The study committee began its work by reviewing the charge it received and then by tracing the history of the church and the organization of the church with particular emphasis re: changing attitudes on the authority of Scripture. The committee is saddened that, in spite of our denomination having the clearest language of any denomination (including the GMC) about the authority of Scripture, in recent years progressive elements within the church have ignored language they do not like and often have been able to escape correction for these actions. We discussed that our church functions as we feel led by God without any interference and that the conference has been faithful to give us the right pastors.
The committee also studied the history of the Holiness Movement to see how reform within various denominations has been needed periodically to maintain orthodoxy but, in spite of the desire of the reform movement leaders to keep the reformers within the denomination for maximum reform, many choose to begin new denominations. The Wesleyan Church, The Free Methodist Church, The Church of the Nazarene, numerous Pentecostal Denominations, and the Salvation Army are but a few of those that came out of the Methodist Church during the Holiness Movement.
First Methodist Carrollton now faces a similar situation, where some of the reformers within the denomination have decided to form a new denomination. The newly launched Global Methodist Church (GMC) is encouraging traditional churches and conferences to disaffiliate with the UMC and join the GMC. The GMC has a more traditional belief system (close to that of FMC and says it will enforce its rules) while the UMC is best described as a big tent denomination, meaning that it is made up of many who believe that you don’t have to agree on everything to do ministry together.
At the last special General Conference in 2019 the church moved even more traditional in its church law leaving many progressives very upset and surprised. A new paragraph was added to the Discipline intending to give progressive congregations a way to disaffiliate and take their property with them. Frankly, the Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA) may have been the most surprised as they had only one plan, the launching of a new denomination. Many on our committee wondered why we, as traditionalists, after winning the vote on the authority of Scripture and human sexuality would be the ones to leave the denomination. A group comprised of members of all factions within the church mediated a proposal for the next General Conference called the Protocol for Reconciliation and Grace through Separation; a copy of this document is attached to this report. The next General Conference was scheduled for 2020 but was postponed until 2022 due to COVID-19 and postponed again until 2024 due to the lead time for visas due to COVID-19. Some of the progressive signers of the Protocol have recently removed their support
The North Texas Conference (NTC) recently published its framework for disaffiliation under the new paragraph to the Discipline mentioned above or under an older paragraph intended for churches to affiliate with other Wesleyan denominations. A copy of this framework is attached to this report. This process is quite detailed, has a tight timeline requiring our church to indicate we want to disaffiliate by August of this year and to complete many necessary steps within 6 months; and comes at significant cost and risk. The primary risk is that the pastor has to declare in writing shortly after our church declares its intentions whether he/she will surrender credentials or remain a UMC pastor or retire; this is months before the Annual Conference decides whether it will allow us to disaffiliate, and before the Conference has declared that we are even eligible to disaffiliate. The Protocol mentioned earlier cannot be introduced until General Conference meets in 2024, so whether it is approved as presented is not certain, but most likely it will present a more cost effective and easier way to disaffiliate.
At this point the cost of separation under the NTC framework is estimated to be $600,000 to $750,000. We would have to pay $100,000 in apportionments for the year after disaffiliation, $300,000+ for unfunded pension liability (this number will rise with changing economic conditions over the next year), $100,000 + in repayment of gifts or grants from the conference over the past 10 years, and $100,000 in legal work and the possible need for a title policy. There are many issues associated with leaving including changing our legal name and amending all official documents including loan documents, tax exemption documents, deeds. The UMC is also requiring disaffiliating churches to indemnify the UMC from future liability. This work is expensive and time consuming.
The committee discussed in great detail whether or not to recommend disaffiliation (and if so when). After spending many hours reviewing these questions and answers we asked each member of the committee to speak their feelings about what was best for the church. There were several opinions but at the end of this discussion there was a general consensus that it would not be wise to try to disaffiliate under the NTC framework as it would be expensive, risky for our pastor and potentially for our church, and the timeframe is too tight to do all that is required in a proper way to assure the best future for the church. Further there was no real need to make a decision at this time. A recent development at annual conference was a discussion between the chair of the NTC board of trustees, who wrote the NTC framework, and Jill Jackson Sears, an evangelical pastor; in this conversation the chair of the BOT offered to meet with Jill and see if they couldn’t make the process more acceptable and friendly.
If this meeting or any actions after this meeting make substantive changes to the cost to disaffiliate, the sub- committee will reconvene. Otherwise we will have no choice but to wait until after General Conference 2024 to reconvene the sub-committee since we cannot see a viable way to do anything else at this time. While there is no way to be certain what options will be available then, there should be a protocol type option for disaffiliation and some history of the GMC to draw upon by then. It should be noted that the committee is not presuming what the church may decide at that time, but that there may be viable options to consider by then while none exists today. There are court actions pending that could give some relief from the trust clause by then and there will be history to draw from on how other churches have fared in their efforts to disaffiliate. Though some churches may decide to do so, the sub-committee does not recommend initiating any court actions or joining any court actions as a way for our church to move forward as we could be tied up in court for years at no small expense. We believe that keeping our eyes and ears open to what is evolving will ultimately lead to the best decision for our church. We support the position of our pastor:
For me, I want to make sure that whatever change I make (professionally) or whatever direction I lead a church, we are focused on what we believe and what we support and not on what we are against. I believe we can navigate this historic change as we focus on what unifies us as followers of Christ. As the church moves through these difficult days, if we can stay focused on our passion for Christ and the work we do for Him, it could be a source of spiritual revival instead of ungodly division.Pastor John Allen