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).
- 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.
- 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.