The Global Methodist Church has launched, and traditionalist United Methodist churches and clergy are publicly announcing their intention to disaffiliate from the United Methodist Church to join the new traditionalist Methodist denomination. Many of us may have strong feelings about this development, but this is the new reality for Methodism in the world. The focus of my reflections here is on this question: “What are the implications of this development for the postponed 2020 United Methodist General Conference that is now scheduled to be held in 2024?”
In times of relative stability, one might make the argument that the delegation elected for the 2020 General Conference ought to be allowed to serve as delegates when General Conference is held in 2024, but this is not a time of relative stability. At this point, the United Methodist Church needs to conduct new elections of delegates for the 2024 General Conference. Too much has changed in United Methodism to hold a General Conference in 2024 with delegates elected in 2019, many of whom will not even be United Methodists when the General Conference meets in 2024.
A decision about the 2024 General Conference delegation seems to be currently in the hands of the Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church. It is problematic that the members of the Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church who are making decisions about what can and cannot happen in relation to General Conference 2024 were elected for their 8-year terms in either 2012 or 2016 by delegations that included many persons who will not even be members of the United Methodist Church in 2024. Perhaps some members of the Judicial Council will not even be members of the UMC in 2024.
The Judicial Council elected in 2012 and 2016 and the United Methodist delegates elected in 2019 for the postponed 2020 General Conference (now scheduled for 2024) represent a significantly different United Methodist Church than the one that will exist during the 2024 General Conference. It is not only that many of the delegates elected in 2019 will no longer be United Methodists in 2024, it is also that many of the persons who elected delegates in 2019 will no longer be United Methodists.
It is true that the 2020 General Conference delegation has already put in significant time and service in relation to the postponed 2020 General Conference, and they should be commended for their service in a difficult time for the church and the world. It is not their fault that we have experienced so many delays owing to a global pandemic. One can empathize with the desire of these delegates to serve in 2024, but the most important question for the United Methodist Church in relation to GC 2024 is this: “What arrangement for GC 2024 will best represent the United Methodist Church of 2024?” I believe that the answer is clear. The United Methodist Church needs new elections for GC 2024 if we want GC 2024 to be representative of the 2024 United Methodist Church.