UMC Directions: Beyond the Horizon (part 2)
In May of 2020, delegates from around the world will again gather for the General Conference of the United Methodist Church, this time in Minneapolis. Many different groups have submitted petitions that aim in varying ways to help the denomination move through a decades-long impasse over LGBTQ+ inclusion. Some of the most prominent proposals include the Indianapolis Plan (multiple contributors), the Next Generation UMC Plan (UMC Next), the N.E.W. Plan (UM Forward), and the U.S. Regional Conference Plan (Connectional Table). In addition, annual conferences can submit legislation until 45 days before General Conference. There are also on-going efforts to broker legislation that delegates from outside the United States and Europe are willing to support.
The proposals are not easily boiled down to a straightforward catchphrase or description as was generally the case for the called General Conference in 2019. They seek to address not only our disagreements about doctrine and theology but also structural and organizational issues within the denomination. The United Methodist News Service has created a table outlining the details of the major proposals.
There are also on-going efforts to broker legislation that delegates from outside the United States and Europe are willing to support. One such effort, the “Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation,” recently made national news headlines. This mediated process has brought together influential United Methodist leaders who come from around the world and hold divergent views. While promising, the “Protocol” has no binding authority and depends upon passage of accompanying legislation by the General Conference, the only decision-making body for The United Methodist Church.
For now, the following generalities seem to me the most important to bear in mind as we approach General Conference 2020: General Conference 2020 will not look like General Conference 2019.
Instead of the entire body voting up or down on large “plans” as happened in 2019, the proposed legislation will be divided up among 14 legislative committees that will review and revise and then vote whether to send those measures to the entire body to be discussed or voted on. What this means is that, much like in the Texas House or U.S. Senate, legislation may look very different after passing through a committee, and that we need to not get too focused on a specific “plan” as it is presently configured.
Reverend Tom Berlin received this advice from an assistant to the Archbishop of Canterbury, speaking from the experience of the Anglican/Episcopal community, “Either you walk together more loosely, or you part with a blessing.” The idea that the future can, will, and should include some loosening of bonds, separating in some way or another, allowing for some to depart with a blessing undergirds all the proposals coming into General Conference 2020.
Finally, legislation cannot resolve everything. We should not rest all our hopes on a legislative solution in Minneapolis. Our journey to what is next will most likely be halting and messy and challenging.
Laurel Heights will continue to create space for conversation and exploration of the future of our denomination and what these global decisions mean for us. We will continue to live out our calling to love God and our neighbor. We will continue to welcome friend and the stranger. We will seek to live lives individually and collectively that declare God’s love and grace in every way and in every place and to everyone. We will hold hands with each other trusting that, in the words of the affirmation from the United Church of Canada we find in our hymnal, “God is with us. We are not alone. Thanks be to God.”
Katie Myers, Lay Leader