March 8th, 2020

how long

Methopolitical foo

District Conferences are currently electing Equalizing Lay Members for our AC session(s) this year. A hitherto unknown process was magicked out of the ear of someone at HQ and laid upon us. This beauty of a procedure also disenfranchised a whole bunch of retired elders (but not Margaret Collins's little tow-headed boy). So, the way we operate in a trust-deprived environment is . . . to act shifty! Yeah, boy! Welcome to the Indiana Annual Conference.

The point of all this brouhaha is that sometime this year, we will take a vote (probably) to have the entire Indiana Conference join the new, trad denomination a-borning. HQ is scared spitless. Indiana probably has the best chance of doing this in the North Central Jurisdiction. So, the powers that be are seeing how best they can massage the electorate.

Now, me, personally, I don't really care if we win or lose this vote. And other than pride, I don't know why the centerprogs should care, either. Regardless of who wins the vote, there will be a free opportunity for those who don't want to go with where the Conference goes to choose otherwise. Clergy can simply transfer. Congregations will be allowed to depart from wherever we wind up to wherever they want to go (this is a limited-time offer). So, other than the real estate and the glory, what is there to fight about?

Well.

The people who are most in danger of being hurt in this business are the congregations -- and I think there are many, many of them -- whose pastors have not told them anything about the possibility of a split before this spring; or who desperately want to avoid having to talk to their neighbors about this, to make up their minds about this, to vote on this, to have to DO something about this, and so they have their heads in the sand, hoping that it will all just go away. These are good people in good congregations, but they are appalled at having to choose.

Now, the activist congregations -- the ones who've been paying attention, who have talked amongst themselves about this, whether traditionalist or centrist or progressive -- they know what they want to do, and they will go straight for it. It's all the people who haven't prepared who are going to be caught in the headlights. And of course, there are all the soothing leaders of the good ol' UMC, saying, "I think we should stay together, don't you? We're better together." They might even toss in a few promises to let everybody think nothing's going to really change in the post-separation UMC; you can still do church as you've always done it. But the truth is, you won't be able to. And once the deadline expires (whenever that is), you won't be able to get out with your assets, either. So, however this turns out, there are going to be a bunch of churches who realize, too late, that they should have gone the other way.

I'm guessing that a large number of this indefinite number of churches are traditionalist in their values. They would be happier and more productive as part of the New & Improved Methodist Church than the post-separation UMC. If the trads win the vote at AC, these people will be greatly benefited. And those who don't like going traditionalist will find the trads helpful and gracious in getting them where they feel more comfortable being. We have no desire to dragoon people into joining our cause. We want everybody to leave this fight behind and just sort themselves into the groups where they feel most at home. If the centerprogs win the vote at AC, however, will the powers that be turn out to be as helpful and gracious to the late-departers as the trads would be to those who want to depart the other way?

My guess is, the centerprogs want the numbers, because it would validate their idea that the trads are a kooky minority, not mainstream Methodists. The centerprogs want the apportionment-paying congregations and the Conference assets to prop up their top-heavy organization. The bishop has his smooth (but very hard) sales pitch all warmed up, to keep them right where they are. Which is fine, if that's where they want to be. But again, what if they decide late that they'd rather be with those guys? I fear their decline will be precipitous, as people leave by onesies and twosies, as progressive pastors tell them all the wonderful new things the UMC is doing, and as the penalties for wrongthink increase.

I don't care whether we win the vote or not, but I'll vote for it to do a solid for the late-deciders. I think our side will be more helpful and gracious -- to everybody -- than the centerprog leadership is prepared to be. We want churches to be able to identify what will make them happiest and most productive and to empower them to go there and do that.