What the Protocol Legislation Means for You and Your Students
The legislation that many agree will be the framework for creating a new Methodist denomination has been released. What does this mean for your church? What does this mean for your job? And most importantly, what does it mean for the students in your youth ministry? We’ll answer all of that but first, let’s catch you up on what happened so far.
How did we get here?
For 47 years the United Methodist Church has been in some level of argument around human sexuality. Through those years the church has made it illegal for ministers to perform same-sex weddings and for “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” to be ordained. It all came to a head in May 2019 when the church called a special General Conference to address the issue. That conference ended with the passage of a block of legislation known as the Traditional Plan that took the church in a more traditional direction and aded things like mandatory minimum punishments, etc. for those that violated the rules around human sexuality. Because of the way the General Conference played out there was not time spent on revising the entire block of legislation resulting in passage of pieces that had previously been ruled unconstitutional by the Judicial Council (the Supreme Court of the UMC).
After that disappointing end with neither side getting what they wanted, a group of caucus leaders and Bishops hired a mediator to help them resolve the issue. On January 3rd that group released the Protocol of Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation that outlined the major points of how a new traditionalist denomination would be created and how churches and annual conferences could choose to become part of it. The protocol was not legislation, but a set of values that would need to be put into the formal legislation to be voted on by General Conference this May.
That legislation has now been written and released filling in details on how this group is proposing the church moves through this season of separation. To be clear, this is not finished. It is not church law. It must be debated and voted on by General Conference this May; however, with leaders from every major caucus group signing the protocol and agreeing to abandon their own legislation and put their energy and influence behind getting this passed, it’s as close to a done deal as there has been in the 47 year argument.
What are the basics again?
Basically this legislation allows for the creation of a traditionalist denomination that maintains the church’s current stance on human sexuality. That denomination will receive $25 million to begin and will agree to release the UMC from any future claims on general church assets. An interesting twist in the final legislation is that there could be multiple traditionalist denominations created; however, it seems to be bent toward ensuring there is only one. The legislation also allows for other non-traditionalist denominations to form and allocates $2 million for those.
Once the General Conference is over Annual Conferences will have the ability to vote to become part of a new traditionalist denomination (or one of the others created). If the Annual Conference chooses to vote, they will need 57% to move into a new denomination. If that happens all the churches within an annual conference (and all their property) will move by default into the new denomination. If the vote fails the conference remains in the Post Separation UMC.
But what if a church disagrees? If a church wants to go in a different direction than their annual conference, they can choose to vote as a local church. That vote will require either a simple majority (50% plus one vote) or two thirds. We’ll explain that in a minute. If a church votes to do the opposite of their Annual Conference, they will move (with all their property) into their chosen denomination.
What does this mean for your job as a youth minister?
Whether you are ordained or not and whether you are paid or not, this has important implications for your job. If you aren’t ordained, there is nothing specific in the legislation about the lay people who are employed at a church, but don’t be fooled. You will be in the crosshairs for a bit. This is going to be contentious, especially if it gets to the point where your local church is voting. Ultimately your role will be to minister to students who may want to have a voice in the process (more on that in the next section). Whether you agree with your students or not, people will feel like you have had an input into whatever they say. If you end up debating homosexuality in your church it will be heated and your actions will be scrutinized.
That means you need to be careful. Make sure that you run everything you are doing by your pastor and possibly your SPR chair. At the end of the day you may be faced with ultimate-level job decisions. Don’t take them lightly, and remember that your students are likely not of one mind. You need to minister to all your students.
What if you have considered ordination or are in the ordination process? This legislation fills in some major holes around this area that were not clear from the rough outline released in January. If you are staying in the UMC, it should have not affect on where you are in the process. You will simply indicate to your District Superintendent and Bishop that you want to stay in the UMC and you will continue within the post-separation system. If you are wanting to leave for one of the new denominations that are being created, the UMC is asking that you be grandfathered in but obviously has no ability to direct those independent bodies.
What does it mean for your students?
This is where it gets interesting because any student that has completed confirmation is a full voting member of your church and has the right to voice their opinion and vote on what happens. Yes, the twelve year-olds are just as able to vote as the sixty year-olds.
Youth art part of annual conference, but most churches have few if any delegates there. We will vote another process to how they can be present there. For most youth ministries it will come down to what happens at the local level.
If your annual conference has a vote and your church chooses to not vote, there’s nothing to be done unless they want to make a presentation to the church council or pastor. But if your church is going to vote, youth have a consequential role to play.
The local church voting actually has two stages. The first stage happens at the church council level (often called the administrative board). That group will be the group to set the threshold for the vote. They can choose whether it will require a simple majority or two thirds to move in a direction different than your annual conference. If your students are represented on that board, they will have a vote on that. If they don’t have a vote, they can still come to the meeting and ask to be heard.
The second stage of the voting is the church-wide vote. In that vote every single youth that has gone through confirmation has an equal vote and voice to every adult member there. It will be your job to try to make sure they know that they can vote and to work with the church leaders to ensure the vote is scheduled for a time when students can attend.
That’s a lot, I know. And don’t worry, we are going to be releasing more resources around this to help you in all these areas. For now, we need to pray.
Lord, hear our prayers.