Paul Harvey was a veteran radio broadcaster for ABC News Radio. He broadcasted News and Comment on mornings and mid-days on weekdays and at noon on Saturdays. From 1951 to 2008, his programs reached as many as 24 million people per week.
Paul Harvey was also famous for his The Rest of the Story segments which provided new insights to stories in which most people thought they knew. And it was sometimes the new information that shed new light and a different tone on the subject at hand.
Today, I want to provide The Rest of the Story on a couple of issues which have been circulating for weeks.
There have been groups turning up the volume, urging persons to leave The United Methodist Church as soon as possible. One renewal group has used such language as “a matter of life and death” and “you will be held hostage in The United Methodist Church,”
The heated rhetoric has caused an already overly-anxious system to add anxiety to thoughtful discussions of churches charting their futures and discerning God’s direction in the matter.
Why this matters in the Illinois Great Rivers Conference is that the normal narrative given of The United Methodist Church where “liberal bishops are not following The Book of Discipline,” rings hollow here. I have been very clear from the beginning of my tenure that we will follow The Book of Discipline and my position is consistent. Whether it is a request to not process bona fide complaints from progressives or to ask for a more permissive disaffiliation plan modeled after proposed legislation never enacted by the General Conference, we have followed The Book of Discipline as it is at this moment.
So, I want to respond to two issues that seem to be gaining traction among the heat:
PART OF THE STORY: Your church needs to leave as soon as possible. You will only have the 2023 Annual Conference to have your disaffiliation plan ratified by Dec. 31, 2023.
THE REST OF THE STORY: While it is true that Paragraph 2553 has a sunset date of Dec. 31, 2023, what is unclear is whether a church may negotiate a binding agreement with the Annual Conference Board of Trustees, pay its settlement and have it approved at the 2024 Annual Conference.
It is my interpretation and intention to work with the churches and permit such a ratification vote through the 2024 Annual Conference session. Should the Judicial Council rule otherwise, there is always the option of holding a special session at the end of 2023 to handle those disaffiliations that are not cared for at the 2023 Annual Conference.
There have also been questions as to why a 2022 special session is not being held like other annual conferences. At this time, there are no churches that have finalized a disaffiliation agreement to the point where ratification is necessary.
Last year, five congregations – all represented by legal counsel – declared their independence from The United Methodist Church. None of them have begun negotiations that have resulted in a final, binding agreement.
And while other churches have begun the process, those disaffiliations will be handled at the 2023 Annual Conference session in a timely manner should an agreement be reached.
Information on the IGRC Disaffiliation process may be found at: www.igrc.org/disaffiliation, where the process is spelled with great specificity; there are recordings of the four disaffiliation forums held earlier this year; and I have answered multitudes of questions that have been posed as churches consider their futures.
PART OF THE STORY: One renewal group has claimed the Illinois Great Rivers Conference “demands 50 percent of a church’s assets.”
THE REST OF THE STORY: The 50 percent comment which I gave is being taken out of context from a question posed at one of the disaffiliation forums. I was asked, “in addition to the pension withdrawal liability and the apportionment payments, what additional payments are required?”
Those wishing to depart would like to limit any additional payments for its assets accrued as a United Methodist congregation and its denominational ministry. My comment, simply stated, “(As part of the disaffiliation process), we start at 50 percent and work our way from there.”
It has NEVER been the intention of “demanding” 50 percent but rather it is a beginning point for discussion with the church. Of the five churches that are disaffiliating, NONE of those churches have been required to pay 50 percent of the assets. All of those churches started the conversation at the 50 percent level. I have said from the beginning there is no intention to cripple a departing church’s ministry or punish them for its decision, but rather it is to ensure that funds given and held for United Methodist causes are released and paid prior to departing. We have a sacred responsibility to those faithful givers to see that their intent is fulfilled.
And now you know, the Rest of the Story…
There have been other mis-representations of recent events in the Illinois Great Rivers Conference. Only a portion of the true story is being told and I wish those telling the narrative would at least give me the courtesy of giving clarity so that they might know the rest of the story.
I wish I could say with confidence that the anxiety level will diminish as time goes on. I am reminded that in the midst of the storm Jesus either calms the storm, or he calms us that we may weather the storm.
I hold to that hopeful promise as we continue to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. There is currently nothing being done by the Council of Bishops or by this Annual Conference that prevents a church from reaching people for Jesus Christ. There is no reason for a congregation or pastor to leave The United Methodist Church because there have been no changes in our polity and doctrine. No changes will take place until General Conference 2024.
And now you know the Rest of the Story.