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CLUB 444: Meanwhile, in Texas & Georgia

August 8, 2022

Wally Latham and I went to both Asbury and Candler together (if that’s meaningless, don’t worry: United Methodist “inside baseball” stuff there). Today he shared this —-

The two largest churches in the Texas Annual Conference (UMC) voted on Sunday to disaffiliate from the denomination under provisions of Disciplinary paragraph 2553.

Scores (hundreds?) of churches in the North GA Conference are in discussion about this very matter. What are they hearing from the denominational leaders in NGA? When they inquire about disaffiliation they are receiving discouraging advice. Here is a partial list lay folks from various churches have shared with me:

No need to hurry.
Nothing has changed.
Wait for the 2024 General Conference
The Discipline has not changed.
Our theology and doctrine cannot be changed.
There is plenty of room at the table.
They are lying to you.
We don’t need to talk about it.
You cannot invite anyone from the opposition who we do not approve.
No meetings are necessary.
Only Conference leadership has the answers.
No, you cannot have a list of disaffiliating churches, those who are in the discernment process, lay leaders in churches, etc.
No one can meet without the Pastor’s knowledge and approval.
Traditionalists will always be welcome in the UMC.
If the Discipline changes regarding Human Sexuality it will not impact your church unless you want it to.
They (Traditionalists) hate gay people.
If they leave, they will come back.
No Traditional church will be forced to receive a Progressive Pastor.

Unfortunately, some of the above are blatant lies and distortions. If a church is going to consider disaffiliation, they must do it now. Why? See my article here:

Exit Now!
Dr. Warren Lathem
warrenlathem@gmail.com

Atlanta drivers know if you wait until the last minute to try to cross 6 lanes of traffic to get to your exit, you are likely to either miss the opportunity and wait for the next one, or get run over by a delivery truck. Therefore, we have learned to get prepared to exit long before the exit appears.

The UMC made a provision for churches to disaffiliate (exit) from the UMC taking their property and all assets without any liability for future unfunded UMC pension benefits. It is described in paragraph 2553 of the current (2019) Book of Discipline.

However, this provision has an expiration date: December 31, 2023. There are costs involved, specifically paying the church’s share of the unfunded pension liability (the conference has to provide that number) and any unpaid current year apportionments plus one more year apportionments. Various other bishops and Conference Boards of Trustees have added other requirements, some quiet onerous.

The paragraph 2553 of the 2019 General Conference made provision for disaffiliation by a local church and was ruled constitutional in 2021 by the Judicial Council. This meant disaffiliation could be processed beginning in 2022. Seventy churches in North Georgia completed the process and were approved/ratified for disaffiliation at the June, 2022 Annual Conference.

The remaining churches wishing to disaffiliate have a very narrow window. They must complete the church decision making process and ask for a church conference to be scheduled January 1- February 28, 2023. The North Georgia Conference must vote on whether to ratify the local church disaffiliation agreement which is scheduled for May 31, 2023. No further opportunity for ratification is presently planned.

In order to meet this deadline it is imperative churches act now. The Annual Conference has published very specific procedures which must be followed exactly to be able to successfully execute this process. A sixteen page disaffiliation package has been prepared to help churches navigate this laborious process. The packet is available via email on request.

Please do not believe the speculation that there is no need to do anything before the 2024 General Conference. Also do not believe the speculation that the 2024 GC will make the process easier and less costly. Indications across the church reveal an agenda to thwart the process of disaffiliation. For example, one bishop has declared no churches will be allowed to disaffiliate until after the 2024 GC. Another has required churches to surrender 1/2 of their assets in addition the Disciplinary requirements. Further, the centrists and progressives who were involved in the negotiations which resulted in the Protocol for Separation have withdrawn their support for the legislation in the 2024 GC. The NGA bishop has declared, “The Protocol is dead.”

There is not sufficient evidence to believe the 2024 GC will adopt a new version of Paragraph 2553 nor make leaving less onerous, if even possible. Many have speculated they will, but this a very unlikely outcome.

Therefore, I believe you will have one opportunity: Annual Conference 2023. If you miss the exit, you will have probably made a very costly mistake.

In order to avoid missing the exit, you must begin moving toward it now, not later. Now. No one knows how many NGA churches will seek to disaffiliate in 2023. It could be hundreds. The exit ramp is fast approaching and the exit lane will fill quickly. You need to move toward it quickly.

Please do not let conference leaders, centrist/progressive clergy, or other church members convince you there is no hurry. The time is now.

There are folks available to speak with you, your church leadership, your church or a group of churches to help with understanding the current situation and the necessary process to successfully get through this exit.

In many churches there has been little or no discussion of the whole matter forcing the decision. Often that may be the natural state of inertia in many of the congregations of the UMC. Or it may be a theological misalignment of the pastor and the congregation. Further, it may be the fear of conflict in the congregation. Now is the time to face the fears and the consequences. Time is of the essence.

Disclosure: after 50 years of ministry in the UMC I transferred to the Global Methodist Church. It was in some ways a very sad and difficult decision. However, it was for missional reasons, first, then doctrinal and theological reasons. I believe we have a great missional future together. Our Wesleyan heritage is one of outwardly focused mission. It’s time to pursue it again.

—- What say ye?

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2 Comments
  1. Michael Sanders permalink

    Thank you for sharing- good to know what’s going on. Glad you’re getting the word out. Praying for God’s church and people

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    Like

  2. I’m bemused when colleagues who want to pursue disaffiliation are stunned and outraged when they hear some UMC leaders won’t help them promote the disaffiliation process. I’m not impressed with these complaints.

    Like

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