The United Methodist Church and the Future
Perhaps you saw recently that the General Conference of the United Methodist Church has been postponed for the third time. Originally, it was supposed to be held in the spring of 2020 and the decision was made to postpone until the next regularly scheduled General Conference in 2024. The significant matter is the delayed General Conference was to consider the Protocols for Reconciliation and Grace through Separation. This is the plan that would allow for a gracious exit of individuals and churches from the United Methodist Church to start or join new denominations, thus allowing the United Methodist Church to stay intact and change the policies prohibiting the marriage and ordination of LGBTQ+ people. (Read the full protocol here https://www.gracethroughseparation.com/legislation)These delays have prevented moving forward with this protocol legislation.
The delay is not a surprise. The global pandemic continues to disrupt plans especially when attempting a global gathering. The process for obtaining travel visas is taking several months and up to 2 years in some cases. Many delegates from outside the United States were unable to complete the process in time. I assume the war in Ukraine will further complicate matters seeing how there are United Methodist Conferences in both Russia and Ukraine. These delays are quite frustrating, namely because it delays the justice of full inclusion that many of us long for.
These delays have also frustrated the more conservative individuals and churches wishing to break away from the UMC. They have prepared a new denomination called The Global Methodist Church (GMC). With this latest postponement, they announced that the GMC would officially start May 1st of this year. This means that some churches might leave the UMC before the Protocol legislation is voted on or enacted. Without the Protocol in place, the process of disaffiliation is difficult and expensive. Therefore, I don’t expect a large number of churches will leave immediately. The organizers of the GMC have said the intent of launching now is to create a “landing place” for those who cannot wait until the full process has been carried out.
One aspect of the Protocol that is still not clear is if entire Annual Conferences can leave the denomination. The original proposal speaks to how that might happen. However, earlier this week, the Council of Bishops requested a declaratory decision from the Judicial Council on whether this is possible. A full explanation of the Council of Bishops request can be found here https://www.unitedmethodistbishops.org/news.
All of this may incite lots of questions for you. Right now, my answers to most of your questions will be “I don’t know.” But I will share some things I do know and believe deeply. First of all, God’s grace is abundant and sufficient to hold us in these times of uncertainty and confusion. Second, even though our denomination languishes with these unjust policies that exclude LGBTQ+ people, the greater truth is these have never been God’s “policies.” Worthiness and belonging ultimately belongs to God. Third, First United Methodist Church of Little Rock will continue be faithful to God’s call of being good neighbors to make Little Rock a place where all God’s children thrive.