Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
In this New Year I invite you to join me in praying for the United Methodist Church and her people in all places across the world. I invite you to pray that we expand our mission in every place so that those for whom Christ is a stranger will find in Him a gracious and generous friend.
It is no secret that the United Methodist Church has continued to struggle with conflicting views regarding human sexuality, and today I write to you with news that emerged this morning about a mediated agreement called “Protocol of Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation.” This Protocol is a response by a number of constituencies within our Church to propose to the General Conference a plan that would allow a gracious separation among faithful Christians so that we may avoid continued distraction from the work of the Kingdom of God.
The individuals adopting this proposal have affirmed their recognition that they do not, and cannot, speak for every constituency in the United Methodist Church, but have made this proposal after prayerful consideration about how best to go forward in doing our most important work—making disciples of Christ.
This news comes to us from our own United Methodist News Service. Many of you have no doubt read reports coming from other media outlets. In light of some of the confusing messages contained in those reports, I would offer the following.
Some have interpreted the proposal as a decision that has already been made, or as a call by the Council of Bishops for a Church divide, or both. In fact, it is neither.
The Protocol is a mediated agreement among a group of persons who have committed individually and collectively to pursue a common legislative goal when the governing body of the global United Methodist Church meets in May. That legislative body—the General Conference—is the only body with authority to establish the governing law of the United Methodist Church. The group of individuals who have come together to propose the Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace have made clear that their proposal is theirs alone and is not at this point an official action of the United Methodist Church.
It is to be noted, however, that this proposal is unique in that it was generated by a group of individuals representing diverse advocacy groups with contrasting views and bishops with a variety of perspectives, rather than by a group with a single theological perspective.
The group came together as an outgrowth of dialogue initiated by Bishops from Central Conferences outside the United States and collaborated on a proposed agreement for the separation of The United Methodist Church (UMC) that has the unanimous support of these individuals representing varying perspectives.
Some of the central ideas of the proposed legislation are the following:
- The creation of four regional conferences—Africa, U.S., Europe, Philippines—each with its own ability to adapt the Book of Discipline;
- The ongoing existence of The United Methodist Church;
- A path and financial support for the formation of a new traditionalist conservative Methodist denomination as well as other potential Methodist denominations which may emerge;
- The removal of restrictive language related to LGBTQ identity and practice in the post-separation United Methodist Church immediately following the May 2020 General Conference;
- Holding in abeyance any church disaffiliations or closures related to human sexuality issues, and any administrative or judicial processes regarding restrictions in the Book of Discipline related to LGBTQ persons, beginning January 1, 2020;
- Creation of a fund to strengthen ministries with and among persons and communities historically marginalized including Asian, Black, Hispanic-Latino, Native American and Pacific Islander communities;
- Provisions allowing Annual Conferences and local churches to vote to depart from The United Methodist Church with their property in order to participate in another Methodist expression, but making clear that no Annual Conference or local church is required to take such a vote, and no one is asked to leave or separate from the United Methodist Church;
- Continuity of pension service from Wespath across the various Methodist expressions.
In May of this year the General Conference will gather to consider this document as one of a number of proposals that are before the General Conference.
In the meantime, the work continues in the Nashville Episcopal Area, the Memphis and Tennessee Conferences. We continue to press toward God’s call upon our lives to “discover, equip, connect and send lay and clergy leaders who shape congregations that offer Christ to a hurting world, one neighborhood at a time.”
Change, and especially talk of separation, is daunting: yet is heartening that persons of very diverse views have come together to do this serious work, and have listened to, and heard, each other. I would remind us that despite the uncertainty, God is doing amazing work among us and we have tremendous leaders who are focused on making disciples of Jesus Christ.
I recognize that for many this report is received with some measure of anxiety. My prayer for you is that you turn toward one another, not away from one another.
A friend sent a book of prayers to me this Christmas, and I share this prayer with you:
Where there is separation,
There is pain.
And where there is pain,
There is story.
And where there is story,
There is understanding,
And not listening.
May we—separated peoples, estranged strangers,
Turn toward each other,
And turn toward our stories,
With argument and acceptance,
With challenge, change
Because if God is to be found,
God will be found in the space between.*
*Daily Prayers with the Corrymeela Community by Padrig O Tuama