There has been yet another proposal released for how to split the UMC. This one differs in a few ways from others, most notably is that it was reached with the aid of a professional mediator. While this has made all sorts of national headlines, I strongly suggest reading only the UM News releases as the others have over sensationalized it and used misleading headlines, at best, and some have made false statements.
Lets recognize the simple realities first. No plan will make everyone happy, and may not make anyone happy frankly. That is the reality of a painful situation that all to often is based upon winners and losers. In that same line if thinking, no plan will be perfect because we ourselves are not perfect. If we were, there would be one church proclaiming truth absent denominations. That is simply what is real.
First, the good in the plan. Put simply, the good is that it should hopefully end all of the bickering and fighting. Lord knows that we all want that at this point, at least I hope that we do. At the end of the day that is the ultimate goal, and we should be happy for it should this plan, or any plan that has this result, pass at the General Conference. I will shortly be somewhat critical of parts of this plan, but it should be noted that, in my opinion, the end goal is the most important. In being critical, my hope is to make an attempt to spur people to have the end goal in mind while examining this, and any, plan, to try and ensure the most equitable result for the most people as this is the best that we can reasonably hope for.
My first concern with this plan is historical. To the best of my recollection, when church splits occur, and there have been many within our own denomination, let alone the church catholic, those who find themselves unable to live within the doctrine of the church have left to serve God in the manner that they saw fit. This is not the case here. For the first time that I am aware of, and certainly the first time in a case this large, it is those who have been faithful to the teachings of the teachings of the church that are leaving. It may be a necessary thing at this point, but it is a sad thing. In a very real way, by leaving, the American Methodists that go will in essence admit that they are a church in exile. It could very well be good for us frankly. Still, we must realize and remember that in doing this, we are admitting the the heterodox has over come the historic faith in the UMC. We must remember this so that we do not set ourselves up for the same thing to happen again.
My second concern is the threshold for disaffiliation. While I would prefer a simple majority as I think that does the best for the most, I can live with the 57% threshold set for Annual Conferences to disaffiliate. My concern is for the local church. The process leaves the threshold up to the local church either being a simple majority, or a two-thirds majority, depending on the church council decision. That is dicey at best it seems to me. The potential for a council that might be overly traditional to hold a congregation that might lean more progressive hostage by implementing a two-thirds vote is very real. The opposite example as above is equally real. For the local church, a simple majority is a must for me. This makes for ugly church council meetings, and uglier church votes. A simple majority expresses the will of the majority, and with the prevalence of the UMC, those who disagree and can not stay may make lateral movement to a Methodist church that better aligns with their beliefs. The reality is that there will be a lot of lateral growth/shrinkage anyway.
My third concern is for the clergy. Very little is said about their processes, save for the pensions being intact. While that is important, how do the clergy decide? What is the process? If a church leans in one direction, but the clergy in a differing one, or the opposite, what is to be done? These are very real and very large concerns that have been left out of this it seems. I do not want to see pastors trapped any more than I want to see laity trapped.
My fourth, and in many ways smallest concern, is the financial payout. I realize that this may sound petty, and in my human brokenness, maybe it is and I am being self delusional. My concern is not for the amount, which is 25 million dollars, so much as what it means. Part of faithful Christian living is being a good steward of God’s resources. Does this accomplish that? Remember, until such time as a split is made final, these are the resources that God has entrusted to the UMC. Before supporting this plan we have to ask if this is the best use of those resources. On a practical level, the largest United Methodist Church has a sanctuary that cost three times that amount and a yearly operating budget that is near that amount. (https://www.bizjournals.com/kansascity/news/2014/02/18/church-of-the-resurrection-unveils.html) For a denomination that has continually stressed the tithe as the standard for faithful giving, it seems very odd to me that this was not the standard here. Faithful Methodists have given a great deal, and no, there is not a way to recoup that, nor should there be. That said, surely for those who have remained faithful to the church and it’s teaching, a tithe is not to much to ask as they continue that faithfulness? The UMC, even if we were to stay together, is not sustainable on it’s current path. It seems to me that the best use of resources is to divide them in a more equitable manner, say equivalent to the percentages of each group since we have all contributed equally, eliminate the bloated bureaucracy, including the fairly large salaries paid to Bishops, and let each group realign as they may.
The last concern I will list here is my biggest. Allow me to quote the plans FAQ page.
“The signatories to the Protocol have agreed to:
- Fully support the Protocol and each other in a joint effort to seek its implementation.
- To recommend the Protocol’s implementing legislation to be voted upon and adopted by the 2020 General Conference of The United Methodist Church.
- To not challenge the constitutionality or legality of the implementing legislation, and to jointly and individually defend the provisions of the Protocol and its enabling legislation in case of review by the Judicial Council of The United Methodist Church.
- To use their best efforts to persuade any groups or organizations with which they are affiliated to support the legislation necessary to implement the Protocol, and to not participate in or support legislation or other efforts that are inconsistent with the principles and terms of the Protocol and its implementing legislation.”
Before continuing with this, let me admit that I am just as jaded and cynical as many of you, maybe more so. That should be taken into account here. The reality is that this was crafted by the same caucus groups that got us here in the first place. If they are to be true to their word, this can not be changed or amended with their support. In fact, the only real difference is that the caucus groups have stopped fighting with each other long enough to try to impose their will on the church as a whole collectively instead of individually. I have friends in many of these groups who are wonderful people doing Godly work. The groups themselves, each in their own way, have done some wonderful and Godly work, but I would not be consistent with what I have been saying for years if I did not point out that the single biggest issue with the church was that caucus groups representing a minority were unduly influencing the majority. A small fraction will use their influence to try and convince us all, and they will do so after having pledged to not take into any serious consideration anything that might be said to try and amend the deal. Isn’t that what so many of us have been complaining about happening at the General Conferences all along? How is this any different in that respect? The question must be asked: Is this the best that we could agree on, or is this what God is calling us to do? Both can be true, but if this is nothing more than a practical plan absent God, then while it may succeed, it can hardly be called holy.
The end result of this may well be that there is finally some resolution to this, and that is a good thing. It may, or may not, be as equitable as it should be, but what remains, and sticks out the most to me, is that this is more of the same thing that got us here in the first place. It seems that we have become so entrenched in this way of thinking and acting that we can not learn a better way. Even if we manage to split somewhat reasonably, that does not bode well for any of us going forward. If we continue to do the same things, we will continue to get the same results. I pray that after this is over, we stop doing the same things.