How concerned should Conservative United Methodists be?

I visiting with some friends of mine that happen to be conservative United Methodists. Some of them are planning on leaving the denomination while others are on the fence. We were talking about denominational politics, and we started sounding like conspiracy theorists. It even came to the point where we developed the #BewareUMC gif (below). After the conversation, I wanted to dig deeper to better understand the situation. How much is paranoia, and how much is precaution?

3 Signs I’m just Paranoid

  1. Most United Methodists are caring, level-headed, and align in the center: From the very beginning I stated that I believe 25% of United Methodists are determined to leave, 25% are determined to stay, and 50% just wish the two sides could get along. This last group will mostly stay United Methodist as well. Even among those determined to stay, only a fraction want to exact some kind of punishment for leaving. Remember, the vast majority of those staying United Methodist may be hurting because of the split but want the best for those that are leaving.
  2. There is a severe lack of communication: I remember while I was still serving as Conference Treasurer, and we were designing the disaffiliation process, I would ask, “What do the churches that are leaving think about this process?” The response I got was, “Why would we ask them?” This was likely just bureaucratic thinking and not some kind of power move. I reached out to the other side, and we were able to design a process that neither side was happy with…meaning it was probably fair. That was in May of 2022, and communication between the leaders of the United Methodists and the future (and now current) Global Methodists has been all but nonexistent. Likely much of the “harm” is related to us not talking over why someone said or did something so we assume the worst.
  3. Disaffiliations have been by the book: The District Superintendents and Bishops are obviously not happy to see churches and pastors leave, but they have carried out their duties well in most Conferences. Change is so difficult in the first place so it is a comfort that those in the highest positions are applying the process consistently.

3 Signs I’m Not

  1. Heavy-Handed Actions: It doesn’t happen often, but on occasion Conferences take actions that might sound good in a meeting, but they are not well thought out and negatively affect those that have served the denomination faithfully. An example of this is the letter that went out from the Dakotas Board of Pensions informing retired clergy, their spouses, and widows that they would lose their retiree health funding if they terminated membership in the Dakotas Conference. I discuss this and similar actions in the video and the obvious issues with this action. My hope is that these actions will be walked back.
  2. There is a severe lack of communication: Sometimes a lack of communication is a habit (as referenced above), but sometimes it seems deliberate. In the video, I raise up an example of a church in conflict with the Foundation. During the disaffiliation process, the chancellors and Trustees reviewed donor restricted funds…including those held with the Foundation. Now the Foundation is doing their own review…apparently without first notifying the church or visiting with the chancellors. This lack of communication shows a lack of concern for local churches.
  3. Lack of Conservatives in Leadership: At the national level, the leadership is quickly removing the conservative voices. 76% of US delegates elected to General Conference are opposed to upholding the traditional definition of marriage. When you look at the recent election of bishops, all 13 bishops elected are not conservative. The shift at the Conference level, at least in the Dakotas, is noticeable but not nearly as dramatic. This isn’t sounding like the big tent we’re used to.

Final Words

Writing this article and making this video has not been enjoyable. These issues have all been brought up to the leaders…at least in the Dakotas Conference. Since there has been little to no acknowledgment of these concerns, we are hoping bringing them to the awareness of the public will help the retirees, the conservatives committed to staying, as well as the churches invested with the Foundation. For those not in the Dakotas, please lift us up in prayer. For Dakotas United Methodists, I put links below to contact your District Superintendent or the Foundation. Here is also a link if you want to submit a resolution to the Annual Conference:

Useful Links

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