I Love You Buddy – by Katie Dawson

February 4, 2020

This devotional is from the back of our weekly church bulletin.

In his NOOMA video series, Rob Bell helps people to think about faith in new ways. In the episode “Rain,” he goes on a hike around a lake with his little boy in a carrier on his back. They are enjoying the sun and the beautiful weather, when clouds start to build. A single drop of rain falls, then another, and before long, they are caught in a downpour.

At firs, the little guy is all right, but soon there is thunder, lightning, and intense wind, and he gets scared. So Rob takes him out to the backpack, holds him close, and for the rest of the journey around the lake, whispers in his ear, “I love you buddy..we’re going to make it..Dad knows the way home.”

God speaks through the prophet Hosea and offers us those same words of love, compassion, and comfort. We are precious children in God’s eyes. When we don’t know how to walk, God lifts us up. When we are broken, God heals us. When, like infants, we cry out for life, God bends down to us, holding us close and providing for abundant life.

In the United Methodist tradition, we talk about prevenient grace as the grace that goes before us. It is God’s love poured out into our lives before we even know who God is. Whether or not we are ready to accept it, whether we even understand, God’s gentle Spirit is guiding us along the way, leading us with cords of love.

Too often, we forget that sustaining love and attempt to make our own way. If we put ourselves in the place of that little child whose father carried him through the storm, we see nothing around us but the wind and rain and forget we are in the arms of a loving parent. No matter how far away our thoughts turn from the Lord, Hosea reminds us God refuses to give up on us and is carrying us home.

I am held safe in the arms of God.

Wesleyan Covenant Association Contributor

January 24, 2020

Leaning Forward: Why I Support the Separation Plan

By Joseph F. DiPaolo

For years there has been tension among traditionalist United Methodists between those leaning in and those leaning out – that is, between some who wanted simply to leave The United Methodist Church, and others who felt called to stay and contend for the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 3). I have been among the latter group, determined to reclaim, renew and reform the institution.

I no longer believe that is possible.

Last year’s special General Conference in St. Louis was supposed to definitively settle our conflict over sexuality, by choosing one of the plans before the delegates, and charting a “Way Forward” for the denomination. The problem (for progressives and institutional leaders) was that the Traditional Plan was not supposed to win! So when it did pass, nothing was settled – and our decades-long conflict only intensified. Progressive clergy, churches and conferences stepped up their campaign of resistance, through defiance of our disciplinary covenant. Many bishops have been complicit, either through overt support, or by failing to exercise any meaningful accountability toward those who break their covenantal vows.

The result? The Book of Discipline has become a dead letter, while trust in the institution and its leadership has almost entirely collapsed. And it is nearly impossible to introduce structural reforms to a top-heavy system which requires supermajorities to change the constitution. All this leads to one unavoidable conclusion: the UM Church is irretrievably broken. We need a new beginning.

The recently announced “Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation” is the first time that respected leaders of all the major theological and geographical constituencies within the UM Church have agreed on any “way forward.” This is an amazing development, and I believe that through it, God has provided us an opportunity for that new beginning we need.

So now, I am leaning forward.

I can see in the distance a vibrant, renewed and global Wesleyan movement. I can see a new body, united by common convictions, one in purpose and mission, connecting people around the world in a denomination that is more diverse ethnically, racially, demographically and nationally than the current UM Church. The protocol can be the doorway to that future.

Don’t misunderstand me; this is not the path I had hoped we would take. It is profoundly sad for me to consider that the communion in which I have served as a pastor for more than 30 years will be coming apart. There is no joy in the prospect of severed relationships, or ministries which will suffer or cease.

But what is the alternative? We traditionalists could stay and fight, and we might be able to garner a slim majority to retain current disciplinary standards in Minneapolis, Minnesota in May of this year. But what then? The progressives will continue their defiance, the conflict will grow even uglier, and many frustrated traditionalists will vote with their feet. Sooner or later, separation will occur, full of rancor, and battles over properties that could drag on in the courts for years. The protocol, if adopted, makes much more likely an amicable separation, minimizing pain and conflict, and allowing for ongoing cooperation in at least some areas of ministry and mission after separation occurs.

For that to happen, we traditionalists need to stand together – dare I say, lean on each other – and support the plan. There is a scene in the movie Forrest Gump, when Gump and his best friend Bubba are in Vietnam on a rainy, nasty night, and Bubba says, “I’m gonna lean up against you, you just lean right back against me. This way we don’t have to sleep with our heads in the mud. You know why we a good partnership, Forrest? ’Cause we be watching out for one another, like brothers and stuff.”

If we lean on each other, and watch out for each other, I believe we will soon see the birth of something new and wonderful. As with all births, it will not be without pain and stress. But if we lean – together – on the Everlasting Arms, perhaps the words of Leviticus 26:9, directed to God’s people after another time of bondage and deliverance, will apply to us: “For I will be leaning toward you with favor and regard for you, rendering you fruitful, multiplying you, and establishing and ratifying My covenant with you.”


The Rev. Joseph F. DiPaolo is Lead Pastor at Lancaster First United Methodist Church in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He is also a member of the Wesleyan Covenant Association Council.

Chappel Temple – Lead Pastor – Christ UMC Sugarland, Texas

January 18, 2020

Chappel Temple wrote this for the Wesleyan Covenant Association. Here is the link to WCA if you are interested in reading more.

A Protocol for Peace

He’s not exactly a theologian, but we could perhaps call him a prophet of sorts. For six years before the United Methodist Church was even formed, Neil Sedaka got it right in his signature song of 1962: “Breaking Up is Hard to Do.” And that is so not only because there are numerous challenges as to how to divide the property and navigate all the relationships, but more so because if the marriage – or the church – was ever any good at all, there should indeed be deep grief when a separation becomes necessary.

Unfortunately, such is where we are as United Methodists. For it is now rather inescapably obvious that even if we might still have warm feelings for one another, we cannot all live in the same house any longer. I had hoped we would not come to this point. Forty-five years ago, I joined the Texas Annual Conference as a pastor and for thirty of those years I have had the chance to serve as a member of the Texas Annual Conference delegation to jurisdictional and then General Conferences.

But the entirety of my ministry as an ordained pastor has also been framed by the underlying tension of divergent views within the UM Church on not just human sexuality but also the authority of scripture, the nature of revelation, the role of missions, the application of social justice, and even the identity and divinity of Christ. And in the whole of it what we have discovered as a church is that for all of its merits, there are also limitations to the grand idea of pluralism.

To be sure, the famed dictum of “unity in essentials, liberty in non-essentials, and charity in all things,” is a wonderful goal, though John Wesley was hardly the first person to espouse it. You can find the quote at least a century before him, in fact, in the writings of a Catholic Archbishop who ended up attacking both the papacy and the English church before eventually being declared a relapsed heretic unable to be in unity with anybody. As wonderfully aspirational as the motto might sound, thus, it simply does not work when people cannot agree on what the “essentials” actually might be.

All of which is why I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that fifty-two years after its founding, the UM Church must likewise now be reformulated. And though there is no perfect plan, the recently announced “Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation” would seem to be the best proposal that will come before the General Conference in May. For the protocol will allow for those of varying theological and social understandings to follow their conscience without the continual acrimony and ideological struggle that has marked our denomination for decades.

Traditionalists, for instance, will be able to retain what have been the historic beliefs and practices of Methodism, though in a new wineskin that will also allow for a more local and lay-centered polity. Progressives, with the addition of a regional conference for the United States, will be empowered to pursue their vision of a church with a broader understanding of sexual ethics, identity formation, and ever-emerging revelation of God and God’s Word. Centrists will be free to embrace their pragmatic approach to ministry. And those in the central conferences outside of the United States will have liberty to decide which expression of Methodism best matches their own understanding, discerning whether simply retaining the current name and logo is important enough to remain organically affiliated with those espousing practices with which they may not agree.

Again, the protocol is not perfect. Some on the progressive side may question why conservatives should receive twenty-five million dollars, forgetting that Methodists of many opinions contributed those funds in the first place over a rather long period of time. And others on the conservative side may think that the amount is not in any way commensurate with what traditional church members have poured into our collective life for decades.

Likewise, many traditionalists may wonder why they should be the ones to give up the denominational name and apparatus when they have, in fact, prevailed in every General Conference vote since 1972 and it is those within the progressive caucus who have not only defied our common Discipline but brought us to this brink of separation in the first place. Some have even said that it feels like we are being paid off just to go away.

But in the end, the more significant result of adopting this protocol will be that churches, or even annual conferences, of any persuasion will be able to follow their conscience out of the UM Church should they feel the need to do so without the penalty of loss of any of their local properties and resources. And that is a provision whose value cannot be overstated. For relaxing the Trust Clause is like loosening someone’s grip around your neck and being free once more to not only breathe but to go where you may feel God is leading you.

In that regard, it will be critical for clergy, congregations, and conferences to clearly understand just exactly what the outlines of the emerging realities may be. In order to continue to support the understandings which the world-wide United Methodist Church has prayerfully and consistently embraced over its entire history it will probably be necessary to leave not Methodism but The United Methodist Church. For without doing so, all of us will remain stuck in an endless “Groundhog Day” of debate, dissension, disobedience, and disarray. The General Conference, bolstered by the growth of the denomination in Africa and elsewhere, may have the votes to retain the current stances on sexuality, for instance, but it will not have the power to enforce its decisions and so the resistance will only get worse.

On the other hand, should conferences and congregations be allowed to form a new expression of global Methodism, all kinds of exciting possibilities and ministry opportunities await us. Ideally, if annual conferences as a whole choose to make the shift, then the vast majority of our congregations will never even have to vote on the questions. But even if conferences do not change, local churches still can do so, choosing to align with a larger group that more closely mirrors their own convictions and aspirations.

All kinds of details still need to be worked out, of course. Pastors and congregations need to be afforded a transition period so that if clergy and churches choose separate paths there will still be a chance to make that shift more graciously without an immediate appointment change. And bishops too will have to determine their own destinies, with each of them honestly following their convictions no matter where they may lead.

There is still time, however, for those writing the specific language of the proposal to address such concerns, and at the General Conference there will still be the possibility of amendment. But if the gist of what has been proposed can be enacted, Methodists can do something rather remarkable which other Protestant bodies have been unable to accomplish: separating without all the acrimony and legal and financial fighting that has marked such divisions elsewhere.

My hope is that those of us who may leave the UM Church may go out as new missionaries to the world, ready to follow the original guiding vision of our movement, “to spread scriptural holiness” across the globe. And I genuinely wish that as these two new expressions of Methodism emerge, we will once again be able to look upon each other as brothers and sisters, or at least “cousins” in Christ, and not simply adversaries across a General Conference committee or assembly room.

Yes, if the protocol is adopted, conservatives will walk away from much of what we have helped to build over the decades. But the words of Jim Elliot, the famed missionary of the last century, come to mind: “he is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

The truth is that we cannot keep going the way we have been. And we dare not lose the gospel with which we have all been entrusted. The protocol is at present our best pathway to peace.


The Rev. Dr. Chappell Temple is the lead pastor at Christ United Methodist Church in Sugar Land, Texas. He has also served as an adjunct faculty member for Perkins School of Theology.

Another Opinion on UMC Possible Split

January 17, 2020

Enjoy the read and keep the faith.

https://www.afa.net/the-stand/culture/2020/01/whos-to-blame/#.XiEqhcSvYdt.facebook

Words from the Bishop of the Arkansas UMC Conference

January 14, 2020

It’s Still About Your Church

Pressing on: Our Journey to a New Future

January 14, 2020
An opinion piece with some insight from a long time serving elder in the UMC.

Pressing On: Our Journey to a New Future

By Gregory D. Stover

“Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3.13-14 NRSV).

With these words to the Philippians, Paul poignantly records his longing to share in the power of Christ’s resurrection, in his suffering, and ultimately in resurrection to eternal life. In order to pursue these lofty spiritual goals, he determined to put the past behind and strain forward to what lay ahead. Paul is reflecting on his Christian life and service in its totality.

As Paul’s words percolate within me, they also express my thoughts, attitude and longing as I have reviewed the “Protocol for Reconciliation and Grace through Separation,” released on January 3, 2020. The protocol outlines a proposed path for separation of The United Methodist Church into two or more denominations. The mediated proposal was hammered out and signed by sixteen individuals, including eight UM bishops and other UM leaders representing the broad diversity of theology in the church. I am excited to support the protocol and urge others to do so. The protocol appears to me to be a profoundly hopeful opportunity for those who are orthodox, evangelical Christians seeking a renewed Wesleyan church. Thanks to all who have brought us to this point.

Much to Commend

Many others have written about the positive aspects of the protocol, so I will simply note a number of benefits it brings. It…

  • Identifies and acknowledges the deep roots in divergent understandings of “interpretation of Scripture, theology, and practice” behind our five-decade conflict within the UM Church;
  • Provides a clear path to end the conflict in a way which provides grace and leaves open the possibility of future positive relationships in new denominations;
  • Has the support of eight bishops (including two central conference bishops and the President and President-elect of the Council of Bishops), as well as top leaders from advocacy groups which here-to-fore have been at loggerheads in our on-going debate;
  • Focuses on providing freedom for various groups to pursue the primary mission of making disciples guided by their respective biblical and theological understandings;
  • Provides a means to effect separation without the difficult process of constitutional amendments, and without years of costly litigation;
  • Allows central conferences, annual conferences, and the local church to choose to affiliate with a new “traditional denomination” taking their buildings and assets with them;
  • Provides for continued pension security for pastors and an equitable way to address future pension liabilities;
  • Calls for a significant distribution of undesignated UM Church reserves to support a new traditional church while signaling support for Africa University and racial/ethnic ministries with a large set-aside of reserve funds for these ministries; and,
  • Offers the strongest likelihood of passage at the 2020 General Conference of any of the plans offered to date.

Addressing Some Concerns

Nevertheless, the protocol has generated its fair share of anxiety and angst. Rightfully so! Historic and profound decisions are before us! I confess my own points of anxiety (e.g. as a recently retired clergy member I have no congregation to bring to a new church and wonder what place I will have in a new Wesleyan denomination, although I long to be a part of it). Right now, there is both hope and much uncertainty about the future. Yet, to use a well-worn phrase, “We know who holds the future.”

Let me offer some thoughts in response to a few concerns and objections I have been encountering.

1. “Traditionalists are the ones who have been faithful to Biblical teaching and have won the vote at General Conference. Let’s just stay and win the battle!”

The first statement is true. It grieves my heart to think of evangelicals leaving. Timothy Tennent, President of Asbury Theological Seminary, with his own heavy heart, supports the protocol, but has written an insightful article about why traditionalists need to leave and what unique aspects of this leaving history should record (here).

The second plea is a “pipe-dream.” While it is true traditionalists have won the day at every GC for 47 years, many of our bishops and other denominational leaders and boards have thwarted the implementation of true accountability again and again. What was once disagreement from progressives has become a tsunami of resistance. These things will not change in time to avoid a spiritual and temporal disintegration of the UM Church.

2.“Central conferences desire to retain the name United Methodist.”

I appreciate the positive value the UM Church name in the central conferences and their desire for all of us remain together in the UM Church. I confess I do not know how to solve this dilemma. As for us in the U.S., the incessant demands of centrists and progressives for change, and the refusal of numerous leaders to uphold the decisions of General Conference, are forcing our Gospel partners in the central conferences to make difficult and inconvenient decisions.

At the same time, I would urge our brothers and sisters in central conferences to remember that for them to hang on to the name (and for evangelicals in the U.S. to hang in there with them) will require U.S. evangelicals to continue in an untenable and destructive situation. If we continue to fight, we might reaffirm the UM Church’s teachings at the 2020 General Conference, but resistance will continue and even intensify. We will spend untold hours and money trying to bring about accountability that will never come. If we capitulate to the proposed U.S. Regional Conference Plan, the U.S. region would immediately liberalize the UM Church’s teachings on its sexual ethics, definition of marriage, and its ordination standards. Either possibility leaves us stranded for years, perhaps decades, in a continuing struggle with no realistic hope of resolving the impasse.

3. “If the protocol passes, some may for a time be caught in a changed UM Church. And, there are so many other questions about the future church.”

Yes, but only for a brief season. These should be viewed as matters of transition.

The Exodus account provides a helpful paradigm. Even after Pharaoh released the Israelites from Egypt, they still needed God’s miracle at the Red Sea to escape; had to endure the hardships of the wilderness; faced many temptations and fell into sin; ended up wandering for 40 years in the wilderness and then had to fight their way into the Promised Land. The full promises did not come overnight or in a few days. Yet, from the moment of release the Hebrews were in transition to a new future. The hope of the Promised Land stood before them.

I am not suggesting that our journey will be nearly so long or hard, but we will be challenged between here and there. Some will not be free of the UM Church as quickly as they would like, but they will be on the journey to a new day.

Let’s not imagine that building a new denomination will be easy; that we will get everything right the first time; or that we will not face real challenges. The journey will have seas and mountains to cross and enemies to face. The task before us is complex. Let’s do believe that God is leading us to a new place where the Gospel of Jesus Christ will be lifted with renewed passion and energy; where we will not have to debate basic orthodox teaching over and over; and where we have freedom to live into the hope before us.

I served 43 years under appointment and have been retired just over three years. The struggle over sound Christian doctrine and around human sexuality has book-ended my entire ministry. The protocol gives us an opportunity to step beyond the conflict and allow the Lord to build a church faithful to the Scripture and the Gospel. My heart grieves for the people and the things left behind. My heart rejoices at the new day which lies ahead. Let’s rally together, be steady and trust God that a new and better land is over the horizon.

Lectionary Scriptures for 1-19-20

January 13, 2020

Rev. Dr. Carolyn Moore’s Thoughts on Separation

January 10, 2020

 

Reverend Moore’s thoughts on the Separation Protocol. I too am a follower of Christ before I am United Methodist. I thank the UMC for all that it has meant to me past, present, future. This an article posted on the Wesleyan Convenant Association’s website.

I have been on social media enough in the last few days to know that the latest plan for denominational separation along theological lines is not without its detractors. I’m not among them. This agreement comes to me as a deep relief. For several years I have worked as a member of a much larger group toward some kind of resolution. I realize just how much time, energy, prayer, and even compromise – poured out on all sides of our current divide – it took to get here. I’m breathing a sigh of relief and praying for the passage of this protocol at the 2020 General Conference. Let me share why.

Without context, the headlines in the national media might seem harsh and this plan to separate may come as a surprise. But for many who have been on this journey for years, this represents a significant and hopeful step forward. Most headlines last week led with the idea that the crux of the crisis is a disagreement over our sexual ethics, teachings on marriage, and the ordination of LBTQ+ clergy. I want to emphasize that the crisis in the UM Church does not rest on just these issues. Others agree. In a recent essay accurately entitled, “The Sad, Necessary Division of the United Methodist Church” David French writes:

“The secular media will cast the divide primarily in the terms it understands—as focused on “LGBT issues” – but that’s incomplete. The true fracturing point between Mainline and Evangelical churches is over the authority and interpretation of scripture. The debate over LGBT issues is a consequence of the underlying dispute, not its primary cause… there is a strain of Protestant Christianity that views the Bible as valuable but not infallible or inerrant. Evangelical Christians, by contrast, strongly dissent from that view.”

That seems an accurate statement to me. Our divide has been forming for years over multiple issues that are very real and very deep. They strike at the fundamentals of historical Christian orthodoxy. How we interpret scripture and relate to the person and work of Jesus Christ is at the headwaters of this crisis, but it is also important to note that our inability to hold one another accountable where we disagree only exacerbates the problem. When some of our leaders are unwilling to hold us accountable to the time-honored way we make decisions at our General Conferences, the result is a kind of disorder and dysfunction that is excruciating.

The hard reality we must admit today is that while we traditionalists have won votes at General Conference, we have not really held the line of orthodoxy within the UM Church. While we are thankful for the reaffirmation of our teachings, some of our American colleagues openly resist what we have reaffirmed. With no theological or ethical accountability and no will among many bishops to establish accountability, there is no line left to hold. Most of us – from across the theological divide – recognize we can no longer go on this way.

Some would implore us to stay in the current situation and keep voting for traditional values at General Conference, as if we might eventually wear down our progressive colleagues and compel them to leave. I have zero faith in that eventuality. A colleague in my conference who serves on the board of a progressive movement within the UM Church told me without blinking an eye, “We will never leave.” And I believe her. Why would she? With accountability on these matters gone – and it is – her approach is working to a degree; it is a functional response. So, we frustrate her sincerely held views on very important matters, and in return she and colleagues in her theological camp frustrate our sincerely held beliefs. This is not a healthy dynamic for a supposedly united church.

Friends, let’s support this protocol. Let’s get ourselves out of an Egypt filled with conflict and bitterness. The protocol might not be the promised land, but once we are out of the Egypt we are living in, we traditionalists can participate with the Holy Spirit in building a vital and fruitful movement that reflects our faith and the faith of our fathers. Our ground – the ground I want to be standing on – is on the other side of separation, where we can make choices from a place of strength, and without the anarchy we live in now.

Please pray for our UM Church. These are hard days for many people. I sense the anxiety among my clergy colleagues and cannot imagine the stress our bishops must be carrying. There are so many more questions than answers for how this will play out structurally, so they have great responsibilities on their shoulders. If we can manage this well, however, our effort will be historic. We are all praying for a better witness than what we have had.

We grieve the pain of so many in the UM Church who really do not want any kind of separation. We hear the words of Jesus who said of divorce in general that Moses allowed it only because of the hardness of our hearts. “But this wasn’t so from the beginning,” he said. If you have ever been divorced, you understand that sometimes the thing we want least is also the only option left. And sometimes that thing represents hardness. We grieve the public witness of irreconcilable differences, and I grieve my own shortcomings and the things I do not even know that I do not know. It seems right to approach anything like this with deep humility, understanding the impact it can have on a lost and hurting world.

The UM Church is my tribe, and I will be sad to separate from it. But before I am a United Methodist, I am a follower of Jesus. I will preach the faith of our fathers – a faith that billions have lived and died for. I will not step back from that Gospel. It is life to me. It is life to us. It is our hope and our peace.


The Rev. Dr. Carolyn Moore is the founding and lead pastor of Mosaic Church in Evans, Georgia. She serves as the vice-chairwoman of the Wesleyan Covenant Association Council.

A Note from Wesleyan Covenant Association On UMC Division

January 8, 2020

Reverend Keith Boyette is president of the Wesleyan Covenant Association and he wrote this article. Remember that General Conference in May will be the time when decisions are made (or not) about the path forward for the United Methodist Church. Plans (More than just the latest Protocol Plan) are out there but will not be official until one of them is voted on in May.

This year, The United Methodist Church is 52 years old. Of course, the Methodist movement, currently composed of approximately 80 distinct Methodist denominations worldwide, is much older than that. The UM Church was formed from the union of The Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church in 1968. Methodism, as with all parts of the Christian family, has experienced its share of divisions and reunions over its more than 225-year existence as a global movement.

For 48 of its 52 years, the UM Church has known ever-increasing levels of conflict regarding the authority and interpretation of the Bible, and the church’s doctrines and ethics. The presenting debate has focused on our sexual ethics, our definition of marriage, and our ordination standards. That debate has become more heated and polarizing with each passing year.

The thought of amicable separation was first discussed at a General Conference, the quadrennial legislative gathering for the UM Church, in 2004 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. At the 2012 and 2016 General Conferences, leaders of various constituencies in the church met to discuss whether it was time to separate. Each time, we opted for legislative conflict over dealing directly with our irreconcilable differences. In 2016, a diverse group of leaders asked the Council of Bishops to lead the UM Church toward separation. Instead, the Council of Bishops recommended the creation of a Commission on the Way Forward with a charge to find a way to maintain institutional unity despite deep and growing conflict. The General Conference ultimately authorized the Council of Bishops to create their proposed commission.

The Commission on the Way Forward presented three plans to a special General Conference in 2019. The Connectional Conference Plan, which received virtually no support, would have created three theologically distinct conferences within the UM Church, each having a different teaching on the issues involved in the impasse. The One Church Plan would have empowered annual conferences and local churches to make their own decisions on the definition of marriage and ordination. And the Traditional Plan would have the UM Church reaffirm its historic position on ordination and marriage, and enhance accountability.

The 2019 special General Conference narrowly adopted the Traditional Plan by a vote of 53 percent. In the weeks that followed, resistance and disobedience to the order and discipline of the UM Church multiplied. Leaders in many of our annual conferences in the United States issued statements decrying the passage of the Traditional Plan and some plainly stated they would not enforce it. We are now a church bitterly divided and so this year we are set up for another contentious and harmful General Conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota unless we can write a different narrative.

As the debate in the UM Church progressed, three constituencies emerged along a continuum – (1) traditionalists who have a high view of Scripture, its authority and interpretation, and who uphold the church’s historic definition of marriage and ordination standards, (2) centrists, who also claim to have a high view of Scripture, but believe competing teachings on these matters can co-exist in one church, and (3) progressives who, as a matter of justice, believe the church must liberalize its sexual ethics, it teachings on marriage, and its ordination standards.

Two significant responses resulted from the 2019 special General Conference. First, the distance between the progressive and centrist positions nearly disappeared. Many centrists have now adopted the position of the progressives. Second, prior to 2019, traditionalists were arrayed along a continuum between traditionalists who were leaning into the UM Church (those who wanted to continue to work for upholding historic Christian teachings and practices within the UM Church) and traditionalists who were leaning out of the denomination (those who saw the toxic nature of the battle, the increasing inability of church leaders to maintain good order and discipline, and all the harm it was doing to local congregations and the denomination). After the 2019 special General Conference and the ensuing resistance and disobedience, more traditionalists moved to the leaning out part of this continuum. These two responses – the coalescing of centrists and progressives and more traditionalists now leaning out of the denomination – simply reemphasized the deep fissure within the church.

The mediated negotiations began in this environment. Bishop John Yambasu from the Sierra Leone Episcopal Area in Africa and Bishop Christian Alsted from the Nordic-Baltic Episcopal in Europe invited traditionalist (myself included), centrist, and progressive leaders to participate in a conversation aimed at resolving our church’s decades long dispute. Traditionalist leaders participated because of our desire to end the conflict and create a healthier and more hopeful future for traditional laity, clergy, and churches.

For the first time, the mediated negotiation brought together leaders of every major advocacy group associated with the constituencies involved in the conflict plus bishops (eventually including Bishop Ken Carter of the Florida Episcopal Area and president of the Council of Bishops and Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey of the Louisiana Episcopal Area and the council’s president-elect). International leaders (three additional bishops and one clergyperson) also joined as the negotiations continued. And very importantly, Kenneth Feinberg, the internationally renowned attorney, offered his services to facilitate the negotiations. Eventually, after several sessions, a group of 16 participants arrived at a comprehensive agreement called the “Protocol of Reconciliation & Grace through Separation,” a proposal we all hope will end the conflict in the UM Church. A FAQ was also prepared by the group.

Some have justifiably asked, “Why are the traditionalists the ones tasked with creating a new Methodist church, while progressives and centrists continue as the post-separation United Methodist Church?” The answer is simply, “Progressives and centrists are not willing to leave the UM Church.” They will not do so voluntarily and the process of forcing them to leave would require numerous church trials that would distract from the church’s mission, cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, ruin the church’s reputation, and all with no assurance of producing the intended outcome. Progressives and centrists are prepared to remain in the UM Church even if the conflict escalates. Traditionalists could of course dig in their heels and say, “We are not leaving either,” but to what end? It would simply perpetuate a fight that now threatens the health and vitality of local churches and the denomination’s very existence. Thus, if we traditionalists truly want this conflict to end, then we are the ones who have to separate.

The protocol agreement announced on Friday, January 3, is not a perfect document. Nothing in the document has exactly the terms I would have chosen if I had been the sole author. And of course, the document is not exactly what the progressives and centrists wanted either. The entire document reflects significant compromises made by all parties to reach an agreement which each of the signatories have committed to support despite painful compromises. For the first time in this long, torturous journey, all of the constituencies have agreed to the terms of a separation. We can argue over a specific provision here or there, and to be sure we did argue about many things. In fact, we argued for nine, long contentious days. People can of course critique the results, but they cannot deny that for the first time a plan has been proposed and endorsed by centrists, progressives, and traditionalists — with the support of prominent episcopal leaders from Africa, Eurasia, the Philippines, and the U.S – that would end our long and now destructive conflict.

The most important part of the protocol — by far in my estimation – is that every local church that decides to join a new Methodist denomination could do so with the full ownership of their buildings, real estate, and assets free of the UM Church’s trust clause. If you do not understand the value of that provision, then I encourage you to talk to traditionalists who were formerly part of The Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, and the Presbyterian Church USA. They will explain to you the trauma of spending tens of thousands of dollars litigating for their property and assets only to lose them in the end.

I will have more to write about the “Protocol of Reconciliation & Grace through Separation,” but for now, each and everyone has a choice to make. We can choose further conflict and uncertainty, or we can support a plan that frees us to be the church God desires. For now, I appreciate your prayers, the many messages of encouragement, and even the messages that have challenged the protocol and my efforts on your behalf. I am praying for all of us as we move toward General Conference 2020.


The Rev. Keith Boyette is president of the Wesleyan Covenant Association and an elder in the Virginia Conference of The United Methodist Church.

Lectionary Scriptures for 1-12-20

January 6, 2020