The Baltimore-Washington Conference delegates to the 2020 General and Jurisdictional conferences voted to endorse The Protocol on Reconciliation and Grace through Separation, which is slated to come before the denomination’s top law-making body May 5-15 in Minneapolis, Minn.
The Protocol was also endorsed by the BWC’s Discipleship Council, a 14-member body charged with aligned the Conference’s resources, ministries, vision, and strategic direction.
The Protocol (www.gracethroughseparation.com) seeks to end more than 40 years of stark disagreement over the church’s stance on LGBTQ issues, including the ordination of gays and lesbians and same-gender marriage. It allows for a pathway for the creation of new Methodist movements, including a new traditionalist denomination. Such a denomination is being proposed by the Wesleyan Covenant Association.
The 16-member team that wrote The Protocol, which was made up of bishops and leaders representing widely diverse theological viewpoints, allotted $25 million for the establishment of a new traditional denomination and $2 million for other Methodist denominations. BWC Bishop LaTrelle Easterling was part of The Protocol team.
“If The Protocol achieves the vision of those on the mediation team, it will create a denomination without the restrictive language currently in our present Book of Discipline, requiring everyone to embrace contextualization and theological diversity,” Easterling said. “We have always been a big tent denomination, eschewing constraining doctrinal rigidity in favor of broad theological interpretations. The Protocol continues this practice, while maintaining our global witness.”
The Protocol is designed to allow for a gracious exit, permitting churches to take their property with them if they leave to join one of the official new expressions of Methodism.
In addition, $39 million has been earmarked over the next eight years to support communities within the post-separation United Methodist church that have been historically marginalized by the sin of racism. The money is intended to strengthen Asian, African American, Hispanic-Latino, Native American, and Pacific Islander ministries, as well as Africa University.
The United Methodist Church will continue to exist as it has since 1784. Annual Conferences and churches that do not vote to leave will retain their membership in The United Methodist Church. (See chart with timeline below.)
The 14-member Discipleship Council voted Feb. 18, asserting that the Protocol "provides a way forward for the church's mission,” while also “acknowledging the deep division, pain, and conflict within our church in recent decades.” In an online statement, they announced that, "While we lament a separation of any kind within the body of Christ, we believe that The Protocol represents a call to a renewed life for the church and its people." (www.bwcumc.org/news-and-views/discipleship-council-supports-protocol)
The Rev. Ianther Mills, pastor of Asbury UMC in Washington and leader of the BWC General and Jurisdictional Conference delegations, agreed.
“The Protocol represents a foundational step toward moving beyond a place where some theological divides were so deep that living and serving God together had become untenable,” she said. “The Protocol lights a path for moving beyond the impasse in which the UMC has been embraced for years.”
Bishop Easterling is also hopeful about the church’s future. “While the Protocol offers a path for separation, it does not presume nor force persons into separation,” she said. “It is still my earnest hope that laity, clergy and congregations within the BWC will decide to remain within The United Methodist Church.”
In a related action at their Feb. 15 meeting, the BWC delegation voted to support the Connectional Table’s resolution to create a US regional conference. This new structure mirrors the current “central conferences” that exist outside of the United States.
This resolution intends to offer United Methodists in the United States a connectional structure to deal with matters pertaining specifically to the U.S. context, including pensions, strategies and priorities, and adaptions to the Book of Discipline.
The delegation supported this petition, along with The Protocol, as part of process that will lead to a more just church and the reduction of harm to LGBTQ members and people of color. While The Protocol won’t immediately accomplish all the changes they hope to see, many delegates expressed the view that “this is the smart work that will get us to a place where can live into an aspirational vision.”
The delegation voted to support The Protocol following a presentation from Bishop Easterling.
Mills said it is her hope that if The Protocol is adopted, the denomination’s “infighting will subside and the hard work of tackling systemic oppression will begin. That means the UMC will not only move forward with eliminating oppressive and contradictory language from the Book of Discipline and cease actions that harm LGBTQ people, but that it also owns and addresses its longstanding systemic oppressive actions with respect to race and gender.”
Delegation members, who have been meeting monthly since last summer, have also heard a number of presentations about other legislation coming before General Conference. During the two-week session, delegates from around the world will consider at least 714 petitions on a vast array of subjects.
Drawing particular attention this year are new Social Principles for the denomination and a proposed new pension plan for clergy.
The Social Principles, (https://www.umcsocialprinciples2020.org) which were rewritten by a global taskforce over eight years, are being promoted as being more focused, succinct, and globally meaningful. The revisions divide the Social Principles into four sections: creation, economic, social, and political.
Wespath, which oversees the denomination’s pension plan, is seeking to move active clergy from a plan that combines both defined-benefit and defined-contribution components to one that is entirely based on a defined contribution. (https://www.wespath.org/assets/1/7/5447.pdf)
A defined-benefit plan provides a monthly pension payment for life, with the employer (in this case, conferences) assuming the investment risk. A defined-contribution plan — like the 401(k) plans most U.S. corporate employees now have — provides an account balance to use during retirement, with the clergyperson assuming the risk of sustaining the money through the end of his or her lifetime.
Changing to a defined-contribution plan would not reduce benefits that retired clergy already receive or reduce what active clergy have already earned.
Delegates to General Conference are also studying the proposed 23% cut to the denomination’s $498.65 million budget for the next four years. The brunt of these cuts would be borne by the general agencies.
For a complete guide to all the petitions coming to General Conference, visit www.resourceumc.org/en/content/general-conference-2020-advance-daily-christian-advocate.
According to Mills, the BWC Delegation is “prayerfully, earnestly, and intentionally considering the legislation that will come before General Conference,” she said. “In these months prior to General Conference, we have sought to be as well-informed as possible through presentations from boards, agencies, caucuses, and groups; attending preparatory gatherings by our jurisdiction, UMCOM, and others; and reading the ADCA and other material as it becomes available. We have had presentations from all of the major plans for structuring the UMC, including the Indianapolis Plan, UMC Next, UM Forward, and the Protocol of Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation. We approach our work with deep deliberation and respect for one another. Pray for us that we not grow weary in our well doing.”
Key Dates for The Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation
- January 1, 2021 – Any new Methodist denominations that have already been legally constituted may begin to function.
- May 15, 2021 – Deadline for registering intent to form New Methodist denomination.
Local churches do not need to vote to remain in The United Methodist Church.
Local Churches that disagree with the position of their Annual Conference may vote.
The voting threshold to join a New Methodist denomination will be either 50% plus 1 or two-thirds as established by the local church.
- January 1, 2021 – Apportionments are set by, and paid to, any New Methodist denomination for those churches who have decided to align with it, unless the separation date is later.
- Dec. 31, 2024 – Deadline for local churches to vote to align with a different Methodist denomination than their annual conference or to disaffiliate.
Annual Conferences do not have to vote to remain in The United Methodist Church.
20% of lay members to Annual Conference desiring a vote can trigger a vote.
57% must vote to join or form a New Methodist Denomination for the Annual Conference to separate.
- July 1, 2021 – Deadline for annual conferences in the United States to vote to align with a New Methodist denomination.
- July 1, 2021 – Deadline for bishops to notify their authorities of a desire to align with a New Methodist denomination.
- July 1, 2021 – Deadline for clergy in the U.S. to notify their bishop and other authorities of a desire to align with a different Methodist denomination from that of their annual conference.
- July 1, 2022 – Deadline for clergy outside the United States to notify their bishop and other authorities of a desire to align with a different Methodist denomination from that of their annual conference
Central Conferences do not have to vote to remain in The United Methodist Church.
A 2/3 vote to form or join a New Methodist denomination.
- December 31, 2021 – Deadline for central conferences to vote to align with a New Methodist denomination.
- July 1, 2022 – Deadline for annual conferences outside the United States to vote to align with a different Methodist denomination from that of their central conference.
Read more about The Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation.