Friday, January 24, 2020

Recommended Reading: European Bishops on the Protocol

One of the notable features of the "Protocol for Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation" is that the process was initiated by Bishop John Yambasu of Sierra Leone and included participation by United Methodists from the Philippines and Europe. One significant open question about the Protocol is how General Conference delegates from the central conferences will react to it, but leadership by central conference United Methodists in developing the Protocol likely makes the plan more acceptable to them.

In gauging the response by the central conferences to the Protocol, it is interesting to see the comments by three out of the four European bishops. Bishops Alsted, Streiff, and Rückert have each issued public statements on the Protocol. No statement by Bishop Khegay has appeared on the Eurasian UMC's website or Facebook page. Each of the three European bishops making statements is from a Western European background, but their statements are useful not only for what they say about how the Protocol is being received in Western Europe but also for what they say about responses from elsewhere in the Central Conferences.

Excerpts or translations of excerpts from each of the statements is below, along with links to the originals:

"Bishop Alsted on the Proposal to Divide the United Methodist Church" (original in Norwegian)
"The mediation team has succeeded in reaching a broad-based agreement between the large factions of the church, which provides annual conferences and local congregations around the world the opportunity in the future to carry out their ministry in their society and culture with integrity and faithfulness to the call God has given them.

"I joined this process at the urging of Bishop John Yambasu (Sierra Leone) in the summer of 2019. I wanted to give a clear perspective from the Central Conferences and from Europe in a conversation that had been dominated by the US until then, and at the same time encourage the various groups to talk together and seek common solutions. It has been an extensive and demanding work with much prayer. At times, tensions were great, and we were uncertain whether an agreement would succeed, but in the end, all parties showed a willingness to approach each other.

"It will be a grief and pain for many that the church will divide, which is also how I experience it. At the same time, it is clear that the distances between the various theological and ethical views in the church are so great that it is not possible to bridge them. A good, broad and respectful appointment before the May General Conference in Minneapolis aims to secure a peaceful and dignified treatment with a result that can help the Church continue in God's mission in the world, rather than a conflict-filled treatment with unmistakable consequences for our testimony and service.

"The necessary amendments to the church Discipline are being prepared and will be sent to the general conference via one or more extraordinary annual conferences. With that, the mediation group will entrust its work to the delegates' treatment and decision. ...

"In the Northern European and Eurasian Central Conference, as well as in the Nordic and Baltic bishops, there are divergent theological and ethical views, not least in relation to how we can be a church with people who identify themselves as LGBTQ. The decisions of the General Conference will also have a major impact on the annual conferences in the Nordic and Baltic countries, and the Central Conference as well as the Annual Conferences will face major decisions. I will do my utmost to help conferences to shape their future and to fulfill their ministry with integrity and faithfulness to the call God has given us all, to make people disciples of Jesus Christ."

"Receiving the mediation protocol with a grateful, yet grieving heart" by Bishop Patrick Streiff (original in English)
"As your Bishop, I have received the mediation protocol with a grateful, but at the same time also grieving heart. At all of the last General Conferences, we as bishops have experienced that narrow margins of vote on issues of deeply held faith convictions will only further more conflict. It will not build up the community of the church for living its mission. Therefore, I am grateful for the mediation protocol as a way out of an impasse into which General Conference has maneuvered itself. I support the mediation protocol for allowing helpful decisions at General Conference 2020. However, I do so with a grieving heart. We have to confess that we will fail to keep the unity in the bond of peace.

"The United Methodist Church in Europe is very diverse. Three of the four episcopal areas, ours included, are themselves very diverse, sometimes as a diversity between different countries and their particular legal, cultural and religious contexts, sometimes as a diversity within a country. The Eurasian area is the only one in Europe where there is no such diversity within the same episcopal area.

"In the three episcopal areas which are in themselves diverse, we as bishops have engaged in discernment processes with the leadership in our respective areas on how to remain as closely related as possible despite the deeply held diversity of faith convictions with regard to our ministry with LGBTQ persons. I continue in hope and prayer that these processes of dialogue and consensus building lead to maintaining the unity in the bond of peace despite the option of separation offered by the mediation protocol. ...

"I do not know what delegates will finally decide at General Conference 2020 and at our forthcoming central Conference in March 2021 and at Annual Conferences. I will continue the journey with the hope and prayer that we find other solutions than separation. I understand the mediation protocol also as a chance that the “Post-separation United Methodist Church” will acknowledge and put in place a world-wide connectional structure that allows for the contextuality needed for keeping the unity in the bond of peace in a region of multiple diversities like Central and Southern Europe."

"Explanations and Assessments of the Protocol for Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation" by Bishop Harald Rückert (original in German)
"Nothing has been decided yet. It is open whether the delegates to the General Conference, which will meet in May 2020, will follow this proposal. However, from my point of view, what could speak for it is the fact that it was unanimously decided between the different stakeholders. At the same time, it is the only proposal - at least as far as I know - that explicitly takes the concerns of the central conferences into account. ...

"According to the proposal, The United Methodist Church should remain a worldwide church, with different perspectives on different questions. Deleting a few passages from the existing church order makes an opening in the questions about ordination, and blessing of LGBT people is no longer prohibited and can take place where this is desired. At the same time, however, all can remain with the traditional view and practice where people are convinced of it. Nobody should be forced to do anything against their conviction. ...

"Numerous national and international press articles claim that this new conservative form of the Methodist Church is likely to be composed primarily of African and Filipino conferences. In my opinion, this will not be the case. At least, numerous African and Filipino bishops are sending a clear signal that they want to stay with the continuing United Methodist Church in order to continue to live their conservative perspective within this church without demanding it from other parts of the church. It remains to be seen whether the respective general conference delegates share this view.

"Another important element is included in the proposal of the international mediation group. It affects the structure of the continuing United Methodist Church. It is about a significant further development of the Church, in which all parts - Africa, Europe, the Philippines and the USA - are equally to be given greater freedom and greater responsibility to adapt regulations and matters to their respective context, in this way to better carry out our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. ...

"All in all, I am grateful for the proposal that was developed with the help of a mediator. For me, there is a way in which we can overcome the grueling, exhausting and constantly causing injuries of the past months (years and decades). At the same time, deep sadness and pain fill me, given that some of our conservative siblings can only see a way into the future through separation. I have to acknowledge this reality.

"As I write this explanation, the Central Round Table in Germany worked and came to a result. It fills me with astonishment and deep gratitude that, after an intense struggle, we succeeded in unanimously working out a proposal that would help us as the UMC in Germany to remain together as a church with fundamentally different convictions!" 

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