Global? Who You Calling ‘Global’?

If it seems that things are quiet on the UMC battlefield over LGBTQ+ inclusion, it’s most likely because everyone has their heads down writing legislation for General Conference 2020. The deadline for submitting petitions to GC2020 is Sept. 18, and instructions for how to offer legislation are found here.

No doubt that writing teams are sweating over legislation needed to enact one of the proposals put forth for the UMC’s future. As mentioned last week, we currently have three formal plans to reshape The United Methodist church, all of which offer some form of division into differing theological camps. They are:

  • The Bard-Jones Plan, drafted by Bishops David A. Bard (Michigan Area) and Scott J. Jones (Houston, Tex., Area), which closely resembles the Connectional Conferences plan put forth by the Commission on on A Way Forward;
  • The Indianapolis Plan, a schism scheme developed by 12 church leaders in closed sessions led by the Rev. Kent Millard, president of UMC-related United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio; and
  • The UMC Next Plan, another division approach that also has grown out of closed-door discussions among some 500 or so clergy and laity, which will be discussed Sept. 26-28 for the first time in open session at the annual Leadership Institute sponsored by Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kan.

Notice anything about these options? Here’s a hint: for a global denomination, there’s next to no global participation in any of the plans.

That’s right. The UMC may claim to be a worldwide denomination, but when it comes down to the nitty-gritty of church politics, the Americans heretofore have claimed both privilege and power.

However, if the special called 2019 General Conference did anything positive, it opened the eyes of United Methodists outside the United States to what one African clergyman, the Rev. Lloyd T. Nyarota, terms the “neocolonialism” of church governance. In the six months since the Traditional Plan was adopted, segments of the UMC beyond the United States have been throwing off the shackles of U.S. political control and staking out their own authority to determine the denomination’s future. Dr. David W. Scott, director of mission theology for the General Board of Global Ministries, has done an excellent job of tracking Central Conference actions and attitudes on UM & Global, the collaborative blog of United Methodist Professors of Mission for which Dr. Scott, a layman, serves as blogmaster. Here’s his latest.

Most recently, bishops in both Africa and the Philippines (see accompanying photos) have issued statements saying they won’t support any plan that seeks the division or dissolution of the UMC. Bishops have no vote at General Conference, but they wield a lot of influence over their elected delegates, so their voices carry weight in decision making. Bishop John Yambasu of Sierra Leone tried to offset American influence by calling a consultation of his own in July. However, that gathering, which included senior representatives from all the U.S.-based conservative caucuses, produced no formal agreement on a future direction.

Meanwhile, let’s not overlook the fact that there are more modest options being proposed that could have a major effect on big future visions. In addition to the aspirations expressed by the Our Movement Forward gathering in May (the only futuring session open to the public thus far), the Connectional Table has forwarded legislation to make the United States a regional conference, and to change the names of the current Central Conferences to “Regional Conferences” as well. For many American United Methodists, the term “Central Conference” still conjures up the racially segregated unit created by the 1939 Uniting Conference in order to get the southern branch to join in forming the Methodist Church. Thus, a worldwide name change would signify a modest shift toward becoming an anti-racist institution.

Some legislation writers have posted their intentions on Facebook, and many of these intend to change existing policies rather than break up the denomination. Three examples are:

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