Survey Results Reveal Strong Support for Exit Provision

January 25, 2019

Ninety two percent of respondents to a Wesleyan Covenant Association Survey said they agreed or strongly agreed with the statement: “Whatever plan the special [2019] General Conference adopts it should include a gracious and generous way for local churches to leave with all their property and assets, providing said local churches fulfill all outstanding financial obligations they have to their annual conferences.”

“Of the 24 statements we asked participants to respond to that statement gained the highest level of support,” said the Rev. Keith Boyette, president of the WCA.

The WCA released the survey on January 4 and closed it on January 11. Individuals who had signed up to receive the association’s e-newsletter were allowed to complete the survey once. Boyette said that of the 9,102 that received it, 2,666 completed it. Forty percent of respondents identified as clergy, 44 percent as laity, and 16 percent declined to identify as clergy or laity. The survey asked respondents to share their level of agreement or disagreement with a number of statements regarding their and their local churches likely responses to potential outcomes at the special General Conference to be held in St. Louis, Missouri, February 23-26, 2019.

“We’re of course under no illusion the survey’s results neatly represent the views of United Methodists in general and WCA members in particular,” said Boyette. “However, we wanted to give those who receive our e-newsletter an opportunity to register their opinions regarding the various plans and petitions the General Conference delegates will consider. The WCA Council [the organization’s governing board] is very interested in how its global rank-and-file members are likely to respond to potential outcomes. I think it would have been helpful had the Council of Bishops demonstrated a similar sense of curiosity in what rank-and-file United Methodists, in general, are thinking in these critical days. To be sure, the church is not a democracy, but our bishops and the Commission on a Way Forward would have been better served had they taken the time to complete one or two surveys of their own.”

Not surprisingly, the survey’s results revealed strong support for the traditional plan and tepid support for the one church plan. The former plan, endorsed by the WCA and other renewal and reform groups, calls for the reaffirmation of the church’s sexual ethics, teachings on marriage, ordination standards, and enhanced accountability provisions, while the latter plan, endorsed by the majority of bishops in the U.S. (but not internationally), calls for liberalizing the church’s positions on the contentious issues.

By wide margins, respondents said they and their local churches would remain in the UM Church if a traditional plan were adopted. Eighty-eight percent indicated they personally would remain in the church, and 86 percent believed their local church would as well. Nearly 90 percent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed they would personally leave the UM Church in the event it liberalized its sexual ethics, teachings on marriage and ordination standards. And two-thirds of respondents agreed or strongly agreed their local church would leave the denomination under such circumstances.

The results also indicated respondents are skeptical when it comes to progressive clergy abiding by the provisions of the traditional plan and the willingness of church leaders to actually hold people accountable to its standards. Eighty-one percent do not believe progressives would decide they must abide by the church’s sexual ethics, its teaching on marriage, and its ordination standards if the traditional plan passed. Seventy five percent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed with the statement: “If the traditional plan is passed I think progressives would continue to defy the church’s teachings, and despite the new accountability standards in the plan, bishops, district superintendents, church courts, and other official bodies would fail to hold them accountable.”

Respondents were more mixed in their opinions when it came to what they and their local churches would do in the event the traditional plan passed, but accountability standards continued to go unenforced. Forty-two percent strongly agreed they would likely leave the denomination under such circumstances, while 29 percent simply agreed they would. Thirty-seven percent said they were not sure what their local church would do, while 22 percent agreed their local church would leave, and 20 percent strongly agreed their local church would leave.

“I know some people will be tempted to dismiss the survey’s results out of hand because it’s the WCA surveying largely WCA members,” said Boyette. “However, I think that would be very unwise. I am confident the people who participated in the survey are some of the most committed, involved, and informed United Methodists in the denomination. They have an outsized impact in their local churches, annual conferences and at the General Conference level. I’m thankful they took the time to complete the survey; it will help the WCA as it considers the way forward.”

Readers can review the complete results of the WCA survey by clicking HERE.