UMC: We’re Best in the Open

My advocacy of a an interim period between 2016-2020 has been viewed by some as creating a predilection in a particular direction so as to influence what the Plan for Unity (I mentioned yesterday) would contain.  But that is not the case, and it is not my intention.  Rather, it is my belief that we live and work best in the open, and the 2016-2020 quadrennium would provide us with a level playing field for doing so.

But it would be a playing field engaged in the discernment of how to stay together rather than how to divide everything, as some people and plans have previously viewed an interim period to be. That’s why my first proposal yesterday was to have a General Conference vote for unity–a vote that would set the trajectory for subsequent interim work.

The further provision for an expansion of local-options is based on the fact that we already have local-option Methodism in our polity.  And, we currently have it in all three ways I proposed in Point # 5 yesterday.  Clergy now have the option to decide whom they will marry.  Congregations have the option to set property-use policies.  And Boards of Ministry are authorized to design ordination processes that make it variously easier or more difficult for LGBT persons to be ordained. 

The 2016-2020 proposed interim does not create anything new.  What it does is temporarily expand allowances to bring everything out in the open, so that clergy, congregations, and boards can operate without fear of retribution while the UMC creates its Plan for Unity. It opens the door for a fuller voice to be heard than is possible when things are hidden or forbidden. It gives any and all the freedom to bear witness to the Gospel and its enactment in the UMC as they believe to be best. Everyone who will can contribute through their words and deeds.

The interim would eliminate the need for back-room politics, unsigned proposals, and other forms of secrecy (except by those who still prefer anonymity to public testimony), and it would give the UMC a clearer picture of who we are across the earth, as individuals and groups are free to speak and act without fear.

This would, I believe, give the committee charged with developing the Plan for Unity necessary “on the ground” data that would lead to a better assessment of who we are than would be possible without it.  Doubtless, the interim would confirm we are “a coat of many colors” but at least we could see the threads as they are, rather than as various groups claim them to be.

In terms of our Wesleyan hermeneutic, the 2016-2020 interim would increase ‘experience’ in relation to the already-existing manifestations of scripture, tradition and reason.  Surely this would be for our good, and be of great help to the Plan for Unity committee.  It would also create a more-educated delegate pool for 2020, based on their observations between 2016-2020, and the information they would receive from the denomination to help them be even-more effective delegates once they are elected.

At the base, I am advocating a process that could lead us to say in 2020, “This is what we are going to do” rather than looking back on 2016 after the fact and asking, “Why did we do that?”

Of course, it means that all of us will have to decide in 2020 whether we fit within the Plan for Unity.  There is no way to avoid that eventuality.  But it means that our decision would be made in response to the best our denomination can envision collectively and globally, not the result of a hurried and stressful politicized process next May.

[Thanks for reading the first two posts in this new series.  I will post occasionally in the future. If you have specific questions or concerns, and you communicate them respectfully, I will consider addressing them. Email me at I will not respond to questions or concerns in the “Comment” section of any specific blog. I view these posts only as “food for thought,” not as springboards for online dialog, and surely not as an ignition for debate]

About Steve Harper

Dr. Steve Harper is retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 45 books. He is also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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