On January 3, a diverse group of United Methodists leaders and bishops released a proposal called the "Protocol of Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation." The document is the culmination of a months-long negotiation, aided by a renowned professional mediator. It outlines a path to preserve The United Methodist Church while allowing traditionalist-minded congregations to form a new denomination.
Epworth member Dr. Randall Miller participated in the negotiation and shared his reflections on Facebook here (and reprinted below with permission) and Rev. Kristin Stoneking was part of an advisory group to the progressives. You can read the full press release here and watch a panel discussion with the developers of the plan on YouTube here:
While headlines from major media outlets imply otherwise, it's important to note that the United Methodist Church has not agreed to split. The protocol would still need to be received and approved by the General Conference to be held May 5-15, 2020 in Minneapolis, MN.
Epworth has and will continue to welcome all people to the love of God, including people of all sexual orientations and gender identities. We stand with our LGBTQI clergy, members and siblings and strive to be a loving, healing, inclusive and justice-seeking community of faith that affirms and uplifts the sacred worth of all God's children.
Stay tuned to This Week at Epworth for opportunities to learn more in the coming weeks.
"United Methodist Friends,
This morning, the UM mediation Group, which included progressives, centrists, traditionalists, bishops from the U.S. and Central Conferences, and an additional layperson from the Philipinnes, released its proposal for a plan of separation.
You can read more about this here: https://www.umnews.org/…/diverse-leaders-group-offers-separ…
For those who don't know, I served on the "progressive team" in the Mediation Group, and I fully support the proposed plan of separation that came out of the process. I went into the mediation, viewing it as a last-ditch effort to create a just pathway for LGBTQ folk like me who claim the UMC as home but have been outraged and driven to the edge by the actions of the 2020 General Conference and the almost 47 years leading up to it.
The negotiations were led by a professional mediator, Ken Feinberg, who was the special master of the 911 Fund and has mediated many other conflicts. The five-month process was long, grueling, and challenging. No one got everything we wanted, but given that all parties had to agree to the terms and sign on to a written agreement at the end of the process, it was the very best that we could do.
You can read the specific terms for yourself. But here are the provisions of the Plan of Separation that I would highlight from a progressive standpoint:
1) It calls for separation (schism) between the current UMC and other newly created denominations. It calls for paying $25M over four years to a newly created Traditionalist denomination that is anticipated to attract up to 20% (?) of local congregations and some annual conferences throughout the Global Church. The plan also allocates $2M to seed other new denominations that may be created.
2) It ties the removal of anti-LGBTQ language from the General Book of Discipline and the repeal of the Traditionalist Plan at GC2020 to a restructuring of the UMC into four different geographical regions (Africa, Europe, the Philippines, and the U.S.). Each of these regions would gain increased power to adapt the Book of Discipline for its own area.
3) It addresses concerns raised by many people about the UMC's commitment to racial justice by earmarking a total of $39M ($13M over two quadrennia) for ministries by and for ethnic/racial communities in the U.S. and to maintain support for Africa University. Since the General Church budget is anticipated to shrink rather than grow, this is an essential and substantial commitment.
4) It proposes relaxing the Trust Clause for a specific period so that congregations of all stripes, who feel they need to leave the UMC for the sake of their own integrity, can do so -- with their property and other assets. The sad truth is that some of the absolute stalwarts of the reconciling movement are close to leaving the UMC. Should they decide to do so, the relaxation of the Trust Clause would help them greatly.
There's more to the agreement, so please read it yourself, form your own opinions, and make your own decisions.
To be clear, if and when some of the most conservative leaders, churches, and annual conference depart with a new Traditionalist denomination and we remove the negative language from a General Book of Disciple, we will be left for the short-term with a hodge-podge of religious and cultural attitudes and formal and informal policies towards LGBTQ inclusion. In a reformed church, the U.S. and Western Europe will be the places where the restrictive language is likely to removed permanently, but other regions of the UMC will make their own decisions.
Benefits: If all parties hold to the signed agreement, there is a greater chance of avoiding another bruising battle at GC2020, removes the negative language, and lays the groundwork for other, significant steps forward. And, just as importantly, it changes our polity structure from everyone sitting around a U.S. table, to something closer to all regions of the church sitting around a global table.
Challenges: (1) The process needed to enact a number of the most important provisions will be complicated, even if all parties agree to them. (2) Anything we pass must withstand review by the Judicial Council. (3) We need to put off holding hands and singing kumbaya until all of the provisions of the deal are enacted. Until then, we must be very clear-eyed and strategic as the politics of this deal unfold: Trust but verify!
That's it! I want to say again that I fully support this agreement because I had to privilege of sitting through five months of grueling debate and negotiations. But I urge you to read the document for yourself, think about what the future holds, and make your own decisions in the lead up to General Conference.