Enduring the Long Winter of #UMC Discontent

Category: Technology

Between Epiphany and General Conference, there isn’t much else to do but fight. Don’t let it happen.

Winter is coming already here

After the liturgical day of Epiphany, we enter Ordinary Time: eight Sundays until Lent begins. In the assigned Scriptures from the Lectionary, this is a time of reading stories about Jesus. But in the world of United Methodism, this is just a time for fighting.

We’ve been somewhat good up until now. There was Advent and Christmas to look forward to. Before that it was Thanksgiving, and the November elections. Before that it was the Judicial Council’s evaluation of the A Way Forward plans, and before that school and ministry years starting. Other than analysis and reactions when the Plans were revealed last Summer, we’ve had a series of distractions in the church and world from the coming drama of General Conference 2019.

But there are few distractions between now and General Conference at the end of February. Some secular holidays: MLK Jr Day, President’s Day, Valentine’s, and the Super Bowl. But no churchy holidays. No breaks or things to look forward to until the foreboding General Conference February 23-26th.

Already the contentions have emerged as caucus groups issue competing commentaries and dire warnings about the other plans, some with claims not based in polity, history, or ecclesiology at all. Just fear and contention that reflect our winter of discontent.

A January Surprise?

In secular politics, an “October Surprise” is a dubious or sensational accusation against a candidate for President. It is meant to sway popular opinion at the last minute before the November election, trusting that the populace will respond with fear rather than with rational discourse.

In United Methodism, I anticipate a similar action. Even though we’ve had many months of sitting with these plans, it is still human delegates who have the final say, and those with say can be swayed by fear. It might be:

  • A shadow proposal to replace one of the 3-6 under consideration.
  • A bloc of churches banding together and seeking to leave The United Methodist Church unless the Traditionalist Plan passes (which has already happened for some).
  • A bloc of delegates pledging to vote to dissolve United Methodism rather than endorse any plan.

This is not to say that continued evaluation should not continue–I have a rather dire financial analysis of the Traditionalist Plan that will come out next week only because it took this long to get all the data from the gatekeepers. But we should be wary of what we see in the coming days and see whether the rational content outweighs the emotional effects.

General Conference is political. And so we must be aware and wary of political shenanigans that work in the secular world–because we might see them creeping into the church world too.

Enduring all that lies ahead

All this uproar is intentional: Discontent and disruption cause humans to choose the safest path, or the one with the most personal benefits to themselves. That means choosing a plan that either ends the tension (The WCA’s plan of dissolution) or the one that casts out marginalized and minority groups (The Traditionalist Plan). There is no neutral ground in the face of such acrimony.

But we can choose a better path. While for the summer and fall, we could stick our heads in the sand and focus on the mission and ministry of the local church in front of us, we can no longer do that in these final days. We must engage and endure for the sake of those marginalized by our own church polity and those most affected by the harmful rhetoric and actions by our own church leadership, and most of all for the sake of the Gospel that we believe United Methodists have a good chance of offering well in the 21st century.

So in the days ahead, I invite you to:

  1. Pray for the delegates. Lists are in the ADCA to pray by name or region. Contact the ones you have personal relationships with or conference connections to let them know of your prayers and why.
  2. Care for LGBTQ persons close to you. Reach out to LGBTQ United Methodists in your life and ask how you can be a support or ally to them. LGBTQ Methodists are the ones most talked about, most affected, and yet least included in GC2019. Pick up the slack because GC will be a trauma unlike any other before.
  3. Continue to be educated on General Conference plans. Reading this blog, United Methodist News, UM-Insight, and other resources offer a variety of perspectives on the plans. And here’s a 1000 word primer on how we got to this point.
  4. Ask subject matter experts for any questions so no fake news or misconceptions reign. You are welcome to contact me with any polity questions through my Facebook page messenger.
  5. Engage a new spiritual practice. Try something new to sustain your anxiety or fear. Chat with a friend whenever the doom starts to overcome.
  6. Make a plan. Work on some scenarios if the different plans pass. Compare them with others so you have something to work on if one of the plans pass GC.

Your turn

This season between Christmas and Lent is the longest it can be. The winter of UMC discontent will be brutal. But the people called Methodists do not have to be brutal to one another.

My prayer is that you care for yourself, care for others, care for the marginalized, so that the discontent and disruption doesn’t cause fear to rule our hearts in the February dark.


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