South Carolina: Disaffiliation Votes End This Week

This essay will address some good things happening in South Carolina that are worthy of mention and analyze the current-and-near-future state of the church in South Carolina.


  • Expect about 50 churches to present a formal request to the South Carolina Conference Trustees to close the church and transfer the property to a new entity. (South Carolina does not have a disaffiliation process.)
  • IF the transfers of property are presented to the Annual Conference by the Trustees and IF the Annual Conference approves, then many of these new entities are unlikely to affiliate with the Global Methodist Church in the near/foreseeable future.
  • Do not expect a large second wave in 2024.

The Good Stuff

First, back to the good stuff. The Conference leadership has been speaking in a tone that indicates they are more amenable to a reasonable and amicable transfer of property than what is laid out in the official documents. The official agreement has not changed in recent days. It is still impossible for any church to comply with the terms of paragraph 7 regarding insurance. What they ask for does not exist. The encouragement comes from clarifications the Conference has made in private communications. For the most part, they are NOT in writing. What is in writing is accompanied by a disclaimer that the wording in the official agreement prevails. The process is subjective, arbitrary, nebulous, and no church will know if they have complied with terms until some indefinite date after they vote. Nonetheless, the Trustees and Conference leadership are free to accept different and reasonable counter offers that address the Conference’s concerns about insurance, and that is what the churches are hearing—that is the expectation on which they are acting.

South Carolina is pleasantly lacking in the heavy-handed tactics seen in other Conferences to dissuade and intimidate churches in the discernment process. There are no charges of disinformation. They have made no attempt to bar speakers or demand speakers. The Conference laid out the process for discernment and have mostly left it to the churches to implement and the district superintendents to supervise. Some negativity may arise from individuals, but it is not originating from or orchestrated by the Conference leadership. This is commendable.

One other anecdotal observation concerning the disaffiliating churches. These are happy people, and the enthusiasm comes mostly from the 50ish and younger crowd. Young adults and families with children are pushing this inside the local church. They are already living in the anticipation of being unleashed for authentic Spirit led Christian ministry. The Conference leadership may have written some of them off as dying churches. They are revived. They have a vision and mission for their future.

So far, no disaffiliation vote has failed. This is the big week with many votes scheduled for the weekend of February 26. Some large churches are in that group, and two of them are close calls.

Why are so few SC congregations expressing the intention to withdraw?

Part of the answer is the person occupying the office of bishop refused to entertain any disaffiliation request until two months ago.  The process is so complicated that churches are still trying to figure out how to comply. Even the Conference leaders who wrote the process admit to being confused by it. Because it is a confusing process and had to be completed within 90 days of the time it was announced, most churches decided to wait until 2024.

A larger part of the answer is a lack of organization by local churches. The Conferences that have been most successful were organized by local chapters of the Wesley Covenant Association (a traditionalist parachurch organization.) The local WCA chapters are the ones who produced educational materials, videos, organized district and conference events, advised local churches, and negotiated with the Conference leadership. The SC chapter of the WCA (WCASC) never organized the local churches and never provided the leadership for disaffiliation. 

The dominant vision of the SC chapter was (1) to work for legislative changes at General Conference and Annual Conference, and (2) if necessary, work toward having the entire Conference leave “en masse”, or at least the greatest part of it. The dominant leadership of the WCASC still held to that vision as recently as three months ago.  This is neither a condemnation nor an accusation. It is a description of a different vision. It is the original vision of the national WCA. I was at the WCA organizational meetings in Chicago in 2016 and Memphis in 2017. The WCA from its inception was devoted to reforming the UMC. The national Chapter did not support a new denomination until after the 2019 General Conference. The dominant leadership of the WCASC and other prominent traditionalists in the Conference never fully embraced that change. The wait-just-a-little-longer approach has prevailed in South Carolina to the dismay of many of its members. (Full disclosure: I am a member of the national WCA. I am not a member of WCASC.)

The local churches have not had the organization that some other Conferences had to inform them and to help them navigate the complexities of disaffiliation. A laity led group formed in 2022. They are doing heroic work, but their resources are too little too late for most of the Conference. There is another group of traditionalist clergy, but some of them have been outspoken in their criticism of the Global Methodist Church for launching in May. They preferred to wait for the next General Conference and continue to pursue additional legislation to solve our problems.

Then, there is me—a minor actor with no resources beyond my own meager pocketbook and a few friends. Others may describe my advocacy as that of a bomb thrower. They are right. I never pretended otherwise. When I am invited to a church, I make it clear I am not here to present all sides of the issue. I am here to blow some things up because some things need to be blown up. I am here to build something specific because something specific needs to be built. I speak plainly because some things need to be said plainly. I do not consider the description of bomb thrower an accusation or condemnation, and I hold no ill will for traditionalists who have committed to a different path. They are outstanding Christian leaders who have much fruit. I would be pleased if my children and grandchildren were in their congregation—as soon as their church is no longer United Methodist.

The small number of disaffiliations in South Carolina is due to the lack of a central traditionalist organizing body as much as it is to Conference actions.  The churches are working independently.  Some are working together through the laity group mentioned above, some through ad hoc associations of a few churches, and many are trying to pull this off on their own. Some are disaffiliating through the Conference process and some through litigation, but every one of these churches have taken responsibility for the future of their faith community. They are not waiting for someone else to do the hard work for them. They do not seek to piggyback on someone else’s efforts. They will not wait for more legislation because they see this as a spiritual problem not a legislative problem. They will not wait for an angel to descend with gold tablets inscribed with a clear title deed. They are moving forward in faith, at considerable risk, and with little if any organizational support.

Because of the lack of organization, it is impossible to determine exactly how many churches have engaged in the disaffiliation process. I know of eighty churches that were exploring disaffiliation in the first week of January. Many of those dropped out or chose litigation.  I can confirm 42 on my list who are pursuing the Conference process. That number could be as high as 100. It is likely +-50. This is a well informed guess, but it is a guess.

Why are so few disaffiliating churches aligning with the GMC?

Roughly half of the churches on my list of 42 have expressed a desire to move quickly into the GMC. The rest fall into two categories. One group consists of churches that are led by clergy who have deep Anabaptist or Calvinist roots. South Carolina’s doctrinal big tent has provided us with a fair number of those. They know enough about the GMC to know that they would not be comfortable in the GMC. They are leading their congregations toward other options.

The second group consists of those who feel hurt or abandoned. They are planning on a long wait-and-see approach. They tell me the Wesleyan Church assisted them with financing, the NCLL provided legal assistance, and even local churches of other denominations reached out to them with offers of assistance. All they asked of the WCA chapter or the GMC was educational material, help understanding the process, or a speaker to come to their church. They received nothing. I hope that it is obvious that it is unethical for the GMC to involve itself in the disaffiliation process of another denomination, but the people on the ground often do not understand the nuances of the different roles of the WCASC and the GMC. The GMC is paying a price in South Carolina for the choices and inaction of others.

The handful of churches that will form the Global Methodist community in South Carolina will have to do a lot of bridge building and church planting. The ones I have met with are not only up to the task—they are excited by the prospect. They are in revival mode and waiting to be unchained. The GMC can expect an abundant harvest from this good seed waiting to sprout.

Why will there not be a large second wave in 2024?

Open hostility toward traditionalists is growing. Traditionalists do not have the organization or votes at Annual Conference to protect themselves.

“A church that is not inclusive of all God’s people is not a Christian church.” In this Conference you have heard a variation of this statement being used with increasing regularity by Progressive clergy and laity . I have heard it from people that I would have described as moderate just six months ago. The progressive Christians see themselves as the true heirs of the historic Christian faith. Traditionalist have been holding them back and causing harm to the church for a long time while they watch other Conferences moving forward.  Listen to what they are saying and believe it, or at least believe that they believe it. Progressives are ticked off and they want to punish the traditionalists. The Conference leadership has been able to restrain them somewhat until paragraph 2553 expires. That is how the Conference has been able to prevent a mass exodus. When paragraph 2553 expires this year, then there is no more restraint. Progressives and Centrists are not going into the 2024 Annual Conference looking to do you any favors.

There is a myth in this Conference that conservative Christians are the majority. I have traveled throughout this state. Traditionalists are not the majority. This Conference could not elect a traditionalist delegation to General Conference…not even a moderate delegation. It elected the Reconciling Ministries slate of delegates with only a few exceptions in the lay delegation. IF these 50 or so churches are permitted to leave this year they represent the loss of well over 100 conservative delegates to the 2024 Annual Conference. Future disaffiliating churches will be at the mercy of whatever terms the progressives choose to inflict. You may think the current terms are hard, but they want it to be a whole lot harder.


There is a reason for hope, reason for caution, reason to mourn, reason to repent, and reason to forgive.

South Carolina may be only a mustard seed for the GMC, but we know how that story goes. The faith, commitment, and energy that this new Global Methodist community will bring will be an amazing thing to participate in. That is reason to hope.

The Conference leadership really is talking more charitably (that is also reason to hope), but the official documents still do not reflect that. We do not know whether the Trustees will present these requests for separation to the Annual Conference or if the Conference will approve them. Churches are voting without knowing. That is reason for caution.

A great many churches who desire to exit with their property are going to be trapped in the UMC. They will have to choose to preserve their property or their faith. That is reason to mourn.

The churches for whom we mourn are in their predicament in large part because those of us who were in positions to assist them failed. We did not adequately organize, and when the door was opened we were unprepared to offer the assistance they needed. I could have made different choices a year ago that would have allowed me to offer better help to more of these churches than I did. I will live with the knowledge that some of them would not be there except that I failed. All of us who were in a position to act and were not prepared need to confess our fault and repent, or we have no place leading others.

I have some hard words and hard feelings for my brothers and sisters in Christ who committed to path that I thought unworkable. They are hard words but honest and plain words. I also know them to be respectable Christian teachers who have much fruit. They owe me the duty of that same plainness of speech because this is how we are accountable and accept correction.  I need a church that is unafraid to correct me, because sometimes I can be wrong. I can forgive the let’s-wait-a-little- longer advocate and the seeker of legislative solutions to spiritual problems, and I hope they can forgive the bomb thrower who maybe sometimes speaks a little too plainly. Then, we need to come to terms with how we forgive denominational leaders as they continue inflicting real harm and hurt on those in their charge.

That is some of the good, the bad, and uncertain. The good stuff is not wishful thinking: It is evidence by action. The caution is valid: It is justified by a track record. The bad stuff is not cynical: It is a plain hard look at reality. I expect that somehow the good will triumph.

2 thoughts on “South Carolina: Disaffiliation Votes End This Week

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s