by Jay Therrell
After decades of conflict on a variety of theological issues within The United Methodist Church, hope appeared for an amicable separation in January 2020 with the announcement of the Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation. The Protocol represented a mediated settlement between theological conservatives, centrists, and progressives to end denominational fighting and part ways. It was a compromise. Every side gave-in on key issues so that they could also achieve certain non-negotiables. It represented a beautiful witness to the world that Christians who disagree could do so without being disagreeable. The Wesleyan Covenant Association was humbly proud to be a part of the creation of the Protocol and enthusiastically supported it.
Sadly, the COVID-19 pandemic led to General Conference 2020 being postponed numerous times. In March of this year, the Commission on the General Conference chose to once again delay the General Conference to meet, at the earliest, in 2024. Shortly after announcing that decision the Rev. Joe DiPaolo, member of the Commission and the WCA’s Global Council, shared the real story of how that decision was made casting extreme doubt around the process for making it.
In June of 2022, progressive signatories to the Protocol and progressive and centrist endorsing organizations announced they were no longer supporting its adoption. In their announcement, they stated, “… we can no longer in good faith support the Protocol of Reconciliation & Grace through Separation or work towards its adoption at the next General Conference.” For many reasons, several inaccurate, they ended the hard work and hope of so many.
Immediately following the announcement by progressive and centrist leaders, I shared an initial reaction from the WCA. I noted that this was the final straw for us. For the past two years, progressives have waged a campaign of cherry picking the provisions of The Book of Discipline they will follow while insisting that departing theological conservatives meet the extreme letter of the law. The adage of, “Rules for thee, but not for me,” comes to mind.
Through all of that, the WCA has done its best to lead traditionalists to wait for the Protocol to pass. It was hard, but theologically conservative leaders believed it was the right thing to do. I finished the piece by saying, “I hope progressives and centrists realize what they’re doing by publicly removing their support for the Protocol. In doing so, they have made clear that they have no intention of treating theological conservatives fairly and with grace. We will contend.”
Today, I announce the WCA is calling on theologically conservative laity in local churches to lead their church councils to immediately begin withholding all apportionments and escrow them. We are making this call to laity in 19 annual conferences that are adding onerous and punitive requirements to disaffiliation provisions under paragraph 2553 of The Book of Discipline. This includes general, jurisdictional, annual conference, and district apportionments. (It DOES NOT include direct-billed items such as property and casualty and health insurance premiums or pension payments.) Escrowed funds would be held by the local church until their bishop and annual conference open a reasonable route to disaffiliation. Those funds could then be used to support the cost of disaffiliation.
To be clear, of the 53 American annual conferences, these 19 are making disaffiliation processes extremely difficult, and in some cases impossible. The other 34 annual conferences do not all have “clean” paragraph 2553 processes. Some add requirements that are beyond what paragraph 2553 requires, but in our judgement these additions do not prevent most churches from disaffiliating.
For laity and local churches in the remaining 34 annual conferences, we realize that some of you will want to stand in solidarity with your sisters and brothers being mistreated. For you, we call on you to consider withholding and escrowing your episcopal fund apportionment which goes directly to paying bishops’ salaries and expenses.
To eliminate any confusion, at the end of this article, we are publishing a list of the 19 annual conferences that are adding punitive requirements to their 2553 process so that laity will know if their annual conference is doing so. We have also prepared a step-by-step guide to assist laity in making these motions in their local church councils. Clergy should not and cannot have anything to do with these motions. This must be a completely lay-led movement.
To receive our step-by-step guide, we encourage you to confidentially email us at email@example.com. Additionally, we hope to confidentially track which churches are choosing to withhold and escrow apportionments and ask that once your church council has decided to do so (or if you are already doing so) to please email us to let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nowhere in Scripture are followers of Jesus called to support efforts of the church that are antithetical to the Gospel. To the contrary, Jude, the half-brother of Jesus, calls the church in his letter to “…contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people.” (Jude 3) In fact, 2 John 9-11 reminds us that those who support persons spreading unbiblical teaching share responsibility for doing so (see also Ephesians 5:3-7). It is time for us no longer to stand idly by while progressive leaders take our money, use it to support their liberal causes, and then seek to punish us further. It is wrong, and we will not feed that abuse any longer.
This step is lamentable. Progressives should not have placed us in this situation. A General Conference could have taken place this year. We could have had one already if the Commission on General Conference was willing to hold a hybrid, virtual, or distributed meeting, and an in-person conference would have been possible. Other denominations have done so including the African Methodist Episcopal Church and The Episcopal Church. Numerous large gatherings are taking place around the U.S., including sporting events and conventions with tens of thousands of participants. Where there is a will, there is a way.
Progressives, instead, have chosen to strategically delay General Conference and adopting the Protocol. One wonders if this decision is a tactic of trapping churches to keep their apportionment base from shrinking. Moreover, one wonders if it’s also an intentional choice of hoping that people will vote with their proverbial feet which, in turn, weakens the local church to the point of it closing and thereby enabling an annual conference to sell the property for the benefit of sustaining the annual conference. Progressives and centrists have chosen to destroy the Protocol. They have forced us to this place.
The time has come to stop supporting agendas that seek to hurt the orthodox, theologically conservative movement. It is time for us to send a collective message that we will not stand for this anymore. Bishops and other progressive leaders, when you choose to treat theologically conservative churches fairly and let us go, this can end. The choice is yours.
Annual Conferences Adding Punitive Requirements to Paragraph 2553
(We call on laity in these conferences to confidentially email email@example.com to receive an instruction guide on how to ask your church council to withhold and escrow ALL apportionments.)
1. Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference 2. California-Nevada Annual Conference 3. California-Pacific Annual Conference 4. Eastern Pennsylvania Annual Conference 5. Florida Annual Conference 6. Greater New Jersey Annual Conference 7. Illinois Great Rivers Annual Conference 8. Louisiana Annual Conference 9. Michigan Annual Conference 10. Missouri Annual Conference 11. Mountain Sky Annual Conference 12. New England Annual Conference 13. Northern Illinois Annual Conference 14. Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference 15. Peninsula-Delaware Annual Conference 16. South Carolina Annual Conference 17. Susquehanna Annual Conference 18. West Virginia Annual Conference 19. Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference
The Rev. Jay Therrell is president of the Wesleyan Covenant Association.
East Ohio WCA is not affiliated with the East Ohio UNITED METHODIST CHURCH.
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