Focus 3: Why is an Exit Path Necessary?

By Thomas Lambrecht

Whatever the outcome in St. Louis, some congregations and clergy will be unable to live conscientiously within the boundaries established by General Conference. From the beginning, the Commission on a Way Forward (COWF) acknowledged that an exit path for congregations to leave the denomination with their property should be part of any plan submitted to General Conference. All the sketches of the three plans submitted to the Council of Bishops included an exit path. The Council of Bishops acted to take out any exit path from the One Church Plan and the Connectional Conference Plan.

Some claim there is already a way for local congregations to exit the denomination with their property. This is not the case. Under ¶ 2548.2, the annual conference may transfer the deed of a local church to “one of the other denominations represented in the Pan-Methodist Commission or to another evangelical denomination under an allocation, exchange of property, or comity agreement.” This requires the consent of the bishop, cabinet, district board of church building and location, and annual conference, in addition to the request of the local church.

Under ¶ 2549, the annual conference can close a church that “no longer serves the purpose for which it was organized or incorporated” (as a United Methodist congregation). The conference can then sell, lease, or otherwise dispose of the property, including selling it to the exiting congregation. This also requires the consent of the bishop, cabinet, district board of church building and location, and annual conference, in addition to the request of the local church.

Under either scenario, any of the approving persons or bodies can arbitrarily stop the congregation from keeping its property. Annual conference officials can impose whatever payment requirements they want upon the local church, or refuse to allow the local church to keep its property at all.

The current provisions of the Discipline put the local church at the mercy of the bishop and annual conference. There is no certain or consistent process whereby a local church can exit the denomination with its property. 

We need a more fair and streamlined exit path for congregations.

It is not a good witness for the church to be involved in hundreds of lawsuits over church property. The Episcopal Church spent over $45 million at the national level (not counting what local churches spent) in order to preserve church property for the denomination.

The General Conference has prioritized two exit proposals: Petition 90059 Disaffiliation – Boyette; and Petition 90066 Disaffiliation – Taylor. 

The church would be best served by adopting either the Boyette exit path. However, certain amendments would eliminate most objectionable requirements from the Taylor option.

This is the kind of generous spirit the Renewal and Reform Coalition believes ought to govern our decisions regarding congregations that choose to exit from the denomination. They are our brothers and sisters. There ought not to be quarreling or lawsuits over property. We ought not try to coerce a congregation into a covenant they can no longer support. 

Here’s hoping the General Conference delegates will embrace a fair, consistent, and gracious path for congregations to exit with their property. The future peace of the denomination may depend upon it.

Thomas Lambrecht is vice president of Good News and member of the Commission on A Way Forward. 

Comments

  1. Tom, the “end game” at St. Louis is critical to success of the Traditional Plan. You are very much aware that there will be backdoor maneuvers to eviscerate the TP or eliminate it by substitution in the last moments of General Conference. These desperate, devilish strategies must not be allowed to defeat the TP. Please guard against the foolish impulse to throw a sop to opponents by way of weakening the plan. To do so would lead us right back into the terrible impasse we have endured for so long. Encourage your cohorts to stand strong and faithful in the final hour.

  2. James E. Fox says

    Without an operable “Exit” plan, there can be no resolution. We are praying for the modified Traditional Plan with a gracious exit plan for those who cannot, in good conscience, agree to live within it. Should the 2019 GC decide otherwise, the exit plan is a “must”. Truly, evangelical United Methodists cannot serve in an apostate body.

  3. It seems like this entire General Conference has only one endgame. Those who believe in the traditional interpretation of the scriptures win a “battle”, but as one who is sympathetic to the “traditional” approach, I also can understand the point of view of the more liberal people. If the “traditional” approach passes, traditional people will lose friends who don’t want to be a part of the church. There is only one endgame, everyone loses no matter which plan wins. While the traditional plan is more biblically accurate, the conflict and resolution by voting in any plan at this GC ultimately results in the “winning side” also losing something as well. As is the case in divorce, the wife, the husband both lose, the lawyers win. There is no way for a husband or wife to “win” at divorce because by its nature, it’s a lose, lose situation for relationships. Though I agree more with the traditional interpretation of marriage, I also don’t think the 2019 GC outcome is a cause for celebration because something is always lost in a situation like this. Gracious exit should be allowed for people who cannot live with this outcome and it’s better for the winning side to be generous to The losing side because we all lose in this situation. It’s really too bad it had to come to this.

  4. Which exit plan passed. I can’t find out anywhere. Um news says one went through but not which one.

  5. Any time there is a parting of the ways whether personally or professionally there is anxiety and, therefore, predicted gloom. Like other things in life the sooner the parties separate each can get on with a more productive life. The conflict and tactics of the OCP advocates do nothing to resolve the UMC issues and demonstrate just why the TP advocates feel the split is needed.

    I have watched since the 1960’s as our more liberal members have eroded the moral fiber of our society and now our church. The sooner the parties separate the better.

    The UMC isn’t like leaving a Country where you need to surrender your passport, you can just exit and that is what is happening. Mainstream denominations are losing membership while Evangelical congregations are growing. There is a message there and it isn’t try to be all things to all people. The liberals within the church could leave tomorrow, as they now threaten, and form their own denomination. They don’t because they know their issues will not financially support a new denomination. So they want to fight for UMC assets to fund their position.

    Methodists all over the world are forcing the central church to stand for something so that they can make directional choices. From the beginning this has been about pensions and money for the bishops and not about the Biblical grounding of the UMC. Watching the meeting and seeing people parade around in protests when the vote did not go their way was like watching a 60’s rock concert, which is where these people want to take the church.

    The sooner we split the better for all concerned. Just remember “If Jesus would not do it then it is not Biblical, and if John Wesley would not do it then it is not Methodist.” Time to move on!

  6. Charles Whatley says

    If someone says something isn’t about the money; it’s about the money!

    The bishops want to preserve their salaries and pensions and the “progressives” want to preserve their channel into church funds.

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