Dear Friends and Delegates,
Mainstream does not typically respond to statements made about us. We are making an exception in this case because the Institute for Religion and Democracy (IRD) has accused us of “blatantly, demonstrably misrepresent[ing]” history. They recently sent this accusation to General Conference delegates in a clear attempt to sway their votes.
The IRD is a far-right group that openly attacks all mainline denominations in the United States. They believe, for instance, that the National Council of Churches is Marxist. Really. The author of this latest piece of disinformation is John Lomperis. Lomperis is on staff at the IRD and has actively been imploring churches to disaffiliate from the UMC. Yet, he refuses to leave himself. His church disaffiliated, but he joined another church in Indiana—though he no longer lives in the state—so he can stay on the General Conference delegation to cause more problems in 2024. His behavior and viewpoints are so toxic that the Indiana Annual Conference voted 62% this past June, censoring him and asking the Secretary of the General Conference to remove him from the Indiana delegation.  His refusal to leave is completely unethical, but not surprising.
Accusation 1: Lomperis says that Mainstream UMC is lying by asserting that traditionalists wrote ¶2553. He says in part, “Mainstream UMC… claim[s] that Discipline Paragraph 2553, through which congregations have disaffiliated in this season of separation, “is the paragraph that traditionalists wrote and adopted at General Conference 2019,” “was their so-called ‘gracious exit,’” and that “The current and former members of Good News and the WCA are the authors of … the ‘gracious exit.’”
The Full Truth: The first group to bring up disaffiliation and the only group to fully support disaffiliation at GC 2019 were traditionalists. The Traditionalist Plan as originally written contained a petition for disaffiliation. Traditionalist Rev. Dr. Chris Ritter called this “the heart of the traditional plan.” Neither Mainstream UMC nor any centrist or progressive group endorsed disaffiliation for one very important reason: The thrust of the One Church Plan was that our differences don’t need to separate us. We posed a question to traditionalists in 2019: “Can we agree to disagree?” The traditionalists’ answer was, “No.” Only then did disaffiliation become necessary.
It is accurate that after the Traditional Plan was submitted, multiple disaffiliation petitions were brought to the 2019 General Conference. It is true that, of those petitions, the one written by Leah Taylor was the first discussed. It is true that Taylor does not identify herself as a traditionalist. It is also true that these facts are of no consequence. The rules of General Conference provide that once legislation is submitted it is no longer the “property” of the author. It belongs to the body and the body can amend a petition in any way it wants. One common way of doing this is through the use of a “minority report,” For example, in 2008 the Church and Society 2 Committee passed a resolution that would have changed our stance on LGBT inclusion to “agree to disagree.” A minority report was submitted and ultimately adopted that gutted the entire resolution and replaced it with language that reinforced our current position. This is the tool that was used to pass ¶2553, Taylor’s version, (if you will).
Traditionalists won every meaningful vote at the 2019 General Conference. Days prior to the conference one traditionalist leader privately said to a centrist leader, “We’re going to clean your clock.” He was right. When traditionalist Rev. Beth Ann Cook presented the minority report for what is now ¶2553 she said this disaffiliation language is, “literally how I would want to be treated if I were the one hurting…” The language of ¶2553, amended and submitted as a minority report by traditionalists, was then adopted as written by the traditionalist majority. This is their legislation. Period.
Accusation 2: Lomperis claims that the Mainstream UMC statement that, “There has been enough time” for congregations to disaffiliate and that therefore ¶2553 should sunset is “highly misleading, at best.”
The Full Truth: Unlike the first point, this is a subjective statement by Mainstream UMC, but it is not misleading. Thinking people can disagree on whether we are correct that ¶2553 should sunset as originally planned on December 31, 2023. Having said that, there are some specific points that need to be refuted.
Lomperis says, “First of all, in many places, United Methodist congregations have actually never really had any chance, let alone “enough time,” to disaffiliate under ¶2553.” It is true that the Council of Bishops determined ¶2553 does not apply to churches outside the United States. Nevertheless, it is not true that churches outside of the U.S. are unable to disaffiliate. For example, The Global Methodist Church (GMC) announced in September that, “Fifty-eight local United Methodist congregations in Kenya voted to withdraw from The United Methodist Church and then announced they would align with the Global Methodist Church.” In another case, the aligned Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA) shared that the entire country of Bulgaria disaffiliated and joined the GMC. We do not know what mechanism these churches used to disaffiliate, but if the separatists’ own organizations are claiming that the churches have left, it defies logic to simultaneously claim it’s impossible for them to leave. Set the hyperbole aside. The simple truth is there have been disaffiliations outside of the U.S.
It is true that some conferences within the United States have put up additional barriers beyond the minimums provided for in ¶2553. At the same time, it is also true that in many places churches are leaving for reasons that have nothing to do with the issue at hand. Traditionalist activists have encouraged churches to leave because of alleged changing doctrine, lower apportionments in the GMC, our structure, and our appointment process.
Yet, if they are truly concerned about following the Book of Discipline, none of these are reasons for disaffiliation. Disaffiliation is only permissible, “for reasons of conscience regarding a change in the requirements and provisions of the Book of Discipline related to the practice of homosexuality or the ordination or marriage of self-avowed practicing homosexuals as resolved and adopted by the 2019 General Conference, or the actions or inactions of its annual conference related to these issues which follow.” We have heard countless reports of churches leaving the denomination for reasons other than the question of inclusion, including statements like, “It’s too bad we have to say we are leaving because of this when that’s not the real reason.” Lomperis couldn’t even say disagreement on inclusion was needed for disaffiliation. He could only say churches must come to the conclusion, “that it is time to leave your denomination.”
Mainstream UMC understands that individual churches have left the UMC before the 2019 General Conference and will leave after the 2024 General Conference, but the policy that is now wreaking havoc and creating lawsuits in our conferences should not continue. It is time for the campaign for organized, mass disaffiliations under ¶2553 to end.
Mainstream UMC will continue to call out falsehoods and misleading statements by the far-right advocacy groups who are either institutional nihilists (IRD) or harvesting churches to grow their own denomination (Good News, WCA, and the GMC). Their collective desire to continue disaffiliations is rooted in self-interest, not in the interest of growing the Kingdom.
Please join me in financially supporting the work of Mainstream UMC: www.MainstreamUMC.com/Donate
Rev. David Livingston
Vice-President, Advisory Board
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Notes: Read more about the IRD’s views about Mainline Marxism:  Clarification: a previous version of this article said the Indiana Annual Conference asked Lomperis to resign. In fact, the motion that passed by 62% was to ask the Secretary of the General Conference to remove him. Read more about Indiana’s efforts to remove Lomperis from the delegation:  Read all of Lomperis’ latest misstatements about Mainstream UMC here:  https://wesleyancovenant.org/2022/09/02/disaffiliation-and-the-coming-drop-dead-line/  Go to page 2535 to see the full text of the discussion in 2008.  https://globalmethodist.org/kenyan-congregations-join-global-methodist-church/  https://wesleyancovenant.org/2023/06/06/gathering-of-european-methodist-conservative-churches/  https://wesleyancovenant.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/2553-Disaffiliation.pdf