The United Methodist Church
Community Conversation on Sunday, September 25
Dear Vista Ridge UMC Family,
I want to invite you to our State of the Church community conversation on Sunday, September 25, at 1:30 p.m. in the sanctuary to talk about the state of the United Methodist Church denomination centering around the issues and divisions over human sexuality. Some of you are well acquainted with the issues, while this may be new for others. We hope to offer context to the issues, address misinformation and concerns, and clarify what is happening and why.
The Formation of the UMC
The United Methodist Church (UMC) is diverse and rich in thought and culture. For example, consider how the denomination came to be. In 1939, the Methodist Episcopal Church, the Methodist Episcopal Church South, and the Protestant Methodist Church joined together to become the Methodist Church. The UMC was the product of two subsequent church mergers, one in 1946 that brought the Evangelical and United Brethren in Christ denominations together to form the Evangelical United Brethren Church (EUB), and one in 1968 that combined the EUB and Methodist denominations.
Our UMC history and traditions are made up of many people from many places. However, for decades, the UMC has struggled with different understandings of human sexuality, particularly homosexuality. While a common faith and doctrine unite us, we don’t always agree or share opinions on other matters. Still, our diversity is a gift and strength of our Methodist heritage.
General Conference Statement on Homosexuality
After the formation of the UMC in 1968 in what was the first General Conference—the denomination’s global quadrennial church lawmaking assembly—concerns were raised about the church’s position regarding human sexuality, namely homosexuality and same-sex marriages. The following General Conference of 1972 debated these questions, resulting in the first statement on homosexuality that says that the denomination does not “condone the practice of homosexuality” and considers this practice “incompatible with Christian teaching.” However, along with this statement, there was an affirmation about the church believing all people are of “sacred worth” and need the ministry and guidance of the church. Therefore, according to the statement, people should not be condemned and discriminated against based on their sexuality.
The 1972 statement on human sexuality has caused deep pain in our more progressive churches and they have tried to remove it through the General Conference legislative process since then. At the same time, the response of our more conservative churches has been to maintain and protect it. This has led to conflicting convictions where some of the most progressive and conservative congregations in the UMC have sought disaffiliation for fears of the denomination becoming too progressive or too conservative for them to tolerate. In their discernment process, these congregations and clergy seek how best to follow Jesus into the future based on their convictions. Nevertheless, it is currently believed that most of the 30,500 congregations in the UMC are not seeking disaffiliation or engaging in a discernment process.
Vista Ridge is part of the North Texas Conference (NTC) of the UMC, which includes Dallas and its surrounding communities. As of early August, 10 of the 320-plus NTC congregations were officially in the discernment process. Since then, additional churches in each of the four districts have started the process. A discernment process does not mean disaffiliation. After a discernment process, churches may choose not to disaffiliate.
United in Our Diversity
In 2019, the NTC approved (by an 80% majority) a resolution stating that: “…as people of the North Texas Conference we aspire to behave as One Church Congregations and Conference.” The purpose of this resolution was to make a statement that we recognize the theological differences among our churches regarding sexuality, but we are united in our diversity and we respect, embrace, and honor conservative, moderate, and progressive churches. We are committed to proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God to all people.
As we can see, our UMC heritage is not homogenous and people will have different opinions and convictions about various issues. This should not come as a surprise since this has been a part of the history of the Christian movement since its beginnings. It was the apostle Paul, while addressing issues of division and strife, who said in Galatians 3:26-29,
"[I]n Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek; there is no longer slave or free; there is no longer male and female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise."
This has not changed. If we belong to Christ, we are a redeemed family of faith in him and with each other. Our UMC is a diverse church with a wide range of theological perspectives from around the world, yet we unite in our faith in Jesus. The same is true in our conference and local congregation at Vista Ridge UMC, where we faithfully try to live out the gospel of Jesus Christ and share our faith with others.
Questions for Community Conversation
I pray this letter gives clarity and peace in the midst of anxious and confusing times. I know there are many questions. This is why we are hosting a community conversation on September 25 at 1:30 p.m. If you have certain questions pertaining to our conversation, we would appreciate knowing them ahead of time so we have time to gather our responses. There has been a lot of misinformation about what is happening in the denomination and we want to make sure we have a chance to provide reliable answers. Please email your questions to email@example.com before Friday, September 23. Your name will not be listed with the questions.
Community Conversation Details
On the 25th, we will open with a presentation of what we know so far, answer some of the most pertinent questions we have received, and then provide a time for Q & A. We will have a panel gathered to field your questions that day and hope to provide as much clarity as is available at this time.
It is in times like these that it is so important to remember why we gather and serve as Vista Ridge UMC: to love God through our commitment of faith in Jesus, love of one another, and service to those around us. It is an honor to serve alongside you!
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Ashley Anne Sipe
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Is the UMC splitting?
No. The term “split” applies when there is a negotiated agreement within the denomination to divide assets and resources. No such agreement has been made in The United Methodist Church. The earliest point at which such an agreement could be made would be at the next General Conference to be held in 2024. A more accurate term, as suggested by the Rev. William Lawrence, retired dean of Perkins School of Theology and former member of the Judicial Council of The United Methodist Church, is “splintering.” What is happening is that some traditionalist leaders have decided to create their own denomination, the Global Methodist Church (GMC, a conservative denomination, officially formed on May 1, 2022.) Leaders of that denomination and other unofficial advocacy groups, such as the Wesleyan Covenant Association, are encouraging like-minded United Methodist congregations and clergy to disaffiliate from The United Methodist Church and join their denomination.
Why are they leaving?
Most churches and pastors leaving have cited strong conservative or progressive beliefs on human sexuality among their reasons for their disaffiliation, and they wish to belong to a church or denomination that unanimously agrees with their convictions.
Will there be a place for traditionalists in the UMC?
Yes. The United Methodist Church will remain unchanged. Another General Conference will be held in 2024 and it is likely the language on human sexuality in the Book of Discipline will be called to question as it has been every quadrennium since 1972. No one knows whether or not the language will be removed, replaced, or remain. A vote will be taken and we will again seek a way forward, prayerfully united in our mission to reach all people with the love of God.
Why is this happening now?
Typically, it is not easy for churches to leave the UMC and also retain their property. A trust clause in our church law says church properties belong to the denomination. In 2019, delegates gathered for a special global legislative session where a law (provision 2553) was passed that allows churches to disaffiliate and retain their properties so long as they meet certain financial obligations. The window for churches to use this condition will close at the end of 2023. Nevertheless, part of the inaccurate information shared is that this is the “only” opportunity for churches to leave the UMC and it must be done before the end of 2023. While there is no guarantee a renewed 2553 or new disaffiliation provision will be adopted in General Conference 2024, it is a likely scenario.
What is the process if a church decides to disaffiliate?
The decision to disaffiliate must be approved by a 2/3 majority vote of professing members present at a church conference. Basic terms include but are not limited to:
- Local church payments to the North Texas Conference for two years of apportionments
- Payment of the local church’s share of unfunded pension liability
- Repayment of any grants received from the North Texas Conference in the past 10 years
- Payment for the costs of any legal work required
How will this affect Vista Ridge UMC?
While our church is diverse in thought, this issue has not been a dividing point within our congregation. We might individually disagree with a far progressive or far conservative theological stand, but what unites us as Jesus followers is stronger than differences of opinion on specific subjects. Based on this, it is expected that we will remain in the UMC along with most churches in the NTC.
Does every church need to take a vote to stay or leave the UMC?
No, only those that are seeking disaffiliation.
If the UMC becomes more progressive or conservative, would the local church or individuals be forced to accept or change something against their convictions?
We believe our diversity is a gift, and we embrace and honor it. No one (pastors or congregations) will ever be compelled to act in a way that is contrary to their theological convictions. Clergy and laity will always be able to choose a church setting that best fits their spiritual needs.
Are progressives/conservatives seeking to change the Bible or the orthodox doctrine of the UMC?
No. We are not a sect that makes up our sacred texts. The Bible can be read and interpreted in many ways but remains the original text. There are many language translations to serve the needs of people worldwide, but the message is not changed or adapted to support convictions or opinions.
Below is a video from Rev. Adam Hamilton addressing the question, "How has your congregation continued to walk together despite the divisions in the U.S. and the church?"
Special thanks to Rev. Dr. Edgar Bazan and Rev. Marcus Womack for their help with this communication.