By Chuck Griffin, Holston WCA President
If you’re a traditional Holston-area Methodist who has kept up with news of the United Methodist Church the last few weeks, you may have a sense that time is running short for churches to depart the UMC for holier pastures.
You would be right.
In our own Holston Conference, the message from our bishop and cabinet members has been pretty straightforward. I would summarize it as, “Don’t worry, we will take care of you. Just wait until 2024 and everything will be okay.” Supposedly, they even will create a way out for churches after the only current exit path (other than litigation) has expired at the end of 2023.
For the sake of traditional churches that fail to enter the disaffiliation process, I hope they are right, and yet I simultaneously cannot see how they could be right. In light of recent developments, the message smells like a trap, a short-term enticement that can only lead to long-term pain.
Such assurances rest on a major premise. The people in charge of the Holston Conference would have to hold some long-term control over where the larger UM Church is headed, and then be willing to use it to maintain the big theological tent the UM church supposedly has been.
The recent election of bishops at jurisdictional conferences proves this highly unlikely. As WCA Global President Jay Therrell recently wrote, “The United Methodist Church now has the most liberal Council of Bishops in its history. Not one single traditionalist bishop was elected. Not one. Forget about these elections telegraphing the future of The United Methodist Church. They declare the denomination’s present state.”
(For the full article, see “The Big Tent Has Collapsed.” I really don’t feel like rehashing the horrible theology and practices of some of these people elected, but Jay provides a thorough roundup.)
Before the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference, the old public relations guy in me theorized that the centrists and liberal delegates might work together there to elect at least one conservative bishop, an outcome that was possible on the first ballot, with a little planning. Such a move would have dramatically bolstered their “everything will be okay in 2024” message.
Obviously, that didn’t happen. At least we know what they really think.
Hear this, too: Bishop Tom Bickerton, the current president of the Council of Bishops, has made it clear to the WCA that once the disaffiliation path expires at the end of 2023, a new one will not be created. Our conference leaders may promise a way out beyond 2023, but they do not have the power to keep those promises without the cooperation of the larger, increasingly liberal UM church.
Any semblance of theological conservatism in the Holston Conference is likely short-term, too. Even if we can classify Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett as a conservative, she is the last such bishop the Holston Conference of the UMC will have. The pool of replacements will be consistently liberal, even in the Southeastern Jurisdiction.
Our bishop and others have talked about “making room” for theological conservatives, but we need to understand that at best, that room will be a cot in the basement, next to the water heater. Consider going to the Global Methodist Church, where you’ll have the run of the house, and the rent will be a whole lot less, too.
If you stay, you will be loved in the United Methodist Church only for the value of your building and the ground upon which it stands. That’s the kind of value that can be sold, the proceeds absorbed into the operating budget of a liberal UMC. Your traditionalist beliefs will have no value at all.
If your church has yet to begin the disaffiliation process, you need to do so, quickly. At this point, if you do it today, it may be difficult for you to complete it in time for your church’s departure to be ratified at the called annual conference in April. The bishop has spoken of a possible called annual conference in the fall or winter; pray she follows through.
Contact your district superintendent and ask for the disaffiliation packet. In it, you will find the page your administrative board chair can send back to start the process. And yes, laity, you can send for the packet even if your pastor isn’t cooperating. You don’t need his or her permission.
Get out while you can!