Legislation released for the 2020 GC
Recently the legislation for the Protocol for Reconciliation and Grace (AKA “The Protocol”), as written by the Mediation team and by outside polity writers, was released. You can see the website here, the legislation here, and previous coverage of this Protocol on HackingChristianity here and here.
The summary FAQ on the website covers the specifics pretty well, so this article won’t be recreating their points. What I will do is answer the questions of what happens to specific entities or groups, and then close with the curiosities.
There’s lots of concerns and scenarios to map out in the future, this is simply a post for clarity. I read 64 pages of legislation so you don’t have to (but you should)! 🙂
Acronyms to know:
- PSMC = Post Separation Methodist Church, which is the legal continuation of the United Methodist Church, but because the Church will be very different, the Protocol calls it this term.
- WCA = Wesleyan Covenant Association, the caucus group responsible for breaking the UMC brand and connection since its founding in 2016. Read posts on them here.
- NMDs = New Methodist Denominations, which could be the WCA, another Traditionalist denomination, Liberationist, Western Jurisdiction, a whole annual conference, who knows who might create a new Methodist expression as a result of this mess.
Clarity: What about the…?
If the Protocol passes and is upheld as-written, here’s part of what it entails in its vision for the future of Methodism.
In a nutshell:
- Starting on May 15, 2020, central conferences, annual conferences, local churches, bishops, clergy, candidates, and campus ministries will all be able to choose to vote to Remain in the Post Separation Methodist Church (the UMC after this Protocol) or Exit for a New Methodist Denomination (of which there will be several). Assets and liabilities follow the entity wherever they end up.
Connections: what happens with the general agencies?
- No structural changes proposed for General Agencies and Commissions. New Methodist Denominations can contract for services with the GAs. Post-separation, the only agency that all NMDs and the PSMC will be legally required to be connected through is Wespath retirement and health benefits.
Conferences: what happens with groups of churches?
- Central Conferences (which are groups of annual conferences outside of the USA, sorta like Jurisdictions but with more powers) can leave and take their annual conferences with them by a two-thirds vote. Central Conferences may vote in this way until the end of 2021, at which point “no vote taken” is a vote to stay in the PSMC.
- Retired Central Conference clergy in both PSMC and NMDs will continue to participate in the Central Conference pension fund, although the Protocol does not require a NMD (New Methodist Denomination) located in the Central Conference to support it financially. Curious.
- American Jurisdictions are unchanged and may not hold votes in the same manner as central conferences.
- Annual conferences in the USA (or those outside of the USA which disagree with their Central Conference’s decision to Remain or Exit) may vote to leave the UMC by a 57% vote. ACs in the USA have until July 1 2021, and ACs outside of the USA have until July 1 2022 to hold these votes.
Churches: What happens to Local Churches?
- Local Churches that agree with their Annual Conference decision won’t have to vote or do anything: they either remain part of the PSMC or whatever NMD their annual conference chose to become a part of.
- Local churches that disagree with their AC’s decision (to Remain or Exit) may vote to go another way. The threshold of 50%+1 or two-thirds is made by church council or equivalent. Local churches not taking a vote by December 31, 2024, shall by default remain in the denomination of their annual conference. These votes can begin immediately following the adjournment of the 2020 General Conference–yes, even before an Annual Conference has voted!
- Legalese: Churches will have to pay direct billed items and apportionments until their separation date. There will be conference-specific plans of separation to ensure the legal entity (the annual conference) does the work of the separation with the exiting local church. Churches do not become independently held properties, but transfer their properties to ownership of the new Methodist denomination. Local churches will have to pay their liability payments (insurance, etc) until the separation date, and will have to pay off or transfer any debt owed to the Annual Conference or district. The local church shall not have a claim to or be entitled to a share of any assets of its annual conference.
- Additionally, if a local church wants to leave and not affiliate with a NMD, then the usual Book of Discipline exit procedures apply, including paying pension liability, etc.
- Finally, Wesley Foundations or other worshipping communities that are not chartered as local churches shall be considered as local churches, so their Boards or governing leaderships would vote whether to Remain or Exit.
People: What happens with Clergy? Bishops? Candidates for ministry?
- Clergy: If a clergyperson wishes to transfer their membership from the PSMC to a NMD, they only have to notify their bishop and the leadership of the NMD they are affiliating with. Clergy in the USA have until July 1, 2021, and outside the USA they have until July 1, 2022.
- Bishops who wish to transfer their membership from the PSMC to a NMD must notify the PSMC Council of Bishops and the NMD leadership. However, if the NMD doesn’t have bishops, they may not retain the same service level as in the PSMC.
- Candidates for ministry in the ministry process are recommended to be grandfathered into the same point in both the PSMC and in any NMD that they transfer to. This is a recommendation, not a requirement, because the GC would have no authority to enforce it in any NMD.
- Laity who affiliate with an NMD will have to immediately resign any general church Director or delegate positions…unless they are on WesPath.
Money: What about the Pension?
- Folks, we have SO MANY questions about the pension section that I’ll have to dedicate a whole new post to it in the future. I’ll be reaching out to Wespath to get more information to ensure accurate reporting. Stay tuned.
Curiosities & Changes
There’s numerous little things that are interesting to note for polity nerds. Since I am a polity nerd, here it goes.
Minimum number of churches
for a New Methodist Denomination
It looks like the Protocol borrowed from the Indianapolis Plan by proposing a minimum number of churches to create a New Methodist Denomination (NMD).
The New Methodist Denomination must have a minimum of 100 United Methodist local churches, regardless of jurisdiction or geography, inside or outside the United States, that have voted under this paragraph to change their connectional relationship with The United Methodist Church to form or join together with others to form a New Methodist Denomination.
That’s double the number from the Indianapolis Plan, which allowed for groups of 50 to create a new expression. This looks like not only an attempt to force NMD creators to get a critical mass of churches, but also to keep megachurches from just creating their own denomination solo. It may also be a barrier to pureblood denominations (groups of churches that only want “particular kinds” of progressives or traditionalists) to get up to the minimum 100 number.
Rigging the Votes to
Benefit Traditionalist Laity
The Traditionalists are obsessed with “who gets to vote.” Much like Republicans keeping people from voting, in both the Indianapolis Plan and the Protocol, we see their intent is to circumvent local processes that often nominate individuals to bring diversity, especially empowering women, persons of color, youth and young adults. By keeping nominated diversity out of the room, the easier it will be for the laity to be older and whiter (thus statistically more conservative).
All lay equalizing members shall be elected, as required by ¶ 32. The formula used by the annual conference in the election of lay equalizing members shall be made public prior to the annual conference session at which the decision regarding alignment is made.
Districts often bring youth and young adults as a group to encourage participation. So this process would require that they are elected, although the details of how they are elected are left to the Annual Conference. Given that lay delegates and clergy delegates are supposed to be equal (even absent clergy are counted, so lay delegates will always outnumber the clergy), look for tomfoolery regarding snap elections at Annual Conferences to bring in more conservative voters and reach that magic 57% to leave. Remember leaders: “Methodist Nice” only benefits the insistent.
Freeing the Money Clears out
the Donor restrictions?
I might be overreaching in this analysis, but the following seems to indicate that any restrictions or donor directions on monies held by an annual conference, central conference, or local church exiting to a NMD are lifted as a result of the exit. Quote:
Restricted Assets—No unit that remains affiliated with, nor any person purporting to represent the interests of The United Methodist Church or its Controlled Entities or Affiliated Institutions, is authorized to contest any decision or claim by the separating annual or central conference to any assets on the grounds that the conference’s title or interest in the assets is subject to a restriction that requires the assets to be used for a particular purpose.
Similar language exists for local churches. That seems really questionable: money designated to youth ministry could be then re-designated by the new NMD to anything they want. Let me know in the comments if this is a misinterpretation.
$25 million is not just
for the WCA to control
Originally, it was reported that the $25 million would be distributed to the WCA, and then the WCA would redistribute it to any other Traditionalist NMDs created in this time of separation. However, the actual language paints a different story. Quote:
If there is more than one Traditionalist Methodist Denomination, the General Council on Finance and Administration will determine the allocations to be paid to such Traditionalist Methodist Denominations in the proportion of their reported professing membership as of September 30th of each calendar year submitted to General Council on Finance Administration bears to the total professing membership of all Traditionalist New Methodist Denominations addressed in ¶ 2556
Fascinating. So if there are two Traditionalist denominations that are created (which is likely, given how much the WCA discipline eviscerates the episcopacy and itineracy, there’s bound to be non-Baptist traditionalists that are unhappy), and one has 10% higher worship attendance than the other, then they would get 10% more of the funds each year until the money runs out. Tying money to attendance or membership, as we know, is a recipe for deceptive practices, so look out WCA 🙂
Interestingly, that is not the case for the $2 million set aside for non-Traditionalist NMDs. In those cases, the NMDs themselves will figure out how to distribute the money. Much more mutual!
$39 million is for anyone in the UMC,
but only local churches in the WCA
Regarding the $39 million for ethnic church support, even if there are WCA national plans to focus on ethnic churches, they are not eligible to participate. The language reads that when it comes to NMDs, only local churches can apply for the funds. Quote:
Local churches that align with New Methodist Denominations under ¶ 2556 shall have the option to participate in programs and grants that serve their respective ethnic groups if they otherwise meet the requirements for such participation.
This betrays that the WCA doesn’t see any top-down support of ethnic churches as a priority or interest, in contrast to the National Plans by The United Methodist Church. I guess we know how ethnic churches will be treated in a WCA denomination…
We will take a look in a future post as to the missing elements: what is their strategy for regionalization and for removing the antigay language, both of which were part of the mediated agreement? Strategy and Legislation are different things, so we’ll have to see what that looks like.
What else did you see in the legislation that turned your head or that you have questions about? Take a look at their FAQ too.
Thanks for reading, commenting, and sharing on social media.
I think the strategic regionalization and language removal (abeyance becomes mandatory in this legislation) are step two. This is the “starter” legislation. Also, both those issues are already in other legislation and could be approved at this GC.
I’ll have to look back at the language in the proposal, but the FAQs do note that unhitching designated funds from “United Methodist” is not a guarantee (and may be a legal battle) when NMDs are taking all their assets and liabilities with them, so I don’t think they intended designated funds to get used for whatever in a NMD…again, I’ll have to look back at that!
I’m not sure what bone you’re trying to pick or hair you’re trying to split in complaining about equalizing member elections. There’s nothing new here. Para. 32 has always required that they be elected per Annual Conference rubric:
“If the lay membership should number less than the clergy
members of the annual conference, the annual conference shall, by
its own formula, provide for the election of additional lay members
to equalize lay and clergy membership of the annual conference.”
Jeremy never lets facts get in the way of a good conspiracy theory.
Even before this was posted, I have had concerns over equalization members. At least in my conference there is not a lot of clarity of who, when, and how equalization members are elected or chosen. This is a sneaky way for people to gain votes to tip the scales. These are not insignificant numbers. I wonder if other Annual Conferences have the same lack of clarity in the procedures and policies. Also if this passes and an AC does not have clarity in their selection process this could invalidate that vote. Unlike Jeremy, I think this helps negate the “tomfoolery” around equalization members.
Correct on the legalese. But you seem to be unaware that annual conferences reduce the number of equalization members elected by nominating youth and young adult delegates from their districts. This petition would remove their nominations or at least have them be up for a challenge and vote. That’s problematic but useful to know as Traditionalists go all out to get to the magic 57%.
Jeremy, all of that should be laid out in an AC’s policies and procedures anyway. It should say that equalization members should include x number of youth and young adults. No voting member should be decided upon without some kind of nominating/election procedure. I don’t like things that lack clarity or transparency, it creates the possibility for abuse.
Re: Restricted Assets – I think the idea is that if you donated funds for “The United Methodist Church Mission Program”, then those funds could still be held within the church or AC when it flips.
The language is much to vague though. It should still be “required to be applied towards a parallel program or use”, or be forfeit to the surviving UMC.
If I donated 3 mil towards UMC Program to Feed the Poor, and the WCA used those funds to build a new church, that wouldn’t sit well.
I’m curious what is going to happen to UM Agencies, boards, and commissions, such as GBHEM and UMM. Will these agencies essentially dissolve. I’m sure hoping Church and Society dissolves, they have been nothing but a source of division for our church.
Daniel, organizations like GBHEM, C&S, and UMM will remain with the PSUMC. They will not automatically dissolve, though I imagine they will restructure.
Agreed. Funding and support will impact them, but not likely for the 2021-2024 quad.
***DISCLAIMER: I’m not a lawyer and this answers wades into waters far deeper than I probably should.***
Regarding your question on Restricted Assets: As I read it, this prevents entities still affiliated with the PSMC from suing NMD-related entities for assets upon the basis of donor intent or other restrictions. It does NOT, however, prevent a donor or their family from suing an NMD or related entity for violating the original intent for the donation.
So, if my Great Aunt Edna dies and designated $40k from her will for the Snake’s Navel UMC youth program, the conference can’t sue to take that money arguing it was intended to stay in the UMC. However, I, as a relative and heir, can sue if they decided to use the money to pave the parking lot since that’s clearly not what it was intended for. The same would hold true for scholarships, or other giving with donor restrictions.
I don’t read anything here that would give NMD entities the ability to simply ignore donor intent, nor would that be legal in most (if not all) states. It does, however, give assurance to NMDs that they won’t have to fear their former conference suing them to seize a church-related foundation, for instance.
Helpful sir! Snake’s Navel’s youth clearly churns out the best people.
LONNIE D BROOKS
Scott, in the UMC the commitment to honor donor intent at all levels is an ecclesial commitment that I don’t believe would have legal standing in a secular court, but then I’m not a lawyer, anymore that you are. But I do know that federal law prohibits a donor from both claiming a donation as deductible for federal tax purposes AND retaining control over how the donation is used. So, I don’t think a suit would be successful if the donor claimed a deduction for the donation. You can have one or the other, but not both. And Jeremy, I agree with you about the strangeness of empowering a local church to vote on whether or not to separate from its annual conference on the basis of disagreement even before the annual conference has made a choice with which it can disagree. I think the writers didn’t think that part through very thoroughly.
Taylor W. Burton-Edwards
So– I don’t think you’ve quite represented the voting issues correctly.
NO VOTE has to happen for central conferences or annual conferences to remain in The UMC. If no vote happens, they simply remain. If no vote happens, or a vote to separate fails at the Central Conference, the AC there may still vote to separate to a NMD.
IF a vote happens to separate into a NMD at the central conference level, an annual conference within it can then hold a vote to reconnect to The UMC. Or if the annual conference votes to leave, the church can vote to stay. But if the CC votes to leave, but the AC within it votes to stay, the local church doesn’t have to vote at all to stay.
Parallels are the same for ACs in the US and LC’s. No one has to vote to stay. But if the AC votes to leave, THEN the LC can vote to stay. Or if the AC never votes (and so stays) then the AC can vote to leave.
For clergy, there are no actions needed if the AC doesn’t vote AND the local church to which the clergy is appointed doesn’t vote to leave and the clergy wants to remain UMC. BUT if either the AC or the local church votes to leave and the clergy wants to stay in The UMC, then the clergy has to notify the DS of the desire to remain in The UMC and may end up having a different appointment in a different conference.
If a vote happens to separate into a
This: “So– I don’t think you’ve quite represented the voting issues correctly.”
A pattern on this site for many years. Glad someone not affiliated with WCA or anything like it is pointing that out.
This site’s level of influence far surpasses its level of accuracy.
Hi Taylor, throughout that whole section, I use “may” language, indicating that CCs, ACs, churches, etc “may” vote. Not “Shall” or “Will” as you allege—no votes MUST happen. But now they “may” happen. Unsure how that doesn’t square with your comment above. *shrug*
Somewhat related but who decides if a church should hold a vote to stay or go? Assuming church council? What happens if church council’s use a non-vote to prevent a staying or leaving vote to even take place? (depending on how there AC vote?
LONNIE D BROOKS
The Church Council, indeed, decides whether or not there will be a vote.
Not addressed in the Protocol or subsequent discussion is the BoD’s provision that a group of at least 10% of a local church professing membership may trigger a church conference by written request to the D.S., without the pastor or church council. See Par. 248. My hope is that this could be used in cases where church leadership tries to “bury” or ignore a clear desire for a vote on this issue.
Here’s the weird part in my mind. If there is a desire to vote at the local church level, it is my understanding that when the council decides to hold a charge or church conference to take the vote they also decide on whether the vote will be a simple majority (50% + 1) or a super majority of 67%. So, if there is a strong movement within church membership to go opposite the Annual Conference’s decision and the people sitting on the council don’t agree, they can set the super majority. Or, if the council members want to vote but are not sure there is a strong movement to vote among the membership, they can call for a simple majority vote. I envision a few church fights in the near future.
The problem here is that, if the congregational vote is between 50 and 66 percent, the losing side will believe that the church council took a quiet head-count and then set the threshold to the value that would produce the result that the council wanted.
Good work here Jeremy. Thank you. Also good conversation as well. Grace needs to abound, for sure. I think good work by and large by those asked to create this.
Unstated, I think, but my read of the legislation is hyper vigilance on keeping constitutional changes off the table. I hope it works.
Do the Central Conference and Annual Conference deadline coincide? Or the Annual Conference and local congregation deadlines?
If not, what happens if, say, an Annual Conference waits until the last day and then votes to separate? Wouldn’t that deprive the local congregation from an opportunity to vote to remain?
If seems more fair to guarantee than any ancillary body will always have sufficient time to hold an informed vote to go against its parent body.
Thanks for this. I’m in a church whose leadership has asked for a “process of discernment” in advance of the GC, but as of yet hasn’t really stated what is to be discerned. Surely not because they don’t know. As an insider outsider (teach in a UM seminary, but just another member of the congregation) what I see happening at a congregational level is a hot mess. Like a lot of congregations in Texas we’re mostly conservative but also quite divided over the LGBTQ issue. We’re comfortable with UM ecclesial structures but have strong congregationalist tendencies. And as is often the case we’re both multiple generations of Methodist and UMC (I predate the latter myself) but with lots of post denominational young people. The protocol simply formalizes what might well be the case in any case: some congregations, maybe a lot, will be pulled so hard from both sides that they will be pulled apart.
This comment may not be in line with the prevailing sentiment on this blog, but in the interest of a diversity of viewpoints I feel like I should share it with you:
I just don’t understand why the majority vote of the previous General Conference cannot simply be respected. And if there is to be a schism, it baffles me that the party dissenting from the Traditional Plan would be designated the “PSMC.” Surely the correct course of action is to implement the Traditional Plan as agreed last year and provide gracious dismissal for clergy and laity who might wish to transfer to a denomination more in line with their values (hopefully not creating a new one; there I really fail to see the point because those opposed to the Traditional Plan could simply affiliate with ELCA, which has a virtually identical polity and different values). In other words, if a schism is to be allowed, as opposed to a sort of Episcopalian-crackdown-on-traditionalists in reverse, the legacy of the UMC, the direct continuity of the Methodist Episcopal Church and the Evangelical United Brethren, and most importantly, the international portions of the church in Africa and elsewhere, who suffer in many cases appalling real persecution for being simply Christian, that group, the “PSMC”, should remain the United Methodist Church, and those who voted against the Africans and the traditional plan should be offered gracious dismissal along the lines of the PCUSA/ECO split.
As a traditional Methodist and a traditional Christian, who has watched with sorrow the breakup and deterioration of the mainline liturgical Protestant churches, it seems to me extremely unfortunate that it is always the more traditional element within the mainline denomination in the US that becomes marginalized and is forced out. This was even the case with the LCMS and the SBC, insofar as these denominations, while remaining unified, were ecumenically ostracized for either retaining or reverting to a traditional position (in the case of the LCMS, over the 1979 Lutheran Book of Worship and ordination of female clergy in the ELCA – remember, the LCMS was largely responsible for having organized the development of the new hymnal starting in the early 1960s; in the case of the SBC, for their decision that member churches in the conference should have male pastors).
The worst part of the schism, for me, is the idea of somehow cutting off the African portion of the church that our missionaries dedicated their lives to establishing, and whose members in their suffering for Christ, their economic hardships, and the endless diseases, famine, human trafficking and economic exploitation, and war which always seem to befall Africa, are the people we should, I think, be looking to for spiritual leadership.