Monday, April 26, 2021

Less than Zero

 In a recent  important column, Rev. Chris Ritter of the Wesleyan Covenant Association wrote that the UMC and soon to form GMC are engaged in "a zero-sum game" in North Georgia and by  implication much of the U.S. He's wrong. Not because the stakes aren't high, but because they are even higher than his statement acknowledges. 

I'm typing with a broken hand so I'm not going to go through all the backstory. Instead I commend both Chris's compilation and Rev. Jeremy Smith's commentary if you need more information on what the denomination faces. I'll list only the most crucial recent developments:

  • The 2020 General Conference that was to vote on a plan of separation was delayed until 2021. A handful of churches chose not to wait and have exited the denomination. 
  • The postponed 2021 General Conference was postponed again to Fall 2022. More churches, mostly traditionalist but now also some progressive have or are in the process of exiting.
  • Even a 2022 General Conference is in doubt because in our world of scarcity and inequity much of Africa will not be vaccinated in time to receive visas to travel to the U.S. 
  • Rumor from multiple sources is that if the 2022 General Conference is postponed again the bishops will not call us together until 2024.
  • There is increasing concern that the separation agreement may not have the votes to pass when it does finally get to the floor. For the record, I remain a supporter of the agreement, even with its flaws.
Ritter is wrong that this is a zero-sum game. It's less than zero. If we have wait three more years for resolution, if churches and pastors even believe there is a strong possibility that we will have wait three years, the stream of traditionalist churches and the trickle of progressive churches leave will accelerate quickly. The GMC has the most to lose because there potential churches are leaving faster but it would be foolish for progressives or centrists to celebrate this - we will lose too. Just not as much.

So here's where in a rare moment I agree wholeheartedly with Chris. Our bishops, likely along with Wespath and possibly GCFA, must work on finding a creative way to utilize paragraph 1504.23 as amended in 2019 to facilitate official formation of the GMC and allow traditionalist congregations to exit. 

This really should never be about winners and losers. But if it is, the very real risk is that we are all about to lose. God has entrusted us with building the Kingdom/Kindom. When we lose, the work we are called to loses as well. 

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