Friday, February 8, 2019

Why "exit only" is the plan most likely to pass GC2019

Today's post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Director of Mission Theology at the General Board of Global Ministries. The opinions and analysis expressed here are Dr. Scott's own and do not reflect in any way the official position of Global Ministries.

Most of the coverage of the plans laid before the delegates of General Conference 2019 has focused on four: the Connectional Conference Plan, the One Church Plan, the Simple Plan, and the (Modified) Traditional Plan. Yet the plan most likely to pass GC2019 is none of these. The mostly likely plan to pass GC2019 is an exit plan - that is, a plan that relaxes the trust clause which states that the denomination, not local churches, owns church buildings - which could be passed without being tied to a larger piece of legislation.

First of all, none of the other plans seem a shoe-in. Even the supporters of the Connectional Conference Plan and the Simple Plan acknowledge that they do not have enough support to pass. Traditionalists in Good News seem to think that the One Church Plan has insufficient votes, though they may be underestimating their opponents. At the same time, traditionalist messaging in support of the Connectional Conference Plan and exit plans and their unwillingness to declare preemptive victory suggests they doubt their own plan has enough votes. Centrist messaging has given fewer tells, so it is unclear what their take on the situation is. Moreover, the Holy Spirit and other surprises may always happen, but at this point, it does not seem a foregone conclusion that one of the four main plans will pass.

Yet, there seems to be building momentum from a variety of places on the theological spectrum for an exit clause to be passed. Traditionalists associated with the WCA have declared their intention to leave the denomination if the Modified Traditionalist Plan is not passed (and maybe even if it is). Good News is actively advocated the adoption of one of three exit clauses. Although Uniting Methodists has called for a referral of exit plans to GC2020, it is still likely that some centrists and progressives would like to let traditionalists leave, since it would strengthen their position in the remaining denomination. It is also possible some progressives might want to leave the denomination. Thus, an exit clause could have support across a range of American United Methodists. Because there are five petitions that present exit clauses alone, each of which will be voted on separately, it is entirely possible that such a petition would pass, but that no major plan would pass in addition.

Considering this possibility leads to three questions:

1. How would delegates from the central conferences view an exit clause?

It is unlikely that an exit clause could pass without some support among central conference delegates. Relaxing the trust clause so that American churches could leave the denomination could seem to central conference delegates like Americans fighting about American money, and thus an issue without clear implications for them.

This is where the terms of the exit clause become important. "Cheap" exit clauses - ones that pay unfunded pension liabilities but which pay nothing in apportionments or even drain denominational reserve funds are likely to be less palatable to central conference delegates. Apportionment dollars fund grants and programs that central conferences depend upon. Central conference delegates might see such "cheap" exit clauses as a betrayal of their trust in American partners and a direct financial hit to their conferences. If central conference delegates do support an exit clause, it is likely to be one that includes some level of apportionment payout for departing churches.

2. Which exit clause will be approved?

There are currently five different exit clause petitions that will come before GC2019 - Brooks (Petition 90051), Tull (Petition 90056), Ottjes (Petition 90058), Boyette (Petition 90059), and Taylor (Petition 90066). That body will have the responsibility of amending and refining as many of those as they want, but they are likely to pass only one. To do more would seem redundant. Good News has indicated support of three of the five (Ottjes, Boyette, and Taylor), though it has suggested amendments to two of them (Ottjes and Taylor). The other two exit plans may also find support from different quarters.

Yet the five different plans come with different terms for exiting, which may be further amended during discussion. Key differences include the following: How broad is the exit - must an exit be tied directly to the debate over gay marriage and ordination? How long will the exit window be open? What size majority within a local church must vote for exit? Will district superintendents, bishops, annual conferences, or others outside the local church have a role in approving exit? By what calculation will exiting churches pay for their unfunded pension liabilities? Will denominational reserve funds be used to underwrite exiting churches' unfunded pension liabilities? Will exiting churches be required to pay back apportionments or even a year or two of future apportionments? A post next week will run down how the five current petitions address these and other areas.

3. What will the denomination look like after churches take the exit clause?

If an exit only plan is indeed all that is passed by GC2019, who will take that exit? While the conventional wisdom would say, "traditionalists," the question still remains how many. Moreover, will others also take the exit? Are there progressives who would like to leave as well? Are there other congregations who would like to shed their denominational ties for reasons that are not directly tied to debates over sexuality? Would any churches in the central conferences use the opportunity to exit the denomination - either because of issues related to sexuality or because of unrelated power struggles among local leaders?

When the dust settles, how many people will be left within The United Methodist Church, where will they be located, and what will their theological and spiritual inclinations be? And how much money will they continue to give toward connectional ministries through the apportionment system? The GCFA board has already recommended a 23% reduction in US apportionments for the 2021-2024 quadrennium. If substantial number of American United Methodists leave the church, this will have further deleterious effects on general agencies and other connectional ministries.

My point here is not that an exit only situation would necessarily be good or bad. I pray that God lead the church and GC2019 in their decision-making. I know that whatever decisions are made, some change will come, and change always has both good and bad aspects to it.

I do, however, think that it would behoove GC delegates and other leaders to begin thinking about what an "exit only" scenario would look like and what it would mean for the church, rather than focusing all their attention on the other plans. The more prayerful time and reflection that goes into an "exit only" plan, the better it will be, if that is indeed what comes to pass.

17 comments:

  1. To me abandoning the other plans in favor of an exit plan is a good strategy. We do not want/need unity for unity's sake. https://reformedtruths.com/2019/01/31/unity-for-the-sake-of-unity/

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  2. Where is the end game? What is enough? Who decides? When have we "evolved enough?" What is next...(that is troubling)? Being strong in your faith and beliefs doesn't always make you the popular kid on the playground. Did Wesley intend Methodism to be "one-size fits all."

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    1. The Progressive Movement in the US since the late 19th Century declares the game ended when it prevails. Until then, there is no "end game." Consult a recent UMC poll of member beliefs and note that 20% polled self-identify as "Progressives." They aim toward a minority take-over of the denomination pertaining to "human sexuality" issues. If they lose in 2019, they'll be back again in 2020, then 2024...etc. It's how they roll.

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  3. Being strong in your faith and beliefs doesn't always make you the popular kid on the playground. Wow what a statement! I am strong in my faith and I was raised on the words of the Bible and I run my life by those words. You can't tell me that God was in favor of man and man and woman and woman sexual relationships, because the bible says that He was. I believe that you may recall that He destroyed two cities and everyone in them for doing just that. Don't come up to me and say that it's a different world now than it was back then and the words of the bible mean a different meaning these days, because to me, they mean the same as it written long ago. We've changed and we continue to go down and down. I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as my Savior and keeper and I will serve Him when all others do not. No, I'm not the popular kid on the block, but I like it that way.

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    1. As I admire and commend your faithfulness to our loving Lord Jesus, I also wonder if you have prayerfully thought about your “popular kid on the block” theology. The children of God who have been born with the propensity to love members of the same sex have never been the “popular kids” in the pews of the church... ever. Can we truly believe that we can just rehabilitate all the members of the LGBTQ community to allow them all the love and grace in our churches? Yes... we always love our neighbors as God has commanded, but why does that love stop at the pulpit? My daughter’s struggles through her young life, trying to resist her nature of homosexuality, was a terrible! She was baptized, raised and confirmed into the UMC. She loves Jesus and God. She tried so hard to deny herself to be, as she said, loved by God. I can’t believe that our loving Lord would make such an amazing, beautiful, smart, loving girl only to seem her an eternal sinner.

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  4. As a supporter of the Traditional/Modified Traditional Plan, I believe you've raised some important concerns - and I believe most UM's who support the T/MT Plan would agree with you, since I suspect a large majority of us don't want to leave important mission work and our overseas ministries without funding.

    Hopefully the issues you've raised will be prayerfully discussed and explored by the GC19 delegates as they vote on the various plans and make any decisions about exit clauses. Although I am in favor of voting on an exit clause before voting on any plan, I have wondered about the "payout" part of these clauses. It would seem that guaranteeing a year or two of mission funding by exiting congregations would be a wise move for the sake of those overseas missions. However, I would also want guarantees that the apportionment money would go to those particular ministries, and not to something "new" that had no connection to previous years' ministries. That kind of "bait and switch" would be dishonest and would only promote more distrust in denominational leadership - and we have enough of that already.

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  5. Super, the EXIT PLAN.... just what UMC needs. A bigoted Congregation taking over Church Property. So you will have bigoted UMCs squatting on what was once Church Property. And Non-Bigoted UMCs that will get lumped in with the Bigoted UMCs... what a disaster. You need to vote on only two plans. Are we gonna be bigoted or are we not? The Plethora of plans is just a way to make things worse, which they most certainly will.

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    1. Are you to decide what is bigoted thought, and what is not?

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    2. What and to whom do you refer to when you use the words "bigot" and "bigoted"?

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    3. One can be right in doctrine and hateful in attitude and vice versa. Bitterness betrays the transforming love of Jesus Christ no matter what one's theology. Using terms such as "bigoted", homophobic" or other terms from left or right destroy any remaining good-will, trust. and respect.

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  6. The delegates of General Conference 2019 should be focused on these four: the Connectional Conference Plan, the One Church Plan, the Simple Plan, and the (Modified) Traditional Plan. Exit option should be considered only after the main vote. Is this Conference about finding a way forward for our Denomination?... or finding a way to break it apart?

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    1. It's about how to execute a cordial and fair split.

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  7. I agree with the comment by "Unknown" we cant straddle the fence. we can and do welcome ALL into the church, but as far as having any and all in leadership is not wise. if the gay person has repented, has had a conversion like the Apostle Paul, then by all means(with proof and a witness) they should be able to lead. we are not to forsake any who have come to and see the light of the Lord.

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  8. In my opinion, it is the Council of Bishops that have caused this crisis to get to this point. If the Council had taken action and enforced the Book of Discipline when this controversy first occurred, we would not be discussing what to do now. Some timee in the past, the Council of Bishops (not the current Council) failed in carrying out their responsibilities. I would hate to see the United Methodist Church split, but I fear it is about to happen. We are at this time the Dis-United Methodist Church. While I welcome all members of the LGBTQ community to worship in all UMCs. I am, however opposed to practicing and or self-identifying members of the LGBTQ community in leadership and especially Clergy or teaching positions.

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  9. So long as certain groups continue to believe that the Holy Spirit endorses the plans they support and that compromise will not be led by the Spirit, our denomination is doomed.

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