With a world-class professional mediator and a 16-member Mediation Team, including Bishop Rodolfo “Rudy” Juan, representing every major region and faction of the United Methodist Church, the painstakingly negotiated “Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation” promised to bring an acceptable-to-all-sides peace to our denomination’s decades of internal conflict.
Released in early 2020, the Protocol demanded extraordinary, one-sided concessions from theologically traditionalist United Methodists. Remember, traditionalists, by definition, are those who support our own denomination’s doctrinal and moral standards. And yes, it was a big problem how, despite everyone knowing that non-American delegates overwhelmingly supported the Traditional Plan at the last General Conference, not one of the four non-Americans on the Mediation Team clearly identified with this position. For example, Bishop Juan is notably more liberal than the center of gravity in Filipino United Methodism, having supported liberalizing denominational standards on marriage and sex at the 2019 General Conference.
And yet the essential promise was that if traditionalists made these major sacrifices for the sake of the liberal side, and took upon themselves the hard work of organizing a new denomination (just to continue with historic and still-official United Methodist standards!), then liberal officials would allow traditionalists to separate in peace, with grace and fairness.
After all, by signing the Protocol Agreement, the 14 notable liberal and institutionalist leaders, together with two traditionalist leaders, jointly “agree[d] to use their best efforts to persuade any groups or organizations with which they are affiliated to support the legislation necessary to implement the Protocol” and to “not participate in or support legislation or other efforts that are inconsistent with the principles and terms of the Protocol and the implementing legislation” (Article I.4). And their Agreement also declares that the whole plan is an inseparably packaged deal, so that liberal-favored pieces cannot be separated from others: “each of the provisions of this Protocol is integrated with and integral to the whole and shall not be severable from the remainder of the Protocol” (Article I.5).
But developments over the last couple of years have raised questions of if non-traditionalist members of the Mediation Team were ever negotiating in good faith.
The surviving non-traditionalist Mediation Team members, other than bishops, now all openly oppose the Protocol.
What about the bishops? I respectfully asked each of them for on-the-record responses to similar questions, and will share their individual and joint responses in the coming days.
What follows here are my questions asked of Bishop Juan about the Protocol, his verbatim responses, and some brief context for each. Juan is a Mediation Team member who leads the five small-membership annual conferences of the Davao Episcopal Area in the southern Philippines, He is also currently president of the College of Bishops for all non-U.S. central conferences (even though over 95 percent of non-U.S. church membership is in Africa).
Question 1. What specifically, if anything, have you done in 2021 and 2022 to, in the words of the Protocol agreement, “use [your] best efforts to persuade any groups or organizations with which they are affiliated to support the legislation necessary to implement the Protocol”?
Bishop Juan: I PROMOTED THE PROTOCOL IN MY ANNUAL CONFERENCES IN 2020 BUT SHIFTED TO CHRISTMAS COVENANT IN 2021…
Some context: Despite the misleading rhetoric of many of its supporters, the Christmas Covenant is not a plan to help or empower non-American United Methodists, but rather to protect and preserve white American power in the UMC. Now that Americans have become a minority in the denomination, rather than expect Americans to respect global majority rule, the Christmas Covenant would segregate much of our denominational structure. Specifically, it would create new structures to let the U.S. region of the denomination (whose members are overwhelmingly white) and each other region unilaterally set their own policies on sexual morality as well as other issues.
One liberal American caucus has admitted that the Christmas Covenant is merely a “different likeness” of similar liberal plans repeatedly proposed and rejected by previous General Conferences.
Many United Methodist leaders in the Philippines have firmly opposed this proposal, with a statement declaring:
We also strongly take exception to the proposals for the creation of a regional conference structure as outlined in the Christmas Covenant or similar plans, which will enable policies regarding human sexuality and standards of ordination to be decided by region. This regional conference structure will result in doctrinal incoherence as each regional conference will be free to interpret what the Bible says about human sexuality differently. However, we firmly believe that God’s truth, as revealed in the Bible, is not relative. It is always true, no matter the region or location. We cannot simply take part in a denomination that has no uniform stand on questions that are clearly theological in nature. We will refuse any attempts to twist long-held Biblical truths about human sexuality, or that will put cultural shifts or societal pressures first over the truth of God’s Word (Rom. 12:1-2). We will also resist moves to keep the unity of the church without holiness in truth. For when Jesus prayed to the Father that his disciples “may be one” (Jn. 17:11), he also prayed, “sanctify them by the truth” (Jn. 17:17).
In any case, neither the Christmas Covenant nor other liberalization plans address the problem of how to separate amicably.
In early 2020, the Christmas Covenant was promoted not as an alternative to the Protocol, but rather as addressing how the post-separation United Methodist Church could structure itself after adoption and implementation of the Protocol. In March 2020, Bishop Juan himself expressed support for both proposals, saying, “I believe that the Christmas Covenant and the protocol complement each other…..”
Question 2. The Protocol Agreement states that it was all negotiated as a packaged deal. The “Moratorium” section was two paired agreements, including a moratorium on closing churches until after the next General Conference. Have you remained committed through 2021 and this year to not closing any local church against its will or in circumstances where this was not absolutely and immediately necessary? Do you remain committed to this principle until whenever the next General Conference finally meets, even if this is not until 2024 or later? If so, may I ask how you have fulfilled and are continuing to fulfill this commitment?
Bishop Juan: SADLY, I AM NOT LONGER COMMITTED TO THE PROTOCOL BE[AUSE] IT PROMOTES SEPARATION. I WISH WE CAN CONTINUE TO BE UNITED IN THE MIDST OF OUR DIVERSITIES
Note: This does not directly answer my questions about unnecessary church closures.
But Bishop Juan’s on-the-record statement here is a major, direct repudiation of the Protocol, beyond those seen from others. Because of this alone, no one should claim that the Protocol Mediation Team’s bishops have all kept their word.
On the one hand, it is disappointing to see Bishop Juan now-public admission of his unilaterally abandoning his end of the Protocol bargain.
But on the other hand, this approach is in some ways more honest than the alternative of occasionally issuing bare-minimum statements of “still supporting the Protocol” while at the same time working indirectly and through proxies to undermine and derail the Protocol.
Still, Bishop Juan’s reasoning is rather odd, considering all the time he devoted to negotiating a plan explicitly devoted to facilitating amicable separation.
Question 3. While details are being sorted, are you willing to agree, at least as a general principle, that as our denomination divides, congregations, campus ministries, and clergy should feel free to discuss relevant issues, share accurate information, and make their own fair, free, and informed decisions without any bullying, mistreatment, or punitive changes in appointment?
Bishop Rudy Juan: YES I AGREE. LET US CONTINUE TO TALK TOGETHER… WE ARE BROTHERS AND SISTERS IN THE FAITH
Some context: Bishop Juan’s words are welcome, and sadly not too common among liberal bishops. But again, the proof of their sincerity will be seen in his actions, particularly given reports of bullying and intimidation of traditionalist United Methodists in the Philippines over separation-related discussions.
Question 4. You publicly agreed to the terms of the Protocol, which would allow conferences and congregations to make their own choices – in a relatively amicable, non-punitive way – between the different denominations into which our United Methodist Church is now dividing. Now that people have already had to wait for over two years, are you willing, in principle, to do what you can as a bishop to allow congregations in your episcopal area to make their own choices before 2024, under as close as terms as possible to those of the Protocol?
Bishop Rudy Juan: YES I DID. BUT THINGS HAVE CHANGE(D). WE UMC BISHOPS WHO PATICIPATED IN THE PROTOCOL HAVE ALREADY MADE A STATEMENT PUBLICLY SHARED TO THE PUBLIC
Some context: Bishop Juan’s declining to express even in-principle support for allowing congregations in his area to disaffiliate is particularly significant because the congregational exit ramp aforementioned, adopted at the 2019 General Conference, ¶2553, arguably does not apply outside of the United States.
Among other things, the 2019 General Conference amended the United Methodist Discipline to stipulate that “Legislation passed at the 2019 called session of General Conference shall not take effect in central conferences until twelve months after the close of the 2020 General Conference.” See ¶ 543.17in the Discipline “Addendum and Errata.” Since the “2020” General Conference has now been delayed until 2024, and ¶2553 expressly says it expires in 2023, many have understood this to mean that this provision by itself will never be church law in the central conferences into which United Methodism is organized outside of the United States.
The rather vague joint statement from Bishop Rudy Juan and the other Protocol Mediation Team bishops can be found here. Notably, these bishops declared, “we are united in respect for our colleagues who are led to step away from the Protocol,” while expressing no such respect for traditionalist Mediation Team members who kept their promises.
And while these bishops earlier promised to treat all parts of the Protocol Agreement as an inseparably packaged deal, now their statement shifts to exclusively singling out for affirmation just one liberal-favored provision, the “abeyance” on complaints, without even mentioning any of the provisions that were essential to winning traditionalist support for the deal.