The United Methodist Church’s top court ruled that a much-debated church law - ¶2548.2 of the Book of Discipline - can only be used for transferring property, not members, to another denomination.
The Judicial Council also ruled that The United Methodist Church must have an existing agreement with the other denomination for such a transfer to occur.
No such agreement exists with the Global Methodist Church, which has been pushing for churches to use the measure to leave The United Methodist Church.
Since ¶2548.2 is not an option for disaffiliation in the absence of a comity agreement with the GMC, CTC Trustees have approved a resolution providing a path for churches wishing to disaffiliate after Dec. 31, 2023.
A church law that some have pushed as an exit path from The United Methodist Church can only be used to move property — not members — to another denomination, the Judicial Council ruled.
“Paragraph 2548.2 establishes a process for the limited purpose of deeding and transferring church property to another denomination but does not apply to the membership of a local church,” the top church court said in Decision 1449
, referring to a paragraph in the denomination’s Book of Discipline.
The Judicial Council further ruled in the decision released Aug. 23 that The United Methodist Church must already have an existing agreement with the other denomination for such a transfer to occur. No such agreement currently exists with the Global Methodist Church, a new theologically conservative denomination that launched this year.
The Judicial Council said that Paragraph 2548.2 may only be used with other processes in the Discipline that change the membership and ministries of local churches, such as interdenominational local church mergers and ecumenical shared ministries.
The church court said an annual conference — by a simple majority vote — may direct a church’s board of trustees to transfer property to another denomination only if the following four conditions are met:
- A written allocation, exchange of property or comity agreement between The United Methodist Church and the recipient denomination must already exist that the Council of Bishops has signed and the General Conference has approved.
- The agreement must comply with the connectional polity of The United Methodist Church and must not contain provisions that church law prohibits or does not authorize.
- A charge or church conference must convene and pass a resolution requesting the property transfer by a majority vote of the members present.
- The presiding bishop and a majority of the district superintendents and of the district board of church location and building must give their consent to the property transfer.
“Any use, implementation, or application of ¶ 2548.2 or exercise of this right by an annual conference without, apart from, prior to, or contrary to those four conditions would be unconstitutional, null and void, and of no legal force or effect,” the church court ruled.
With all the complications surrounding Paragraph 2548.2, the Judicial Council pointed to another provision — Paragraph 2553
— that General Conference enacted with the express purpose of “Disaffiliation of Local Churches Over Issues Related to Human Sexuality.”
Under Paragraph 2553, congregations can leave with property and members if they meet certain financial and procedural obligations
. That is different from Paragraph 2548.2, which solely deals with property.
Paragraph 2553 expires on Dec. 31, 2023. Earlier this month, the Central Texas Conference Trustees met and approved a resolution that will allow churches who prayerfully discern the need to disaffiliate after Dec. 31, 2023 a path to do so in accordance with ¶2549 of the Book of Discipline.
For more on the Judicial Council Decision 1449
as well as information on a memorandum from the Judicial Council
on the vote by the Bulgaria-Romania Provisional Annual Conference to move to the Global Methodist Church, please visit UMNews.org.