The Discernment Team has spent several months discussing and reviewing documents and resources regarding the splintering of the United Methodist Church. Whenever possible, the Discernment Team prioritizes and reviews primary sources for information. In times of high anxiety and uncertainty, rumors, unverified information, speculation, and opinions often flood our inboxes, social media feeds, and conversations.
As a result, we encourage you to get information about a specific organization from that organization’s official publications, statements, and leaders. We also encourage you to review information from the United Methodist Church (www.umc.org), UM News (https://www.umnews.org), and the Global Methodist Church (www.globalmethodist.org). The information and resources provided on this page are supported by primary sources whenever possible.
In November, 2021 the Church Council of Asbury United Methodist Church approved the creation of a twelve-person Discernment Team to help guide the congregation through a time of exploration and information gathering to determine who we are as a church body and who we hope to be in relation to the United Methodist Church. The Discernment Team is made up of representatives from the four committees required by the Book of Discipline (Church Council, Trustees, Finance, and Staff-Parish Relations) as well as our clergy, and four at-large members.
Trustees Committee Representative
Pastor of Congregational Care
Finance Committee Representative
Church Council Representative
Staff-Parish Relations Committee Representative
Click below to read emails sent to the congregation regarding our discernment process.
Listening sessions provide Asbury UMC members an opportunity to share from their hearts and from their own understanding so that the Discernment Team is able to share a concise report of this information with the Church Council. These sessions are not a time for voting or making plans for our future, but opportunities to allow the Holy Spirit to work through our conversations.
Listening sessions are provided for specific groups such as Adult Sunday School classes, leadership teams, and our youth who are professing members. Specific Listening Sessions will be held for the following Sunday School classes and groups: Adult Singles, Agape, Beloved, Challengers, Crossroads, FISH, Friendship, Good Samaritan, Journeymen, Ladies’ Bible Study, Light, Pathfinders, Seekers, Student Ministry/Youth, and YAMS. Leaders for each of these groups have been contacted with specific times and locations for these listening sessions.
General Listening Sessions are offered for those who aren’t in a Sunday School or Small Group or are unable to meet at the designated time. Attendance at all General Sessions is limited to 50 people to ensure everyone has an opportunity to be heard. We ask each person attend only one Listening Session.
The Discernment Team will then process this information and create a church-wide survey which will be administered at the beginning of 2023. This survey will be used to gather additional information and comments from the members of Asbury UMC as another way to ensure every person has a chance to be heard.
Q: Is Asbury going to leave The United Methodist Church?
A: That is ultimately up to the members of Asbury United Methodist Church. Your pastors and your Discernment Team are not able to make that decision. The listening sessions in October are the first step in the process of answering this question.
Q: What is the current United Methodist stance on homosexuality?
A: Bishop Holston is helpful in framing the stance on homosexuality in the Book of Discipline: “While affirming that all persons are people of sacred worth and that God’s Grace is available to all, the United Methodist Church (UMC) does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers it not compatible with Christian teaching (¶161f). Furthermore, we are reminded that the leaders in our congregations be persons of Christian character, discipline, commitment, as well as loyal to the ethical standards of the UMC as set forth in our Social Principles (¶244.3). It is obvious that the discussion concerning homosexuality is one of our more divisive issues. It captivates our attention and dominates our conversations as well as making it difficult to focus on the mission and ministry of the church. As we seek to live together in Christian community, let us always remember that God calls us to be in a faithful ministry with all persons through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” (source) Here are other paragraphs from the Book of Discipline:
¶ 4. Article IV. Inclusiveness of the Church
The United Methodist Church is a part of the church universal, which is one Body in Christ. The United Methodist Church acknowledges that all persons are of sacred worth. All persons without regard to race, color, national origin, status,4 or economic condition, shall be eligible to attend its worship services, participate in its programs, receive the sacraments, upon baptism be admitted as baptized members, and upon taking vows declaring the Christian faith, become professing members in any local church in the connection.5 In The United Methodist Church no conference or other organizational unit of the Church shall be structured so as to exclude any member or any constituent body of the Church because of race, color, national origin, status or economic condition.6
4. Amended 1992.
5. Amended 2000.
6. See Judicial Council Decisions 242, 246, 340, 351, 362, 377, 398, 594, 601, and Decisions 4 and 5, Interim Judicial Council.
¶ 214. Eligibility
The United Methodist Church is a part of the holy catholic (universal) church, as we confess in the Apostles’ Creed. In the church, Jesus Christ is proclaimed and professed as Lord and Savior. All people may attend its worship services, participate in its programs, receive the sacraments and become members in any local church in the connection (¶ 4). In the case of persons whose disabilities prevent them from reciting the vows, their legal guardian[s], themselves members in full covenant relationship with God and the Church, the community of faith, may recite the appropriate vows on their behalf.
¶ 304.3 Qualifications for Ordination
While persons set apart by the Church for ordained ministry are subject to all the frailties of the human condition and the pressures of society, they are required to maintain the highest standards of holy living in the world. The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore self-avowed practicing homosexuals1 are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church.2
1. “Self-avowed practicing homosexual” is understood to mean that a person openly acknowledges to a bishop, district superintendent, district committee of ordained ministry, board of ordained ministry, or clergy session that the person is a practicing homosexual. See Judicial Council Decisions 702, 708, 722, 725, 764, 844, 984, 1020
2. See Judicial Council Decisions 984, 985, 1027, 1028
Q: Is Asbury going to have same-sex marriages?
A: To answer this question, it is important to understand two important facts. First, the United Methodist Church’s Book of Discipline does not allow pastors or local churches to perform same-sex weddings (source). Second, a pastor is not forced to perform a wedding that she or he does not wish to perform. We do not know what the future holds, but a recent gathering of large church pastors and General Conference delegates saw the vast majority pledging that churches will not be forced to perform a wedding that they are morally opposed to allowing.
Q: Will we have an LGBTQ pastor?
A: The United Methodist Church’s Book of Discipline does not currently allow ordained clergy who are in same-sex relationships or marriages (source). The Board of Ordained Ministry in the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church has followed the Book of Discipline in its practices and thus, the likelihood that this will occur is very, very low.
Q: Is the UMC changing its position on the virgin birth and the resurrection?
A: Here is a helpful answer from the United Methodist official website: “No. All of these positions are bedrock in the doctrinal standards of The United Methodist Church, more specifically in the Articles of Religion and the Confession of Faith. These cannot be altered without a two-thirds vote of the General Conference followed by a three-fourths aggregate approval of all annual conferences of The United Methodist Church worldwide. There is no basis to conclude such majorities can be achieved to alter the Articles and Confession for any reason.”
Virgin Birth and Divinity of Jesus
Articles of Religion, Article II:
“The Son, who is the Word of the Father, the very and eternal God, of one substance with the Father, took man’s nature in the womb of the blessed Virgin.”
Confession of Faith
“We believe in Jesus Christ, truly God and truly man, in whom the divine and human natures are perfectly and inseparably united. He is the eternal Word made flesh, the only begotten Son of the Father, born of the Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
Resurrection of Jesus Christ
Articles of Religion, Article III:
Christ did truly rise again from the dead, and took again his body, with all things appertaining to the perfection of man’s nature, wherewith he ascended into heaven, and there sitteth until he return to judge all men at the last day.
Confession of Faith
“Jesus Christ… was buried, rose from the dead and ascended into heaven to be with the Father, from whence he shall return.”
Salvation apart from faith in Jesus Christ
Articles of Religion, Article IX:
“We are accounted righteous before God only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, by faith.”
Confession of Faith
“We believe we are never accounted righteous before God through our works or merit, but that penitent sinners are justified or accounted righteous before God only by faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Q: What is the UMC position on the interpretation of scripture?
A: The United Methodist Church is clear that the Scriptures of the Church are the primary source and criterion for the Christian faith and doctrine. John Wesley held a high view of Scripture as seen in Articles V and VI in the Articles of Religion from the Book of Discipline. As stated above, the Articles of Religion “cannot be altered without a two-thirds vote of the General Conference followed by a three-fourths aggregate approval of all annual conferences of The United Methodist Church worldwide. There is no basis to conclude such majorities can be achieved to alter the Articles and Confession for any reason.” The membership vows of the United Methodist Church also include a clear statement about Scripture.
Q: When is the next General Conference and why has it been postponed?
A: The only body that can officially speak for our denomination is the General Conference. This is the body that makes any changes to the Book of Discipline (source). The General Conference is led by the Council of Bishops, but they do not have a vote. An equal number of pastors and lay persons from churches around the globe are elected from their Annual or Central Conferences. Annual Conferences or Central Conference with greater number of members have more representatives at General Conference.
The next General Conference will be in 2024 (source). Delegates were already selected back in 2019 for the postponed General Conference of 2020. General Conference has been postponed because of the COVID-19 global pandemic as well as because of the lack of vaccinations for global delegates as well as the very long wait time for visas.
Q: Why are some churches leaving now? And why are “traditionalist” churches the ones mostly leaving?
A: At the 2019 Special Called General Conference, the delegates added a new paragraph to the Book of Discipline. This paragraph (¶ 2553) allows for churches to leave the United Methodist denomination through a process known as disaffiliation. The process of disaffiliation includes a churchwide vote by the Church Conference as well as several financial expenses. The disaffiliation is not final until the Annual Conference votes to approve the church’s decision. This paragraph (¶ 2553) is set to expire in December 2023. Some churches seem to be ready to leave now because they already know where their church stands or because they are anxious that waiting will cause them to lose members. The North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church provides a six-month discernment process including consultation from the Annual Conference (source). Churches with a vast majority of “traditionalist” members are the ones in the discernment process to disaffiliate. Churches with a majority of “traditionalist” members but also a fair number of more “progressive” members are either choosing to wait for General Conference 2024 for more clarity or they are voting to disaffiliate and causing financial and spiritual strain to their church family – creating winners and losers in a churchwide vote. There will be ample time to remain United Methodist as well as to disaffiliate if that is the will of the church family.
Q: What is the Global Methodist Church? What is the WCA (Wesley Covenant Association)?
A: The Wesley Covenant Association (WCA) was established in 2016, but the roots of this group stretch out to various groups and churches for many years. The churches and pastors of the Wesley Covenant Association are “traditionalist” and have a passion for every church in their fellowship to make disciples of Jesus Christ as well as to hold firm in their stance on human sexuality. They are generally opposed to any church or pastor breaking the rules of the Book of Discipline. After the Special Called General Conference of 2019, the WCA began planning a new denomination for United Methodist Churches and pastors who no longer wanted to be in a “big tent” denomination. When General Conference was postponed due to the COVID-19 global pandemic, the lack of vaccinations, and the long wait time for visas in both 2021 and 2022, the WCA decided to launch this new denomination in May of 2022 (source). This new denomination was named the Global Methodist Church. Early disaffiliations of United Methodist Churches included members of these organizations. However, large “traditionalist” churches who were members of the WCA in Montgomery, Alabama, and Madison, Alabama, decided not to join the Global Methodist Church. Instead, they joined the Free Methodist Church or began a new connection of churches that may become a denomination at some point. In September of 2022, the very “traditionalist” United Methodist bishops of Africa have announced that they will not align with the WCA or the new Global Methodist Church (source).
Q: If I do not agree with an official UMC stance on any issue; why should I stay? Why should I leave?
A: “Progressive” members of many United Methodists have stayed within the denomination even though they have disagreed with the official UMC stance. Many have stated that they have stayed out of love for the local church itself – to continue to support the ministry and mission of the church they love. Others have stayed because of the relationships in a small group or Sunday school class. Others, of course, have stayed hoping that the stance would one day change. It is reasonable to assume that many of those same “progressive” members will continue to be committed to the ministries and mission of their local United Methodist Church as well as to the denomination itself if there are no changes at General Conference 2024. If there are changes, then it is reasonable to assume that some “traditionalist” members will choose to stay while some may choose to ask their local church to disaffiliate, or they will find a new congregation that better fits their theological stance. It has been helpful for many to consider whether they are “compatible” in their theological stances.
That leads us to believe that there are, as many have outlined, four possible places for people to find themselves. This is an imperfect, yet helpful framework:
|Traditional Non-Compatibilist||Traditional Compatibilist||Progressive Compatibilist||Progressive Non-Compatibilist|
|These are church members whose understanding of Scripture is in line with the current wording of the Book of Discipline which forbids same-sex marriage and the ordination of people who are practicing homosexuals. Their concerns are of such importance to them that they would rather be in a church where all agree on these matters than be in a church where they would feel personally compromised by a denomination with a diverse view on human sexuality.||These are church members who hold traditional views on human sexuality much like the first category, but they believe that they can still be compatible with others within the United Methodist Connection. For instance, a pastor might not want to be forced into performing a same-sex marriage but can live in a denomination where other pastors are allowed to perform such ceremonies. A traditional compatibilist holds to their own traditional understanding but also values the unity, mission, and impact of the United Methodist Church in so many areas beyond the scope of human sexuality.||Some progressive compatibilist Christians may have started out as Traditional Compatibilists, but their views have changed in recent years. They would often like to see the denomination ordain anyone who qualifies as a pastor and they would also welcome the marriage of same-sex persons who are committed Christian couples. They, too, hold on to their own progressive understanding but also value the bond, mission, and impact of the United Methodist Church||Church members in this final group look at the issues of human sexuality through an understanding of Scripture calling for justice and care for the marginalized. They strive for full inclusion of all regardless of sexual orientation including same-sex marriages and ordination. This is of such high concern for them that they only want to be in a denomination that reflects these beliefs.|
Q: Is every church in the process of discernment with the Annual Conference deciding to disaffiliate?
A: No, some churches are choosing to remain in the United Methodist Church. Some are deciding to remain indefinitely while others are waiting for the results of General Conference 2024.
Q: What will happen to our pastors and staff if our church decides to remain in the United Methodist Church? If we decide to disaffiliate?
A: Unlike a local church where a 2/3 majority of the Church Conference must approve a motion to disaffiliate, each pastor already has the option to join a new denomination as an ordained pastor. Any pastor could leave at any time. It is possible that a pastor will not choose the same denomination as the local church she or he currently serves. That pastor would then hopefully be assigned to a new church or another appointment within the denomination. The local church would then work with their denominational leaders or representatives to receive the pastoral team needed for their unique context. It is not known how lay staff members will react to any changes in the denomination. It is also not clear what the financial strength of any church will be after making any significant change and what that might mean for staff retention.
Q: What about global United Methodists (such as United Methodists in Ukraine, Russia, Africa, and Southeast Asia)? Will they disaffiliate?
A: As mentioned above, there are bishops and churches in Africa that will remain United Methodist and will not join the Global Methodist Church (source). We are not aware of similar statements or announcements from eastern Europe and Southeast Asia.
Q: What is Asbury’s role in leadership in the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church?
A: Asbury United Methodist Church, Birmingham, is a leader in the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church. Our members and our pastors have a voice in what lies ahead in North Alabama. Our Annual Conference has turned numerous times to our wonderful worship staff to aid in worship leadership at Conference gatherings. Our Annual Conference has also turned to Asbury UMC asking that we host virtual meetings and gatherings as well as a Service of Ordination for new clergy.
Don’t see the answers to your questions? Submit your question here and the Discernment Team will respond as soon as possible.