How the UMC and GMC are being tested by the split?

A few posts ago, I shared three questions for churches and individuals to test which denomination they belong in. This is not that kind of test. There is a power imbalance between the United Methodist leadership and those wanting to leave the denomination. Because of the imbalance, the Character of the remaining United Methodists is being tested, and the Conviction of those wanting to become Global Methodist is being tested.

The Character Test

I have a cat in my house. I dislike cats. Cats are judgmental, disloyal, and seem to always do the opposite of what you want. I’m pretty sure my cat knows I don’t like it. When I’m walking around the house, and he’s laying on the floor, my cat keeps a close eye on me. I may have tripped over him a few times which I’m pretty sure he thinks was on purpose. Future Global Methodists are cats in a United Methodist house.

I think this gives a good picture of the power imbalance. In my house, I have all the power and opportunity to mistreat my cat so how I treat him is a test of my character. By the way, after almost 15 years, the cat and I are finally on good terms. In the United Methodist denomination, those in leadership own the church property (Trust Clause), have the authority to set the terms of leaving (Disaffiliation under Para. 2553), and employ the pastors (Appointment). I can imagine how tempting it could be to use this power imbalance to just try and force United Methodists to remain United Methodist.

“You can easily judge the character of others by how they treat those who can do nothing for them or to them.”

Malcolm Forbes

If you are wanting to leave the United Methodist denomination, you’ve likely heard horror stories about Mt. Bethel UMC suing to leave or those three churches in Arkansas who the Annual Conference voted down or how North Georgia blocked all disaffiliations. Although your Conference may have treated everyone leaving well, you’ve seen what Conferences are capable of and no one in the UMC seems to be calling them to a higher standard.

For those remaining United Methodist, will they recognize the power imbalance and tread extra carefully? Will they rebuke those who are abusing their power? That is the test.

The Conviction Test

I don’t have any clever analogy for this test. I have just seen it over and over again where church leaders become convinced the right thing to do is for the church to become Global Methodist, but then they see all the challenges to making that a reality.

  • Money: Although it is cheap to become a Global Methodist church (no entry fee and a 2% apportionment), it is very expensive to quit being a United Methodist church.
  • Time and Energy: Disaffiliating can be just about as labor intensive as any capital project. Much of the work falls on the shoulders of the laity.
  • Conflict: This is probably the most difficult one. We know that people will be upset by the possibility of change. People will threaten to leave. The perceived unity of your church will likely be broken.

These are real challenges. These are things most churches worry about in the best of times…a lack of money, a lack of volunteers, and a surplus of conflict. I’ve seen some churches back down from these challenges and some forge ahead.

One thing that usually helps me is to do the math. I visited with a church the other day that took a straw poll of their membership and found out that 60% favored leaving while 40% preferred staying United Methodist. When you need 67% to vote at charge conference to leave, this is a huge concern. The church leadership then did something interesting. They attached the giving numbers to the votes. Those favoring leaving made up 80% of the giving compared to 20% that want to stay. The leadership then attached the volunteering numbers to the votes and found again an 80/20 split. While I’m unsure if the church will be successful in leaving the UMC, they will be in a dire situation if they choose to remain. The church leadership had the courage/conviction to move forward because those with the most invested want to move forward.

For those who know the right thing for your church is to become Global Methodist but are unsure of the outcome, will you have the conviction to move forward? Will you have the conviction to pay the associated costs (money, time, stress)? That is the test.

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