Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
Many of you have likely seen the news coverage about the separation plan for the United Methodist Church that was released on Friday. I know that many of you have not been following this closely, and it can be disconcerting when suddenly the major news outlets are talking about your church. It doesn’t help that some of the media coverage has misrepresented exactly what happened and its significance.
As most of you know, the UMC has been battling over issues of human sexuality and full LGBTQ inclusion since 1972, but these are not our only points of theological and organizational disagreement. As the only truly global Protestant denomination, we are in mission in over 130 countries, and our 13 million members are divided between the United States and the rest of the world. We are also a democratically-governed denomination, which is difficult with such vastly different cultures and contexts.
Our global conflict around scriptural interpretation and the future of the denomination came to a head in February 2019 at the special General Conference, where the Traditional Plan was passed by a narrow margin. The Traditional Plan set in place unique penalties for clergypersons who performed same-sex weddings, as well as explicit language to prevent and punish ordination of otherwise qualified LGBTQ persons for ministry.
These penalties represent the first time we have specified punishments for clergy in the history of the church. In other words, the Traditional Plan was not simply a re-commitment to what had been, it was meant to split the church. The majority of American delegates voted against the Traditional Plan, but the vast majority of the international representatives supported it (even though it technically only affected church law for the U.S. Church, and not the global church).
The Traditional Plan officially took effect on the first day of 2020, but since the close of General Conference in February, there has been much anxiety and frustration across the denomination, especially as we move towards another General Conference in May. Multiple plans have been proposed by caucus groups with differing intentions and goals, and there had been little hope of accomplishing much at the coming General Conference, until the news we received yesterday.
The significance of Friday’s announcement is that key leaders from across the theological spectrum, at the invitation of one of our bishops in Sierra Leone, have been working since last summer on a shared resolution. Many of the people who have been meeting together had proposed legislation of their own, that they are now willing to withdraw for the sake of this shared proposal.
While it is only a proposal at this point, the fact that these diverse persons were able to sign onto it suggests that it has a real chance of passing at General Conference. That is why it is newsworthy, even though it is merely one idea among many at this point. I know this is complicated and confusing, which is why the news media is having such a hard time reporting on exactly what this means.
“The Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation” creates and funds a new traditionalist denomination, for those who cannot in good conscience be a part of a church where LGBTQ persons are fully included in the life and leadership of the denomination. Clergy, local churches, and even annual conferences can vote to leave the denomination and join this new expression of Methodism. For everyone else, the United Methodist Church will continue to exist and to do ministry, but without the discriminatory language in the Book of Discipline.
I have hoped for many years that we would find a way to work through this conflict that did not lead to separation, but I am grateful that we might model for the world what a peaceable and grace-filled parting of ways might look like. We Methodists broke up the denomination back in 1844, only to reunite many years later. My prayer is that if something like this passes, the same may be true again.
What does this mean for Trinity if it passes? I cannot answer that with certainty, but I assure you that not a day goes by when I am not praying about it and working with church leaders to ensure we remain focused on our mission. As details become clearer in the coming months leading up to General Conference in May, I will do my best to keep you informed.
What I know with all my heart is that, regardless of what happens with the global denomination, Trinity will reach new folks for Christ, feed the hungry, proclaim the gospel, and heal the brokenhearted. Trinity will continue to be a “Big Tent” church, where all people are welcome, where we can disagree on everything but the Crucified and Risen Christ, and still be the church together.
And I’ve never been more grateful to be your pastor.
In the name of The One who is reconciling all things,
The entire proposal can be read here.
And here is a FAQ released by the group.