What does the Protocol mean for DPUMC?

UPDATE: UMCNews has added this chart that outlines the major plans coming to General Conference and links to primary sources.

You may have seen the UMC denomination in the headlines over the weekend. A plan called The Protocol for Reconciliation and Grace through Separation was released Friday and captured the attention of many people both inside and outside the UMC. Since then I have and several questions and conversations about what this will mean for Deer Park UMC.

The shortest answer is, it means nothing until General Conference meets in May. The UMC has been having a long conversation about polity and human sexuality. That conversation has been particularly intense over the last 18 months. At a Special Session of the General Conference in February 2019 the denomination adopted part of what was called the Traditionalist Plan. It maintained prohibitions on performing same-sex weddings and ordinations, and restructured the process for dealing with complaints and punishments for violation of those prohibitions. That legislation went into effect on January 1, 2020.

Caucus groups across the denomination met over the year and several have submitted plans or legislation for General Conference 2020. Notable among them are The Bard-Jones Plan, The UMC-Forward Plan, The UMNext Plan, and the Indianapolis Plan. All provide for some form of separation from the UMC denomination or breaking the UMC into multiple denominations. The Protocol is like these in that responds to GC2019 and proposes a path forward via multiple expressions of Methodism; all will require debate and adoption by GC2020 to become a reality.

What is different?

  • The Protocol was worked out by leaders from a wide spectrum of caucus groups with the help of a professional mediator and is being supported by 8 Bishops.
  • The Protocol does not yet have legislation for its implementation. When that legislation is ready, it will need to come to the GC2020 either through a Special Session of an Annual Conference (our AC is Texas Annual Conference) or by permission of the General Conference organizing committee because the deadline for legislation is long passed.
  • The signers of the Protocol have expressed a desire for the plan’s legislation to come to the floor for debate and vote as a whole (inseparable) package. The Indianapolis plan also has an inseparability provision, and the validity of that has been challenged.
  • The way the Protocol was crafted and released gained far more media attention than any similar legislation.

UMNews has done an excellent job of summarizing the specific provision of the Protocol and had provided an extensive FAQ.

The Protocol is ultimately one plan among many coming to GC2020. I will not speculate here on its likelihood of adoption and we will not have a firm answer on this plan or any other until May. It is worth noting that the Protocol, like several other plans provides for votes by Annual Conferences and/or local churches. Our bishop, Bishop Jones, has already announced that all actions stemming from GC2020 will be taken up at a Special Session of the Annual Conference in August. This is because our normal session occurs only 9 days after the close of GC2020, and that is not enough time for meaningful conversation or considered decisions.

The leadership of DPUMC was already considering when to hold information sessions and town-halls ahead of GC2020. Those will likely be scheduled in the March-April time frame. While possibilities and contingencies will be discussed all year, no decisions can be finalized or actions taken until we know what the General Conference does in May and the Annual Conference does in August.

In the meantime, I ask you to do 3 things:

  • Be in prayer for our church, our leadership, our denomination and its world wide leadership.
  • Check any information you see in or on a major media outlet. The UMC is a large denomination, movements are going to make headlines from time to time, but they often fail to do the background research necessary to understand our polity or the wider implications of a single action. umnews.org is a great source for accurate information.
  • Be in conversation with one another. In times of anxiety or conflict it can be tempting to seek peace through silence. We have reached a point where that is not viable. We need to listen to each other, seek to understand each other, and hold each other accountable for understanding the options on the table.

For my less nerdy (but no less Methodist friends): HEY THIS IS IMPORTANT

Below is the text of an ammendment that passed by consent (wasn’t debated) at General Conference this morning.  Effectively it deeply changes how we treat our ordained clergy (elders).  The argument was, while they had a process for removing ineffective pastors, most conferences were loath to use it or could not use it well.  This (techenically these) ammendments take that process from being a punative, to being standard.

Great efforts have been made across studies, sub-committees, and legislative committees to ensure that removal cannot be arbitrary, that effectiveness is a clearly defined measure, and that clergy who are not appointed have recourse.  There are still many concerns about the impact this will have on women and minorities, as well as on clergy’s ability to speak profetically.  Whether the church will be better or worse for this we may not know for some time, but it will be different.

It will require us to practice the belief we profess, to really and truely hold one another in care, to constantly check that our measures are God’s measures (rather than capitolisms) and to actively and continually discern beyond what we want to where God is leading us and our leaders.  It will mean we as lay people MUST embrace that we are all in ministry, not just our church staff’s.  We can no longer afford to be bystanders in our polity, or to place our own whims above what is best for the church.  We may even be called to defend our clergy brothers and sisters when their righteous callings interfer with someone else’s agenda.

We, along with the bishops, have been given an enormous trust today.  As people of God, we must rise to fulfill it. We must also hold our clergy in care these next few days.  Some of them will celebrate, but some will also grieve this change.  Their world was dramatically altered with little more than a whisper from the General Conference.  Please pray for them.  Please encourage them.  And always remind them of the gifts and graces you see in them.

Our covenant is fundementally differant now. It will require more love, more trust, and more understanding.  But things things have always been required of us.  May this, and everything else General Conference discerns, be to God’s glory.

Addistions to Book of Discipline paragraph 337

337.4a: “Each annual conference shall quadrennially name a task force consisting of: four members named by the Conference Lay Leader; at least two clergy members from the Board of Ordained Ministry nominated by the Chair of the Board of Ordained Ministry and elected by the clergy session; a superintendent named by the Bishop; and the Bishop.  The task force shall meet annually to develop a list of criteria to guide the Cabinet and Bishop as they make missional appointments.

337.4b: “The Cabinet shall report the following information annually to the Board of Ordained Ministry Executive Committee: 1) those elders, provisional elders and associate members who have not received a full-time missional appointment and the rationale; 2) those elders, provisional elders and associate members who have not received an appointment for reasons of ineffectiveness and the steps which have been taken in the complaint process; 3) statistics by age, ethnicity and gender of elders who have not received a full-time missional appointment; and 4) learnings that have been gleaned as appointment-making is carried out in a new way.  This data will also become a part of the agenda of the Committee on the Episcopacy at the conference and jurisdictional levels. This data will also become part of the evaluation of bishops by the Committee on the Episcopacy at the conference and jurisdictional levels.”