A Word from Pastor Paul on the Methodist Protocol
By Paul Lawler
Grace to you, Christ Church family.
Last Friday, many of you read the news of leaders in The United Methodist Church entering into an agreement for a protocol of an amicable separation of the denomination. You can read the actual document here. I trust the news of the United Methodist denomination splitting did not catch you off guard since I have kept you informed on these developments through blog posts, “Word(s) from Pastor Paul” delivered to your email inbox, Fireside Chats in worship gatherings, meetings with Sunday school classes, small groups, and numerous meetings with church members over meals and cups of coffee.
As I have shared before, the United Methodist denomination is in a constitutional crisis. The United Methodist Book of Discipline, which every ordained minister has vowed to uphold, is blatantly being disobeyed by bishops and ministers in several Annual Conferences throughout the United States. Because of the ongoing violation of by-laws, new legislation was passed by a simple majority vote at last year’s called General Conference to seek to restore good order to the denomination. Regardless, bishops and clergy in multiple regions of the United States have continued to defy the order of the church, which is the very covenant they vowed to uphold upon their ordination. In the words of one pastor, “the anarchy has been excruciating.”
The United Methodist denomination is also in theological crisis. Contrary to what you hear in the news media, the divide in U.S. United Methodism is not just about the theological view of the body and human sexuality. Human sexuality, and the attempts to redefine marriage for the church, is merely the presenting issue that is a symptom of much deeper issues. Dr. Timothy Tennent, President of Asbury Theological Seminary, which educates more future United Methodist clergy for pastoral ministry than any seminary in the world, unpacks this issue in another way through his article titled, Orthodoxy vs. Heterodoxy: The Fundamental Divide in the United Methodist Church. David French refers to this in his post, The Sad, Necessary Division of the United Methodist Church. Here’s a brief quote from his article:
The secular media will cast the divide primarily in the terms it understands—as focused on “LGBT issues”—but that’s incomplete. The true fracturing point between Mainline and Evangelical churches is over the authority and interpretation of scripture. The debate over LGBT issues is a consequence of the underlying dispute, not its primary cause…there is a strain of Protestant Christianity that views the Bible as valuable but not infallible or inerrant. Evangelical Christians, by contrast, strongly dissent from that view.
The reason the most recent plan for dividing the United Methodist Church received so much media attention last week is rooted in its broad support from eight Bishops, including a Bishop from Africa (where over five million United Methodist Christians reside), and a diverse set of leaders of constituencies within United Methodism in the U.S. Even though there were already nine plans on the table for dividing the United Methodist denomination, this latest proposal (which now brings us to ten) may have the greatest chance of passing at the 2020 General Conference.
What would this mean for the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church?
Following the adjournment of the 2020 General Conference, annual conferences may vote to align with any such new Methodist denominations formed pursuant to the Protocol.
An annual conference could vote to disaffiliate with the expression of Methodism that wishes to redefine Christian marriage as being between two men or two women; and could then vote to affiliate with a new traditional, orthodox, Methodist denomination. A vote of 20 percent or more at an annual conference session would be needed to have the disaffiliation vote, and a disaffiliation vote would have to pass by 57 percent. The disaffiliation vote deadline is July 1, 2021.
Do you believe it is likely for the North Alabama Conference to disaffiliate with the present United Methodist Church, and affiliate with a new, traditionally orthodox, Methodist denomination?
While not conclusive, I do believe this is likely. Clergy, Local Pastors and Lay-delegates will have a vote on this matter. Our Annual Conference has voted in a traditional, orthodox direction, by a 2/3rds majority for many years.
What would this mean for Christ Church and her future?
If our Annual Conference votes to disaffiliate with the present expression of United Methodism, and then decides to join the new traditionally orthodox Methodist denomination, we are not required to have a vote. Christ Church would be a part of the new Methodist denomination by virtue of the vote of the majority of the Annual Conference.
If our Annual Conference did not vote to join the new Methodist denomination, then the Council on Servant Ministries (our leadership body) would determine a threshold of a simple majority or two-thirds for the vote of the membership on whether to separate and join the new Methodist expression. Decisions about disaffiliation must be made by December 31, 2024. A local church affiliating with another Methodist denomination “pursuant to the protocol” would keep its assets and liabilities.
Local churches which desire a different affiliation than its Annual Conference may conduct an affiliation vote to consider a different affiliation. If such a vote occurs, the church council (e.g., its Administrative Board or Council or its Leadership Board) shall determine a voting threshold of either a simple majority or two-thirds of those present and voting at a duly called church conference in order for the motion to opt for a different affiliation to be adopted. The vote on a motion to opt for a different affiliation shall occur in a church conference held not more than 7 60 days after the request is made by the church council. The church conference must be held in consultation with the District Superintendent who shall authorize such a church conference to be conducted. Decisions about affiliation by a local church must be made by December 31, 2024. If a local church does not vote, it remains a part of the Methodist denomination selected by its Annual Conference.
If Christ Church were to affiliate with the new Methodist denomination, are there benefits?
Yes. There are many.
We would no longer be a part of the ongoing constitutional and theological crises that has cost the church millions of dollars, and untold hours of human capacity. We would be a part of a denomination whose primary focus becomes making disciples for the transformation of the world.
Our apportionments paid to the denomination, which are in the tens of thousands of dollars and fund an outdated form of church hierarchy, would no longer exist. This would free up large sums of cash flow for local and global mission, paying down debt, and general ministry.
The assets and property (the buildings and land Christ Church sits on) would no longer be owned by the denomination, but by Christ Church United Methodist. The trust clause, found in the United Methodist Book of Discipline, would no longer exist. The trust clause, which was established with good intent over a hundred years ago, would no longer be misused as a modern tool of control.
We would join other like-minded Methodist Christians, and would thus experience a greater synergy in our task of making disciples. “Best practices;” rooted in Wesleyan theology; are currently under development in six key areas for a future, new Methodist denomination:
- Accountable Discipleship – identifying, developing and deploying effective models for disciple- making as an integral part of the ministry of local churches, and communicating the necessity of every Christ-follower embracing the call to be disciples and to be makers of disciples.
- Church Multiplication – the establishment of new local churches or the launching of additional sites of existing churches particularly in communities where there is no witness to the historic Christian faith in the Wesleyan tradition and where existing churches are not reaching significant communities in a geographic area.
- Church Revitalization – empowering existing churches to embrace ministries that will renew and restore the mission of the church for new generations and in communities experiencing significant changes.
- Global Missional Partnerships – developing and deploying effective partnerships for local churches to be in ministry with one another globally across geographic boundaries to advance the Kingdom of God and reach people of diverse cultures with the love of Jesus.
- Missional Ministry in the Margins – identifying and deploying effective models for local churches to be in ministry with the poor, marginalized, addicted, and recovering.
- Ministry with Young People and Young Adults – addressing the challenge for local churches in reaching teens, shepherding them through the transition to adulthood, and engaging those who are navigating further education or entering the workforce so that they continue as committed Christ-followers.
If we chose to affiliate with a new Methodist denomination, would we still support United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) and the United Methodist Children’s Home (UMCH)?
Yes! Both of these entities are worthwhile ministries that are making a great impact!
What happens to the pension plans of The United Methodist Church and the pension benefits of its clergy?
The pension plans of The United Methodist Church will remain in place for all current clergy and lay employees affiliated with The United Methodist Church, regardless of the Methodist denomination under this Protocol with which they affiliate. The liability of Annual Conferences and local churches for pension benefits shall transfer with such entities to the Methodist denomination pursuant to the Protocol with which they affiliate.
What advice do you have in regard to next steps?
- Pray (James 5:16). Pray for your pastors, the church staff, our church family, our Annual Conference, and the entire denomination. Pray for the “will of God to be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
- Don’t believe everything you hear or read (1 John 4:1). There are many writing and saying things through news and social media that are fabrications and not facts; some of which conflicts with Scripture or are mischaracterizations. As a Christian, it is an imperative to be biblically discerning.
- Do not move in fear (See 2 Timothy 1:7). Realize that the Methodist Church has expressed multiple iterations throughout the course of her history (Methodist, Methodist Episcopal, United Methodist, Free Methodist, Nazarene, etc.) As recent as 1968, we were simply The Methodist Church before merging with the Evangelical United Brethren. In hindsight, history will demonstrate this merger was an experiment that, when blended with other factors, did not work. Regardless, the church has demonstrated over time that she will continue to exist, even if the name changes. We, as a people called Methodists, will have a future, no matter what.
- Move in truth wed with grace (John 1:17). While we hold to biblical truth, let us move in grace and compassion for all people. We welcome people into our small groups and worship gatherings who are battling all types of struggles. We have alcoholics, co-dependents, persons struggling with heterosexual temptations, and recovering Pharisees. We also have same-sex attracted persons who are active in the life of Christ Church. Let us remember, in the midst of standing for biblical fidelity, to always operate in a spirit of love wed with the transforming power of the gospel offered to all persons. Let’s move in truth wed with grace. That is what Jesus does. This is Who Jesus is.
- Attend the January 25th Southeast Regional Gathering of United Methodist at Clearbranch United Methodist Church from 9:00 a.m. till 12:00 p.m. The theme of this gathering is, Why the Best Days of Methodism are Ahead of Us, and will feature Dr. Chris Ritter as speaker. The day will also feature Annual Conference delegation members from around the southeast sharing in an informative panel discussion.
- Be mindful that God is up to something life-giving and new!!! This phase of Methodist church history will serve to birth something that will touch the world in a powerful way. I will be sharing more with you around all of this soon.
Remember, in all you do, you represent Christ and His church. We do not want the church to be the focus of satire; but to be truly known as a people who glorify God, treasure Jesus Christ, love others, and make disciples of all peoples. May God give us His grace to love well. May God give us His grace to stand on His truth. May God give us His grace to wed love and truth together in a manner that Christ is reflected well.
See you this Sunday as we gather to worship at 8:15, 9:30 or 11:00 a.m.
For His renown,
Paul Lawler is the Lead-Pastor of Christ Church UMC. He and his wife, MJ, have four children and one daughter-in-law. In addition to serving as a pastor, Paul and his brother, Dallas area businessman Patrick Lawler, founded two Patricia B. Hammonds Homes for orphans at high risk for human trafficking in Thailand. The homes are operated through the international ministry of the Compassionate Hope Foundation. Paul also serves on the boards of The Wellhouse, New Water Farms, and the East Lake Initiative. He often tweets Kingdom thoughts at @plawler111.