Why We Will Be in Charlotte

By Thomas Lambrecht

Two recent stories from United Methodist News deserve a response. The first was a news article about the announced intention of Good News and the Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA) to participate in the upcoming General Conference in Charlotte, NC, in April.

The second article was a commentary by the Rev. Lovett H. Weems Jr. further criticizing Good News and the Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA) for our involvement. The argument voiced in both articles is that only those who have a long-term commitment to the UM Church should participate in deciding the future of that church.

In the words of the Rev. Drew Dyson, a delegate from Greater New Jersey, “Our polity should be determined by those whose intention is to remain faithfully within the UMC. In my estimation, Good News and the WCA are simply attempting to undermine and harm the work of the UMC under the guise of ‘fairness’ for their allies.” There were a handful of other critical responses in the news article. Fair enough. (It should be noted that both Good News President Rob Renfroe and I remain ordained clergy in good standing in the UM Church.)

Since 1972, Good News has participated in every General Conference by expressing our views on topics up for consideration at the conference. We have helped to organize like-minded delegates to support traditionalist positions on issues. Other caucus groups, such as Methodist Federation for Social Action, Reconciling Ministries Network, and other more liberal groups have engaged in similar activity at these same General Conferences. In the past, the Love Your Neighbor Coalition has even recruited non-United Methodists to come and participate in protests that have disrupted the functioning of the General Conference.

Our participation in the 2024 General Conference, however, will be different. Rather than lobbying the delegates on a host of issues of concern, Good News and the WCA are in Charlotte to focus on only two issues. First is the need to provide equitable, feasible disaffiliation routes for annual conferences and local churches outside the U.S. who have been denied the possibility that we in the U.S. had to discern our future. Second is to support our African friends in their opposition to the proposed regionalization of the church.

We will not be in Charlotte to “undermine and harm the work of the UMC” in any way (unless one considers enacting fairness and justice harming the work of the church). We will not be lobbying on the budget or attempting to block changes to the denomination’s definition of marriage and ordination standards. We will not be critiquing the proposed new Social Principles or weighing in on the number of bishops the church should have.

The future of the UM Church is for those who will be living with that future to determine. The question is, however, who will be part of the future UM Church. Will the church be a “coalition of the willing” or a “fellowship of the coerced?”

Is Disaffiliation Over?

The heart of the institutional UM narrative is that, in Weems’ words, “The period of disaffiliation is over. It is time for all groups to move on from dividing to unifying and disciple-making.”

Who gets to say that the period of disaffiliation is over? Institutional leaders in the U.S.? People who have already had the chance to discern their future in the UM Church?

How can disaffiliation be over when more than half the UM Church has not had an opportunity to consider disaffiliation, much less act on it? If the shoe were on the other foot, would the charge of colonialism be leveled? U.S. leaders should not be the lone arbiters for determining that the privileges and opportunities available in the U.S. will not be allowed in the central conferences outside the U.S.

There are other questions of fairness:

  • How can disaffiliation be over when several annual conferences convinced some of their churches to wait to see what the 2024 General Conference does before considering disaffiliating?
  • How can disaffiliation be over when a dozen U.S. conferences imposed such draconian costs on the process that it has been nearly impossible for churches in those conferences to afford to disaffiliate?
  • How can disaffiliation be over when one annual conference said in late 2023 that churches had no grounds under the Discipline or Par. 2553 to disaffiliate and denied all further requests?
  • How can disaffiliation be over when there are at least four lawsuits underway in annual conferences that have made it nearly impossible for churches to disaffiliate?

Weems writes, “The upcoming General Conference is for those who remain after the chaos of recent years. … They have chosen to remain not because they all agree, but because they are willing to live together despite differences.” Unfortunately for Weems, nearly half the delegates there have NOT chosen to remain. They have not been given the choice. In denying them the choice, the UM Church has handicapped itself and compromised its ability to move forward in a new direction.

Disunity Incompatible?

Weems states that “disunity is incompatible with Christian teaching.” It is easy to make that glib statement and point to Jesus’ prayer in John 17:21, “that all of them may be one.” At the same time, one must acknowledge that Christian unity is not necessarily expressed by all Christians being in the same denomination. Otherwise, we would all have to become Roman Catholic.

Unity is built on a common faith in Jesus Christ and a willingness to work together for the cause of the Gospel, regardless of denominational affiliation. Such unity and cooperation is less likely to develop in the aftermath of the imposition of punitive costs or the denial of equal rights and fairness.

At times, it may be pragmatically better to separate and work independently for the Gospel when people are unable to agree sufficiently to work together. Paul and Barnabas found that to be the case, as recorded in Acts 15:36-41. In the wake of the unity engendered by the Council of Jerusalem, they had a “sharp disagreement” and parted ways for their second missionary journeys.

Weems recounts that John Wesley and George Whitefield disagreed “vehemently” over some aspects of doctrine. Weems believes, however, that “Wesley concluded that it was better for the cause of Christ for them to work together, despite their differences, than to separate.” However, Wesley and Whitefield did separate in 1741. While they still considered each other brothers in Christ, and Wesley preached Whitefield’s funeral sermon in 1770, they did not work together in any organized way after 1741. Those who held a Calvinist doctrine were not allowed to preach in Methodist preaching houses.

This was one of the first of many separations that occurred within Methodism, on average one every ten years during the first century of Methodism’s existence. Separation, however, does not have to mean disunity. It will take a time of healing of wounds on both sides of the latest separation, but the possibility remains of some form of cooperative unity in the future between those who remain United Methodist and those who have separated. All on both sides should continue to strive now to maintain an attitude of graciousness toward those with whom we disagree in order to minimize the healing that is needed and hasten the opportunity for constructive cooperation.

I agree with Weems’ invitation to that graciousness: “In a country seemingly unreconcilably divided today, is not God calling us to put aside the accumulated acrimony and bitterness from years of words and deeds for which we all could have done better and wish for each other God’s blessings for the future?” Absolutely! Restoring fairness for all could go a long way toward putting “the accumulated acrimony and bitterness” behind us and enabling a positive future working relationship.

Agree on All Topics?

Weems describes the people who choose to remain United Methodist as “compatibilists.” He defines them as those “who do not expect all other members to agree with them on all topics.”

Anyone who has read a Twitter feed or Facebook group of Global Methodists and other disaffiliated persons knows we do not agree with each other on “all topics.” Traditionalists have remained a constructive part of United Methodism and its concomitant pluralism for over 50 years. It is only when the church failed to uphold its own teachings and disciplines that many traditionalists could not in good conscience remain in connection.

From all indications, the upcoming General Conference will most likely change the church’s definition of marriage to allow for same-sex marriage. Furthermore, it is expected to change the ordination standards to allow for the ordination of partnered lesbians and gays. For many traditionalists, this would be a contravention of the plain teachings of Scripture.

Not all traditionalists believe that disagreement over these issues is a church-dividing issue. But we believe those who do should have a fair opportunity to disaffiliate from a church that is changing its teachings and practices in these vital areas. Congregations and annual conferences that in conscience cannot support this change should not be required to forfeit their buildings and property and abandon their mission in order to disaffiliate.

We will be in Charlotte to give voice to those traditionalists who have not had a fair opportunity to disaffiliate, some in the U.S., but mostly in the central conferences outside the U.S. We pray the General Conference delegates will see the justice of our cause and respond in a way that opens the door for congregational self-determination and ends the unfair discrimination against Africans, Filipinos, and Europeans who cannot support the evident new direction of the UM Church.

 Thomas Lambrecht is a United Methodist clergyperson and vice president of Good News. Charlotte, North Carolina. Photo: Andres Nino, Pexels


  1. Your disingenuity is showing… again… Please, if you are actively supporting and encouraging congregations and clergy to leave the UMC, have some self-respect and dignity and stay home.

  2. As you have done numerous times before, Thomas, you have articulated your position and that of Good News with wisdom and grace. I hope that those who have attacked Good News so bitterly will read this article prayerfully. I admit that there have been times in the past several months when I have thought, “Why keep focusing on the UMC if the new game in town is the GMC? However, as you and others have stated so well, there are still some important issues to be addressed. Thanks, Good News and Tom Lambrecht.

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