That’s a horrible and emotional situation to find oneself. Disaffiliation can be painful. The Conference staff, Bishop and cabinet all grieve when a church begins this process. Unfortunately, once things start, and provided enough people in a local church desire disaffiliation, there’s little that can be done to stop it, especially if the church leadership follows the steps of Paragraph 2553 and is willing to pay the withdrawal liabilities. The Conference respects the decisions of congregations to disaffiliate if at least two-thirds of the members vote to do so.
Even if the church follows the process outlined in the Book of Discipline, it does not erase the loss and grief that comes with such a change, especially for those who want to remain United Methodist. We do have resources for you if you’re hurting. You can always reach out to your District Superintendent (DS). Again, the DS may not be able to stop the disaffiliation from happening, but every DS is also a pastor, and they will listen and grieve with you. Second, to the extent a person feels like they cannot reach out to their pastor, the DS can facilitate and assist in locating a new pastor and church home. Connect with us if you’re feeling displaced and disconnected.
When most of a local church desires disaffiliation, there’s little the Conference (or District) can do to stop the process. We can, however, insist that the church’s clergy and leaders follow the process provided in the Book of Discipline. To the extent litigation has been brought against the Conference, it is because the Conference refused to accede to shortcuts and has demanded that the process, from a legitimately called church conference to payment of the withdrawal liabilities, be followed.
While the Conference withholds any opinion on the wisdom of Paragraph 2553, it is part of the Book of Discipline, and churches can utilize the option to disaffiliate from the denomination. That in mind, the Conference will also seek to hold churches accountable to that process. We do that for several reasons. First, holding a legitimately called church conference ensures that the voices of those who disagree are at least heard and allowed to speak. Second, the withdrawal payments ensure that the laity, local churches and clergy who remain United Methodist are shielded from future liabilities and burdens that would be too heavy to bear once disaffiliating churches have departed. Our desire and aim is, quite simply, to ensure the ability to strengthen those laity, churches and clergy who seek to remain United Methodist.
No, the term “split” applies when there is a negotiated agreement within the denomination to divide assets and resources. No such agreement has been made in The United Methodist Church. The earliest point at which such an agreement could be made would be at the next General Conference to be held in 2024.
What is happening is that some traditionalist leaders have decided to create their own denomination (the Global Methodist Church). Leaders of that denomination and other unofficial advocacy groups, such as the Wesleyan Covenant Association, which created it, are encouraging like-minded United Methodist congregations and clergy to disaffiliate from The United Methodist Church and join their denomination instead. At the same time, several United Methodist Churches throughout the country, mostly those with more “traditional” leadership, have begun the process to disaffiliate without any plan for affiliating with the Global Methodist Church or even any denomination at all. And still other churches are engaging in a discernment process and making the decision that regardless of their leadership’s views on human sexuality, it remains in their best interest to remain United Methodist.
No. Leaders in the Missouri Annual Conference do not desire for any church to disaffiliate and believe there is room in the Missouri Conference for all churches – traditional, progressive and everything in between.
United Methodists have long held diverse views of the Bible, neither The United Methodist Church nor any of its predecessor denominations maintained the ‘inerrancy’ of Scripture or demanded that the faithful read the Bible “literally.” We have always been grounded in Scripture while bringing our traditions, experience of the Holy Spirit and reason to bear on its interpretation. This means we have and will always have disagreements over the meaning of Scripture.
The Council of Bishops, like the broader church, holds a range of opinions on how best to live into and uphold The Book of Discipline. As such, enforcement of the Discipline has varied from conference to conference. Additionally, the Book of Discipline allows for a lot of autonomy at the annual conference level, and no annual conference has jurisdiction or authority over another annual conference. Missouri leaders cannot make leaders in another annual conference do or not do something.
Article III of the United Methodist Church’s Articles of Religion is “Of the Resurrection of Christ”:
Christ did truly rise again from the dead, and took again his body, with all things appertaining to the perfection of man’s nature, wherewith he ascended into heaven, and there sitteth until he return to judge all men at the last day.
Candidates for ministry must affirm this statement throughout their candidacy period and in interviews at the local church, district and Conference level prior to being ordained. United Methodist pastors commit to the Articles of Religion as the doctrinal standards of The United Methodist Church. These doctrinal standards, including the Resurrection of Christ, are not up for debate.
Regarding spiritual formation, we are non-partisan and do not support or oppose candidates or political parties; as Christians, however, we cannot be apolitical. The church is political, a word derived from the Greek word polis, literally “a city” or a gathering of people. Jesus’ overturning tables in the temple was a political act.
As United Methodists, we recognize the vital function of government in ordering society, and our Social Principles remind us that, “The strength of a political system depends upon the full and willing participation of its citizens. The church should continually exert a strong ethical influence upon the state, supporting policies and programs deemed to be just and opposing policies and programs that are unjust” (The Book of Discipline, ¶164.B).
In our current political climate, politics can cause tension and stir strong emotions. But politics are not intrinsically bad. “Political” doesn’t have to mean “divisive.” Throughout our history, United Methodists have long disagreed on issues and claimed unity in our love for God, each other and the world. The Missouri Conference claims that heritage and strives to live it out in our present world.
It is important to remember that no one is being asked, forced, coerced, or otherwise made to leave or to remain in the UMC. In 2021, the Council of Bishops released their vision of a future for the UMC that makes space for all perspectives to co-exist and continue working together for the transformation of the world. Their vision document is entitled “A Narrative for the Continuing United Methodist Church.” The bishops envisioned “a denomination rooted in Scripture, centered in Christ, and welcoming to all churchgoers – however they identify.”
Paragraph 2553 of The Book of Discipline states the basis for a church to disaffiliate from The UMC as follows:
“Because of the current deep conflict within The United Methodist Church around issues of human sexuality, a local church shall have a limited right, under the provisions of this paragraph, to disaffiliate from the denomination for reasons of conscience regarding a change in the requirements and provisions of the Book of Discipline related to the practice of homosexuality or the ordination or marriage of self-avowed practicing homosexuals as resolved and adopted by the 2019 General Conference, or the actions or inactions of its annual conference related to these issues which follow.”
Reasons such as connectional giving or property are not related to the basis for ¶2553 and would not be applicable to disaffiliation under this provision. The Bishop, cabinet and Conference will not initiate the process for disaffiliation under ¶2553 until a church’s leadership have made clear that the desire to begin the process is the result of “matters of conscience” related to issues of human sexuality within the United Methodist Church.
The only body with the authority to set policy for The United Methodist Church is the General Conference. Bishops do not vote at General Conference. While bishops certainly have preferences individually for the future of The United Methodist Church, the General Conference will ultimately make decisions on changes to The Book of Discipline.
First, it’s important to understanding that disaffiliation and clergy status are two separate concepts, governed by at least two different parts of the Book of Discipline. Further, clergy status, especially for ordained Elders and Deacons, is divided between ordination or “ministerial office” and “conference membership.”
Disaffiliation is governed by paragraph 2553 and only relates to congregations.
A pastor cannot disaffiliate. Rather, ordained clergy may withdraw from The United Methodist Church under paragraph 360. When that happens, they must either identify a new denomination to which they are moving, in which case they surrender their conference membership but transfer their ordination or “ministerial office” to the new denomination. A similar, but different process occurs for licensed local pastors. Their United Methodist license ceases to be effective once they are in a new denomination. A pastor that simply withdraws to pastor an independent church must surrender both conference membership and ordination. In a sense, however they and their church hold themselves out, they are no longer clergy in the eyes of the United Methodist Church.
With that in mind, retirement is a form of “clergy status” for United Methodist clergy. Moreover, we cannot control who requests retirement. Rather, assuming eligibility, a pastor may always request retirement. That status must then be approved by the clergy session of the annual conference. In retirement, the clergyperson remains “clergy” but with retired status, and that means they remain under the supervision of the bishop.
In retirement, clergy may well preach or provide pastoral services to churches of other denominations. However, what is not permitted is to claim “membership” in the other denomination. Doing so serves as a breach of the basic covenant clergy make upon their ordination or licensing. We cannot control what the GMC will require of clergy serving Global Methodist Churches, but we anticipate that a pastor will not be allowed to remain United Methodist while serving in those churches. It is also entirely possible for ordained clergy to “retire” from the United Methodist Church and THEN withdraw under paragraph 360. In fact, some retired clergy have already withdrawn under that provision.
No, The Book of Discipline does not permit non-UMC entities to be plan sponsors of the Clergy Retirement Security Program. Only a General Conference can change this. Churches that disaffiliate will face changes to the benefits they can offer their clergy. Individual congregations and clergy that join the Global Methodist Church (GMC) will be eligible to participate in a retirement plan offered by the GMC, which will be a Wespath defined-contribution retirement plan like a United Methodist Personal Investment Plan (UMPIP). Churches that disaffiliate to be independent congregations, may, assuming they remain Wesleyan in their teachings, contact Wespath to discuss the possibility of utilizing benefits that Wespath administers. This could include participation in the Personal Investment Plan and even health benefits. Wespath then determines their ability to provide those services. Wespath is authorized under Federal law to work with other churches having “common bonds and convictions” to the United Methodist Church. This is how they have been able to work with the African Methodist Episcopal Church. For additional information, see the latest from Wespath.
In the appointment-making process, the needs and theological understanding of the local church are always considered by the Cabinet. The Cabinet will not send a pastor to “convert” a congregation or force an agenda. The Bishop and Cabinet work from a set of core values and commitments as they prayerfully discern appointments.
No pastor is ever forced to marry anyone, nor will they be in the future. Pastors currently make their own decision about their willingness to marry a couple. They have autonomy; they can – and do – decline to marry people and will retain this discretion.
Every church is not required to vote on disaffiliation. Churches staying United Methodist can continue doing ministry as before; no vote is needed to affirm their remaining United Methodist. In fact, most United Methodist churches are not taking a vote on disaffiliation.
All of these positions are bedrock in the doctrinal standards of The United Methodist Church, more specifically in the Articles of Religion and the Confession of Faith. These cannot be altered without a two-thirds vote of the General Conference followed by a three-fourths aggregate approval of all annual conferences of The United Methodist Church worldwide. There is no basis to conclude such majorities could be achieved to alter the Articles and Confession for any reason; moreover, we are not aware of any proposed legislation for General Conference 2024 that would introduce these sorts of changes. Read more on this topic and others at “Is the UMC Really…” from UMC.org.
Statements such as these have been made about persons with differing opinions on several matters. The United Methodist denomination remains committed to the authority of scripture. One person having a different interpretation of the scripture from another on a given topic does not support either of these claims about a person’s scriptural beliefs. These claims might be better expressed by saying that there are varying opinions within the body of Christ, but broad claims such as these are not based in fact and cannot be applied to large groups of people. For more information on The UMC’s position on scripture, see Articles V and VI in the Articles of Religion and Article IV in the Confession of Faith.