Before discussing any of the details of this plan, it is in one of the best places to actually do something that will be helpful given that it was designed by a group of laity and clergy that included centrists, progressives, and traditionalists. That alone has some hope for the ability to separate as amicably as possible. As I have said before, the future is always born in pain, but we can mitigate that pain as much as possible. The summary of the plan can be read here.
The first take away of the plan is that the United Methodist Church will not cease to exist. It’s legal continuance will be through those that align with the centrists. I can understand how some might be upset by this, but the practical reality is that continuing it this way makes the plan much easier to pass. I am uninterested in arguing over the specific name, and to be honest, am not terribly interested in the bad publicity that the name has gotten over the last decade or so. This, as a practical matter, makes a whole lot of sense.
The second take away is that the groups are actually separated. Any group of 50 or more churches, or one. or more annual conferences, can separate and form a new denomination with it’s own governing boards, etc. This is good. We need space to heal and room for ministry. Any church or annual conference that does not make a decision is part of the centrist group by default. The vote is also a simple majority. I believe that this is good. I expect that in the shifting and sorting out of all of this, there will be lateral growth in many churches as individuals leave churches to align with the ones that best express their understandings of Christian faith. It is the simplest and easiest way to do this. We could use some simple and easy. There is also a provision that local churches who might disagree with their Annual Conference choice, should there be one, to, by a simple majority vote, disaffiliate with it. In this way we do not force force local churches that may be in a traditionalist area, yet remain a more progressive congregation, into a situation where they are hindered in their ministry and feel as if they are forced into a thing. The opportunity to change also extends into 2028 giving enough time to make informed decisions instead of rushing them.
“Wespath, the United Methodist Committee on Relief, United Methodist Women, the General Commission on United Methodist Men, and The United Methodist Publishing House would continue as independent 501(c)(3) organizations with their own self-perpetuating boards of directors and would be able to serve any denomination that desires to receive services from them.” This is a very good thing in my estimation as it allows them to be useful to all while being beholden to none.
“All other United Methodist boards and agencies would become part of the Centrist United Methodist Church with mutually agreed upon initial funding and subject to possible reforms and restructuring by the Centrist United Methodist Church. Such boards and agencies could also contract to serve other denominations formed in this process.” For the most part, I do not care about this, but I am concerned that the General Commission on Archives and History lies in the hand of one group. Our collective history is important, especially when you consider that Methodism has a long tradition of mitosis and growth. The loss of historic sites is a tough blow also, though it is possible that I am over reacting due to my love of history. I also wonder what happens to the churches on the register of historic sites that are still functioning. Are they required to be centrist due to being registered as historic sites under the of GCAH? I don’t know, so if anyone reading this does, please share. No plan is going to be perfect or make everyone happy of course, but this does concern me, though I freely admit I might be the only one concerned about it.
“A process and principles for allocating general church assets to fund transition to new denominations and to be devoted to the missional purposes of each denomination thereafter would be adopted by the 2020 General Conference.” This is the best approach possible I think. I hope that no one wants to see any of the groups that come out of this fail, and this i one way to ensure that does not happen. It is also an equitable division of what we have built together. At least I hope it is.
“Continuation of clergy and episcopal pensions would be provided for by assigning liability for the unfunded pension liabilities to the new denominations and by receiving payments from withdrawing congregations that choose not to align with created denominations.” This matters also. It is important that we, to the best of our ability, honor the promises made through the pension system.
“All denominations would have their own General Conferences or governing boards, books of Discipline, structure, polity, and finances. Any local congregation which chooses to join one of these denominations would be relieved of the trust clause in order to take their assets and liabilities into the new denomination.” This is the big one of course, and it is generous. This is what keeps us out of litigation in the courts and doing even more damage to whatever remains of our shared reputation. At some point, there just is not a need to fight anymore, and this seems the best way to not continue fighting.
“Clergy and ministerial candidates would decide with which denomination to align. By default, they would remain part of the denomination chosen by their annual conference, unless they choose to affiliate with a different denomination. Bishops (active and retired) would decide with which denomination to align. By default, they would remain part of the Centrist United Methodist Church unless they choose to align with a different denomination.” I have some concern here as well. What happens if there are more Bishops in a particular denomination than they need? That is a fairly serious financial burden. For that matter, what if a new denomination decides they do not want Bishops? I am not necessarily advocating for that, but it seems a possibility. I am also concerned about candidates being able to choose. I am not sure by the language here, but do they remain a candidate for ministry automatically without the newly formed denomination having a say in this? The same for pastors. Just because you are a pastor in the UMC should not mean that a transfer to a new denomination should be automatic based upon your choice. I think that the new denomination should have some say in this. Maybe they will, I am just unsure based on the summary, so I have concerns.
At the end of all of this, while I do have some concerns, this is by far the most equitable plan that recognizes the very real differences and at the same time continues the tradition that we have as Methodists. There is not, to my reading, any hint of malice in this, or any attempt to force a unity and/or relationship that simply does not exist. It is not a perfect plan, but I do think it is the best plan that I have seen. I would not be upset were this to pass and would feel comfortable offering an endorsement of it once I read the details.