In the aftermath of the 2019 Special General Conference, people throughout the UMC are asking, “What now?” A possible answer came two weeks ago. A group of leaders met in Indianapolis to discuss the future of the UMC. The principals were the Rev. Dr. Kent Millard, president of United Theological Seminary; the Rev. Dr. Darren Cushman-Wood, senior pastor to North UMC in Indianapolis; and the Rev. Dr. Wayne Boyette, president of the Wesleyan Covenant Association. Leaders from the traditionalist, centrist and progressive factions in the church were also present. The conclusion the Indianapolis Group reached was that the 2019 Special General Conference demonstrated that the differences in the UMC regarding same-sex weddings and ordination of gay persons are irreconcilable. Given this reality, the Group concluded that work should begin on a plan of separation, saying, “Most of the participants sought a way to avoid further harm to the people of the UMC, to the Church Universal, and to those with whom we strive to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
The Group drew up the draft of a plan of separation, called “The Indianapolis Plan” which was released last week. The intention of the plan was, “To move away from the vitriol and caustic atmosphere that has marked the connection of the UMC.” The plan calls for two or possibly three new expressions of Methodism; the traditionalist branch which committed to maintain the current stance on same-sex marriage and ordination of gay persons and a centrist/progressive branch which would permit same-sex marriage and ordination of gay persons. There could be a division between the centrist group and the progressive group. Each church would have its own Book of Discipline. The current boards and agencies would relate to the centrist group. Certain groups dealing with pensions, UMCOR, UMW, UM Publishing House et al. would become 501c3 entities and serve all three churches. Still to be worked out are other assets of the church.
The plan of adoption for the Indianapolis Plan begins with each annual conference voting as to which church they prefer to belong. A local church may vote not to agree and can become a part of another church. The framers of the Plan hope to have the proposal ready for the 2020 General Conference with implementation beginning August 1, 2020.
I am deeply saddened by this turn of events. In new member classes through the years, I would often say in explaining UM theology that our church would not divide over theology, but could over social justice issues. I am sad to be correct. My heart breaks that we find ourselves unable to move ahead in our vision for justice. We have done this division thing before. At the time of the Civil War, it was over slavery and the full humanity of African Americans. We became the Methodist Episcopal Church and the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. Later we divided over the power of clergy in general and bishops in particular, and the Methodist Protestant Church was born. Eventually, by the grace of God in Christ, we got back together as the Methodist Church. Friends, I ask you to pray for our UMC and our HUMC, that God will enable us to be faithful and wise in our decision making. May God bless our Church!
(There will be copies of the Indianapolis Plan available for those interested)