-- Luke 12:25
As the United Methodist Church train hurtles down the track on greased rails toward the End of the Line which is General Conference 2020, my thoughts dwell upon what the possible aftermath might be. The refusal of the centrists to abide by the decision of GC19 has set us up for this collision; likewise, the desperation of the centrists (especially the bishops) to hold onto as much of the structure and assets as they can assures that it will be far more painful than it ought to be. “Whoever would save his life must lose it” is the principle by which we are saved, but the poohbahs of The UMC are not brave and humble enough to let the institution die in order for it to be reborn; they will keep it alive, after a fashion, and let it go on living as a half-dead and dying thing – so long as they can be in charge of it.
There are something like nine plans coming to GC20 for dealing with this mess. GC19 dealt with a nearly binary question, with everybody in a single legislative group to prepare the legislation. The petitions for GC20 will be farmed out to multiple legislative groups and the plenary will have to sort out conflicting recommendations. It ain’t gonna be pretty.
Of all the plans, the Indianapolis Plan is probably the most realistic, and the most gracious. It would give to each Annual Conference the right to align itself with the successor denomination it preferred. Then it would give to congregations and clergy the right to move themselves out of an Annual Conference whose choice they disagreed with into another Conference whose choice they liked better. What would be the outcome of this?
Well, probably, certain Conferences which are already moving in that direction would proclaim themselves a Progressive Methodist Church. Several others would decide for a Traditionalist Methodist Church. At least half of them, probably more, would sit tight and default to a Centrist Methodist Church. (This is my read on the American UM church, only.)
How would Indiana decide? If it’s by a majority of the Annual Conference, I think we would go Traditionalist. The progs swept the clergy delegate elections, but it was fairly close, and if you add in the Local Pastors who couldn’t vote for GC delegates, we probably have a trad majority among the clergy. We certainly have a trad majority among the laity. Of course, since the centrists get the default within the American church, foot-dragging and uncertainties could swing a number of trad votes to the center, especially if the centrist default is the Conference we know, and the trad alternative is not up and running yet. It would be close, I think.
Whatever we decided as a Conference, though, there would be congregations and clergy who would not be happy with the result and would seek to move themselves to other expressions of Methodism. The diehard progs would probably leave, regardless. They are tired of the centrists and incompatible with the trads. The number would in any case be fairly small. That leaves the question of who among the centrists and trads can summon up the energy and will to strike out for new territory from an inhospitable Conference.
In both cases, I think there would be more clergy desiring to leave for greener pastures than congregations. This is because it is more difficult to get a whole congregation to take a leap in the dark than for an individual to do the same. This would mean that whichever group loses the initial vote and winds up leaving for a different future would see a shortage of clergy jobs relative to the number of candidates, at least for a time. As for how many clergy would stay where they are in an uncongenial environment, just to stay employed, I don’t know. My guess is, all the successor bodies will lay down the law (as they see it) about the presenting issues. Flying under the radar and serving a congregation that doesn’t agree with you – and working with colleagues who don’t agree with you (and know where you stand) – could get increasingly uncomfortable.
Well, whatever is coming is coming. It’ll arrive at the scheduled time, though the effects may take a while to work themselves out. Insofar as I can, I prepare for each possible outcome, but I try not to worry about it; wherever I end up, I know I’ll be with Jesus.