All too often, we see falsehoods being propagated as truth. Unicorns are a myth. Stories of dragons are fanciful. Yet literature is filled with these stories. As romantic, exciting or frightening as they may be, they are fantasy. Problems arise when we see fiction being peddled as truth.
Several myths are being propagated by various leaders in the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church. These myths are being presented as truth. They are not.
Many falsehoods involve the ongoing split occurring in the United Methodist Church, particularly the North Georgia Conference. The cancellation of the 2020, 2021 and 2022 General Conference, and its impact on the possibility of the passage of the Protocol for Separation and Grace, has forced many congregations to seek disaffiliation from the UMC.
Jay Therrell, of the Florida Wesley Covenant Association, has written two helpful articles, “Mythbusters:” (https://jaytherrell.com/mythbusters-wca-florida-edition-part-one/) and (https://jaytherrell.com/mythbusters-wca-florida-edition-part-two/). We are indebted to him and draw heavily upon his writing, with his permission.
In North Georgia, 70-plus congregations have taken steps to disaffiliate. These churches will face a final vote to disaffiliate at Annual Conference in June. Had the North Georgia deadline for filing in 2022 (Feb. 15) been known to the laity, and the decision been made earlier to cancel the General Conference again, many more churches would have filed.
It is expected that many more churches in North Georgia will seek to disaffiliate before the Disciplinary provision expires Dec. 31, 2023.
To help churches and pastors make informed decisions, we present the following truths to combat the myths.
Myth 1: Local churches don’t need to make any decisions. They should wait until 2024 General Conference.
This is a myth. The primary reason not to wait is the provision for disaffiliation currently in the Book of Discipline. Paragraph 2553 expires in Dec. 31, 2023. There are no guarantees it will be reinstated at the 2024 General Conference. Furthermore, there are no guarantees the 2024 Conference won’t prohibit congregations to leave with their property, or simply make it cost prohibitive.
The current path to disaffiliation is the best option available now. While other Disciplinary options for separation currently exist, the North Georgia Conference has stated they will not be allowed.
Furthermore, the disaffiliation process can be time consuming. Churches need to start this process as soon as possible. (See document below: The “Suggested Steps in Preparation For Disaffiliation.”)
Given the expected volume of disaffiliations, your church will want to get started as soon as possible. You cannot expect the cooperation of the District Superintendents; some have used the excuse of unavailable time for Charge Conferences, to delay churches’ decisions. In truth, every DS has the option of appointing any ordained elder to hold the Charge Conference in his or her absence. Therefore, there is no legitimate reason to filibuster this process.
Myth 2: Nothing will change in the post-separation UMC.
If the Protocol for Separation passes at the 2024 General Conference, the myth declares, it does not change anything in the denomination after the separation. This is stated as truth particularly in relation to the UMC’s stance on LGBTQ issues (marriage and ordination) and the post-separation UMC (“ps-UMC”) might never change. Unfortunately, it’s not true. Diving a little deeper quickly busts this myth.
The proposed Protocol legislation will add a new paragraph to the Book of Discipline: 2556.
The preamble to the proposed new 2556.1.a states:
“We envision the post-separation United Methodist Church will strive to create a structure of regional conferences to facilitate ministry adaptable to regional contexts, and we further envision that the post-separation United Methodist Church will repeal the Traditional Plan and remove all other restrictive language related to LGBTQ persons. Not all traditional United Methodists may choose to separate from The United Methodist Church and join a New Methodist Denomination. We envision the Post-Separation United Methodist Church will strive to be a place where traditional United Methodists can continue to serve.”
The very legislation forming the Protocol states that the ps-UMC will repeal the Traditional Plan and remove all other restrictive language related to LGBTQ persons. Moreover, that means the ps-UMC will change the 6,000-year Judeo-Christian definition of marriage from “one man and one woman” to “two persons.” While the legislation technically may not make the change, it sets in motion the framework to do so. The ps-UMC will certainly adopt an extremely progressive stance on LGBTQ matters that runs counter to the 2,000 years of orthodox Christian doctrine.
Myth 3: Female clergy and clergy of color won’t be able to get appointments in the Global Methodist Church.
More than a lie, this is an indefensible smear. Too many people in the UMC, including bishops, support this myth by saying the Global Methodist Church (GMC), which is in formation, will not have guaranteed appointments. That is true. Guaranteed appointment in the UMC is a right reserved for ordained elders. It’s similar to tenure for college professors. Elders may not be able to lead, preach or teach, but they’re guaranteed to serve a full-time church.
The Global Methodist Church plans to dramatically increase the participation of the local church and pastor in the appointment process, but the bishop has the final say in deciding which clergy serve which churches. Local churches cannot simply veto the appointment of a female pastor or pastor of color. Secondly, if a bishop chose to discriminate against female clergy and clergy of color by not appointing them, that bishop would be subject to complaint. Thirdly, the GMC also has significantly increased the accountability over bishops. An independent team will process complaints against them. No more will bishops be allowed to act capriciously as has been the case with Mt. Bethel. There will be accountable processes for bishops in the GMC.
Myth 4: There will be room for all – traditionalists included – in the post separation-UMC.
Progressives are pushing hard to get people to buy the “big tent” theory of the ps-UMC. They argue that no one in the ps-UMC will be forced to do anything against their conscience.
This is false. We know that the North Georgia Conference of the UMC has become increasingly unfriendly to traditionalists. This is even more pronounced across the denomination. Although separation hasn’t taken place yet, the following is a small sample of recent events.
- Married lesbian Karen Oliveto continues to serve as a bishop in the UMC, even though the Judicial Council has ruled she is not eligible to hold the office. People across the denomination have filed multiple complaints to have her removed. To date, nothing has happened with any of them.
- Retired Bishop Peggy Johnson has recently announced that her spouse, formerly the Rev. Michael Johnson, is now the Rev. Mary Johnson. Rev. Johnson is a transgender female and a pastor in the Baltimore Washington Conference.
- In a recent statement to the Reconciling Ministries Network, Bishop Johnson said, “Greetings from Virginia, where my spouse Mary and I live in retirement and from where we’ve recently shared our authentic selves as a cisgender/transgender couple. It has been a long 11 years keeping this a secret as much as possible.”
- The Vermillion River District of the Illinois Great Rivers Conference has approved Isaac Simmons as a certified candidate for ordination. Isaac also is known as the drag queen “Ms. Penny Cost.” He’s performed drag shows in United Methodist churches and preached in drag.
- The president of UMC University Senate-approved Union Theological Seminary does not believe that heaven is real or the resurrection happened. Also at Union, in chapel, students were led to make confessions to plants. You can read the article here. The seminary tweeted on its official Twitter feed, “Today in chapel, we confessed to plants. Together, we held our grief, joy, regret, hope, guilt and sorrow in prayer; offering them to the beings who sustain us but whose gift we too often fail to honor.”
- Iliff School of Theology in Denver, a United Methodist seminary, recently announced its new student senate leaders. Among them is a man who works at “Wyte Rayvn Church, an inclusive Wiccan church.” Another student senate leader, whose preferred pronouns are “they/them,” was described as, “… Jewish and practiced Judaism into their teenage years, but encountered Paganism in the mid-90s and have been following that path since then. [He] is one of the initiates of the Firefly House in Washington DC – an organization for Wiccans, witches, polytheists, and other magic workers – and works with the house to offer public Pagan religious and educational events.”
- Entire annual conferences and one jurisdiction have declared that they will no longer follow the Book of Discipline regarding LGBTQ ordination and marriage issues.
- A St. Petersburg, Fla., UMC hosted “drag queen story hour” for children at its church.
- The Rev. Craig Duke, pastor of Newburgh UMC in Newburgh, Ind., was featured recently in the HBO series “We’re Here,” as a drag queen. Rev. Duke was featured getting into drag, which he deemed an “incredibly wonderful, refreshing, deepening, powerful spiritual experience.”
- The North Central Jurisdiction (the Upper Midwest annual conferences) met Nov. 10-11, 2021, to adopt a covenant that shows the future of the ps-UMC. The covenant makes it clear the ps-UMC, in that part of the United States, will pursue a radically progressive agenda. Anyone who doesn’t like it will be shown the proverbial door.
If all the above (and there’s much more) is already going on in the United Methodist Church, once traditionalists leave, all the boundaries will be gone. Things will only get more radical. Will traditionalists be welcome in the ps-UMC? Maybe. Will it get very uncomfortable very quickly? Highly likely.
As for no one being forced to do anything against their conscience, we say, “We’ll have to see.” The most reliable roadmap we have for what is to come are the denominations that have gone down this path already. The Episcopal Church has been through this journey. They, too, told people who stayed in the Episcopal Church they would never have to do anything against their conscience. Last year, the last remaining traditionalist Episcopalian bishop, William Love, was brought up on charges for not allowing his clergy to officiate same-gender weddings. He resigned in March 2021, transferring to the traditionalist Anglican Church of North America.
Myth 5: The Global Methodist Church (in formation) won’t allow LGBTQ persons to worship in their churches.
Recently a Florida pastor made this statement in a sermon he preached to his congregation. The pastor said something to the effect that if you’re a member of a GMC, and your loved one comes out as LGBTQ, you could receive a letter from the denomination informing you that you can no longer be a part of your local congregation. This has no basis in fact.
The Transitional Book of Doctrines and Discipline of the GMC says the following in paragraph 202.1:
“We believe that all persons irrespective of their station or circumstances in life have been made in the image of God and must be treated with dignity, justice, and respect. We denounce as sin racism, sexism, and other expressions that unjustly discriminate against any person (Genesis 1-2, Deuteronomy 16:19-20, Luke 11:42, 19:9, Colossians 3:11).”
All people, including LGBTQ individuals, will be treated with dignity, justice and respect. That has nothing to do with theology. It’s just being Christian. The GMC will not allow clergy to officiate at a same gender wedding, and will not ordain active LGBTQ persons. (Celibate LGBTQ persons could be ordained.) That said, everyone is welcome in a Global Methodist Church.
We’ve reached a dangerous place in society where we’ve accepted the idea that if we love someone, we must agree with everything they do and say. That’s simply not true. We can love a person and disagree with many of their actions and deeds. Any good parent of a rebellious teenager has demonstrated abundant love for their prodigal child while still disagreeing with their decisions and actions. Cancel culture is antithetical to the Gospel and it’s at the heart of this heinous myth.
Recently, the Wesleyan Covenant Association’s Task Force on Sexual Holiness, Wholeness and Brokenness issued a thorough and edifying report. You can read it here. Traditionalists must do a better job of being in ministry with the LGBTQ community and people who are sexually broken. God loves them and so do we. We want them to be free from bondage and enjoy the fulness of God’s grace, love and salvation. The Apostle Paul tells us that we are burdened for their souls. We believe this task force report will be a foundation for the GMC and is an important first step.
Myth 6. Traditionalists are all of one political ideology: conservative.
It has been written the vast majority of traditionalist laity are “fundamentalist Christian nationalist political conservatives.” This is a specious attack.
Traditionalists include: registered Republicans, registered Democrats, registered Independents, as well as socialists. It’s a myth that traditionalists are all one political persuasion. Traditionalists have voted for Joe Biden, Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.
Our theology must be to inform our ideology, not the other way around. Annual Conference often sounds more like a political convention and less like a church gathering. We hear lots about anti-racism, LGBTQ inclusion, climate justice and other social justice wedge issues. We hear extraordinarily little about evangelism, discipleship and sanctification … and when we do hear about them, they usually refer to the social justice agenda.
Myth 7: Traditionalists are a small, fringe, far-right fundamentalist splinter group who were never really United Methodist.
Our Bishop has made it clear she believes only those who stay in the ps-UMC are “good United Methodists.” In one respect, she is correct. Those of us who leave will no longer be United Methodist and are thus disqualified from being called “good United Methodists.”
However, that does not negate the decades that many of us were “good United Methodists.” We served, we witnessed, we supported, we gave, we were faithful. Our denominational leaders have failed us. We did not betray the UMC. We served it faithfully and effectively. We did not want to leave our denominational home, but we discovered our traditional Wesleyan values and doctrines were no longer welcome. We leave with much grief over the necessity of such action and at great cost, both financial and relational. Deep, loving relationships are being severed in this process and that is extremely distressing. We may no longer be “good United Methodists,” but most of us will continue to be Methodist of some stripe.
Furthermore, we are not a small splinter group. The volume of churches disaffiliating at this Annual Conference will be followed by many, many more. It is possible the “small splinter group” actually may be what remains of the ps-UMC in North Georgia. We are not racists and we do not hate the LGBTQ community. Some of us have been pioneers in ministry in cross racial appointments and service with and to those in the LGBTQ movement.
Interestingly, the reasons churches are discussing leaving almost always have nothing to do with human sexuality, the high-profile issue at the General Church level. Our churches are talking about a misalignment of mission, decades of ineffective pastoral leadership, the misuse (in their opinion) of their apportionment dollars, the forced closing of local churches, the seizing of local church assets, and a desire for a viable future which appears to no longer be possible in the UMC. They desire local control of their assets faithfully given by generations of good Methodists. They desire a decentralized and flattened decision-making process. They understand a consensus of mission is far more powerful than institutional power plays.
They simply want out with their assets to continue ministry in a more effective way. They may not be sure what that looks like, but they know the current reality is not working. Disaffiliation and pursuing the Great Commission in some other denomination or association is their only perceived option.
Suggested Steps in Preparation for Disaffiliation*
(Please note we offer two suggested paths)
These steps should be considered if the two-thirds required vote is uncertain.
Step 1: Set up a lay-led study group to gather and prepare information.
Step 2: Present the findings of the study group to the Administrative Council for approval and permission to present the findings to the congregation.
Step 3: Have one or more town hall meetings to inform the congregation about the findings of the study committee. Inform the district superintendent about the meeting(s).
Step 4: Have another meeting of the Administrative Council to vote on whether to request a Church Conference for the purpose of disaffiliation.
Step 5: If the vote for the request for a Church Conference is yes, the request for the Church Conference should come from the Administrative Council not the pastor. The request should be signed by the Administrative Council Chair, SPRC Chair, Trustees Chair, and Lay Leader.
These steps could be considered if the two-thirds required vote is assured.
Step 1: Same as Step 1 above.
Step 2: Present the findings of the study group to the Administrative Council for approval to present to the congregation and approve a request by the Administrative Council for a Church Conference for the purpose of disaffiliation. The Church Conference request should be signed by the same parties listed in Step 5 above.
Step 3: Have one or more town hall meetings to inform the congregation about the findings of the study committee. Inform the district superintendent about the meeting(s).
*NOTE: The only approved path for disaffiliation in the North Georgia Conference, at this time, is Paragraph 2553, which in effect expires at annual conference of 2023 unless a special annual conference session before Dec. 31, 2023 were to be called by the bishop to ratify agreements worked out after June 2023 session. If the conference sets a deadline prior to the 2023 annual conference session (such as the Feb. 15, 2022 this year), then the local church requirement to act is much sooner than the 2023 annual conference session. It may be advantageous to request the church conference sooner rather than later because the pension liability buy out amount is calculated quarterly and is set as of the date disaffiliation is approved by the church conference. It is anticipated that the buyout amount will increase as we go forward. This means holding a church conference earlier (such as Sept. 30, 2022) would probably result in a lower pension buyout amount than if the church conference were held later. For certain, the request should be made no later than Dec. 31, 2022 to insure everything can be handled before the June 2023 annual conference session.