The United Methodist Commission on General Conference released its decision this week (March 4) that the much-anticipated and twice-postponed General Conference will now be further postponed until the next regularly scheduled meeting of the international gathering in 2024. Reasons cited for the further postponement were difficulty obtaining visas for international delegates as well as travel obstacles related to the pandemic
Perhaps these are the legitimate reasons that make this cancellation a reasonable and solid decision. The existing deficit of trust among United Methodists for our bishops, superintendents, general boards and agencies and commissions, however, place the decision to cancel against the backdrop of questionable motives. “If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck,…” well, it’s hard to avoid the common sense conclusion. It isn’t clear why other multi-national denominations, large corporations, and not-for-profit organizations can hold international decision-making meetings, but alas, the United Methodist Church seems uniquely unable to hold its General Conference.
For those convinced that there are irreconcilable differences which require a separation or split of the denomination, this postponement is disappointing news. The Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation was expected to be considered and approved at the upcoming General Conference. The prospects for adoption of the Protocol seem, at this point, however, to be significantly weakened. Though a house divided cannot stand (Mark 3:25), the UMC, with this decision, tethers us to ongoing internal rancor, dysfunction, and ineffectiveness in mission and ministry.
Thank the Lord (literally!), there is an exciting alternative. Hello, Global Methodist Church!
But first a moment to process our feelings…
Dealing with Bad News in the Boarding Area
For many United Methodists this decision by the Commission on General Conference might feel vaguely like when an airline flight which you were waiting to board has been delayed or cancelled. What you or your local church consider doing now depends upon whether you expect the separating of United Methodism to be delayed or cancelled altogether.
When a flight is delayed, most of us just wait. It might take a little extra time, but our flight will eventually proceed as expected.
We will all hear from our denominational leaders that, as unfortunate as it is, we should just be patient until General Conference can meet and determine our future for us.
If only it were so.
It is widely known that many of our Bishops have not and will not themselves comply with the decisions of the General Conference regarding human sexuality, marriage, and ordination. As a nearby example, see the recent widely publicized decision by the Bishop and District Superintendents in Iowa that weddings of LGBTQIA+ partners can now be celebrated in United Methodist Churches and partnered LGBTQIA+ persons can be ordained as clergy and appointed to the local UM churches in Iowa in direct contradiction to the decisions of the General Conference. They claim it as a virtue to disobey the decisions of the global church with which they disagree.
In addition, the Iowa Bishop and Superintendents refuse to follow any of the denominationally mandated processes holding clergy accountable for noncompliance with The Book of Discipline regarding same-sex weddings. Apparently, this “virtuous disobedience” is infectious. Read Iowa’s United Methodist Church issues directive permitting same-sex marriage, gay clergy
Well, that’s just Iowa, right?
It is fair to say, I think, that the Northern Illinois Conference Interim Bishop and District Superintendents generally operate in this same way as their counterparts in Iowa, except they have not received front-page newspaper coverage. But in case you have wondered about the focus of the Northern Illinois Conference, our Delegation to General and Jurisdictional Conference recently unanimously affirmed the BeLoved Community Covenant, approved last fall by the North Central Jurisdiction, that commits all United Methodist congregations in Northern Illinois to the two mission priorities of 1) anti-racism and 2) full inclusion of LGBTQIA+ persons at all levels and all roles within the church. Our worship, Christian education, outreach, and advocacy are to give these two priorities primary attention.
If you think we are simply in a delay, you might be surprised/amazed/shocked that the progressive political agenda is proceeding without any pause whatsoever and is coming to your church, too. But yes, if you consider this a delay, you can simply wait until things return to “normal”.
When a flight is cancelled, we have two choices: rebook for a different flight or find another means of transportation altogether.
When we rebook, we go to the airline representative at the gate or ticket counter or maybe the app on our phone or a call to customer service, but we talk with an “official” of the airline. In like manner, The Book of Discipline (paragraph 2548.2) allows for a local church to request of the annual conference to be transferred to another Methodist or evangelical denomination. Some annual conferences in the U.S. have already indicated they are willing to enter this process with local churches and, in effect, honor the spirit of the Protocol by allowing congregations to transfer to the Global Methodist Church. This provision has not been utilized by local churches in the Northern Illinois Conference and our Interim Bishop and District Superintendents have given no indication of whether they are willing to support such a request by a local church, but it is an option that is fair, amicable, and avoids the contentious legal battles that have proven so dramatically costly among other mainline denominations over similar issues.
Of course, sometimes the attempt to rebook does not or cannot work to get us where we want to go. So, we rent a car, take a bus, or simply determine that the trip isn’t worth it. A parallel option for United Methodists would be simply to leave the church building behind and either go to another existing congregation more in keeping with your vision of Christian faith and ministry or start a new congregation altogether.
What to do now?
Here’s the Encouraging Word
One thing this decision by the Commission on General Conference has done for us all: we no longer need to wait for a General Conference to determine our future. We can consider several options going forward for ourselves and our local church.
Despite the comparison, this choice is not at all about a delayed or cancelled airline flight. This is about the most serious of concerns: life and death, heaven and hell, wrath and mercy, repentance and redemption, gospel truth or politicized religion, Jesus Christ the One and Only, or my own preferences and predilections dressed up in Sunday morning liturgies.
If you’d like additional information about resources for considering a transfer to the Global Methodist Church or simply a conversation about your concerns for the future of your local church, contact us through the website of the Northern Illinois Wesleyan Covenant Association ( wcaofil.org ).
Here are some links about the major changes announced concerning Methodism this week for you to check out for yourself:
- UM News – General Conference Postponed
- Global Methodist Church – Global Methodist Church Sets Official Launch Date
- Podcast about General Conference postponement, the Global Methodist Church, and what it means for local churches – Holy Conversations Podcast
“Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the LORD.” Psalm 31:24