The Holy Spirit is doing a new thing for justice and liberation for marginalized persons in The UMC. The authority of the General Conference is called into question by 75-80 percent of the U.S. and Western Europe who refuse to follow the Traditionalist Plan. The emerging consensus among progressives is that The UMC should free those who see their future as a Church that does not allow the full participation of LGBTQ persons in its life and ministry to form a new expression of Methodism. They have already created a structure for doing so.
General Conference and Jurisdictional Conference delegate elections were decisive in rejecting the Traditionalist Plan and demonstrate a strong consensus among United Methodists to end discrimination against LGBTQ persons, remain a connectional church, reform the institution, and address continued systemic problems in the church.
The seeds are being sown for reformation. Through this season of seed-planting, RMN has been active in continued coalition-building. We were grateful to show up for UM-Forward’s event “Our Movement Forward” and support its centering of people of color and queer persons. We also pushed for and secured a larger voice for “progressives” in a broad new coalition of centrists and progressives called UMCNext. Our role in UMCNext is to remind those gathered that we will accept nothing less than the full participation of LGBTQ persons.
As I participate in the conversations to which I am invited, I am reminded of the impact of the mission and ministries of The United Methodist Church in the world, reminded that we have Reconciling United Methodists worshiping in very traditional churches, reminded that Church is family, and reminded that this moment is a difficult one. It is clear that, more than ever, we need the Reconciling movement. RMN is committed to our mission:
Living into our shared baptismal covenant, Reconciling Ministries Network equips and mobilizes United Methodists to resist evil, injustice, and oppression as we seek justice for people of all sexual orientations and gender identities.
Our mission has taken us into relationship with people from across the connection in new ways and that will continue as the Church explores the new. The RMN Board is committed to working across any expressions of Methodism that may come from this moment of separation. All churches, no matter where they “land” when the dust settles, will have LGBTQ people worshiping and LGBTQ kids born into families who are members. Our presence in the future will undoubtedly look different from how it looks today, but our work will continue.
Recently, the framing was released for two different paths to something new that we know will be presented to General Conference delegates: the Indianapolis Plan and the UMCNext Proposal. I suspect that there will be others. RMN’s role with respect to any proposed legislation is to influence expressions of Methodism that are inclusive and justice-oriented. The legislation has not been released for either plan so we are waiting on it before responding.
Finding a New Way Forward
As most of you know, I was invited by some Central Conference bishops to be a part of meetings called “Finding a New Way Forward.” These ongoing meetings provide a forum for centrists, progressives, and conservatives to discuss an approach to General Conference that would avoid the harm of the past several GC’s and prevent a repeat of General Conference 2019 when we arrive in Minneapolis next May.
I have no predictions about what will ultimately result from these conversations. Progressives have stated clearly each time that there are people not represented in the conversation and that their voices are important. One key point of agreement, however reluctantly, is that some separation must be part of the equation.
Disaffiliation/Reaffiliation or Dissolution
Any approach that aims for restored harmony and covenant must be supportable in all regions, and not the product of the current slim global majority. It must also reflect the engagement of persons from all regions of the global Church. The various paths to new expressions of Methodism bring a real opportunity for reform within the denomination and for new birth. Churches must be allowed to exit with grace and The UMC’s blessing. A path must be paved for continued connection to the extent that is needed to fulfill continued mission and ministry in the world.
Any approach to dissolution must care for the impact of dissolution on the local church, on ethnic churches, and on the global mission and ministry of The United Methodist Church, including hospitals and schools. The denomination would cease to exist if dissolution is the decision of the General Conference. New denominations might be created that could then connect missionally. In this scenario, a process would be identified for the distribution of the assets of the Church across new expressions of Methodism. This path would likely involve assets being tied up in legal battles for years.
RMN will support paths at General Conference in 2020 that allow all regions of the Church to choose how they relate to each other. We will support paths that do not put rural and small churches with diverse congregations at risk. And, we will support paths that allow for self-determination. Central conferences must determine for themselves how much space they need between themselves and their American siblings. We hope that such space can be defined in a way that doesn’t ask – and doesn’t force – them to choose between the expressions forming in the U.S. We long for continued relationships and fruitful support for global mission. We insist on a commitment to the full inclusion of LGBTQ persons in the life and ministry of the church that is deeper than words on paper. This must be a lived reality in the Church.
This Kairos Moment
Our combined history as a movement for justice has brought us to this present moment.
Since GC2019, the legitimacy of General Conference with respect to anti-LGBTQ provisions in the Book of Discipline has been thrown into question. We long for a path that makes mutual covenant possible, but that path must end discrimination against LGBTQ people in The United Methodist Church. The path to that Church must treat everyone fairly.
This moment in Methodism is challenging but full of new possibilities. Whether at the convening table for UMCNext or in the myriad of other conversations, our role at RMN is to drive decisions that are inclusive by nature, demand atonement for our colonialist past dominated by racism, sexism, and homophobia, and bring hope for a world – and a Church – that is a little more like heaven.