At Ask The UMC, we have been answering an increasing number of questions from congregations wondering about the future of The United Methodist Church and whether they should consider disaffiliating from it. Among these have been some recurrent questions that reflect misperceptions or misinformation that some congregations are receiving as they are discerning their next steps.
This is the first of a series of articles we will present to offer accurate responses to such misperceptions or misinformation. This article focuses on matters relating to theology, pensions, and benefits. The next article in the series will focus on matters relating to human sexuality.
We welcome your questions, and invite you to contribute to future articles in this series by sharing what you are hearing about the process of disaffiliation or the future of The United Methodist Church. Write to AskTheUMC [at] umc.org.
Is The UMC really...
1. Splitting at this time?
No. The term “split” applies when there is a negotiated agreement within the denomination to divide assets and resources. No such agreement has been made in The United Methodist Church. The earliest point at which such an agreement could be made would be at the next General Conference to be held in 2024.
A more accurate term, as suggested by the Rev. William Lawrence, retired dean of Perkins School of Theology and former member of the Judicial Council of The United Methodist Church, is “splintering.” What is happening is that some traditionalist leaders have decided to create their own denomination (the Global Methodist Church). Leaders of that denomination and other unofficial advocacy groups, such as the Wesleyan Covenant Association, which created it, are encouraging like-minded United Methodist congregations and clergy to disaffiliate from The United Methodist Church and join their denomination instead.
2. Asking traditionalists to leave the denomination?
No. The requests for disaffiliations are coming largely from traditionalists. Keith Boyette, former president of the Wesleyan Covenant Association and now leader of the Global Methodist Church, describes the reasons he and other leaders are asking traditionalists to leave beginning at 13:32 in this video.
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3. About to alter its doctrine to deny the virgin birth, the divinity of Jesus Christ or salvation through Christ alone?
No. All of these positions are bedrock in the doctrinal standards of The United Methodist Church, more specifically in the Articles of Religion and the Confession of Faith. These cannot be altered without a two-thirds vote of the General Conference followed by a three-fourths aggregate approval of all annual conferences of The United Methodist Church worldwide. There is no basis to conclude such majorities can be achieved to alter the Articles and Confession for any reason.
Here is what the Articles and Confession say on these matters. And will continue to say.
Virgin Birth and Divinity of Jesus
Articles of Religion, Article II:
“The Son, who is the Word of the Father, the very and eternal God, of one substance with the Father, took man’s nature in the womb of the blessed Virgin.”
Confession of Faith, Article II:
“We believe in Jesus Christ, truly God and truly man, in whom the divine and human natures are perfectly and inseparably united. He is the eternal Word made flesh, the only begotten Son of the Father, born of the Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
Salvation apart from faith in Jesus Christ
Articles of Religion, Article IX:
“We are accounted righteous before God only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, by faith.”
Confession of Faith, Article IX:
“We believe we are never accounted righteous before God through our works or merit, but that penitent sinners are justified or accounted righteous before God only by faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.”
4. Intending to change the Bible?
No. The United Methodist Church has no official translation of the Bible and has never sought to alter the Bible at all. United Methodists have always had a variety of views about how to interpret specific passages of Scripture and likely always will.
5. Allowing congregations that exit the denomination to continue to offer the same pension and health benefits programs to their clergy and staff?
No. The Book of Discipline does not permit non-UMC entities to be plan sponsors of the Clergy Retirement Security Program. Only a General Conference can change this. Churches that disaffiliate will face changes to the benefits they can offer their clergy. Individual congregations and clergy that join the Global Methodist Church (GMC) will be eligible to participate in a retirement plan offered by the GMC, which will be a Wespath defined-contribution retirement plan similar to a United Methodist Personal Investment Plan (UMPIP).
Elders and deacons who withdraw under Discipline ¶360 will have all assets accrued in CRSP and previous programs in which they may have participated (defined benefit and defined contribution) converted into a cash equivalent and placed into their United Methodist Personal Investment Plan (UMPIP). Future retirement plan contributions may be made to the new retirement plan described above which, like UMPIP, is a personal retirement account subject to the effects of the stock market and other investments on its value.
Nor, at this time, is it possible for individual congregations (whether in the Global Methodist Church or in the UMC) to be plan sponsors for the HealthFlex health insurance programs Wespath offers unless a congregation has more than 50 eligible employees. United Methodist annual conferences are the plan sponsors for congregations with fewer than 50 eligible employees. This means individual congregations with fewer than 50 eligible employees currently participating in these programs that exit The United Methodist Church at this time can no longer offer these benefits to their clergy and employees effective with the date of disaffiliation. Clergy currently covered by HealthFlex, whether they disaffiliate or not, are eligible to continue on the health insurance plan by paying 100% of the costs themselves for up to 18 months. At that point, the HealthFlex plan is no longer available to them. Individual congregations and clergy who join the Global Methodist Church may participate in the health benefits selected by the Global Methodist Church, which may include HealthFlex.
For additional information, see this FAQ from Wespath.