At Ask The UMC, we have been answering an increasing number of questions from congregations wondering about the future of The United Methodist Church and whether they should consider disaffiliating from it. Some of these questions reflect widespread misperceptions or misinformation that some congregations are receiving as they discern their next steps.
This is the fifth of a series of articles offering accurate responses to such misperceptions or misinformation. As the previous three, this article is based on a variety of questions we have received multiple times through email, phone calls, and live chat. The way the questions are framed in these articles reflects they way they came to us.
All of the articles in this series are available here.
We welcome your questions and invite you to contribute to future articles in this series by sharing what you are hearing about the process of disaffiliation or the future of The United Methodist Church. Write to [email protected].
Is The UMC really…?
17. Asking all local churches to vote on whether to remain in The United Methodist Church or join the Global Methodist Church?
No leaders in The United Methodist Church are asking or expecting any United Methodist congregation to take any vote on this question. Congregations may choose to do so. But nothing compels any United Methodist congregation to hold such a vote.
Some local churches have taken the initiative to seek disaffiliation themselves. Many local churches are also being urged to disaffiliate by other organizations, such as the Wesleyan Covenant Association, that are not part of the structure of The United Methodist Church.
If a congregation wants to consider disaffiliation and follows the conference's process to request a called church conference for a vote, the only question at that called church conference will be whether that local church approves a motion to disaffiliate from The United Methodist Church.
The called church conference will not consider the question of whether to join any other denomination.
Ask The UMC has received many questions from individuals who tell us they are being told they must choose between The UMC and the GMC. This is simply false.
A successful vote for disaffiliation is just that. It is a vote to request disaffiliation from The United Methodist Church. That is all.
That vote does not complete the process of disaffiliation. The local church still has to complete the preliminary terms in a disaffiliation agreement it signs with the conference, be approved by the conference for disaffiliation, and fulfill any remaining terms in the disaffiliation agreement that can only be addressed after annual conference approval, all by the effective date of disaffiliation specified by the conference.
But once a congregation has completed this process. it is, from the standpoint of The United Methodist Church, an independent congregation. It may choose to remain independent. Or it may choose join any other network, association, or denomination that is willing to receive it under the terms that network, association, or denomination may set. The choices are many, not limited solely to the Global Methodist Church.
The Wesleyan Covenant Association created the Global Methodist Church. It is not surprising that it would urge United Methodist congregations to disaffiliate and join their new denomination. But this is far from the only choice a disaffiliating congregation may make. No vote on disaffiliation should be understood as a forced choice between The United Methodist Church and the Global Methodist Church.
18. Allowing clergy and laypersons elected as delegates to General or Jurisdictional Conference to serve if they have disaffiliated?
The General Conference is the ultimate legislative body of The United Methodist Church. The Jurisdictional Conferences are the bodies that elect the executive branch of the denomination, the bishops. One must be a clergy or lay member of The United Methodist Church to serve as a delegate to the General or Jurisdictional conferences. The only exception to this is that the four Methodist denominations with whom The United Methodist Church has a concordat relationship may send delegates to our General Conference, and we to theirs. See Paragraph 13 of the 2016 Book of Discipline (Section II, Article I of the Constitution of The United Methodist Church).
When United Methodist clergy disaffiliate, they are no longer clergy members of their conferences. When local churches disaffiliate, all of their members are removed from the professing membership of The United Methodist Church as of the effective date of disaffiliation set by the annual conference. If persons in these congregations wish to remain part of The United Methodist Church, they must transfer their membership to a United Methodist Church that is not disaffiliating. Disaffiliated persons, lay or clergy, cannot serve as delegates to General or Jurisdictional Conference.
General Conference has provided a means to replace persons who, subsequent to election, can no longer serve as delegates. Those next in order of election take their place, and others move up to take the place of those until all jurisdictional reserve delegates are used. See Paragraphs 34-36 of the 2016 Book of Discipline (Section VI, Articles III-V of the Constitution).
19. Failing to punish those who violate the Discipline?
The wording of the question reflects a lack of understanding of the purpose and the process of the complaint process of The United Methodist Church.
The purpose of the complaint process is to stop harms, if they have happened, and bring as much restoration as possible to the persons and situations involved in an alleged violation. The purpose is not to punish offenders.
The complaint process begins with someone filing a written complaint alleging one or more chargeable offenses (Paragraph 2702) with the proper persons (depending on whether the one alleged in the complaint is a layperson, a clergyperson who is not a bishop, or a bishop). Next, the complaint is investigated to determine whether it merits moving to adjudication or dismissal. If the case moves to adjudication, the matter may be addressed through a just resolution agreement (at any time) or proceed to a trial. At a trial, the presiding officer is a district superintendent for laity, and a bishop for clergy or other bishops. The jury is made up of peers. The jury determines whether the charges apply in the case, and, if so, what action to take in response. With one exception, there are and never have been mandatory penalties. The one exception is clergy who are found guilty of having presided at a same-sex marriage or union ceremony. Otherwise, the jury determines the most appropriate remedy to stop harms and bring about as much restoration as possible.
Complaint processes, by design, are confidential. The intention is to protect the integrity and dignity of all parties involved from the beginning of a case to its conclusion. You may not hear that there was a complaint filed, how a particular case is proceeding, or even, necessarily, how it was resolved. That does not mean that nothing was done. It means that if a complaint was filed, the case is proceeding with the confidentiality all parties deserve.
20. Forcing or going to force congregations that do not want a self-avowed practicing homosexual as a pastor or deacon to accept one?
First of all, it remains a chargeable offense in The United Methodist Church to be a clergyperson or candidate for the clergy who is a self-avowed, practicing homosexual. Bishops are forbidden to appoint those found through the complaint process to be self-avowed, practicing homosexuals. This has been the case since 1984.
To be sure, as we noted in Part 2, Question 10 of this series, some of these rules are unevenly enforced in some places. But in most U.S. conferences, these policies have been consistently enforced from their beginning. The result has been either no self-avowed, practicing homosexual clergy remaining in the conference, or, if there are any, once charges are brought and a finding of guilt determined, their ability to be appointed is at an end. In short, these policies have been very effective at keeping self-avowed, practicing homosexuals out of the clergy pool of The UMC or removing them from it.
Thus, the likelihood that any congregation in most conferences could receive a self-avowed, practicing homosexual person as its pastor or deacon is close to zero. And in the conferences from whom we have received this question most frequently, it is zero.
Finally, bishops already work to appoint clergy to congregations for a match that is likely to work for years to come. Should the Discipline at some point in the future permit self-avowed, practicing homosexuals to serve as clergy, bishops are most likely to appoint them to congregations where they would be welcomed and avoid appointing them where they would not.
This content was produced by Ask The UMC, a ministry of United Methodist Communications.