The classic bulletin blooper welcomed people to “First Untied Methodist Church.” Well, that gaff is proving to be both true and untrue. For some time the Reform/Renewal Coalition, led by groups like Good News, the Confessing Movement and the Wesley Covenant Association, has said they can no longer remain a part of the United Methodist Church. They want full separation from those who disagree on interpretation of scripture regarding the prohibition of same-sex marriage and ordination in the church. (In fairness, they would also say their differences have to do with the lack of enforcement of our policies in the church and allowing such prohibitions to be broken). The trouble comes in the fact that last February at the special session of General Conference they won an important vote supporting the current stands in our Book of Discipline, but the threat of not enforcing these stands and continued fighting and division in the church, have left them seeking agreeable terms for separation.
Enter a group of 16 people called together by Bishop Yambasu of Sierra Leone. Starting last fall this gathering of reform coalition leaders, centrists, Central Conference representatives, and progressives, began meeting to address this question. They brought in a nationally known mediator, Kenneth Feinberg, who oversaw the 911 victims’ compensation fund (read more here)
Through months of meetings this group produced A Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation. You can read for yourself but some key things to note are:
1) This agreement calls for the separation of at least one and possibly more groups.
2) It keeps the United Methodist Church intact, basically aligning it with the centrists.
3) It suggests methods for Annual Conferences and churches who do not wish to remain United Methodist a way to leave.
4) It recommends that the UMC in the US become a Regional Conference allowing American Methodists freedom to be fully inclusive of LGBTQ members while allowing Central Conferences (the international areas of our denomination) to keep the current language in the Book of Discipline.
5) It lifts the historic Trust Clause, stipulating that local church properties belong to the annual Conferences, thus making it possible for churches to leave and keep their property. It also spells out a cash settlement to the groups who wish to leave and start new denominations.
6) And very significantly, this plan calls for a moratorium on charges/complaints regarding our current policies on homosexuality.
What this protocol is not is a definite plan of action. This is a mere proposal to be brought before the General Conference in May. There is a great chance it will undergo changes prior to GC. There is an even greater chance it could undergo changes at GC. No one can say for sure what the UMC will look like after May. But what makes this proposal unique is the endorsement it receives from the leaders of various ‘sides.’ It is the first suggested plan to have buy-in from the majority of key factions. It is also being endorsed by our Council of Bishops.
What does this mean for St. Luke’s? First, it means the same for us as all United Methodists. It means there is possibility for a breakthrough at this year’s GC. Does it mean we will become untied? Yes, at least in terms of what being tied together looks like right now. Does it mean there will no longer be a UMC? No. The UMC will remain together as a denomination that looks very much like St. Luke’s, a church that believes being a “big tent” is a good thing. We don’t all think alike, but we can all love alike, as Wesley encouraged.
Second, it means the UMC going forward, if this Protocol is passed, will offer the way for same sex people to be married and ordained in the church. It means we will continue to be a global church that shares the same mission: “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”
Finally, for right now, there is nothing St. Luke’s needs to do. It’s just too early. Our Governing Board will consider issuing a statement inviting us to be prayerfully patient as events unfold and assuring us that any changes or decisions we have to make as a congregation will be deliberately made with opportunities for the congregation to be involved. For now, we wait and see and pray. Some have been concerned that this might mean I could be moved from St. Luke’s. That will not be the case. My aim is to see us remain a United Methodist Church, meaning that the structures that brought and keep me and our other pastors here do not change.
If you want to learn and dialogue more I invite you to a class I am starting this Wednesday in Great Hall at 6:15PM called Faithful and Inclusive: The Bible, Sexuality and the United Methodist Church. I produced this resource last year to help churches learn about this topic, particularly congregations where this issue is not being discussed. The material came out of the three-week class I led here at St. Luke’s last May. It is being picked by pastors and churches across the country. If you didn’t get a chance to attend the sessions I led in May, and you want to better understand the whole matter, I encourage you to attend starting this Wednesday, January 15. Also, you can see the new website by the group of centrists and progressive United Methodists here in our Indiana Conference called the Room for All Coalition.
I realize this wasn’t truly a devotion, but it involves a significant part of our devotion, the church--the imperfect, fallen, rift-ridden church for which Jesus died and through which He chose to continue His ministry in the world. Yes, this church, St. Luke’s, full of people like you and me; people who don’t have it altogether, but are altogether loved and forgiven and are used by God to carry out God’s message of hope. That, and that alone, is what makes the church important, and these words a devotion!
As the hymn verse says:
Though with a scornful wonder, we see her sore oppressed,
By schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed,
Yet saints their watch are keeping, their cry goes up, “How long?”
And soon the night of weeping shall be the morn of song.
See you Sunday,