Monday, June 6, 2022

The Disingenuity of Comity

With Annual Conference season in full swing, several petitions or resolutions have surfaced asking conferences to enter into comity agreements with the Global Methodist Church (GMC). A comity agreement would potentially create an easier path for churches that choose to exit the UMC for the GMC. Many, maybe even a majority, of disaffiliating churches are choosing to remain independent instead of joining the GMC. If the process for joining the GMC becomes easier through a comity agreement, the likely outcome is some churches planning to disaffiliate and remain independent would instead join the new denomination. It shouldn't matter to those staying int the UMC if a departing church chooses to affiliate or not. What does matter, however, is the honesty of those we negotiate with. As has become expected, GMC and Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA) leadership has been deceptive about the nature and status of a comity agreement with the UMC.

A First Attempt

Several months ago, a group of UM bishops worked together on a possible comity agreement with the GMC. My understanding, which could be incorrect, is that this was at the request of the then-forming GMC. The GMC reports that this 10-page agreement was, “affirmed by an overwhelming majority” of the Council of Bishops. As recently as June 1, the GMC has lamented the failure to reach an agreement, with GMC senior executive Keith Boyette saying, "“It was an opportunity missed,” and "It makes no sense to me to drag out a bitter conflict that continues to drive down UM membership, worship attendance, and financial support, but that’s the UM bishops’ decision, not mine."

So why is there no agreement? Simple. The GMC refused to sign the proposal. You can see their list of demanded changes here, which WCA leader Chris Ritter has noted are "relatively minor matters." Thus the GMC is holding our bishops responsible for refusing to adopt a comity agreement while simultaneously not approving a proposed comity agreement.

Comity Could Never Happen

It's important to note that the only reasons the GMC would consider signing a comity agreement in the first place are for power and money. An agreement would reduce the cost of disaffiliating (money) and make local churches more likely to join the GMC (power). I'm certain of this because integrity to GMC polity and theology could never allow for a comity agreement.

Polity - A comity agreement is an agreement between two parties, in our case denominations, of mutual cooperation. In their refusal of the draft comity agreement, the GMC says, "The GM Church can only enter a full communion agreement with the UM Church or any other denomination as an act of its General Conference." That is, the GMC leadership acknowledges that they have only a limited ability to recognize other denominations. It is significant that in their Transitional Book of Doctrines and Discipline, the GMC makes no provision for any of the mutual recognition of other denominations or for pastors of other denominations, including the UMC, to serve a GMC church. The point here is that if the GMC lacks the ability to declare full communion (essentially an agreement that each denomination's sacraments and clergy are valid) then they also don't have the ability to sign a comity agreement.

Theology - Further, there is ample evidence that the GMC has no intention of fully recognizing the UMC. Consider:

- as previously reported, in 2004 the Good News caucus identified that they would want the UMC to cease to exist if conservatives left.

- As early as 2018, Good News and WCA leader Tom Lambrecht said those of us supporting full inclusion are "false teachers," which if one takes the Bible literally is the second worst attribute a person could have (after being a blasphemer of the Holy Spirit).

- WCA leader Beth Ann Cook reaffirmed this belief as recently as this spring.

- Another WCA member and former UMC leader called the UMC "apostate" with several likes and no dissent.

- The Africa Initiative, the WCA's affiliate in Africa, just issued a statement saying in part that our bishops are "apostates" and that, "We consider their actions diametrically opposed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ."


The truth is those of us who supported the now dead One Church Plan in 2019 proposed what we believed to be true - that at the present time faithful Christians could disagree on the subject of full-inclusion. The action of the General Conference, led by traditionalists in the WCA and now GMC told us we were wrong. We believed we could still take each other's hands as people with the same heart. We were told no. Officially, the GMC apparently can't tell us how they plan to treat us until their convening conference another 12-18 months from now. Unofficially, their leadership is clear. We are not of equal status - unless, of course, it is to the GMC's advantage to claim that we are of equal status for the sake of money and power.

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