You will remember, I hope, my discussion of the three possibilities for resolving the divide in The UMC: Division; Secession; Withdrawal. If the One Church Plan had prevailed at GC19, the WCA would have led a withdrawal. The Traditional Plan having succeeded, the progressive Conferences have it well within their power to secede. So why don’t they? Well, they may come to that at last, but let us not forget the stakes here.
To secede is to leave the bulk of the assets – and, more particularly, the jobs – in the hands of the remainder denomination. The progs want those assets. And they need those jobs. If the progressive conferences secede – even if they refuse to allow the traditional congregations within them to stay with the remainder denomination – there will still be too many bishops and too many clergy for the available positions in the breakaway group. You would have a situation like so many exiled archdukes and countesses and royal pretenders crammed into a tiny court where everyone has a title, but nobody has any power. For those used to swaying the fate of millions (ecclesiastically), this has little appeal. They may despise the trads, but they need lots of them to bulk up the institution and provide places to appoint all the prog clergy who want to follow their call.
A similar situation would prevail if it were the other way round, with the trads leaving, with one exception: the traditional congregations are dying slower than the progressive ones. Progressive clergy are, in many cases, like mistletoe on an oak tree, a parasitical growth. Yes, the traditional churches in America are declining, too, but appointing traditional pastors to traditional churches doesn’t hasten their decline; appointing progressive clergy to traditional churches does. But there just aren’t enough progressive congregations around.
This means that whenever the secret negotiations are convened, the progressives will first try to gain and hold as much as they can. I expect them to offer the choice of affiliation to conferences, but to limit congregational choice if a church finds itself in an uncongenial environment. And I expect the traditional negotiators, whoever they turn out to be, to turn them down flat. If we’re going to divide, rather than see one group secede, then everybody needs to get a choice: conferences; clergy; congregations.
It’s early days yet. My guess is, we won’t see real negotiations and a real deal on the table within reach until next year. Various amendable plans will be filed as petitions to GC20 before the deadline this fall, but until the progs are facing certain defeat at the vote-counting, the hardliners won’t be ready to give up their dream of control and settle for what they can get. So it’s important for the traditionalists to stand firm and continue with the task of pursuing their vision. Work on elections and petitions and keeping the flock together. We should continue to insist on the gracious exit and a no winners/losers outcome, if it can be had; nevertheless, we must be prepared to vote for perfecting GC19’s Traditionalist Plan, with accountability sure to pass the Judicial Council’s review. As I have said over and over, until the progs (especially the bigwigs) are staring defeat in the face, they won’t deal honestly with the issues. And some of them aren’t quite ready to quit fighting, yet.