January 22, 2020
Rev. William Bills
You may have heard that on January 3, the United Methodist Church published a nine page document entitled “Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation”. The Protocol was released with a set of FAQs and an official press release. The Protocol is the result of volunteer mediation work carried out by Kenneth Feinberg. You may know Mr. Feinberg as the chief mediator for the 9/11 Victims Fund and the BP Horizon oil spill damage payouts.
The Protocol was unanimously endorsed by individuals representing Mainstream UMC, Uniting Methodists, UMC Next, Reconciling Ministries Network, Methodist Federation for Social Action, Affirmation, Wesleyan Covenant Association, Institute on Religion and Democracy, Good News, Confessing Movement, and Bishops from the US, Africa, Europe, and the Philippines. The release of the Protocol caught many people by surprise because it was negotiated secretly. Mr. Feinberg offered his services to the church on a pro-bono basis but asked that the parties keep the process confidential until an agreement could be reached.
While the Protocol is something of a hopeful sign it is not a slam dunk. It must be re-written into detailed legislation and then get to the floor of the General Conference in May of this year. Legislation is subject to debate and vote by the conference delegates. It will need a majority of votes to pass. Remember the proverb, “the devil is in the details.” While the Protocol might be a very good first step in resolving differences in the UMC the deal is not yet done. If the Protocol is officially adopted at the 2020 General Conference a significant adjustment and realignment will be necessary for the United Methodist Church. That will take time.
The Protocol allows churches wishing to leave the denomination to do so while retaining their financial assets and property. These could be churches on the conservative side or the progressive side. The Protocol looks toward a restructuring of the remaining global United Methodist Church into regions, with flexibility to adapt church policies, including on LGBTQ inclusion. The Protocol also calls for the General Council on Finance and Administration of the United Methodist Church to pay out 25 million dollars to a new “Traditionalist Denomination” over four years. Additionally, 3 million dollars could be paid out to other groups wishing to leave and form new denominations.
The Protocol may be a way out of the tenuous situation we have been mired in for decades. On the other hand, it is far from perfect. I have significant reservations about rewarding traditionalists with 25 million dollars for the harm they have done to the LGBTQIA members and friends in the UMC. The Protocol rewards them for significant negative publicity visited on our denomination. I question offering 25 million dollars to Traditionalists to walk away from a problem they created while offering other groups 3 million dollars to split who knows how many ways.
This deal leaves a sour taste in my mouth but I welcome the opportunity to bid the Traditionalists farewell. Then the rest of us might get on with the business of being a graceful and inclusive witness to the gospel. I cannot abide any longer religious prejudice in the church.
Copies of the Protocol, the FAQs and the other four plans being submitted to the general conference can be picked up at the church, mailed or emailed to you on request. This article https://www.umnews.org/en/news/diverse-leaders-group-offers-separation-plan contains more details and links to the Protocol and the FAQs.
At University United Methodist Church, we affirm that as disciples of Jesus Christ, we are an open and inclusive congregation and welcome all persons into full participation regardless of race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic situation, age, ability, education, background and whether single or partnered.