*** NOTE: Due to the Coronavirus, General Conference, originally scheduled for May 5-15, 2020, has been postponed. The tentative dates for the conference to be rescheduled are August 31-September 10, 2021. ***

In the midst of a divisive time in our global body, the General Conference will be asked to help discern a path forward that allows every United Methodist to live faithfully in their witness of God’s love. Though our global body does not agree on all theological or practical ideals, we all do agree that our witness as a church is limited by our ongoing struggle to discern a best path forward, especially around LGBTQ Inclusion. As a global church, we have been spending millions of dollars and countless hours bringing charges against clergy who have broken the Book of Discipline by officiating same-gender weddings, and clergy who have openly professed to be Gay or Lesbian. Our denominational focus on human sexuality has limited the ability of many local churches to be fully present in ministry in their local communities. 

While there are many possible paths forward, in January of 2020, a group of 16 United Methodist leaders from around the globe presented a Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation. The 16 leaders represent most major caucus groups of the UMC, from the most conservative to the most progressive, including clergy and laity. Their central task was to find a way forward that allowed the UMC to move forward into a new season of vitality. They came to the conclusion that was only possible through separation into new expressions of Methodism. With new expressions of Methodism, each conference and church would be able to align with a new denominational expression whose practical theology aligns more closely with their own. It eliminates the “big tent” mentality that has defined the United Methodist Church for many years, where, while holding to a core foundation on Wesleyan theology, we have held varying beliefs on how our theology calls to be faithful witnesses to Jesus Christ. 

Though there are some who have suggested edits to the legislation for the Protocol, the legislation has received support from conference groups all over the world, and is likely to be the central focus of a path forward at General Conference. Rev. Tom Berlin, of Floris UMC in Herndon, VA, was a member of the Protocol team. Click the video image below to hear Rev. Berlin offer some background information to the Protocol and give an overview of the Protocol legislation. First, here are a few of the protocol’s main points: 

  • The UMC will continue to exist, but will be given the opportunity to remove all restrictive language regarding LGBTQ inclusion. This means that after the separation, the UMC should allow for same-gender weddings and for siblings of the LGBTQ community to be ordained as clergy.
  • There will be a new traditional denomination formed that will hold traditional beliefs regarding marriage. They will not allow same-gender marriage or LGBTQ clergy. This new denomination will receive $25 million to help with the structural transition. 
  • Other new denominational groups may also form. If a group of 100 or more churches does not want to align with either the new traditional denomination, or the post-separation UMC, they can form their own denomination. 
  • Central Conferences (non-USA conferences), Annual Conferences, and Local Churches will be able to decide which denominational structure they want to affiliate with going forward. No vote is necessary; if no vote is taken, the conference or church will remain part of the United Methodist Church. As long as a conference or church aligns itself with one of these Methodist/Wesleyan denominations, they will be allowed to keep their property and assets.
  • There will also be a $39 million fund set up to offer financial support to ministries by and for ethnic / racial minorities in the US, and for Africa University. 
The full legislation of the Protocol is available online. Though the Coronavirus has pushed General Conference back to 2021, you are invited to be in prayer for all of our General Conference delegates, and for the coming decisions to be made by the General Conference.  

Protocol

You may be trying to figure out how to explain or understand the Protocol legislation for General Conference without reading 64 pages of legislation with words like “indemnification.” This video will help. I explain why we are still talking about this, offer a mid-level explanation of the legislation and share why it matters. Take a look and let me know if you have any questions.

Posted by Tom Berlin on Tuesday, February 25, 2020