Disaffiliation of Local Churches

Total Number of Pages: 7

Suggested Title: Disaffiliation of Local Churches

Discipline Paragraph or Resolution Number, if applicable: New Paragraph 2553

General Church Budget Implications: None

Global Implications: Yes

Add new Section VIII and Par. 2553

Section VIII. Disaffiliation of Local Churches Over Issues Related to Human Sexuality

¶ 2553. Disaffiliation of a Local Church Over Issues of Conflict—1. Basis— The United Methodist Church and its members acknowledge fundamental differences regarding our understanding and interpretation of Scripture, our theology, and our practice, particularly as related to the level of participation of LGBTQ persons in the life of the Church. The official position of the Church continues to evolve, creating conflicts of conscience for some. Because of the impasse created by these differences and conflicts, individual members as well as the Church at large have been injured, and the Church’s witness and mission are being impeded. Seeking to avoid further harm due to an unevenly administered disaffiliation process, this paragraph provides local churches with the limited right to disaffiliate from the denomination, according to a uniform process under the provisions of this paragraph, for reasons of conscience regarding the differences in theology and practice related to the level of participation of LGBTQ persons in the life of the Church. Once asserted by the local church, this rationale for disaffiliation shall not be questioned by the annual conference.

2. Effect on Other Provisions—This new ¶ 2553 takes precedence over any other provisions of the Book of Discipline not in the Constitution that might conflict with the processes addressed in this paragraph.

3. Effective Date and Time Limits—This paragraph shall take effect globally in The United Methodist Church upon the adjournment of General Conference. The required payment of pension liability shall not apply to congregations outside the United States. Local church property outside the United States owned by a district or annual conference shall have its ownership legally transferred to the local church upon completion of the disaffiliation process. For the purposes of this paragraph, mission congregations, new local churches (⁋ 259), Fresh Expressions (preaching points and other missional outreach venues), Wesley Foundations, and other United Methodist worshipping communities shall be considered local churches, even if they are not chartered as such or have not held their constituting church conference, with the voting regarding disaffiliation being made by the relevant governing body where there are no official professing members. The choice by a local church to disaffiliate from The United Methodist Church under this paragraph shall be made in sufficient time for the process for exiting the denomination to be complete prior to December 31, 2029.  The provisions of ¶ 2553 expire on December 31, 2029, and shall not be used after that date.

4. Decision Making Process—The church conference shall be conducted in accordance with ¶ 248 and shall be held within ninety (90) days after the written request for such a conference by the pastor, the church council, or 10 percent of the professing membership of the local church. Notwithstanding other provisions in the Book of Discipline, such church conference shall be held in consultation with the district superintendent, who shall without exercising discretion authorize such church conference according to the process laid out in ¶ 246. In addition to the provisions of ¶ 246.8, special attention shall be made to give broad notice to the full professing membership of the local church regarding the time and place of a church conference called for this purpose and to use all means necessary, including electronic communication where possible, to communicate. The process of discernment leading up to the church conference shall include reasonable and substantially equal opportunities for both advocates of remaining United Methodist and advocates of disaffiliating to present information to the congregation and answer questions. For purposes of this paragraph, bishops and district superintendents may not interfere with the choice of presenters made by the local church. The decision to disaffiliate from The United Methodist Church must be approved by a two-thirds (2/3) majority vote of the professing members of the local church present and voting at the church conference. Abstentions shall not be counted in the total of which the two-thirds margin must be reached. Clergy members of the annual conference shall not vote in their local church’s disaffiliation decision. Only one church conference vote on disaffiliation shall be required.

5. Process Following Decision to Disaffiliate from The United Methodist Church—If the church conference votes to disaffiliate from The United Methodist Church, the terms and conditions for that disaffiliation shall be established by the board of trustees of the applicable annual conference in accordance with this paragraph, with the advice of the cabinet, the annual conference treasurer, the annual conference benefits officer, the director of connectional ministries, and the annual conference chancellor. The terms and conditions, including the effective date of disaffiliation, shall be memorialized in a binding Disaffiliation Agreement between the annual conference and the trustees of the local church, acting on behalf of the members. The general terms and all specific costs of disaffiliation shall be communicated to each local church requesting a church conference at least ten (10) days before the date of the church conference. Such Disaffiliation Agreement shall be formalized within ten (10) days of the congregation’s vote to disaffiliate, subject to annual conference approval (see section 5h below). That agreement must be consistent with the following provisions:

a) Standard Terms of the Disaffiliation Agreement. The General Council on Finance and Administration shall develop and publish on its website within sixty (60) days of the adjournment of General Conference a standard form for Disaffiliation Agreements under this paragraph to protect The United Methodist Church as set forth in ¶ 807.9. The agreement shall include a recognition of the validity and applicability of ¶ 2501, notwithstanding the release of property therefrom. Annual conferences or conference boards of trustees may develop processes to implement this paragraph but shall not add additional financial terms or costs to the local church that are not included within this paragraph. A process of implementation shall not require a local church to take longer than one hundred twenty (120) days between the time of entering the process and the church conference vote on disaffiliation, although congregations may choose to take longer. Any annual conference process of implementation or changes to such a process, whether adopted by the conference or its trustees, shall be published on the annual conference website or distributed to all its local churches within thirty (30) days of its adoption and at least sixty (60) days prior to any deadlines included in the process. If at any point no process of implementation has been adopted, a local church shall be entitled to enter the disaffiliation process based on this paragraph 2553 alone.

b) Apportionments. The local church shall pay any unpaid apportionments for the 12 months prior to the effective date of disaffiliation, as well as an additional 12 months of apportionments.

c) Property. A disaffiliating local church shall have the right to retain its real and personal, tangible and intangible property. All transfers of property shall be made prior to disaffiliation. All costs for transfer of title or other legal work shall be borne by the disaffiliating local church.

d) Pension Liabilities. The local church shall contribute a withdrawal liability in an amount equal to its pro rata share of any aggregate unfunded pension obligations to the annual conference. The General Board of Pension and Health Benefits shall determine the aggregate funding obligations of the annual conference using market factors similar to a commercial annuity provider, from which the annual conference will determine the local church’s share. The annual conference shall use the most recent calculation of such liability by the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits as of ten (10) days prior to the local church vote to disaffiliate. Money paid to the annual conference for pension liabilities shall be used only for that purpose or to provide retiree health benefits. Clergy who withdraw their membership from the annual conference and The United Methodist Church shall be entitled to retiree health benefits on an equal basis with clergy who remain members of the annual conference.

e) Other Liabilities. The local church shall satisfy all other debts, loans, and liabilities, or assign and transfer them to its new entity, prior to disaffiliation.

f) Insurance Coverage. As a condition of disaffiliation, an annual conference shall not require a local church to renounce previously paid for property or liability insurance, whether that insurance was privately obtained or through the annual conference.

g) Payment Terms. Payment shall occur prior to the effective date of departure. Congregations who have voted to disaffiliate shall have the right to use their property and assets as collateral in order to secure a loan to pay disaffiliation costs, contingent upon all other disaffiliation requirements being met, provided such loan is assigned to its new entity prior to disaffiliation.

h) The Disaffiliation Agreement shall be subject to annual conference approval by majority vote at its next regular or special session, which approval shall not be unreasonably withheld. Approval may be withheld for the local church’s failure to fulfill or abide by the terms of this paragraph or the process established by the annual conference.

i) Protection from Closure. Local churches that have formally entered the discernment process under this paragraph shall not be unilaterally closed by the annual conference or its officials without a majority vote of the local church conference. Conference leaders shall not declare exigent circumstances under ⁋ 2549.3b in order to close any church that has formally entered the discernment process.

j) Members Remaining United Methodist. If a local church disaffiliates, the district superintendent shall facilitate a transfer of any members desiring to remain United Methodist to such other churches as the members may select. Where no church is available or selected by the member, they shall be recorded on the General Church Membership Roll (⁋ 223).

k) Disaffiliating Churches Continuing as Plan Sponsors of the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits Plans. The United Methodist Church believes that a local church disaffiliating under ¶ 2553 shall continue to share common religious bonds and convictions with The United Methodist Church based on shared Wesleyan theology and tradition and Methodist roots, unless the local church expressly resolves to the contrary. As such, a local church disaffiliating under ¶ 2553 shall continue to be eligible to sponsor voluntary employee benefit plans through the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits under ¶ 1504.2, subject to the applicable terms and conditions of the plans.

l) Once the disaffiliating local church has reimbursed the applicable annual conference for all funds due under the agreement, and provided that there are no other outstanding liabilities or claims against The United Methodist Church as a result of the disaffiliation, in consideration of the provisions of this paragraph, the applicable annual conference shall release any claims that it may have under ¶ 2501 and other paragraphs of The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church commonly referred to as the trust clause, or under the agreement.

6. Severability—If any provision of this paragraph is ruled unconstitutional, the rest of this paragraph will remain effective to the maximum extent possible.