In two separate votes, the Wesleyan Covenant Association’s Global Legislative Assembly endorsed the Protocol for Reconciliation and Grace through Separation and the Global Methodist Church in formation during Friday morning session, April 30, 2021, at Frazer Church in Montgomery, Alabama.
Due to a Covid-19 pandemic induced postponement of the Global Legislative Assembly that was originally scheduled for October 30, 2020, Friday was the first time the WCA’s regional delegates had the opportunity to consider endorsing the Protocol. After a robust debate and amendment, by a vote of 248 to 7, the delegates endorsed it. The assembly’s endorsement makes clear that UM traditionalist from around the world firmly support a plan for separating The United Methodist Church.
Created by leading United Methodist bishops and leaders from theologically diverse advocacy groups, the Protocol seeks to resolve a decades long dispute over some of The UM Church’s core theological confessions and its sexual ethics.
It was hammered out just five months before the UM Church’s 2020 General Conference scheduled for May of that year. The Covid-19 pandemic has since forced two postponements of the conference, which is now slated for August 29 – September 6, 2022, in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Given that key negotiators for the Protocol represented centrists, progressives, traditionalists, and leading UM bishops, many believed it was headed for adoption at the 2020 conference. Since then, support for it has waxed and waned as other proposals seek to gain the approval of the General Conference’s 862 delegates.
“It is no surprise to us that the WCA assembly delegates endorsed the Protocol,” said the Rev. Keith Boyette, President of the WCA. “The delegates represent UM theological conservatives all around the world, and they’ve been longing to go their separate way from centrist-progressive UM leaders. They want to be part of a globally diverse church that strongly affirms Scripture and the historic teachings of the Christian faith. They’re supportive of a diverse church, so long as there’s unity around core Christian theological and ethical standards.”
Therefore, after impassioned debate, the legislative assembly, by a vote of 250 to 4, also gave the Global Methodist Church its strong endorsement. The church, which is in formation awaiting the passage of the Protocol, was created by a 17 member body called the Transitional Leadership Council. It in turn found its origins in a meeting of theological conservatives who met in Atlanta, Georgia, in March 2020, just two months after the Protocol was announced.
“Things were moving very quickly at the time,” said the Rev. Dr. Carolyn Moore, Chairwoman of the WCA’s Global Council and lead pastor at Mosaic Church in Evans, Georgia. “It was widely assumed the Protocol was going to pass at the May 2020 General Conference, and therefore, we traditionalists decided we needed to quickly assemble a group of respected leaders to help us transition to a new traditionalist church.”
In retrospect, traditionalists have agreed that the short timeline for standing-up a transitional church in the early months of 2020 would have been a heavy lift. Of course the pandemic negated the necessity of having to do that. The additional time gave the Transitional Leadership Council time to think through critical matters, draw on work the WCA had already done, and invite various ad hoc research teams to inform their efforts.
“We’ve been blessed to have members on the Transitional Leadership Council who represent the global nature of the church we envision,” said the Rev. Dr. Jeff Greenway, a member of the council and the senior pastor at Reynoldsburg UM Church in Reynoldsburg, Ohio. “We’ve also had the benefit of some retired traditionalist bishops from the U.S. and Africa. They brought a perspective that helped us think through what works and what doesn’t when you’re trying to create a church that will be global in nature.”
When the Transitional Leadership Council finally did release news of the Global Methodist Church (in formation), the response from traditionalists was overwhelmingly positive.
“I think it was obvious to everyone that a great deal of work went into the vision, mission, and the organization of what the Global Methodist Church might ultimately look like” said Boyette, who chairs the council. “Our big challenge was to create something that would get traditionalists from the passage of the Protocol at a UM Church General Conference to a convening conference for the Global Methodist Church. We continue to think the Protocol is the most viable path for resolving the conflict in the UM Church, especially since it’s supported by people of diverse theological perspectives, and it can pass without the necessity of amending the UM Church’s constitution. We are eager to launch the Global Methodist Church, it will just be later than we anticipated due to the massive disruption the Covid-19 pandemic created.”
With the WCA’s Global Legislative Assembly’s strong endorsements of both the Protocol and the Global Methodist Church, it appears a large block of traditionalist delegates to the UM Church’s General Conference will support a fair, amicable and orderly separation of the UM Church so theological conservatives can create a new global denomination.
Also, in the spirit of the Protocol for Reconciliation and Grace through Separation, the Global Legislative Assembly passed a very timely resolution, calling on bishops to make no abrupt changes in clergy appointments where traditionalist congregations and pastors are theologically aligned and committed to joining the Global Methodist Church upon the passage of the Protocol.
The assembly called upon bishops who have recently announced moving theologically conservative pastors from their theologically conservative congregations, and where neither the pastor nor the congregation sought such a pastoral change, to reverse their harmful decisions.
In this liminal season, the assembly strongly encouraged bishops to candidly and fully share information about the future restructuring of the UM Church as a consequence of deep divisions in the denomination as outlined in the Protocol.
It reminded our bishops that we should follow our founders dictum to do no harm, and to do no harm even to those with whom we disagree, and who simply long to go their separate way peacefully and amicably. The final vote on the amended resolution was 251 to 2.
The day opened with worship and a challenging and rousing devotion the Rev. Dr. Greenway.
News of the afternoon session will be shared in a later post.