In response to recent events within and relating to the United Methodist Church, Bishop Scott J. Jones of the Texas Annual Conference discussed the current and potential future states of the denomination in a webinar titled “Navigating the Waters with Grace and Respect, part 2” on Tuesday, May 10.
During such a pivotal time in the history of the denomination, Jones says he believes members of the conference should engage in more communication and conversation rather than less. His series of webinars (part one can be found on the Conference’s YouTube channel) seek to encourage those conversations and guide laity and clergy on how to conduct them in a respectful manner.
Proposals for Amicable Separation
Bishop Jones was a General Conference delegate in 2004 when the idea of an “amicable separation” arose; the delegates ultimately decided to continue forward in unity. Since his election as a bishop, Jones has advocated for a united denomination; however secular culture has influenced the church and differing interpretations of the subjects of same-sex marriage.
The 2019 General Conference Special Session adopted the Traditional Plan which led to continued disobedience from bishops and conferences. Following that decision discussions arose, and plans were developed aiming at an amicable separation. A document called the “Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation” was published by a group of leaders from across the UMC, and Jones publicly stated that he believed it was “the least bad way forward,” a statement he continues to stand by.
The separation currently under way does not have the approval of General Conference guiding it. Due to the recent postponement of the General Conference until spring 2024, the formation of the Global Methodist Church took place on May 1, 2022.
Bishop Jones noted that given the level of conflict that has occurred within the church over the last 50 years, the separation was the least bad way to proceed. He expounded that the views on this issue are not black and white, and the Wesleyan movement has room for both progressive and traditional expressions. His deep desire to advance the mission of the church remains top priority, and he and the TAC will adhere to the 2019 Book of Disciplineuntil the 2024 General Conference meets.
The Impact on Annual Conference
On May 10, the Judicial Council issued decision number 1444, a ruling that states annual conferences will not be allowed to separate from the UMC unless the process is approved by General Conference. The decision does allow local churches to separate and join the GMC if they go through the local church disaffiliation process, which requires a discernment process in which the church’s leaders will collaborate with the local district superintendent.
This decision by the Judicial Council comes just before the Texas Annual Conference taking place May 30 to June 1, during which delegates were scheduled to vote on two proposed resolutions related to a Special Session to vote on separating from the annual conference. Resolution 4 proposed that the TAC call a special session of annual conference in August or September of 2022, but parts of the resolution are obsolete after the Judicial Council’s ruling. The conference will not entertain proposals for the Annual Conference to leave the UMC, but in accordance with the resolution, it will hear proposals from local churches that wish to disaffiliate.
Bishop Jones recounted that the Conference’s principles allow local churches to disaffiliate under paragraphs 2548.2 or 2553, both requiring approval of the annual conference. Seeing as several churches have expressed interest in separating, Jones deems it fit to meet as an annual conference sometime in fall 2022.
Additionally, the Judicial Council has not made a decision about whether a Jurisdictional Conference can be held in 2022 or postponed until 2024. If the Jurisdictional Conference can be held, it will either take place August 24-27 or November 2-5; the November date is the current tentative date.
Bishop Jones sees it beneficial to convene the special session of the Annual Conference in August or September under his leadership, once the Jurisdictional Conference takes place, a new bishop will be appointed, and Jones will retire.
As he concluded the webinar, Jones encouraged laity and clergy members to remember God’s providence and trust that He will lead the denomination and its members into a new day.
The staff members of the Texas Annual Conference are staying up-to-date on the Judicial Council’s decisions, specifically regarding the Jurisdictional Conference, and will post explanations about what those decisions mean for the Conference as they are published on www.txcumc.org/.