Tuesday, May 3, 2022

In Defense of the Trust Clause

I have been voting in United Methodist General Conferences since 2004 and each time we have seen legislation come forward on the trust clause.  It has always been to loosen or remove it entirely.  Not surprisingly, the trust clause has been one of the talking points of the Wesleyan Covenant Association.  Specifically, it has been held up that the Global Methodist Church will not have a trust clause.  Local churches in this expression of Methodism will own their own property.  This is always lifted up as a positive and maybe for the world at large, it would seem so.

Property ownership is part of the American dream, and we laud those who are able to become homeowners.  Home ownership allows for the transfer of wealth from one generation to the next.  It allows families to break the cycle of poverty.  These are good things for individual family units.  But as a theologian, I believe it is important to ask if we need to think differently about the church.

I have been in meetings where congregation members are shocked that their local church is actually held by the annual conference.  My response is that they are not thinking big enough!  As a United Methodist whose membership is in the Oklahoma Conference, they do own this local church.  In fact, they own all of the churches within our boundaries.  All of these properties are ours.

I'm always happy to help
the next generation understand that
we own our United Methodist
Canyon Camp as stewards for God!
As a citizen of the United States, this is a similar way for me to think about our national parks.  When we view the majesty of the Grand Canyon or behold the wonder of Old Faithful at Yellowstone, we are happy that these places are held in trust for all of us.  They are ours together.  

It is helpful for us to think about the church in the same way.

Many of our sanctuaries inspire the majesty of worship.  The architecture of our buildings can draw us upward in wonder as we encounter the divine.  Within our shared covenant, they are larger than local ownership.  They are ours together.

As I mentioned, the Global Methodist Church will not have a trust clause as a part of their polity.  But in the many posts I’ve read, I’ve not heard them discuss the fact that they intend to put a lien on the church property if there is still unpaid pension liability for said church.  This is mentioned in paragraphs 351 and 903 in their Transitional Book of Doctrines and Discipline.  

As I’ve heard The United Methodist Church being disparaged by those seeking to leave, one of the comments is that we have turned away from Biblical values to adopt whatever the current culture lifts up.  As we think about property, I believe The United Methodist Church seeks to be shaped by Acts 4:32-33 which states, “Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common.  With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.”  The trust clause is about identity – specifically, our identity as Christians.  

A lien may also be about identity, but it communicates a more punitive image.  

While I plan on remaining United Methodist, I’m not against The Global Methodist Church.  Division is a painful part of our history, and the mother body often experiences important reform during the process of birthing something new.  But I would like the options in the process to be transparent.  If a person wants to leave, I would much rather hear why they are excited about their new venture rather than hear them tearing down the institution from which they are leaving.  

I think this also says something about identity.

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.


  1. Well thought-out statement, thanks Sam. I'm reading of and seeing too much "giddyness" in this mess and am daily saddened, but not hopeless. I welcome our new vision once the dust settles.

    1. Thanks - I try to remain hopeful as we move forward but find grief a ready companion on this journey!