The United Methodist Church faces increasing divisions over human sexuality among centrist, progressive and conservative constituencies. One major point of disagreement is related to the reality of irreconcilable differences in theology, biblical interpretation and disciplinary practices of homosexuality – the ordination and marriage of self-avowed practicing homosexuals. As a response, 16 United Methodist leaders negotiated the “Protocol of Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation” in December 2019. The Protocol committed $25 million to create a new conservative “traditionalist” Methodist denomination.
However, the General Conference originally scheduled to take place in 2020 to approve the Protocol was postponed to 2024 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now the General Conference will happen on April 23 – May 3, 2024, in Charlotte, NC. Until that time, congregations wishing to disaffiliate from the United Methodist Church must comply with the process defined in the Book of Discipline (BOD) ¶ 2553. Under the BOD ¶ 2553, congregations and clergy who disagree with the denomination’s stance on the above issues can leave the church while retaining their property and assets if they meet the requirements. I will delineate the details of the requirements later.
As a result, some congregations and individual clergy have chosen to leave the United Methodist Church and affiliate with other denominations or form new ones. For example, the Global Methodist Church (GMC) is a proposed new denomination formed by a group of conservative United Methodists who are opposed to the direction the United Methodist Church has taken on issues related to human sexuality and the interpretation of scripture. The proposed Global Methodist Church officially launched its church on May 1, 2022, and it is unclear how many congregations or individual members will choose to affiliate with it. The GMC has a conservative theological orientation and adheres to traditional scripture and church doctrine interpretations.
In December 2021, a liberal group within UMC formally declared the formation of the Liberation Methodist Connexion (LMX) as a denomination. The LMX seeks to prioritize social justice, anti-racism, and inclusivity in the practice of Christianity. The LMX is still in its early stages, and they will negotiate for financial support during the General Conference in 2024 such as the traditionalists received in the Protocol.
It is unclear at this time how many congregations or clergy will choose to leave or what the long-term impact will be on the United Methodist Church. However, a United Methodist News Review found that annual conferences so far have approved the disaffiliations of 2,036 churches.
The provisions of BOD paragraph 2553 expire at the end of 2023, and they shall not be used after that date. (BOD ¶ 2553.2) The summary of specific provisions are; 1) a decision to disaffiliate by a two-thirds majority of the professing members present at a church conference (not charge Conference, ¶ 2553.3); 2) the payment in full of two years of that congregation’s apportionment commitment as set by the Conference (BOD ¶ 2553.4.b); 3) the payment in full of the congregation’s pro-rata share of the Conference’s pension liability, based on a formula approved by the Annual Conference (BOD ¶ 2553.4.c). However, each annual Conference can develop additional standard terms. In the case of the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference, if a church disaffiliates from the UMC, it requires that half of the valuation of a church’s building be included in the cost of disaffiliation.; 4) The local church shall satisfy all other debts, loans, and liabilities or assign and transfer them to its new entity before disaffiliation (BOD ¶ 2553. 4. e). All the payments shall occur before the effective date of departure.
On March 20, Bishop LaTrelle Easterling of the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference informed us that 38 churches had sued the Conference among 85 churches in the process of disaffiliation, demanding immediate separation from The United Methodist Church. These congregations have refused to follow the procedure of disaffiliation under BOD ¶ 2553 and chose to file this lawsuit instead. According to Bishop Easterling, their lawsuit is “an attempt to undermine the core of the connectional commitments all churches and conferences in our denomination have to one another. And it is outside the bounds of established church law, doctrine, and theology. We ask that any groups involved in the disaffiliation process uphold the obligations and responsibilities set forth in paragraph 2553 and the BWC disaffiliation policy, which were established pursuant to the General Conference in 2019.”
By the way, according to the Lewis Center for Church Leadership, disaffiliating churches are more likely to have a male pastor, overwhelmingly have a majority white membership, and are overwhelmingly located in U.S. South and Southwest. In April 2024, delegates from Africa, Europe, Asia, and the U.S. will attend the 11-day General Conference gathering, which is expected to attract between 5,500-7,500 people. It will be another historical moment of Methodism when we affirm the official split of the United Methodist Church as we have known it since 1968.
If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact Rev. HiRho at email@example.com.