The Disconnection of the UM Church​​​​​​​

A General Conference Progress Report

By Thomas Lambrecht

April 30, 2024

Monday was the beginning of the second week of the postponed 2020 General Conference of the UM Church, meeting in Charlotte, NC. The tone and atmosphere of this conference is very different from previous conferences and demonstrates that we are in a new era in the UM Church.

The first week of the conference was taken up primarily by committee meetings acting on over 1,100 petitions submitted by members and organizations of the church to make changes to church laws and procedures.

Due to the disaffiliation of over one-fourth of U.S. UM congregations, the number of conservative/traditionalist delegates is dramatically reduced. In addition, more than one-fourth of the delegates from Africa, who typically represent a more conservative/traditionalist viewpoint, could not obtain visas to attend the conference. The reduction of traditionalist voices and votes became apparent in committee votes, as well as votes by the plenary session. What, in the past, would normally be 55/45 percent conservative majority margins have become 66/34 liberal outcomes.

The dramatic shift in power toward a much more liberal perspective means that the progressive agenda is moving forward at the conference unimpeded. One observer described it as taking the brakes off the liberal train.

Who Is Welcome?

The conference started with a pointed sermon by Council of Bishops President Thomas J. Bickerton, who asked, “Are you willing to move forward in a spirit of hope and embrace a season of reformation, commit to the revitalization of The United Methodist Church and work for a culture marked by compassion, courage, and companionship?” If not, he said, “Maybe you are in the wrong place.”

Several times in that opening sermon, Bickerton gave the impression that if one did not agree with the new direction to be taken by the UM Church, one was not welcome in the room, contributing to the deliberations and decisions to be made. One got the impression that the new direction of the church is set in stone and anyone who disagrees is to stay out of the way or get run over.

The African delegates already felt unwelcome because their invitation letters to obtain visas came so late, which impacted their ability to obtain visas and led to the absence of around 75 African delegates. The message of Bickerton’s sermon was not welcoming and inclusive, but was rather terse, one that drew lines, and seemed to exclude those not in agreement with the leaders’ direction.

So far, this is the most tightly scripted General Conference of the nine I have experienced. Most official speakers are reading from a teleprompter. Presiding bishops are often reading from a prepared script, even when calling for votes. One benefit of that script is that fewer errors are being made by presiders in administering parliamentary procedure.

But the tight script contributes to a feeling of inevitability and pre-planned outcomes. Access to the microphone by delegates is tightly controlled, and delegates (especially non-U.S.) who mistakenly press the wrong button to gain the ability to speak are unceremoniously told to sit down and press the correct button. Unlike past General Conferences, delegates are not allowed to address the conference with a personal message. Only motions and speeches on the motions are allowed (unless one is on the official agenda).


The main item of business during the first week was the adoption of constitutional amendments moving the UM Church to a regionalized form of church governance. Rather than having the General Conference set the rules and policies for the entire global church, each region (possibly even each jurisdiction) will be able to craft its own rules and policies on a wide variety of matters. Each region will have its own Book of Discipline, its own rules regarding qualifications for clergy ordination, definition of marriage, ability to perform same-sex weddings, and other important issues.

As we have said before, regionalization holds the potential to de-connect our connectional denomination. As each region establishes its own policies and rules, they can grow apart from each other. Since connectionalism is our essential DNA as Methodists, anything that weakens it would be damaging to the fabric of our church.

Initial reaction from many observers in Africa has been hostile to the passage of regionalization. While a makeshift version of regionalization through a separate committee of U.S. delegates can sail through on a simple majority vote, the constitutional amendments to implement full-blown regionalization require a two-thirds vote of all global annual conference members. Concerted opposition from the conferences in Africa could sink those amendments.

At the same time, a change in the definition of marriage may push African conferences to disaffiliate from the UM Church. Such disaffiliation would then subtract negative votes from the amendment ratification, making ratification more likely. Given the barriers put in the way of African participation at this General Conference and how unwelcome it is making the Africans feel, it would not take much to convince them they would be better off leaving the UM Church.

What’s Ahead

It is a foregone conclusion that the conference will pass proposals later in the week changing the definition of marriage to “two persons” from “one man and one woman.” Most of the other rules inhibiting full participation in leadership by LGBT persons will also be deleted.

The goal of the progressive-centrist coalition is to make the Book of Discipline “neutral” on homosexuality. If the Discipline neither affirms nor opposes homosexuality, each region can make its own decision. Of course, doing so sets aside the clear teaching of Scripture and substitutes human judgment for divine revelation.

Neutrality is the first step, but not the end of the journey. Proponents aim to make affirmation of homosexuality their cause in future General Conferences. As more traditionalists leave the UM Church, it will be easier to implement that kind of affirmation. Of course, the progressive-centrist coalition has a majority now and could do so, but they don’t want to alienate Africa too badly until after the regionalization plan is ratified. Once that happens, it will be a full-court press to affirm the practice of homosexuality.

The Good News team is working long days here at the General Conference to support our African partners and to witness to the truth. We continue to promote new disaffiliation pathways for churches that cannot in good conscience remain United Methodist in the aftermath of the seismic changes the denomination will experience at this General Conference.

Not surprisingly, centrists and progressives have not been open to supporting continued disaffiliation pathways. The pain of previous disaffiliations and the resentment they feel toward what they believe were misrepresentations about United Methodism have led them to adopt a vindictive refusal to provide any disaffiliation relief. (Of course, their very actions at this General Conference prove that what we said about the direction of the UM Church was correct.)

Thank you for your prayers and support during this time of upheaval in our denomination. We will be back later in the week with additional reporting on the decisions of the General Conference and their implications for the future.

Thomas Lambrecht is a ​​​​​​​United Methodist clergyperson and vice president of Good News. A legislative committee considers actions to be taken by the plenary at the 2024 United Methodist General Conference in Charlotte, NC. Photo by Paul Jeffrey/UM News.


  1. Thank you for this update. Please keep them coming.

  2. If you follow Christ, you must now leave the United Methodist denomination. It is as simple as that. I recall my Methodist pastor coming back from a conference 15 years ago. and telling us this day was coming – and now it is here. I made up my mind then, I will have no part in the United Methodist Church once it makes this decision, and so I shake the dust off my feet…

  3. In all the news stories today about the changes in the church this is the only one not greeting them with joyous abandon. Thank you for being a voice in support of actual scripture even if you are the only one.

  4. The UMC is now in open rebellion against Scriptural Authority and the sovereignty of God Himself. This is very serious heresy. All the masks are off and we see the UMC – both ordained and lay – for what they truly are. “Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.”

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