Reflections on the Proposed Protocol for Separation (Part III)

Thursday, January 23rd, 2020

In May, 5-15, 2020 the United Methodist Church will be holding a General Conference in Minneapolis which will likely be the time when some agreement will be made to resolve our denominational struggle over historic orthodoxy and issues related to human sexuality. The agreement which is being hailed as the best legislation for resolving our crisis is known as the Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation (read it here). This agreement has no official sanction from the church, but it did manage to get a diverse group of 16 leaders to sign on. The Protocol includes 8 shared principles, followed by six articles outlining the terms of the agreement, definition of terms, proposed timeline, financial considerations, and so forth.

The purpose of this article is to set forth plainly the pros and cons of the Protocol. After a careful reading of the document, here is a quick summary of the “good news” in the Protocol for each group.

Good News for the Traditionalists

First, the agreement provides a one-time $25 million allocation of seed money over four years so the traditionalists can start a new denomination.

Second, the Trust Clause will not be exercised, meaning that there will be no legal battles over property and land. Every church which leaves can keep their property and land without any claim from the annual conference.

Third, there will be a clean break from decades of fighting and chaos allowing a vibrant, historically orthodox movement to emerge.

Good News for the Progressives

First, the progressives will gain full control of the United Methodist Church, including the name, the logo, the cross and flame, and all the agencies and considerable assets which currently belong to the United Methodist Church. The agreement is silent about numerous Methodist related ministries such as Wesley Foundations, retirement communities, children’s homes, and so forth who are not afforded any “vote” for re-affiliation. What is clear is that this agreement is not any form of “mutual disassociation” where both wings of the church go their separate ways as equals. The Protocol gives the denomination to the progressives, and the Traditionalists are shown the door. The one request we have had from the African delegations is that the Africans would like to keep the name, United Methodist. Under this agreement, they can only retain the name if they remain with the progressive side of the church.

Second, the United Methodist Church will be the “default” denomination in any of the voting which may take place. Contrast this this with the Indianapolis Plan which had two “default” churches. Under the Indianapolis Plan, churches in North America who do not vote (or do not have sufficient votes to pass) would go, by default, to the progressive United Methodist Church. Likewise, any of the Central Conference churches who do not vote, or fail to have sufficient votes to pass, would, by default, be members of the traditionalist Methodist Church. The Protocol rolls that back and makes progressives the default denomination in all voting, in all places. Any church, annual or central conference which does not explicitly vote to leave the denomination will automatically remain in the United Methodist Church. The threshold to depart the denomination requires that 57% of the Annual Conference vote by July 2, 2021 or they will, by default, remain in the United Methodist Church. Local churches will have until the end of 2024 to vote, but each church can decide whether the threshold for departing is 50% or 2/3. If such a vote does not take place within the allotted time, or cannot make the voting threshold for departure, then those churches will remain in the United Methodist Church. Central Conferences will require a 2/3 vote by the end of 2021 or they will remain, by default, in the United Methodist church.

Third, the Protocol requires that all current charges against progressives who have violated the Discipline be dropped immediately.

Fourth, the United Methodist Church will instantly be free to change the Discipline to conform to the full agenda which they have been unsuccessfully advocating to implement for nearly fifty years. This involves, among other things, the full ordination of practicing homosexuals.

Fifth, the financial settlement disproportionately favors the progressive wing of the church. Although the traditionalists are given $25 million to start a new denomination, the traditionalists will be responsible for giving $13 million back to the United Methodist Church as a part of a larger $39 million package to assist in churches historically marginalized, as well as to the Africa University in Zimbabwe. These funds will be completely controlled and allocated by the United Methodist Church and the traditionalists will have no voice in how or where those funds are invested.

So, there are advantages for both sides. Nobody said this was going to be easy. I think everyone of us should express a word of appreciation to Keith Boyette and Patricia Miller for working so hard to represent traditionalists in the midst of a very diverse group of people. We are all indebted to their sacrifice of time and energy and no one doubts for a single moment that they have not given their heart and soul to help us find a way forward which will help us come to a place of ecclesial flourishing.

Likewise, the Good News movement has as their byline: Leading United Methodists to a more faithful future. Who could argue that they are not seeking to do that? I remain confident that we will arrive at General Conference with a shared vision for our future. Although, in the big picture, the financial seed money is rather modest ($25 million given, $13 million forfeited), the relaxing of the Trust Clause does bring us substantial relief. More importantly, it will keep us from fighting endless legal battles which, by all accounts, would damage our already weakened witness before the eyes of the wider culture. But, to be clear, the concession is only required if we are pursuing a path of exiting the denomination, rather than some form of mutual disassociation. I have already written a previous article on the Trust Clause which you can read here. From the perspective of United Methodist churches across the country, the progressives are giving churches what they already own and have purchased with their own sacrificial tithes and offerings.

One of the ways to judge whether an agreement has achieved equality is to re-read the agreement, but substitute the word “progressive” for “traditionalists” and then substitute “traditionalists” for what the agreement calls the “post-separation United Methodist Church.” When that is done, one has to ask the following question: Is this a just settlement? I invite and welcome your comments.

Read Part I here.
Read Part II here.
Read Part IV here.


  • Creed Pogue says:

    Is it “just”? No. Is it the best bad deal on the table? YES.

    Too many African bishops decided to put their institutional interests above their flock.

  • It is time, actually way past time, to draw our line in the church. As a member with long ties (John Wesley, himself, started a Bible class in my family’s Irish cottage in May of 1758, to last some 150 years), my criteria are: 1.Retain the primacy of the Bible, 2.Refer to 1. To realize these criteria will require the donning of the Armor of God to, as you put it, “show the door to the ‘Progressives’. Separation? Yes. Justice? Yes. Negotiations? Yes, kindly, fairly, but firmly reject apostasy.

  • Kell Brigan says:

    Like many people, I have many concerns and questions, but here are the two that concern me the most right now. First, since the progressive movement within Methodism has a history of rampant disobedience and even hostility to traditionalists, what guarantee do we have that the suspension of the trust claims delineated in the Protocol will survive outside of General Conference? Will the decision at General Conference be legally binding even if progressives decide to change their mind after everyone’s left Minneapolis? There is so much hostility from progressives toward traditionalists, and such a determination to punish and coerce people who do not accept their opinions on sexual morality or ordination that I think this is a legitimate concern. My second areas of concern are in regard to missions and other organizations that do not have the opportunity to disassociate and which are financially dependent upon existing UMC funding sources. Again, the pattern of progressive/homosexualist activists is to enforce their opinions and goals throughout society with an iron fist. I think it is quite possible that centrally-designed, “approved” homosexualist curricula, advertising, hiring quotas, even loyalty oaths may be required of missionaries, schools, etc. as a condition of their continued funding. Related to this, how could a fledgling Traditionalist denomination support those missions/schools/charities at risk of being bullied or redefined out of existence?

  • Gary Bebop says:

    The analysis provided here is instructive but does not provide guidance. Whipping up the crowd is not leadership. We are ready to follow a Spirit-filled leader, but scattered, confused, bemused traditional churches cannot provide this leadership. The laity are disorganized, with some notable exceptions: they do not all follow either Good News or WCA. I recognize the evangel in your writing, but are you advocating we “go” or “stay”?
    We need a leader, a call to action, and a line of march.

    • >> Whipping up the crowd is not leadership.

      Gary, can you please point out how this excellent article is “whipping up the crowd”?

      I found Dr. Tennent’s article to be an excellent and thoughtful (and Spiritual!) treatment of this quite complicated matter. Personally, I feel “led”. To GOD be the Glory, and the Victory!


  • Bob Smith says:

    Please have your web master darken the font so vision impaired customers can read the text.

  • Kay K Smith says:

    I am not for Going or Staying…. that is what the Baptist Church does!! Let’s not try to change the intent of Christ! Love the person do not love the sin!!
    Pray for God to be in the heart …
    We as a Church can’t fall for the mass opinion!! Our Church Doctrine has done us well in the past! Maybe in the spirit of compromise we could soften the Discipline Action! Give the paster of each Church the discrete freedom to marry or not marry according to the council of the couple & through prayer. Making a decisions on what their love for Jesus Christ & their love for the Church is all about.
    We can not as a Church let one group control & change our Doctrines!!! We can let God judge each heart & we just show love.
    The protocol group… comes up with the Traditional views leave ( & tried to soften the leaving). If we go this direction we will yield to the bullying group!!
    Turn it around let that group let that group leave.

    • Bob Hereford says:

      Our leadership has failed miserably

      To paraphrase Winston Churchill:

      We cannot make up our minds,
      So we go on in a strange paradox.
      Decided only to be undecided,
      Resolved to be irresolute
      Adamant for drift,
      Solid for fluidity,
      All powerful to be impotent.

      Those who want the change should leave. Why are we handing victory to the loser?

    • Mary Polleys says:

      The Progressives are not going to leave. Leaving is not their goal. Changing the mores of society is their goal. That includes the mores of the Church. We can call that unjust; it is. We can say we want them to be the ones to leave; they will not. We can either leave with our property and Discipline and adopt some other name and logo or we can watch them take it all. Our traditional friends will, one by one, leave. I have watched it happen locally with my Presbyterian and Episcopalian friends.

  • Steve A says:

    Traditionalists should keep the traditional name.
    Give the Progs $25 million, no strings.
    Give Progs exiting the church reasonable purchase terms on their real estate.
    All the ancillary real estate stays with the Trads.

  • Ken Corbin says:

    The progressive wing believes that their cause is right and that view will eventually prevail. That despite the recent general conference votes going against them, despite the growing influence of conservative African Methodists, eventually love and truth will win out and their progressive values will spread and be accepted by everyone.

    Though few will say so out loud, the Tranditionalist wing fears that this is, in fact, the case. That the only way their point of view can prevail is if they separate themselves from the dangerously infectious progressives. Historically, calls for separating from the denomination have always come from the Traditionalist side and been opposed by the Progressives. The recent Traditionalist victories at general conference have shaken Progressive confidence to the point where some of them are considering the wisdom of dividing the denomination., creating a short window where the Traditionalist separation plan might actually pass. But only if it leaves the Progressives with the original name and structure.

    • >> love and truth will win out and their progressive values will spread

      “Progressive values” are not merely a “flavor” of Christianity; when progressives rewrite the doctrine, they fabricate an entirely different religion that is not Christianity at all.

      Love and Truth will, in fact, win in the end. However, the religion of progressivism defines neither love nor truth. Those qualities remain defined in Christ.

      Because it does not abide in Christ, the anomaly called progressivism is destined to die while the Church that Jesus built will grow and conquer the gates of hell itself.

  • General Conference must assert its role of final arbitrator of what the UMC looks like in the future. The protocol is not from Sinai, and it is not immune to amendment, as its signers and their allies are passionately claiming.

    One of the most salient imbalances of the protocol is the 57%/67% benchmark for claiming identity among annual/central conferences, respectively. If there is indeed a separation, every conference must be at liberty to claim its center of gravity by simple majority. Otherwise, a conference with a clear center if gravity measured by 55% majority is hostage to a significant minority; and under the present conditions of the protocol, default always favors the left. Not even a revisionist with a conscience can defend the equity of this.

    Let us, unlike the signers of the protocol, keep it in perspective. It is one more amendable piece of legislation before us–late in coming, compared to the others. And let us pray that the delegates have the integrity and courage to own their opportunity–and responsibility–to give us a just and workable model for the future.

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