Africa Initiative’s Pre-General ​​​​​​​Conference Prayer Retreat

Africa Initiative’s Pre-General ​​​​​​​Conference Prayer Retreat

Africa Initiative’s Pre-General ​​​​​​Conference Prayer Retreat

 

The Africa Initiative, a biblically-committed and Christ-centered advocacy movement within the three Central Conferences of Africa, convened a prayer retreat for African delegates to the upcoming 2024 United Methodist General Conference. One hundred and fifty (150) African leaders and delegates participated in the retreat held at the Desmond Tutu Conference Center in Nairobi, Kenya, from 8-12 April 2024. The theme of the retreat was, “Reclaiming our Identity,” based on the scriptural text, Matthew 5:13-16.

The purpose of the retreat was to evaluate the past (historicity of the birth of Christianity in Africa, leading to its current massive growth), to understand the present (contextual and global realities influencing the church in Africa), and to envision and anticipate a future with hope. This was in a bid to reclaim our identity in Jesus Christ alone – as our Savior, Lord, Provider, and Sustainer – and to renew our unwavering commitment to sustaining biblical Christianity in Africa.

Among many other things, participants reflected on the Scripture, in the context of “reclaiming our identity,” and held frank discussions on the current state of the UMC worldwide, regarding the issue of regionalization, and factors necessitating discernment on disaffiliation. They also discussed episcopal elections across the three central conferences in Africa, self-sustainability of annual conferences, the need to redirect theological education for African pastors from the West to Africa, and factors for sustaining biblical leadership and church growth in Africa. At the close of the retreat, leaders of the Africa Initiative and delegates to the 2024 General Conference prayerfully voted and committed themselves to the following resolutions:

1. No Regionalization of the UMC. Participants took a unanimous vote against the passage of the proposed regionalization petition that is currently before the 2024 General Conference for the following reasons:

(a) Regionalization contradicts our current connectional system that brings together quadrennial representatives from all United Methodist annual conferences worldwide to decide on social, economic, political, and theological issues of concerns to the Denomination.

(b) Regionalization fragments our one worldwide UMC into several regional denominations, allowing each region to govern itself with its own book of discipline, exclusive of the other regions. Under such an arrangement, if regionalization passes, no region would have a say in what another region believes, teaches, or practices. We would be a divided church preaching different gospels, pretending to be one denomination. Additionally, for Africa, regionalization is reminiscent of the 1885 Berlin Conference where the partitioning and parceling out of Africa took place. We reject this subtle plan to take contemporary Africa back to that colonial era in the name of regionalization.

(c) Regionalization is a recipe for fragmenting the message of the gospel, and thereby presenting a distorted Christianity to the world that contradicts the biblically based liberating message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

(d) Regionalization is an economic death trap for the UMC in Africa and other central conferences with limited financial resources. The Regionalization proposal aims to group the five jurisdictions in America into one region, while disintegrating the three central conferences in Africa into three regions. Given that the five jurisdictions of the UMC in America are combining their economic resources and political forces to be one region at the expense of other central conferences they are proposing will stand alone as individual regions, any attempt to regionalize the denomination could financially disenfranchise the rest of the UMC worldwide, Africa in particular. Such a decision would give the American UMC the controlling power economically and politically, even though they are fast declining in number. It could also create greater financial dependency on the West, with perilous consequences for the rest.

(e) Regionalization would liberalize the UMC worldwide, thus making the denomination biblically and theologically unsafe and unwelcome for evangelicals and conservatives. The liberals and progressives within the UMC have publicly indicated in print and electronic media that they will remove the restrictive language in the denomination’s Social Principles regarding sexual orientation, same-gendered marriage, ordination of LGBTQIA+ persons as clergy, and the election and consecration of gays and lesbians as bishops. Regionalization supports this plan. We therefore reject the regionalization petition.

2. Reject Changes to the Definition of Marriage and all petitions that attempt to liberalize our sexual ethics.Participants voted to reject any petition to change the definition of marriage as contained in the denomination’s Social Principles and Book of Discipline. There are petitions before the 2024 General Conference from some liberals and progressives within the UMC to change the language of the Social Principles regarding marriage and sexual ethics. In support of same-gender marriage, they are proposing to change the current definition of marriage, which states that, “Marriage is a covenant relationship between a man and a woman,” to a new definition that states, “Marriage is a relationship between two people of faith.” We reject these petitions because Scripture teaches that same-gender union is sin (Leviticus 18:22; Romans 1:24-27; Romans 1:10; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11) and thus incompatible with Christian living.

3. Strong Support for Disaffiliation Petitions for fairness and justice. The disaffiliation petitions propose that the General Conference should vote to give the Central Conferences in Africa, Asia, and Europe the right to pray, discern, and make their own decisions regarding the issue of disaffiliation, just as the annual conferences of the five jurisdictions in the United States had that right. This is an issue of fairness and justice. At the 2019 Special Session of the General Conference, delegates from the worldwide UMC, including African delegates, voted to pass paragraph 2553, which gives the right to all local churches within the global denomination to pray and discern whether to sever their relationship with the denomination or not. The decision was not an exclusive right to the UMC in America, but to all. However, when the time came for its implementation, the central conferences in Africa were denied the right to participate in the discernment process and determine their own future. We believe this result was unfair and grossly disenfranchised annual conferences in Africa. We believe we have been treated as second-class members of the one denomination to which we all belong. We believe that what is good and fair for annual conferences of jurisdictions in America should be good and fair for annual conferences in Africa. We therefore support the petitions to allow the annual conferences and local churches in Africa, Asia, and Europe the right to go through the process of discernment and make their own decisions whether or not to remain a part of the UMC denomination. The General Conference must do at least one honorable thing by making things right.

4. Requests Episcopal Elections within 3 months after General Conference. Consistent with directives of the 2016 Book of Discipline, participants to the Prayer Retreat resolved to request a Declaratory Decision from the Judicial Council on the issue of episcopal elections following the holding of General Conference in May 2024. According to the Book of Discipline, paragraph 408.1b, “A bishop in a central conference shall be retired at a date no later than three months following the adjournment of General Conference.” However, some influential leaders within the UMC appear to be making efforts to extend the stay of some bishops who are overdue for retirement into office until December 2024 before conducting episcopal elections in the Central Conferences of Africa. This proposed plan, if implemented, would be a gross violation of the Book of Discipline. Delegates to the Prayer Retreat reject this proposed plan. Following General Conference in May, Central Conferences should conduct episcopal elections in August 2024, and new bishops take office as of September 2024, in keeping with the mandates of the 2016 Book of Discipline.

Following the passing of these resolutions, delegates elected by their annual conferences to the 2020 General Conference lamented their disenfranchisement by the Commission on General Conference and its staff. We are deeply grieved that the Commission has alienated some of our delegates from participating in the events of the General Conference by its poor handling of the General Conference matters. The Commission staff communicated poorly with heads of delegations regarding their delegates’ registration and participation. It sent out invitation letters to some delegates only two months before General Conference, while others did not receive their invitation letters until one month ago, unlike previous General Conferences where the process was better organized, knowing very well that it takes four to six months to process visas at most American embassies in Africa.

Some delegates who succeeded at booking interviews and were denied could not be replaced because the Commission staff failed to timely send invitation letters to official alternate delegates, despite endless appeals from heads of delegation. Therefore, for the first time in General Conference history, about 60-80 official delegates from Africa may be absent at the General Conference, not by their choice, but due to failures on the part of the Commission on General Conference and its staff, which appear to the casual observer to have the purpose of marginalizing African delegates and reducing their delegation.

We want the world to know that leaders and staff of the Commission on the 2024 General Conference have treated the delegates from the Central Conferences in Africa very unfairly and with disdain. We come to this General Conference with a deep sense of rejection, unacceptance, and gross disenfranchisement, as if we do not matter. This brings to question the credibility of a General Conference session held under such conditions. Our confidence in the leaders and staff responsible for the 2024 General Conference is totally lost.

We, however, come to contend for the faith once entrusted to our ancestors, and now to us, by many American missionaries whose burial tombs all across Africa are a testimony of their sacrificial labor in proclaiming the liberating Gospel of Jesus Christ that we dare to sustain in Africa. To God be the glory!

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

Rev. Dr. Jerry P. Kulah, General Coordinator, UMC Africa Initiative

Rev. Dr. John Pena Auta, West Africa Central Conference Coordinator, UMC Africa Initiative

Rev. Ben Ilunga Banza, Congo Central Conference Coordinator, UMC Africa Initiative

Mr. Simon Mafunda, Africa Central Conference Coordinator, UMC Africa Initiative

On behalf of Africa Initiative Members and Delegates to the 2024 General Conference

Image: Facebook), Desmond Tutu Retreat Center Nairobi, Kenya is operated by the All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC).

In Regard to the Dakotas-Minnesota alteration

In Regard to the Dakotas-Minnesota alteration

In Regard to the Dakotas-Minnesota alteration

April 19, 2024

It has come to our attention that an anonymous person went on the Dakotas UM Annual Conference website and changed an official document to contain alleged misinformation and divisive rhetoric. (Although we have made a request to Bishop Lanette Plambeck’s office to see the altered document, we have not yet seen it in its altered form. However, we were able to discuss the matter with her office and they walked us through the issues of concern.)

No matter the motive, anonymously altering a document is deceptive and improper for a disciple of Jesus Christ. It goes without saying that Good News and the Wesleyan Covenant Association unequivocally condemn this kind of  unethical activity. Both of our ministries have operated within the United Methodist Church over many years. There is no need for us to interfere with saomeone else’s website. Our opinions and viewpoints are well known and public knowledge.

At the same time, we also condemn the precipitous leap by some to unsubstantiated insinuations of guilt in the service of raising funds and promoting a particular agenda for the church.

Even within the context of deeply-held convictions, we encourage persons on all sides of the current debates within Methodism to treat one another with love and respect, honesty and integrity. How we treat one another as Christians is just as important as the substance of our disagreement and constitute our witness to a watching world.

Fair for Some, Fair for All

Fair for Some, Fair for All

Fair for Some, Fair for All

By Simon Mafunda

The recent commentary written by Christine Schneider for UM News of March 28 needs to be addressed. It directly responds to a commentary by Rob Renfroe, the president of Good News, who was addressing criticism regarding the planned presence of Good News at the upcoming GC in Charlotte. However, I find Christine’s article to be lacking in its representation of the facts and attempting to compare two provisions in the UMC Book of Discipline that should not be compared.

Firstly, I agree with Rob Renfroe that disaffiliation is still an ongoing issue. Claims made by our American liberal counterparts that disaffiliation is no longer relevant can be interpreted as simply an attempt to silence central conference voices, particularly those from Africa, and strip away our rights. There have been statements suggesting that some American liberals believe the UMC belongs to them, with missions overseas being considered secondary. Mark Holland of Mainstream UMC has said that the UMC should be prepared to lose Africa if necessary to accommodate LGBTQ marriage and ordination. In his August 1 article, Holland stated : “We may lose Africa and the Philippines: This is the hardest truth with which we must wrestle. It hurts to be rejected” (emphasis in original).

It is not surprising then that many Americans view the American UMC as the denomination itself, disregarding the contributions and perspectives of those outside of America, treating them as second-class members without regard for their rights and fairness.

The UM News commentary by Christine Schneider, a reserve General Conference delegate from Switzerland, fails to accurately represent the facts, especially when it comes to Africa. As a fellow member of the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters, Schneider has heard the plea of Africans to be treated fairly. Indeed, at one point it appeared to me that Shneider seemed agreeable and supportive of a disaffiliation pathway for the central conferences. Apparently, she has changed her mind. As Africans, we are simply demanding fairness and justice. In Africa, ¶2553, which has now expired, was never implemented. The Council of Bishops failed to seek a work-around in light of the postponement of the 2020 General Conference that would enable Par. 2553 to apply outside the U.S. This failure was surprising and disappointing to us because Par. 2553 was never intended to segregate us. In some African conferences, it was even communicated that the provision would only be implemented once it had been fully translated into the official General Conference languages applicable to Africa. Nowhere in the provision does it explicitly state that the “reasons of conscience” are exclusively applicable to America.

While it is true that ¶572 is available for conferences outside of America, its provisions are different from those in ¶2553 that the Americans utilized. Paragraph 572 pertains to annual conferences opting to become autonomous Methodists, affiliated autonomous Methodists, or affiliated United Churches from central conferences. Paragraph 2553 pertains to local church disaffiliation. We have always been aware of this annual conference provision, but as Africa, we are not interested in utilizing it. Paragraph 572 involves a lengthy and arduous process that could take an extensive amount of time and energy to complete. It also involves extensive involvement of the denomination’s entities, including the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters, the Central Conference, all central conference annual conferences, and the General Conference, making the vote to leave uncertain. Any of these entities could block an annual conference from disaffiliating. The process could take up to four years or more, including multiple votes and ratifications at various levels. Moreover, we have not come across any conferences in Africa expressing a desire to become autonomous. It is unfair to require African annual conferences to create their own Book of Discipline as paragraph 572 does, when what they desire is to align with a different Wesleyan denomination that already has a Book of Discipline.

Furthermore, paragraph 572 does not allow local churches to disaffiliate. There are some annual conferences in Africa that will undoubtedly want to remain United Methodist. Since some annual conferences own the church buildings and parsonages outright, it is not a question of releasing the trust clause. Rather, a new provision needs to enable the annual conference to deed the property to a local church desiring to disaffiliate.

There is also a fundamental difference between the African context and the European context. European bishops and central conferences have been willing to amicably negotiate a process of disaffiliation for annual conferences and local churches that is not in the Book of Discipline. Such amicable negotiations have allowed disaffiliation to take place. In Africa, several bishops have declared their adamant opposition to allowing any disaffiliation to take place. In some areas, pastors inquiring about disaffiliation have been summarily fired without any due process, depriving them of both house and livelihood. Around September 2022, a majority of African bishops meeting at Africa University took a combative stance and banned activities of both Africa Initiative and Wesleyan Covenant Association known for advocating for justice and fairness with regards to these disaffiliation rights. The prospect of amicable negotiations in these situations is unlikely.

European churches may be able to disaffiliate if they desire. So far, the only churches in Africa to do so had to defy their bishop and overcome his opposition, using processes that may not be found in the Book of Discipline. For disaffiliation to be a fair consideration in Africa, a general church enactment is needed that trumps the resistance of autocratic-minded bishops.

As we approach the upcoming GC in Charlotte, it is crucial to take the disaffiliation matters seriously, particularly with the lens of fairness and justice. What is fair for some should be fair for all.

Simon Mafunda lives in Zimbabwe. He is a member of the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters, the WCA Vice President for Africa, and Africa Initiative Coordinator. ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Members of the United Methodist Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters gather for Communion at Canaan United Methodist Church in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. Consecrating the elements is Bishop Benjamin Boni (center). Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS.

Fondly Remembering Carolyn Elias (1931-2024)

Fondly Remembering Carolyn Elias (1931-2024)

Fondly Remembering Carolyn Elias (1931-2024)

The Good News staff and board of directors were saddened to hear of the passing of our longtime friend and treasured colleague, Carolyn Parrish Elias (1931-2024). The Good News Board of directors presented its eighth annual Edmund W. Robb, Jr. United Methodist Renewal Award to Carolyn Elias at its fall meeting in November 2010. The award, named after long-time Good News board member and renewal leader, Dr. Ed Robb, is given to a United Methodist who has made a significant and lasting contribution to renewal within the United Methodist Church.

“Carolyn was a thoroughly unique woman of deep faith with a zest and flare for life – she was a joy to be with. She loved her husband, Barney, and their entire family, studying the Bible, reforming the Methodist church, and cheering for Razorback football,” said Steve Beard, editor of Good News. “She will be deeply missed by all of us who loved her.”

Elias was a leader in the evangelical Methodist renewal movement in the Central Illinois Conference before she and her husband, Barney, moved to Hot Springs, Arkansas, in 1991. She became active in the First United Methodist Church. She worked with the Good News General Conference team in 1988 in St. Louis, 1992 in Louisville, and 1996 in Denver.

In 2000, Carolyn was elected a lay delegate to the General Conference—in fact, she was the first lay person elected in her delegation. “Carolyn’s election as the first lay delegate in the North Little Rock Conference after a decade of serving as a member of the Good News board and being actively involved with the Renew Network was really remarkable! It spoke clearly about her ability to be a firm and gracious witness to her evangelical faith while also working effectively with others who might not necessarily agree with her theological commitments,” said the Rev. James V. Heidinger II, Good News President and Publisher emeritus, who made the presentation to Elias at the board meeting banquet. (Elias became an honorary life member of the Good New Board of Drirectors in 2001.)

Carolyn served as Chair of the Conference Episcopacy Committee for Bishop Janet Riggle Huey and also was on the South Central Jurisdiction Committee on Episcopacy, the group charged with the important quadrennial task of assigning bishops for the entire jurisdiction. She was again elected a General Conference delegate in 2004.

Ever since moving to Hot Springs, Elias has been an important part of the leadership of the Evangelical Fellowship in the conference, which now is referred to as the Arkansas Confessing Movement. She has had the responsibility of arranging the morning breakfast meeting of the fellowship at annual conference.

In addition to her United Methodist involvement, Carolyn was, for 13 years, a leader in Bible Study Fellowship in North Little Rock. She also started a spin-off of BSF, called Explorers Bible Study, with as many as 300 women involved at one time. That Bible study continues.

“In Carolyn, we see a mature, gracious, theologically-grounded, and discerning United Methodist laywoman. She is highly respected by all who have worked with her. She has a warm, kind spirit but Carolyn can also be firm when firmness is needed,” Heidinger said to board members, family, and guests attending the 2010 banquet on the campus of Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky.

-Good News Media Service. This is adapted from a story about Carolyn in hrt eJanury/February 2011 issue of Good News. Archive Photo: James v. Heidinger II, Carolyn Elias, and Rob Renfroe in 2010. Photo by Steve Beard. 

Is a New Disaffiliation Pathway Needed?

Is a New Disaffiliation Pathway Needed?

 

Is a New Disaffiliation Pathway Needed?

By Thomas Lambrecht

Recently, several articles have come out saying that there are already disaffiliation pathways for annual conferences and local churches, so new pathways do not need to be enacted by the 2024 General Conference. For example, Christine Schneider, a reserve delegate from Switzerland and member of the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters,  surprisingly declares: “In the central conferences, we do have functioning procedures for handling the disaffiliation of annual conferences and local churches. Extending disaffiliation options under something like Paragraph 2553 is therefore simply not needed here.” That is her startling opinion.

 

Of course, Schneider writes from a uniquely European perspective that does not apply in Africa. She gives the example of Estonia, which is leaving the denomination using a process defined by its central conference. She also mentions 14 local churches in France disaffiliating from their Switzerland-France-North Africa Annual Conference. In both cases, these disaffiliation process were negotiated by the entities involved. The admirable goodwill exhibited by church leaders enabled these disaffiliations to be successfully worked out. The same goodwill is not present in all parts of Africa.

 

My colleague, Simon Mafunda, WCA Vice President for Africa, recently reported to me, “In Africa, several bishops have declared their adamant opposition to allowing any disaffiliation to take place. In some areas, pastors inquiring about disaffiliation have been summarily fired without any due process, depriving them of both house and livelihood. Around September 2022, a majority of African bishops meeting at Africa University took a combative stance and banned activities of both Africa Initiative and Wesleyan Covenant Association known for advocating for justice and fairness with regards to these disaffiliation rights. The prospect of amicable negotiations in these situations is unlikely.”

 

The only official process for disaffiliation to occur in the central conferences outside the U.S. is Par. 572, which allows an annual conference to become an autonomous Methodist Church. To do so is a long and arduous process that can take up to four years or more, depending upon when the process begins and when the General Conference is held. It requires the departing annual conference to develop its own statement of faith, constitution, and Book of Discipline. It requires the approval of the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters, the relevant central conference, a two-thirds vote of all the members of the annual conferences in that central conference, and the General Conference. At any point along the way, a negative vote by any one of these entities can derail an annual conference’s disaffiliation. Furthermore, the African annual conferences that could consider disaffiliating are not interested in becoming autonomous Methodist churches. They would want to affiliate with another Methodist denomination, such as the Global Methodist Church, the Free Methodist Church, or the Church of the Nazarene. Why should they have to go through all the work of composing their own Discipline when they would rather just adopt the Discipline of the denomination they are aligning with?

 

By contrast, a proposed new Par. 576 would allow annual conferences outside the U.S. to disaffiliate in order to align with another Wesleyan denomination simply by adopting that denomination’s Book of Discipline and receiving the affirmative vote of their central conference. It would be a much more straightforward process with only one level of approvals.

 

The proposed new Par. 576 would apply only to annual conferences outside the U.S. (It is highly unlikely that any annual conferences in the U.S. would want to disaffiliate as an annual conference, given that many traditionalists have left those annual conferences.) So, this disaffiliation pathway would not affect churches in the U.S. at all.

 

What about local churches?

 

At this point, the only process in the Discipline left open for local churches to disaffiliate is Par. 2549, which allows an annual conference to close a local church and dispose of its property. Some annual conferences are using this paragraph to “close” a church that wants to disaffiliate and then sell the property to the exiting congregation. In most cases, the cost is similar to what Par. 2553 required: two years of apportionments and a pension liability payment. Any other process would be outside the scope of what the Discipline allows. And in all cases, this process depends upon the goodwill of conference leaders to allow the local church to disaffiliate under this closure paragraph. They can say “no” or jack up the cost to make it prohibitively expensive to disaffiliate.

 

In a recent blog (under the ominous, misleading, and tabloidish headline: “Good News Issues Threats to Delegates”), the Rev. Mark Holland of Mainstream UMC says, “To be clear, Mainstream UMC believes that churches should be able to leave, but this should be left up to the annual conferences and central (or regional) conferences to handle from this point forward.” It is good to hear Holland endorse the ability of local churches to disaffiliate going forward. However, it is at the point of leaving it to the annual conferences where the process too often breaks down.

 

Many annual conferences handled Par. 2553 disaffiliations with integrity and cooperation, despite the pain involved for all concerned. Unfortunately, about a dozen annual conferences arbitrarily and capriciously imposed additional requirements or abruptly changed their policies on disaffiliation. At least eight annual conferences required payment of a percentage of the church’s property value, anywhere from 10 to 50 percent. With the high property values on the coasts, that could push the cost of disaffiliation for even a small to medium sized church into the millions of dollars. One church in California figured it would need to pay $60,000 per member to disaffiliate! A few annual conferences imposed other additional costs and fees that further raised the price. In many cases, the financial penalty for disaffiliation made it realistically impossible for local churches to disaffiliate. In those cases, churches faced the choice of staying in the annual conference or walking away from buildings and property they had invested in for decades, depriving them of their ministry base and forcing them to start over as a new church plant.

 

A few annual conferences arbitrarily changed their disaffiliation process mid-stream. After allowing a first wave of churches to disaffiliate, both North Georgia and Alabama-West Florida changed the rules to halt any further disaffiliations. Peninsula-Delaware allowed a first wave of disaffiliations, but then imposed a 50 percent of property value fee that priced most churches out of the ability to disaffiliate after that. Both West Virginia and South Carolina initially banned all disaffiliations, with South Carolina grudgingly coming to allow them late in the process using Par. 2549. West Virginia allowed only 24 of its 971 churches to disaffiliate, merely one-tenth the national average.

 

In Africa, the situation is similar, with most bishops opposing any form of local church disaffiliation. As mentioned above, in parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo, pastors whose local churches wanted to disaffiliate were summarily removed as clergy without any charges or due process. This deprived the pastors of their home in some cases and of their livelihood. And the congregation was unable to disaffiliate. The only reason more than 50 local churches disaffiliated in Kenya is that they constituted a majority of the annual conference and were able to vote to allow their own disaffiliation in defiance of the bishop’s opposition (not a healthy dynamic to encourage).

 

In another recent commentary, Holland says, “It is unacceptable for the General Conference to prescribe another uniform process that will hurt the very annual conferences that have already been hit the hardest by disaffiliation.” It is only by providing a “uniform process” that the arbitrary and capricious actions of a few annual conferences can be corrected. To set the record straight, local churches in those annual conferences never truly had an opportunity to disaffiliate. The annual conferences in the U.S. most affected by extending a uniform process would be those who lost very few congregations due to their draconian requirements. They would NOT be the annual conferences “hit the hardest by disaffiliation.” Those hit the hardest have already lost the vast majority of churches that would want to disaffiliate.

 

To close out the option of disaffiliation at this point would be unjust. In annual conferences where bishops and conference leaders oppose disaffiliation, they should not be allowed to thwart the intent of General Conference to provide an equal opportunity for all congregations to discern their future. Such an opportunity is even more important now, given the magnitude of the changes envisioned for the UM Church to be enacted at the Charlotte General Conference.

 

What about fairness?

 

In some U.S. annual conferences, bishops and other conference leaders lobbied their churches to wait and see what happens at the 2024 General Conference. They made the case that nothing had changed in the Book of Discipline, and that we don’t know what the General Conference will do in terms of the proposed changes coming before it. They told local churches they should wait until after the General Conference acts before making a decision about disaffiliation. Yet very few of these annual conferences made provision for any disaffiliation process after the upcoming General Conference. One that did – Mississippi – reneged on that promise by stipulating that any churches not in the discernment process by the end of March would not be considered for disaffiliation. Thus, through their change of policy, they defeated the very purpose of churches waiting until after the General Conference acts. How is this fair?

 

Only a uniform process adopted by the General Conference can ensure that annual conferences do not act to block the ability of local congregations to discern their future in light of how the UM Church changes its standards and teachings at the upcoming General Conference. Failing to adopt such a process locks churches into a denomination changing in directions they may not agree with. Such an outcome will hurt those local churches, who will lose members due to the changes, and it will hurt the UM Church, which will still have within it congregations actively opposing the new directions chosen by the General Conference. Allowing a fair and uniform process of disaffiliation is in the best interest of all concerned.

 

The issue of fairness returns us to where we began this article. UM Churches in the African context need a uniform disaffiliation process. To fail to provide it would mean that churches in the U.S. had rights and privileges that are denied to our brothers and sisters in Africa. It is bad enough that their opportunity to discern their future was put on hold for three years past when U.S. churches could act. To completely cut off the option of disaffiliation through the provisions of the Discipline would reflect unfair and unequal treatment and indicate a disregard for the needs of our global brothers and sisters.

 

For the sake of justice and fairness, a uniform process of disaffiliation for annual conferences and local churches is needed. Current options do not meet the need. Hopefully, the General Conference will see the need and respond positively to it.

 

Thomas Lambrecht is a United Methodist clergyperson and vice president of Good News. Photo: Delegates and visitors at the 2012 United Methodist General Conference in Tampa, Fla. On the screen are Bishop Sharon Rader and Bishop John White. A UMNS Photo by Kathleen Barry.