Photo by Nick Youngson. Alpha Stock Images.

The conversation group working on the Indianapolis Plan has come to agreement and submitted the final version of a plan for an amicable separation in The United Methodist Church. As the document states, “We seek to move away from the caustic atmosphere which has often marked conversation in the United Methodist Church into a new season where we bless one another as we send each other into our respective mission fields to multiply our witness for Christ.” Readers can find the final version of the plan here.

This plan (of which I am one of the authors) envisions the UM Church giving birth to new denominations of United Methodism.

  • A Traditionalist UM Church would maintain the current stance of the Discipline regarding same-sex marriage and the ordination of LGBT persons.
  • A Centrist UM Church would remove all the restrictions related to same-sex marriage and LGBT ordination, allowing individual annual conferences and local churches to make those decisions (essentially a “One Church Plan” denomination).
  • A Progressive UM Church that celebrates and mandates same-sex marriage and LGBT ordination in all its churches could form immediately, and/or progressives could find a home in the Centrist UM Church.
  • Other denominations could be formed by any annual conference or group of 50 congregations.

These new denominations would be separate from one another, with different Books of Discipline, separate finances, and different theological perspectives. However, all would share a common Wesleyan, United Methodist heritage and doctrine. All could use the name “United Methodist” with a modifier to distinguish it from the other denominations. All could use a version of the cross and flame logo modified to fit their particular denomination. Future blogs will talk more about the nuts and bolts of this plan and how it might work.

What are the unique values and advantages of the Indianapolis Plan?

It is the only plan made public up to this point that was crafted by persons representing diverse theological perspectives. The group contained five traditionalists, five centrists, and two progressives. (Attempts were made to enlist more progressives, but those approached were unable or unwilling to participate. However, progressive groups were consulted as the plan developed.) As such, this plan seeks to take into account the values and interests of all three groups. It represents a compromise among the three for the sake of ending the fighting and helping the church move into a positive and fruitful future.

It is the only plan that seeks division/separation rather than expulsion. By now, the leaders of all three groups — traditionalists, centrists, and progressives — have publicly stated that separation of some kind is the only way to move forward in a positive direction. Most other plans, however, envision a forced departure of one group or another from the church. The UMC Next Plan would essentially force traditionalists to leave the UM Church by changing the church’s definition of marriage and allowing LGBT ordination. Continuing to perfect the Traditional Plan by increasing accountability and closing loopholes would essentially force progressives to leave the UM Church or be subject to complaints and disciplinary procedures.

Only the Indianapolis Plan treats all perspectives equally, forcing no one to “leave” the church, but at the same time creating new denominations and allowing anyone to choose which new denomination to be part of. Nowhere in the plan is this more clearly seen than in the ability of central conferences, annual conferences, and local churches to make the decision on which denomination to align with by majority vote, rather than a super-majority (2/3) vote. If one group is “leaving,” a super-majority vote would make sense. But if all are choosing between equal alternatives, then a majority vote is more appropriate. Under the Indianapolis Plan, there are no winners or losers, people “leaving” and people “staying.” The plan attempts to treat all parties equally.

The Indianapolis Plan does not dissolve The United Methodist Church, but provides for its legal continuation through the Centrist UM Church. This is necessary in order to avoid constitutional amendments, which would require a 2/3 vote of General Conference and a 2/3 vote of all the annual conference members. This plan can be passed by a majority at General Conference and implemented immediately, rather than having to wait up to two years for the ratification vote. Legal continuation of the UM Church is also necessary because of legal issues that may need to be cared for in the process of separation that we may not even be aware of at this point.

But the Centrist UM Church will not simply be a continuation of The United Methodist Church as it currently exists. It will “do business as” the United Methodist name with a modifier. It will change its 48-year moral teachings and requirements around LGBT persons. It will consider making the United States its own central conference, able to adapt the Discipline differently in the U.S. than in other countries. It will undoubtedly change its structure to address the loss of perhaps one-third of its U.S. membership. Even the UMC Next Plan (from the centrists and progressives) envisions the creation of a “Commission on the 21st Century Church” that would “prepare a comprehensive structure and governance plan” to be enacted by a future General Conference. The Centrist UM Church will be in this sense a new denomination.

The Indianapolis Plan seeks to minimize the need for local congregations to vote as much as possible. Taking ideas from the Commission on a Way Forward proposals, this plan envisions central conferences and annual conferences voting on which denomination to align with. Only those local churches disagreeing with their annual conference alignment would need to vote. Because the General Conference cannot mandate that central conferences and annual conferences vote, the plan provides that U.S. annual conferences that do not vote would automatically become part of the Centrist UM Church. Central conferences and annual conferences outside the U.S. that do not vote would automatically become part of the Traditionalist UM Church. These defaults were determined based on our understanding of where most annual conferences would probably end up.

At the same time, it will be easy to trigger a vote in an annual conference. If the annual conference does not announce its intention to vote, any member can make a motion during the session of annual conference that it does take a vote. If the motion passes, the conference would have to take a vote. In addition, the plan allows the annual conference itself to call a special session of the annual conference if needed in order to take such a vote on alignment.

If the goal is to gain support across the theological spectrum for a fair and equitable plan that allows the different parts of the church to move easily into new denominations that can operate independently based on different theological perspectives, the Indianapolis Plan is best suited to accomplish that goal. Future blog posts will continue to explore the values and provisions of the Indianapolis Plan.