Exit Ramps and the Way Forward

February 13, 2018

 

There are still many unanswered questions about a way forward for The United Methodist Church.  Here is some thoughts from Rev. Chris Ritter of the Illinois Great River Conference.

 

EXIT RAMPS & THE WAY FORWARD

By Chris Ritter

 

 

Early in their work, the Commission on a Way Forward admitted that they would not be able to keep everyone in the United Methodist Church.  One of their first status updates included the statement that any plan they propose would be accompanied by an exit provision.   Those who can’t live with the solution will presumably be free to go.   I have never liked talk of exits.  I am under vows to the UMC my general optimism leads me to believe there must be a way to stay somehow connected.  But if the people charged with our unity feel the need to talk about exits, we should probably give this some thought, too.  What would be the shape of this exit ramp?  Who would take it?  How generous and open-ended would it be?  Will it allow a free and clear exodus, or would it merely an opportunity for a buy-out?*

 

United Methodists are tethered together by many things.  Not the least of these is something called the trust clause.  This is a statement mandated by the Book of Discipline to be included in the deed of every congregational and institutional property.  It states the real estate is intended for United Methodist ministry.   If a local congregation ceases to be United Methodist, the property reverts to the annual conference.

 

Property disputes have recently become the #1 reason that churches are involved in litigation.  Our Episcopal/Anglican brothers and sisters have spent millions of dollars in legal wranglings over the status of disputed real estate.  In a UMC split, billions of dollars in assets would suddenly come up for grabs.  United Methodist congregations that have successfully exited the denomination free of lawsuits have usually negotiated some sort of buy-out from their annual conference.  These payments are in light of the fact that the annual conference started the congregation, contributed to its success, and has accepted financial responsibilities (like clergy pension commitments) based on the participation of the exiting church.

 

Wanting Out

One of the fascinating twists of the United Methodist human sexuality debate is that those who are defying our Discipline often nevertheless want to stay in.  They see themselves as on a social justice crusade to transform the UMC from within.  Our clergy standards, however, are rooted in Scripture.  For UM’s whose primary guide for sexual ethics is the Bible, the importance of the Word far outweighs the life of any particular denomination.  This dynamic gives us the odd situation we have today.  Those who agree with the UMC often want to leave it while those who disagree often want to stay.

 

If you support what the Book of Discipline teaches about human sexuality, you are frustrated that it has long been ignored or even defied by those sworn to uphold it.  Some are disgusted by a perceived lack of integrity.  Others want out because of what they see as denominational incompetence and/or irrelevance.  The Orchard, a megachurch in Mississippi, recently negotiated their exit from the UMC with their annual conference.  The leadership reasoned it better to leave sooner over the incompetence of the denomination than leave later during some highly-publicized human sexuality split… a topic on which every local church is at least somewhat divided.

 

My conversations around the church over the past year have led me to believe there are a fair number of folks that are fine with the UMC voting to worship Ganesh the Hindu elephant god… as long as there is an exit.  The are d-o-n-e done and are only awaiting someone to show them the door.  Imagine, for instance, that you are the pastor of a United Methodist megachurch:

 

Defying the trends of your denomination, you are making disciples of Jesus Christ at a remarkable clip.  You have a staff of dozens and your own HR department.  You get your ministry inspiration much more from other effective churches of various tribes than from UM hierarchy and agencies.  You likely pay hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars annually into the coffers of a denomination from which you get little in return and which may be led by those with whom you may not share much theological or practical affinity.  Sure, there are worthy causes supported by apportionments.  But the overall feeling is that you are being used to financially support a system that should have been radically altered decades ago.  You feel you could find a much better use for those tens of millions of dollars sent away each decade, like hiring more ministry staff, building needed facilities, starting more community-based ministries, or supporting your international partnerships.  What you are doing is working, and you could do more of it if you didn’t have to financially prop up what is clearly not working.  Years ago you began downplaying your denominational affiliation in order to reach more people.  Now the only thing holding you in the UMC are the millions of dollars in property that you would abandon if you left.  You may even be purposely holding onto your debt.  If the conference tries to take your property, they would get your mortgage, as well.  You know they can’t afford that and this is the only bargaining chip you currently hold.

 

The above description represents the feelings of some of our largest and most effective congregations, including those of a progressive bent.  Even if the human sexuality debate magically went away, we would still be a denomination in major need of reform.  What we are doing is not effectively making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.  We are top-heavy and our bureaucracy is several steps disconnected from the local church it was created to serve.  There are many anecdotes of bright spots, but our influence in American culture is dwindling.**  A good number of folks are ready to try something new.

 

Needing Out

In addition to those who want out, some solutions may also create a situation where some will need out for the sake of conscience.    If we more strictly enforce the Book of Discipline, the most strident Progressives will be forced out.  We are at the point where regaining accountability would require strong medicine indeed.  But accountability is exactly what every General Conference since the 1970’s has voted.  This is a real possibility.  The only reason GC2016 didn’t follow suit is because of the Way Forward Process.  Some see this as a mere delay of the inevitable.  Progressives may need the exit ramp.

 

If we create some sort of Local Option, groups like The Wesleyan Covenant Association (of which I am part) have stated that they could not continue under a denomination that makes up its Christian anthropology on the fly, is selectively congregationalist, and subjects Traditionalists to open-ended pressure to conform to the values of the sexual revolution.  WCA has over a thousand American dues-paying United Methodist clergy in its membership and many more who sympathize with their position, including the vast majority of the global UMC.  A vote for the local option is a vote for major schism.

 

READ FULL ARTICLE HERE.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Early in their work, the Commission on a Way Forward admitted that they would not be able to keep everyone in the United Methodist Church.  One of their first status updates included the statement that any plan they propose would be accompanied by an exit provision.   Those who can’t live with the solution will presumably be free to go.   I have never liked talk of exits.  I am under vows to the UMC my general optimism leads me to believe there must be a way to stay somehow connected.  But if the people charged with our unity feel the need to talk about exits, we should probably give this some thought, too.  What would be the shape of this exit ramp?  Who would take it?  How generous and open-ended would it be?  Will it allow a free and clear exodus, or would it merely an opportunity for a buy-out?*

United Methodists are tethered together by many things.  Not the least of these is something called the trust clause.  This is a statement mandated by the Book of Discipline to be included in the deed of every congregational and institutional property.  It states the real estate is intended for United Methodist ministry.   If a local congregation ceases to be United Methodist, the property reverts to the annual conference.

 

Property disputes have recently become the #1 reason that churches are involved in litigation.  Our Episcopal/Anglican brothers and sisters have spent millions of dollars in legal wranglings over the status of disputed real estate.  In a UMC split, billions of dollars in assets would suddenly come up for grabs.  United Methodist congregations that have successfully exited the denomination free of lawsuits have usually negotiated some sort of buy-out from their annual conference.  These payments are in light of the fact that the annual conference started the congregation, contributed to its success, and has accepted financial responsibilities (like clergy pension commitments) based on the participation of the exiting church.

 

Wanting Out

One of the fascinating twists of the United Methodist human sexuality debate is that those who are defying our Discipline often nevertheless want to stay in.  They see themselves as on a social justice crusade to transform the UMC from within.  Our clergy standards, however, are rooted in Scripture.  For UM’s whose primary guide for sexual ethics is the Bible, the importance of the Word far outweighs the life of any particular denomination.  This dynamic gives us the odd situation we have today.  Those who agree with the UMC often want to leave it while those who disagree often want to stay.

 

If you support what the Book of Discipline teaches about human sexuality, you are frustrated that it has long been ignored or even defied by those sworn to uphold it.  Some are disgusted by a perceived lack of integrity.  Others want out because of what they see as denominational incompetence and/or irrelevance.  The Orchard, a megachurch in Mississippi, recently negotiated their exit from the UMC with their annual conference.  The leadership reasoned it better to leave sooner over the incompetence of the denomination than leave later during some highly-publicized human sexuality split… a topic on which every local church is at least somewhat divided.

 

My conversations around the church over the past year have led me to believe there are a fair number of folks that are fine with the UMC voting to worship Ganesh the Hindu elephant god… as long as there is an exit.  The are d-o-n-e done and are only awaiting someone to show them the door.  Imagine, for instance, that you are the pastor of a United Methodist megachurch:

 

Defying the trends of your denomination, you are making disciples of Jesus Christ at a remarkable clip.  You have a staff of dozens and your own HR department.  You get your ministry inspiration much more from other effective churches of various tribes than from UM hierarchy and agencies.  You likely pay hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars annually into the coffers of a denomination from which you get little in return and which may be led by those with whom you may not share much theological or practical affinity.  Sure, there are worthy causes supported by apportionments.  But the overall feeling is that you are being used to financially support a system that should have been radically altered decades ago.  You feel you could find a much better use for those tens of millions of dollars sent away each decade, like hiring more ministry staff, building needed facilities, starting more community-based ministries, or supporting your international partnerships.  What you are doing is working, and you could do more of it if you didn’t have to financially prop up what is clearly not working.  Years ago you began downplaying your denominational affiliation in order to reach more people.  Now the only thing holding you in the UMC are the millions of dollars in property that you would abandon if you left.  You may even be purposely holding onto your debt.  If the conference tries to take your property, they would get your mortgage, as well.  You know they can’t afford that and this is the only bargaining chip you currently hold.

 

The above description represents the feelings of some of our largest and most effective congregations, including those of a progressive bent.  Even if the human sexuality debate magically went away, we would still be a denomination in major need of reform.  What we are doing is not effectively making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.  We are top-heavy and our bureaucracy is several steps disconnected from the local church it was created to serve.  There are many anecdotes of bright spots, but our influence in American culture is dwindling.**  A good number of folks are ready to try something new.

 

Needing Out

In addition to those who want out, some solutions may also create a situation where some will need out for the sake of conscience.    If we more strictly enforce the Book of Discipline, the most strident Progressives will be forced out.  We are at the point where regaining accountability would require strong medicine indeed.  But accountability is exactly what every General Conference since the 1970’s has voted.  This is a real possibility.  The only reason GC2016 didn’t follow suit is because of the Way Forward Process.  Some see this as a mere delay of the inevitable.  Progressives may need the exit ramp.

 

If we create some sort of Local Option, groups like The Wesleyan Covenant Association (of which I am part) have stated that they could not continue under a denomination that makes up its Christian anthropology on the fly, is selectively congregationalist, and subjects Traditionalists to open-ended pressure to conform to the values of the sexual revolution.  WCA has over a thousand American dues-paying United Methodist clergy in its membership and many more who sympathize with their position, including the vast majority of the global UMC.  A vote for the local option is a vote for major schism.

 

Read full article HERE.

 

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