Message from Bishop Dease on March 31
Dear North Georgia United Methodists,
As we approach Palm Sunday and Holy Week, I spent the day today in the South West District with ERT, UMCOR representatives, and local churches responding to tornadoes in our Conference. United Methodists are doing the work of God and it is a blessing.
My heart aches to share that, also today, a lawsuit has been filed against the North Georgia Conference, its board of trustees, our district superintendents, as well as your previous bishop, and me, your present resident bishop. While we review the lawsuit with the appropriate counsel, we will refrain from sharing details, however, we are familiar with the issues. Similarly, a lawsuit has been filed against the conference and its leadership by a church in Augusta.
Some important insight to keep in mind includes:
- The board of trustees, in consultation with the cabinet, the annual conference treasurer, benefits officer, director of connectional ministries, and chancellor, worked diligently to develop, update, and implement a disaffiliation process that would fulfill the requirements of the Book of Discipline and the stated aspirations of the Conference Board of Trustees and the Annual Conference.
- However, the cabinet discovered and observed that many local churches have been misled about the disaffiliation process and have been presented with information about the process, and about The United Methodist Church and its leadership, that is factually incorrect and defamatory. We have significant concerns about this misinformation and are well aware that it has the potential to do irreparable harm.
- This information presented to members of local churches about disaffiliation has been outside the bounds of normal and acceptable civil discourse. It has not only been false and misleading but has been antithetical to the concept of a gracious exit or a commitment to honoring the mission and ministry of all Christians.
- The process implemented regarding paragraph 2553 was intended to allow congregations an opportunity to take part in a specific path to disaffiliate because, as a matter of conscience, they disagree with the language in the Book of Discipline regarding human sexuality. The agreement requires the Annual Conference and its congregations to engage in the disaffiliation process with integrity and in good faith.
- Conference leaders remain committed to handling this matter in a fair, transparent, uniform, and good-faith manner that affirms the one universal church in service to Christ and honors the mission and ministry of all Christians.
- The Conference Board of Trustees and Cabinet in consultation with appropriate leaders are prayerfully exploring the best methods for moving forward and next steps available as set forth in the Book of Discipline. Given the circumstances, this approach is the most gracious available to us.
The North Georgia Conference will keep you informed as there is more to share about this lawsuit.
I affirm my commitment to honor and uphold the Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church
, to be the best United Methodist bishop I can be, and to faithfully co-labor with you as we fulfill the mission of the Church.
We United Methodists are Easter People. I hope this distraction does not draw anyone away from this Holy season. Easter is coming!
I give thanks for each congregation in our United Methodist connection.
Yours in Christ,
Bishop Robin Dease
North Georgia Conference of The United Methodist Church
Questions and Answers about the pause in the disaffiliation process as shared December 28, 2022, are below. Read that announcement and the full Q&A at www.ngumc.org/newsdetail/north-georgia-conference-to-pause-disaffiliation-process-17216662.
Why take this action now?
Questions & Answers
In recent months, District Superintendents holding informational meetings have encountered an astounding proliferation of misinformation in local churches. This misinformation is being intentionally deployed, is present in every district, and has the potential to cause irreparable harm. As we approach the time to take the next step in the disaffiliation process, it is clear to the district superintendents, bishop, and the board of trustees that the process cannot go forward with integrity at this time. We are ethically obligated to pause the process.
What is the misinformation?
The misinformation has come in the form of printed materials, PowerPoint presentations, websites, videos, emails, and social media posts. Some of the most pervasive misinformation and examples of a breach of integrity include:
How has the North Georgia Conference addressed the misinformation?
- Clergy suggesting that members of one church would be willing to join another church to help push them over the threshold to disaffiliate.
- Clergy making presentations to congregations that are not their own, without the appointed pastor’s permission, and in many cases without their knowledge, therefore, undermining their ministry.
- Church leaders communicating to members that "The UMC’s theological impasse is rooted in our differing beliefs regarding the authority of the Bible, the interpretation of the Bible, its impact on how we live out our faith, and the Lordship of Jesus." This is untrue and is among the most widespread misinformation we've seen.
- Church leaders sharing that The United Methodist Church no longer believes in the resurrection of Christ. This is untrue.
- Churches holding secret meetings on this matter to which not all members are invited or equally informed.
- Presentations saying that in the future the UMC will force all churches to receive appointments of gay pastors, will force all clergy to officiate same-sex weddings, and that all churches must host same-sex weddings. This is untrue.
- Church leaders presenting disaffiliation as an opportunity to "own" church property. This is not the purpose of paragraph 2553 and it is an inappropriate use of this process.
- Church leaders communicating that North Georgia Conference leadership is not following the Book of Discipline. In fact, the North Georgia Annual Conference and its leaders have taken no actions in conflict with the Book of Discipline.
- Church leaders claiming that The Apostles Creed has been changed. This is untrue.
- Church leaders claiming that United Methodists no longer believe in the divinity of Christ. This is untrue.
- Church leaders claiming United Methodist seminaries are teaching a variety of unchristian material by non-Christian professors. This is untrue.
- ... and so on
The North Georgia Conference has offered steady online and in-person access to accurate information.
Didn’t the bishop say North Georgia wouldn’t question a church’s conscience?
- District Superintendents have held more than 200 information sessions over the past year.
- The website ngumc.org and, specifically www.ngumc.org/BeUMC, are updated regularly.
- The Conference has provided printable, sharable Q&As.
- The Conference has empowered informed laity to speak on the topic to local churches.
- Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson has held six recent regional gatherings with opportunities for questions and answers. She met with pastors for conversation. She has met with lay members of Annual Conference in every district. And she has met with individual United Methodist congregations.
- Clergy and laity of the North Georgia Conference shared their commitment to the church, directly countering the misinformation, through an Open Letter at www.ngumc.org/OpenLetter.
Since adopting the Disaffiliation Agreement in 2021, the bishop, cabinet, and board of trustees agreed that they assumed good faith and would not question the conscience of a church seeking disaffiliation. Their interest and commitment was to the integrity of the process. This path was affirmed by the United Methodist Judicial Council (read that decision
This gracious approach was an invitation to proceed with integrity.
Misinformation is present everywhere in our country. If we couldn’t move forward because of the presence of misinformation could we ever accomplish anything?
Misinformation is not passively present in our churches, it is being intentionally deployed. There is no place for this behavior in United Methodist churches.
The bishop has said, “We are not trying to hold any church captive.” Is this pause counter to her statement?
Reaching the point of pausing this process was not the intention or the desire of the cabinet, the bishop, or the board of trustees. This pause is a direct response to deceptive behavior and manipulative misinformation deployed in local churches.
What does this pause offer?
This pause offers churches an opportunity to re-set focus on the mission of the church, to commit to deepening our focus on discipleship, and to get to know our new episcopal leader, Bishop Robin Dease.