United Methodist Protocol Possibilities and Perils

Will the United Methodist Church separate into two or more denominations? Only the General Conference can say for sure. There’s a lot of traction behind the “Protocol for Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation.” The news and social media plus the blogosphere have been reporting things as if the Protocol Proposal is a done deal. As a veteran of 7 General Conferences there is more unity around this solution to our 48-year impasse than I’ve ever seen. Some would say our stalemate has been over sexuality. I would rather frame it as a huge difference in understanding the authority of Scripture. This is the bottom-line: Will your understanding of the Bible allow for actively gay clergy and same-sex marriage, or not? The new Protocol aims for a parting of the ways on these two issues. That doesn’t mean, however, that I’m sold on it, or that it won’t be amended into an unrecognizable mush at General Conference.

At first glance it looks pretty good. It pleases many Progressives and Traditionalists, and the majority of Bishops as well. I am not thrilled that there were many more bishops and progressives than traditionalists in the negotiating room. Afterall, the vote, not just at last February’s Special Session, but all twelve General Conferences since 1972 have upheld the same stance of the church that says we welcome everyone and find all persons of “sacred worth,” but the “practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” This isn’t just the teaching of 48 years. It is the teaching of 2000 years of the church, and more than that if you count 2000 additional years of our Jewish heritage. I also think the Traditional view would be upheld at this May’s General Conference, too.

This is the reason many people wonder why the Traditionalists seem to be shown the door. Why do we have to give up the name “United Methodist?” I think it’s a valid point, but there’s another reality at work. That reality is the name of the denomination has not only changed a lot over the years anyway, but it actually has enough baggage to be a detriment to faithful Bible-believing Discipline-keeping United Methodists. For instance, my own mother was a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, then The Methodist Church, and finally The United Methodist Church. It begs the question, “What’s in a name?” My personal preference is that Traditionalists get to keep “Methodist” somewhere in our name. It is who we are in our practice of faith.

But, I also know that branding is important to my friends and colleagues outside the US where governments are friendlier to churches tied to the States. I’ve personally seen that first-hand in the Philippines, Mozambique, South Africa, Bulgaria, North Katanga in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, and Zambia. What I have also seen is the faithfulness of people to Scripture over denomination. If the UMC, now or later as the more liberal post-separation UMC, supports a laxness in sexuality standards then the rank and file of church members especially in Africa would overwhelmingly support traditional marriage and ordination standards. Even the Anglican-communion style notion of a US Regional Conference will not satisfy those whose values will not permit them to be in close association with those whose actions are in violation of Biblical standards. One only has to look at how the Methodists of Cote D’Ivoire joined the UMC because they could not stomach the liberalization of the Anglican Communion.

To those who live outside of the Bible-Belt in the US, and a few places in the US South, the name “United Methodist” has become synonymous with liberal humanistic pluralism more than with the saving and sanctifying work of Jesus Christ and a belief in the authority of Scripture. I sincerely wish those who will not live under our Book of Discipline would simply go their own way, but the sin of racism in the church has come back to haunt us. Everyone knows about our schism in 1844 that created the MEC and MEC, South. That racism got further institutionalized in 1939 with the rejoining of North and South and the Jim Crow-creation of the Central Jurisdiction that segregated African-Americans. Southern whites were adamant that the only way we would rejoin the North would occur only if a religious apartheid was enforced. The joining of the subsequent Methodist Church with the Evangelical United Brethren in 1968 thankfully did away with the Central Jurisdiction, but kept a seriously flawed part of the 1939 compromise.

Until 1939 bishops were elected at General Conference. Southern whites wanted their “own” bishops so jurisdictions were created for the first time, and bishop-elections were moved to those more local settings to ensure that every place got someone who would support the local biases and culture. Now we see how that has come home to roost with at least one whole jurisdictional College of Bishops defying the Discipline and the Judicial Council. At best guess there are only 7 bishops out of 46 in the US who would be considered Traditional. Moving bishop elections closer to home has widened the gap between General Conference and local adherence to what the General Conference has decided. So, we can have a Traditional Book of Discipline, but who is going to enforce it? We need to repent of what we did in 1939!

As much as I would love to see Traditionalists remain and Progressives leave, we’re stuck with an overwhelming majority of bishops who will not enforce things, and seemingly cannot be held accountable. With recent elections of progressives on the clergy side in most annual conferences in the US, there might not ever be another Traditional bishop elected. Add to that the liberal slant of most, if not all, denominational boards, agencies, and their staffs then no wonder many of us are ready to hit the exits. If Traditionalists leave, good luck to those who are left in trying to pay the freight. Restricted funds will remain off-limits, and apportionment dollars will dry up as congregations and conferences vote to leave.

Of course, my preference is that votes happen at the annual conference level to leave, and spare local churches the stress. I also hope that Local Pastors know how powerful their voice is in this matter. I’ve heard some talk that Local Pastors won’t be allowed to vote on this at annual conference. That is impossible. Paragraph 602.1(d) is clear that Local Pastors can vote on EVERYTHING at annual conference except delegates to Jurisdictional and General Conference, constitutional amendments, and conference relations of clergy. Local Pastors need to show up at annual conferences and vote! Local Pastors might be the best hope to save us from those clergy who have abandoned historic Christian teaching.

There is much to ponder and pray about. I hope that we can make it through all this without losing sight of our mission to make disciples for Jesus Christ. God bless the delegates as they discern our future. If the Protocol is the best solution we have, then I’ll take it.

29 thoughts on “United Methodist Protocol Possibilities and Perils

  1. Thank you for expressing your feelings and thoughts so clearly. I also have a rich Methodist heritage and am very fearful of the outcome of this years’s General Conference.

    1. Susan, By God’s grace we will make it through all this just like we have in the past. God is good all the time! Thanks,

      tim

      1. Tim, with you all the way. As a “reformed” Southern Baptist who ”got religion” and joined the Methodist in 1964, I would really hate to see us split, but I think it is enevitable. Praying for you and for our church. Keep up the good fight.

  2. Thank you for sharing this!! I love the United Methodist Church and hate to see it become “un-united”. I respect the Book of Discipline and can’t comprehend not enforcing it. If they don’t like a basic element of United Methodism, I think they should leave…not divide the church!! I’m not a political person, so this is so hard to understand, but this helped. Makes me sad!!

  3. Thank you for this. I am a short-term Methodist, so don’t have a lot of attachment to the UMC. What I do pray for is a church that is faithful to scripture and upholds its own disciplinary process. I pray that whatever happens, St. Johns remains a Biblical church that is also in a Biblical denomination.

  4. Thanks for all the information. I feel the same way as you do. The word of God does not change. People that want to change scripture are certainly wrong

  5. Tim, You told it like it is. God will have the final say.
    Most Methodist will want to worship on the Sunday after General Conference. That’s really all that is important.
    God bless your Blogs. Good to see you in Montgomery.
    Steve Lyles

  6. I am thankful that my aunt, EAS, does not have to endure this debate. I am beginning to think, it is not about beliefs. Power, money and a desire to “change the world” seem to haunt all things I hold on to. I love the First United Methodist Church in Cheraw and Duncan United Methodist in Georgetown. Our ansestors built our churches, the beginning congregations were black in majority. How can you undo history? John Wesley is fortunate to miss this struggle.

    1. Corry, We have to make a new history built upon the old, lessons learned and shared love, plus holding tight to the God of the Bible that has brought us this far and will lead us home. Thanks,

      tim

  7. The enemy stays busy and should not be entertained. We must stick together and not change things to suit the flesh. It is possible to love one another where we are without hate or integration of their beliefs or ways. We love the person and hate the sin. On the flip side of this we need a definite balance! I’m an African American residing in the United Methodist church where there is MUCH love but I’m recently learning that there is also much hate, bitterness and judgements as well. However, I enjoy my teachings and shall not be moved unless God says so. This walk is not about our EMOTIONS but about our SOULS! In saying this don’t allow the enemy to use power, titles, names, prejudices, sexuality and racism to destroy our unity. In ANYWAY, shape form or fashion. Time is of the essence! I love each of you.

  8. Rev. McClendon: I just read your article entitled “Reservations and Hope About the Protocol”. I am perplexed by one comment indicating a preference for “only” annual conferences to vote in the aftermath of the 2020 General Conference (that presumably will approve some form of the Protocol). What are congregations to do within those conferences whose desire is to follow a different path (i.e., traditional or liberal) ? If individual congregations and even members within the congregation cannot differ with the choice of the annual conference, then they would be hostage to the conference’s choice. Perhaps, I have missed something in your article. Could you please elaborate or respond directly to my email address ?

    1. Joe, Sorry for the confusion, but to clarify: If annual conference decisions and local churches have different opinions, then the local church can vote at a church conference either by a simple majority or 2/3, the % depending upon action of the Church Council. Hope this helps, tim

      Sent from my iPhone

      >

      1. Thank you for your prompt reply. That was my understanding. It appears that the leaders of the Traditionalists tend to be ministers of congregations that overwhelmingly support the view of their minister and are essentially of one mind. I fear that these leaders forget that in many congregations there are members who are not of the same view as the minister or a majority of the congregation. And, the minority members will become “stragglers”(either because their congregation left them or they felt compelled to leave the particular congregation) in search of a church home that shares their views.

        I believe there will be a substantial number of these “stragglers” and one of the greatest challenges will be to avoid losing these folks due to the Separation. Some folks will simply “vote” with their feet and seek another congregation or even a non-methodist denomination. And, some I fear will not connect with any organized religious denomination.

        I suggest that neither the Liberals nor the Traditionalists are monolithic and will not necessarily move as one whether within conferences or individual congregations. And, these “stragglers” who fall through the monolithic cracks need assistance finding a ‘soft landing” in a comfortable theological nest.

      2. Joe, None of this is monolithic from personal experience. I think it is from a Biblical perspective it is along with the Scripture’s admonition of love.

        t

    2. Joe, Also, to be clear, my preference is for AC’s to make the decision so that local churches are spared the inevitable stress and division. Even better, would be for General Conference to decide. Which is exactly what we did last February 2019, but one GC cannot bind another, so here we go again!

      tim

  9. I agree with what you have written especially that the division is not solely over the issue of sexuality but it is over the difference in the understanding of the authority of Scripture. While I fully understand the pain associated with voting at the congregational level and the many other potential negative consequences, I fear the final decision must be made at the congregational level rather than with a vote at the annual conference. A vote at the annual conference level removes the individual voice and instead replaces it with the vote of a delegate that in many cases the individual congregational members have little to nothing to do with selecting.

    T

    1. You make a good point. The delegates of the General Conference and Annual Conference do not necessarily reflect the wishes of those who elected them. They are delegates, not representatives, so your desire to move this more locally has merit.

      tim

  10. “Of course, my preference is that only annual conferences vote on the protocol and so spare as many local churches as possible the grief of debating and voting on it at the congregational level, [abbreviated to ‘stress’ in this iteration]” without any qualification that the Protocol includes the local process for good reason.

    Your “preference” demonstrates a fundamental lack of understanding of the situation. I would also prefer that every congregation be given a million dollars to spend on disciple-making efforts, but that’s about as likely as the local church being ‘spared’ a debate/vote.

    In order to “spare” the local church, you’d have to strip them of a voice in their future. What if the Annual Conference votes in such a way that violates a local church’s conscience? How would it feel to be told, “We’re sparing you the pain of a local debate and vote, so you just have to abide by the Annual Conference’s decision?” That’s exactly why the local church must be informed and prepared to engage if necessary.

    1. The Protocol Proposal allows for an annual conference vote and if the local church feels differently then it can vote to go its own way.

  11. Tim,
    As a local pastor for almost thirty years, Discipline paragraph 602.1(d) has been part of the problem in my opinion. That is one reason so many small church pastors and lay delegates never attend conference, because voting for who represent you in the global church, and voting for who helps to create and establish church policy and procedure, and voting for who makes decisions that I and the thousands of other local pastor must adhere to and that may go against what we believe in our hearts is wrong. That is why I drafted petitions to this year’s general conference hoping to overturn this long standing injustice for voice with the church. The small member local church is the backbone of the church itself, it is the foundation upon which the global church rests and excluding local church pastors from voting on all issues for which they have been called by God to serve goes against everything God expects when He calls a person to serve Him. Local pastors should show up at annual conferences and vote, but the votes should include everything that will affect the ministry of the church as a whole and the ministry of the church on the corner or down the gravel road.

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