The first question is whether you really want a transfer rather than to sever your membership. Most churches have transfer processes, and most churches will be amenable to a transfer process. A transfer is going to cause a lot less anger and resentment. You will also most like not burn your bridges. Almost all churches have rules for conducting a transfer and it is many times not looked on as harshly. Note, however that many churches will not issue a letter for someone starting the disciplinary process unless you are willing to have them cite the problems. Sometimes an unethical pastors will start a process so as to avoid the rules regarding transfer. Such a pastor is likely to be a problem regardless of how you leave, so the important thing is to keep good records. If either is the case make sure that the receiving pastor is aware of the disciplinary process. Coordinate your actions with the receiving pastor if possible.
If the receiving congregation is not seen as "of like faith and practice" a member can request a certificate of standing rather than transfer. That is you aren't asking the congregation that you are leaving to approve of the move but rather to simply certify your current status. (i.e. they are certifying you were a member in good standing prior to your desire to join a "bad church"), This is also more friendly and cooperative then simply leaving. The act of going through this process reduces the bridge burning problems and in general members probably should try and go through the transfer process. In summary:
- Find out what your church's transfer process is.
- If you need to transfer to a specific congregation, inform the pastor (and hand him a written document) that you are initiating a transfer process and will be "shopping" for an alternate church.
- Once you have a specific congregation:
- Ask for a letter of transfer.
- If they refuse because "the other congregation is not godly" ask for a certificate of standing
- If they still want to get you involved in a long drawn out process then it is time to simply terminate membership.
- Join your new church.
The key here is to make clear your intention and leave behind a paper trail. Church discipline is dependent upon informed consent. Your goal here is to be withdrawing consent. Words like:
- Termination of membership
- Withdraw of consent
The Catholic church is probably the most difficult to leave so they provide an excellent example of a "worst case scenario". Most Catholic literature about people who leave the faith assumes one is joining a heretical or schismatic church and thus the heresy or schism in itself constitutes an excommunication. However it is possible to leave the church voluntarily without specifically joining another (which would be the closest equivalent of erasure or "renouncement of jurisdiction" in presbyterianism). The process here requires an assertion of understanding: that is they have required that a person must (APCAM)
- Perform an act to indicate they wish to separate (mere thought is not enough).
- The act must be persistent that is it must take place over a long period of time, in particular it can't be a single event.
- The person must be contumacious that is they must be firm in their conviction and not express hesitation.
- They must be aware that their acts lead to an end of their membership (excommunication, erasure...) That is they must be aware of what they are requesting.
- Finally they must actually be a member. The church cannot expel non members (the pope is exempted from this).
For a Presbyterian example the Orthodox Church's Book of Discipline is quite clear on how one severs their relationship.
When a member of a particular church, whether or not he be charged with an offense, informs the session that he does not desire to remain in the fellowship of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, and the efforts of the session to dissuade him from his course have failed, it shall erase his name from the roll and record the circumstances in its minutes, unless the session institutes or continues other disciplinary action against him.
- Formal statement of disassociation, terminating your membership.
- A brief history of your introduction to the church and your positive impressions
- A discussion of "major issues" that forced you to disassociate. This part can be grouped by related topics, such as "Doctrinal", "Personal", "Social", "Organizational" and so on.
- An explicit list of requests (e.g. "Don't do follow-up calls", "Don't try to shepherd my children"). If you have no specific requests, you can leave this part out. This is the withdrawal of consent.
- Conclusion. (e.g. wish them well on their quest to find meaning, and assure them that you are pleased to have made your decision to broaden your search for truth).
- I hereby renounce all claim to membership in church XYZ.
- It is with great reluctance that I am forced to resign my membership from church XYZ
- Many hundreds of hours and over seven hundred compiled scriptures later, my clear conscience will no longer allow me to uphold the convictions common among (name of denomination)
The second part is important for explaining your reasons for membership. Because it occurs in the letter you are acknowledging you were at one time a member and that this is being drawn to a close. It goes hand in hand with the 3rd section which explains why you've decided that the new information/status is causing you to leave. I.E. you are indicating the bad outweighs the good. These two sections are often far too specific to offer much advice. The key thing is (if possible) you want to include some point of disagreement with a statement that is required for membership (generally the profession of faith). By doing this, you can establish you are not merely fleeing a disciplinary procedure but no longer share their beliefs. You'll want to pick a genuine area of disagreement. So for example:
- Quiting the Mormons: I no longer believe that Joseph Smith was a prophet or that the Book of Mormon is the word of God.
- Quitting a Baptist Church: I have come to believe that children are part of God's covenant and should be baptized at birth.
- Quitting Soka Gakkai: I no longer believe that chanting the Gongyō will bring benefit to my life.
- Quitting Baptist church: Our profession of faith requires assent to the Nicean creed, however I no longer believe that Jesus is of one essence with the Father.
- Quitting the Mormons: I no longer believe in the gift of tongues
After this the next step is to establish how you want the church to treat you as an x-member. This is where you can make explicit your request that oversight of you (including discipline) halt. This is where you can indicate what the contents of the announcement should be, for example you may (and probably should) indicate that this letter is public and they may read it in full and show it to people if they feel the need to make an announcement. For organizations that tend to be resistant to allowing you to leave you may need to be a bit harsh. However nothing more than something like:
Since I have voluntarily resigned from the organization, and are therefore no longer a Jehovah's Witness, I expressly prohibit you from disfellowshipping me or in any way defaming my character before others. If I am disfellowshipped or am slandered in any way, I will have to take legal action against you.Or
I have prayerfully considered the vow I made. Jesus said "My yoke is light." I am casting off the burden I have been under for so many years while under the scrutiny of the man made organization, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. In full faculty I am stating that I am disassociating from that organization. I no longer want to be recognized as a Jehovah's Witness because it does not fill the expectations I was led to believe.Finally the conclusion. Again this should be friendly if possible. A thanks for good times, a statement of best wishes or blessing on current members... are all appropriate.
(1) I do not want my family to contacted or coerced in any way.
(2) At my death I do not wish to be remembered as a Jehovah's Witness.
(3) There is no need for prayers or further attempt to reverse my decision.
(4) When the Congregation makes an announcement it should be an announcement of disassociation not apostasy
some samples: Gloria Muscarell, Juliann Velasquez, Melissa C. Thiring, Mormon no more sample
Now go on and do what you want. At this point you are no longer a member according to any Christian tradition. Legally you have withdrawn your consent and you have a much greater degree of legal protection against defamation and harassment. Congratulations, its over!
There is for some poeple a tricky part. Convincing yourself that you aren't damned or evil or fallen for wanting to leave. David Rattigan wrote a terrific article about the issues and fears you are likely to face. You may even want to join (or at least read) a group for people leaving whatever faith you are leaving. This blog maintains a leaving list of support groups.