Cutting through the Spin on the Indianapolis Plan

Category: Technology

The Spin Cycle

Earlier this week, all the United Methodist lights went up on the Indianapolis Plan, a plan for the future of The United Methodist Church. And they have a common theme:

From UMNS:

“The drafters of the Indianapolis Plan include pastors of churches that are affiliated with Reconciling Ministries Network, which advocates for full LGBTQ inclusion. Along with [WCA President Keith] Boyette, the Rev. Tom Lambrecht — vice president and general manager of Good News — represents the traditionalist perspective.”

From the Wesleyan Covenant Association:

“Centrists, Progressives, and Traditionalists Work Toward a Fair Plan of Separation.”

From Good News

“a group of diverse leaders from across the UM Church recently gathered in Indianapolis to explore whether a different and more hopeful narrative might emerge.”

Gosh, all these reports seem to indicate this was a jointly crafted plan, sunshine and puppy dogs between Traditionalists and Progressives and Centrists—and really isn’t that great? Gee, anyone who opposes this miraculous deal must be just a hater…

…But the reality does not match the marketing.

A Well-Meaning But Stilted Gathering

All three articles allege that the Indianapolis Plan was created jointly between Progressives, Centrists, and Traditionalists. That turns out to be a deceptive claim.

Here’s the endorsers. Among the conservatives involved were the WCA chairperson and the Good News Vice President (two major leaders of their perspective), and a WCA Leadership Council attorney and GC delegate (Nicklas). The moderates involved were centrist folks (here’s one reflection), and the progressives involved were…well…not equivalent caucus group leaders of progressive movements. No offense to them and their terrific local ministries, but their involvement in global ecclesial politics is not equivalent to the Traditionalists. 

Indeed, the Executive Director of Reconciling Ministries Network spoke out that she did not participate (“The group included no LGBTQ people or LGBTQ justice caucus leaders at its inception”), and the ED of MFSA did not participate, and neither said someone was there on their behalf. No Queer Clergy Caucus or UMForward involvement either. There are dozens of present board members of those organizations that could have participated. This mixture of movement leaders and local leaders (who have unequal levels of accountability—at least two had potential employment considerations) makes the document very stilted

I wonder why this unequal room happened. It’s like when Fox News interviews someone who is giving a Democratic perspective, but they are not Democratic leaders on equivalent level to their Republican opponent who is at the top of their chain. The purpose is to overwhelming privilege one perspective, regardless of the quality of the opponent. An interesting comparison.

In short, the claim that the Indianapolis Plan is the scion of the three movements in United Methodism is not an accurate claim: while involving people from various perspectives, they did not represent or hold accountability to their movements in the same way.

Fact Check Update: Rev. Darren Cushman Wood writes about the composition of the group here. While it was already acknowledged above that RMN withdrew and declined to participate, I’m relieved that the progressives who did participate tried everything they could to involve movement leaders with equal accountability to the Traditionalists. The end result is still problematic, but the responsibility for that doesn’t lie with the Traditionalists.

Indianapolis Author Compiler Reveals Concerns

There’s also the claim that this plan crafted jointly in the Indianapolis conversations. However, that’s also not the case. 

Over a month ago, I received a copy of a plan called “The Direct Plan,” authored by Good News Vice President Rev. Tom Lambrecht. The included email said it was his work (“I have been working diligently on a summary proposal”) that incorporates some of the Indianapolis conversation along with other Traditionalist agenda items—I’m sure other Traditionalists had a hand in its creation. The draft plan was dated July 5th, 2019. 

NOTE (responding to comments): No, I don’t name my sources. Given my established status as a UMC commentator and vast connections over the past 12 years of writing, various UMC documents like these end up in my inbox and I hold off on publishing about them out of respect for their effort (I had Bard-Jones for six weeks before its publication at UMNS!) and to fact-check. But now that it is out in the open, I can write about it.

Lo and behold, when you compare the July 5th draft document with the August 8th document, they are 95% the same in content—not in rhetoric, but the principles 1-20 match the document word for word in many places! 

What this tells me is that right out of the gate from the Indianapolis conversation, the Traditionalists had a plan and the remainder of the conversations and negotiations were about getting Centrists and Progressives to put their name on it, not “shared crafting.”

Fact Check Update: Rev. Darren Cushman Wood gives more of the process here. As I previously claimed, this document includes some jointly crafted pieces from the initial Indianapolis conversation along with some agenda items that were brought by Lambrecht into the draft document. While the bulk of the document appears to be jointly crafted—which matches the media narrative more than i previously questioned—there were enough alarm bells from the agenda items woven into it by Lambrecht (or others) that concern about their inclusion is still necessary.

Why Name The Author?

Ever since the Traditionalist Plan was proposed without naming its authors, and given it catastrophic effect, it is important to name and give accountability to plans before us.

Namelessness is not Wesleyan.

This namelessness means there has been no accountability for the authors of a failed Traditionalist Plan that has cost our agencies millions of dollars and our churches thousands of members and tarnished our brand as anti-gay beyond repair.

The Indianapolis Plan was a WCA plan that is being marketed and masked as a joint venture. Naming the truth gives better accountability.

The Hidden Knives in the Plan

Okay, so that’s cutting through the spin. But there are TRULY problematic proposed ideas that are in the draft that have not been publicly revealed yet if they are in the final version of the Indianapolis Plan. 

Those draft July 2019 provisions include:

  1. General Church assets would be divided 50/50 between the Traditionalist and Centrist/Progressive expressions. Regardless of size, 50/50 split of the resources. That’s what they mean by “binding arbitration” in the published Principles. I have extensive commentary on this one, but I’ll save it for a future post, so I’ll add a single sentence: it is unconscionable for an Expression that for decades has voted to defund (and withheld apportionments) to the general agencies to now lay claim to their reserve funds. Unbelievable.
  2. The majority vote for an annual conference to affiliate with an expression includes a requirement that they poll every member in their annual conference churches for their opinion (which is non-binding, but still influential). This end-run around representative democracy to straight populism will be found in various places. 
  3. Any group of churches that choose to go a different expression from their annual conference would get a cut of their AC’s reserve funds unless the annual conference’s equalization members were elected/randomly selected instead of nominated or chosen. Again, the end-run around representative democracy practices in United Methodism, and a negation of annual conference that designate some equalization seats for youth, young adults, or persons of color. Certainly telling!
  4. The draft document includes a moratorium on complaints and disciplinary proceedings related to LGBTQ+ exclusion—the final document does not. Interesting. Is that even too lenient for the conservatives? 
  5. Finally, the draft document indicates some form of Constitutional Conferences for 2022 for the various Expressions. However, once each side has been constituted, there’s no guarantee they will actually do what they say: once they have become autonomous entities and have gotten their cut of shared assets in the bank, they can revoke or sever connections at will. The WCA’s professed idyllic fantasy of a shared future, of neighbors waving from the same neighborhood, is not a sure thing. 

There’s more, but I’ll stop there. Again, we don’t know the details or the legislation of the document yet, so we don’t know what made it from the draft to the final. But given the rest of it did, the likelihood of these problematic twists of the knife is high as Traditionalists are masters at embedding spiteful polity (see the Wespath legislation debacle). We need to see the actual final proposal to ensure these efforts did not make the final version.

Fact check update: Rev. Wood wrote here that the provisions that I critique are definitely not included in the final version, though it is still in draft form. I’m glad this public scrutiny of potentially problematic pieces is being considered by these final drafters.

The reality

There’s a lot to like about the Indianapolis Plan on the surface. I’m all about progressives, centrists, and traditionalists getting together and crafting things together. That hasn’t worked in the past because progressives are intentionally cut out of the conversations (for example, conservative reformers kept progressives out of the crafting of PlanUMC in 2012 despite their substantial contributions). I’m all about it happening in a mutual, power-shareable way.

My critique is the same I had for the Commission on A Way Forward: When you have caucus group employees whose positions and income have accountability at a different level from local church pastors, then you do not have an effort in good faith. When one side authors a proposal and it does not change in negotiations, it is not an effort in good faith. 

In short:

  • There’s no negotiations between parties if there’s no substantial changes from one side’s prepared agenda. 
  • There’s no equality to the group when caucus group leaders with vast connections are placed alongside local church pastors and laity. 
  • The over-the-top promotions of intergroup work together papers over the product and the participants. 
  • The same people who are trying to harass a clergyperson out of ministry have cut a moratorium out of the final principles. They seem to want to remove as many people as possible before they cast lots to divide the clothing. If they really wanted a merciful conversation, they would have called for the dropping of the cases against Anna Blaedel in Iowa and David Meredith in Ohio. 

So I have deep reservations about this plan, not only because of its proposed polity, but because its process has been deceptive from the start and continues that in the marketing today.

Your Turn

The Indianapolis Plan began as a WCA-authored Plan by a caucus group employee, and resisted revision from its WCA-authored components through its final inception. No matter the spin, this origin needs to be known so the components of the Indianapolis Plan can be clearly critiqued instead of papered-over by alleged joint authorship. 

Thoughts?

Thanks for reading, commenting, and sharing on social media.

Fact check postscript: the week after publishing, the co-convener gave a different narrative which I included above. While the group composition and drafters section need updates to paint a fuller picture, the purpose of the post being to critique the potential agenda items and give allowance to people to critique even a “jointly-crafted Plan” held strong through the vetting process. Thanks to Darren and others for the accountability and the transparency of the process.

Cutting through the Spin on the Indianapolis Plan