Besides electing delegates to the 2016 United Methodist General Conference who are committed to preserving unity, and electing younger delegates who will end up implementing for years to come whatever form this unity takes, I believe there are other pre-requistes to an actual plan for unity.
A third preliminary dynamic comes from sound biblical interpretation: use the oldest text as your foundation. In this case, it is the “sacred worth” statement. This view has shaped The United Methodist Church longer than any other statement in The Book of Discipline. It is our core sentiment.
The Round Table should devise a plan that is congruent with our commitment to the sacred worth of all people. This would eliminate the contradictory statements that presently exists in The Book of Discipline, but more than that, it would generate a plan that reflects the deepest values and convictions of The United Methodist Church.
We are a pluralistic, inclusive denomination: open hearts, open minds, open doors. It is time to turn a slogan into a way of life together and witness to the world. It is time to move from stenciling these words on our walls to having the Holy Spirit write them on our hearts!
The sacred-worth commitment could then be the center for creating the circumference applications to such things as same-sex marriage, clergy participation in such marriages, and the ordination of gay Christians. In a global church, there would surely be other issues where the sacred-worth principle needs to be applied. The goal would be to develop a plan that establishes one standard for everyone–a standard that affords privilege and expects accountability.
Fourth, the proposed plan in 2020 would be viewed as a learning document, not a final word. Doubtless we will find that subsequent considerations and actual implementations will require an approach that improves the plan over time.
The plan itself would not be subject to cancellation, but rather open to revision that strengthens our commitment to unity. The Round Table could continue beyond 2016, being charged with this ongoing responsibility. Our polity invites a quadrennial quality improvement process.
Finally, I believe the General Conference of 2016 should launch an ongoing “Global Prayer Initiative,” inviting United Methodists around the world to pray for God’s blessing and guidance–specifically for the plan itself and our essential unity, but also for the general life, witness, and mission of the United Methodist Church.
This initiative could be housed in The Upper Room Living Prayer Center, given that it already exists and given that The Upper Room is arguably the most global spiritual formation ministry in our denomination.. A monthly, “Call to Prayer” e-letter could raise the entire prayer life of the denomination as well as keep our commitment to unity alive as the new plan takes root. These e-letters could be sent to each Bishop who would then post them on their Conference websites on a “Global Prayer Initiative” page.
I am sure there are other pre-requisites to the development of a plan and the other supportive dynamics related to it. But hopefully these five ideas can lay a firm foundation upon which a good plan can be made and implemented. We must not wait until Portland to sharpen our minds and prepare our hearts. Discernment includes getting ready to receive what God can give us. The unity we seek is a never-ending journey.
May God help us all!