April 21, 2022

Church Conference Split

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Several questions have been raised recently about “the split in the United Methodist Church (UMC)” and “disaffiliation”.  I thought it was time I addressed some of those issues.  For many years there has been a growing divide between factions within the UMC.  People interpret the bible differently, or stress different tenets of the bible, depending on their own understandings.  Eventually people coalesced into three major groupings.  One group, usually called “liberal” stressed love and acceptance and welcoming the stranger.  One group, usually called “conservative” stressed obedience to a strict understanding of the bible.  One group tried to balance these two, stressing faithfulness to scripture, while accepting differing interpretation.

These divergent points of view have come to a sharper conflict in recent years over the issues of homosexuality.  The current official policy of the UMC (as defined by the 2019 addendum to the 2016 Book of Discipline) is that there will be no ordination of a “self avowed practicing homosexual”.  There will also be no same sex marriages allowed in UMC churches or by UMC pastors.

Some annual conferences and some individual pastors have chosen to disregard these policies proclaiming them to be incompatible with their understanding of scriptures.  The special session of the General Conference in 2019 was called to try and deal with these issues.  It reaffirmed the current bans as the official position of the UMC.  But it also instituted a policy that would make it somewhat easier for churches to “disaffiliate” from (leave) the UMC if they disagreed with its policies, provided that the disaffiliation was completed by December 31, 2023.

Following that called Conference, debate intensified, and several proposals were made to divide the UMC into different denominations, allowing each annual conference, and each individual congregation to decide with which new denomination they would affiliate.  These proposals were codified in resolutions submitted to the 2020 General Conference.  Then covid struck and the 2020 general conference has been postponed multiple times, and is now not scheduled until the fall of 2024.  This has left the situation about leaving the UMC n in somewhat of a limbo.

One large group on the “conservative” side, after the last postponement announced that they would not wait for the General Conference and would launch the Global Methodist Church beginning May 1 of this year.  That has spurred more churches to decide to disaffiliate from the UMC.  One complication in the process, is that according to the “trust clause” in all UMC property titles, the property and assets of a church are held “in trust” for the UMC, and if a congregation decides to leave the UMC, the property would revert to the Annual Conference.  The 2019 Discipline allowed a temporary way of leaving while taking the real property.  The process would be that a congregation would have a called Church Conference at which it would try to have as many church members as possible in attendance.  If 2/3 of those present voted to disaffiliate with the UMC then the congregation would enter into discussion with the Annual Conference.  It would have to pay any apportionments to the conference for the year they disaffiliate, and pay an additional year’s apportionments, plus other conditions that might be set by the Annual Conference Board of trustees.  This would then be followed by a vote of the Annual Conference to accept the agreement.

Up until this year no church in the NM Conference had voted to leave under this procedure.  But with the formation of the Global Methodist Church several are now considering it.  That means that our conference Board of Trustees has started to consider what the policy would be for a church that left the UMC under this provision.  They said they would announce this policy on “disaffiliation” by Annual Conference in June.

This all means that we as a congregation are not required to vote about whether or not to “disaffiliate” with the UMC.  There will not be a vote at Annual Conference this year about whether the Conference will disaffiliate from the UMC (no Discipinary procedure now exists for that to happen).  The current policies of the UMC are still in force, and we will not be doing any “gay weddings” at Aztec UMC.  The New Mexico Annual Conference has not (to my knowledge) ordained anyone who is a practicing homosexual.  Things may change at General Conference in 2024, when the proposals to split the church will be considered.  I will keep you notified if any changes happen.