Visions from the Bottom-Up
February 10, 2015
In 2012, the last time the United Methodist Church considered massive changes to their way of doing things, they forgot to check what time it was: They didn’t realize it was 2012. The new social media world of collaboration, discussion and tinkering, and a tiny website called Hacking Christianity, would pound their 20th century plan called The Call To Action into dust. By the time the matter was settled at General Conference 2012, very few of their recommendations made the cut, and those that did were rendered unconstitutional. Outside of a few bishop-led changes (in the areas of metrics and dashboards), the big world-changing plan for the UMC was not to be–because, I would claim, it was a top-down initiative.
In 2015, the UMC has learned its lesson and instead of a top-down solution to our problems, there’s a ton of bottom-up solutions. Everyone from a clergyperson in Illinois, to a group of clergy in West Ohio, to a pair of academics, to our megachurch pastors has a plan for the United Methodist Church, come May 2016. And since legislation is not due until January 2016, there’s plenty of time for more ideas to come up.
To help keep track, here’s every UMC Unity or Schism plan (depending on how you view them) that is out there so far, including links to our internal posts referencing them. This will be constantly updated until General Conference 2016.
[Changelog: Original Post 2/10/2015]
Incremental Changes – These plans offer small changes to our polity to either maintain the course or to name the reality.
A Way Forward by Adam Hamilton/Mike Slaughter offers to allow local churches to decide whether to allow same-gender ceremonies, and annual conferences to decide whether to ordain open LGBT persons. HX Coverage: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
A & W Plan by Bill Arnold and David Watson offers an exit option for progressive churches from the denomination with their buildings/pensions and makes changes to the judicial process. HX Coverage: 1, 2
Large-scale Changes – these are massive changes to our polity.
United Methodist Centrist Movement’s plan by West Ohio clergy offers significant changes to the appointment/itineracy process, apportionments, and a moratorium on clergy trials related to LGBT inclusion for 4 years. HX Coverage: 1
Jurisdictional Solution by Christopher Ritter retrieves a model for the church that historically kept African-Americans in a separate-but-not-equal jurisdiction and finds value when applying that model to progressives and LGBT Methodists. Both 2 and 6 Jurisdictions legislation has been proposed. HX Coverage: 1
The Northeast Jurisdiction has a great plan on the global nature of the church. I’m posting this to encourage them to get it online so we can talk about it.
Emerging Ideas – these have not quite become legislative directions but are helpful ponderings to consider.
A Better Way Forward by John Copenhaver offers a prescription from the ELCA’s way of handling the question of LGBT inclusion.
Missionary Conferences by Sean Delmore uses our denominational practice of missionary conferences and sees if the less-rigid polity in those conferences could apply as a wide scale option (note: this is hosted on Hacking Christianity, but it does not reflect the opinions of Jeremy…it’s a guest post).
A Federated Way Forward by Joel Watts uses our denominational practice of federated congregations and sees if adapting these type of arrangements would allow conservatives and progressives to live together. Significant Q&A and research.
Commitments to Unity – these do not offer legislation but are affirmations of unity by groups of people
Covenant for Unity in the North Georgia Conference affirms unity in the midst of conflict.
Schism Plans – plans offered for how schism would work in an amicable way.
Editorial: Unity is All About the Gays
We cannot escape the reality that all these unity or schism plans are really all in response to the question of LGBT Inclusion in the life of the Church.
I’m still haunted by Dr. Dorothee Benz’s epic guest post on this website where she states: LGBTQ people are not the first, nor will we be the last, to be blamed for tensions and divisions in the church. Our church has been mired in conflict over its support for slavery and segregation and its exclusion of women from ordained ministry. Each of these sins of exclusion were corrected after decades of tension, division, debate, and yes in some cases schism.
Moving past these forms of bigotry required great struggle in the church. And not for nothing, these struggles are not mere historical artifacts. That much should be clear from the 2012 General Conference attack on the General Commission on Religion and Race, the Committee on the Status and Role of Women, and the guaranteed appointment system that has served to protect those who would otherwise fall victim to employment discrimination. The point is that struggle is not something to be avoided; rather it is the crucible in which we create a better, more inclusive church. We need to engage in the struggle to change our church, not try to sidestep our way around it.
…In truth, the belief that that one can design structurally neutral solutions that punt the substantive struggle over whether we will continue to discriminate to another level of the church is an illusion. Any proposed structure will either create genuine conditions of equality or it will not; and in that choice such structures expression a position. There is no neutrality. We cannot get through this struggle without resolving it.
All of these proposed plans try to find ways to live together to ride out this storm until one side’s clock runs out (see our timetable). Indeed, the only ones that are viable are ones that suspend our current rules for a while, and most of them attempt to compartmentalize the church even more (of which there is a long tradition–see the latter half of this post). But as Benz points out, in our history we’ve only truly moved on as a church when we deal with our underlying *isms rather than compartmentalizing them.
I join Benz in hoping for more just solutions brought on by multiple avenues of change, and I further hope that more diverse voices will enter the conversation that is currently dominated by online-savvy straight white men in America (this blogger included).
My hope is that this listing offers some inspiration or caution to folks looking for a better solution, and that such solutions find ways to make disciples of Jesus Christ dedicated to transforming the world–perhaps even, one day, the Church.
Rev. Jeremy Smith is a United Methodist clergyperson who blogs about faith, young clergy issues, technology, internet theory, and geeky topics.