My Question About Bishop Coyner’s Plan

Bishop Coyner of the Indiana Conference has offered some very interesting ideas about one possible way forward in the UMC. The meat of the proposal is this: “What if we allowed each AC around the world to make its own decisions on all matters other than those restricted by the Constitution? What if we allowed each AC to be innovative and flexible on all matters other than our basic doctrine and theological task (as outlined elsewhere in the current Book of Discipline)?” He then asks a number of questions regarding the implications of giving annual conferences much more latitude to establish policies that are now determined by the General Conference.

Here’s my question: Doesn’t this simply shift the problem of division from the General Conference to individual annual conferences? Rather than seeing our entire denomination divide at the level of the General Conferences, won’t we see annual conferences split over the same issues?

I’d be interested in your feedback on this matter.

12 thoughts on “My Question About Bishop Coyner’s Plan

  1. I find the language of “brand” incredibly distasteful. We’re not a marketing ploy.

    Per Coyner’s “plan,” I’m supposed to abandon orthodox brothers and sisters consigned to areas like the Northeast and West, where a gospel-oriented, Wesleyan witness is desperately needed more than ever?

    Absurd. It’s a punt on third down.

    • LGBT inclusion is compatible with a “Gospel centered, Wesleyan witness.” There are plenty of us in the Southeast who contend that vigorously.

    • The question of ‘brand’ relates to our relationship within our communities. Whether we find it distasteful or not to view ourselves from a public perspective, the image projected upon our congregations directly impacts our effectiveness in reaching our communities. This is not a sideline point. In fact, many churches believe that this issue is so important to their mission that they have intentionally dropped the term United Methodist from their church name, and many have found great success in doing so. That being said, Coyner’s proposal will absolutely create new and greater challenges for our congregations in reaching and evangelizing.

      • I believe our brand is much more complex than you suggest. National news stories might paint us as either pro-gay or anti-gay. In either case, in today’s world, we’ve discovered that people who visit our church often do some internet research prior to visiting. Their search for “United Methodist” can yield a variety of conflicting views of what United Methodist means. Seekers today often distrust institutions–especially those with complex and confusing positions and bureaucracies like ours. This is why churches interested in reaching the unchurched might choose to discard the term “United Methodist” in order to reduce barriers to reaching their communities.

  2. The “collection of associations” idea was one that Lyle Schaller offered in his book _The Ice Cube Is Melting_. It has merit for the sake of compromise, but has problems as have been listed by other folks here.

    My problem is this: how does one do catechesis/confirmation/discipleship formation in such a realm? Given the transitory nature of our nation, one could be taught/confirmed in one UM church, move, and then go to another UMC that had a polity/doctrine/praxis totally foreign to the other. Our membership vows would need a total rewrite.

    This is why many of the Baptist and Church of Christ friends require rebaptism when one wants to joint their local church.

  3. David – my reaction was yours exactly. It seems to have simply shifted the locus of conflict to the annual conference (where it already exists but without the teeth to change the policy or polity). In annual conferences that are more homogeneous, I think you will see Bishop Coyner’s predicted outcome. In larger and more hetergeneous conferences (e.g., West Ohio) I think you will see a rapid descent into chaotic and unresolvable conflict. I do think his plan has some appeal – I like the notion of flattening the structure, giving annual conferences more autonomy to make missional decisions about structure, etc. I am unsure, however, that his plan will do much to mark a path out of or through our growing conflict on issues such as homosexuality.

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