aefenglommung (aefenglommung) wrote,

Thinking the Unthinkable, UM Version

The hot topic right now is the proposal for "amicable separation" offered by a consortium of conservative/evangelical/traditional UM leaders. They suggest the time has come for The UMC to split into two groups, one with a progressive slant and another with a traditional one. They are, of course, being roundly pilloried for this. I think they are being naive if they assume that the progressives want a split. They don't. The progressives want control. Of the whole Church. And they think they are going to get it; after all, they're winning right now, aren't they? They certainly seem to be. Well, let's come back to that in a minute.

First, let's ask, how would such an "amicable separation" work, in practice? After all, there isn't a procedure for splitting the denomination in the Discipline. We would have to pass one at General Conference 2016. I suggest a Constitutional Amendment outlining the procedures and making exceptions to certain provisions in our rules that would allow the process to play out. It would also give the aggregate clergy and lay Members of every Annual Conference a vote on whether we do, in fact, amicably separate. The timeline would then go something like this.

Spring 2016. General Conference meets and, presumably, passes the Constitutional Amendment Enabling Amicable Separation.

Later Spring-Summer 2016. Annual Conferences must vote on the Amendment. If it passes, the process will begin; if it doesn't, then we remain one denomination.

Summer-Fall 2016. Assuming the Amendment passes, Jurisdictional and Central Conferences create the authority for Provisional Annual Conferences in every Jurisdiction and Central Conference. Since these would overlap existing Annual Conferences, this would be one of the exceptions to our rules I was talking about, above. Jurisdictional and Central Conferences would also elect, by formula, clergy and lay members of two Transition Teams to guide the process of becoming two successor Churches.

Later Spring-Summer 2017. Annual Conferences would vote, as Conferences, on which successor Church (A or B) they will be part of. Following these Annual Conference sessions, each clergy member and each local church in that Conference would get to decide to stay with that Annual Conference or join in one of the Provisional Annual Conferences allowed for by their Jurisdictional or Central Conferences the year before. So, let's say that every AC in the WJ voted to join Successor Church A (the progressive one); but the WJ made possible (let's say) two Provisional Annual Conferences, which clergy and congregations who prefer Successor Church B could belong to.

Late 2017-Early 2018. Each Jurisdictional or Central Conference Committee on Episcopacy provides for episcopal oversight of all Annual Conferences and Provisional Annual Conferences from existing bishops (including retired bishops, if necessary). Meanwhile, all bishops also have to choose which Successor Church they will finally belong to. Provisional Annual Conferences have their Organizing Sessions in early 2018.

Later Spring- Summer 2018. All Annual Conferences and Provisional Annual Conferences meet and adjust to their new realities. Transition teams negotiate asset splits. Any issues not resolved amicably will be decided by General Conference.

2018-2019 The two Transition Teams begin planning for the future. This includes negotiating with all General Agencies on how to split all assets belonging to The UMC.

Later Spring - Summer 2019. All Annual Conferences and Provisional Annual Conferences elect delegates, by the usual formula, to the final UM General Conference.

Spring 2020. The final UMGC meets and resolves all outstanding issues from the Annual Conferences. UMGC passes enabling legislation dividing all assets belonging to The UMC. UMGC then votes The UMC out of existence and ends with a final celebration of communion together. The next day, the two Successor Churches open their Organizing General Conferences at nearby locations (not the one where UMGC met). Each Successor Church GC is made up of the clergy and lay delegates elected by the Annual Conferences or Provisional Annual Conferences which had chosen that Successor Church. Each inherits the Discipline as it exists at the time and is free to begin adapting it according to each Successor Church's own rules and procedures.

That's how to do it amicably, folks. I don't really expect that to happen. As I said, the progressives don't want to leave, even with their assets; they want to win. The traditionalists should understand this. The only alternative to an amicable separation, then, is a knock-down, drag-out contest for control of the whole UMC: a distasteful and painful affair, but a necessary one.

Which is why the traditionalists shouldn't just bring the proposal for amicable separation to GC 2016. They should also come prepared to fight to pass whatever it takes to enforce compliance with the Book of Discipline, even up to and including automatic suspension or other minimum penalties, as well as new procedures limiting the power of bishops or streamlining their being called to account. Only by passing into church law the means of bringing the forces of disunity and disobedience to account will it be possible even to enact amicable separation. When the voters at the various Annual Conferences in 2017 see the possibilities, they will recognize that there are only two choices: each to go their separate way, or a contest of wills to do whatever it takes to end this hurtful, damaging fight we've been in. A vote against amicable separation would be a vote to stay together and throw the other side out. Which might make both sides more reasonable in the end. Call it, Speak softly and carry a big stick.

I wish none of this were necessary, but it is. Nor am I hopeful that any of it will be achieved; I very much fear we will dribble this out with ever more pain until the people who should stay and enforce the rules they have faithfully obeyed exit by twos and by threes and The UMC enters a long death spiral, like the UCC and the Presbyterians and the Episcopalians.

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