Dear HFUMC Family,
Throughout recent weeks, there have been numerous reports about the United Methodist denomination in the news and social media. Many of these reports have centered around the ongoing conflict within our denomination over human sexuality, the decision made by the Council of Bishops earlier this Spring to postpone the next General Conference until 2024, and the recent launch of the new Global Methodist Church. Many of these reports have sparked questions and renewed discussions about schisms and concerns about the future within the UMC. In light of these developments and important conversations, we wanted to take some time to provide some background information and a few clarifications that might be helpful in addressing some of the questions and concerns that have been raised.
Firstly, what is the General Conference?
- The General Conference is the governing body that presides over the entire United Methodist denomination world-wide. It is comprised of the Council of Bishops and more than 800 (rotational) voting delegates who represent all regional UMC conferences from around the world.
- The General Conference typically convenes every four years and is the only governing body within the UMC that has the authority to make changes to the denomination’s social standards and policies.
What is the nature of the schism?
- The debate over human sexuality (and namely the denomination’s definition of marriage and ordination standards for LBGTQI clergy) has been ongoing for several decades. Tied to these important issues are fundamental disagreements within denominational leaders on the interpretation of the Bible and the role/authority of the scriptures in determining social policies.
- This debate especially intensified during a special session of the General Conference in Saint Louis in 2019, where delegates voted 438-384 to reaffirm the denomination’s historical polity on defining marriage as a covenantal relationship between one man and one woman and defining ordination standards for those who are either single or in a heterosexual marriage.
- Despite the 2019 special called conference convening with the hopes of discerning a “Way Forward” for the United Methodist Church, the conflict remained unresolved for many who (particularly in some regions of the United States) advocated a more progressive stance on the denomination’s standards on human sexuality.
In the months following the 2019 conference, leaders from progressive, centrist, and conservative factions within the denomination drafted and proposed The Protocol for Reconciliation and Grace through Separation—a legislation that, once approved by the General Conference, would allow for regional annual conferences and local churches/pastors to either remain in the United Methodist Church (which it is believed will likely alter its polity in the next General Conference to become more progressive in its definition of human sexuality) or to disaffiliate and remain either independent or realign with a newly forming (more traditional-oriented) denomination called the Global Methodist Church.
The Protocol was set to be voted upon in the 2020 General Conference. Due to COVID-related travel restrictions, however, the 2020 General Conference was subsequently delayed multiple times and has now more recently been postponed until August of 2024.
Where does this leave the UMC today?
- Many denominational leaders and congregations have grown wary and frustrated by the repeated postponements of the General Conference along with the ongoing and intensifying impasse of the debate on human sexuality in the UMC. Though there is a deep sense of mourning over the divide, the vast majority of church leaders and bishops acknowledge the need for separation in order to resolve the controversy and allow all churches of diverse backgrounds the opportunity to move forward with their mission.
In response to the most recent postponement, the Wesleyan Covenant Association (an organization formed in 2016 to represent Methodist churches with a more traditional view on human sexuality and Biblical interpretation of contemporary issues) assisted in the launch of a new denomination called the Global Methodist Church on May 1st of this year.
- The stated intentions behind the new Global Methodist Church is to provide churches who cannot wait for the next General Conference to advance in their ministries an organizational structure through which to realign with other churches of similar conviction after disaffiliating from the UMC.
- Despite the launch of the new denomination, there has not yet been any formal “split” announced by the General Conference, nor has there been any uniform process established for churches who desire to disaffiliate. Many of these contentious issues will likely not be addressed until the next General Conference in 2024.
What should be HFUMC’s response?
- Our HFUMC pastors and leadership teams deeply treasure our longstanding heritage as United Methodists since the founding of our local church in 1872. We share the deep sense of sadness that many in our denomination are feeling over the widening divide that has become all too common in our times and society at large.
- Though we anticipate a probable “split” at some point in the future of the United Methodist denomination, we are hopeful that both our regional annual conference (the newly-merged Tennessee Western Kentucky Conference) as well as the General Conference will work diligently to provide clarity for the future of the denomination and HFUMC.
- If and when any decision implicating HFUMC is presented in the future, we want to be sure that we as a local congregation have done our part to have complete information and clearly-defined options in order to prayerfully make any important decisions about the future of our local church under the direction of the Holy Spirit. We anticipate that more information will be coming in the months leading up to the next 2024 General Conference.
What should HFUMC do in the meanwhile?
Remain prayerful. Please continue to keep our denominational leaders and bishops in prayer as they seek God’s guidance amidst these important decisions. Additionally, please pray for Pastor Don and Pastor Joshua and our congregational leadership teams as they seek to lead HFUMC confidently and faithfully during these uncertain times.
Remain informed. We encourage all members to seek to understand the issues facing the UMC as they continue to develop. More information about these specific topics can be found on the UMC Website, Good News Website, and Wesley Covenant Association Website. Additionally, our pastors and leadership teams will give additional updates and host some Q&A sessions later this Summer and Fall after the convening of our regional Annual Conference this June 15-17 (where we expect additional information will be presented to local churches).
Follow Wesley’s 3 Rules. During John Wesley’s ministry, he was often quoted for challenging his churches to remain faithful in: 1.) Doing no harm, 2.) Doing good, and 3.) Staying in love with God. This is an important time for HFUMC to model to our onlooking world what it looks like to remain loving and engaged in our mission of making disciples even in a time of division and uncertainty. Let’s take this time to stay focused on loving Christ and others well while abstaining from conversations or actions that are not constructive. When we are faithful in these three observances we often find the Holy Spirit directing our steps in profound ways.
Thank you for all the ways that you continue to represent the love of Christ in our church, community, and world. We know that these are challenging and unprecedented circumstances in our denomination. Yet, even in the face of uncertainty we hold fast to the mutual love and hope that we share in Christ. Who knows how God might just use HFUMC to be a model to others during this important time...
In Christ’s Love,
~Pastor Don Hutchinson
~Pastor Joshua Strader