Thursday, November 14, 2019

Indianapolis in Africa

The WCA recently endorsed the Indianapolis Plan, alongside most other traditionalist groups in the United States. I will have more to say about the Indy Plan later, but first I want to focus on Africa. Some of my friends who live in and/or are from Africa have asked for this. The short answer: It's not good.

1. The Indy Plan continues the United Methodist Church in the "centrist" grouping and automatically puts all United Methodists outside of the U.S. in the "traditionalist" grouping. 2556.2 reads "The United Methodist Church shall continue as a convention or association of churches, as a successor, for the constituent units that realign by choice or default with the Centrist UMC." The traditionalist group may use United Methodist in its name but is not required to. My understanding is that the UM name is important for Africa. It could well be lost in this plan.

2. More significantly, all of the General Boards and Agencies will stay in the centrist group. That means all of Africa will immediately be separated from the boards and agencies that have been so helpful to them. The WCA has promised support for United Methodists outside of the U.S. with a "Central Conference Ministry Fund," but they have only reported once on the amount raised? Why? Because it was an embarrassingly small number.

3. One reason the number was so small is that traditionalists in the U.S. continue to leave the denomination and/or not pay their apportionments. For example, The Woodlands UMC, the flagship church of Good News, paid no apportionments to the General Church in 2018, including to Africa University. They give zero support to the denomination's ministries that directly benefit Africa.

4. The asset allocation plan proposed by U.S. traditionalists will make it even worse. Walter Fenton, associated with both Good News and the WCA, said in 2017, "For many U.S. conservatives, general church matters are not a high priority. They see little benefit in supporting several of the denomination's general boards and agencies..." Tom Lambrecht said the same thing earlier this year. "Many traditionalists believe the current structure of the UM Church, with its many boards and agencies, has become more of a liability than an asset to the ministry of the local church."  Perhaps this is why the asset allocation plan would largely de-fund the agencies. Agencies would keep their buildings and one year budget of cash. All other funds would be divided between the new denominations. Since some of the funds are reserved for specific purposes, it is possible that a general agency would have virtually no money to use for their mission beyond the week to week giving they receive. It is true that no matter the path forward we will need to make some hard decisions with the organization and funding of the general boards and agencies. It is also no secret that traditionalists in the U.S. have wanted to radically downsize or eliminate them for many years.

5. The new Book of Doctrines and Disciplines shows how a WCA denomination will be governed and has some worrying provisions. Perhaps the most worrying is the way clergy are deployed. The WCA envisions a denomination where every local church picks its own pastor. Technically they are appointed but the process is very clearly weighted for the local church to decide. There is a rule that churches must interview at least one woman and at least one person who is not of the predominant ethnicity. There is no rule that those people must receive an appointment. I don't know what this will mean in Africa. In the United States, I am especially concerned about what this will mean for Africans who have come here. Racism is still real. I want to be clear - I do not believe that the authors of this plan are racist or are trying to keep ethnic minorities or women out of ministry. I do believe that the result of the plan will be fewer opportunities for ministry.

6.  There is also another danger. I am speculating but I think it still should be named. The Indy Plan has a provision for another denomination to form with 50 or more churches. That means any group could choose to simply leave the denomination. I think some churches would do that. Just leave and don't pay any apportionments. I don't know why traditionalists would want to include this option unless some want to leave the rest of us, including Africa, entirely.


I encourage all of us to consider some alternatives to the current Indianapolis Plan.

1. Modify the plan so that every church including international churches are in the centrist UMC by default and can vote to be in a different group if they choose to. A church or conference should be allowed to leave but if the centrist group is officially the United Methodist Church then that is where every church and conference should be unless they vote otherwise.

2. Eliminate the option for 50 churches to leave.

3. Support regional self governance. Bishops from the Philippines have called for this already. It is the only practical step forward.


  1. David, may I have your permission to repost this on United Methodist Insight? Thank you!

  2. Yes, please use the version currently here. I made a small factual error that I just corrected.

  3. I'm really trying to get a handle on this but, if we move to regional "self" governance, what makes us United Methodists. Is it in name only? If we have no central understanding of who we are, what is the point? Simply keeping funds and institutional survival?

    1. That's a legitimate question. When I talk about self-governing I assume that there are some universals that would remain the same. We would still be governed by the same doctrinal standards and the same constitution, for example. The question of where we draw the line in decision making and at what point that makes us essentially separate denominations is a tricky one.