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The Gap in the Methodist Plan of Separation

Written by Daniel P. Dalton on January 3, 2020 Category: Church Property Disputes/Denominational Splits

Today, the Council of Bishops released a press report and published a proposed separation plan for the United Methodist Church. The proposal, attached here and endorsed by several key leaders on three sides of the table, provides the following:

  • Traditionalist Churches may leave the United Methodist denomination, join the Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA) and keep their property.
  • Progressives Churches will retain the United Methodist Church, its assets and liabilities and will pay the WCA $25 million over four years as a release of all claims over any other property.
  • $2 million will be held in escrow by the Progressives for other new denominations.
  • A (non-U.S.) central conference would be able to choose with a two-thirds vote to affiliate with a new Methodist denomination. The vote deadline would be December 31, 2021, and if no vote is taken the conference remains in The United Methodist Church
  • An annual conference, whether in a central conference or U.S. jurisdictional conference, also could vote to affiliate with a new 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
  • The leadership body of a local church considering disaffiliation could determine a threshold of a simple majority or two-thirds for the vote on whether to separate. 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.
  • The pension plans of The United Methodist Church would remain in place for all current clergy and lay employees, even if they affiliate with another Methodist denomination under the protocol.

The proposed plan will need to be approved by the Judicial Council at the April 2020 meeting and need to be approved by the General Conference in May 2020.

The gap in the plan is that local churches who wish to leave the United Methodist denomination but do not wish to align themselves with the traditional or the newly progressive United Methodist Church do not have an exit plan. If a local Church is progressive, for example, but wants to leave the denomination and become independent the plan does not apply. The plan puts the onus on local churches to make a decision on leaving – thereby inviting conflict within a local church body.  It also puts the local pastor in a position of being a leader in a Church where the local body does not agree with the pastor’s beliefs.

The professionals at Dalton & Tomich PLC has helped many local churches throughout the United States navigate themselves out of the United Methodist denomination – as well as the Episcopal and Presbyterian USA denominations – by evaluating the existing condition of the local church in light of the needs of the congregation. If you have questions about this proposal, and would like to evaluate the proposal in light of your local church’s theological stance, please contact Daniel Dalton to discuss this in greater detail.

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