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United Methodist Church Disaffiliation: Where Dade Churches Stand

News Editor

In 2019, the United Methodist Church (UMC) established a process to allow churches who wish to disaffiliate from the denomination to do so. Churches have until the end of 2023 to go through the process.

According to the UMC’s Book of Discipline, churches can disaffiliate “for reasons of conscience regarding a change in the requirements and provisions of the Book of Discipline related to the practice of homosexuality or the ordination or marriage of self-avowed practicing homosexuals as resolved and adopted by the 2019 General Conference, or the actions or inactions of its annual conference related to these issues which follow.”

Where do Dade County’s UMC congregations stand in regards to this issue? The Sentinel reached out to all UMC congregations in the county and also contacted the district office. Dennis Flaugher (pastor of Trenton United Methodist Church and network leader for the Lookout Network) was able to provide information about some of the churches who we could not reach.

Sand Mountain UMC and Wildwood UMC are not disaffiliating.

New Salem UMC, Slygo Valley UMC, Rising Fawn UMC, and Trenton UMC are going through the process of disaffiliation.

The Sentinel did not hear back from Lookout Mountain UMC, Payne’s Chapel UMC, or Morganville UMC.

Flaugher spoke with the Sentinel about the issue and how TUMC thought through the decision to disaffiliate, saying, “Our congregation took a vote on Jan. 22, 2022, with 80% of our people voting to disaffiliate. The Book of Discipline requires you to have a two-thirds majority to disaffiliate. It has to be approved and ratified by the annual conference and special session on April 22. The actual date of disaffiliation is May 29.”

May 29 is also Flaugher’s final day as the pastor of TUMC as he is retiring.

Flaugher noted, “We’ve always been a very diverse congregation with people who have differing views on a wide variety of topics, and we just learn to get along. I sometimes say we’re the most American of churches because you can find a UMC congregation in every county, on every hill, in every valley, on every street corner, and we’re a mixture of Democrats, Republicans, independents, conservatives, liberals, and moderates.”

He continued, “Our people are all over the board theologically, and we have never said you cannot belong to this church because of your beliefs about homosexuality or some other social issue. What unites us are the essentials of our faith: Our belief in God as the creator, in Jesus Christ who is God’s son who died to forgive us of our sins and rose to bring us eternal life, and the Holy Spirit who is the redemptive agent within each of us.”

Flaugher believes the issue in the denomination stems from a breach in covenant between the council of bishops. He explained, “In the past, you elected a bishop to uphold the discipline of the UMC, whether they agreed with the rules of the governing body or not. What has held us together is that every four years, we come together to debate what the governing laws should be. Whatever the general conference decided is what everybody lived by. That is not the way it is anymore.”

He continued, “Each bishop pretty much rules according to the dictates of their own conscience. In the Book of Discipline, it says we are not allowed to ordain gay pastors. In the western jurisdiction, they’ve now elected two gay bishops. Some bishops in other jurisdictions are allowing their pastors to officiate gay weddings, and that is not allowed by the Book of Discipline either.”

The UMC has a judicial council, but that has also failed to hold the denomination accountable. Flaugher said, “The question has come up: How do you sustain a denomination that does not have a governing law that is enforceable? It’s what’s caused TUMC to want to leave.”

Flaugher explained that a conservative group of Methodists recently formed the Global Methodist Church. “Their book of discipline is pretty much identical to the UMC’s Book of Discipline except that it has a more conservative view on human sexuality.” Some disaffiliated congregations are joining the Global Methodist Church.

For the time being, TUMC will be independent to explore their options and consider other members of the Methodist family tree.

TUMC has a transition team, made up of about ten men and women, whose job is to make sure that all the documentation for disaffiliation is completed. “More importantly,” says Flaugher, “where is the church going? What type of governing body is it going to embrace?”

Flaugher noted that the transition team is aware of one danger of remaining independent. “It can be easy for an independent church to become subject to the whims of just a handful of people who possess power within that congregation. There has to be some kind of outside accountability to make sure an overly charismatic, zealous pastor or laity will not overwhelm a church.”

Denominational splits and disagreements like this can often be emotional. Flaugher reflected, “There are people who have been United Methodist for their whole life. Everybody, whether they voted for disaffiliation or not, want to remain rooted in the Methodist tradition, which is why they chose the name Trenton Methodist Church as their new name.”

Methodism was founded by John Wesley, an Anglican priest who promoted “the middle way” between protestants and Catholicism. Flaugher explained, “Our focus is on the primacy of scripture as it is interpreted through the lens of tradition, reason, and experience. When we debate questions of homosexuality, we use that model for debate and discussion. We start out with what does scripture say, and what is it that reason, experience, and church tradition bring to bear upon that conversation?”

Flaugher explained his personal understanding of the Bible’s teaching on homosexuality, saying, “I believe scripture is univocal in its rejection of homosexual behavior. At the same time, I don’t want to judge my neighbor who is different from me. I want people to fall in love with Jesus. Billy Graham once said, ‘It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict, God’s job to judge, and my job to love.’ I just need to do my job and leave the Spirit and the Father to their job.”

Flaugher believes that each UMC congregation must look at their specific ministry context when thinking through this issue. “Each church has to take a look at their own DNA, look at the context of their church setting, then make the decision that will help them be most effective in making disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”

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