A denomination is a religious organization that believes the same theology and adheres to the same doctrine. For the United Methodist Church, our denomination is defined and described in the Book of Discipline. The covenant found in the pages and paragraphs of the Book of Discipline sets the boundaries of our theology and beliefs. The Book of Discipline has guided our life together and has united us in making disciples.
Cracks in the Foundation
FUMC has always been consistent in supporting the renewal and preservation of historic, orthodox, evangelical Christianity in the Wesleyan tradition, yet the United Methodist Church is a divided and hurting denomination. It is confronted with major disagreements on essential theological doctrines and the inspiration and interpretation of Scripture. Additionally, the institution and polity of the denomination are dysfunctional, including clergy and ecclesiastical disobedience and differing approaches on matters of mission and discipleship within the church. This has caused the denomination to be ungovernable as our theology and doctrine may vary geographically.
What are some of the differing views on theology and the role of Scripture?
There are questions in the United Methodist Church on several foundational issues including what it means to be the church, Jesus’ divine status and role as being the only way to God, His death on the cross providing the only way for salvation, and the definition of discipleship and homosexuality. We know the Bible tells us what the will of God is and how we are to live our lives. Some in the UMC do not believe this. Progressives say the Bible contains the word of God but is not the Word of God. This leaves the truth of Scripture to the discretion of the reader, which is unacceptable to those in the UMC today who would be considered traditionalists. Whether influenced by post-modernism, emotionalism, or harmful interpretative frameworks, we are also
divided on Scriptural authority and inspiration matters.
ENTERING INTO DISCERNMENT:
WHY ARE CONGREGATIONS DISAFFILIATING FROM THE UMC
What are the fundamental issues for disaffiliation?
Contrary to what many believe, the reason for Disaffiliation is not solely due to the sexuality issue, though this is an important issue facing the church and a symptom of much deeper divisions. It is considered the “presenting issue” because of its public attention. While the conflict involving human sexuality typically dominates public discussion of the challenges currently facing the UMC, the conflict is a symptom of what is really at issue: disregard for the Book of Discipline by many and a lack of accountability for those who choose to preach and practice the “United Methodist” faith in a manner inconsistent with UMC theology,
inconsistent with The Bible and with disregard to The Book of Discipline. Unfortunately, there are some Bishops in the UMC that have openly denounced the church law in violation of The Book of Discipline in these areas.
What does the Book of Discipline teach on human sexuality, and has that changed?
First and primarily, The Book of Discipline teaches that all persons are of sacred worth and value, made in the image of God. It teaches that we are to love, respect, and care for all people. Human sexuality teaches us important truths about God, the gospel, and human flourishing in addition to human brokenness. In these truths, the Book of Discipline also states that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. The above position of the UMC was adopted in 1972, and affirmed at every General Conference, thereafter, including the Special Called General Conference in 2019, and remains the current teaching of the church today. It has not changed. However, many bishops and clergy seek to defy the Book of Discipline, and while attempts have been made to hold UMC leadership accountable, they have not succeeded. In the current direction, the United Methodist Church is headed, the Book of Discipline will be changed on many issues that we are divided on, including those of human sexuality. To date 2 of the 44 Bishops in the United States are in same sex openly gay relationships and at the 2016 General Conference over 100 Clergy and Clergy candidates came out as being openly gay.
OTHER CRISES FACING THE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH
Decline in Membership
The UMC is facing a numerical and financial crisis that will affect and possibly hinder the future ministry of the church with a continuing downward decline in membership in the United States. Two years after its formation in 1968, the UMC had 10.7 million U.S. members. It now has 6.3 million, an average loss of about 90,000 annually. These declines also impact the financial stability of the UMC, and this instability will be exacerbated with more traditional churches exiting the UMC. There are estimates that the denominational budget may diminish by as much as 40%+ over the next two years. With a much smaller denominational budget, the UMC will see overhead costs along with the cost of bishops and denominational staff comprise a higher percentage of the budget, significantly reducing the amount which supports missions and ministries. In spite of this projected downturn, no plans for restructuring have been announced by the UMC.
We also face the concern that the Alabama/West Florida Conference pipeline of future pastors with the ability to lead a large church such as ours is diminishing. Having a shortfall of strong leadership within the Conference could put our own pastoral leadership stability at risk.
HOW DID WE GET HERE?
A TIMELINE OF DIVISION IN THE UMC
General Conference saw the first conversations about the practice of homosexuality that led to a statement in the Book of Discipline. This was an important starting point where grace and truth came together. “We affirm that all persons are individuals of sacred worth, created in the image of God. All persons need the ministry of the Church in their struggles for human fulfillment, as
well as the spiritual and emotional care of a fellowship that enables reconciling relationships with God, with others, and with self. The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching. We affirm that Gods’ grace is available to all.”
General Conference 1984 Paragraph 304.3 states “The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore, self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church.”
General Conference 2004 added 2702.1 “Chargeable offences: (b) practices declared by The United Methodist Church to be
incompatible with Christian teachings, including but not limited to: being a self-avowed practicing homosexual; or conducting ceremonies which celebrate homosexual unions; or performing same-sex wedding ceremonies... “ Para. 341.6 states, “Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches.” (wording in BOD 2016)
Retired Bishop Melvin Talbert came to the North Alabama Conference and performed a same-sex wedding for two gay men in Birmingham against the wishes of Bishop Wallace-Padgett. This was the first public same-sex marriage performed by a UM bishop. The Just Resolution was later broken.
Days before General Conference, 111 elders, candidates for ministry, etc. came out in a letter titled “A love letter to our church from your LGBTQI religious leaders.” In an effort to avoid a church split at GC2016, the Commission on a Way Forward was established to guide the UMC on this issue. A special GC was recommended and took place in 2019. Following General Conference 2016, the
Western Jurisdictional Conference 2016 saw the election of Bishop Karen Oliveto, an openly gay person married to a woman.
The Northern Illinois Conference commissioned an openly transgender individual named M. Barclay as a provisional deacon. M.
Barclay, a transgender person who identifies as neither male nor female and thus uses the pronoun “they,” was commissioned in 2018 as the first non-binary member of the clergy in the United Methodist Church.
General Conference saw the Traditional Plan passed by a small margin and the current language of the Book of Discipline was upheld. A disaffiliation paragraph was added to the Book of Discipline 2553 that allowed churches to leave the denomination under certain conditions. On November 6, 2019 the Western Jurisdiction UMC presented a written statement signed by
all its bishops that it would not uphold the teaching of the Book of Discipline with regards to human sexuality and ordination and marriage. The Protocol was developed by a theologically diverse group of 16 laity and clergy to propose a graceful way forward to exit the UMC. Due to COVID and the postponement of three General Conferences, that proposal has since lost all support and is no longer viable.
On April 11, Hope Church UMC Illinois hosted a Drag Queen Sunday featuring a sermon by Isaac Simmons in drag named “Ms. Penny Cost” a play on Pentecost. Isaac Simmons, 23, is the first openly gay man to be certified within the Illinois Great Rivers Conference and, as far as anyone can tell, the first drag queen certified candidate for ministry in the United Methodist Church Vermillion River District Committee on Ordained Ministry (DCOM). The video is still available on the church’s Facebook page. The second Drag Queen Sunday took place June 5, 2022, Pentecost Sunday where Isaac Simmons in full drag preached.
Each of the UMC's five U.S. jurisdictions — meeting separately in early November — approved similarly worded measures aspiring to a future of church where “LGBTQIA+ people will be protected, affirmed, and empowered.” Another result of these meetings included the election of its second openly gay bishop. They also passed non-binding measures asking anyone to withdraw from leadership roles if they're planning to leave the denomination soon — a category that almost entirely includes conservatives moving toward the exits. A special-called Alabama/West Florida annual conference session was held on Saturday, November 12 in accordance with 603.5 of the 2016 Book of Discipline. Thirty-five churches were ratified for disaffiliation by the Alabama-West Florida Conference lay and clergy members. The 7,000-member Frazer Church is the most prominent Alabama congregation to leave the United Methodist Church this year and was once known as Alabama’s largest congregation in the
A DEEPER DIVE
At least 11 of 54 Annual Conferences in the US including the entire Western Jurisdiction have policies in place that will allow practicing homosexuals to be certified as ministry candidates. United Methodist Association of Retired Clergy – openly encourages retired pastors to perform same-sex weddings and often features Bishop Karen Oliveto.