Fallout from General Conference 2019 continues to mount, and many churches are considering an exit from the United Methodist Church (UMC). Some attempts are more organized than others. In several liberal annual conferences, there has been open talk of leaving the UMC.
But within the Western Jurisdiction, some officials go even further, by talking about taking the entire Western Jurisdiction (one of the denomination’s five regional U.S. jurisdictions) with them. The Western Jurisdiction has long been the most liberal region of the UMC. But despite its huge geographic size, the Western Jurisdiction is numerically the smallest U.S. jurisdiction, with approximately 300,000 church members. The annual conferences that have passed resolutions that at least suggest exploring the possibility of the entire Western Jurisdiction departing from the UMC are: California-Nevada, California-Pacific, Oregon-Idaho, Desert Southwest, and Mountain Sky.
The California-Nevada resolution calls for a special session of the Western Jurisdictional Conference “to consider and develop a process for creative separation from The United Methodist Church,” among other things. This language is echoed in the other resolutions.
The California-Pacific and Oregon-Idaho Conferences passed resolutions with identical language to the California-Nevada resolution regarding a secession from the UMC. They also cited a statement released by the Western Jurisdiction College of Bishops titled “A Home for All God’s People.” This document emphasized the Western Jurisdiction’s commitment to LGBTQ inclusivity at any cost. It should be noted also that all of the annual conferences within the Western Jurisdiction, with the exception of Alaska, also passed resolutions of non-compliance with the traditionalist plan passed at GC2019.
The Desert Southwest’s resolution appears somewhat less enthusiastic about the prospect of leaving the UMC than other resolutions. That conference’s resolution described the focus of the desired specially called session of the Western Jurisdictional Conference as to “consider and develop a process should separation form the United Methodist Church become inevitable” (emphasis added). This shift in tone may mark an annual conference whose dominant faction is, at least at this point, slightly less willing to depart, unilaterally or otherwise, from the UMC.
In contrast to this, the Mountain Sky Conference leadership is probably the most enthusiastic and the most willing to excise itself from the UMC in the name of inclusiveness. While the language in their resolution remains identical to that passed by their sister conferences, images of a memo distributed amongst the clergy of the Mountain Sky Conference by Bishop Karen Oliveto and her team suggests otherwise. This memo shows that the Mountain Sky Conference is planning to become its own denomination whether or not the entire Western Jurisdiction departs.
While ordaining elders at the recent Annual Conference, the bishop of the Mountain Sky conference, Karen Oliveto, said, “My hands feel heavy today, because they will be laying on the heads and shoulders of those being commissioned and ordained into what might be the last class of the United Methodist Church.” While this does not indicate as cavalier an attitude towards separation as the actions of her annual conference, they still show an acceptance and a readiness for a split in the church.
California-Nevada Conference Bishop Minerva Carcaño released a statement rejecting such talk of liberal “disaffiliation” from the UMC, critiquing recent calls by liberal American United Methodist leaders to pull funding from ministries within United Methodism’s largely traditionalist overseas central conferences, and said of traditionalist United Methodist group: “facilitating THEIR exit should be the primary goal” (emphasis original).
Interestingly, Bishop Carcaño was especially criticized from her left flank. One liberal pastor/blogger pointedly noted “only those who benefit most from a broken system would call to perpetuate that brokenness.” Dr. Randall Miller, a prominent gay activist and longtime leader in the Western Jurisdiction (and the former interim CEO of the Reconciling Ministries Network) decried “shutting down collective conversation about these very serious matters” and how his bishop’s statement failed to adequately address “the anguish felt by many faithful United Methodists, who are unwilling to simply bury their heads in the sand and hope for unity.”
Additionally, Bishop Carcaño directly attacked the Institute on Religion and Democracy, saying, “Some members of the Wesley Covenant Association, Institute for Religion and Democracy, and others have been planning this deconstruction of [The United Methodist Church] for almost 40 years.” This is both untrue and unfair. In an official reply to this allegation, John Lomperis, director of UMAction for IRD, said, “From its very beginning, the vision of IRD’s UMAction program has been for our beloved denomination to be renewed in faithfulness to our official Doctrinal Standards and our very Wesleyan covenants, which must form the basis of any meaningful church unity, and renewed in disciple-making effectiveness. This remains what we hope for.”
The Western Jurisdiction has long contained some of the most liberal annual conferences in the UMC, and it is no surprise that they were the most upset by the consequences from GC2019. However, it is news that several of the conferences in the Western Jurisdiction are now so openly talking about the possibility of disaffiliating from the UMC and take the entire Western Jurisdiction with them. Of responses by liberal-dominated annual conferences to the UMC’s traditionalist new direction, this is one of the more interesting plans to watch.