Thursday, May 12, 2022

The Day the Protocol Died

 The Protocol for Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation has been on life support since the first time General Conference was delayed. I have no doubt that if we had held General Conference at the originally scheduled time in 2020 it would have passed. Any compromise leaving all people wanting more. It's natural that the longer it takes for a compromise to be approved, the more nits people will pick and the harder it becomes for it to pass.

Over the last few months I've had more conversations with people who aren't sure the Protocol makes sense anymore. Among the reasons:

  • It calls for a $25 million payout, which may not make sense given today's economic realities including the UMCs commitment of $30 million to the Boy Scouts of America victim compensation fund (my language may not be precise with this as I'm not familiar with the details).
  • Churches and clergy have already begun the denominational sorting process that the Protocol was designed to help.
  • The original group was not adequately representative, particularly of central conferences

In every case, I personally have still maintained that the Protocol is the least bad option we have. I no longer think that's the case, and I'm nearly certain that it now has no chance of passing.

On May 7, the Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA) held their annual Global Legislative Assembly. The WCA is one of many groups commonly associated together as the Reform and Renewal Coalition with the UMC. They also are the group that originally formed and (I think) legally formed the Global Methodist Church (GMC). There is no GMC without the WCA and there is much overlap in leadership for both organizations. One approved proposal revised their mission statement. I'm unable to locate the precise language at the moment, but multiple reports including the WCA themselves say, "It will support efforts to see that the UM Church maintains faithful adherence and accountability to the standards of doctrine and discipline embodied in its current Book of Discipline." 

With that statement, the Protocol is dead.

Words in times like this come with codes. It should be obvious to everyone that maintaining "faithful adherence and accountability" means simply that the WCA disagree with and will not abide by the abeyance on charging LGBT+ pastors and/or clergy who perform same-sex weddings. Over the last 2-plus years of the Protocol's existence, many observers have lost track of what it actually provides for. As written, the legislation simply provides an easy exit and financial resources for traditionalist United Methodists. The legislation does absolutely nothing for progressives and centrists. But there are two very significant benefits for us - just not in the legislation itself.

First, with US traditionalists leaving the denomination, an effort to allow for regionalization becomes much more plausible. The original Protocol plan includes a move to regionalization after passage of the Protocol legislation.

Second, and most significantly, the Protocol asks for bishops and conferences to follow the abeyance. This is not strictly enforceable because of the Book of Discipline has not changed. It is, though, clearly part of the much discussed "spirit of the Protocol." 

Here's the Important Part

Traditionalist leadership has never embraced the full "spirit of the Protocol." Individuals within leadership have promised to continue voting at General Conference against things like regionalization even after the Protocol passes. You will not find a single traditionalist leader at the national or global level say this is not going to happen, even if it is not an official organizational strategy. Some individuals have also publicly said that the abeyance should not be followed but, again, that has not been an organizational statement.

What changed on May 7th is that the WCA has now officially endorsed a position that is counter to the Protocol. Please remember that the Protocol compromise only ever gave progressives and centrists two concessions. They are just concessions of such importance that we would willingly give up much to acquire them. The concession that traditionalists would not stand in the way of regionalization has long been in doubt. The concession of following the abeyance has now been officially and completely abandoned. 

I am confident that between now and 2024 the large majority of our bishops who supported the Protocol will continue to stand behind the abeyance. I am equally confident that the WCA, which also pledged to remain in the UMC at least until 2024 will do their best to push back. I can no longer in good conscious support legislation in 2024 that is no longer a compromise, but a sellout to a group that is clearly not negotiating in good faith.


  1. A group that is clearly not negotiating in good faith. You mean the progressives who helped shaped the Protocol, and now have publicly changed their minds?

    1. Please point me to where they publicly changed their minds.

    2. If they hadn't changed their minds, they'd be operating within the "Spirit of the Protocol" and allowing free exit via 2548.2 and not requiring punitive property assessments via 2553. This isn't the "Spirit of the Protocol."

    3. Some conferences are requiring excessive amounts via 2553. I agree with you that they should not do that. It is, as best as I can tell, roughly 25% of conferences.

  2. David, this is Lonnie Brooks, and I'm not sure why my ID doesn't normally show up when I comment on your posts. I don't intend anonymity, but I guess that's the way this system works. In any case, it seems to me that your case for an insufficiency of Central Conference representation in the formation of the Protocol is a hard case to make. Of the 16 signatories 4, 25%, were CC members. As important as that might be, the idea for the gathering came from John Yambasu of Sierra Leon, who went on to convene and chair the team. I also think that making the case stick that the Protocol is a creation of Traditionalists is equally hard to make. There were only 3 of the 16 members who are identifiable as Traditionalists, showing that there were more CC members than there were US Traditionalists. And I still think the amicability of the proposed separation represented in the Protocol represents what would have been our best way forward, albeit, I agree with you that we've now passed it by. It is likely dead.

    1. Lonnie, just to clarify, I was sharing arguments that I've heard from progressives. I don't find them all, including this one, compelling. You are definitely correct about the numbers. My understanding of the process is that it required unanimity and I think if the two U.S. traditionalists present signed off on the agreement others would have as well.

  3. David, this is Lonnie again with a correction to my comment. My finger betrayed me. There were not 3, but 2 clearly identifiable Traditionalists on the Protocol Negotiating Team. They were Pat Miller and Keith Boyette.

  4. Interesting perspective. Picking up for UM Insight.