Conferences Endorse United Methodist Separation Protocol

John Lomperis on November 9, 2021

From coast to coast, in all five jurisdictions, United Methodist annual conferences across the theological spectrum have recently voted overwhelmingly to prepare for and at least implicitly accept the reality of our denomination’s coming separation. The six annual conferences that recently explicitly endorsed the United Methodist “Protocol on Reconciliation and Grace through Separation” span the theological spectrum, but overall lean rather heavily liberal. These six include both America’s largest-membership annual conference (North Georgia) and the conference that has been called the historic cradle of American Methodism (Baltimore-Washington). 

Shortly after the Protocol was publicly unveiled, there was clearly strong momentum to adopt it as a carefully negotiated peace treaty to end our denomination’s decades of infighting, through a network of carefully balanced compromises that made no one faction completely happy but which almost everyone could ultimately accept. Several annual conferences around the world submitted it as legislation to the next General Conference.

Early 2020 saw endorsements of the United Methodist Protocol pour in, from all active Filipino bishops, other bishops, General Conference delegations, heads of delegations, and caucuses across the theological spectrum. Then in late 2020 and early 2021, even after the pandemic’s disruptions, we saw continued public Protocol support from the progressive leadership of the Western Jurisdiction, aggressively liberal Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson, the liberal Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN) and UMC Next caucuses, the Michigan and Indiana delegations, Nigerian United Methodist leaders, and theologically orthodox leaders from around the world.

But it has been six months since I reported on all of that

Has an additional half-year of General Conference not meeting somehow changed any factors making the Protocol the regrettably best (or least bad) direction forward for all major factions in our already deeply divided denomination?

I have yet to see anyone present a serious, factually informed, logically coherent argument that Covid-19 or anything else that has developed since early 2020 has done anything to resolve the fundamental, irreconcilable differences in our denomination or make the Protocol any less needed.

There has been some talk that largely amounts to, “Well, I heard one person confidently make some claim about what REALLY is going to happen with the Protocol, though it’s not clear if this claim was really based on anything.”

It is difficult to scientifically quantify support for the Protocol in our complex denomination.  

But here is what I can tell you: The Protocol on Reconciliation and Grace through Reconciliation remains publicly supported by United Methodist leaders spanning four continents and the theological spectrum. I see no major, sustained, public, well-organized, geographically wide campaign openly working to completely defeat the Protocol (as has been typical with other controversial proposals). Not one annual conference, to my knowledge, has adopted a resolution opposing the Protocol. Of the many annual conferences that considered resolutions to endorse the United Methodist Protocol in various ways, every single one passed these resolutions, generally by rather overwhelming margins. Still other annual conferences are taking concrete actions to recognize and prepare for the coming separation. All of this is on top of the earlier expressions of public support for the Protocol or even influential liberal Bishop Ken Carter (aside from strong criticisms I would have of him on other matters) recently going on the record to declare his continued support for the Protocol

U.S. annual conferences discussed here held their 2021 sessions between June and October.  

In June, the North Georgia Conference, whose roughly 350,000 church members make it the largest annual conference in America, adopted a resolution through which the conference now “urges the passage of the Protocol of Grace and Reconciliation through Separation when said legislation comes before a special called general conference or a regular session of general conference” (see page 151 for the full text). The fact that this endorsement passed with a 65 percent majority (759-414), in a rather evenly divided conference, indicates continuing “bipartisan” support for the Protocol.  

Last month, the extremely liberal Mountain Sky Conference overwhelmingly adopted a resolution similarly supporting the adoption of the Protocol, whether it comes before a regular or specially called General Conference session. That resolution, co-sponsored by WCA leader Bob Kaylor and liberal General Conference delegate Kent Ingram, passed with an 87 percent majority (358-55) in a conference with very few remaining theological traditionalists. So this was a strong show of liberal support for the Protocol. Note that this is the same Denver-based annual conference where traditionalist United Methodists regard lesbian activist Karen Oliveto as illegally occupying the bishop’s office.  

Less than a week later, the liberal-dominated Baltimore-Washington Conference passed a similarly worded resolution to endorse the Protocol, jointly presented by leaders from the conference chapters of the Wesleyan Covenant Association and the LGBTQ+ liberationist RMN, by a whopping 79 percent majority (501-133). The resolution had been overwhelmingly endorsed ahead of time by that annual conference’s liberal-dominated Connectional Table.

The 2021 session of the liberal-dominated California-Pacific Conference also adopted a resolution, by a reported 64 percent super-majority, endorsing the Protocol and calling for its passage at either a “regular” or specially called session of General Conference (which you can read all about on pages 6-7). The biggest difference with the previously noted resolutions was that the Cal-Pac resolution saw its original version amended from the floor to add a somewhat complicating statement that among other things reiterated that annual conference’s previously expressed support for the liberal “Christmas Covenant.” But this amendment did not outright oppose any plank of the Protocol or question any of the Protocol’s most important provisions.

So now the Baltimore-Washington, California-Pacific, Mountain Sky, and North Georgia conferences have all gone on record with overwhelming votes in recent months not only to strongly endorse the United Methodist Protocol, but also to explicitly raise the possibility that the Protocol could and should be adopted by a specially called General Conference session, if need be.

The summer 2021 session of the Alaska Conference took a somewhat different approach, by endorsing the “Alaska Omnibus Proposal,” which includes key elements of liberal regionalization plans like “the Christmas Covenant” as well as “[a]ll of the Protocol,” without any change, with the latter being included with the express purpose of “ensuring that those who wish to form a traditionalist expression of Methodism are able to do so without litigation” (see pages 1-2). 

Liberals support such regionalization proposals as “the Christmas Covenant” and others that have surfaced since 2007 because they would marginalize non-Americans and especially Africans in denominational decision-making and empower liberal Americans to adopt liberal church policies on gay weddings and other matters within the United States, without being blocked by more theologically conservative others. Orthodox United Methodists oppose such proposals for the same reasons that liberals support them.  

The Alaska Omnibus Proposal frames its combination of regionalization, the Protocol, and some other administrative matters into one packaged deal as a choice of political strategy that seeks the adoption of all core elements. It is no surprise that a liberal-dominated conference like Alaska supports regionalization. That this conference also now publicly endorses the adoption of the Protocol’s provisions means its endorsement can be added to the list above.  

From a somewhat opposite direction, the August 2021 session of the Northwest Texas Conference voted overwhelmingly to adopt its own combined stance, in the form of a resolution (worth reading in full) that not only endorses the United Methodist Protocol and “urges the General Conference to adopt it substantially unchanged” but also “declares [the annual conference’s] intention, should the Protocol be adopted at the 2022 session of General Conference, to align with a new traditionalist Methodist denomination formed under the Protocol at the earliest possible date,” with the resolution explicitly naming the Global Methodist Church. Importantly, this resolution also “call[ed] upon all its members and constituents to treat one another with respect, consideration, and Christian love during this process,” declaring, “No one shall hinder the proper sharing of information with members and congregations under the provisions of the Protocol, so that all concerned may make informed decisions on their membership and alignment.”

The Northwest Texas resolution was adopted by a stunning 83 percent (184-39). Reportedly, several of the few who voted against it privately admitted that they supported the resolution’s core content, but just felt it was not the right time to adopt such a statement.  

Other than the six annual conferences recently endorsing the United Methodist Protocol, several other annual conferences have taken actions recognizing the serious business of the coming split and beginning to officially prepare.  

The Dakotas Conference, in the very same 2021 session that very narrowly passed a liberal resolution on sexual morality, also adopted, by an overwhelming 88 percent (294-40), a “Resolution to Prepare for a Denominational Separation.” Unlike the non-binding resolutions noted above, the Dakotas resolution (worth reading in full on pages 6-7) requires key boards and structures in the annual conference “to make specific preparatory steps for the likely split of the United Methodist denomination.” Such steps including directing the annual conference’s Council on Finance and Administration to “prepare a proposal for the equitable division of cash and investments” between the denominations into which the annual conference will divide, and mandating that the conference’s Board of Pensions, United Methodist Foundation, and Camp and Retreat Ministry Council prepare to serve both denominations emerging from the coming split. This is all pursued with the recognition that, in the resolution’s words, “our society, denomination, and church universal are deeply divided and would greatly benefit from an example of Christian charity in the midst of significant differences of opinion and thought.”

In the Houston-based Texas Annual Conference, the two resolutions adopted included one calling for, in an apparently similar spirit as the Dakotas resolution (albeit not going as far), a task force to develop a plan, with input from across the spectrum, to address allocation of conference assets in the event of denominational split. I am told that this resolution was primarily pushed by more liberal individuals, but conservatives largely chose to go along with it. The second adopted resolution mandates the creation of a theologically diverse task force to prepare educational materials on the Protocol, the Christmas Covenant, and their local implications to be shared in informational meetings in each district before the 2022 General Conference, and further urges the annual conference to make its decision on which denomination to continue into within three to six months of General Conference adopting anything like the Protocol. Both resolutions were supported by majorities exceeding three-quarters. (The Texas Conference meanwhile rejected a third resolution calling for a moratorium on enforcing the Discipline’s sexual-morality standards.)

An Arkansas resolution (see pages 68-69), introduced by a liberal delegate, concerned “Decisions About Potential Separation, Departure or Realignment as an Annual Conference.” This adopted motion also mandated district informational sessions “during 2021-2022,” but with more of an explicit focus on the Protocol and consequent choices of which denomination to continue within, and specifically required the inclusion of perspectives from both liberal and conservative caucuses in these coming district meetings.

All of this demonstrates growing widespread acceptance of the inevitability of our denomination’s coming split as well as continued strong support, by a great many liberal United Methodists and others, for the carefully negotiated Protocol peace treaty proposal.

United Methodist leaders across the denomination would do well to learn from the proactive actions taken by these annual conferences, so that we can minimize the disruptions and acrimony in the big changes that are coming.

  1. Comment by Rich Wardwell on November 9, 2021 at 3:07 pm

    You noted that even Bishop Ken Carter went on record to support the protocol. This seems to conflict with the UM News article / press release / video from the CoB released yesterday (https://www.umnews.org/en/news/bishops-offer-framework-for-inclusive-church) that seemed to note that the solution forward was a unified church “rooted in Scripture” but equally accepting of LGBTQ clergy / marriage. This seems like a return to the one church plan. This is combined with the recent “Call to Grace” (https://www.acalltograce.com) signed by a significant group of institutionalists and progressives, including Adam Hamilton — that seems to state “in grace” that the traditionalists need to pay up and leave so that the UMC can move forward (very clearly absent the protocol).

    A picture seems to be forming of a new resistance to the Protocol and a new effort to retain churches outside the few who have the gumption (and financial resources) to disaffiliate through BoD 2553.

  2. Comment by Gary Bebop on November 9, 2021 at 4:03 pm

    Yes, there’s been that gentle cascade of conferences supporting the Protocol, but the COB seems be playing two violins at the same time, doubling down on a theme of ongoing UMC unity. Sawing off the limb while eating the fruit?

  3. Comment by td on November 9, 2021 at 7:09 pm

    Thanks for the update, john. It is nice that annual conferences are endorsing the protocol. However, endorsing the protocol is not the same as respecting and allowing fair, open, informed, respectful, and even-handed processes in local churches.

    There simply is no reason for an annual conference to not endorse the protocol. It protects clergy and gives annual conferences autonomy to decide. It protects all the entities that were at the table in the negotiations. Very few annual conferences are evenly divided in what decision they will make because most are dominated by liberal clergy and their hand-picked lay leaders.

    The problem will be at the local church- where trust in their pastors, superintendents, and pastors is very low. I will hope that annual conferences and their leaders will act in the spirit of the protocol. However, i don’t believe they will; i think they believe that orthodox believers are causing harm because they are backward, bigoted, and homophobic. As such, it will be deemed okay to coerce and limit local churches.

  4. Comment by David S. on November 10, 2021 at 10:08 am

    As a former Methodist (in my childhood), who is watching this with interest, I find it encouraging, yet also await what happens with cautious optimism. Obviously anecdotal, but in light of the situation at Mt. Bethel, I still realize the degree of power that the bishops have over clergy appointments. And I have a business client, who has mentioned that the bishop is basically having her district superintendents reach out particularly to known senior pastors affiliated with WCA (such as his brother’s pastor in Augusta) and basically, providing a mafia-esque, we will be watching you message. The implication is that certain of these liberal bishops have no intention of abiding by the spirit of the protocol. The pastor of the church of my client’s brother is undeterred. His congregation intends to affiliate with GMC as soon as practicable upon passage of the protocol as does my client’s own church, which is in South Georgia. While admittedly this is conjecture on my part, it seems that the bishop for South Georgia is taking a different approach, since he didn’t provide any negative comments on his church’s current bishop.

  5. Comment by Anthony on November 10, 2021 at 3:11 pm

    Bishop Haupert-Johnson of the North Ga Conference has somehow brought all of her cabinet and the other conference staff into her cult like reorganization of the conference and has them behaving like robots. In all of my years in the Methodist Church, and in all of my years working in public education, I have never seen anything approaching the viciousness of this woman. This woman issued the sweetest statement of support for the Protocol imaginable when it was released. She exceedingly hits all the marks and then some of the warning words of Jesus:

    Matthew 7:15-20

    15 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

  6. Comment by Pat on November 10, 2021 at 4:24 pm

    The longer the liberal/progressives in the Methodist church stall the vote, the more traditional Methodist members in local churches will tire of waiting and leave. This is the plan all along for the liberal/progressives destroying the Methodist Church. Traditional Methodists should be willing to walk away, give up the property and start meeting in other places and let the liberal/progressive folks deal with the property. Church members pay the bills. If those paying the bills leave, it becomes the issue of the liberals/progressives. Additionally, if the new Methodist Church is going to run the new church with the same top down management style with local churches not having control of their local property, the new church is destined to struggle. Local churches no longer have faith in any church leadership formula where all is dictated by a few to the masses. Time to make a big change if the new Methodist church is to succeed. Otherwise, the new church will be no different, other than staying scripturally sound, but that can change as well. Local churches have to have control.

  7. Comment by Lance on November 13, 2021 at 7:12 am

    Time for a virtual/digital GC vote so we can get on with the mandate to make disciples of Jesus Christ.

  8. Comment by Bruce on November 13, 2021 at 10:50 am

    Satan is not only alive and well, he’s winning! Glorification and promotion of sin is what’s happening!
    Being affiliated with the Methodist Church for about 75 years now, I am completely disgusted with what’s going on. Hopefully my current Church will have the sense not to go along.

  9. Comment by Mike Pinner on November 13, 2021 at 1:07 pm

    I continue to remain skeptical of the passage of the Protocol. I am not surprised that some in the leadership are adopting positions reflective of those of Frank Nitty when it comes to churches and pastors who are Orthodox. Again, given the financial state of the UMC across the board, I do not believe that liberals will allow churches to take their sanctuaries, property, and join the GMC. Such a spirit defies the character of present-day so-called “Progressive” ideology. You have cited the ongoing case of the North Georgia Conference. This situation is a perfect example of the manner in which so-called “Progressives” are more than willing to sacrifice ethics and justice for the sake of power and control. I believe there is more such blood-letting to come. Ken Carter is a genuine example of what conservatives are facing. I am not optimistic that a fair and equable separation will be achieved.

  10. Comment by John Smith on November 13, 2021 at 6:17 pm

    Pat, no portion or follow-on of the UMC will give up rule by elders and bishops. One follow-on has called for local congregations to have control of the property they are paying for but nothing else really changes.

  11. Comment by BobP on November 14, 2021 at 11:02 am

    When, over the years, you’ve spent thousands of dollars, hours of service and participation, friendships and groups, projects of all sorts, and prayers- how do you just walk away from all the tangibles and intangibles?
    What do you do if the community is lethargic and won’t support you?
    And lets not forget our enemies in the spiritual realm. Jesus said let the tares and the wheat grow up together and later He’d deal with it.
    What makes our Enemy appealing and acceptable is that he isn’t TOTALLY wrong on every issue- everything he does is a means to an end.
    Our Enemy has several philosophies even if they contradict because they serve the same purpose.

  12. Comment by claudia harrs on November 14, 2021 at 12:41 pm

    With deep sorrow and prayers I have watched the destruction of small churches which were welcoming of all races, financially solvent, and mission in outreach be destroyed in Georgia because they were small. In addition to this destruction was the North Georgia Childrens’ Home and Simpsonwood. The mismanagement of money has been covered up by the confusion of other issues. Some pastors have become so self contained that care of the individual Christians who support the church by giving and doing has vanished. I will not be giving or doing more under this name. God is at work.

  13. Comment by Walt Pryor on November 15, 2021 at 11:57 am

    The fact that the LGBTQ keeps trying to stall this spit reveal their lack of Faith and Conviction in their position.
    The LGBTQ seem to understand they need the Righteous Saints to give them legitimacy.
    The LGBTQ can see the statistics of Denominations who have taken this route and they know their position leads to corruption and decay.

  14. Comment by Carol Tatum on November 15, 2021 at 1:03 pm

    My GGG grandfather was an iterant preacher riding horseback through the colonies spreading Methodism. All of my family members have been Methodist from then on. This schism has been excruciatingly painful to me and, after much prayer and distraught, as of only a few weeks ago, I AM DONE with what “Methodism” has morphed into. You cannot serve two masters. The Bible is explicit in Romans. The Bishops are corrupt. I’m sick of it. I divorce you, Methodism, on the grounds of infidelity to God and His holy and righteous Word. I am now the member of a church in the country that is clear on God’s Word as are the parishoners. We are all one unlike what has happened to the Methodist church. Congratulations on tearing the church apart. Revelation 3:14–22 To the Church in Laodicea –

    14 “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.

    15 “ ‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. 17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, ublind, and naked.

  15. Comment by ROBERT HARDMAN on November 15, 2021 at 1:25 pm

    John, how did the vote go in the Cal-Nev Annual Conf.? I suspect it affirmed the protocol.
    I currently worship in a local church, in which the pastor at least supports gay marriage and ordination, etc. I know of no local church in the S.F. Bay area which might go with the traditional church. I’m retired and attached to the local church’s Charge Cong.

    Until the split and perhaps after, though not in agreement with our pastor’s stance, I have not “felt” released by the Holy Spirit from ministry in/thru this congregation. Am I the only retired pastor that senses I may be being called to continue to be in but not of the UMC after the split? It is for me a tension-creating situation. I doubt I am alone. What can you say to me? P. Bob

  16. Comment by Polly on November 15, 2021 at 10:59 pm

    I was a lifelong Methodist. I left several years ago. Only the Methodists, in their never ending arrogance of self and greed could come up with this Protocol document and discuss it ad nauseum. The issues are simple: darkness and light. Satan and Jesus. They don’t mix. I have been fighting an active battle for years against the lgbt agenda in schools. Make no mistake , there is an agenda. Little children are being sexualized . The curriculum is a dialogue with the teachers. Then there is the transgender issue by itself. All this being said, the lgbt agenda and Jesus cannot exist side by side. I urge all who care about family, their children’s futures, leave and start your own church or churches or join another one. This drags on and on, and meanwhile the lgbt agenda grows in all areas of our culture.

  17. Comment by Carol Tatum on November 17, 2021 at 3:28 pm

    Amen, Polly.

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