual churches, and each UM to determine which of the successor denominations to affiliate and worship with, once the UMC is separated into components [initial steps planned for GC2020]. Certainly, a planned amicable split is much preferred to an unpredictable contested breakup. I will be in prayer about the upcoming GC, and I urge all reading this to join me. Truly, prayer and fasting is called for at times such as this.
The Protocol Statement
The diverse group mentioned above issued their Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation (“Protocol”) on January 3, 2020. There is a lot we do not know yet, and I am making generalities, but I will be referring to that part of UM that is moderate-progressive as the Post-Separation UMC [PSUMC] and the more traditional part of the church as Evangelical Methodism [EM]. The reason for this distinction is that the Protocol provides a separate plan for the traditionalists, as we will see below. Among the provisions of the Protocol:
- Annual Conferences [AC] and local church [LC] congregations may vote to join one of the new denominations formed under the plan of separation. At least one Traditional denomination will be formed, with a block of UM funds to be segregated for the EM denomination(s). Otherwise, such conferences or churches would become part of the PSUMC. Individual UMs would be able to follow their church/conference decision, or could move to another church that best reflects their beliefs.
- Conferences and churches that vote to leave shall maintain their assets and liabilities
- All current UM clergy would keep their pensions, regardless of their eventual denomination
- Annual Conferences [USA] may choose [through a 57% majority] to affiliate with a different denomination than the PSUMC.
- Interestingly, Central Conferences [non-US] require a 2/3 vote to disaffiliate from the PSUMC. Why the tougher threshold? Theologically, the Central conferences would seem to align more with the EM denomination, but have a higher threshold to get there. My own personal feeling is that many of the African UM churches would leave UM altogether than be affiliated with a church that further deteriorates positions on human sexuality. Just my thoughts.
- A local church may vote [with majority threshold set by church Council] to affiliate with a denomination different than its AC
- The Judicial Council of the UMC [the denominational “Supreme Court”] must declare any proposed legislation originating out of the Protocol as constitutional.
- Prayer and love and grace are needed in ample quantities as this process moves forward. These are not easy decisions by any means. As a “lifelong” UM myself, it will not be easy to think about the post-UMC landscape.
- No matter where we stand currently on the UM spectrum, we love and respect with dignity those who align elsewhere
- I pray that amicable separation will be healthy for the mission of the sharing the gospel, making disciples, and impacting our world for Jesus Christ