Dear PSR Community:
A news release from the UMC announced this last week that “A diverse, 16-member group of United Methodist bishops and other leaders has offered a proposal that would preserve The United Methodist Church while allowing traditionalist-minded congregations to form a new denomination.” The unofficial group representing progressive, centrist, and conservative leaders as well as bishops from the U.S. and overseas publicly released the plan entitled, “Protocol of Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation.” This is one of several proposals that could be brought before the General Conference delegates in May 5-15, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
The call for separation follows a difficult denominational struggle over the ordination of LGBTQ people and the celebration of same-sex weddings. In 2019, the General Conference, the United Methodist Church’s worldwide legislative assembly, narrowly adopted the Traditional Plan, which tightened restrictions against LGBTQ clergy and threatened other supportive clergy and bishops with increased penalties for defying denominational policies. The provisions of the Traditional Plan took effect on January 1, 2020.
The group that developed the plan for separation was mediated by prominent attorney Ken Feinberg, who served as the special master of the 911 Survivors Fund and who has mediated other high-level conflicts. The negotiations process was lengthy, taking place over five months in Washington, DC.
Dr. Randall Miller, Faculty Associate of United Methodist Studies, Ethics, and Leadership Faculty at PSR participated in the mediation group from the start and stated, “After exploring many options over several meetings, it became clear that one of the few things that the entire group could agree on was the need to separate and bless each other on our different paths rather than continue the harm done to LGBTQ people and further damage the ministries and reputation of the Church.”
The plan of separation, which must be approved by a majority of delegates at the upcoming General Conference in May 2020, provides an opportunity for any local congregation or annual conference to leave the UMC over the next several years with their properties as well as their financial assets and liabilities intact. Up to 20% of congregations and annual conferences within the global denomination are expected to depart to form a newly created Traditionalist denomination. A smaller number of progressive churches are also expected to take advantage of this option.
If he separation is approved at the General Conference, and once delegates affiliating with the Traditionalist or other denominations depart from the plenary, United Methodist Bishops will adjourn the 2020 General Conference and immediately convene a called session with the explicit purposes of removing all negative provisions related to LGBTQ people from the UMC’s General Book of Discipline and approving the creation of four new regional structures, representing Africa, Europe, the Philippines, and the United States, each of which would be empowered to adapt major portions of the Book of Discipline to fit their contexts of ministry and mission.
As we continue in prayer for the church and its witness in the world, our community at Pacific School of Religion–including our many United Methodist faculty, staff, students, and throughout the world—remains committed to preparing spiritually rooted leaders who seek the well being of all.