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Where Are We Today?

Throughout South Carolina and other areas in the country, the deep divisions within the UMC have taken many by surprise. “How did we get here?” is a common question. “Why can’t we just stay the way we are today?” others ask.

The controversy over beliefs about biblical authority and the definition of marriage in the UMC has been ongoing for decades. In this communication, we hope that the history of the recent decisions made by the UMC will aid you in your understanding of the reasons why our church is where it is today.

In 2016, as a result of the ongoing split of the UMC due to disagreements over core biblical beliefs, delegates to the General Conference narrowly and contentiously approved the Commission on a Way Forward.  

“The Commission’s mission is to help us find a way forward, with a vision toward maximizing The United Methodist Church’s presence in the world, while allowing for “contextual differentiation.” This includes balancing a desire to allow for “different theological understandings” with “as much unity as possible.” (From UMC.org)
In February of 2019, the UMC Special General Conference took place. The purpose of the General Conference was to agree on a plan to deal with the theological issues that have plagued the denomination for many years.  

The Commission on the Way Forward developed three plans for the General Conference to consider:  

The “One Church” Plan The One Church Plan allowed more progressive bishops, conferences, churches and pastors to fully include LQBTQ persons in the life of the UMC. This is the plan being advocated in the UMC and is currently referred to as “The Big Tent” UMC. This plan had the support of the majority of the US bishops in 2019.  

The “Traditional Plan” The Traditional Plan reaffirmed the Book of Discipline as written.  

The “Connectional Conference Plan” The Connectional Conference Plan envisioned a major reorganization of the UMC. One aspect of this proposed plan would be the creation of three conferences. This proposal did not receive significant support in the 2019 General Conference.  

The Traditional plan was passed by the 2019 Special Session of General Conference by a vote of 438-384. The Traditionalists won the majority of the votes due to the delegates representing the African congregations, not the votes from the US delegates. This result meant that rules in the Book of Discipline regarding homosexuality, same-sex marriage, the ordination of non-celibate LGBTQ persons, and core biblical beliefs did not change. The reaffirmation of the Book of Discipline resulted in an acceleration of progressive churches ignoring the laws of the church by ordaining LBGTQ clergy, performing same sex marriages and preaching nontraditional views of the Bible.  

An accommodation was passed to provide for amicable disaffiliation by the progressive UMC congregations that did not agree with the provisions of the Traditional Plan. Click here to learn more.
Recognizing that the results of the 2019 UMC Special General Conference created a greater divide in our denomination, a group comprised of 16 United Methodist Bishops and UMC leaders with varying theological beliefs came together to craft a plan that would allow the UMC to graciously split. This plan was named the “Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation”.  

The Protocol was a mediated agreement that allowed churches to separate from the UMC in order to “form or join a new Methodist denomination”. The churches that remained in the UMC would be allowed to reform the UMC and alter the Book of Discipline to match their beliefs. These churches would share more progressive views, would retain the UMC name, and keep the flame/cross symbol. The churches that would choose to leave would be those with traditional values.  

For the Protocol to be implemented, it would have to be passed by the General Conference. The 2020 General Conference was postponed, as was the scheduled 2022 General Conference, so the Protocol is supposed to be debated at the scheduled 2024 General Conference.  

However, on Tuesday, June 7, five of those who helped craft the Protocol released a statement which said they no longer supported the Protocol. Click here to review their statement.

Today: Why Do We Have To Leave The UMC?

Many of us are asking this question. The vote of 2019 accelerated the progressive movement in the UMC. Much of the change can be attributed to the lack of enforcement of the Book of Discipline and the growth in numbers of progressive bishops, clergy, and churches in the UMC. As the progressive numbers grow, the number of traditional congregations, clergy and bishops (along with their influence) is shrinking.  

The answer to the question of why the traditionalists must leave the UMC is simply this: At this point, returning the UMC to a traditional denomination is not an option anymore. There is simply no going back.  

The traditional denomination we all joined has been altered theologically by the non-enforcement of our beliefs as written in our Book of Discipline, and the vote of 2019 accelerated the progressive movement in the UMC. In 1968, the UMC had approximately 12 million members in the United States. Today the UMC has lost almost half of those members.

Should We Wait Until 2024 To Leave?

By the time the Protocol is debated at the 2024 General Conference, four years will have passed. Dynamics in the UMC have changed dramatically in just two years, so it is unlikely that traditional churches would be treated as generously in 2024 as they were when the protocol was written in 2020.

Additionally, with five of the sixteen members of the team that created the Protocol having withdrawn their support, the passage of the Protocol is unlikely. Like many United Methodist Churches in the process of disaffiliating today, we believe that, given the theological direction of the UMC, leaving the denomination in 2024 with our property will likely not be an option based upon the direction that the UMC has taken as denomination. Recent history bears this out.

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