In a blog post, recently released by Keith Boyette, President of the Wesleyan Covenant Association, Keith recalls a recent meeting of four members of the Protocol Mediation Team meeting with Wisconsin Annual Conference delegates to the General and Jurisdictional Conferences and how those four team members communicated their continued support for the Protocol Legislation. In fact, this reiteration was very much consistent with what those original participants and signatories of the Protocol unanimously agreed to, and still today continue to support, either in active vocalization or in absence of any recantation of support for the Protocol for Reconciliation and Grace. (link included below).
Of interest to me in this blog was a response by one of the four when asked by a delegate what would happen if the Protocol legislation was not adopted. Bishop Bickerton responded, “It is frightening to think about what would happen if the Protocol is not passed. The failure to adopt the Protocol would leave the church mired in a continuation of the conflict that has undermined the health, vitality, and witness of the UM Church for years. I believe that the Protocol is the best way to peaceably resolve the conflict. We have a clear choice – a continuation of the conflict that has been clearly demonstrated at the recent gatherings of the General Conference or an amicable and orderly separation that clearly witnesses to the world the Christ-like way to deal with irreconcilable conflict.”
Now, while I fully agree with Bishop Bickerton that failure to pass the Protocol at a General Conference would simply result in the UMC fully consuming itself in the death spiral we’re already in, I am not so sure that the clear choice of continued conflict or orderly separation is really that clear. There is the choice of “stay”. And, as the Bishop has clearly articulated, that ends with us consuming ourselves. But there also is the choice of “go away” where two opposing parties actually assume the roles of adults and they amicably separate away from each other, wishing both well in their Paul-Barnabas moment, both embracing their separate callings to serve the same Lord. I must admit, it is the cynical part of me that gives audience within my thinking to a third option, that being “delay”.
“Delay” is the priority of those currently benefiting from the status quo. It’s the choice of those who will be most affected by actually solving the problem. And it is the default position for those who really truly are “stay” folks but politically can’t say so. “Delay” serves the interests of the institutionalists. For example, under the Protocol, it will be the traditionalists who will leave the UMC. And in leaving, they will leave behind the many costly agencies now part of the UMC structure. Now that may have pleased many a progressive who understand that the control of many of these agencies is dominated by progressives anyway. But the reality is that mere control doesn’t pay the bills, rather, an unseparated UMC does. Revenues from BOTH progressive and traditional sectors of the denomination fund these agencies. When the traditionalists leave the denomination, so too will their funding that, with the progressives, funded these agencies. For the institutionalist, the one who benefits from their agency continuing in status quo, there is no incentive to do anything which will expedite a vote on a Protocol that will inescapably force the downsizing and restructuring of their institution. The same logic can be applied to simply continuing in the budgetary arrangements of the last General Conference.
At the same time, for some, it is vital to continue in a political posture of still being seen as wanting what is best for both (all). With such an expansive spectrum of support for the Protocol, your true institutional self-serving intent will be plainly seen if you oppose what is still supported by many as an amicable and graceful separation. It creates a situation where some may say they affirm the Protocol and deny any opposition to it, but in reality, delay, and all the more of it, is the true intention. We have witnessed that delay already. Whether it be for legitimate reasons or not, we’ve delayed this General Conference to a point where we may just delay it’s convening past the next General Conference. In fact, there is already speculation and rumors of simply writing this GC off and waiting for the 2024 GC. The reasons cited are many, whether genuine or not. There is Covid and the resurgence of viral strains. There are vaccine distribution issues in some parts of the Methodist world. There are passport issues and how Covid affects that. And I am sure there will be many more added to the reasons why, once again, we must delay.
Now, the WCA has communicated that the newly structured Global Methodist Church, would formally come into existence either right after the General Conference passes the Protocol, or, if ever the original signatories withdraw their support from the Protocol legislation. But after the General Conference being delayed twice now, after the Special General Conference (May) being canceled, and in light of speculation of an eventual cancelation of this General Conference in favor of just waiting for the 2024 GC, some are asking those of the WCA and GMC, how long will we delay? Where is the eventual line in the sand? Will we even draw a line? Or will we watch the UMC atrophy away in such an irreparable way that, when all the delays are finally over, there just may not be that much left to gracefully separate anyway?
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