Reading the wrinkles

Well, we received word today of another wrinkle in the Protocol to split the United Methodist Church amicably. The Annual Conference of Liberia passed a resolution regarding the Protocol on Friday that takes issue with all of the main planks in the Protocol’s platform.

You can read the entire resolution here –>

A few bits of info that may be important to understanding the ramifications of this resolution:

  1. Africa is the growth area of the United Methodist Church. The U.S. is the shrinking area. It is expected that if nothing changes, African votes will hold the majority at the 2024 General Conference.
  2. The Protocol was drafted including only 3 Central Conference (non-US) voices at the table, and only 1 African voice. That’s 6.25% representation for nearly half of the membership. Protocol good : Protocol bad … that representation was not received well on the African continent, and that should’ve been predictable.
  3. This resolution passed UNANIMOUSLY! Most governing bodies would have trouble getting a unanimous vote to ADJOURN, much less pass a major resolution. I don’t read this as a louder voice speaking for the resolution, however. I read this as a mountain-top shout against the colonialist representation.

So, what’s in the resolution? Well, as most resolutions, it includes lots of justification and rationale for the motive behind the resolution at the top. The details of the resolution stand in opposition to the Protocol on four key issues:

  1. Name and logo
    The Liberian Resolution (LR) wishes to retain the name “United Methodist Church” and the cross & flame logo for use in the continent of Africa. This was not unexpected, as the name and insignia carry weight in an area of the world that takes a LONG time (like generations) to acquire such weight, trust, and legitimacy. However, there is a caveat at the end of this section. The statement reads: “Therefore, the name “United Methodist Church” as well as the emblem (flame & logo) shall be retained by the Liberia Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, and the UMC in all the Central Conferences of Africa, with appropriate modifications.” While the desire was predicted and unsurprising, I’d like to point out the last three words: “with appropriate modifications.” Many people are already reading this as a line in the sand issue, but the Liberians have generously conceded that the name and logo will need to change if the denomination splits. That’s what ‘appropriate modifications’ would be … to help identify a particular “stripe” of United Methodism. So … relax on this one. It’s perfectly reasonable and really doesn’t carry any weight unless we want to obliterate the name and logo completely.
  2. Splitting of Church Funds
    Many people have bucked about the Protocol’s seemingly arbitrary splitting of funds. Traditionalists feel like they should get more of the dollars to help start their new denomination. Institutionalists feel like all of the dollars should stay with the name as a part of the inheritance of the remnant. Liberians are expressing that they should be equally considered in whatever split occurs. Their proposal that the funds be split equally amongst Jurisdictional (US) and Central Conferences (outside the US) sounds fair. But an equal split will not happen! Simple as that. Won’t. Happen.
  3. The Default
    This is another issue many Traditionalists have raised. Legally, if the UMC doesn’t decide to formally dissolve, some entity has to be the inheritor of the ‘estate’ (for lack of a better terminology). If traditionalists depart, the inheritor becomes the non-traditionalists (progressives & centrists). Therefore, the logical default (there almost has to be a default in case an entity doesn’t want to debate and vote a decision) is the inheritor. That’s being called the post-separation UMC or psUMC. The LR complains that the psUMC is the default, but doesn’t really propose a way to ensure “every region of our global connection must be treated fairly in determining their own future.” This resolution seems like a non-binding resolution that serves more as an introduction to the “real issue” expressed in the last point.
  4. The Threshold
    The group set to be the default wanted every layer of the Church to have to vote by 2/3 majority to leave. The group that wants to leave wanted every layer to make that decision by a simple majority vote. Neither side would budge! Until the mediator (Ken Feinberg) suggested 57% (right in the middle of 50%+1 and 2/3). That was acceptable to both parties, so they agreed … in the US. They left the Central Conferences at 2/3 required to move. I thought then, that sounds racist. It looks like, “A harder standard is okay for ‘those people’ but a lower standard is better for us.” Not surprisingly, the LR took offense to this double standard as well, and resolved: “…that a simple majority vote should determine the traditionalist or progressive status of all jurisdictions and central conferences, annual conferences and congregations…”

What do I think?
Well, you can probably sense some of this throughout, but I think the request for a straight equal split of the liquid assets is a non-starter. It’s not going to happen and it would only open the door to further negotiation about the equity of a split when memberships numbers are drastically different from conference-to-conference. I can’t imagine such negotiation going well at General Conference in the current environment.

Retaining the name and logo are doable, depending on where the African Churches land. If they stay with the psUMC, the logo and name will be automatic. If they depart with the traditionalists, they’d have to negotiate this point with the new traditionalist Methodist Church (tMC).

Their hit on the default seems logical. It doesn’t make sense for the majority to have to vote to leave, and the traditionalists (like it or not) have maintained majority status since the founding of the UMC. However, if the traditionalists are the ones leaving, that leaves the non-traditionalist coalition as the default. I don’t see a way around this unless we dissolve completely, or force every conference, every congregation, and every entity to vote about their alignment. Part of me would be okay with this, but the Church as a whole does not have the stomach to support this. All of the prior ‘plans’ that included a decision, a default was available so a church doesn’t have to vote if they don’t want to. I don’t see that going away in this plan.

The question of the threshold is a darn good question. In private conversations, I’ve referred to the different threshold for Central Conferences as “one last racist swipe” on the way out the door. Being real … If Liberia passed this resolution with a unanimous vote of 725 people (one person abstained), a 2/3 majority wouldn’t be a problem for them to make their voice heard. They’re raising their voice here against yet another agreement that diminishes their value in the General Agency level of our Church. The standard being different than the US standard is anything but okay.

Final Analysis
I have been very excited about the Protocol. There are a couple of things I’ve had issues with, and some of those issues make me question its “passability” and the LR affirms my doubts. I still think it’s passable. I still have hope that it WILL pass.

But we have to acknowledge and fix the threshold inequity before it passes. I much-prefer the Liberian alternative that simple majority rules at every level in this decision. I’m willing to compromise at 57% because I don’t believe the 2/3 folks would budge otherwise. However, to require a 2/3 majority in the areas grossly underrepresented at the negotiating table is rightly being called out as the slap in the face it is. And the failure to consider, negotiate, and agree on fixing this inequity jeopardizes the viability of the Protocol.

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2 thoughts on “Reading the wrinkles”

  1. Well……if a split does happen I dont think the “others” should get more funds. And if we split is it really right for either side to retain the words “United” Methodist? Or the logo?

    1. Thanks for the comment, Steve.
      I’d say the funding is a matter of who the “others” are. The ones leaving are the ones with the disadvantage for negotiation. So whoever becomes the ‘default’ really has more cards to play on that one.
      “United” has been laughable since the 1980s, and a full-on joke since 2012. In the US, it’s a damaged brand. I have absolutely NO hesitation leaving the brand behind.
      On the African continent, things are very different so their desire to keep some resemblance of both is understandable.

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