January 3rd, 2020

good news

Of Interest to United Methodists

"And there's an end to an auld sang." -- Scottish peer upon the vote of the Scots Parliament to ratify the 1707 Union with England and thus abolish itself.

The Council of Bishops announced today that all parties -- you read that right, ALL parties -- the traditionalists, the progressives, the centrists, the bishops both from America and the Central Conferences, have signed an agreement to work together in General Conference 2020 to amicably separate.

The traditionalists -- who won the last round at GC 19 -- will separate with assistance from the parent church to form a new denomination. Any UM congregation or minister (and, one presumes, any Annual Conference) can join the new denomination without penalty and with all their assets. I'm guessing, we'll see an Organizing General Conference next fall.

The centrists inherit the rump of the UMC -- perhaps the larger part, at least in the US. All the bishops get to keep their jobs. All the general agencies remain to them to give them the joys of bureaucracy. They keep the UM name, apparently. They will soon after the separation call a new GC to repeal the Traditional Plan and smooth the way for gay-friendly policies.

The progressives, for whom the centrists are too slow, receive the option to separate from the UMC later. We'll see how that works out. My guess is, most will stay once the rump repeals all the prohibitions against same-sex weddings and gay ordination. But if the rump balks at the other things they want, such as new ceremonies to celebrate coming out and gender transition and new Special Days to focus on the goodness of gayness, etc., they can still opt out and go their own way, with assistance. My guess is, that special GC to create the "renewed" UMC will be a corker.

That means that this summer's Indiana Annual Conference will be the last such conference with everybody all together. There may be some special poignancy to it. Certainly, we Scouters are going to be there with bells on. This is the 100th anniversary year of the relationship between the UMC (via its predecessors) and BSA. We will celebrate all year. The UMC is now the largest charter partner of BSA, at least until we see how the dust settles from the time of separations.

Some of us within the Indiana UM Scouting community have had some quiet talks about the future. We haven't settled anything, but we have been determined all along to not give way to acrimony and fights over rights to this or that. The future of The Indiana United Methodist Pathfinder, Inc., is unknown, but so long as we still hold significant money given for scholarships and such, I imagine we will be open to resourcing applications from Scouts from any of the successor conferences. That said, we have only a tiny base who has held the Scouting ministry in our conference in being for the benefit of all of us, and I imagine we will be as split as any other part of the UMC in the days to come. The Indiana UM Pathfinder may have to die and be reborn as something else, but as good Scouts we will always treat other Scouts in other denominations as brothers and sisters.

Further thoughts on United Methodist separation

Quite a few traditionalists aren't happy with the announced deal brokered between all the major players to separate. Specifically, they are unhappy that there is no forced choice: you have to choose to leave; meanwhile, a congregation that can't make up its mind or doesn't want its members to have to argue over the alternatives or is just afraid of taking a leap of faith will default to the (continuing) UMC. That probably means that fewer decide to leave for traditionalist territory than would have if everybody had to make a choice.

Why should we leave, when we have the votes? the traditionalists ask. Why don't the disobedient people leave? If I had my druthers, that's the way it would turn out. But I don't have my druthers, and upon further reflection am not even sure my druthers would please me.

Consider the Indiana Annual Conference. I have speculated before over which side (centrist/progressive or traditionalist) would muster a majority if it came to a forced choice. The proposed plan requires a 57% vote, but still. It would be close. Painfully close. But let's say we did it. The traditionalists muster 57% of the voting membership of the Indiana Conference and vote to join the new trad church as a body. What would be the results of that?

First, we inherit all the bureaucracy and the overinflated lease on our conference HQ and a whole bunch of non-performing congregations. Oh, and half the clergy want to leave. The next several years of managing the Indiana Conference would be one long misery. And what would we gain? The only thing I can think a new start-up conference might like to have would be a nice church camp, but we could get by without one. If the trads fail to muster 57%, or decide not to try, the centerprogs get the joy of managing the decline.

This doesn't mean that I'm eager to leave, or would do so without regrets. But if you've got to eat a frog, it pays not to stare at it too long beforehand. One big swallow is what it takes. And then you're on to the exciting job of building all new networks of ministry. I'm sure finances will be a struggle for a while, but the faithfulness of the clergy and laity will make amazing things happen.

Looking ahead (once GC 20 is in the books), the big thing is, Who will present the options to the congregations of the conference? Will ordinary UMs be given the chance to hear the pitch to join the new trad church, or will our leadership try to prevent congregations from considering the possibilities? Even with the doors wide open, what misrepresentations and roadblocks will be put in the way of those interested in the question? We've taken a major step -- a positive one -- but there are still trust issues to be addressed.