By Keith Boyette
Eight United Methodist bishops have issued a statement inviting “laity, clergy and bishops – regardless of their perspective on matters of human sexuality – to join” in deeper conversations regarding new expressions of Methodist witness. Four active bishops, Scott Jones (Texas), Eduard Khegay (Russia), Michael Lowry (Central Texas), and Mark Webb, (Upper New York), joined four retired bishops, Lindsey Davis (North Georgia and Kentucky), Alfred Gwinn, Jr. (North Carolina), Robert Hayes, Jr. (Oklahoma), and Young Jin Cho (Virginia), in issuing the statement.
The bishops declared, “It is time to be honest about our current reality… Our beloved United Methodist Church no longer can continue in our current form of unity. It is time to quit undermining our mission. It is time for the entire church to come together to figure out how to be the people called Methodists in a new way – to seek a new form of unity.”
The Deeper Conversations Statement is refreshing in its honest engagement of the deep divisions in the UM Church, noting that “events transpiring since the adjournment of the Special Session of General Conference illustrate how deep our division is.” Addressing how multiplication of expressions can contribute to a more hopeful future, the bishops write, “We believe God can use our current brokenness as a springboard to multiply our Wesleyan DNA through different expressions of Methodism that will allow our diversity on theological thought and contextual practice untethered from conflict. Indeed, God can bless multiple expressions of Methodism in ways that can have a cumulative impact far greater than we can ever have today in our fractured state.”
The Wesleyan Covenant Association is grateful for this call for deeper conversations and the leadership provided by these bishops. Both the WCA Council and the WCA Global Legislative Assembly have endorsed the Indianapolis Plan for Amicable Separation. This plan creates two or more entirely separate denominations out of the UM Church.
Numerous efforts have been made to resolve the persistent conflict in the UM Church; however, the level of conflict has only increased over time, culminating in the contentious 2019 special General Conference. Despite the decision made by a majority of the delegates at the special General Conference, resistance, disobedience, and a refusal of some in leadership to adhere to the UM Church’s Book of Discipline have highlighted the depth of irreconcilable differences within the denomination. As a consequence, a number of proposals have been submitted for the 2020 General Conference which would result in some form of separation.
The WCA supports adoption of the Indianapolis Plan for Amicable Separation because it is the product of the sincere compassionate work of a diverse group of centrists, progressives, and traditionalists that will bring an end to our conflict. The plan provides a pathway for new and entirely distinct denominations of the Methodist movement to emerge from the UM Church.
As the bishops observe in their invitation to deeper conversations, such a multiplication of denominations emerging from the UM Church has the potential to result in greater fruit for the kingdom of God than our remaining engaged in continual conflict. The WCA welcomes the call of these bishops for United Methodists “to end our conflict that undermines all our efforts to proclaim the Gospel.” We commend these bishops for speaking truth in love as they have named the current reality and cast a vision for a “path forward to create new expressions of Methodism that can thrive and flourish.” With them, we affirm that it is time to “bless, support and free one another to be the church we feel God calls us to be.”
You can read the bishops’ statement by clicking here. The 2020 General Conference may be the last and best hope of demonstrating to a polarized world that we can navigate the conflict that has divided us in a way that is life-giving and blesses one another for the sake of our greater mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
The Rev. Keith Boyette is president of the Wesleyan Covenant Association and an elder in the Virginia Conference of The United Methodist Church.