The Next Generation UMC Plan is sponsored by UMCNext and others. It consists of multiple petitions that have been submitted in accordance with the requirements of the Commission on the General Conference for consideration at the next session of General Conference in May 2020.
What is the guiding faithful vision of the Next Generation UMC Plan?
The Next Generation UMC Plan begins with the vision of a renewed United Methodist Church that welcomes everyone into full participation in the life and ministries of the church, relentlessly focuses on making disciples of Jesus Christ, and equips persons to live as salt and light in the world, seeking justice and mercy for all. Reclaiming the spiritual zeal and creativity of our Wesleyan heritage, with its union of personal and social holiness, the several legislative petitions that comprise the plan empower United Methodists to move into the future with new vision, missional alignment, and greater self-determination.
What are the essential objectives for the legislation that comprises the Next Generation UMC Plan?
The Next Generation UMC Plan helps everyone experience new life through the historic Methodist movement expressed in the ministries and witness of the next generation. It responds to the request of traditional United Methodists who have stated that their desire for major changes is only partly due to developments across the Church in the U.S. and parts of Europe that affirm and include LGBTQ persons.
The plan provides for local churches to form into new denominational expressions by relaxing the trust clause, allowing these churches to retain their property and missional connections to aspects of The UMC as they desire. It resolves concerns related to unfunded pension liabilities without requiring departing churches to pay amounts that would inhibit their decisions to separate from The UMC. Newly emerging Wesleyan denominations that form and seek an ecumenical relationship with The UMC would be eligible to receive significant financial grants.
Responding to imperatives cited by centrist and progressive United Methodists, the plan places a moratorium on current charges related to LGBTQ inclusion, repeals the Traditional Plan that was adopted at the Special Session of General Conference in 2019, removes all discriminatory and exclusionary language about LGBTQ persons from the Book of Discipline, and makes an emphatic positive statement about inclusion of all people in the body of Christ.
In response to the longings that have been expressed across the connection, the Next Generation UMC Plan calls for the creation of a Commission on the 21st Century Church with a global membership to prepare a comprehensive proposal for a new structure and governance plan that provides clear guidelines for greater adaptability of the Book of Discipline by different regions. The commission would propose a new constitution that retains the Articles of Religion of The United Methodist Church and draws upon the best principles of our historic Wesleyan theological tradition, Doctrinal Standards, Our Theological Task, and our history of mission and ministry. At the same time, the commission will help envision more lean and nimble governance structures that entrust and empower all local units of the Church to be responsive and adaptive in their settings for relevant ministry. A comprehensive proposal for the future of The UMC requires convening a 2023 Special Session of General Conference to enact legislation and initiate the process of making constitutional amendments that are required to create a revised structure of The UMC expressing commitments to a renewed articulation of our mission, vision, and values.
The Next Generation UMC Plan supports the work of the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters calling for a new General Book of Discipline that includes adaptable sections for different regions of the world. It also supports the good work of the Connectional Table that is proposing a U.S. Regional Conference. With central conferences seeking greater regional autonomy and many calling for changes that reduce the time spent on U.S.-centric topics and governance at General Conference, these initiatives work together to provide greater emphasis on self-determination and self-governance in each region.
What are the most important differences between the Next Generation UMC Plan and the Indianapolis Plan?
There are several points on which the two plans agree.
- Both plans call for an exit path from the denomination for those who do not wish to remain in The United Methodist Church.
- Both plans support suspending the Trust Clause during a transition period to allow local churches to leave with their property, thus avoiding costly lawsuits.
- Both plans recognize that the vast majority of United Methodist churches in the U.S. are centrist, comprised of people who fall on different sides of the human sexuality debate.
- Both plans allow for Wespath to continue to serve the pension needs of The United Methodist Church and other new denominations that might form from those leaving The UMC.
- Both anticipate that many of the churches aligned with the Wesleyan Covenant Association will form a new expression of Methodism, one that will retain the current disciplinary language and policies describing the practice of homosexuality as incompatible with Christian teaching and prohibiting same-gender marriage and the ordination of persons in same-gender marriages.
- And, both recognize that The United Methodist Church that remains will remove the incompatibility language from the Book of Discipline.
The plans differ in subtle but important ways.
- Despite claims that the Indianapolis Plan does not dissolve The UMC, it does shut it down and conceives of the “Centrist UMC” as a “new denomination” alongside the new Wesley Covenant Association denomination and any others that may form.
- The Indianapolis Plan calls for voting by every annual conference to determine by a majority of those casting votes which new denomination they will join. If an annual conference does not vote within the prescribed timeline (seven months), the annual conference is placed in a new denomination by default. Local churches who disagree with their annual conference’s choice must vote on which expression they wish to join. The Next Generation UMC Plan provides for only those churches that choose to conduct a vote to do so and requires a two-thirds (2/3) vote tally to trigger a departure from The United Methodist Church. The Next Generation UMC Plan does not provide for annual conferences to separate from The UMC (see section on annual conference disaffiliation near the end of this document).
- The Indianapolis Plan envisions the central conferences becoming a part of the new denomination launched by the Wesley Covenant Association, thus dividing The UMC into two (making provisions for annual conferences and local churches within the central conferences to vote if they choose to associate with the “Centrist UMC”).
- Under the Indianapolis Plan, United Methodist Women, United Methodist Men, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), Wespath, and the United Methodist Publishing House become independent 501(c)(3) corporations serving all of the new Methodist denominations. Other general agencies are designated to be retained by the “Centrist UMC.”
- The Indianapolis Plan proposes dividing the assets given by United Methodists for use by The United Methodist Church to the various new denominations on the basis of unreliable membership statistics with no regard for how the assets were raised and contributed.
- The Next Generation UMC Plan envisions the continuation of The United Methodist Church while assuring an amicable separation for those churches that wish to depart to form a new expression of Methodism. It provides for those churches to leave with their property by suspending the Trust Clause, and affords funds to support the new denominations as they begin.
Why is keeping The UMC intact important? Why not simply shut down The UMC and start one or more new denominations?
The United Methodist Church is currently comprised of more than 44,000 local congregations, over 12 million members, more than 100 colleges, universities, and seminaries, over 1,000 mission and community ministries, 152 senior adult centers, 52 hospitals and health care systems, and so much more (see information here). Together we give over $2 billion each year to make mission and ministry happen. From the time of John Wesley, our strength has been in our connection—bound together around our common theological convictions and missional values. We are better, stronger, and more effective in mission and ministry together than apart. We recognize that, beginning nearly two decades ago, there have been some in our denomination who called for an “amicable separation” from The United Methodist Church. We support allowing those who choose to leave, but we believe the vast majority of United Methodists worldwide do not wish to divide the denomination.
What is meant by regional self-determination and self-governance, and why are these principles important? Are they contrary to historic values of our connectional Church?
Regional self-determination and self-governance is a way of speaking of the need to allow greater decision-making to occur in the various missional contexts of The United Methodist Church. The General Conference will continue to maintain the doctrines and discipline of The United Methodist Church. At the same time, greater decision-making regarding how ministry and mission occur in the various locales of our connection, and how funds will be expended, should be determined closer to each arena of ministry. This way of governing is linked to the historic role of the annual conference in Methodism, which The UMC Constitution identifies as “the basic body of the Church.” Throughout most of our history, the Book of Discipline was relatively short, with most plans for ministry and mission determined at the annual conference and local church levels.
We envision greater regional decision-making authority, shorter General Conferences covering a more limited scope of topics, and allowing each region of The United Methodist Church to better address the missional needs of their context. This is consistent with The United Methodist Church Constitution that states in ¶ 33. Article II, “The annual conference is the basic body in the Church and as such shall have reserved to it the right to vote on… all matters relating to the character and conference relations of its clergy members, and on the ordination of clergy . . .”
Why does the Next Generation UMC Plan change longstanding teachings about the practice of homosexuality?
The biblical and theological basis for change has been presented by a variety of biblical scholars, theologians, and missional leaders, most recently, by two evangelically-rooted United Methodist scholars: Paul Wesley Chilcote (Active Faith: Resisting 4 Dangerous Ideologies with the Wesleyan Way) and Steve Harper (Holy Love: A Biblical Theology for Human Sexuality).
Responses to legislation enacted by the 2019 General Conference and subsequent actions of many U.S. annual conferences have made plain that revisions of sections in the Book of Discipline affecting justice for and full inclusion of LGBTQ persons is embraced broadly by United Methodists in the United States, while also honoring the diversity of convictions and context across the global connection. We understand that in some regions there may be decisions that restrict clergy from officiating at some weddings or set different qualifications for ordination. While we expect continuing robust engagement about contrasting views over sound theology and Christian practice, each ministry context will be set free to reach different conclusions. This demonstrates the spirit of Wesley’s sermon on the “Catholic Spirit” and opens the way for a reinvigorated Church. A list of specific disciplinary deletions is available at the end of this summary.
Why is a moratorium on enforcing the penalties and exclusions affecting LGBTQ persons necessary? Will the moratorium cover church complaint processes and trials that are underway?
One of the anticipated results of the passage of the Traditional Plan in 2019 will be a significant increase in charges being filed that are based on the restrictive language regarding same-sex marriage and the increased penalties it instituted for UM clergy, all of which will be refuted by the passage of the Next Generation UMC Plan. The moratorium provides a way of “clearing the deck” of these charges while living into fresh understandings. It will also provide time for the Commission on the 21st Century Church to design new procedures that will more appropriately fulfill the vision of the witness and ministry of The United Methodist Church. The moratorium will go into effect at the close of the 2020 General Conference and remain in effect unless repealed or modified by the General Conference. While the moratorium is in place, “no judicial proceedings shall be commenced, and all pending judicial proceedings shall be suspended.”
What is the process by which groups of churches will form new expressions of Methodism?
Local churches will have the opportunity to leave the denomination after a period of careful discernment and a two-thirds (2/3) vote at a duly called church conference. The proposal makes provisions for major financial grants to be shared with new denominational expressions which may be formed in the future by former United Methodist churches, but does not create those denominations.
Why is the threshold for votes by church members required to join a new expression set at two-thirds (2/3) and not a simple majority (50% + 1)?
The threshold for votes by church members to join a new expression requires a two-thirds (2/3) majority of the professing members present and voting at a called church conference because:
- A two-thirds vote is required for constitutional amendments (¶59, Article I) and for a local church to transfer to another annual conference (¶41, Article V). Choosing to leave The UMC to join a new expression is a comparable change.
- A two-thirds vote ensures a proper amount of discernment and consensus within a local church. Most pastors and local churches, although not required, would seek more than a 50% + 1 vote on any major decision they are facing, such as a new building campaign, loan approval, or similar large undertaking. Churches would not want to base a decision to leave The UMC on less than a supermajority vote.
It would be harmful if the ill-will resulting from adoption of the Traditional Plan by a slim margin at the 2019 Special Session of General Conference was experienced in every congregation that votes about joining a new denomination. Disrupting a church in which there is not an emphatic majority choosing to split would damage not only the congregation, but also relationships in the community. It would be harmful to the ongoing witness of the love of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
A vote with a slim majority prevailing divides the people and leaves a local church at war with itself. Those who triumph have fulfilled the letter of the law by winning a few votes more than those who oppose the motion. But the thin margin does not promote a genuine resolution of contrasting views. Speculation could arise about whether or not inactive members were recruited to cast ballots when they have not been actively involved with the church for years. Hard feelings among the 45% or more who “lose” would follow and cast a shadow on friendships that were once warm, and on ministries that have remained vibrant despite differences of opinion.
Contrast that approach with the mandate of a clear majority when a decision is secured by at least 66% of the votes. Although anything less than a unanimous vote sets apart some on each side of the question, a two-thirds majority can unite a congregation behind a widely held point of view. A decision made by the vast majority of voting members helps those who disagree appreciate that their views are truly the minority position. With that recognition they are far more likely to be reconciled with the outcome, and less likely to question the process or be dismissive of those who do not share their opinion.
Will churches that choose to join a new expression be granted ownership of their property? Will the terms be realistic and fair?
Yes, churches that choose to join a new expression will be released from the trust clause and granted ownership of their property if they meet the terms outlined in the legislation. For those churches that choose to join a new expression and then form an ecumenical agreement with The United Methodist Church, the terms include the ability of the new expression to assume the pension and other liabilities related to the local church along with other simplified processes and common agreements that can be part of the ecumenical agreement. Any agreement between a local church that chooses to join a new expression and an annual conference that includes payment of no more than 12 months of apportionments or other liabilities as determined, can also include a payment plan of up to ten years. The legislation establishes realistic and fair terms for local churches that join a new expression.
Why does the Next Generation UMC Plan focus on allowing local churches to join a new denominational expression rather than annual conferences?
While some believe that an existing Judicial Council ruling related to the Traditional Plan indicates that annual conferences can vote to leave the denomination without violating The UMC’s Constitution, the interpretation has never been tested by a Judicial Council ruling on actual legislation. By contrast, the Book of Discipline already makes provisions for local churches to leave the denomination through a prescribed process, and some local churches have successfully done so in recent years. Many recall the disappointment of delegates at the 2012 General Conference when Plan UMC was passed but then at the closing hours ruled unconstitutional by the Judicial Council. Groups proposing legislation for annual conferences to leave the connection are taking a grave risk that we could have an unwelcome replay of 2012 at the 2020 General Conference, this time over the constitutionality of disaffiliation by an annual conference. Although there is a chance that the Judicial Council might rule on the constitutionality of proposed legislation by a declaratory decision prior to May, it is unlikely. Even so, the Judicial Council may rule in an inconclusive manner leaving some of the key questions unanswered. If proposed legislation does not pass the scrutiny of the Judicial Council when an annual conference actually votes to depart, no one will have the chance to propose new legislation again until the 2024 General Conference.
What will be the “rules” for establishing the amount and for managing funds to support the launch of new expressions of Methodism? Will the amount and distribution of such funds be based on criteria that are realistic and fair? Who will oversee distribution of the funds?
The Next Generation UMC Plan calls for the General Conference to establish in the 2021-2024 budget an amount to be used for grants for new denominational expressions of Methodism. These grants reflect and honor a history of shared participation and support in mission and will help with transition costs.
Factors considered in determining this amount will include the number of churches in each new expression of Methodism, the number of professing members of those churches, the amounts remitted by U.S. churches to their respective annual conferences for payment of general apportioned funds, and in the case of churches in other regions, the amounts paid for the General Administration and Episcopal Fund in the most recent completed fiscal year.
No monies used for this purpose shall be paid from donor restricted funds or funds subject to a trust. And no monies used for this purpose shall be paid from reserves designated or allocated for the funding of pension plans or retiree medical benefits, nor shall such payments compromise the ability to fulfill those obligations. The allocation of grants will be overseen by the Council of Bishops as part of an ecumenical agreement, with advice from a professional mediator, and administrative support and counsel from the General Council on Finance and Administration and other agencies that can assist this process.
Why is a new Commission on the 21st Century Church needed? Isn’t that simply a repeat of the Commission on a Way Forward?
The proposed Commission on the 21st Century Church is designed to lead us into a period of innovation and renewal. The outcomes are distinctively different from the objectives of the Commission on a Way Forward and will focus on reinventing a high functioning and adaptive polity for The UMC that embraces our global character while providing for contextual relevance and self-governance at each level and in all regions. The work of the commission will include:
- Assessing structures, systems, and policies that perpetuate systemic discrimination of LGBTQ persons, racism, and sexism in The UMC, and offer ways to amplify historically marginalized voices.
- Enabling faster decisions and more nimble and timely responses to emerging needs and opportunities.
- Establishing practices that promote greater flexibility and decision-making by local churches and annual conferences.
- Reviewing and clarifying the roles of the general agencies.
The work of the commission will be timely in providing for thoughtful development of a new constitution and detailing the critical decisions to be considered and enacted at a Special Session of General Conference in the autumn of 2023.
As a practical matter, how will the several different plans being proposed come before the delegates of the 2020 General Conference for action?
If past practice is followed, a challenge for the delegates to the 2020 General Conference will be that the petitions as printed in the Advance Daily Christian Advocate (ADCA) won’t be organized in a way presenting the entire proposal from any of the groups offering plans. Rather, the plans will appear as an assortment of separate petitions that will be assigned to different legislative committees based on the relevant paragraphs in the Book of Discipline. It is possible that the General Conference may propose setting aside time to present an overview of each or several of the plans, but that would be a departure from past practice. The Next Generation UMC Plan is fully described with a listing of all discrete petitions at https://umcnext.com/
What specific language will be deleted and policies changed in the Book of Discipline because they are harmful and exclusively apply to LGBTQ persons?
¶ 161.C) Marriage
In affirming the sanctity of the marriage covenant, delete: “between and man and a woman” and delete support for “laws in civil society that define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.”
¶ 161.G) Human Sexuality
Delete the word “heterosexual” from “sexual relations are affirmed only within the covenant of monogamous, heterosexual marriage.
Delete: “The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching.”
Add: “People of all sexual orientations and gender identities are members of The United Methodist Church and are present in our congregations. We urge our congregations to welcome them equally.”
¶ 304.3 Qualifications for Ordination
Delete: “The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church.”
¶ 304.5 Qualifications for Ordination
Delete the language added by the 2019 General Conference: “The district committee on ordained ministry and the Board of Ordained Ministry shall not approve or recommend any person for candidacy, licensing, commissioning, or ordination who does not meet the qualifications of ¶ 304.1-3, based on the full examination and thorough inquiry into the person’s fitness by the committee and board (see Judicial Council Decisions 1343 and 1344). The bishop presiding in the clergy session shall rule any such unqualified candidate out of order and not eligible to be acted upon.”
¶ 310.2(d) footnote 3
Delete: “in response to expressions throughout the Church regarding homosexuality and ordination” from: “The General Conference, in response to expressions throughout the Church regarding homosexuality and ordination, reaffirms the present language of the Discipline regarding the character and commitment of persons seeking ordination and affirms its high standards.”
Delete: “we ‘do not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice incompatible with Christian teaching’” and “between a man and woman” from: “In the Social Principles, the General Conference has said that we ‘do not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice incompatible with Christian teaching.’ Furthermore, the Principles state that ‘we affirm the sanctity of the marriage covenant that is expressed in love, mutual support, personal commitment, and shared fidelity between a man and a woman.’”
¶ 341.6 Unauthorized Conduct
Delete: “Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches.”
¶ 415.6 Episcopal Responsibilities
Delete portions as shown that were added by the 2019 General Conference: “To consecrate bishops; to ordain elders and deacons; to commission deaconesses, home missioners, and missionaries; and to see that the names of the persons commissioned and consecrated are entered on the journals of the conference and that proper credentials are furnished to these persons.
Bishops are prohibited from consecrating bishops who are self- avowed practicing homosexuals, even if they have been duly elected by the jurisdictional or central conference. Bishops are prohibited from commissioning those on the deacon or elder track if the Board of Ordained Ministry has determined the individual is a self-avowed practicing homosexual or has failed to certify it carried out the disciplinarily mandated examination, even if the individual has been recommended by the Board of Ordained Ministry and approved by the clergy session of the annual conference. Bishops are prohibited from ordaining deacons or elders if the Board of Ordained Ministry has determined the individual is a self-avowed practicing homosexual or has failed to certify it carried out the disciplinarily mandated examination, even if the individual has been recommended by the Board of Ordained Ministry and approved by the clergy session of the annual conference. As these services are acts of the whole Church, text and rubrics shall be used in the form approved by the General Conference.”
¶ 613.19 Funding
Delete: “To ensure that no annual conference board, agency, committee, commission, or council shall give United Methodist funds to any gay caucus or group, or otherwise use such funds to promote the acceptance of homosexuality or violate the expressed commitment of The UMC ‘not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends’ (¶ 161G). The council shall have the right to stop such expenditures. This restriction shall not limit the Church’s ministry in response to the HIV epidemic, nor shall it preclude funding for dialogs or educational events where the Church’s official position is fairly and equally represented.”
¶ 806.9 GCFA Fiscal Responsibilities
Delete: “It shall be responsible for ensuring that no board, agency, committee, commission, or council shall give United Methodist funds to any gay caucus or group, or otherwise use such funds to promote the acceptance of homosexuality or violate the expressed commitment of The United Methodist Church ’not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends’ (¶ 161G). The council shall have the right to stop such expenditures. It shall not limit the Church’s ministry in response to the HIV epidemic.”
¶ 2702.1 Chargeable Offenses
Delete “a heterosexual” in chargeable offense listing “(a) immorality including but not limited to, not being celibate in singleness or not faithful in
a heterosexual marriage” and delete chargeable offense “(b) practices declared by The United Methodist Church to be incompatible with Christian teachings, including but not limited to: being a self-avowed practicing homosexual; or conducting ceremonies which celebrate homosexual unions; or performing same-sex wedding ceremonies;”
¶ 2711.3 Penalties
Delete “However, where the conviction is for conducting ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions or performing same-sex wedding ceremonies under ¶ 2702.1(b) or (d), the trial court does not have the power to and may not fix a penalty less than the following:
a) First (1st) offense – One (1) year’s suspension without pay.
b) Second (2nd) offense – Not less than termination of conference membership and revocation of credentials of licensing, ordination, or consecration.”
Does the Judicial Council ruling JCD 1366 state that annual conference disaffiliation or withdrawal is constitutional?
We believe that the concept of annual conference disaffiliation or withdrawal remains an open question and that JCD 1366 is not definitive. JCD 1366 from the fall of 2018 only spoke to the constitutionality of proposed legislation. No legislation concerning annual conference disaffiliation was approved by the 2019 General Conference, therefore, the Judicial Council has not ruled on the constitutionality of the part of the legislation dealing with annual conference disaffiliation. Additional challenges will undoubtedly be raised in the future. The example of the Swedish Methodist Church departure that is mentioned by some as an example of annual conference disaffiliation is fundamentally different from the type of annual conference disaffiliation often cited as we approach the 2020 General Conference.
If an annual conference wants to disaffiliate, there will undoubtedly be churches that disagree and don’t want to leave with the conference. This raises multiple potential issues, including the practical challenge of transferring churches from one annual conference to another and the role of the jurisdiction or central conference in redrawing boundary lines. We believe more guidance is needed from the Judicial Council about annual conference disaffiliation prior to including it in proposed legislation.
Where can I find more information about the Next Generation UMC Plan and get answers to questions I have about the plan?
(Note: The information included about the Indianapolis Plan is based on reporting and public statements by the plan’s supporters. The numerous petitions that comprise the plan will be reviewed in detail once they are published in the Advance Daily Christian Advocate in February 2020.)