The Trust Clause, part I

Folks who are concerned deeply about the possibility of nuclear war have what is known as the Doomsday Clock.  It isn’t really a clock, but a visual representation of how close we are, at any time, to an atomic and later nuclear war.  Midnight is doomsday, the closer to midnight, the more serious the threat.  It was closest at 11:58 in 1953.

In the United Methodist Church we know that a schism is possible. We are not, as our name suggests, United.  We have deep divisions over a number of issues, and homosexuality is at the top of that list.

Today our Schism Clock jumped, in my mind, from 11:45 to 11:57.

My Local Church Committee voted, with a margin of a single vote, to waive the Trust Clause if a church chooses to disaffiliate over the homosexual issue.

I should probably unpack that United Methodese.

The Trust Clause is based on the idea that a church and its assets, including the pews and the endowment, don’t really belong to today’s members of the church.  Most of our buildings went up generations ago, with periodic improvements and additions.  Few of our churches were built with funds exclusively from current members.

An endowment, for instance, was established to support the work of the United Methodist Church in that community forever.  When I talk to a donor about an endowment gift, we use terms like perpetual support of the church’s mission, forever.  So the Trust Clause is a way of keeping that promise, even if a local church chooses to leave the denomination, or disaffiliate from the United Methodist Church.

In some parts of the country it was the Trust Clause that kept churches from leaving the fold when they were told that they had to become integrated in the 60s or were assigned a female pastor in the 70s.  Many view it as the thing that has kept a schism from happening in the last decade over this issue.  It has been our enforcer, our tether on a renegade congregation.  In effect, we tell them that if they want to leave the fold, that’s fine, but you will do it without the building and financial assets that have accumulated over the years.

Running away from home isn’t as easy when you find out you can’t take the car with you.

But today our vote paved the way for the whole General Conference to vote to allow disaffiliating churches to keep their assets if they left, to take the car when they leave.

My heart sank when the projection screen showed those results.  We had just voted down a similar petition by about 2-1.  A third of the votes was higher than I was comfortable with, but seemed like a safe margin.  But when the results for this petition came up 32 in favor and just 31 opposed I realized that we’re closer to midnight on this thing than we ever have been.

A single vote on the floor of General Conference next week could make this waiver of the Trust Clause the law of the land, unable to be changed for another four years.

We broke for lunch immediately after that vote.  As we sat there by the windows in the corridors of the convention center eating our turkey sandwiches, we wondered what would happen if the full body passed the vote.

I hope I don’t find out.

 

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