Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Like It or Not, We're In This Together

The ink on the legislation for the  Protocol for Reconciliation and Grace through Separation is barely dry and it may already be on the verge of fraying.

Regretfully, I think the Protocol is the "best bad decision" available to us right now. So I support it. As a progressive on LGBT+ inclusion, I favor the Protocol because it allows for the possibility of regionalization and eliminating harmful language in at least portions of the denomination. I am grateful that progressive and centrist leadership is maintaining this stance.

- The first elected delegates from the Western Jurisdiction have all signed on to all three of those goals.
- The centrist Cavite conference in the Philippines has also approved both the Protocol and The Christmas Covenant (a good regionalization plan).

While I hope that ultimately the post-separation UMC will still be a big-tent church, I do not begrudge those who need to pursue a different path. The Protocol gives them that opportunity. So I am also grateful for the traditionalist leadership, like Keith Boyette in this piece, that has continued to advocate for the Protocol. 

The key to this all working is Article VI of the original Protocol statement. Article VI was not turned into legislation, but it is a piece of the agreement signed by all 16 members of the negotiating team and with the names of 10 others who were involved for months in the process. Framers and others have since recognized that there are some practical limitations to implementing all of this article precisely as written. The intent, though, remains. The intent includes 1) passing a regionalization plan and 2) repealing the harmful LGBT+ language. Understanding that some, maybe most, traditionalists will not be comfortable voting for those changes, Article VI suggests that those who intend to form a new denomination act with integrity by not participating in the discussion of a denomination that they will not be in. All that makes sense, right?

Now for the But.

This only works if we don't get in each other's way. And I don't think that is happening. Here's the evidence (so far).
  1. Chris Ritter, a member of the WCA Board of Directors, has proposed an alternative to regionalization. He goes so far as to say, "Traditionalists will not support passage of the present regionalization plans at GC2020." Ritter was not a signer of the Protocol, but he is a board member of an organization that is. I am not aware of any board member of any progressive or centrist group that signed the protocol making any statements contrary to full support. The key is full support. I become skeptical when board members of signatory groups hedge.
  2. The Liberia Annual Conference just passed a resolution recommending four significant amendments to the Protocol. Jerry Kulah is one of the most influential voices in the Liberia Conference, indeed in all of African Methodism. He is a leader in the Africa Initiative, which is inextricably linked to the "reform and renewal" groups in the U.S. like Good News and the WCA. Like Ritter, he is also a WCA board member. Liberia "unanimously"  passed these amendments - which simply could not happen without the full endorsement of Kulah. Like Ritter, Kulah was not a signer of the Protocol. One can even reasonably say that Africa was underrepresented in the group of framers. But the agreement has to be that we move forward with the Protocol as is or we don't move forward at all. There are lots of amendments I would like to make - and I'm not going to make any of them for the sake of all of us getting to the finish line. U.S. traditionalist leaders have reminded us for years that Africa and traditionalists will vote in lockstep together. Is it unreasonable to question how such an important player as an entire Annual Conference could potentially blow the deal up before it is even officially before us? Was there no "Please don't do this  - help us work together" phone call? Or was there an "I can't say this out loud but you can" conversation instead?

    3. Today, Mark Tooley of the IRD wrote a glowing report of the Liberia decision. Tooley also was not a protocol signatory - but he was a participant in the conversation whose name appears on the original agreement. It is reasonable to assume that the protocol would never have been approved without Tooley's tacit support. Yet he has never officially signed on and is now hinting at undermining it.

    It is in everybody's best interest for the protocol, regionalization, and removal of harmful language to happen. Nobody will get all of what they want. All of us will be disappointed to some degree. This is inevitable in any true negotiation. If all of these three pieces don't pass then we all lose. We will spend millions of dollars on lawsuits. We will still part, but now with total animosity. General Conference itself will be a nightmare. Our trust is so low that the only way we can make this happen is if we all truly work together.

    I'm all in on the Protocol. I promise 100% support on the condition that it includes Article VI - that we achieve regionalization and at a minimum begin to remove the harmful language in the Book of Discipline. If that doesn't happen then I immediately move from 100% support to 0% support. We are either in or out. This is a time for our yes to mean yes and our no to mean no. We know that General Conference is full of dysfunction. We must be fully honest with one another so that we can end the dysfunction and move on to our new realities.


  1. This is generally where I am as well. I (reluctantly) plan to vote for the protocol, but without a robust plan for regionalization, I'm out. A post-Separation UMC minus regionalization would be a disaster.

  2. I should add: I have been waiting to hear from Rev. Boyette about all of this. I hope he will either write in support of regionalization, as laid out in article VI, or he will pull out of the protocol.

  3. So the progressive church will not back down on changing the United Methodist church stance on one issue claiming it as social justice. But will allow the traditionalist start a new denomination that goes against the one issue you were fighting against. What was accomplished? What keeps the same thing from happening again? Would it have been easier for the progressive church to just start their new denomination?

  4. Africans clearly were not represented during the Protocol negotiations so it is completely reasonable for them to desire a more equitable deal than the Protocol affords. I find it so ironic that progressives can be so colonialist when it comes to Africans, simply because they hold to a traditional sexual ethic.

    As for the regionalization plan, there is certainly no explicit requirement or quid pro quo within the Protocol. Again, it unfairly disenfranchises African voices that had no seat at the table.

    Article VI cannot be found in the actual Protocol legislation because it was recognized to be unrealistic to enjoin and disenfranchise duly elected delegates, asking them to step aside. Then alternates would have to take their place. The only place in the legislation that refers to regionalization is this and it gives no force to anyone other than the PSUMC doing anything.

    "We envision the post-separation United Methodist Church will strive to create a
    structure of regional conferences to facilitate ministry adaptable to regional contexts,
    and we further envision that the post-separation United Methodist Church will repeal the
    Traditional Plan and remove all other restrictive language related to LGBTQ persons."

    What people continue to fail to realize is that the Protocol binds the 16 signatories, no one else. Considering that eight were bishops who cannot vote, and probably a few of the signatories are not General Conference delegates that may leave about four signatories who are also General Conference delegates.

    1. Ben, respectfully, I think you have the colonialism backwards. Each group chose who to bring to the table. Traditionalists could have chosen to have traditionalist Africans at the table and did not.
      Article VI is not in legislation because it does not effect everybody who signed the protocol. Make no mistake - it is the protocol itself that 16 people signed, not the legislation. The principles remain, which includes that they will not get in the way of each group achieving what they are trying to achieve and will use their persuasive power within their constituencies in the same way. As a board member of Mainstream, if I were to reject the protocol I would expect Mark Holland to ask me to recant or step off the board.

    2. Respectfully the African representation in the Protocol legislation were not chosen or selected by traditionalists so your statement is rather disingenuous. Beyond that you did not engage the fact that the representation was not there. Most delegates are not directly on UMC Next/ "Mainstream" UMC/WCA/RMN/ UM Forward boards so again your argument is tepid at best.

    3. Each theological group chose their own representation. Each group also had a circle of advisors that they were in communication with. Centrists and progressives cannot be blamed for the choices that traditionalists made.

      The obligation is to use their persuasive power with their constituencies. So, for example, if on the floor of General Conference a person argued for an amendment to force all pastors in the ps-UMC to marry same sex couples, Jan Lawrence of RMN would be obligated to speak against even though she favors same sex marriage. Likewise, it is reasonable to expect traditionalist leadership now to hold board members like Ritter and Kulah accountable.

  5. I would contend that since the regionalization plan requires consitutional change and votes across annual conferences that any division and release of assets and money is contingent on the regionalization plan to be ratified.

  6. How we talk about the Africans here is being read by Africans. If there is something bogus in what has been fronted here, it will be exposed by Africans. I look forward to it. Salt stings, but it cleanses.

    1. I agree. The overall problem is there is very little respect for the traditionalist perspective whether it be held by an American or an African. Traditionalists in the UMC are viewed as nothing more than an irritating group who are standing in the way of progress; we have absolutely nothing to offer to 21st century America. I could not disagree more. When my local church went chasing down a rabbit trail of relevancy, I wandered off and encountered the relevancy and power of historic Christianity for my life right here and right now. I just wish I had encountered it a long time ago. But then, how could I when, for decades, the UMC has been nothing more than an experiment in theological plurality that is now failing in a spectacular fashion. I am no longer surprised at the 50+ years of numerical decline that has the potential to make the UMC moot point over the next several decades. Passing the Protocol will simply accelerate that time line.

  7. A bit of history: The beginnings of what eventually led to the writing of the Protocol was the Bishop from Sierra Leon invited a group of theologically diverse Americans to sit down together and have a conversation about the future of the UMC. From that group of Americans 6 were chosen to continue meeting with the Bishop of Sierra Leon to see if some sort of compromise could be achieved. How it morphed into the group that included a total of 8 Bishops who ended up meeting with the mediator and writing the protocol has never been explained/documented.