Questions and Answers on separation
By Pastor Tom Anderson
Thank you all for participating in our recent sessions on the coming separation of the United Methodist Church. The conversations have been excellent. We’ll have one more this coming Sunday after the second service in the worship center. Here’s a few questions many have asked:
I thought this was over with? Why the delays?
The polity of our United Methodist denomination stipulates that local church assets are actually owned by the Annual Conference. So churches can’t just leave the denomination. Generally it requires action by the General Conference which has been delayed until 2024. This means the formal proposal to allow separation to occur won’t be considered until then. The proposal is called “Protocol for Reconciliation and Grace through Separation”
What is happening now?
In response to a succession of major delays, many have grown frustrated and skeptical that their concerns will ever be addressed. As a result, the Global Methodist Church launched on May 1 for clergy and churches to begin joining. Unfortunately the pathways to joining are complex and include two paragraphs in the current United Methodist Book of Discipline, numbers 2553 and 2548.2. Another alternative is to wait for the General Conference to act on separation in 2024.
2553 is called “Disaffiliation” and allows a church to leave with its property after making hefty payments including their full share of the unfunded pension liability that accrues to each United Methodist congregation. In most cases these costs amount to a prohibitive exit fee. Even so, in the last three years approximately 6 Michigan churches have done so and there will be more this year. This should be taken as an indication of a high level of frustration that motivates a willingness to pay such a price.
2548.2 is called “Transfer to Another Denomination” This paragraph was added to our Discipline in 1948 and has nothing to do with our current crisis. It allows for a congregation to join the Global Methodist Church (or other evangelical denomination) without any new financial liabilities. The Bishop has the power to permit and approve this method. Bishop Bard has signaled that he is open to allowing the use of this method and has agreed to research the details with Wespath and the Conference chancellor. He has conjectured–not promised–a process that might allow churches to vote on joining the Global Methodist Church as early as this fall. We should know more this summer.
There are 28 states that do not recognize the trust clause of the United Methodist Church. Michigan is not one. In these states, churches can seek legal help to deed the property over to themselves. This has already happened, notably in Oklahoma. In some places churches are attempting to close as a United Methodist Church and then reopen as a Global Methodist Church and attempt to buy their buildings back from the Annual Conference. This method has costs and requires an attorney.
Is this all about LGBTQ issues?
No. Marriage and ordination standards are simply a presenting issue. It’s like the “check engine” light on your dashboard. The problem really isn’t the light, it’s much deeper inside the engine. The United Methodist church was founded in 1968 on the unfortunate notion of “theological pluralism.” Over time this embrace of pluralism has produced bishops and clergy who do not believe in the resurrection, the atonement, or the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Human sexuality is only a symptom of a much deeper theological divide in the church. The Protocol for separation recognizes this in its opening paragraph–it’s really not about sex. It’s about profound differences over Biblical authority, the identity of Jesus Christ as Savior and the mission of the church.
If Thrive Church goes into the Global Methodist Church, will we still be open to all?
Yes! We will keep all the current values and beliefs we have always practiced. We will be the same great church you joined and loved for years. We remain committed to loving our neighbors no matter who they are. This brings me to the counterintuitive nature of the separation: if a church wishes to change the values of the church, it should stay in the UMC but if a church wants to keep the same values, it needs to migrate into the Global Methodist Church. This is admittedly confusing but must be accepted as the way the decision has come down to us.
What can we do now?
We can pray and encourage our Bishop Bard to open the way through paragraph 2548.2. We could take a “straw poll” among ourselves about joining the new Global Methodist Church. One clearly sees the enthusiasm and spiritual vitality of the new denomination at the recent Global Gathering simulcast. We can continue to stay informed–it is possible churches in Michigan could be allowed to hold formal votes this fall to join the Global Methodist Church. I believe God is doing a new thing. He is stirring the Methodist movement and setting us up for renewal and revival.