An FAQ on Disaffiliation from the Sep. 28 Townhall: Setting the Record Straight
The information raised during the Town Hall does not reflect any one specific local church or annual conference. The conversation reflects the comprehensive nature of issues related to disaffiliation across the denomination.
Will the current Book of Discipline tenets of faith regarding the virgin birth and resurrection remain in full effect in the new/revised Book of Discipline?
No. All of these positions are bedrock in the doctrinal standards of The United Methodist Church, more specifically in the Articles of Religion and the Confession of Faith. These cannot be altered without a two-thirds vote of the General Conference followed by a three-fourths aggregate approval of all annual conferences of The United Methodist Church worldwide. There is no basis to conclude such majorities can be achieved to alter the Articles and Confession for any reason.
See question 3 at https://www.umc.org/en/content/ask-the-umc-is-the-umc-really-part-1 for more.
Is the UMC intending to change the Bible?
No. The United Methodist Church has no official translation of the Bible and has never sought to alter the Bible at all. United Methodists have always had a variety of views about how to interpret specific passages of Scripture and likely always will.
What is the current position of the UMC on homosexuality?
The United Methodist Church affirms that sexuality is “God’s good gift to all persons.”
This affirmation begins the denomination’s statement on Human Sexuality. It is one of several statements describing the church’s teachings on sexuality.
The Church affirms that all people are of sacred worth and are equally valuable in the sight of God. It is committed to be in ministry with all people. The Church “implores families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends.”
Underlying this is the constitutional principle of inclusiveness of the church. Everyone is welcome to worship and actively participate in the life of our churches. Laypersons may become members and live out their faith through their local church without respect to sexual orientation or practice.
The Church deplores acts of hate and violence against people based on sexual orientation or gender identity and believes human rights and civil liberties are due all people, regardless of sexual orientation.
Homosexuality was first openly debated at General Conference in 1972, four years after the formation of The United Methodist Church, resulting in the addition of first statement on homosexuality. While affirming belief that persons of homosexual orientation are persons of sacred worth who need the ministry and guidance of the church, the statement added that the church “does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching.” [Timeline: https://www.umnews.org/en/news/gc2016-tackling-44-year-stance-on-homosexuality]
Since that time, the church has maintained the position that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” This draws a distinction between orientation and practice, or behavior. Sexual relations are affirmed only within the covenant of monogamous, heterosexual marriage. The United Methodist Church supports laws that define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
Based on these positions about homosexual practice and marriage, the Church has also maintained restrictions regarding clergy. Pastors may not be “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals” and may not conduct ceremonies that celebrate same-sex weddings or unions. Such ceremonies also may not be held on church property.
With a body of over 12 million members globally, United Methodists are not of one mind about how to be in ministry with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people. Some members feel strongly that the church should uphold its current stances regarding gay clergy and marriage. Others strongly advocate for inclusion of LGBTQ Christians in all aspects of life in the church.
Why did Bishop Easterling mention race in her remarks? It seemed divisive.
The bishop was not calling any church or individual racist. She was addressing the fact that in recent years, since the NEJ Call to Action for Racial Justice was adopted and the Council of Bishops has been intentionally addressing racism, she and others have seen greater resistance and hardening of positions from church members on race than they have on LGBTQIA+ issues.
E-connection, Oct. 11:
A video of the recent Town Hall meeting, Setting the Record Straight, with Bishop LaTrelle Easterling and leaders of the Peninsula-Delaware and Baltimore-Washington Conferences is available to view online. See the video.
An FAQ with questions raised at the Town Hall is also available. See this resource.
When will the decision be made as to whether to change the Book of Discipline regarding human sexuality questions?
While the church has official statements regarding homosexuality, all members can disagree with the church’s positions and can advocate for change in policy. The General Conference has debated these questions at every session since 1972, with very few significant changes. However, changes to the language are possible whenever the General Conference meets, which is usually every four years. The 2020 Session of General Conference has been postponed three times due to Covid. Currently, it is expected to meet in May 2024.
If the Book of Discipline states that actively practicing homosexual clergy and homosexual marriage are inconsistent with Christianity, and these tenets were upheld and strengthened in the 2019 General Conference (the last GC), why is it that the BWC has decided to suspend judicial actions against offenders?
The Council of Bishops affirmed and most bishops continue to follow the recommendation of the Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace, to hold in abeyance complaints of this nature until after the next session of General Conference. This also included an agreement not to file complaints during this time.
See also question 10 at https://www.umc.org/en/content/ask-the-umc-is-the-umc-really-part-2
Can a United Methodist Church refuse to allow a same-sex wedding in the sanctuary?
Yes. Clergy have always had the prerogative to determine whose weddings they will/not officiate and allow on church property. Nothing has changed.
Can a UMC refuse a pastoral appointment of a homosexual pastor?
All churches participate in a consultation through the SPRC with the District Superintendent to discern their pastoral appointments. In order to provide the best missional match, a church would not be “forced” to receive a pastor they were not willing to embrace as their pastoral leader.
Are transgender people addressed in the new UMC guidelines?
No, there are no restrictions in the Book of Discipline related to transgender persons, but the Book of Discipline affirms that "all persons are individuals of sacred worth, created in the image of God" (Par 161g)
Our understanding is that the Book of Discipline will change in the future. Is that understanding true?
There is no way to predict what changes might be made. The BOD has evolved over time. Each time General Conference meets, legislation is voted on and the BOD is modified. However, the constitution and articles of religion (which include our statements of faith) do not change much if at all. Furthermore, The Articles of Religion and the Confession of Faith cannot be altered without a two-thirds vote of the General Conference followed by a three-fourths aggregate approval of all annual conferences of The United Methodist Church worldwide. There is no basis to conclude such majorities can be achieved to alter the Articles and Confession for any reason.
Has the UMC already changed its policies to allow same-sex marriage and ordination of self-avowed practicing homosexual persons? If so, does a church need to disaffiliate if they do not agree with these changes?
No. The UMC Book of Discipline has not removed its restrictions and requirements regarding practicing homosexuals and same-sex weddings; in fact, the prohibitive language became more restrictive at the special session of General Conference in 2019. No church is being asked to leave the denomination. Churches that do not agree with the current rules of the UMC related to human sexuality or do not agree with the practices of their conference, may, for a limited time (through Dec 31, 2023), disaffiliate (leave) the UMC with all their members and their property if they follow the guidelines of Par. 2553 and additional requirements set forth by the Conference Board of Trustees. There is NO requirement nor is there any encouragement to do so. United Methodists have never agreed on all things, but never have we required churches or members to leave because they did not agree on all things in the Book of Discipline.
Do we have to make a decision prior to seeing the proposed changes to the Book of Discipline?
No. Every member of a United Methodist Church remains a United Methodist unless or until they choose to leave the denomination. Every chartered United Methodist Church remains United Methodist unless they choose to disaffiliate AND complete all the necessary requirements, including a congregational vote and the approval of the Annual Conference. We think this question comes from confusion arising prior to 2020 when it was thought that the UMC was "splitting" and churches/individuals would have to choose which post-separation group to join. This is not the case, and may not be the case after General Conference meets next time. It is also important to know that if your church disaffiliates, all members of that church will lose their membership in the UMC unless they choose to transfer their membership to another UMC.
See question #15 at https://www.umc.org/en/content/ask-the-umc-is-the-umc-really-part-4
Are the Global Methodist Church and Traditional UMC still affiliated with the UMC?
No. There is no official organization/denomination called the "Traditional UMC." The term "traditional" came from legislation in the 2019 Special Session of General Conference called the "Traditional Plan,” which proposed tighter restrictions on our rules related to human sexuality. The Global Methodist Church (GMC) is a newly forming denomination, which is not yet recognized by the UMC. The UMC and GMC currently have no affiliation.
What is Paragraph 2553 in the Book of Discipline? (sometimes called “the Taylor Plan”)
The Council of Bishops and Judicial Council Decision 1449 have affirmed ¶2553, added by the 2019 special called General Conference, as “the primary paragraph used for disaffiliation or separation.”
What does Paragraph 2553 say?
It outlines the steps that must be taken to meet the criteria for, and complete a disaffiliation from The United Methodist Church. These provisions require, at a minimum, three things:
Can requirements be added to Para. 2553?
Yes, Annual conferences may add to these requirements. The Board of Trustees of the Peninsula-Delaware Conference has done so, requiring that half of the valuation of a church’s building be included in the cost of disaffiliation, and also creating an activity-based discernment process so that all those voting are fully aware of what they are undertaking. The discretion of each conference board of trustees to establish its unique guidelines in addition to the minimum requirements of Par 2553 has been upheld by the Judicial Council in Decision 1425. The Judicial Council’s ruling said the disaffiliation process established by General Conference constitutes minimum standards, “which do not preclude additional procedures and standard terms created by annual conferences, provided that the latter do not negate or violate the former.”
At one time, we understood that the UMC would undergo a split, and would divide into two or more “post-separation” branches of the UMC, supposedly at the 2020 session of General Conference. We prepared to join one of several options. Is that still true? Do we need to make a decision as individuals or as a congregation?
No. There are no official “branches” of the UMC; there is only one United Methodist Church. The UMC is alive and well! No one needs to leave the denomination, nor does any church need to vote whether to remain UMC or leave. There are some who have chosen to disaffiliate and become independent (non-UMC), and some have chosen to unite with other denominations. All the churches that have disaffiliated since 2019 in Pen-Del and BWC are now non-denominational churches with no ties to the UMC.
Do all UM churches in the Conference have to take a vote on this issue of disaffiliation?
No. We suppose this confusion stems from the assumption leading up to the 2020 General Conference that there would be a division in the UMC and churches (or individuals) would need to determine which “branch” of Methodism they would follow. The General Conference did not meet in 2020. There has been no split, nor has there been any revision to the Book of Discipline allowing part of the church to separate and still call themselves “United Methodist”. Until and unless the General Conference requires churches to choose an affiliation, all United Methodist Churches and members remain United Methodist, guided by the Book of Discipline. Any individual layperson or clergy that chooses to withdraw or transfer their membership to another denomination have always been able to do that. Congregations, however, have never had the option to leave the denomination as a whole until now, and only for a limited time (Dec. 31, 2023…through Par 2553). No church is required to take a vote to remain UMC or to leave (disaffiliate) from the UMC.
Why do conservative churches have to disaffiliate and pay to the conference for our church building, but the liberal churches automatically get to continue to be "United Methodists"?
No church has to disaffiliate. The UMC is made up of members who do not all agree on all matters. Every General Conference gives us an opportunity to discern together the rules that we will live in covenant relationship. That is a democratic process. In 2019, the General Conference made the unprecedented decision to allow some churches to leave the denomination per Par 2553:
"Because of the current deep conflict within The United Methodist Church around issues of human sexuality, a local church shall have a limited right, under the provisions of this paragraph, to disaffiliate from the denomination 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."
United Methodists choosing to remain in the UMC are free to do so, regardless of their agreement or disagreement with the Book of Discipline. Churches are made up of members who do not all agree and we discourage congregations from taking unnecessary votes that might cause painful division in the body.
Why are those who disagree with the current BOD not required to leave?
No church has to disaffiliate. And no member of the UMC is required to leave when they disagree with the Book of Discipline. The UMC is made up of members who do not all agree on all matters. Every General Conference gives us an opportunity to discern together the rules that we will live in covenant relationship.
What is a pastor's role in the decision of a church as they decide about disaffiliation? Should they influence or simply guide?
The pastor is the spiritual and administrative leader of the church and should be involved in assisting the congregation through the discernment process. The District Superintendent is also available as a resource to answer questions and provide tools for discernment. We encourage lay and clergy to utilize the resources such as this FAQ, webinars and study guides available on our website in the discernment process so that everyone has the facts and information necessary to make an informed decision.
Please explain who votes for disaffiliation.
At the local church conference: two-thirds of the professing members present and voting. The church membership secretary is responsible for maintaining an updated list of professing members.
At the annual conference: a simple majority (50%+1) is needed of all eligible members of the annual conference present and voting.
Can a proxy or absentee ballot be cast at the Charge Conference during disaffiliation for members who cannot attend the meeting?
No. Only those members present and voting at a properly called Church Conference will have their vote counted.
Why is there a payment of 50% of the property value (in addition to health & retirement and apportionment costs) included in the disaffiliation package? This doesn't seem to be included in the Taylor Plan disaffiliation process.
The "Taylor Plan" led to the adoption of Par 2553 at the 2019 Special Session of General Conference, which allowed for a suspension of the trust clause for limited purposes for a limited time. Individual Conference Boards of Trustees were given the responsibility to work out the terms for churches to disaffiliate. In BWC and Pen-Del, those requirements include a 50% value of all real property, among other things. The Judicial Council has affirmed that individual conferences may require additional measures not specifically named in Par 2553.
How is the property value assessed?
The local church submits a proposal and negotiates with the conference Board of Trustees. See more detail in the policy posted on our website.
Are all UMC (within the USA) using the same disaffiliation requirements?
With the delay of the 2020 General Conference, a common set of terms for disaffiliation was not developed. Each conference was asked to develop its own process. As a result, the requirement across conferences are not comparable.
What happens after Dec. 31, 2023, for the option of disaffiliation if a local church does not agree with the 2019 decision that won't be voted on until 2024?
Current requirements for disaffiliation set a deadline of Dec. 31, 2023, for churches to leave the denomination using Para. 2553. A church can choose to leave the denomination at any time using the guidelines set forth in the Trust Clause. Churches will need to wait until after the delegates vote at the General Conference session in 2024 to see if there are any changes made to church polity.
Can disaffiliating churches still use United Methodist in their name?
No, upon disaffiliation, churches relinquish the right to use the name United Methodist and to use the cross and flame logo. In addition, they will surrender their non-profit status under the IRS group ruling granted to the General Council on Finance and Administration of The United Methodist church.
If a church follows the process to disaffiliate -- and the Annual Conference approves -- is the disaffiliation effective with the Annual Conference vote, when all liabilities are completed, or on Dec. 31, 2023?
Disaffiliation is complete only when all payments due are made in full, the annual conference has approved the motion of disaffiliation and the effective date of disaffiliation set by the annual conference is reached. All must be completed by December 31, 2023.
May a retired UM pastor lead a disaffiliated congregation?
Not necessarily. United Methodist clergy are amenable to the Annual Conference in which their membership is held. They are members of and report to a UMC charge conference and its pastor. Once a church is disaffiliated, they no longer have any claim on the UMC, and therefore will not have a UMC pastor appointed. They will be solely responsible for finding a pastor, or following the process in a new denomination.
If a church wants to disaffiliate from the UMC, but cannot afford the financial cost, what happens to the church property?
If an entire congregation leaves the UMC through the disaffiliation process and does not have the ability to meet the financial requirements to retain their property, the conference will work through the Missional Action Planning teams to utilize the assets for United Methodist ministry and mission in that area.
What other options do we have to disaffiliate?
No church is being forced to leave and pay the costs of disaffiliation. If the congregation discerns that it must leave, then it has the option of disbanding/closing and reverting the property to the conference. This should be part of your discernment. You do not need to leave the denomination. Please make sure that you are fully informed of the reasons for disaffiliation and whether or not your members truly intend to leave the UMC before making a decision that will displace your members and leave you without a place of worship, ministry and mission.
It appears that based upon the church's financial situation, the church may be in a position where it cannot disaffiliate even if it wishes to do so. Are there any options for such a congregation regarding appointments and performance of ceremonies?
This question implies that the church is at odds with the current Book of Discipline. We do not always agree on all matters in the Discipline, and we work together through legislation and holy conferencing to discern where God is leading us. We have prayerfully discerned changes to our polity throughout our history. If a church agrees with the Discipline’s language around ordination and marriage, there is no need to disaffiliate. If the church does not agree, then there are avenues to pursue through legislation to General Conference to change that. And, nothing in the current Book of Discipline requires a pastor to officiate a wedding if they do not want to. The appointment process allows a process of consultation with a local church SPRC to prayerfully discern the right match for a pastoral appointment.
Why are we talking about disaffiliation if there has been no change to the BOD? It makes it sound like a change is coming that is already a done deal. Is this so? Have decisions already been made that we are not privy to?
The restrictions in the 2016 Book of Discipline actually became stricter in 2019. No other changes have been made to the Book of Discipline since then. There are no guarantees what the delegates will do at the next gathering of the General Conference, which is the only body that can change the Book of Discipline.
See # 6 and #7 in https://www.umc.org/en/content/ask-the-umc-is-the-umc-really-part-2
You indicated that a church that votes to disaffiliate will assume pastoral support. What are the implications for the funds that have been paid in the past into pension plans?
Clergy who have investments with Wespath will not lose those funds. Churches who disaffiliate may or may not be able to continue to provide this pension support to their hired staff. See #5 in https://www.umc.org/en/content/ask-the-umc-is-the-umc-really-part-1
It is my understanding that any changes to the Book of Discipline will not be voted on until the General Conference in 2024. If this is true, why is there a deadline to decide to disaffiliate by December 31, 2023? It would seem that disaffiliation should be allowed after the General Conference vote.
There is not currently any legislation before the delegates that would allow disaffiliation after 2024. All of the petitions and reports from the general agencies and study committees for the postponed 2020 General Conference are contained in the Advanced Daily Christian Advocate (ADCA).
What happens to members of a disaffiliating church who wish to remain UMC?
When a local church disaffiliates, the Judicial Council has made clear all of its members depart the denomination with it. “Disaffiliation… under ¶2553 involves both church membership and property… the membership departs from The United Methodist Church” (Decision 1449, Question 5). From the standpoint of The United Methodist Church, it is not possible to be a member in The United Methodist Church and a member in another denomination (or an independent church) at the same time (Paragraph 241 of the 2016 Book of Discipline).
So if your congregation has voted to disaffiliate, and you wish to remain a member of The United Methodist Church, you will want to find another United Methodist congregation to join before the effective date of disaffiliation set by the annual conference. You may ask your district office for assistance in this process.
If after a church has chosen to disaffiliate and some time has passed (several years, for example) and the church wants to return to the UMC is there a process for such a return?
There is currently no such specific process currently in place.
We've heard that the Protocol is dead. Is that true?
The Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation is a piece of legislation that delegates to the next session of General Conference will consider. All legislation is debated in committee and can be amended before presented to the delegates for final vote. Since several years have passed since the creation of the “Protocol” other proposals have garnered increased support. It will remain the decision of the delegates which, if any, new proposals on the unity or division of the UMC, along with other proposed changes to our polity, prevail.
Does Bishop Easterling still support the Protocol for Reconciliation?
Bishop Easterling has stated that she supports the work of the Protocol but recognizes new developments and new legislation in the past three years have gained more traction among the delegates and she is open to the work of the Spirit in Holy Conferencing.
Where can we find the items that are proposed to the delegates to consider at the next General Conference?
All of the petitions and reports from the general agencies and study committees for the postponed 2020 General Conference are contained in the Advanced Daily Christian Advocate (ADCA).
What is the "trust clause"?
Congregations hold the title of a local church, but, legally, they hold it “in trust,” for the entire United Methodist Church. The trust clause ensures that United Methodist property will continue to be used for the purposes of The United Methodist Church. Learn more.
If a church has a community building that is not connected to the church building and not on the church site, does the UMC still hold it in trust for the conference?
All property (sanctuaries, educational buildings, offices, parsonages, cemeteries, etc.) that the church owns are subject to the trust clause.
How does disaffiliation affect the church cemeteries?
All properties owned by the local church are part of the collection of property assessed in disaffiliation and will be transferred accordingly if a church does leave the UMC.
Can the trust clause be suspended for churches that do not agree with what is happening in the denomination?
The trust clause has not been suspended but, under Para. 2553 and the authority of the Board of Trustees in the Peninsula-Delaware Conference, congregations may disaffiliate from the denomination in a process that allows them to leave with the church building, paying only 50 percent of the building’s valuation.
So, I still don't really understand who "owns" the local church I attend. Does the local church own the property or does the conference?
Legally, congregations hold the title of a local church, but they hold it “in trust,” through the annual conference, for the entire United Methodist Church. If a church closes or is abandoned, the property ownership reverts to the annual conference. Members cannot on their own turn the church into something other than a United Methodist Church.
What are some of the positive aspects of holding property in trust?
The trust clause dates back to the beginnings of Methodism and is one of the essential foundations of the Methodist connectional system. While it serves a legal purpose, the trust clause also has a spiritual dimension, rooted in Acts 2. The trust clause preserves the doctrine and identity of United Methodism. Historically, churches have wanted to separate from the denomination over issues of pastoral compensation, squabbles over worship styles, and not wanting to accept pastors of different races or clergywomen in their pulpits. The trust clause ensures churches will be used solely for purposes consonant with the mission of the entire denomination and that today’s churches will be kept in trust for each of us and for the future generation of United Methodists.
Does the local church Finance Committee have a fiduciary responsibility to pay its church’s apportionments, even if they disagree with a stance taken by the denomination?
Bishop Easterling and other conference leaders have spoken out strongly against “weaponizing stewardship,” by withholding apportionments, out of anger or disagreement, to protest or bargain. The Book of Discipline states: “Payment in full of these apportionments by local churches is the first benevolent responsibility of the church” (Paragraph 247.14). Finance committees act on behalf of the charge conference or local church council. It is the church's responsibility through these administrative bodies to direct the finance committee to fulfill its disciplinary responsibilities. District superintendents will work with churches that feel they are unable to fully contribute to shared mission and ministry.
For more information, see question #13 at https://www.umc.org/en/content/ask-the-umc-is-the-umc-really-part-3
What say does an individual church have in having a new pastor appointed?
The church’s Staff-Parish Relations Committee consults with the district superintendent and that information is considered in the Cabinet’s appointment process.
Who can we talk to from the conference about questions we have?
The District Superintendents, Treasurer, Directors of Connectional Ministries, and other conference staff are ready to assist you with your specific questions. Visit the Staff List on the website.