March 18, 2020. I participate in several online and Facebook discussion groups for United Methodist clergy. In the past two weeks there has been very little discussion about the Discipline, General Conference, Human Sexuality, or the possible church split. Attention has naturally been consumed by the Coronavirus outbreak. Today, March 23, 2020, the UMC officially announced that General Conference would be postponed until 2021. Read Here.
On Friday, January 3, the news broke that a group of United Methodist leaders has prepared a proposal for the upcoming General Conference in May which would provide for the Traditionalists to form a separate denomination. The perception is that the majority of the churches of Africa and the Philippines would join with this new denomination. (Click here to read the article as reported by the United Methodist News Service).
People both in and outside of the United Methodist Church responded immediately to this news as if the split has already occurred or at least is inevitable in this form, but that is not the case. It is not true that the "United Methodist Church Announces Proposal to Split Over Gay Marriage," as the headline of the article from NPR proclaimed. Only the General Conference of the United Methodist Church can announce anything on behalf of the denomination.
This most recent proposal you have heard about was developed with the help of a mediator by leaders from diverse perspectives, but they have no official status within the United Methodist Church. Their proposal has no more weight than any of the other proposals that have been made by various persons and groups, and there have been many of those.
As recently as December 19, actual Delegates to the 2020 General Conference from the Central Conferences, (Africa, the Philippines, and Europe), released “A Christmas Covenant: Our Gift of Hope,” which specifically rejects a splitting of the Church. (Click here to read the report from the United Methodist News Service). LATEST UPDATE: February 23, 2020. The Christmas Covenant would turn the five US United Methodist Jurisdictions into a new "Regional Conference" and give legislative parity to all Central and Regional Conferences. This would allow the US United Methodists to modify the Book of Discipline - for our region - to remove restrictive language aimed at LGBT+ persons yet allow the United Methodist Church to remain together in 'a big tent." The Western Jurisdiction seems to prefer this plan and it seems to be gaining traction. If passed, the Protocol could still also be passed allowing the Wesleyan Covenant Association to leave and form a new denomination. In another development, some Florida churches want to form a separate denomination in Florida. Click to read.
The fact of the matter is that until the 2020 General Conference has voted, all of the various plans are just proposed actions. (There are five primary plans plus the new "protocol."
So what do we know? It is impossible to accurately predict the future, but here is my best guess what will happen as a result of General Conference:
- Those churches committed to a traditional view and those committed to openness to LGBTQIA persons will continue to remain so and will continue to minister accordingly.
- Whatever happens, things will not continue the way that they are. The churches currently within the United Methodist Connection will almost certainly find themselves under a different administrative structure.
- A Church schism is not inevitable, but it is certainly possible, and perhaps even likely - but will probably not be exactly as as proposed by any of the current plans.
- Whatever happens will take time. It is not likely that all of the changes will be in place until at least 2024 - the date of the following General Conference.
- The Spirit of God is active, and will remain so, and the Church of Jesus Christ will continue to witness to the love of God.
Beyond that it is impossible to guess what the coming years hold for those of us who have called ourselves United Methodists except that we're in for a wild ride.
On January 6, the United Methodist News service published an article discussing various reactions from around the Church. (Click here to read).