The UMCM Platform
Who We Are
The United Methodist Centrist Movement is made up of clergy and laity who love our denomination and believe the local church is the hope of the world. We believe Jesus when he says that nothing can overcome the church and in her are the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 16:18-19). The core constituency who wrote this document has not been politically active at the Conference or General Conference level. Given the current state of our denomination and our love of the local church, we believe, in the spirit of Ecclesiastes 3:7, after a season of remaining silent, it is time to speak and to invite others to join us.
Included in this document is the theological foundation for the four-point platform – Responsibility, Realignment, Reform, and Respect – that we together, stand for:
1. Fiscal Responsibility
Apportionment directly tied to local church operational income, which never exceeds 10% of that total.
2. Connectional Realignment
The creation of “Regional Conferences” to replace “General Conference” by 2020, with maintenance of connection continued through the general agencies, the Council of Bishops, The Book of Discipline and new creative networks designed for missional ministry in the 21st Century.
3. Itinerancy Reform
The end of “closed itinerancy” by involving laity and clergy more fully in the appointment process through a more open and truthful communication of the strengths and weaknesses of both clergy and local churches. The intent will be to protect effective clergy from “clergy-killer congregations,” remove ineffective clergy, diminish the fear of potential moves in clergy families and local churches alike, free up Cabinet members for new church development and re-development, and transition bishops to become the true spiritual leaders of our denomination.
4. Mutual Respect
A call to the end of breaking our mutual covenant as clergy and incessant fighting over the issue of homosexuality, and begin to engage reasonable discussion on the issue. This would include a moratorium on all clergy trials related to homosexuality until 2020, allowing for other ways to uphold our covenant as well as a broad discussion within connectional life of potential options of a “Third Way” to be introduced and discussed at the “2020 General Conference” (or similar body). Allows for an “amnesty period” for churches and clergy to leave the denomination after 2020 if a general solution cannot be reached.
Our Theological Foundation
The main connective links of our Wesleyan Christian heritage are Works of Piety and Works of Mercy. Acts of Piety and Mercy are not self-seeking ends but are means of grace shown in concrete action within community. Action that focuses attention on worship, study, stewardship, and Christian Conferencing moves both individuals and the community to a place of spiritual empowerment and mutuality in covenant. Likewise, works of mercy characterize the need for ministry to and with others in word and deed. What we are calling Prophetic Piety is a synthesis of these essentials: Works of Piety and Works of Mercy, connecting them with an older tradition of the great prophetic voices of scripture. In Amos, we find a call to “let justice roll down like a mighty river and an ever-flowing stream.” In Micah a call to know what the Lord has “shown…what is good” and in the Hosea narrative the deep calling back to Gomer who wanders her own way. We must remember that it is God who says, “Don’t break up.” Faithfulness to the gifts we have in each other reflects the purpose and nature of covenant, the bedrock of meaningful relationships in the Body of Christ.
Relationship is at the center of Biblical Prophetic Call and Witness as expressed in many other texts in addition to the ones mentioned above. This call was and will always be connected within the context of community and covenant, even when the covenant community is being self-critical and certainly when the Spirit of God is doing a new thing.
Prophetic Piety connects the community, tradition, covenant, and all people, whether in the majority or the minority on a particular issue, to live with one another in faith and trust. For as hard as we might try to separate ourselves from one another and the love of Christ Jesus (Romans 8), we were created to be one and that is surely God’s preferred future. Our dream is that this would become our preferred future within the United Methodist Church. We refuse to be discouraged by the lack of relationship building in the breaking of covenant over a whole host of issues in the United Methodist Church. We feel called to cast a vision for unity.
The issues we face as a denomination are well documented and complex. We watched with dismay, as the 2012 General Conference failed in any substantive way to address these issues. Now, as we look toward to the 2016 General Conference elections, we believe our situation has deteriorated to the point where words like “schism” and “amicable separation” have become commonplace in our conversations, social media newsfeeds, and email inboxes.
Hence, we now call for a new direction. We want to make clear that we do not represent any organized body or political action committee. We did not come out of an “MFSA” meeting or a “Confessing Movement” strategy session. We do not have a mouthpiece like the “Institute for Religion and Democracy” or “Good News Magazine” or “Reconciling Ministries Network.” This is a “grass-roots” movement that started with a casual conversation that simply has not concluded.
In our own West Ohio Conference, we are dedicated to organizing lay and clergy leadership to initiate reform with the aim of creating more effective and efficient local churches, district and conference ministries. We also are engaging in the necessary work to send to General and Jurisdictional Conference, clergy and lay delegates who have been both effective and creative in local church ministry and who appreciate the diversity of our denomination. Finally, we want to elect bishops who put politics aside and make their highest priority thriving local churches of every type and stripe with the purpose of making disciples who change the world.
Our Objectives: Responsibility, Realignment, Reform, and Respect
1) Fiscal Responsibility – As shifts in culture and demographics take place, we are entering a time of great fiscal upheaval. As denominational giving continues to decline at an average of $30 million dollars a year, denominational finances must be re-aligned to fan the flames of evangelism and mission in the local church. This is why we believe that the current formula for determining apportionment giving should be revised to tie it directly to local church general operational income. Thus,in the spirit of Malachi 3:10, we call for each conference (if they have not yet done so) to produce a plan and reasonable time schedule to move to an apportionment formula which results in no more than 10% of any local church’s general operational income be apportioned for district, conference, and general church ministry. We would further call that these connectional ministries prioritize the growth in the local church here and abroad through (among other things) the recruitment and training of talented clergy, new church starts, church re-development, and missional strategies that enable us to make disciples who change the world.
2) Connectional Realignment – We believe the bureaucratic and administrative structures currently used to guide our general church need reform. We believe the focus for our work globally should be on the effectiveness and success of the local church to make disciples who change the world. Just as the General Board of Global Ministries has taken the lead in de-centralizing structurally, so too has the time arrived for a re-imagining how decisions that effect the local church should be made much more closely to that work.
We believe currently our arrangement fosters unhealthy paternalistic relationships, which creates conflicts over the allocation of resources. This is at a time when investment globally in local church ministry should be fostered through the creation of new and imaginative networks and partnerships that are not “institutional” in nature.
Hence, we call for the denomination to study what it would look like to follow the GBGM’s example, and put leadership and resources closer to those in the field, so that decisions made regarding allocation of resources and leadership more aptly reflect the varying needs of the local church, globally. We call for studies of how the GBGM’s example could be followed (particularly in the areas of evangelism and discipleship) and how the creation of “regional conferences” organized to maintain this work might more aptly address the varying demands we face in Africa, Asia, Europe, Central and South America, and North America. These “regional conferences” would continue to maintain contact through our general agencies, the Council of Bishops, the Book of Discipline and a General Conference gathering that would address issues pertinent to the entirety of the global church.
3) Itinerancy Reform – The itinerant system is broken. Cabinet members across the connection quietly complain about the challenge of deploying leadership effectively in a world where clergy need to enjoy locational longevity to be effective. They also face the challenge of what to do with ineffective clergy who are currently protected by guaranteed appointment.
Clergy are weary of a closed system where their fate is largely unknown. Published information fails to represent accurately the dynamics of their new congregation while discussion with the current pastor or lay-people is prohibited. What’s more, while their families desperately want to sink roots in a community, each spring they live in the fear of receiving “the call” to go elsewhere regardless of the needs of a spouse and children.
Laity feel powerless both in the retention of their current pastor and in the appointment of a new one. Their role is not much different from the days when Francis Asbury left the appointment list on the wall of the hall hosting General Conference as he snuck out the back door. Laity lack an adequate understanding regarding the theological orientation or track record of effectiveness (or lack thereof) of their new pastor.
Furthermore, our current deployment system is disjointed by creating one process for elders and another one for deacons. Mutuality requires a system that treats both orders more consistently. Mutuality presumes that licensed local pastors will be given a greater role at all levels of the church.
Most importantly, in an era where recruiting younger clergy has been stated repeatedly as an important goal, the itinerant system has become an obstacle in the success of both their recruitment and retention. Young adults, lacking trust and an understanding of our system, are increasingly pursuing other options toward vocational ministry.
We call for an end to the “closed” itinerant system and the creation of a new one that better serves congregations in the 21st Century. It is time to develop an appointment process which fully engages clergy and laity. A process requiring greater accountability of clergy through the elimination of guaranteed appointment and laity by giving them the responsibility to maintain a more transparent profile of their congregation (particularly if a congregation has a history of being “clergy-killers”, they needed to be named and dealt with appropriately). This process should encourage locational clergy families, while also making opportunities for new appointments in an open process, giving the Holy Spirit greater room to move. It should also allow superintendents to spend less time on appointments, and more time on fulfilling the mandate given to them under the Discipline to work strategically in starting new missional congregations. Finally, by giving them the role of affirming appointments, this will allow our bishops to become truly the spiritual leaders in our conferences. They will be freed to focus us on fulfilling the vision and mission of making disciples who change the world in the 21st Century.
4) Mutual Respect – While currently we stand with those who believe that the Book of Discipline must be upheld, we also affirm the prophetic spirit driving those who call for full-inclusion of all persons into our church. This is not an easy place to rest. Many of us – while sensing a new movement of the Spirit may be at hand – are uncomfortable with the dynamics involved with the ordination of non-celibate homosexuals and the marriage of gay and lesbian persons in our local churches. We serve congregations that are by no means of one mind on this issue, in communities where Christians from other tribes are warning our people of the “dangers” of our denomination’s “precarious disunity.” We are tired of seeing the United Methodist Church in the national news only when a few in our ranks engage in a public dispute over homosexuality.
We also are aware of changing attitudes in our culture, particularly the young, as we serve congregations that are on the average, 20 years older and much more homogeneous than the general population. We are torn both by scripture which addresses issues of what is acceptable sexual practice and by the call of the prophets to love justice, offer mercy, and walk humbly with the Lord.
But in our estimation the willingness of some who stand for the “Law” and others who stand for the “Prophets” to break or call for a break in our covenant is an egregious undertaking which is doing untold damage to our connection. Those who break covenant or call for us to do so, regardless of their position, have forgotten that the authority of both the “Law” and the “Prophets” hang solely on love (Matthew 22:36-40): love which is patient, kind, does not envy, does not boast, is not proud, does not dishonor others, is not self-seeking, is not easily angered, keeps no record of wrongs, does not delight in evil, rejoices with the truth, always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres, and never fails (1 Corinthians 13:4-8). Thus we reject the call arising from those who say we do not need each other. In response, we believe that every member of the Body of Christ is vital in our mission and ministry.
It is in this spirit that we ask everyone in this season of great upheaval and uncertainty to show one another grace and mercy. In 2016 – given the likely make up of delegates and the structure of General Conference – we do not believe it is likely that any changes will be made to the current Disciplinary language on homosexuality.
However, we do believe that continually putting clergy on trial for violating this isolated issue needs to come to an end as soon as possible.
Clergy fail to uphold the Book of Discipline in many other ways that aren’t regularly resulting in a trial. There are clergy who fail to uphold the Discipline when their churches fail to make the full payment of their apportionment as an act of intentional defiance in response to a decision of their annual conferences or the UMC itself. There are clergy who refuse to conduct infant baptisms in any instance. There are clergy who have allowed the property deed of the church they serve to be altered to omit “trust clause” language. There are clergy who refuse to allow women to hold positions of authority in the life of the church.
We are doubtful, however, that an even more strictly adhered to Discipline where in EVERY instance the threat of trial due to a suspension or expulsion of clergy looms as the price of “uniformity” would be effective in any sense (time, energy, and resources). Rather we believe that the heavy-handed approach to maintaining order is akin to “straining a gnat but swallowing a camel” (Matthew 23:24). Instead let us walk forward together, mindful of the variety of effective ministries across the denomination. Let us call one another to mutual account within our own conference setting, as we remember the words of Gamaliel, who offered this advice to the Sanhedrin as they discussed possibly crushing a Spirit-filled apostolic movement of Christians now preaching in the Temple:
“So my advice is, leave these men alone. Let them go. If they are planning and doing these things merely on their own, it will soon be overthrown. But if it is from God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You may even find yourselves fighting against God!.” (Acts 5:38-39 NLT)
Thus in the spirit of Gamaliel, we would call for a provisional moratorium until 2020 on all clergy church trials for those violating the Book of Discipline specifically over this issue. Just as other issues such as refusing to conduct infant baptisms, allowing the property deed of the church to be altered to omit “trust clause” language, and refusing to allow women to hold positions of authority in the life of the church are dealt with in ways not necessarily involving suspensions and expulsions of clergy, we believe the same discretion should be extended to issues relating to homosexuality as well. During this time we call every conference to commit its best leadership – clergy and lay – to consider prayerfully the wide array of proposals for unity (such as “The Local Church Option,” “The Anglican Communion Option,” and “The Jurisdictional Option”) currently being discussed, and other options yet to be discerned. Waiting until 2020, would enable General Conference in 2016 to come together to reform our denomination based upon the other issues we have already addressed; then in 2020 the first and foremost focus will be on the issue of homosexuality and moving together as one church united in Christ.
If 2016 proves to be a season of significant reform, this holy conversation will take place in what would likely look like a very different denomination. This additional time, we believe, will allow us to work together in the creation of a reformed church resulting in more and deeper channels opened for prayerful discernment to occur. A renewal of trust will be the fruit of this ordering. Furthermore, we believe a new season of practicing mutual respect will allow the Holy Spirit to help us reach a place of greater clarity together, establish deeper relationships built on trust, and make more likely that we will find a true “third way” that is acceptable to us all.
If after 2020 such a solution cannot be reached, as abhorrent as the concept is to us, we would be willing to engage in a discussion of an “amnesty period” for churches to leave with their property and clergy to leave with all the pension benefits they have accrued as permitted by federal law. Our connection should exist on a foundation of mutuality of mission and ministry and not on the iron-fisted rule of law.
Our aim is not to appease one lobby or the other. Our aim is to discern God’s will for our people by naming the dysfunction in our denomination at all levels and calling serious, committed, intelligent, loving, patient people to the table who are willing to make the sacrifices necessary so that once again, our Wesleyan movement would thrive. Together, let’s look at scripture through all three lenses we have been given – tradition, reason, and experience – and allow the Kingdom of Heaven to be revealed to us. We welcome you to join us as we seek to keep united the United Methodist Church.
In closing, we stand on the words of our denomination’s founder, John Wesley, and pray that we might embody the spirit of their intent:
“Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may. Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences.”