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.
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