To some UMC constituencies, particularly those in Africa, the Protocol looks like traditionalists raising a white flag on the verge of victory. With their emphasis on parachurch organizations and networks, the traditionalists seem to have the spirit of the “come-outism” that formed holiness denominations like the Church of the Nazarene in the late 19th century. As Chris Ritter has noted, the rapid growth of Methodism in Africa means that UMC African delegates will soon outnumber all other parties at the General Convention—in which case, they could orchestrate a massive takeover of UMC structures. If only it were that easy.
First, when the UMC was originally formed it had a massive bureaucracy that ultimately morphed into the major agencies currently promoting the national and international mission of the church. Progressives largely occupy the positions within these agencies. This means that any traditionalist victory at a General Conference would be resisted in the official agencies (setting aside the issue of progressives in the Council of Bishops). When you add in the centrists who prefer the status quo of institutional unity driven by theological pluralism, the obstacles become clear. Viewed from this angle, one can understand why traditionalists negotiating the Protocol opted for an exit that would allow them to build a new organizational structure and staff it immediately with like-minded persons.
Second, traditionalists are betting that many local churches will leave to form a new traditionalist denomination. How many, of course, remains to be seen, but the Protocol does not allow local churches or conferences to remain neutral any longer. In its current configuration, the Protocol requires that a choice be made—even if that choice is not to vote and thus remain in the post-separation UMC after the dust settles. The fight will now be taken to the local level.
Finally, there is the question of whether traditionalists want to be stuck with such a heavy bureaucracy even if they could clean house. One consequence of any separation will be dismantling agencies that simply are no longer financially viable. Any churches and conferences left in the post-separation UMC will have to engage in that task quickly if they are to survive.
— Dale M. Coulter (@DaleMCoulter) January 8, 2020