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.
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 As I've previously written, a virtual or "distributed" General Conference is not allowed by our admittedly outdated rules.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.