by Chris Ritter
Let me introduce United Methodist Schism Map 2.0. Its predecessor (appearing on Twitter) generated some interesting conversation and I have been asked for additional information and context. Here are some responses to inquiries I have received and other good questions to consider.
How do you determine whether an area is in Schism?
Land areas served by the UMC where the United Methodist Book of Discipline is no longer fully in effect make it onto the Schism Map. In most cases, annual conferences are added to the map when they have established ministry standards at odds with the standards of The United Methodist Church.
The Schism Map only shows conferences who have taken actions in direct contradiction to the Book of Discipline. Version 2.0 makes a distinction between conferences whose plenary body (or clergy session) has voted non-compliance with the Book of Discipline and those who are in de facto schism by action of their Board of Ordained Ministry. Wisconsin and Northern Illinois fit the latter category and are depicted in light gray. The map does not register congregations like The Orchard (a congregation that completely left the UMC) because they exited with proper permission from those charged in the Book of Discipline charged with making that decision.
Did any data change between Version 1.0 and Version 2.0?
Yes. The earlier version included the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference. They were listed because their Board of Ordained Ministry (BOOM) recommended Tara “TC” Morrow for ordination in spite of the fact that she is married to a woman. The conference did not make it onto Schism Map 2.0 because several pointed out to me that this recommendation was later rescinded. Due to this reversal of course, they did not make it onto Version 2.0. The Iowa BOOM’s executive team recently made a formal statement against our denominational ministry standards, but I did not include them because this was not an action of the full board.
Conferences like Minnesota are pretty liberal. Why aren’t they on the Schism Map?
Being liberal does not put a conference on the map. Defying the Discipline of the UMC does. I don’t have any record of Minnesota or other unlisted conferences officially stating that they would not obey The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church. Please comment if you know otherwise.
Why does the Schism Map only show the U.S.?
Great question. Schism is only happening in the U.S. While there are areas in Europe that would very much like to see United Methodist ministry standards change, they nevertheless respect the group discernment processes of the UMC enough to honor them. Schism is an American phenomenon alone. Below is a Global UM Schism Map. The areas in black are all those covered by the UMC. The areas in red are in Schism. These areas represent 5.37% of the global church by membership and 10.09% of the American UM Church.
Is there anything the Schism-ing conferences have in common? What makes a conference more likely to assume a posture of schism?
All conferences in schism are in the U.S. All conferences in schism are also in decline, but this is true of the U.S. Church in general. There are liberal, declining conferences in Europe who are not in schism, so a direct corollary cannot be made. Coastal, urban areas of the U.S seem to be the earliest and most strident practitioners of schism. Upper Midwest examples are more recent and somewhat more mild. Areas in schism all have bishops who have gone on the public record as opposing United Methodist teachings on human sexuality and ministry. This seems to be a key factor.
Does the Schism Map reveal a possible path forward for the UMC?
I think so. Logic would seem to dictate that those conferences who have written their own ministry standards, if they persist, should not have a role in writing the ministry standards of The United Methodist Church. We currently allow international conferences to gain autonomy upon request to their Central Conference. We could extend this same privilege to domestic conferences and their jurisdictions quite easily. These autonomous conferences could participate in United Methodist general agencies by negotiated concordat agreements. Wespath (formerly the General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits) is ready to do business with any conference that requires their services, whether they be UM or not. Autonomous conferences could also set their own borders to accept individual UM congregations and clergy that might want to join them… if these autonomous conferences agree to return the favor.
Losing these conferences would mean a membership drop of about 5% globally. We already lose around 2% annually in the U.S. just due to decline. (Recent data shows a range of U.S. decline from 1% in the Southeastern Jurisdiction to 2.65% in the Western Jurisdiction.)
General Conference could mandate that all the conferences in the Connection state whether they intend to live by the discernment of the United Methodist Church or not. For those that don’t, General Conference has some effective tools at its disposal to see that they find their way to a covenant they can follow with integrity.
Holding individual clergy and bishops accountable is eternally frustrating because there are enormous burdens of due process that depend upon the good faith of the actors charged with prosecuting the will of the church. Annual conferences, however, are nowhere guaranteed the right to be United Methodist. It may turn out that Schism is infinitely easier to deal with now that it has risen from the individual level to the level of the annual conference.