What are the Big Concerns?
What a New Traditionalist Denomination Isn’t Telling You
An effective track-record is better than hopes of an ideal future.
The UMC is not perfect, and like all denominational groups in America, we have suffered decline. Yet we are the most evenly widespread denomination in the United States and the second largest Protestant denomination on the continent. We are praying for revival and renewal in our nation, and we believe it is coming by the work of the Holy Spirit in the post-separation UMC as well as other new expressions.
We believe that by separating from the main body of the denomination, we would reduce our capacity for shared ministry and mission. We believe that most Annual Conferences and local churches will choose to stay in the UMC and we wish to remain in connection with them. Dreams can be formed quickly, but are they the same as a proven track record of effective ministry?
Your church would have to spend money to remove the Cross and Flame.
Any new denomination would be strictly prohibited from using the Cross and Flame after the transition. Use of the Cross and Flame symbol on signage, stationery, buildings, websites, even stained glass windows in the new denomination is prohibited and would require removal, according to the Protocol for Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation.
Finding a pastor may be a problem.
Our system does its best to appoint pastors that are gifted, called, and equipped for ministry and just right for the context. If there is not a good match, or if the timing is right for a change, the system allows for a smooth and natural transition.
Of course, there are advantages and disadvantages to any system. Yes, there is something attractive about having more local control over who your pastor is. But call systems (like the Southern Baptist Church) and modified call systems (like the Presbyterian Church) play a completely different game. In the proposed new denomination, there is a great deal of uncertainty about how pastors will be placed. Churches may end up competing for pastors with pulpit committees and salary raises, and churches may go for long periods of time without a pastor. Pastors may also find themselves to be out of a job from time to time, with no benefits.
According to the Wesleyan Covenant Association’s (WCA) working Book of Doctrines and Discipline, a proposed new Methodist denomination in North Alabama is planning to change the appointment system to what is essentially a modified call system, where local churches will have a new level of responsibility to interview potential pastors and make their own decisions to hire (and dismiss). Even these plans are in flux, as yet another group, including leaders from the WCA and other traditionalists, have suggested yet another system without much specificity.
Assurances are being made to licensed local pastors by those who are hoping to start a new denomination, but we don’t see how abandoning an appointment system that brought them to this place of companionship in ministry with elders, and forming a modified call system or other hybrid system with little structure, support, or history to show for it, is going to help licensed local pastors. Many of them may simply be on their own.
Some churches could be left behind.
The UMC has had a long history of supporting small churches, inner city churches, rural churches, “fresh expressions,” and many other forms of church. These types of churches face an uncertain future. The appointment system would be dramatically changed. Multi-point charges that enable small churches to afford pastors could be disbanded. There are simply no guarantees (and there is certainly no system in place). In The United Methodist Church, we have demonstrated a history of facilitating local ministry in small and rural churches. Many, of the leaders of the WCA and other traditionalist organizations come from large membership churches who have the resources to do ministry on their own without denominational support and can bear the costs to transition into a new Methodist denomination themselves. In some cases, their churches have been withholding their tithes to The United Methodist Church and advocating for significantly lower giving in the future. We believe rural and small membership churches will feel the negative and unforeseen consequences of this the most.
There may be less opportunity and support for educating pastors.
There is no doubt in our minds that a new denomination would not be able to provide the incredible amount of educational opportunities that The United Methodist Church does through its affiliated colleges, universities, divinity schools, and seminaries. Our Course of Study system is also a proven and effective curriculum through which many licensed local pastors have learned how to do ministry. Our Ministerial Education Fund assists pastors in the costs of attending school. Additionally, it appears from the stated lack of support for the Traditional Plan in February of 2019 that none of our 93 United Methodist colleges and universities (including Birmingham-Southern College), and none of our 15 United Methodist seminaries, would be interested in aligning with a proposed new denomination.
Young people might have a hard time with a new traditionalist denomination.
We believe that no matter what we might disagree on regarding matters that are important (but secondary to the gospel of Jesus Christ and our historic creeds), the essence of what it means to be a Christian is to love God and love our neighbor as ourselves. This is what Jesus said, and this what John Wesley said, too. We believe the very definition of God’s Church is that we are diverse and beautiful children of God, called to worship together and speak the truth in love to one another, at times “agreeing to disagree” (a term Wesley himself coined) but always with love. We are called to do this by remaining at the table together. We believe we must do this by loving, accepting, and affirming everyone who comes through our doors. Young people, especially, understand this and many will not participate in a church that they perceive as judgmental towards LGBTQ+ persons.
We have a passion for evangelism and for the revitalization of the church. Like those who plan to leave our denomination, we don’t want to remain caught up in issues that divide us. We believe the Holy Spirit will empower the post-separation UMC to move forward freely in history, plant many new churches, bring people to Jesus Christ, and follow the will of God.
We reject the idea that we can love people without accepting them for who they are. The Church in American culture is developing a reputation for intolerance, especially among young people, that is severely harming our witness in the United States. There are many unknowns in voting to become part of a proposed new denomination that doesn’t exist yet, and we believe there is real danger that the new denomination will become too extreme. In any case, we do not believe that the vast majority of young people will be attracted to a new denomination that is built on lack of acceptance in its very DNA. We don’t have all the answers about what we will do together in the future, but we believe that it is in the best interest of the North Alabama Conference to stay in The UMC.
The details of a new traditionalist Methodist denomination are still uncertain.
We believe there are too many risks involved in voting to be part of something that doesn’t exist yet, based on many ideas but no guarantees. There is a bright future for the post-separation UMC for traditionalists, centrists, and progressives who want to be one church together. We have nothing against those who desire to depart from The UMC and form something new, and we offer them only blessings and love. They are our brothers and sisters in Christ, and we recognize that the Protocol, if passed, will allow for their gracious exit. However, we do not believe the entire Annual Conference should be forced to go with them, but rather graciously allow individual local churches and pastors to do so if they choose. This is our best way forward, if the Protocol passes at General Conference in August/September 2021.