At this time four years ago, progressives and centrists were gearing up for a tough slog of a conference. What has changed?
The delay changed the calculus
The global COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on travel and public health delayed the General Conference from May 2020 in Minneapolis to April 2024 in Charlotte, North Carolina (USA). This has had a massive impact on the global gathering.
Antigay Methodists couldn’t wait that long to legislate harm against queer United Methodists. From 2021-2023, thousands of churches exited United Methodism to independence or even more antigay denominations via the disaffiliation paragraphs passed by traditionalists in 2019.
This has had a checkered impact as the exiting clergy and laity can no longer serve on General Conference delegations. Some conference delegations were barely impacted, while others had their main delegations completely wiped out, being replaced by reserves—or in some cases, new elections entirely.
The exit of antigay delegates and the advancement of progressive or centrist reserve delegates has changed the calculus. New things are possible, hesitant conversations can be held in the open, and a new day is coming for United Methodists. Read on.
2020 was mapping out life apart. 2024 is life together.
For progressives like me, leading up to the 2020 General Conference was tough. There were many conversations among progressive groups about whether to remain United Methodist if full inclusion did not pass, or how to continue to carve out safe harbors amidst an antigay denomination. There were heart-wrenching conversations about whether to split, stay, or even agree to dissolve the UMC. Progressives and centrists and conservatives alike were split and in disarray.
With the change in calculus and the self-immolation of traditionalist influence from delegations, no longer are groups talking about whether to stay or leave: that season has passed, and the people still at the table are staying. All the conversations about why to stay UMC have borne fruit, and all the shenanigans and ballot-stuffing to exit local churches will have done their worst.
Along with the general enthusiasm, education, and empowerment of United Methodism, a few polity provisions have shifted as a result of the delay.
United Methodism is a global church (we practice being global, we don’t just brand ourselves it). However, our church structure reflects our colonial past, with inequality on decision-making and accountability. Efforts to right those unjust structures are called regionalization: flattening the church hierarchy by creating and allowing all geographic regions to operate united in mission but contextual in practice.
Regionalization had been worked on by separate groups with separate proposals (such as the Christmas Covenant) for 2020, but conversations continued and a new collaborative proposal has been made for 2024. We’ll see the details soon. But more collaboration among global voices can only be a good thing! I’ll be excited to see the new collaborative proposal and join in the conversations around it.
Regardless of the support, regionalization has the highest hurdles to jump, with 2/3 of the delegates at GC2024 and a subsequent 2/3 of United Methodists aggregate across all annual conferences globally to support the constitutional amendments. Even if it passes at conference, we will not know at the end of GC2024 if it will be put into our polity given the voting by the annual conferences over the next several months. It will be a long time to wait and a lot of work, but United Methodists can do hard things for the sake of our common mission.
Revised Social Principles
The revised Social Principles were developed over several years and General Conferences, with the General Board of Church and Society holding dozens of conversations globally to craft these new principles. The proposed revised Social Principles are under consideration and haven’t changed since the 2020 proposal, but the calculus has changed.
The proposal was developed in conversation with hundreds or thousands of United Methodists who are now no longer UMC. That means they reflect the UMC as we were, not the UMC that we hope to be. I look forward to learning more about them in the coming months and what possibilities there are to make them stronger.
To be clear, I’ll vote wholeheartedly for the revised Social Principles as written. But I wish some of them were stronger and more bold than they are to reflect the stronger UMC we can be now.
Now to the unknown variable: the full inclusion of LGBTQ+ United Methodists in the life of the church, extending full membership, clergy orders, and marriage support into our polity.
This is unknown because it requires 50% + 1 of the delegates to support changing our polity. Going into the 2020 General Conference, it was clear we didn’t have that level of support to remove the antigay language from our polity. Going into the 2024 General Conference, without most of the rabidly antigay traditionalists at the table, it’s less clear whether support for removal is there or not. The traditionalist exits only affected the USA representation, which accounts for just over 50% of the delegates.
Global camaraderie, relationships, and shifting allegiances have marked the delegate conversations since 2020, and every delegate likely has a queer United Methodist they know now. Prayers for change!
Thank you, GMC blunders!
At the end of General Conference 2024, I hope that we can look back and say that 2022’s launch of the Global Methodist Church was one of the biggest strategic blunders in our ecclesial history, throwing away decades of long-term Traditionalist takeover for short-term gain.
The season of disaffiliation sucked, but it is almost behind us. Only half the disaffiliated churches even joined the Global Methodist Church, turning a hoped-for denominational split into the machinations of yet another splinter group.
That action fractured the church and caused incredible pain these last few years, but at the end of it, United Methodists are more educated and excited about who we are, and the people who are United Methodists now actually want to be. The only question is whether United Methodists will let that goodwill become effective General Conference action, or whether we’ll be left again holding the bag. The choice is yours.
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