What is happening with The United Methodist Church? The United Methodist Church has been in the news recently because leaders of the major perspective groups across the denomination issued a proposal to try to bring a peaceful resolution to beliefs we agree to teach and abide by within the denomination. That proposal is called “A Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation.” Although public news sources have said “the church is dividing,” it is far from being decided or done.
The protocol is one of many proposals that are expected to be considered by the delegates at General Conference in Minneapolis in May. While it does have the broadest level of support, there are some significant voices not represented in the protocol, including the large contingent of the African church, which has been staunchly opposed to dividing the denomination. As we found last February, we do not know what will come out of General Conference when the delegates gather to debate and vote, nor how their decisions will play out over the coming months and years and how annual conferences and churches will respond.
This particular proposal (again one of many) allows for the formation of other Methodist denominations, including specifically a new traditional Methodist denomination, and allows annual conferences and churches to leave the UMC with their property and assets to join or form one of the new Methodist denominations. The remainder of the “post-separation” UM denomination would, according to the protocol, be divided into regions, with more autonomy to develop their own doctrine according to their regional context. The assumption by most in the U.S. is that enough traditional-leaning delegates will leave to form a new denomination, and the remaining U.S. post-separation UMC would immediately adopt lgbqtia+ affirming doctrine and polity (beliefs and policies). But again, no one knows whether this proposal will make it to general conference, how the delegates will vote, and whether it will pass judicial council. It is far from being decided or done.
It is important in our conversations with one another to be kind and listen charitably. Assume the best of people and remember that what may seem obvious to one person may be in direct conflict with the experience and beliefs of another person and may have close personal impact. Even among our church family, we have different perspectives. Every “side” wants people to be welcome and loved. The question is what beliefs we offer people when they come and what that leads to – what is the gospel and salvation we offer and what is the result. At the heart are some key differences in essential beliefs of Christian faith — human nature and identity, who is God, who is Jesus and what did and does he do, what is the purpose or goal of salvation, what is the gospel, what is truth — is the Bible true and in what way, what is the authority of Christian tradition (beliefs and teaching of the church) to the modern church, what is the role of personal experience, feelings, and culture and what is most true. It is much more complex than a single or even a few issues.
I will continue to focus on teaching and preaching the essentials of our faith in worship, and I am happy to meet one-on-one or with small groups to address questions.
If you would like to read the protocol, it can be found at the United Methodist Bishops website: https://www.unitedmethodistbishops.org/newsdetail/united-methodist-traditionalists-centrists-progressives-bishops-sign-agreement-aimed-at-separation-13133654
If you are inclined to read a lot of legal-sounding documents and want to know what other legislation is being proposed for General Conference delegates to consider, https://www.resourceumc.org/en/content/general-conference-2020-advance-daily-christian-advocate has the list of legislation.
If you would like to see a compendium of writings about the protocol and General Conference, a pastor in Genesee Illinois, Chris Ritter, has a good summary of much of the discussions across the board on his blog – PeopleNeedJesus.net.