January 23, 2020
To the Saints of God in Iowa,
Grace and peace! As we experience snow and bitter cold in Iowa, I am reminded of the graciousness and warmth of spirit that I witness in every corner of our state. In the midst of uncertainty and anxiety about the future of The United Methodist Church, you are engaged in transformative ministries in your local communities and around the world that are changing hearts and saving lives.
I'd like to share some thoughts about our Conference’s Vision 2032 that will have an impact both now and beyond, as well as some observations about a proposal for the future of the UMC that will come before the General Conference in May.
By the end of this week, I and conference staff will have been to all of the districts for a second round of conversation around a vision for the future of the Iowa Annual Conference. Dreaming ahead to the year 2032, I imagine a church where:
- Relationships will be more important than theological convictions
- Innovation, creativity, and imagination will be more important than stagnation, rigidity, sacred cows, and the status quo
- Our primary focus will be on the Great Commission and the Great Commandment: to go out into the world and make disciples of Jesus Christ and to love God and our neighbor in all that we do.
We have difficult decisions to make around restructuring, rightsizing our budget, but we will do it in light of the mission and vision of our conference.
Inspire, equip, and connect communities of faith
to cultivate world-changing disciples of Jesus Christ
God’s hope for the world made real through faithful leaders,
fruitful communities, and fire-filled people
All of the relevant documents related to Vision 2032 can be found here.
At the same time as we dream and plan for the future, United Methodists in Iowa are also looking ahead to the 2020 General Conference, where important votes will be taken in regard to human sexuality. I’d like to share my perspective on The Protocol, a new proposal to General Conference 2020 that relates to human sexuality.
On January 3, 2020, The Council of Bishops issued a press release on behalf of a group of sixteen United Methodists, representing many parts of our worldwide connection as well as caucus groups representing various theological viewpoints. This group issued a document called Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation.
The group met throughout the fall of 2019 in order to help The United Methodist Church move past our impasse around human sexuality. I admit that I recoiled when I first saw the word “separation” in the title of the document. I have always believed that we could find a way to honor our differences around human sexuality without separation. I love being part of a church that has varied convictions about matters of faith. However, in light of what seem to be unsolvable differences, I have come to see the wisdom of offering a way forward that undergirds separation with grace and reconciliation by all parties.
Primary features of The Protocol include:
- A “respectful and dignified” separation is proposed, with the possibility of continued cooperation around matters of shared interest.
- The Protocol provides a way for us to keep mission, outreach, and evangelism at the center of who we are.
- At the heart of the The Protocol is the formation of a new Methodist Traditionalist denomination. After separation, the current “post-Separation” United Methodist Church would still continue.
- Annual conferences, by a 57% majority, could vote to join a new Methodist denomination. If an Annual Conference does not take a vote on affiliation, it will remain part of the post-separation United Methodist Church.
- Central conferences could vote to join a new Methodist denomination by a two-third majority vote.
- Local churches could choose to join a different denomination than the one their conference joins by either a simple majority or a two-third majority vote. They would retain their property assets, and liabilities. Not voting at all implies remaining in the post-Separation United Methodist Church.
- Local churches that choose to affiliate with a new denomination must maintain their connectional responsibilities until the separation is official.
- $25 million would be paid over four years to a new traditionalist denomination with no further claims to UM assets.
- $2 million would be reserved for other denominations that may be formed.
- $39 million over eight years would be designated to support ethnic ministries worldwide as well as Africa University.
- Pension plans would remain in place for all clergy and lay employees regardless of where they affiliate.
- The Protocol requests that all judicial and administrative complaints around LGBTQ matters be held in abeyance.
General Conference legislation for The Protocol is currently being written. All of the proposals around human sexuality will be open for amendments at the 2020 General Conference.
I believe that The Protocol offers a viable way to move forward in vital ministry as we share the transformative love of Jesus Christ with the world. Written by United Methodists representing a variety of groups and US and Central Conferences, the proposal is an expression of grace and reconciliation that will allow United Methodists to more faithfully share God’s love and hope. If you would like to learn more about The Protocol, click here to read Frequently Asked Questions About the United Methodist Mediation Team.
We are, indeed, at a time of impending change in The United Methodist Church. It is also a time of great opportunity for United Methodists to witness to the world that we can acknowledge our differences through separation at the same time as we express grace and reconciliation toward one another.
If The Protocol is passed at the 2020 General Conference, we have scheduled a tentative date of Saturday, October 10, 2020 for the Iowa Annual Conference to vote on whether to become a new Methodist traditionalist denomination or continue to be The United Methodist Church where all prohibitions are removed in regard to human sexuality.
In the meantime, I have vowed to hold in abeyance all administrative and judicial processes related to LGBTQ prohibitions as we move through General Conference 2020.
I am asking you to do four things in the coming weeks and months.
- Pray for The United Methodist Church as General Conference approaches.
- Pray for our General and Jurisdictional Conference delegates who will be voting on many petitions, including human sexuality.
- Continue to find new and creative ways to share the good news of Jesus Christ through evangelism, mission, and outreach to your communities.
- Please make a diligent effort to stay current in your local church apportionments. The only way we can change the world is to be faithful in the ministry that we have committed to share together.
Thank you for the privilege of being your episcopal leader. I pray for our laity, clergy, and congregations continually. Together, may our God lead us into a future of hope, as we blanket the state of Iowa and our world with love, faithfulness, and compassion. I leave you with the words of Psalm 40, which was one of the lectionary passages from January 19.
So I said, “Here I come!
I’m inscribed in the written scroll.
I want to do your will, my God.
Your Instruction is deep within me.”
I’ve told the good news of your righteousness
in the great assembly.
I didn’t hold anything back—
as you well know, Lord!
I didn’t keep your righteousness only to myself.
I declared your faithfulness and your salvation.
I didn’t hide your loyal love and trustworthiness
from the great assembly.
So now you, Lord—
don’t hold back any of your compassion from me.
Let your loyal love and faithfulness always protect me.