The “ENDY” PLAN
“Before ending the United Methodist Church as we have known it, Central Conference representation at the table is essential in developing `the plan’ forward”
The hope is that those who were at the Indy Plan table will acknowledge the need for broader involvement and more voices speaking into their work. I trust they are aware of this need and agree. I want to thank those who in good faith have worked together to bring about The Indy Plan. Furthermore, let me be very clear, those who have been pushing for dissolution, and brought it to the table in Indianapolis I do not see as “bad people” or even “foes.” To the contrary, these are faithful, loving, committed United Methodist colleagues—sisters and brothers with whom we still share in the UMC connection. In fact, I have loved and respected many of the people in these conservative coalition groups for years, and in their Christo-centric approach to our mission statement, I am lockstep with them. On needing to be more focused on the mission of “making disciples…” and “transforming the world…” all for Jesus sake, we must go forward singularly focused, even if our ways are separate.
The Indy Plan was an attempt to bring to the table selected people who identify as Centrists, Progressives and Traditionalists. It is true that no one who identifies as LGBTQ, and no Central Conference representation was at the table. The vast majority of United Methodists in the US and globally do not want to dissolve and dismantle the UMC, which would disrupt (if not destroy) the mission worldwide and negatively impact our global momentum. The question some in our Central Conferences are raising, and well they should, is “why,” if the Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA) and related groups won the day in St. Louis (only by mobilizing the Central Conferences), are they working so hard to become another expression of The United Methodist Church?
We must all be cautious because trust has long since been eroded in this decades long struggle. It needs to be named that dissolution is a longstanding goal of the Institute of Religion and Democracy (The IRD, though not explicitly at the table in Indianapolis, is very involved). The IRD’s work with the UMC’s conservative coalition is not at all unlike what they worked toward in the dismantling of the Episcopalian and Presbyterian denominations in the US over similar issues of human sexuality. The United Methodist Church is much larger than either of these denominational expressions and our global outreach from a US base is much more extensive. Comparatively this makes a dissolution and dismantling much more costly and destructive to the cause for Christ worldwide. The splintering of the Episcopal and Presbyterian denominations may very well lead to their ceasing to exist in the near future. The Anglican periodical Covenant reports the following:
“Anglican Church of North America (ACNA) faces many challenges, notably over gender (whether to accept woman clergy) in ministry and how its various traditions relate to one another. As the time lengthens since the break with The Episcopal Church, the unity evoked by having a common opponent may lessen and have less ability to hold ACNA together… Conversely, it faces the delicate question of how it relates to the polarized America of Donald Trump. Navigating the waters of popular culture can make navigating ecclesial division feel tame in comparison.”
The popular culture, and younger generations that make up this demographic, are the very people we are called to “disciple,” not fight. The ACNA (Anglicans in the US) are but 134,000 members nationally, which is nearly identical to the North Texas Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. An Anglican priest once warned me, “Beware, when you start drawing the circles smaller and smaller, you can’t get them small enough.”
In my last article, I began a critique of the centering points of the Indy Plan, which I will continue here. I resume with the eighth point (all bolded text is quoted from the Indy Plan):
8. All expressions would develop a new General Conference, with its own Book of Discipline, structures, polity, and finances. Would someone explain how creating a new General Conference and new Books of Discipline is not dissolving what we have now? Why else would everyoneneed something new unless what was once there is no more? Am I missing something? I get that the Boards and Agencies remain intact legally, but aren’t some separate corporations for the most part anyway? If they are tied to the UMC entity and it all but goes away then what does this do to their status. I used to be more trusting, regarding church matters, but I’ve seen how this usually works. I have heard conservative coalition leaders say, “We already have our new Book of Discipline, structures, polity and finances 85% complete.” There are many questions concerning whether the new expression will be more “congregational” or “connectional.” Would the new expression really want, or need bishops? On the other hand, the new centrist/progressive branch of the former United Methodist Church could move forward with plans to delete the language that has dominated our conferencing and made it far from “holy” for many decades. We all agree that OUR Book of Discipline needs simplifying, streamlining and a close examination of polity and finances. The contentious environment in our church has stalled and thwarted this good and needed work for years. We have been worse than the US Congress.
9. Annual conferences in the U.S. would decide by majority vote with which expression to align. Annual conferences choosing not to make a decision would become part of the new Centrist/Progressive UMC by default. (Same conclusion for #11 regarding local churches)Whether realignment happens at the Annual Conference level or the Local Church level the bar should be intentionally high. Who would ever want to move a local church in the direction of a major decision with a “simple majority?” Shouldn’t we expect a 75% approval rate on big, visionary decisions? Our Boards of Ministry require a 75% affirmative vote on our ministry candidates. An Annual Conference should have a very high bar to realign with another expression apart from the United Methodist Church. It takes a 60% vote to elect a bishop.
10. Central Conferences would decide by majority vote with which expression to align or to become an autonomous Methodist church. Central conferences choosing not to make a decision would become part of the Traditionalist UMC by default. Annual conferences outside the U.S. could decide by majority vote to align with a different expression than their central conference. How many representatives from Central Conferences were there at the table in producing the Indy Plan? The answer: NONE. A high bar of realigning should also be encouraged for Central Conferences, too, but Central Conferences would be the best to decide their standards of realigning. Central Conferences should determine their own default and the Annual Conferences within them, given they are already granted polity and structural autonomy, and they may or may not believe it necessary to realign with the new Traditionalist expression. I would think that many Central Conference leaders would want to align with the General Board of Global Ministries and the predominance of churches that have been faithful in apportionment payouts and many other projects, but I dare not assume when the stakes are this high. Central Conference delegates, leaders and bishops, not a group of US church leaders presuming to think and speak for our Central Conferences that are very diverse, should decide whatever would be concluded on this matter. There is a link below to a map that shows the annual conferences that are most faithfully paying apportionments to support the Central Conferences.
11. See #9
12. Clergy would decide with which expression to align. By default, they would remain part of their annual conference in whichever expression their annual conference affiliates, unless they request to affiliate with a different expression. Clergy also will need to go where there are appointments available too. Where will retired pastors align to ensure their pensions are faithfully paid? Will there be adequate places for women and clergy of color in all of the expressions? I would hope so, but this is a concern in playing with a “congregational” approach.
13. Bishops would decide with which expression to align. By default, they would remain part of the Centrist/Progressive UMC, unless choosing to align with a different expression. Service as active bishops in each of the new expressions would depend upon the provisions adopted by that expression. The Indy Plan ends with the discussion of bishops, proposing to have bishops stay in place with the waving of the mandatory retirement (20). It is highly predicted that the Traditionalist expression would need few or no bishops, even though there are a few who might seek the new expression, and that would be probably satisfactory to all involved. This plan also calls for delaying the election of bishops from July 2020, which in all likelihood will mean electing nearly all centrist and progressive bishops across the Jurisdictions. There is a link below to a map that shows every US jurisdiction with a super-majority of centrist/progressive delegates for 2020.
The rest of the Indy Plan deals with pensions and the assigning of liability (14), Annual Conferences and local congregations beginning August 2020 in their new expressions (15), establishing Wespath, UMCOR, UMW, and the United Methodist Publishing House as independent corporations (16), all other agencies becoming part of the Centrist/Progressive UMC (17), funding continuing for Central Conferences through 2024 (18), and then we get to the MAIN concern, a process and principles for dividing general church assets would be adopted by General Conference, to be implemented by an arbitration board (19).
Many think we are playing with fire in messing with “the money” regarding pension funding and how pension liabilities can be enforced. The rest of the Indy Plan is about separating out the agencies and boards that the new Traditionalist expression wants nothing to do with, but there is still one exception: the money. Again, the overall poorest payout of apportionments comes from the local churches, annual conferences, and jurisdictions where the Traditional Plan’s support in the US is strongest. It still baffles many Centrists and Progressives desiring NOT to dissolve the church that there is such a desire for the money and assets that are established around Board and Agency functions, much of which Traditionalists have not believed in nor supported.
Why would the conservative coalition want not only a nearly disregard of the trust clause (which was put in place largely to avert exiting the denomination), but also desire significant money and assets? This is especially odd given the money and assets were given for and are aligned with, ministry and mission some of which they have largely opposed and want nothing or little to do with going forward into their new expression (according to the Indy Plan)? One answer may be that there is no way to fulfill promises of support to continue the Central Conference funding in areas where the UMC is growing and the need for funding is greatest, unless they can secure a significant amount of the money and assets. Certainly, Centrists and Progressives also want to participate with our global sister and brother United Methodists in church growth and development worldwide and have given very generously to this end for decades. Cannot we at least be honest about how greed and quest for control has brought about a spirit that is detestable?
Sadly, many of the tactics and strategies (which I have witnessed first-hand) used by the conservative coalition to garner General Conference votes from our global sister and brother delegates has been unethical at least and in some cases dehumanizing. This approach of the past is exactly why a broad table being formed and everything being on “top” of the table in forming the New Plan is essential. So much time, so much money, so much energy has been expended to keep the Book of Discipline language regarding human sexuality exclusive. Ultimately what we ALL have to show for our longstanding battle is a declining US expression of United Methodism and a church on the brink of being dissolved altogether and dismantled. Yes, we all see the need for major changes, but only a minority voice in the US on the “far right” and “far left” has spoken about dissolution of the UMC as the solution, and hopefully we are all reaching agreement that this is not the voice of the future.
If we asked all United Methodist worldwide if we should cease to exist as a denomination over our disagreements regarding homosexuality, it would be an overwhelmingly, “NO” vote. And this majority voice would be vast, theologically diverse, and beautifully global—a true portrait of The United Methodist Church.Some may choose to leave, but the church that does so much good in making disciples, bringing emergency assistance, administering health measures worldwide, transforming the world, MUST NOT DISSOLVE. The Indy Plan creators say that it “does not dissolve the United Methodist Church” and in coming days, when legal minds weigh in on whether it does or doesn’t really dissolve the church. The Indy Plan creators will be held accountable for this promise. God intends to do a new thing, despite our “kicking at the goads” (Acts 26:14).
There are other plans emerging, some of these discussions being led by Central Conference Bishops and leadership representing great diversity and with those representing the Indy Plan. The Indy Plan, if it is truly not about a form of dissolution is not wasted work, and may very well advance the conversation. We will be only served well by a plan that is not void of Central Conference and greater diversity in its formation. Developing the Indy Plan or any plan, and immediately going out to “sell it” to Central Conference delegates as “the way forward” is a step backward. For these reasons and more, the Indy Plan at best must lay on the broadly set table beside other plans for consideration. Together those at the table would bring about The Plan that will help us avert another GC 2019 and sincerely bless those who truly want to go on their way. And John Wesley said at the very END of his life, on his deathbed in fact, “And the best of all is, God is with us.” And this truth should give us squabbling Wesleyan’s hope. God have mercy on us.
Rev. Dr. Stan Copeland