I almost called this “Why I am Glad I am not a General Conference Delegate,” but since much of the power being exercised in The United Methodist Church today does not come through the General Conference, it didn’t seem appropriate.
Despite the deepening cracks threatening the good a global Church can do, The United Methodist Church is still making disciples, providing disaster relief, providing healthcare and schools, and more. United Methodists are still on the forefront, responding to global needs — responding to Christ’s call. The power of The UMC is indeed being exercised in every corner, on every strata, of the Church and in our world.
As the Executive Director of RMN, I see a landscape of denominational complexity that has not yet showed signs of coming to a close. While each of us shows up in our local contexts and dives deeply into the work before us, it is important to maintain an aerial view of the shifting sands:
- United Methodists are walking with their feet and dollars to other denominations
- Annual Conferences have voted their beliefs, leaving us with the most progressive General Conference and Jurisdictional Conference delegations in our Church’s history
- U.S. and Western European annual conferences are refusing to abide by the Traditionalist Plan
- Traditionalists are threatening to pass the remainder of the Traditionalist Plan at General Conference (since they have the votes)
- Multiple annual conferences have kicked off task forces and are making their own plans for next steps without waiting on a General conference actions. Some are hedging their bets while others are ready to form something new
- Renewal and Reform Coalition members are traveling throughout the global connection to secure votes for General Conference legislation
- There are calls for arbitration boards to settle disputes over assets
- There is talk of establishing missionary conferences as a sanctuary for those who are left without a church community by the actions of the General Conference
- Local, grassroots resistance to the Traditionalist Plan is growing, demonstrated for example by the 129 Reconciling Churches and Communities and 6,047 Reconciling United Methodists that have joined the movement since General Conference 2019 (as of August 22, 2019).
- Central Conference bishops are engaging in discussions with U.S. Church leaders
- The idea of regional autonomy within the Church is gaining popularity
- There is talk from all corners about disaffiliating and re-affiliating
- More congregations are researching affiliated autonomous status
- There are demands across the Church for a mediator in conversations about the future
- The Iowa Committee on Investigation is certifying charges against Rev. Anna Blaedel
- Increasing calls for dissolution can be heard from all corners of the Church
- Plans and proposals are being submitted to General Conference
- Talk of reformation excites some who might otherwise follow others out of the denomination or completely out of the Church
- There is reluctant agreement that there must be new and multiple expressions of Methodism in the future
This landscape is broad, conflict-ridden, and hard to traverse. My thoughts often wander to the 12.5 million people who attend United Methodist churches across the connection. They did not ask for this widening fracture.
Frankly speaking, power is being taken by U.S.-led conservative caucuses and by U.S. and Western European Annual Conferences. The rest of us are just trying to keep up. Progressive caucuses simply do not have the money to travel the world talking about justice and liberation, and are not currently organized to do so.
The unknown for many at this moment is the impact that the plans, proposals and conversations currently in play will have on Central Conferences and on the global nature of our connection. Central Conference representatives are rarely at the table in these discussions and have not been present on the teams that have put forward the Indianapolis Plan or the UMCNext Proposal. Perhaps what is needed now is to slow down and connect across the globe to understand global impacts on the mission and ministries of The UMC in the world.
Over the next few weeks, we will publish blogs to help everyone understand the complexities of the moment. Not all of the blogs will reflect the opinions of RMN, but all will bring forward pieces of the landscape for consideration. Up next will be my reflections on the meetings called between centrist, conservative, and progressive leaders.
Believe it or not, we are now at a moment when the opportunity for a just and liberative expression of Methodism is more possible than ever before. Annual conferences are acting upon their power granted through Biblical Obedience in increasing numbers, effectively negating the Traditionalist Plan. Annual conferences showed up in 2019 to elect progressive delegations to General and Jurisdictional Conferences. The result of those elections will likely be progressive bishops who will refuse to uphold the Traditionalist Plan. Yet, some of us can’t continue in this kind of resistance and will look for other methods of being and doing church that embody justice and liberation for all of God’s children.
Through it all, may we have patience when we want to run, courage when we want to maintain the status quo, and hope when we want to despair. The kairos moment of our Church is coming.