Because this resolution from 2017 was referenced by someone in a recent social media post, I find it helpful to re-post it here as a Word.doc where others may access the original annotated version. It was a longshot then and has little hope now, but it may be interesting to compare what was considered outrageous just over two years ago to what is now being proposed for 2020.
I offer some reflections below.
There are currently nine sets of petitions before General Conference that attempt to accomplish what is sought in this resolution: disaffiliation and realignment of the Conferences, agencies, and local churches of the UMC.
The sections describing the depth of division and the need for so drastic a remedy are a reflection of the arguments which are generally accepted in the church today. They form the foundation for proposals from each of the study groups, commissions, and ad hoc parachurch committees.
I still hold that each Annual Conference possesses the means to accomplish these goals independent of the General Church and that the General Conference does not have the means to accomplish these goals (as many authors of current proposals have discovered). That is because the UMC does not exist. Unlike the Episcopal church and some others, there is no office of the UMC which can hold property or enter contracts. If one believes they are injured by the UMC then one must identify a specific corporation in the association which is responsible for the harm to engage in litigation. No one can bring a lawsuit against the UMC because the UMC does not exist. I can’t overstate that point or over emphasize its importance. The UMC is only a philosophical construct created by Annual Conferences to facilitate joint ministry. Annual Conferences are not creatures of the the UMC. The UMC is a creation of the Annual Conferences. It has failed.
The constitution of the UMC places restrictions on the Annual Conferences free association, however putting something in writing does not necessarily make it lawful. One can post a sign saying, “Trespassers Will Be Shot.” That doesn’t make it lawful. Persons of greater prominence than me have publicly doubted the authority of any of the UMC’s corporations to restrain an Annual Conference. Eight of the nine plans pending before GC2020 make no attempt to offer a remedy for occassions where an Annual Conference disregards the provisions, protections, or obligations established should General Conference approve said plan.
Furthermore, the Judicial Council has relented through a series of rulings that the condition of “contrary to the Discipline ” is a descriptive term and not a prohibitive one. Anyone who has been following events in the church enough to be reading this does not need me to enumerate the number of acts which the Judicial Council has ruled contrary to the Discipline which continue unchecked. Just because the Discipline says an Annual Conference or Jurisdiction can’t do something doesn’t mean they can’t do it. Just ask Bishop Olivetto.
The General Church lacks the means to accomplish its desired ends. It cannot reform itself. (The set of petitions known as the Traditional Plan does encourage an Annual Conference to comply or depart by delineating contractual obligations of the various corporations and placing restrictions on funds, services, and privileges to non compliant Conferences or agencies.)
The most effective and least destructive path is still for an Annual Conference to disaffiliate from the UMC and realign with churches of like mind and mission. It is prudent to pursue through civil law that for which the church makes no provision in polity.
When I say “least destructive” I do not mean painless. The time has passed for reformation with charity and grace. It was a repeated urging in the 2017 petition linked in the opening paragraph that Conferences act before the fire got out of control.
“Chaos is not a friend of the Church, and any realignment or change in affiliation ought rightly to be accomplished in an organized way while charity remains with us still.”
“It is, therefore, not advisable to wait until the passions of a 2019 or 2020 General Conference are unleashed upon us, but prudence and charity implore us to develop a plan now which truly allows room for the Holy Spirit to still work among us”
We waited too late for there to be no harm. GC2019 has already been unleashed and GC2020 is growling at the gate. We have heard “Love” shouted with clenched fist and seen “Grace” vomited on the Conference floor. That is not because we are not a loving nor gracious people. It is because we are people. Scripture has warned us that schism is death to Charity, yet we insist on continuing in perpetual schism.
For myself, I make no pretense that my words will sound charitable or gracious to those with whom we are in dispute. Where I perceive people have betrayed the Church, rejected her correction, substituted a counterfeit Christ, and endeavored to make people comfortable on the road to hell, I offer no gentle admonishment or winsome words. There is no pleasant way to say that, and the option of remaining silent is unfaithful.