Toward Mutual Care, Pt. 1

By Chuck Griffin
Chair, Holston WCA

First of Three Parts.

A split in our denomination is a near certainty. I know, I know, it’s hard to get our heads around this idea—so many have so much invested in the existence of the United Methodist Church.

But until all in the Holston Conference accept where we are likely headed, we are stuck in a painful place. When I say “all,” I mean all the types of disunited Methodists in our conference—progressive, centrist, traditional, or whatever other types there might be. 

The crux of our denomination’s argument is how to understand God’s will via Scripture, and this disagreement is the typical dividing line between denominations. In the grand history of the universal church, the United Methodist Church’s half-century experiment in theological pluralism has been a strange one, and it has failed. If you disagree with me, please, try to imagine for a few minutes where the middle ground lies.

Once we accept the likely truth of the coming split in the UMC, we can move beyond the painful place toward something new. Paul needs to go one way, Barnabas needs to go another, and in time we’ll see whose work is effective for the kingdom. 

If you haven’t read Dr. Spencer Johnson’s “Who Moved My Cheese,” go find a copy now. Change happens, and it is wise to adapt. Change is like a large wave coming at you while you stand waist-deep in the surf. You can ride the wave, you can dive into the wave, or you can turn your back on the wave and let it smack you in the head. Please, let’s not allow the wave to smack us in our heads.

I’m going to offer a new concept to guide us. Leading up to General Conference 2019, we heard a lot about “unity.” This vaporous talking point begged the question, “Unity around what?” And of course, unity dissipated rapidly once General Conference 2019 began.

A better concept is “mutual care,” which is much easier to understand and live out in our present circumstances. This is the kind of care loving people show one another when they realize with great sadness they can no longer be together. Divorce is never a good thing, but we’ve all seen how some divorces go better than others.

  • Where there is mutual care, the separating parties figure out how to divide what they have shared equitably, so each has a fair chance at a new start.
  • Where there is mutual care, the parties try to avoid provoking each other during the difficult time of separation.
  • Where there is mutual care, the people with power show special concern for the powerless, the ones who may be most seriously impacted by the divide.

The concept of mutual care should guide us as we take practical action within our conference. If we adjust our way of thinking now, we will be much better prepared for what is to come, be it a well-negotiated separation at General Conference 2020 or a walkout by one group or another.

Next: Using Mutual Care to Prepare

Holston WCA Meeting Set

The Holston WCA will hold its annual gathering Saturday, Sept. 21, with registration beginning at 9 a.m.—mark your calendars!

The worship and annual meeting will be held at First Broad Street United Methodist Church in Kingsport, Tenn., located at 100 East Church Circle.  All are welcome to join us for worship. Members in good standing with the Wesleyan Covenant Association will, among other actions, elect three clergy delegates and three lay delegates to the WCA’s 2019 Global Legislative Assembly, to be held Nov. 8 at Asbury UMC in Tulsa, Okla.

Registration information and a complete schedule will be provided soon. Be sure you have registered your e-mail at the bottom of any Holston WCA web page for updates.

The Church Is of God: A Glimpse of Hope in a Time of Struggle

From Holston WCA Board Member Brad Scott, via his “Encouraging Word” blog: “The Church Is of God: A Glimpse of Hope in a Time of Struggle”

Post AC Planning

Chuck Griffin
Holston WCA Chair

I can tell from social media there is a lot of “what’s next” talk among Traditionalists in the Holston Conference following our annual conference.

There is something we need to be doing now and continually—pray. In particular, we need to pray in ways that keep our hearts aligned with God and open to communication with progressives in the conference. Wherever we are headed, we will need to be able to talk.

On Sunday at annual conference, the Rev. Kim Goddard, the first clergy person elected to our General Conference 2020 delegation, offered the gathered body a covenant to consider. I liked it, and I intend to treat it as a prayer, lifting it daily and allowing it to shape my other prayers until General Conference 2020 arrives. Here it is:

I covenant to pattern my belief and practice by the life and teaching of Jesus, revealed in Holy Scripture, and seasoned by tradition, reason and experience.

I covenant to focus on the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

I covenant to pray for clear direction for the United Methodist Church, the Holston Conference, for my district and local church, and for myself. I pray for courage to follow the direction I believe God is leading.

I covenant to see every person as beloved by God and created in God’s Image.

I covenant to treat all with respect by assuming the best in others, speaking the truth with love, and avoiding divisive and hurtful speech or actions.

I covenant to work for a fair and just resolution giving every Holston United Methodist a church free of divisive fights and acts that harm our church and our witness.

I hope some of you will join me in this endeavor. Blessings on all of you.

Update on the Future of Methodism

A little over three weeks ago, the Rev. Keith Boyette, president of the Wesleyan Covenant Association, held a conference call for leaders of WCA regional chapters. On that call, he shared with us some details of ongoing negotiations among leaders from the traditional and progressive sides of the church, and he also asked the regional WCA leaders to take a survey to help shape those negotiations. This morning, he sent an e-mail providing an update that can be shared publicly.

Here is what the Rev. Boyette says in his e-mail:

Thank you to each of you who participated in the recent survey concerning potential paths forward in resolving the irreconcilable conflict in The United Methodist Church. I want to provide you with an update on the dialogue in which I am participating and comment on a recent article you may have seen.

As I shared with you in our last set of conference calls, a dialogue is underway involving recognized leaders associated with the One Church Plan (OCP) and the Traditional Plan (TP). Ten persons have been involved in the dialogue – five from each group.  The group has agreed that the specific identity of its participants is to be confidential at this time. I am obviously one of the participants and I have chosen to disclose my participation. The group has further agreed not to attribute statements made to specific individuals.

Participants in the dialogue have agreed there is a desire to avoid repeating the experience of St. Louis in Minneapolis, but what this means is unclear.

Both camps are preparing for another confrontation in Minneapolis, focusing on the election of delegates for GC 2020 and the preparation of legislation to implement their positions. TP proponents are focused on adopting those portions of the TP that were either not enacted at GC 2019 or which were declared unconstitutional. OCP proponents are focused on enacting some version of the OCP or perhaps even enacting the Simple Plan.

Thus far, both groups are trying to ascertain each other’s plans and what are their non-negotiables. Both groups acknowledged some form of separation (or multiplication of Methodist expressions) might be needed to resolve the conflict. Both groups have made efforts to discern how much separation their constituencies would regard as necessary, and where any amount of ongoing connection would be possible.

The TP group relied upon surveys conducted by the WCA and Good News. In terms of preference, those surveys revealed our constituency favors a complete separation creating two or three successor denominations to the UM Church. Some or all of the existing UM boards and agencies would be spun off as independent 501(c)(3) entities. Successor denominations would have the option of contracting with those entities for services, but would not be required to do so. There was less support for grouping the existing UM boards and agencies in something like an UM association, preserving the UM name, and permitting the successor denominations to contract for such services as they desired from the UM association. And a distant third option was to push forward for the TP’s full adoption and implementation. It calls for supporters of the full inclusion agenda to voluntarily exit the UM Church, or face disciplinary actions and trials that could result in their forced removal if they remain and violate the Discipline.

The OCP group primarily relied upon two meetings (held in Dallas and Atlanta) to take the pulse of its constituency. A recent article by Adam Hamilton essentially summarizes where the OCP group understands its constituency to be. The OCP constituency has moved a considerable distance since GC 2019. Prior to GC 2019, they were almost universally opposed to providing a gracious exit for any churches and to any division of the UM Church. Now they report about 50 percent of their constituency favors a strategy of “stay, resist and work to provide WCA congregations with a gracious exit,” and 50 percent favors the adoption of legislation to multiply Methodist expressions into two or three new denominations.

The deadline for submitting legislation for GC 2020 is September 12.

Here are the options that could be considered by the TP Group:

  1. Enact the rest of the TP and encourage pastors, churches, annual conferences and bishops who cannot commit to abide by the Discipline to graciously exit the UM Church. Implementation of this strategy will ensure that St. Louis will be repeated in Minneapolis, and likewise will prolong the conflict in the Church for some time if successful as the TP is implemented likely involving resistance and obstruction by those who disagree with the TP. Our survey showed that pursuing this strategy was the last of the strategies in terms of preference although absent a mutual agreement, it is the most likely strategy to be pursued as we approach GC 2020.
  2. Work with OCP proponents to enact a gracious exit provision and encourage those who cannot abide by the Discipline to exit the UM Church.
  3. Work with OCP proponents to enact a gracious exit provision and have WCA/TP pastors and churches exit the UM Church and launch a new Methodist expression/denomination.
  4. Work with OCP proponents to enact legislation to multiply Methodist expressions out of the UM Church (which would cease to exist) thus creating two or three new denominations.

Based on Adam Hamilton’s article referenced above, here are the options being considered by the OCP group:

  1. Stay in the UM Church, resist the TP, and give TP proponents a gracious exit in the hope they will leave.
  2. Leave the UM Church to start a new denomination.

Adam Hamilton’s article states that OCP leaders who gathered in Dallas and Atlanta were equally divided between these two options. Those who favored the OCP plan to have a meeting at Church of the Resurrection from May 20-22 during which they will have further conversation about these options.

Hopefully this gives you context to interpret Adam Hamilton’s article and to see how what he is sharing in the article fits into the dialogue between TP leaders and OCP leaders. Further dialogue between TP proponents and OCP proponents is planned.