On Friday, January 4, news broke of a new proposal to be presented to the United Methodist General Conference. The proposal came from a task force of sixteen United Methodists from a diverse array of groups within the denomination. The people were not necessarily leaders of the groups, or even representing the groups per se, but they were certainly members. The groups in question reflect the theological diversity of our denomination, from conservative to progressive and everything in between.
The proposal, known as the “Protocol for Reconciliation and Grace through Separation,” will be presented to the United Methodist Judicial Council for a declaratory ruling as to its constitutionality. Then it will be presented to the General Conference for consideration, potential amendment, and a vote. And so, while the content of the Protocol sounds quite dramatic, as of now it is a vision, not a plan of action.
The vision is a way for the United Methodist Church to remove our prohibitions on marriage and ordination for our sisters and brothers who are LGBTQ+. In doing so, the Protocol creates a way to leave the United Methodist Church and start a new denomination that would neither allow same-sex weddings nor ordain people of the LGBTQ+ community.
Following this separation, the United Methodist Church would convene another General Conference for the purpose of removing the prohibitions on same-sex weddings and ordination of people in the LGBTQ+ community. Everything else that the United Methodist Church does will remain the same at this point, though all acknowledge that further reform is required in order for the denomination to flourish as God intends.
Importantly, everyone would remain in the UMC unless choosing to leave, and the Protocol calls for the Annual Conference to decide first. In other words, if an Annual Conference wants to stay in the UMC, no vote will be required. At an Annual Conference session, if 20% of the delegates want to vote, we will. Then, if 57% of the delegates want to separate (obviously a number reached by compromise) we would do so. Annual Conferences would have until July 1, 2021 to make this decision.
After the action of the Annual Conference, congregations would respond. If the congregation aligns with the decision of the Annual Conference, no vote is needed. (For example, if Missouri decides to remain United Methodist, then all of our congregations remain United Methodist.) However, if a congregation wants to affiliate with a denomination other than the one chosen by their Annual Conference, the church council would determine the vote threshold required, and a church conference would be convened to hold the vote. Congregations would have until December 31, 2024 to make this decision.
At this point, we are all asking questions about the implications of this proposal. It is good to prayerfully and faithfully speculate about the future, as long as doing so does not make us fearful or anxious. The Holy Spirit is on the move within us, around us, among us. God is truly doing a new thing. Seasons of uncertainty are also seasons of great promise and possibility. The words of Jesus give assurance: “Remember I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Manchester UMC is in a position to be a leader in the denomination for such a time as this. Again I hear Jesus saying to us, “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”
This is not a time to dim our light, Manchester. This is a time to shine even more brightly. To shine with the God-given light of the Holy Spirit reflected in our lives. To shine with the light of our vision, to be an inclusive community of people who love deeply, worship passionately, and serve boldly. To shine through our mission to make a difference for Christ by transforming church and community.
Church, this is a season to shine!