United Methodist Church of Livonia, NY

It's in the News - It Can't Be Avoided

I have been asked by several people about churches leaving the UMC.  They have seen news reports, read the paper, or seen videos online.  I hope to clear up why this is occurring, and what the process is.  The issue is complex, and the explanation is not one that is done in a few words.  So bear with me.

First of all, it is my opinion, and some would disagree, that a pastor should not advocate for one position or the other.  I believe that the pastor should help the congregation be the congregation they wish to be.  The pastor’s role is to ensure the process is followed and that there is accurate information for both sides of the argument.  

Yes, there are a small number of churches when compared to the whole that have chosen to disaffiliate from the UMC.  While the numbers reported in the news sound large, they represent a small portion of the entire UMC.   It is predicted that in the end, about 10% will leave.  At present about half of the churches who have disaffiliated have joined the new denomination, the Global Methodist Church.  The other half are pursuing a relationship with other denominations or will remain independent.

To be clear this disaffiliation process is in reaction to the idea the UMC may change its stance on ordination and marriage of GLBTQ persons. As I have indicated in the past this is an issue that has consumed the denominations attention since 1978.

The last scheduled General Conference of the UMC was cancelled due to COVID.  At that time there was a proposal to change the wording of the Book of Discipline to allow for ordination and marriage of GLBTQ persons.  Due to COVID the meeting never took place and as a result no vote taken.  As such, the current wording in the Book of Discipline remains, and the prohibition continues.  

Those who favor maintaining the Book of Disciple have grown frustrated by the ongoing debate and have determined  to disaffiliate and form a new denomination, The Global Methodist Church.  This new denomination will not allow ordination and marriage of GLBTQ folks.  In May 2022 the new denomination launched.

There is a provision under the current Book of Discipline that would allow a church to disaffiliate from the UMC over a matter of conscience regarding GLBTQ issues.  Under this provision a church may disaffiliate and leave the UMC with all their property and assets.  The legislation releases the local church from the Trust Clause which says the property and assets belong to the UMC and not the local congregation.  The current legislation expires at the end of December 2023.  Those who advocate disaffiliation are using this deadline to create a sense of urgency saying if you don't leave by then you  will not be able to in the future.  The legislation that set forth the  process in 2019  does expire in Dec 2023 and will be replaced by something voted on at the next general conference in 2024.   I am convinced new legislation will be proposed to allow this disaffiliation process to continue.  Those who say otherwise are engaging in fear mongering.  It is the position of the Council of Bishops and our past and current Bishop that we should do all we can to allow churches who desire to leave do so in an amicable way.  
There is no required vote in order to stay a UMC.  The only time a vote is required is if there is a call to separate.   This can occur if a leadership  council calls for it, or if 18% of the professing members petition for a church conference.  

There is a mandated process  that must be followed before any vote to disaffiliate is possible.
  1. The local church must engage in a whole congregation discernment and information gathering process that would last between 2-4 months.
  2. Part of the process would be to determine the cost to disaffiliate.  A local church that votes to disaffiliate would have to pay for all money owed to the conference.  The  church must pay two years of apportionments.  The church must also pay a sum that covers clergy pensions.  In addition there are legal fees that must be covered, and they are not insignificant.  Keep in mind disaffiliation is a very expensive process. This information must be provided to the membership of the church.  
  3.  As part of the discernment process accurate and balanced information is to be presented to the congregation.
  4. If the congregation determines they wish to disaffiliate, a church conference of those who are professing members of the congregation is called.  At that church conference the church would vote to disaffiliate.  The motion must be approved by 66% of those present and voting.  A district superintendent  presides at this meeting.
  5.  Once the church has voted the cabinet will determine if the proper process was followed, and if so the Annual Conference will vote to allow the disaffiliation.  While rare, the annual conference could say no.
  6.  The church would then negotiate a separations agreement with the Conference Trustees.  
  7. Once the annual conference approves, the matter moves to the Supreme Court of New York.  Because of the trust clause the courts must approve the disaffiliation.
So from the time of the vote to the approval by the Supreme Court it takes about 6 months to conclude.

Clergy are cautioned to not withdraw because their status in the new denomination is not a settled issue.  Right now, if a clergy member withdraws they lose their credentials and therefore have no standing in the new denomination.  That is why clergy who are at present listed as leadership in the new denomination or are  open in their intent to leave the UMC are still serving local churches.

Unfortunately, even in our conference and district there is quite a bit of misinformation and outright lies.   There are people who are actively recruiting churches and advising them on how to proceed. The Wesleyan Covenant Association and the Global Methodist Church have put out a series of videos that are filled with exaggerations and statements that are not accurate.  A group called Proud to be UMC put out a series of videos to combat the misinformation.  Interestingly, the African Bishops who  have historically been on the side of keeping the traditional language of the Book of Discipline have issued statements denouncing the GMC and the Wesley Covenant Association for their tactics.  I have reviewed materials presented to congregations in this area that were filled with half-truths and exaggerations.
For instance, the UMC has no plans to change any of the Doctrinal Standards found in the Book of Discipline.  There is no attempt to diminish the importance of the Bible or our Trinitarian beliefs.  

The  Global Methodist Church is correct in asserting, and I agree, the UMC has not held some accountable, including Bishops, who have disobeyed the Book of Discipline with regard to GLBTQ issues.  

It is safe to say some on either side of the debate are not acting the way the Body of Christ should.  It is no wonder so many in the world are turned off by institutional Christianity.
It is believed to be premature to vote on disaffiliation before a decision of the 2024 General Conference. Keep in mind it is a possibility the General Conference will not change any of the wording in the Book of Discipline.  

I hope this helps.  In any case, any videos you see should be taken with an extreme grain of salt. I would suggest you go to the conference website or UM News as a way to stay current on the issue.

Hoyt W, Brown
Pastor, United Methodist Church of Livonia

Posted in
Posted in , ,