In a recent post, I said that the UMC is faced with three options: Division; Secession; Withdrawal. It now appears that the most prominent progressives are going for the Secession option. They intend to leave and form something like a Progressive United Methodist Church. The traditionalists are willing to help them do this. Those who offered a gracious exit to anyone are following through on their offer to those who fought the idea of a gracious exit tooth and nail but who now could use it. In any case, it looks like the traditionalists may "inherit the denomination," as a friend put it to me recently.
I presume the Western Jurisdiction and other progressive Annual Conferences will secede to form the core of a new denomination. In such a case, there will be clergy and congregations in those progressive conferences who will not want to make the move with them. At the same time, there will be clergy and congregations in conferences who stay with the denomination who would like to be part of a Progressive UMC. GC20 should facilitate this. No one should be stuck in a hostile denominational structure. But supposing that works out, graciously or not, what do those of us left with the denominational name and structures do then?
In any case where some leave but some stay, the purists are those who leave; the remainers are somewhat of a mixed bag. Giving a gracious exit to anyone who wants it will help sort people into the groups they desire to be part of, but still, there will be more variation among clergy and congregations in the shrunken remainder than in the exiting pioneers. The reason for this is simple: leaving is hard.
Some will not leave simply because they are used to what they know. Others will not leave because the jobs are here, not there. Some are simply averse to making decisions. In particular, there will be a large number of clergy in the remainder denomination of mixed opinions and proclivities. Whoever gets the house will get the children; that is, the remainder denomination will have an inordinate share of the bishops and clergy, even if their like-minded congregations have mostly gone the other way. And this would be true even if conditions were reversed, and the trads were the ones leaving, rather than the progs.
If it's the progressives who leave, then we who remain will have to deal with some serious leadership issues. We as a denomination have chosen to adhere to our historic, orthodox understanding of sexuality. But we are likely to be led by a majority of bishops who worked very hard to undermine that understanding and to pass the One Church Plan. Likewise, there will still probably be a lot of BOOM members, Conference staff, and Superintendents in the remainder conferences who are not traditionalist-minded. These BOOM members have put many obstacles in the way of ordaining and deploying orthodox clergy candidates. Staffs and Superintendents have not always seen the value in their traditionalist constituents. And we will be saddled with a lot of general agencies and seminaries we can neither afford nor control, stuffed with progressives who have defied or slow-walked the will of General Conference.
First thing to do then is, we need to retire a bunch of bishops. The greater part of them have sacrificed their integrity and spent all their leadership chips to take us where we would not go. They cannot lead us now. Pension them off and elect new ones.
Next, we need to address ourselves to the BOOMs and Staffs and Cabinets. Bishops need to be reminded that GC has set the direction for the UMC, and we need leadership that reflects that direction. That doesn't mean we institute a purge, still less a witch hunt. We're not about making everybody think alike. We are about obeying the rules. And defending the goodness of those rules.
Third, we need to cut the general agencies and seminaries loose. Some of them, like Wespath and the Publishing House, and the Upper Room, offer stuff that other people want, and can function independently. They can resource us (and the new ProgUMC); some of them resource other denominations even now. We might keep relationships with some others. But a lot of the general agencies provide little that we need right now. And most of the official UM seminaries produce graduates who don't fit with where we want to go. Let them do what they do, without further denominational support, and we will judge candidates from their schools on a case-by-case basis.
All this is just clearing the decks so we can get the ship back on course. Once we get this ugly fight past us, we need to start thinking about making disciples again. We need to get back to the Main Thing again, with fewer distractions. One of the challenges we will face is to effectively support the Central Conferences, even as the US portion of the church is significantly reduced. To get back to making healthy congregations and conferences with a future in both the US and overseas is a tall order.