western jurisdiction

Western Jurisdiction Exiting the UMC?

on July 25, 2019

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.

  1. Comment by Eternity Matters on July 25, 2019 at 9:21 am

    Wolves in sheep’s clothing leaving and taking a bunch of goats with them? That would be great for the UMC!

  2. Comment by Scott on July 25, 2019 at 11:49 am

    What would the response of the rest of the denomination be if an AC or jurisdiction leaves the denomination? Will we fight to retain them or will we just accept they are gone and let them leave. Is there a trust clause for AC’s and jurisdictions? Frankly if someone wants to go, we should let them, but would they forfeit their voting rights at GC if they do? The sooner this is resolved the better. I am a traditional pastor in a traditional congregation, in an AC that is traditional that elected a progressive clergy delegation to GC and it is hurting. Attendance is down and giving is down. Members have cited to me that they do not want money going to apportionment’s for not giving. Even in a quiet setting where we are not arguing about the issue it has hurt. I have carefully explained what is going on but did my best to keep it non-controversial, with a church that supports GC2019, yet it is still hurting the life and mission of the church I serve. It has to end, the sooner the better. Within two years at this rate this church will no longer be able to pay clergy benefits and will have to drop to half time or less.

  3. Comment by Reynolds on July 25, 2019 at 4:06 pm

    An AC cannot decide to leave and force all churches to go. Each church will have to vote and it takes 2/3 of the laity to vote to go. An AC can create a structure to go to like ECO, PCA or EPC for Presbyterians. Right now most AC leaderships are very liberal and 44% of laity are orthodox in their views so do the math.

  4. Comment by bob on July 25, 2019 at 12:37 pm

    While decisive talk is premature, consider a possible win-win scenario as one potential outcome. The progressive left that has dominated the WJ and complains how traditionalist theology and practice have hampered their outreach, would be free to “taste and see that (the progressive approach) is good,” with apologies to Psalm 34:8. The very few traditional congregations and pastors left would be able to transfer clergy and congregations to a traditional Wesleyan UM expression, another new creation of the process. This also would enable a more evangelical Wesleyan expression to begin planting new churches in the region without being shut down by progressive bishops and a controlling structure. By the way, none of this is likely if brickbat is the main form of communication between the liberals and the conservatives over the next year.

  5. Comment by Mike MacKenzie on July 25, 2019 at 2:41 pm

    I’d really like to see a cogent answer to Scotts questions about procedures and what the WJ conferences are able to do within the legal structure of the UMC. My understanding is that the recent resolutions provided a kind pathway for congregations to leave the denomination individually, but aren’t conferences and jurisdictions organs of the larger denomination and therefor inseparable from it?

  6. Comment by Dan on July 25, 2019 at 3:36 pm

    Don’t worry, the Connectional Table has this one covered. They’re planning to introduce legislation at General Conference 2020 to turn the U.S. jurisdictions and annual conferences into a regional United Methodist conference with its own “local context” Book of Discipline. If they can get this passed, look for them to get out the pitchforks and burning torches to exorcise any vestige of traditional Methodist from their brave, new UMC. I’m sure bishop Carcano will be the first to pick up a pitchfork and torch to lead the charge

  7. Comment by Mike on July 25, 2019 at 9:34 pm

    Stop talking about it and just leave already.

  8. Comment by Bruce on July 27, 2019 at 9:18 am

    AMEN! And leave the rest of us alone so we can follow the Scriptures.

  9. Comment by Gary Bebop on July 26, 2019 at 12:33 pm

    The erasure of traditional expression within progressive jurisdictions is being rigorously pursued. Nothing is waiting for GC2020. This is stark reality for traditional pastors and congregations in progressive conferences. It’s not a future eventuality. It’s now.

  10. Comment by Mike on July 26, 2019 at 1:34 pm

    Leaving in the way the Western Jurisdiction wants to is currently not possible under our Book of Discipline; the rest of the denomination can take them to court, and they (the WJ) would lose. The denomination would get all their buildings and assets.

    BUT – if this is what they truly want to do, hopefully they will work with the rest of the denomination to create an amicable separation at GC2020 that would allow them to keep church buildings and some other assets. This is our best hope for the least painful and quickest solution to our conflict; otherwise we can look forward to years of membership losses, giving losses, and institutional failure.

  11. Comment by Tom on July 26, 2019 at 5:51 pm

    I hate to think what their attitude would be if their side had prevailed at the 2019 conference and conservative churches or conferences wanted to leave.

    The outright extortion that prevailed in the PCUSA is probably what they would have done. But they certainly don’t want that to be done to them.

  12. Comment by Reynolds on July 26, 2019 at 6:23 pm

    You are correct. PCUSA extorted the churches that left for millions. The people who could not afford to pay just left the church altogether. If you look at the numbers PCUSA has lost so many people over the last 7 years. If that is winning I would hate to see what losing looks like for the Louisville folks

  13. Comment by Steve on July 27, 2019 at 7:51 am

    UMC shouldn’t just give away property. They should get fair market value. Nobody should get property for free or at a discount. That’s inherent in being a good steward of an organization. People can be held personally liable if they just give away stuff.

  14. Comment by Loren J Golden on July 28, 2019 at 6:31 pm

    This was the attitude that the bureaucrats in Louisville had toward Evangelical congregations wanting to disaffiliate from the PC(USA), leading to bitter courtroom battles between congregations seeking to hold onto the properties bought and paid for by their members, and the presbyteries seeking to uphold the Book of Order’s Property Trust Clause.  Trust me: The UMC does NOT want to go down that road.

  15. Comment by Steve on July 30, 2019 at 6:44 am

    Based on what I’ve seen of the Episcopal experience, if the price is fair there’s no problem. Unfortunately, the Episcopal Church would refuse to sell to the congregation at any price, even (in one case) selling the church to Muslims for half the price the original congregation offered. Recent agreements around Pittsburgh have been surprisingly positive: the congregations acknowledged the Episcopal Church’s ownership and pay rent based on a small percentage of their gross income, less than 5% I think, for a limited number of years (not sure what happens after that but have the impression there’s a good chance the congregation gets the property in the end). Shouldn’t be absolutist either way about this. Think out of the box. First figure who owns the property, then compromise in a way that compensates the owner fairly for the property loss. No freebies.

  16. Comment by John Ball on July 26, 2019 at 7:34 pm

    Let the go! Leave the rest of us alone!

  17. Comment by Lee D. Cary on July 27, 2019 at 8:28 am

    And so we watch a train wreck in slow motion. If the LGBTQAI+ movement doesn’t get their way, they’d just as soon see the train crash.

    This is the M.O. of far-left progressivism in America today – in political, secular, and religious affairs.

    The track was laid by the failure to enforce the BoD over decades due to weak senior leadership. Lending truth to the adage that “a fish dies from the head”.

  18. Comment by Marvin Jones on July 28, 2019 at 3:57 pm

    I hold that God spoke through the February 2019 vote just as He spoke through the Council of Nicea so long ago. One would not wish any local church, or for that matter any conference, to remain in the covenant if they cannot support that collective voice of February 2019.
    Concerns about property and assets should not enter into the discussion. If an individual cannot abide by our United Methodist covenant, then it is incumbent upon them to start home churches, grow into local churches, and aggregate up into conferences to become a denomination. That is the way early followers of John Wesley grew our church. Those Methodist did not try to co-opt assets from the church of England. People who would spit in the face of the February 2019 covenant also should not try to wrest assets from the United Methodist Church.
    The General Conference of 2020 should not continue to tear apart our Unitedness. Instead, the council of 2019 should be reaffirmed as the voice of God. Then any who cannot continue in this covenant should individually follow the voice speaking to them; and quietly leave. Acts, chapter 5, verses 38 and 39 should provide the all the assurance that the rebels need.

  19. Comment by Jeffrey Walton on July 29, 2019 at 10:01 am

    Marvin, having experienced separation from the Episcopal Church, I’d advise charity towards the other side. Progressive Episcopalians similarly insisted that the Holy Spirit had spoken in the early 2000s, and that those who disagreed should conform to the “new thing”. It would have been far better for the Episcopal Church to have graciously sent traditionalist on our way with our parish properties and assets, rather than spending tens of millions on litigation. Orthodox United Methodists can learn from this poor example and show grace as progressives depart. This is far better than 15 years of litigation or continued GC clashes.

  20. Comment by td on August 6, 2019 at 7:43 pm

    Unfortunately, that is not where the umc is. Progressives have decided to not follow the rules and to not leave. Their goal is to change our teachings on sexual sins by eventually getting enough votes at conference. Then they will insist that everyone follow the new “rules”. There will be no easy exit offered by them to those they consider bigots and evangelicals.

    The traditionalists generally favor a gracious exit for congregations that wish to leave – which is why progressives are against it.

    There is a large subplot here where progressives want to prove that methodists aren’t “those types of Christians” – meaning the ones they consider dumb and stupid because they believe in the bible and the historic faith. I don’t think the progressives will ever leave and start a new church- simply because they don’t agree on what they believe.

  21. Comment by Joseph Ekstrand on July 29, 2019 at 4:09 pm

    You wish. We’re not going anywhere. You want a theologically ‘pure’ church? You have your exit plan. Use it.

  22. Comment by Steve on July 30, 2019 at 8:55 am

    Here’s an article on that Episcopalian property settlement in Pittsburgh I mentioned previously; possibly could serve as a model for how to resolve property issues:
    There’s also an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that isn’t working for me right now (Google cached version does however):

The work of IRD is made possible by your generous contributions.

Receive expert analysis in your inbox.