ANTICIPATING A NEW METHODIST EXPRESSION
By Dr. Riley B. Case
The first priority for all of us continues to be working through the present COVID-19 pandemic. We need to be Christ’s presence in the midst of a hurting world. Our parochial differences are of secondary concern in a time such as this. We continue to pray for healing, comfort and hope! At the same time, we can still be praying, studying and pondering about where we are being led as United Methodists
Over the past several months a very diverse group of laity and clergy, including Executive Director of The Confessing Movement Patricia Miller, hammered out a document called
Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation
. This “protocol,” as it is now being labeled, is an agreement that The United Methodist Church should separate into two or more “expressions.” As of the moment the protocol has widespread support from diverse groups. However, it needs the approval of the General Conference and the General Conference has been postponed until 2021.
For those who identify as evangelical or traditional in their understanding of United Methodism, there is a bright spot. Just a few days before travel and gatherings were restricted because of COVID-19, a meeting was held in Atlanta of people from all over the world to discern God’s leading regrading if and when a new traditional expression of the denomination would be launched. 28, including 7 bishops, signed the
Reimagining the Passion of a Global Wesleyan Movement
document that came out of that meeting. The group was broadly representative of evangelical renewal groups including The Confessing Movement, Good News, Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA), and the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD). It also included other key leaders not associated with any of the renewal groups and bishops from the U.S. and central conferences representing Africa, Philippines and Europe.
The protocol provides for the church to divide into two (or perhaps more) expressions of Methodism, a traditional expression and a progressive expression. For legal and other reasons the protocol declares that the progressive expression will continue the name United Methodist. This means the name “United Methodist” and most of the assets and institutional relationships of the present denomination will be progressive. This would include seminaries and certain colleges; it would also include most of the assets and the structure of present boards and agencies, as well as the properties and structures of the annual conferences. Despite accusations that traditional United Methodists are primarily after money and control, traditionalists are letting it be known that they don’t need these things—they just want to be free to be the Church. In fact many of the agencies (and their assets) would be a burden in a leaner, more nimble, less institutional expression of Methodism. Hardly any of the staff and personnel of denominational agencies identify with historic and evangelical Christianity. These persons in the past overwhelmingly have agitated against the traditional definition of marriage.
Once some basic structures are put in place, both for the progressive and for the traditional expressions, the protocol calls for annual conferences and local churches to determine with which expression they wish to identify. Annual conferences would require a 57% majority vote to identify with the traditional expression. Local churches could remain with their annual conference alignment or separate and join with a new Methodist denomination. A vote is not required, resulting in staying with the post-separation UMC, but all churches and annual conferences have the opportunity to vote. Twenty-five million dollars of church funds would be given to the traditionalist expression.
But traditionalists are quite a diverse group. This new “expression” will, in fact, be a new denomination. But there are many different opinions about what that new denomination might look like. Would it have bishops? Would it be connectional? Would it have different doctrinal standards than our present church? Would it be willing financially to help support a number of the Central Conferences (such as the African churches) who probably will also wish to be identified with historic Methodism? And, what about churches which would prefer simply to be independent and not aligned with any new Wesleyan denomination?
The good news is that the diverse group of evangelicals and traditionalists that met in early March not only sensed a great spiritual oneness with one another but came to a consensus in a number of areas. This is what real unity is. The full report can be viewed here:
A summary would be as follows: the new expression would seek to form a global Wesleyan movement committed to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, the authority and inspiration of Scripture and the work of the Holy Spirit in conveying God’s truth, grace renewal, and sanctification to all people who repent and believe. It would uphold historic Methodism’s doctrine, ethics and culture. It would be a truly global church in membership and leadership. It would seek to eradicate racism, sexism, poverty and addiction. It would value the Wesleyan connectional community. It would empower women and people of color to lead the church at every level. It would minimize bureaucracy.
What now? There are, obviously, many details and considerations yet to be worked out. It is not inappropriate to discuss or inquire about these. In addition, there is a need to engage and prepare ourselves and our congregations about these developments. We know that many local churches are not of one mind on issues relating to marriage and the appropriate expressions of sexuality and that when decisions are made there will be more turmoil and pain. We pray for God to lead us through those times.