Two initiatives by United Methodists in the central conferences to influence the proceedings of General Conference 2020 have recently been announced.
First, two presentations by Rev. Lloyd T. Nyarota on behalf of a new lobbying group, the Forum of Concerned Central Conferences United Methodists, were recently published on United Methodist Insight. This group includes an unnamed list of United Methodists from central conferences across Africa, in the Philippines, and in northern Europe. About half of the members live abroad, either in the United States or Canada. The group has been formed to advocate in advance of General Conference 2020.
The two presentations - one to the central conference bishops and one in the Philippines - lay out the group's basic premises: the proposals heading to GC2020 were written without substantial central conference input; it is time for United Methodists in the central conferences to lead; United Methodists in the central conferences want unity; and the Philippines Plan is the best way to achieve that desired unity.
Two observations are worth making about these presentations: 1. In much of what they are saying, this group is intentionally echoing and affirming the statements by the African and Filipino bishops; thus, these ideas have some currency beyond just this group. 2. Their support of the Philippines plan indicates that while US United Methodists have mainly been focused on the four US-drafted plans, the Philippines plan deserves to be considered as a fifth option, as there are people advocating for it. Indeed, as this blog has previously argued, Filipinos may play a unique role in resolving the current conflict in the church, making their plan and their concerns around unity worthy of study.
Second, a group of leaders from the central conferences has released a "Christmas Covenant" calling for continued unity in the denomination. (See also the associated UMNS story.) The covenant draws on theological principles of all as children of God, ubuntu, and bayanihan. That two of these three principles are drawn from cultures outside of the US is itself significant. Using these principles, the covenant opposed the separation of the church and division of its assets; supports the formation of a US regional conference; and supports legislative equality across regions of the church. Thus, the main goal of the Covenant - continued unity with greater regional autonomy - is similar to the goals laid out in Rev. Nyarota's presentations.
The signers of the Christmas Covenant include General Conference delegates and reserve delegates, district superintendents, seminary leaders, and other leaders from across the central conferences. While the signers of the Christmas Covenant include more people than those mentioned by Rev. Nyarota in his presentation, it is the same group behind both, according to Rev. Hilde Marie Movafagh, a group member and Covenant signer.
General Conference 2019 changed how many think about the church and motivated many to be more proactive in shaping the future of the denomination. US United Methodists would do well to recognize that United Methodists from the central conferences are among those so motivated.
Correction: An earlier version of this article indicated that the Forum of Concerned Central Conferences United Methodists was an overlapping but separate group from the signers of the Christmas Covenant. Thanks to Rev. Hilde Marie Movafagh for setting the record straight.