A Possible United Methodist Future:
Questions and Answers on Two Proposals Formally Dividing the
United Methodist Church into Two to Three New Denominations
By Paul Lawler
Pastor Paul, what exactly is the Bards-Jones Plan?
The Bards-Jones Plan was put together by Michigan Conference Bishop David Bard and Texas Conference Bishop Scott Jones. Bishop Jones leans traditional and Bishop Bard leans progressive.
Annual conferences would choose to join one of three groups the bishops are tentatively calling the Traditional Methodist Church, the Open Methodist Church, and the Progressive Methodist Church.
The new expressions would each have their own approach to human sexuality.
The Traditional Methodist Church would begin with a Book of Discipline that holds to the New Testament teaching that marriage is between one man and one woman, and holds to biblical understandings and practice of human sexuality.
The Open Methodist Church and Progressive Methodist Church would begin with a Book of Discipline that allows a liberalized expression of human sexuality, including changing the definition of marriage as defined in Scripture. This plan also calls for the ordination of persons into the ministry of the church who do not practice a biblically-centered sexual ethic.
The Open Methodist Church and Progressive Methodist Church may still choose to be one group within the Bards-Jones Plan.
Isn’t the Bard-Jones Plan merely a reworking of the old Connectional Conference Plan?
No. The Bard-Jones Plan provides for the formation of separate denominations. When the United Methodist News Service released the first article on the Bards-Jones Plan, they did use a misleading phrase when they described the plan as, “a new kind of unity.” That was misleading because the Bard-Jones Plan leads us to form two to three new denominations.
While the two to three new denominations would still relate to Wespath, each new denomination would decide how it relates to UMCOR, as well as other agencies within the former United Methodist Church.
How much support does the Bards-Jones Plan need in order to be implemented?
This plan needs 50%+1 support at GC2020. A simple majority.
After witnessing voting trends in past General Conferences, and having witnessed the degree to which leading progressives, centrists, and traditionalists are all saying we need to “shake hands while we can” and be released to do ministry as we believe God is leading, the chance of the Bards-Jones Plan passing, or some plan similar to it, seems to be quite favorable.
Who would govern the new denominations?
The two or three churches would each decide on a name, and each would hold its own General Conferences, with complete freedom to revise its Book of Discipline. Each would fund its bishops and decide on approved seminaries.
Would these new churches have a Judicial Council?
Each of the new church groupings would determine whether or not to form a Judicial Council or similar body.
What would this mean for the African church and all global United Methodists?
Churches in Europe and Asia could form their own Methodist Churches or belong to one of the two or three churches, with the precise nature of the relationship to be determined. There would be a United Methodist Church in Africa, with the precise affiliations to the two or three churches to be determined.
There are still ongoing conversations, with a sensitivity to what our African sisters and brothers may wish to do.
Would the Bard-Jones Plan require constitutional amendments?
Bishop Bard and Bishop Jones believe their plan could be launched by General Conference action only.
The key is the proposal to allow U.S. annual conferences to leave the denomination. This step was contained in section 9 of petition 90041 of the Traditional Plan offered at General Conference 2019. This section of the petition was ruled constitutional by the Judicial Council. Because the petition died in the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters, section 9 would need to be reintroduced and passed in 2020.
What would be the timetable for the Bard-Jones Plan?
The plan lays out an implementation timetable, with the 2020 General Conference approving the major steps, followed by annual conferences choosing their affiliations with one of the two or three new churches in 2021 and the first General Conferences of those new churches in 2022.
The Bard-Jones Plan foresees churches that disagree with their annual conference’s affiliation decision having the right to transfer conferences with their assets, thereby joining a different church.
Pastor Paul, we have also heard about another plan called, The Indianapolis Plan. Who created The Indianapolis Plan?
The Indianapolis Plan is drawn up by a group of leading progressives, centrists and traditionalists as well. Among them are Dr. Kent Millard, President of United Theological Seminary; Dr. Chris Ritter, Pastor of First United Methodist Church, Genesco, Illinois; Rev. Dr. Cathy Johns, Senior Pastor of Hyde Park Community United Methodist Church in Cincinnati, Ohio; and Rev. Keith Boyette, President of the Wesleyan Covenant Association.
What is The Indianapolis Plan?
This plan proposes the UM Church birth at least two new denominations that would be separate from one another – a traditionalist one committed to the UM Church’s current statements regarding its sexual ethics, teachings on marriage, and ordination standards, and a centrist (and/or progressive) one committed to making substantial changes in those statements. Additional expressions could be birthed at the same time.
Each expression would develop their own doctrines, ethical standards, polities, and administrative and financial bodies. Persons from across the UM Church agree the current conflict is but a presenting issue of much deeper conflicts. Each expression would resolve those deeper conflicts according to its respective understanding of and vision for its expression.
In an effort to minimize the necessity of contentious votes being taken in local congregations, the plan would have annual conferences make initial decisions about affiliations with the new expressions. A local church would only vote if it disagreed with the decision made by its annual conference.
What would The Indianapolis Plan mean for Central Conferences?
Central conferences could align with either of the denominations or become autonomous affiliated denominations. Those that don’t decide would automatically be part of the newly formed traditionalist expression.
How would U.S. churches decide which denomination to join?
U.S. annual conferences would decide by majority vote which denomination to join. Those who don’t take a vote would by default be part of the centrist/progressive expression. In other words, annual conferences choosing not to make a decision would become part of the centrist/progressive expression by default.
Local churches disagreeing with their annual conference’s decision could decide by majority vote to align elsewhere, retaining their property, assets, and liabilities.
Clergy would decide on a denomination to join, but by default would go with their annual conference’s decision. Bishops could also choose a denomination.
As we move into the future, there are some things that we could do more effectively. We could make training and equipping of our part-time local pastors and full-time local pastors less cumbersome and more suited for multiplying disciples. We could streamline some of our outdated processes. What are the prospects for some much-needed changes if we move into new denominations?
Each denomination would develop a new General Conference, as well as its own Book of Discipline, structures, polity, and finances.
This would give us unprecedented dexterity in creating processes that are leaner, more effective, and geared for the 21stcentury. This would open new highways for local church revitalization, the planting of new churches, and the recruitment of clergy who wish to become a part of a people committed to truly being a movement for the glory of God.
Under The Indianapolis Plan, would we hold anything in common relationally?
Wespath, the United Methodist Committee on Relief, United Methodist Women, and the United Methodist Publishing House would be independent 501(c)3 organizations positioned to serve the two or three denominations.
All other agencies would be part of the centrist/progressive expression.
The 2020 General Conference would provide funding for Central Conference ministries through the 2021-2024 quadrennium, and the separated denominations would share the costs.
A process would be devised for dividing current general church assets, including the creation of an arbitration board.
How long would it take to implement the Indianapolis Plan?
The Indianapolis Plan would see annual conferences beginning to realign in August 2020, with inaugural General Conferences for the different denominations occurring in fall 2021.
Significantly, annual conferences and local churches could begin functioning on an interim basis in the new expressions as early as August 1, 2020, providing immediate relief from the present conflict.
The plan does not call for the dissolution of the UM Church. It also does not require constitutional changes for its implementation.
What about all the United Methodist Boards and Agencies?
Provisions are also made for the continued operation of the UM Church’s boards and agencies without requiring the new expressions to fund or use their services. Each of the new expressions would continue funding for Central Conference ministries in Africa, Europe, Eurasia, and the Philippines through 2024. This transitional period would allow the new churches a period of transition and stabilization and continued partnerships in these regions.
Paul Lawler is the Lead-Pastor of Christ Church UMC. He and his wife, MJ, have four children and one daughter-in-law. In addition to serving as a pastor, Paul and his brother, Dallas area businessman Patrick Lawler, founded two Patricia B. Hammonds Homes for orphans at high risk for human trafficking in Thailand. The homes are operated through the international ministry of the Compassionate Hope Foundation. Paul also serves on the boards of The Wellhouse, New Water Farms, and the East Lake Initiative. He often tweets Kingdom thoughts at @plawler111.