Here comes an ultra-Metho-nerd post: unpacking a little more of what was shared by some of the folks from “the room where it happened” in the making of the “Protocol of Separation.”
Late last week, a team of people who come from different parts of The United Methodist Church– and may or may not represent those constituents– announced that they have drafted a proposed protocol for separation. As the Methodist connection everywhere has been loudly saying, this is NOT a deal, a promise, a package of legislation proposed let alone in effect, or a decision for the denomination. This is simply a proposed protocol for the delegates at General Conference 2020 to consider (among many proposals, some of which I’ve charted), which might help the division of denominational assets and liabilities go more smoothly, since a diverse group has already weighed in and agreed upon this plan.
We’ve all got roughly, oh, 40 million questions about this proposal, raging from how the team was selected and how they functioned to if it’s constitutional, feasible, or just to consider the protocol at all, and so on. This post addresses just one topic: where did those numbers come from?
This weekend, I was able to hear from a couple of people present at various portions of the mediation. This was indeed, as I suggested last spring, less like democracy or conferencing, and more like a multi-party negotiation, complete with intractable positions, intersecting and conflicting commitments, and nearly as much mystery and complexity as the Council of Jerusalem. When engaging in multi-party negotiation, especially when assisted by a professional mediator, the package deals and trade offs I mentioned in that previous post (see point 5) become key. Those of us outside of these closed-door meetings have no idea where dollar amounts came from, and now want to pass judgment on if the funds proposed are fair. That, unfortunately, is not how mediated agreements work.
Here’s what we’ve learned: the mediation team did NOT create a balance sheet of United Methodist assets and liabilities, assessing the relative value of each, and how much of that initial investment was made by “traditionalists” or “progressives” or anyone else, and how much debt might be incurred as assets of various sizes withdraw. Why not? Maybe it wasn’t feasible, maybe it would take too long, maybe we’d never agree on the dollar value of The United Methodist Building. It doesn’t really matter. The point is, the mediation team did not place a monetary value on anything, and we only confuse ourselves if we try to understand the money as representative of relative wealth and debt in the parts of the denomination.
Instead, the mediation team agreed upon a figure to work with to negotiate a protocol for separation: $40 million. Why $40 million? Because that’s the amount they were able to agree upon. That’s really all this number means, and in negotiation that matters, but outside the room it makes very little sense. And still, that’s the number the team identified.
From that $40M, the team eventually agreed to use $2 million to seed new non-traditionalist denominations that might break off from The UMC, and $38 million to seed the traditionalist denomination(s) that plan to break off (And then, in what I think will prove to be one of the prouder moments of The UMC, the mediation team decided to set funds aside to offer a tiny portion of restorative justice into the vast and unjust legacy of racism, colonialism, and discrimination enacted by the worldwide Methodist movement. And so of the $38M just named, the traditionalist denomination(s) will leave $13M behind for this fund and the remaining UMC will find an additional $26M for this purpose).
But how and why does the proposal divide the $40M this way? Why so much to the departing traditionalists and so little to any potential liberationist expressions? The answer is that the team negotiated a package deal, bargaining with seemingly unrelated things: money and vote thresholds. Initially, those representing the traditionalist movement wanted an Annual Conference to be able to vote by a margin of 50% plus 1 to depart from The UMC. The centrists and progressives, worried that this would allow many many Annual Conferences to withdraw, wanted that threshold to be 2/3. The more the money to departing traditionalists, the higher the voting threshold. Not pretty, but I asked how that sausage got made. In the end, the proposal is $38M to traditionalists departing (minus $13M to seek racial justice), and an Annual Conference voting threshold of 57% (in the US, and 2/3 in Central Conferences)– at which, folks estimate only 2-4 Annual Conferences in the US would vote to leave as a whole. Others withdrawing would do so as individual churches, members, or clergy people.
So there you have it: a little peek into a small portion of negotiation and mediation. I offer this to share information (it really helped my head stop spinning when I understood that the $40M was not calculated based on anything!), and not to discern if this is right or good or just or Spirit-breathed. That question is a longer and more subtle one, with which I will be wrestling for the next five months. I know I won’t be alone.