Wednesday, November 3, 2021

A New Call to Grace

 In December, 2019 a group of prominent United Methodists took an important step forward in helping us resolve our longstanding frustrations by drafting the Protocol for Reconciliation and Grace through Separation. My personal position on it remains unchanged since that time - it is very flawed but still, in conjunction with the Christmas Covenant, it is the best bad option we have. If General Conference happens in 2022 and if the Protocol is not amended I will vote for it. The likely alternative is lawsuits that would cost tens of millions of dollars and a horrible witness to the public.

BUT

Covid continues to make holding an international gathering unlikely. As I've previously written, a virtual or "distributed" General Conference is not allowed by our admittedly outdated rules. If General Conference does meet, there is no guarantee that the Protocol will pass. My guess is if we voted today it would pass, but it does not have quite the support in the U.S. that it once had. Also, as I clearly stated above, my vote is contingent on there being no amendments and passage of the Christmas Covenant. Even one amendment throws the balance the Protocol achieved out of whack and will almost certainly make passage of the full set of petitions more difficult. 

So what if we get to the fall of 2022 and one of these two scenarios plays out? There is no Plan B. The Global Methodist Church has assured us that they will being leaving the denomination in the fall of 2022 regardless of what happens at General Conference. But without an organized way of exiting the denomination the worst-case scenario of lawsuits seems inevitable. We already have one in the North Georgia Conference. There's the additional possibility that the GMC will fail to launch - Wespath has latitude in determining whether or not it is a viable denomination.

We need a Plan B. We can't afford not to have one. The Call to Grace statement released yesterday is, in my view, a good plan B. In the hours before it was publicly released, more than 100 prominent United Methodists signed on to the statement. At this writing, close to 1,000 have signed on including people from every jurisdiction in the U.S. and every continent with United Methodists. 

The Call is very simple: Let churches leave now, using language that is already provided for in the Book of Discipline. In fact, they can use the very same language that traditionalists passed in 2019 while calling it "the way [we] would want to be treated if [we] were leaving." When I spoke in support of the petition in the closing moments of General Conference 2019 I said, "It's your exit plan. You're welcome to take it." I believe bishops and conferences can creatively work with traditionalist churches and pastors to make it even a little easier to leave. 

The only part of this Plan B that is awkward is the timing. Normally you take the second option only after the first option is no longer viable. The problem we face is that the risks are too high. The nightmare scenario of lawsuits is too likely. We have proven over the last 50 years that we are unable to pass legislation at General Conference that will end this conflict. It would be far better for us to split as amicably as possible and as soon as possible than to risk the disaster that will come this fall. It's time for a different plan. It's time for a new call to Grace. I hope you'll consider signing on.

9 comments:

  1. Thank you for sharing this. I think I've been thinking in this same direction, but hadn't thought it all the way through yet.

    I'll have to read this again and then think and pray on it.

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  2. I’m fine with the Call To Grace. But what really bothers me is the language in the Book of Discipline that says Homosexually is inconsistent with Christianity. Why is it so difficult to simply remove that language? I hate to think of that getting delayed again. Why not Do It Now?

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    1. Charlie, this could actually speed that process up. In order for that change to happen, the traditionalists who want to leave will need to leave. The sooner those who need to exit can do so the sooner we can all get about the business we believe we are called to do.

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  3. Please keep insisting that churches be allowed to depart now without trying to remix the Protocol. This is not a moment for influential players to try to steal home from third. That is, let's not set up a collision of forces at home plate in trying to score one in the late innings for our agenda.

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    1. Gary, that's the hope. I fear some may get so obsessed with "winning" that everyone ends up losing

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  4. Of course you'd like to see this happen. This would basically only enable extremely engaged churches in leaving. All the churches which are divided, not quite sure, or not really engaged in the issue would be stuck. This would certainly reduce the actual influence of the GMC. This would be a "lose" situation for me and so many.

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    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. It's true this does not allow for whole Annual Conferences to leave, which could mean fewer churches leaving for the GMC. There's a debate (details of which I'm not familiar with) over whether the portion of the Protocol that contains that provision is Constitutional. If not, then it will be excised anyway.

      Bottom line for me: I believe we have plenty of historical evidence to doubt the ability of GC to come to a resolution. We all continue to lose even as I type. If GC domes and goes without a final resolution we will all lose much, much more than if we call it quits on the war now.

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  5. It is already a disaster. If you are worried about saving face in terms of our witness, that horse has left the barn. I find little sympathy or even grace toward the traditionalist. I just being honest and raw.

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