More liberal United Methodists in the Western Jurisdiction are inching closer to separation from the denomination after a bishop announced the formation of a guiding coalition to “shape and lead a new movement of Methodism in the Northwest that fully includes LGBTQIA+ persons.”
Bishop Elaine Stanovsky of the Greater Northwest Episcopal Area made the October 8 announcement that the coalition would be tasked to “develop proposals for United Methodists across the Greater Northwest to move into a future of vital, inclusive, innovative, multiplying, engaged Christian ministry in the Wesleyan Tradition.”
“We are forming this Guiding Coalition in response to many conversations since last February, and to legislation passed at the annual conference sessions earlier this year,” Stanovsky shared, obliquely referencing the 2019 specially called General Conference that adopted a modified version of the Traditional Plan. The plan made no fundamental changes to United Methodist ordination requirements or moral standards, but strengthened accountability requirements for clergy who operate in conflict with the United Methodist Church’s existing Book of Discipline. These new accountability measures take effect beginning January 1.
The move comes as some annual conferences in the Western Jurisdiction have pulled back their level of apportionment giving. At least eleven progressive congregations across the United States have taken initial steps toward disaffiliation from the United Methodist Church. Officials in the Mountain Sky Area, led by contested Bishop Karen Oliveto, have already stated their intention to depart the denomination if the 2020 General Conference does not produce a result favorable to them. Preparations for such a departure are already underway.
“The coming months may require us to move quickly and rely on our collective strength,” Stanovsky wrote.
The Guiding Coalition will include representatives from the three annual conferences that comprise the episcopal area Stanovsky serves: the Alaska, Oregon-Idaho, and Pacific-Northwest Conferences.
According to the press release, the coalition will invite work groups of laity and clergy “to examine areas where the conferences can shape or define a way forward.”
Working groups will study different paths. These include continued resistance to the Traditional Plan and efforts to “reform the Church through legislative action” in 2020 when the regularly scheduled General Conference convenes in May. Another working group will examine finances, including apportionments, “seeking to align them with the values and concerns of United Methodists in the Northwest.” This may be an oblique reference to suggestions by some liberal United Methodists to bring collective punishment against those in Africa and Eastern Europe, withholding U.S. wealth against ministries in less affluent parts of the world.
All Western Jurisdiction bishops have supported the One Church Plan (OCP). Since the close of the 2019 General Conference, Western Jurisdiction officials have spoken openly about acting within their jurisdiction as if the OCP had passed and set up a web site to promote those policies. The jurisdiction is actively seeking to hire staff, paid for with offering plate money from congregations, to coordinate such efforts. A “Fresh United Methodism Summit” hosted by the Western Jurisdiction Mission Cabinet is scheduled for November 14-16 and will “go through a process of envisioning and innovation around the next steps for the Western Jurisdiction and The United Methodist Church.”