The Next Generation UMC Plan

This article is featured in the The Future of Methodism (Feb/Mar/Apr 2020) issue of Circuit Rider

Over the past months, it has been inspiring to witness the people called United Methodists organizing, conversing, debating, planning, worshipping, resisting harm, and praying together in multiple configurations and under various banners. Amid so much holy conferencing and activity, a common movement among those hoping to avoid doing further harm to our church emerged.

This work produced the recent “Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation” agreement charting a new path forward, one that cements foundational beliefs while accommodating new denominational expressions and provides a path that moves the church beyond hurtful and exclusionary language.

UMCNext fully supports the Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace. We concur with the signatories of the agreement: It’s time to make a way for separation. We are currently at an impasse over controversies about UM social teachings concerning the Wesleyan understanding of holiness, LGBTQ inclusion and church governance. This impasse has paralyzed mission and ministry across the connection. It threatens any forward movement toward vitality and a sustained effort of intentionally reaching new people for Jesus. Our witness and mission hangs in the balance.   

We now find ourselves at a Paul and Barnabas (Acts 15) juncture. The witness of the Bible demonstrates that God can use separation of ministry partners like Paul, Barnabas, and Mark to reach more people as the good news is shared in different ways. The Protocol offers us an orderly and responsible way for those so called to part with a blessing, understanding that our Wesleyan roots will always bind us together even as some may choose to branch out into distinctive expressions of the church.

The agreement allows us to not cause further harm to our church and the people that God has called us to reach. It outlines the steps that help us achieve respectful and dignified separation without dissolving the denomination. In fact, we believe dissolving the church and hosting a fire sale of general church assets would constitute spiritual malpractice and do harm to the most vulnerable congregations and communities in our Connection.

Just because we won’t inhabit the same structure anymore doesn’t mean what we built together doesn’t deserve preservation and extreme care. We concur with the statement released by the African College of Bishops stating, “We do not support any legislation that calls for the dissolution of The United Methodist Church. We uphold our values as a connectional and worldwide church committed to ‘Making disciples of Jesus Christ, for the transformation of the world’.”[1]

The Protocol recognizes those who are wounded by the harmful language, tired of the fighting, and tired of the institutional baggage that is weighing down our collective witness and ministry. This pain and fatigue is all too real, all too familiar, and an all too real threat to our faith.

These concerns are also at the heart of the Next Generation UMC legislation which provides essential first steps and helpful guidelines for the post-separation UMC to begin moving into a bold new future. Next Generation UMC legislation begins with the vision of a reformed United Methodist Church: a UMC that celebrates the core Wesleyan theological tradition with its emphasis on saving grace, perfecting love, personal piety and social holiness, and the call to share the good news of God’s liberating love with others.

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The Next Generation UMC legislation reflects the vision and commitment of many believers interested in broad reform intended to address historic, unresolved, systemic injustices and to become a fully inclusive, anti-racist, anti-colonial church. We envision a post-separation United Methodist Church that gives birth to hope, meaning, life-giving connection and justice everywhere in the world we are called by God to serve.

The Next Generation UMC legislation eliminates language and policies in our Discipline that violate the First General Rule and its call to do no harm. There are many parts of the Next Generation UMC legislation that are not in conflict with the Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace and help us achieve a hope-filled future.

The following pieces of the Next Generation UMC legislation can help define our new future together:

  • Amend ¶140 of The Book of Discipline to define all the barriers to inclusion we long to remove.
    • One of the new sentences in a revised ¶140 states: …we commit ourselves to the removal of every barrier that separates one from another within the body of Christ, including ableism, heterosexism, racism, sexism, misogyny, tribalism, and all other forms of xenophobia. By the power of Christ’s redeeming and sanctifying love, we commit ourselves to grow in love and understanding until all of the walls that divide us are finally cast down.
    • Repeal the Traditional Plan by removing all language added to The Book of Discipline as a result of the 2019 General Conference.
    • Remove all harmful language currently in The Book of Discipline that discriminates against our LGBTQ siblings.
    • Implement a moratorium on all new and pending complaint proceedings related to same gender weddings, LGBTQ clergy, and the implementation of the 2019 Traditional Plan.
    • Repeal funding limitations currently in The Book of Discipline related to ministry with and for LGBTQ persons.
    • Create a Commission on the 21st Century Church designed to lead us into a period of innovation, reform, and renewal. The Commission would be tasked with the following:
      • Assess and reform structures, systems, and policies that perpetuate systemic discrimination in The UMC and offer ways to amplify historically marginalized voices;
      • Propose a new constitution that retains core theological statements and draws upon our Wesleyan history of mission and ministry;
      • Propose a new governance structure that allows for greater regional autonomy and self-determination;
      • Provide for missional connections among regions of the church; and
      • Consider the role and relationships of general agencies, and set adaptable frameworks for the number, financial support, and accountability of such agencies.
      • Support the “Creation of a U.S. Regional Conference” plan proposed by the Connectional Table.
      • Support the Standing Committee on Central Conferences’ work on a Global Book of Discipline that has adaptable sections for different regions of the world.

One final legislative piece called for a 2023 Special Session of General Conference. This allows us to not wait a full four years to continue implementation of initiatives needing continued attention while also providing time for meaningful work on reformation. We will have to rethink the ways we deliver ministry. We must usher in a new understanding of what it means to be connectional in the 21st Century.

We must map out an urgent and achievable plan to clarify our aspirations and how we’ll work through the process to conceive and organize for fresh innovative ways to be in ministry. We have an opportunity to reaffirm our values as a connectional and worldwide church.

The Next Generation UMC legislation doesn’t just deal with the structural separation, but also offers a process to design ministry to meet the needs of the church we desired to be: a church that speaks to the next generation of believers.

We dream of church that is focused on discipleship and a relentless effort “to win persons to Jesus Christ as his disciples and to help them grow in their understanding of God that they may respond in faith and love…”(BOD par.1101). We dream of a church that is constantly reforming and creating a culture that does not legislate who’s in and who’s out. We dream of a church that is seeking to expand our global witness without replicating colonialist culture. We dream of a church that is developing new mission partnerships with central conferences but honors new forms of governance.

We dream of a church that multiplies life-giving ministries and missions and is relentlessly focused on making disciples of Jesus Christ. We dream of a church that adapts and creatively lives out our Christian witness in all the contexts in which we serve.

The United Methodist Church has a future, and it is ours to shape.

[1] Statement issued by The Africa College of Bishops on September 6, 2019 at the annual College of Bishops retreat held at Africa University campus in Mutare, Zimbabwe.

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