Response To The Great Divorce, i.e., “Protocol Of Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation

Response To The Great Divorce, i.e., “Protocol Of Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation January 3, 2020

Even as I appreciate their attempt to mediate the great divorce, frankly, every single one of the people who created and signed this document is himself/herself guilty of disobedience to The Discipline of The United Methodist Church and should have charges brought against them. And I support, with reservations and questions about constitutionality, what they have done.

The Great Divorce of The United Methodist ChurchAt 9:50 am, this article from the Washington Post article hit my news feed. Lead-in reads this way:

Church leaders agreed to spin off a “traditionalist Methodist” denomination, and allow the remainder of the denomination to permit same-sex marriage and LGBT clergy for the first time in its history.

Around noon, the New York Times publishes their version with this headline:

The United Methodist News Service piece offers a more honest headline, since, really folks, this decision has not been made, despite the reporting of the national press:

Diverse leaders’ group offers separation plan

But the “devil is in the details,” and those details would be the “Protocol of Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation.”

The UMNS article did not give a link to it, but I was able to find it under the United Methodist Bishops site. And it did make for intriguing reading. I encourage you to read it carefully for yourself.

My responses to The Great Divorce document:

First, I want to thank this group of people for choosing to come together and to create something that would, if fully adopted and not challenged, keep the UMC from the utter financial ruin of a contested divorce process. No question about it, to have the great divorce, a mediated route almost always beats a contested route.

With a mediated divorce, the funds and assets stay more in the hands of the principals and less in the hands of the army of accountants and litigators that will otherwise be necessary for a split. A clear motivation behind this document is the preservation of the funds and assets of The United Methodist Church.

Second, I appreciate the peaceful wording of the document and the intentionality to give space across the board. The intent is for those holding irreconcilable differences to go their separate ways without further damaging the already damaged reputation of The United Methodist Church.

Third, and here my problems start: Under the “Statement of Principles” section, the drafters write as their fifth “whereas:”

The United Methodist Church is committed to recognizing, respecting and protecting the rights and personal dignity of every person, including people of all races, sexual orientations, genders, national origins, ages, and social classes;

Seriously? If this were the case, if the WCA/IRD/Good News people were not united in their commitment to deny full human rights and protection to the LGBTQ community, none of this would ever have happened. But they are united in their commitment to do harm to some of the most vulnerable people in our connection. Yes, they cloak it in their interpretation of “biblical” language, but their determination is 100% clear: the gay has gotta go.

This statement should truthfully read: “most, but not all, members of The United Methodist Church are committed to recognizing, respecting and protecting the rights and personal dignity of every person, including people of all races, sexual orientations, genders, national origins, ages, and social classes;”

Unfortunately, then, one of the basic affirmations of this group of good people is a falsehood that panders to a subset of UM’s who have thrown themselves 100% behind a separatist movement. This movement has been designed to eliminate civil rights and personal dignity of those whose sexual orientations and genders do not line up with the rigid binary that they have decided is “biblical” and holy.

Yeah, that statement socked me in the gut.

OK, deep breath now and onto the next thing that hit me so very hard.

Fourth: Under Article I: “Agreement and Commitment to this Protocol,” the fourth paragraph reads this way:

The undersigned agree to use their best efforts to persuade any groups or organizations with which they are affiliated to support the legislation necessary to implement the Protocol. Consistent with the commitment in Article I, Paragraph 1, the undersigned will not participate in or support legislation or other efforts that are inconsistent with the principles and terms of the Protocol and the implementing legislation. They may support other efforts to the extent that all signatories to this Protocol agree that such efforts are consistent with the Protocol.

The UMC allocated massive funds for The Bishop’s Commission on The Way Forward. After the report was released, strongly affirming the One Church Plan, some of the participants on that commission actively worked in every possible way to defeat it. Clearly this statement is an attempt to make sure the same thing does not happen again.

The lies behind the Great DivorceAnd that’s where my grief hits hard: the perfidy of those who participated and then intentionally opposed the conclusions of The Way Forward has never been openly acknowledged or addressed. One more thing swept under the crowded rug of United Methodism.

As I continued reading and parsing, I had lots of questions, like “How come the separatist WCA folk not only get all their property and assets but also an extra $25 million dollars of apportionment funds to help them create their “No Gays Allowed” denomination?

Then I hit the big one.

The big problem in The Great Divorce Protocol

Fifth: This is from Article V, “Moratorium”

It reads:

As one expression of reconciliation and grace through separation, the undersigned agree that all administrative or judicial processes addressing restrictions in the Book of Discipline related to self-avowed practicing homosexuals or same-sex weddings shall be held in abeyance beginning January 1, 2020 through the adjournment of the first conference of the post-separation United Methodist Church. Clergy shall continue to remain in good standing while such complaints are held in abeyance.

OK, while I do appreciate their hearts and motivations, this group of people decided that they can override the only legal voice of The United Methodist Church, i.e., decisions made by the General Conference. No, they can’t.

Legally, Bishops, clergy and laity in The United Methodist Church have no option but to actively and vigorously pursue, prosecute and remove from active pastoral duties any and all clergy who in any way violate the provisions passed by the 2019 General Conference. Since a number of well-known clergy have made it clear that they intend to participate in the church version of civil disobedience, no one, not this group of people or anyone else, should do anything but hold their feet to the fire.

Even as I appreciate their attempt to mediate the great divorce, frankly, every single one of the people who signed this document is himself/herself guilty of disobedience to The Discipline of The United Methodist Church and should have charges brought against them.

And that, my friend, is the ridiculousness of our system: we have tied ourselves to an unworkable method of governance that precludes having the kinds of hope-giving conversations such as this.

Yes, let’s stop the charges and counter-charges. Yes, let’s take a serious look at this protocol, even as it does reward the “we hate gays” separatist movement.

As my brother (a non-religious person who also an avid news reader and who just phoned me about the situation) said, “It sounds like they decided it was better to ask for forgiveness than permission.” According to my wise brother, “The business world works that way anyway. It’s the only way to get anything done. Otherwise, they’d get a ‘no’ from those who are trying to protect their butts.”

Even with these reservations, I offer support to the protocol even as they did tiptoe through some dung piles of lies, mistruths, and problems of a problematic process as they went about it. I also have a lot of concerns about the constitutionality of their proposal, but those questions must be addressed by the experts on the Judicial Council, not by me. It is good that they’ve requested a review before the next General Conference.

And, as that wonderful brother reminded me, “Don’t criticize them! They did something good!” Yes, they did. Let’s keep talking and find a healthy and holy way through this impasse.

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  • Linda

    I hear you, Christy. It feels like a step forward that wasn’t accomplished by the last attempt to solve the problem. We’ll see. I also think there may be some blowback from the Judicial Council as well. And I feel the extra $25 million is a sticking point. I can’t figure out why the “post separation UMC” has to pay those who want to leave to get them to leave. Furthermore, they get to leave and take all their stuff with them, which seems to me to be against some pretty fundamental Wesleyan doctrine. Another thing, though, I don’t understand the part about the $39 million. What’s that all about, and who gets the money?

    • Judgeforyourself37

      My thoughts, exactly, Linda. If the WCC wishes to leave they should be allowed to do so, but the UMC should not pay them to leave, as it was their choice. Had the WCC agreed to the One Church Plan they would not be forced to accept a LBGQAI pastor, nor would they be forced to have their pastor perform a same gender/sex wedding. Churches and conferences would be able to choose, and that would have worked for everyone, unless the conference or church had to have everything “their way.” The “my way or the highway” is not Christian, especially when they want money to go away, “their way.”

    • AntithiChrist

      “You show me a pile of money, and I’ll show you a pile of people trying to get their hands on it.”

      Overheard at a recent holiday family dinner.

  • Guthrum

    The UMC must avoid the disastrous path of other mainline denominations.
    “Why is the Episcopal Church Near Collapse?” (Belief Net)
    “Nonstop Decline: Presbyterian Church (USA) Doesn’t Hit Brakes in 2018” ( )
    “Will the ELCA Be Gone in Thirty Years?” ( )

    One of the main reasons members have left these denominations is that they got away from their mission and core beliefs.
    “We didn’t leave the denomination. The denomination left us”

    • Ste

      Churches seem especially vulnerable to entryism. New churches are hard to start. It is easy to take over an established congregation and physical plant. Christians trust other Christians to be above board with their intentions.

      Dr Akin, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, to pastors on the problem of entryism:
      “Act with personal integrity in your ministry when it comes to this issue [in this case a Calvinist theological mindset]. Put your theological cards on the table in plain view for all to see, and do not go into a church under a cloak of deception or dishonesty. If you do, you will more than likely split a church, wound the Body of Christ, damage the ministry God has given you, and leave a bad taste in the mouth of everyone. …”

  • spiritubrianus

    Remember this document is a compromise. As with all compromises, there are things we like, and there are things we dislike. At least you learned from the mistakes of my own Episcopal Church when confronted with the same issues. In our experience, millions of dollars were expended in lawsuits over buildings and church assets. Both the Episcopal Church and the new conservative Anglican Church of North America were damaged by the vitriol and ‘knock down, drag out’ attitudes of the opposing factions. The world wide Anglican Communion has been damaged beyond repair. Just be thankful that the UMC decided to approach this thing in a civil and responsible way.

    • Michael Romkey

      TEC is the one that did the suing. They spent millions. My Anglican diocese is still dealing with it.

    • John Masters

      I don’t understand why the traditionalists don’t just leave and join either the Anglican or Weslyan Church? They believe pretty much exactly the same. But this is how you know it’s about the money and property…and not about biblical beliefs.

  • Robert Conner

    “For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.” (1 Cor. 14:33, KJV)

    An estimated 40,000 Christian sects, or “denominations” if one prefers, and the irony shows no sign of waning.

  • Joe Miller

    1. withheld apportionments are not addressed
    2. Imagine the confusion at the local level. For example, in the Texas Annual Conference, which is very traditional with WCA bishop, local churches will split. Pastors and congregations will be at odds. What a pastoral challenge!

    • John Masters

      I think that at the very least, unpaid apportionments should be deducted from the $25M.

  • Guthrum

    Most church properties and buildings were paid for and maintained by the church members. I have not heard of a church bring funded by the denomination.
    The denomination should not try to hold onto something that they have not invested in.

    • John Masters

      Here’s the problem with that. First off, since the time of the founding of the Methodist Church we have held that property is the property of all Methodists, hence the trust clause. Every Methodist does or should know and understand that’s part of the collective contract. I’m a member of (not attending very much lately) a church that was founded many years ago by a very progressive pastor. The membership, up until recently, has been largely progressive, but we have a dictatorial pastor right now who has made it clear he’s on the side of the traditionalists. So let’s just say he manages to get enough votes to leave…what about all those progressive folks who help found and build that church over the years (and yes, a few founding members are still there)? Why would you expect them to have to dust off their sandals and walk away from what they built.

      Yes, some Methodist churches are mostly of a single mind, but I’d venture the majority are not. All of these proposals and protocols assume each church of a single-mind and does not take into account those who are not in the majority. The church should not be a democracy. That’s why the trust clause. The property belongs to “the church corporate,” and not individual people, ministers or groups of people.

      • Guthrum

        Thanks for that information. I have read that before, that the UMC considers the congregations as trustees and caretakers of the property, not the owners.
        The ELCA has usually let the churches keep their property if they choose to leave. One ELCA bishop said that the denomination is not a real estate company and trying to maintain and sell church properties is time and money consuming.
        Several years ago the Presbyterian Church USA opened a period of time in which churches could leave and keep their property: no questions asked, no hassles. Many PC around here left and joined the PCA.

        • Tracey Edson

          I imagine the UMC is trying to avoid the ECUSA mess.

      • Nobody

        It seems to me that you are mistakenly viewing the Progressives as the “real” UMC and the Traditionalists as the schismatics. In fact, the latter are the ones following the Book of Discipline and the majority of the world-wide church. If you think that the Progressives shouldn’t have to walk away from what they built, why should the Traditionalists?

        If the church splits, it’s questionable to argue that one faction has more right to the property than the other.

        The Methodists are supposed to be world- wide, not split up by nations. So if property belongs to the church as a whole, the fact that the majority of US bishops are Progressive seems irrelevant. My understanding is that the Traditionalists in the USA are growing while the Progressives are shrinking. I don’t expect this to last, since even fairly Traditional young people don’t hold the prejudices of their elders. Maybe the factions will end up reuniting in a few years, assuming there’s still any American Methodists.

        This is certainly not going to be pretty. They may end up having to agree that one or two churches in an area will be reserved for the faction that is less popular, since, as you say, congregations are likely to split.

        My parents unsuccessfully tried to raise me as a Methodist. On one hand, I think this is pretty funny, on the other hand I’m sorry for my UMC friends. I’ll be interested to see what the church I attended does.

        Still, I think it is best to depart as amicably as possible. Even if the Traditionalists end up going with another Methodist subset, they’d still want their buildings.

  • AntithiChrist

    With every human cultural and ethical advance you will have a church, or a sect of a church, branching off into more toxic vs less toxic.

    Kudos to the less toxic version of of the UMC, for being just that. Less toxic than their more extreme UMC brethren.

    • Newton Finn

      I think we should avoid labels like “toxic” in describing those who disagree with us. From the inception of Christianity, there has been a deep division between those who interpret scripture, and the faith in general, according the spirit or according to the letter. Indeed, the same division occurs in the legal world, where constitutional scholars are split into strict and liberal construction camps. The only way to overcome this divide, or at least to learn to accept it and live with it, is to respectfully agree to disagree, while continuing and intensifying the effort to convince the opposing side to come to understand and adopt our own.

      • AntithiChrist

        There is absolutely nothing non-toxic, nor worthy of respect, in an entire organization (or even half of one) officially denying the lbgtq community its full humanity and acceptance into the larger community.

        Every advance of human culture, abolition of slavery, racial equality, and women’s equality, lgbtq equality, basic human choices from purchasing alcoholic beverages on Sunday to women’s autonomy in their own, personal health care decisions, has been (& continues to be) fought tooth and nail, by the more toxic elements of [insert religion name/sect here]. In this case, it’s many toxic elements within Christianity. The toxic element of the UMC spotlighted in this recent split, will go out of its way to make life as humanly miserable for anyone outside its current, rigid norms. And since it’s a religion, with gods, saviors, angels and demons, and good vs evil baked right into the sermons, it’s a simple move for church leadership to “demonize” those they hate by calling them (an entire community in this case), The Enemy.” I don’t follow any UMC preaching but can attest that within the larger Christian community, “The Enemy” is big news. Where’s the respect coming from at the UMC, outside of dressing your institutionalized bigotry up in flowery, pious phrasing?

        Moderate sounding Christians, with their “let’s all just pretend this is only a chicken or fish-level issue, and be nice about it,” miss the fact that the chicken is savory and welcoming, and the fish is lying there raw, rancid, and rotting on its serving plate. And here’s a waiter insisting that the fish is just as worthy of your consideration.

        Trying to argue that the staff shouldn’t be reprimanded for this obvious toxic fish screwup is tantamount to a polite Christian haplessly running interference for the extreme toxic elements of their religion.

        Not worthy of respect. Toxic is toxic.

        • Newton Finn

          What about that bit about loving and praying for your enemies, or about resisting the impulse to judge others and to focus more on your own faults than theirs? I happen to fully embrace all loving forms of human sexuality and believe that this is in accord with the spirit of the NT. But there are certainly a number of NT passages that at least appear to say otherwise, and thus lend prima facia support to the literalists on this issue. I, for one, would rather see the church continue to engage on these issues, as tense and difficult as that may be, than to split over them.

  • Jane Ravenswood

    again Christianity shows that it is nothing more than humans trying to claim that some magical entity agrees with their personal hates and desires. Christians can’t agree on what their god wants, and the promises their bible makes about what real Christians can do either fail because they are nonsense or because there are no real Christians.

  • Nixon is Lord

    Ironic that in choosing “Justice” the “Progressives” will have to abandon a lot of “Diversity”; most of those voting against them were from Africa.

    • Judgeforyourself37

      The USA has had the Bible for many years and has learned to interpret the Bible in the light of today’s knowledge. Whereas, Africa and the Philippines have only been introduced to the Bible in the last 20+ years, thus they take the Bible more literally than do we in the the eastern, western and more educated parts of the US and Northern Europe.
      This separation was needed and necessary. Our friends in Africa and the Philippines will catch up one day, until then we must progress, not regress and if those who follow Rob and the Good News folks wish to stay in the past before we knew that being LBGT was inborn, so be it. The Discipline was written by those who wish to stay in the past, and follow a more literal interpretation of the Bible, we who are younger or more educated know that we must interpret the Bible in the light of the new and expanding knowledge of the latter part of the 20th century and the 21st century.

      • Tracey Edson

        Very elitist comment, breathtakingly colonialist: “they’ll catch up.”

  • I guess UCC and UUA are the outliers, with the UUA not mentioning Jesus or God in their service.

  • annie56

    OMG! hate the politics of organized religion! I wonder what our good Father would think of all this behavior. i think he would be greatly saddened but not surprised. After all we are all sinners at birth. I have to agree with however is posting as “AntithisChrist” that as we progress as humans culturally & ethically there will be division among us. I wish the church could have waited for this but don’t think they had any choice. So, no doctrine is written in stone. As Christians I think the most important thing to remember is that we are all Gods’ children but that we are all different. We must each find the place that best nurtures our spirit best & go there without qualms. We all have that choice.

  • dferraez

    The Babylon Bee had a more clear and honest discussion of the divorce.

  • Mike Curnutt

    It would be best if the UMC just dissipated into nothingness.

  • Tracey Edson

    I’ve spent several hours (as an
    outsider, though not disinterested), and really don’t recognize it in your analysis. Both sides clearly are trying to create space for the other to be what they feel they must be without the acrimony. I know there’s bitter history here, and I gather you’re personally involved, but from the outside looking in, the commitment to peacemaking and the efforts to avoid legal battles and recrimination is refreshingly Christian. But if you’re going to insist on characterizing their POV in terms of “hate,” I guess you’re trapped within your own POV. The allowance of “progressives” to redefine their opponents’ self-description while insisting on their own is quite hypocritical. “Traditionalists” are rather clear about their motivations and means, and none of it includes hate. You might try believing another person’s self-description.