GC2020: Nine Plans and What to Think about Them

September 26, 2019

by Chris Ritter

There is much to say about the proposals coming before General Conference 2020. But a first step is probably a general summary. The actual petitions will not be translated and published for several months, so no one owns a comprehensive listing of every plan coming to Minneapolis next May. Unlike GC2019, there is no single group charged with surfacing the options. But most groups and plan authors have been kind to offer at least a summary of their work. I share here nine plans of which I am aware along with a few thoughts on each.

The Traditional Plan

Eleven petitions were filed to enactment the parts of the 2019 Traditional Plan that were ruled unconstitutional or otherwise left unapproved. The most important of these is a mechanism for annual conference exits. The assumption of the Traditional Plan is that the teachings of the church should remain consistent and those who cannot abide by the BOD should be granted a free and clear exit from the UMC.

Here is a summary:

The Traditional Plan represents an effort to solidify the direction set at General Conference 2019. It would very likely trigger an exit of progressives and centrists. Some, however, may stay and fight and progressivism in entrenched in our agencies and other structures. This plan sets the UMC on a long and bumpy road toward becoming a traditional global denomination.

The UMC-Next Plan

We now have the legislation associated with the plan proposed by UMC-Next, a group comprised of Progressives and Centrists. Twenty-three separate petitions were submitted by Junius Dotson, a co-convener of UMC-Next and General Secretary of the General Board of Discipleship. The key features:

  • Creates a commission of 32 people named by the Council of Bishops to bring back recommendations for restructuring the UMC to a specially-called General Conference in 2023.

  • Adds new language on inclusivity that decries “ableism, heterosexism, racism, sexism, misogyny, tribalism, and all other forms of xenophobia.”

  • Changes the definition of marriage church-wide to omit the words “between a man and a woman.”

  • Church support for civil laws that define marriage as the union of one man and one woman is removed.

  • Removes restrictions on the ordination of practicing homosexual clergy.

  • Removes restrictions on clergy officiating same sex weddings and local churches hosting them.

  • Places a moratorium on complaints against clergy for being practicing homosexuals or conducting same-sex weddings.

  • Revokes all parts of the Traditional Plan, including updates to the complaint process and prohibitions against bishops ordained or consecrating practicing gay clergy.

  • Removes the long-standing ban on general church and annual conference funds being funneled to causes promoting the acceptance of homosexuality.

  • Creates a process for congregations to leave the UMC with their properties before December 31, 2025. It requires a 2/3 vote, annual conference approval, and payment of pension liability. Terms are negotiated by the Board of Trustees of the annual conference and GCFA will establish guidelines.

  • Creates a process for the Council of Bishops to establish an ecumenical partnership with a new denomination formed from exiting congregations. The new denomination could develop relationships with the general agencies of the UMC.

  • Provides for an amount to be added to the 2021-2024 quadrennial budget for the formation of a new Traditionalist denomination. No specific amount is provided in the legislation and GC2020 is to decide this amount.

  • Chargeable offenses are removed to being a self-avowed practicing homosexual clergy and performing same-sex weddings.

The UMC-Next Plan is considerably less gracious to Traditionalists than the Traditional Plan is to Progressives. Traditionalists annual conferences are not allowed to leave as a group with their assets. The individual congregations would have to leave and abandon their assets to the minority group. The plan requires that we replay General Conference 2019 all over again. It triggers yet another debate over human sexuality. It is a true attempt to come back and “win” after a stinging defeat.

The bar for voting to leave is also higher in the UMC-Next Plan than either the Traditional or Indianapolis Plan (2/3 as opposed to simple majority). This means that the majority of a local church could vote to leave under the UMC-Next Plan and still not be able to do so. It is definitely a Traditionalist exit plan that creates none of the protections offered to traditionalists under the former One Church Plan.

The Indianapolis Plan

The Indianapolis Plan is the result of negotiations begun at North United Methodist Church in Indianapolis. Darren Cushman Wood (a progressive and pastor of North UMC), Kent Millard (a centrist and president of United Theological Seminary), and Keith Boyette (a traditionalist and president of WCA) convened the group of twelve over the summer of 2019 to see if there might be a way to avoid repetition of the acrimony experienced at GC2019. In the Traditional Plan, the Progressives leave. In the UMC-Next Plan, the Traditionalists leave. Is there a way for both camps to move into something new? (Full disclosure: I was part of the Indy Group.)

The Indy Plan envisions The United Methodist Church giving birth to two new denominations. Both would be free to use the UMC name as they wish. Both would be legal successors to the UMC. The Centrist UMC would inherit much of the current institution. There would be a division of assets that was not agreed upon in the Indy Group. (WCA submitted their proposal for such a division via attorney Cara Nicklas. See the PDF below.) Centrists and progressives were invited to also submit a proposal with the final decision being made by the delegates to GC2020.

2556.12.d-asset-allocation-proposal Download

Leaders from Africa, Europe, and the Philippines contributed feedback throughout the Indianapolis process. Wespath drafted language to make the plan optimal for pension allocation. The plan seeks to provide as much of a new day as might be possible under the restraints of our current constitution. The UMC is not dissolved but will have its institutional continuation through the Centrist UMC.

The Indianapolis Plan presents two main options for annual conferences and local churches. The Traditionalist UMC (name a placeholder) “shall be a global denomination that will maintain the current stance of the Discipline regarding the practice of homosexuality. It would emphasize unity around doctrine, mission, and standards, leaner denominational structure, greater local flexibility, and accountable discipleship.”

The Centrist UMC “shall be a global denomination that will remove from the Discipline the ‘incompatibility’ language and prohibitions against same-sex weddings, ordinations, and appointments.  Centrist Annual Conferences and local congregations would make their own decisions regarding the ordination and appointment of homosexual persons and performing same-sex weddings in their conferences and congregations. It would practice faith with a generous spirit, emphasizing greater local flexibility within a deep commitment to connectionalism, social justice, and missional engagement that transforms the world for Jesus Christ.”

Other expressions could be formed by any group of fifty or more local churches, or by an annual conference or group of annual conferences.

The plan has a very short timeline. Annual conferences would vote by simple majority by December 31, 2020. Local churches would have until July 1, 2021 to vote (by simple majority, also) if they disagree with their annual conference. The doors for reaffiliation, however, stay open through 2028. The annual conferences that do not vote would default to the Centrist UMC. Outside the USA, annual conferences would default to the Traditional UMC if they did not vote.

That last detail is probably the biggest flaw in the plan, constitutionally speaking. The default for the Central Conferences is to leave the current UMC institution. I doubt that will pass muster. The plan has a built-in back-up, however. If this provision is deemed unconstitutional, the default will be the Centrist UMC for everyone. That is not great either, in my eyes. But this was a negotiation not a description of anyone’s ideal.

Local churches will not have to pay unfunded pension liability as this will follow them into their new denomination. Conferences and congregations could begin functioning under their new alignment beginning August 1, 2020, under the auspices of the leadership group of each denomination. Mandatory retirement of bishops would be waived so that new elections could be held after the sorting is done. Separate general conferences would be held in the fall of 2021 and the new denominations would be fully functional by January 1, 2022.

Wespath, UMCOR, UMW, UMM, and UM Publishing House would become independent agencies serving all denominations desiring their services. Archives and History would be housed at a UM seminary as a lean independent agency. All other agencies would continue as part of the Centrist UMC and be also able to contract with other denominations to provide services as desired. General church apportionments would continue to be paid by all through December 31, 2020. A special central conference apportionment would be established for the 2021-24 quadrennium to be supported by all denominations at the current level of funding. All denominations are encouraged to support mission projects and partnerships in the central conferences going forward, regardless of the denomination with which the central conference aligns.