The Mainstream UMC Board voted unanimously this week to strongly advocate for an end to disaffiliations through paragraph 2553. As you may know, ¶2553 expires December 31, 2023. This is the paragraph that traditionalists wrote and adopted at General Conference 2019. It was their so-called “gracious exit”, and it was intended for the “liberals” to leave, not them. Nevertheless, this is the paragraph that the most conservative churches have used to exit the denomination. The current count is around 6,000 churches or about 20% of United Methodist churches in the United States.
The trio of far-right advocacy groups have drafted and submitted legislation to the 2024 General Conference to not only extend the disaffiliation process, but to make it even easier. Further, these groups are committed to sabotaging regionalization and the removal of the harmful language if they do not get their way. They are working to harm our church on their way out the door.
The groups have two different motivations. The Institute for Religion and Democracy (IRD) is committed to a post-denominational Christianity. They operate as a cancer to undermine all the mainline denominations in the United States. They want all of us to fail, and more disaffiliations will advance their generic goal of institutional nihilism.
The motivation of the other groups is to grow their new denomination, the Global Methodist Church (GMC). To unpack this, it is helpful to remember that Good News and the Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA) are basically the same organization. Many individuals serve on both boards. They are housed at the same disaffiliated church in The Woodlands, Texas. Their PO Boxes are a few numbers apart, in the same mailroom. They probably share a Netflix password.
The current and former members of Good News and the WCA are the authors of the 2019 Traditional Plan, the “gracious exit,” and the Book of Doctrine and Discipline for the GMC. They are also the authors of the new petitions to extend and reduce the terms for exit. This is straight-up self-promotion. Any other reason they give for these petitions is a smoke screen.
4 Reasons Mainstream UMC opposes extending paragraph 2553 or similar mechanisms for disaffiliations:
- There has been enough time. This fight has been raging for 50 years. It has been almost 5 years since ¶2553 was adopted. That has been enough time to form a new denomination and for more than 6,000 churches to go through the process to leave. Any church that has not been aware of what is going on has been asleep at the wheel.
- Disinformation is rampant. The far-right advocacy groups have trumped up all kinds of nonsense to get people to leave. The only valid reason to leave, according to their own ¶2553, is disagreement over homosexuality. No church will suddenly change their mind about homosexuality. A church may, though, be persuaded by the continuing flow of false information. Extending the season for their disinformation is unacceptable.
- Other paths for departure are available. Churches have, on occasion, left the UMC before ¶2553 was available. Churches will, on occasion, leave in the future. No one wants to hold people hostage who want to leave, but nearly half the churches who have left have gone independent. Many of these churches care nothing about homosexuality or the GMC, they are simply opportunists who want to control their property. They still can.
- Fighting is unhealthy. Just the act of taking the vote has divided churches across the United States. Whether a majority votes to stay or leave, hundreds of churches have been deeply fractured. It is time to focus on making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. We need to move from a conflict-centered church to a mission-centered church. This is true for both the GMC and the UMC. It is time to stop harvesting other people’s churches and get on with reaching the unchurched. Extending the fight does not extend the Kingdom of God.
Stopping the disaffiliations is urgent and will take a lot of work, a lot of organizing, and a lot of resources. These far-right advocacy groups have a 50-year winning streak at General Conference—and this is their ONLY agenda item in 2024. They have promised to fight us at General Conference; we want the fighting to end. It is going to take your help to move past this fighting for good.
We need individuals who can contribute anywhere from $5 to $5,000. If you know of a local church or an individual who would like to do more, please let us know. We are glad to talk about opportunities for large gifts and how they will be used to advance our legislative goals.
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Rev. Dr. Mark Holland
Executive Director, Mainstream UMC
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