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A Sad Hope

A Sad Hope

by Rev. Dr. Mark A. Fowler on January 13, 2020

A Sad Hope

A reflection on the Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation


On January 3, I woke to a rather abrupt ending to the Christmas revelry that had marked the last boundary before the punitive measures approved by the 2019 General Conference were set to take effect. The resistance by the European and majority of United States Annual Conferences to these punishing steps surrounding full inclusion of LGBTQA+ persons in its life and ministry made the landscape of the Church uncertain. African and Asian churches recognized the negative impact on missional partnerships held across the connection. Proposed Legislative solutions being sent to the 2020 General Conference are charted on a monstrous spreadsheet by our own First Church Task force assigned to follow these developments.

The abrupt awakening came from an announcement by the New York Times on January 3, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/03/us/methodist-split-gay-marriage.html.  The group of bishops and other advocacy group leaders had worked in secret to craft protocols of separation that would be confirmed by the General Conference in May. Ken Feinberg, world-renowned mediator, took the challenge of finding a viable future for the remnants of The United Methodist Church as a worthy pro bono challenge.

The protocols are a plan of separation, but it feels like a divorce. That sentiment is not original with me, but it feels right. There are, within the body, irreconcilable differences that have led to this event. The harm inflicted on LGBTQA+ persons, families, allies and congregations by the current language in our Book of Discipline has a hopeful promise of being over. There is a possibility that a truly inclusive UMC could emerge from the dissolution of the current church. Many of the cherished missional, educational and service institutions of the church will not be demolished. And, there is a clear provision within the protocols to address the treatment of African-Americans, immigrants and their descendants, Native Americans and other marginalized populations within our church.

These steps in the protocols are hopeful. They strive to end the harm. They seek to release the abusive relationship and embrace a new future. The hope for a new future is a cause for joy. However, it is tempered with sadness. I am still sad and mystified that the love of God that has opened the Wesleyan movement to embrace a wide diversity of human expressions of love has failed in this instance to convince and must now divide. I must wrestle with the notion that the primary hallmark of reconciliation and grace will find their greatest fruit through separation.    

However, hope does not disappoint us (Romans 5:5) because love has been poured into our hearts. The Protocols give a sense of possibility for a day of new beginning.

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