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To the Contrary

Renfroe

Renfroe

By Rob Renfroe-

Contrary to what you might have heard, General Conference 2016 was a real success for traditional, evangelical United Methodists. Maybe because this was my sixth General Conference, I don’t expect the Kingdom of God to come in all its glory every four years when United Methodists gather from all over the world. I don’t expect all of our problems to be solved. I don’t arrive, thinking that traditional UM Christians will win every vote. But we came pretty close in Portland.

I know that’s not the perspective of many. Our office has heard from laypersons and pastors all over the country that they “have had enough,” they “can’t take it anymore,” and they are “looking for a way out.” If that’s you, let me encourage you to take a breath and look at what really happened.

The big story is this: The evangelical-African coalition now clearly forms the majority viewpoint within the UM Church.  All five persons elected to the Judicial Council and the four elected to the University Senate were supported by the coalition. With only one exception, all of A Third Way’s “compromises,” supported by progressives and “centrists” regarding sexuality and marriage, were defeated in committee – and defeated so soundly that those who wanted to liberalize our position thought it best that their proposed changes not be brought to the plenary floor.

Furthermore, the vote to completely disassociate the UM Church from any affiliation with the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, a radical pro-abortion lobby, was approved overwhelmingly. We began trying to sever our ties to the group almost 25 years ago. But at this General Conference, that victory was finally won!

By the end of our time in Portland liberal bloggers were beside themselves. Several wondered, “What has happened to our church,” and others bemoaned that The United Methodist Church’s commitment to “a progressive understanding of social justice” was coming undone. For the first time, some progressive leaders stated that it was time to consider separation. The liberals got the message that many evangelicals may have missed: the progressive agenda no longer has the power or the hope to liberalize United Methodism’s official stance on truly important social and theological issues, at least not legislatively.

With Methodism growing rapidly in Africa and declining in the United States, by General Conference 2020 there are likely to be more United Methodists living in Africa than in the U.S. Justifiably, the percentage of African delegates, who possess traditional, biblical views regarding sexuality, at the next General Conference will be even greater than it was in Portland.

The big story is that our denomination’s most important and powerful administrative body, the Connectional Table, put forth what it believed to be a solution to our differences regarding sexuality and marriage. Presented as a compromise, the plan titled “A Third Way” would have allowed each pastor to decide whether he or she would perform same gender weddings and each Annual Conference would determine if it would ordain partnered gay persons. It was a proposal that was promoted by many of our best-known and most influential pastors who had been pushing a similar proposal for two years. And it failed.  In fact, A Third Way failed so badly that it was one of its supporters that proposed that all Third Way legislation be tabled.

No, we didn’t get everything we wanted. We did strengthen the Council of Bishops’ ability to hold its members accountable for their actions. And we were able to obtain an additional $5 million for theological education for the Central Conferences, primarily Africa. But some of the legislation we had hoped to pass was tabled.

Disappointing? Yes. A disaster? Hardly. Unexpected? Not really.

After six of these, you know you don’t get everything you want. But you don’t let that blind you to victories won and progress made. And you certainly don’t let it keep you from seeing the big picture – The United Methodist Church will for many years to come continue to hold a biblical, balanced view of sexuality that affirms the worth of all persons, defines marriage as one man and one woman, and states same-sex relations are contrary to God’s will.

Does this mean our troubles are over? No. Our problem has never been bad legislation; it has always been bad actors – pastors who don’t have the integrity to keep the vows they took, bishops who won’t enforce the Book of Discipline in any significant way, and now Boards of Ordained Ministry that flaunt their disdain for the church’s position. No matter what legislation we had passed in Portland, those aching to split the church through covenant-breaking acts would continue to do so.

I don’t minimize the chaos these growing acts of disobedience will create. I still believe that if we are one church, we cannot act as if we are two. If we are two churches, we need to stop pretending that we are one.

Growing acts of division and those bishops who enable or even encourage them will continue to wear away at our connection, raising loud and clear the question of whether we can remain one church. I am hopeful the commission that General Conference called the bishops to create will be an opportunity for leading progressives, centrists, and traditionalists to come together and have the unrushed, honest conversations that are necessary to determine if we may live together with integrity. I have been a part of several such conversations over the past four years and have been grateful for them. If the commission can find some way for us to remain together – a way that no other denomination has discovered – I’ll be all for it.  If not, then perhaps the commission’s conversation can be honest enough to admit how deeply divided we are and to propose a different narrative than two sides fighting for the next 20 years to see who “wins.”

That is the big story from Portland. It will take progressives at least 20 years to change the UM Church. They will face two more decades of their not being able to minister to LGBTQ persons the way they believe they should. Two more decades of LGBTQ persons feeling disappointed in and hurt by their church. Two more decades of progressives believing they have lost their church. Two more decades of anger, fighting, and trials.

If the results in Portland can convince progressives that there’s a better way forward than doing the same things for at least the next 20 years while expecting different results – then GC 2016 will be a huge success, not just because we passed some very good legislation, but because it just might bring about a “moment of clarity” and change the narrative.

Rob Renfroe is the president and publisher of Good News.

Comments

  1. Micheal L Dunavant says:

    Thank you for the true balanced review. I appreciate it so much.
    Mike

  2. Mark says:

    Thank you for this report, it helps.

    I have family members who are homosexual and who believe same-sex marriage is a good thing while I believe sex acts between two people of the same gender is a sin. We get along just fine because we agree to disagree and don’t spend our time together on this difference. In fact, my homosexual family members go out of their way not to make other family members feel uncomfortable. Its very easy for me to not be angry at homosexuals, self avowed and practicing or not. After all, I did not create males, females and marriage and its not my will being violated.

    On the other hand, its challenging to not become angry at LGBT activists who constantly try to force their beliefs on myself and others. I am so tired of their, forgive me, stupid statements and constant harassment. Force always invites opposing force and I confess to wishing for a stronger church position that slams the door in the face of LGBT activists so they go away. I struggle on what it means to turn the other cheek in the face of of these relentless attacks. The best I have been able to come up with so far is to stay calm and steadfast. I have been perfectly fine with a split and thinking the sooner the better. However, this report make me more optimistic. Thanks.

  3. Dave Miller says:

    Rev. Renfroe,

    I agree the General Conference was more positive than I had feared. Orthodox, evangelical Christianity held strong. Thank God.
    However, I am a member of the New York Area Conference that just one week after General Conference voted to accept self avowed gays as clergy, and voted to remain associated with the Religious Coaliliton for Reproductive Choice. The lawlessness displayed by my Conference is disturbing. I want to remain a Methodist but how do I do this within the NYAC? As a lay person I know my opinion carries little or not wieght here. I cannot effect change here, I can only leave. I have been praying and struggling with this choice for some time.

    Respectfully,
    Dave Miller

    • Sue Neff says:

      Praying for you Dave. I can only imagine how hard it is for you.

    • Wil Olandria says:

      I’m in the same boat as you Dave. My home church is in the very Liberal Oregon-Idaho Conference (I’m from Portland). The minister at my church invited the Portland Gay Men’s choir during General Conference… so he could show outside umc visitors how welcoming our church was. The choir had nothing to do with our church…. it was just our ministers way of trying to get more members (i.e. gay members). I’ve already started attending a Baptist Church with some old friends… It was refreshing to finally get some real bible teaching. Sadly the church that I grew up in will likely try to leave the UMC…. and when it does…. it will probably end up fading away with losing membership. So sad.

    • Tom says:

      I left, despite a deep personal and family legacy with the UMC. I grew up in the UMC, have worked for the UMC in the past, have family members who are ordained elders, including one who would likely have been bishop if not for health issues. But ultimately i realized my allegiance was with Christ, not the UMC.

      I will say that strong showing of traditional values at GC2016 has given me hope, and if I wasn’t happily attending a non-denominational church, I might reconsider the UMC again. Though I do have the benefit of living in a strongly conservative annual conference.

      My prayers are with you.

  4. Paul Stephens says:

    Rob and Good News,
    Thanks so much for this article! I got to go to Africa in 2011 and saw what God is doing in the UMC there, and I’m thrilled to see this perspective you’ve written! I’ve felt the same way since my trip over there! Thanks again, so much, for sharing this!
    One question I have – what do you mean by this “next 20 years” that you mention several times near the end of this article? I don’t know what you mean by this 20 years reference. Am I missing something? I was tracking and understanding the article until it came to the repeated 20 year reference, and then I had trouble following that part.
    Thanks again, and the Lord’s blessings to us all!

    • Tom says:

      I imagine Rob just used it as shorthand for “an extended length of time.” Or possibly the number of years he has attended General Conference.

  5. Tom McCann says:

    I’m sure we have all attended churches that are not Methodist, as visitors. Sometimes other Protestant denominations, sometimes Roman Catholic, and even a couple of times to Eastern Orthodox churches (in my experience).
    I don’t go to those churches because I agree with every bit of their theology. I go there to worship God. And, I’ve found that in nearly every case, I can complete a connection with God through that worship.
    I’ve been a member of the Methodist Church since baptism. I know there are people around me who disagree with me profoundly on many topics. None of those disagreements have resulted in me not wanting to worship with the person next to me.
    The reason we are on the verge of schism is because people feel a need to be ‘right’ about a non-sacramental issue. If we always insist on worshiping only with those we agree with, we’re going to find ourselves in some very small chapels.
    Personally, I want to worship with people who put God ahead of their own pride. I can do that anywhere, but I prefer to do it in the Methodist Church.

  6. Gary Bebop says:

    This is a very encouraging article about the general church. Meanwhile, annual conferences will continue to behave as though they are the whole church and free to pursue their ultimate aims, misguided and rogue as they may be. Traditional Methodists must gird up for what’s coming.

  7. I agree with those comments that thank you for a clear and helpful article. I truly believe that God answered the prayers of many people. As I read your article, we can be thankful that the African UMC continues to flourish and that very little, if any, progressive legislation was passed at GC. You also warn us to brace for continued agitation from progressives. The comment from the lay person from New York reminds us that, whatever is happening globally, locally the progressive agenda holds sway in certain areas. I am in the Great Plains (Kansas and Nebraska) Conference. Progressives are strong here and it is pretty uncomfortable at times for those of us who are conservative. Bishop Scott Jones has done a terrific job, but he will be replaced soon. I do believe that conservative leadership needs to be pro-active about the situation. It is good that the Discipline was not harmed at GC. But I believe progressive agitation is doing great harm in certain areas. As the person from NY said, what can one do when you are surrounded by these people? Think of how the many lay people who are being deceived by the constant propaganda of these people. Note that it is not just the public acts of defiance and painful public battles, but, out of the glare of publicity, it is the constant pounding of seminary professors, of radical preachers in pulpits, of dominant factions on boards of certain agencies, etc.–all of these are still in position as wolves in sheep clothing. If we could make a clean break, the health of the church would, I think, be greatly enhanced.

  8. Don Hamilton says:

    I think that marriage is defined as the union of a man and a woman. If the LGers want to have a union between two persons of the same sex that has the same rights as marriage ok but for goodness sakes call it what it is lesage and gayage would work. I wonder what God thinks about these unions which basically say I will continue to do my will not yours. Are these folks trying to change the nature of what he (God) has created? What is next, idols to the gay god?

  9. Susan says:

    I was born into, baptized, attended weekly, raised 4 children,
    sang in the choir in a Methodist Church. However, I knew my
    youngest son was gay by age 3. Luckily I was blessed to have
    a progressive Pastor. When he left, so did I. After nearly 40 years
    I no longer will attend UMC church because of what you shout as
    “Good news”.
    Now at age 30, my son is moral, successful, college educated,
    well known designer and EVERYTHING any parent would want
    from a child. I am thrilled to see him in a loving relationship after
    years of focusing on others, his education and career.
    My former church would be blessed to have him, his partner,
    my 3 other children, spouses, 5 grandchildren, 5 step grandchildren, my husband and
    Me as members, but we are not longer welcome with our views.
    So, you see, it is not just about one small segment of the population
    that you have disenfranchised. It spreads out towards all who love them.
    And isn’t that what Jesus taught us? What a shame!

    • Brian Jennings says:

      Susan, I know a few more that have left as you have-and that is certainly a choice anyone is free to make. However, I do know many, many more that have left church after either the pastor, district super or AC has begun to lean progressive with regard to homosexuality and same sex marriage. Those same churches could sure use all those people and their very large extended families, but they no longer feel welcomed with their conservative, traditional values. I do believe a split is coming. I also believe that it will be only way, perhaps, that those that have left can return, to whichever side they end up navigating to in the end.

  10. Don Tabberer says:

    It is interesting that this publication and many of the commenters here complain that the progressives and the LGBTQ activists are constantly pushing their beliefs on others, or make “stupid statements”, or harass people who disagree with them. Yet that is the behavior and the attitude of this publication and its supporters. What I read here is hateful disregard for any opinion that does not agree with yours. This editorial is filled with arrogant glee that the progressives lost at General Conference and will now spend the next twenty years in misery – Hooray! What is wrong with you people? Jesus was very clear – There are two commandments that trump all others: Love God, Love Others. That it – that’s all there is. The parable of the sheep and the goats is also clear: When the time for judgement comes, we will be judged by one thing only. In the end we will not be judged by our voting record or political party affiliation. In the end we will not be asked where we worked, or where we went to school, or what our sexual orientation may be. In the end we will be judged on one thing: DID WE LOVE? Did we love God? Did we love each other as God loved us? Did we tell everyone we met that every single person – no matter what – is loved by God? The bickering and the finger pointing and the division must cease. In the end God really doesn’t care whether any single denomination survives the ignorance and arrogance of its members – In the end, all God cares about is: DO WE LOVE?

  11. Jay says:

    I think the sheer bravado and pride pouring from this article is shameful. You want the UMC to have a better way forward, while flaunting your “wins” over progressive and centrists. You don’t want the UMC to have a better way forward. You want the UMC to have YOUR way forward.

  12. Tom says:

    As a life-long member of the UMC, about 60 yrs., I am most upset that I have to make allowances for what the Bible deems inappropriate behavior, but those demanding my change don’t have to alter their lives at all.

    Where do I sign up for schism? I will be a supporter of you worship God in your manner and I’ll worship in mine.

  13. Marvin Wheeler says:

    Rob:

    As a lay person in one of the liberal conferences in the Western Jurisdiction I appreciate the information in your article. It brings a breath of hope to a dark situation. We have been dealing with this cancer for the last 45 years. It has already cost the United Methodist Church dearly. Membership decline is partially a direct cause of this issue. Being a part of the medical profession if someone has a cancer you cut it out.

    I just pray the Commission to be formed by the Council of Bishops will not make their decisions as an Annual Conference basis. If so my Annual Conference, the Pacific Northwest, has already shown their intent. If an amicable decision cannot be reached Bishops and Annual Conference cannot live by the rules of the Discipline I am in favor of wishing them God speed and showing them the door. There is no reason for traditional United Methodist to have to leave the church, we are not the ones who are breaking the covenent

  14. Mike Peters says:

    I attended a meeting several years ago. The speaker said that in forty years the Africans will be accepting of the practice of homosexuality. I believe that the work of folks like Good News will turn the whole issue back to God’s will for humanity. The tide will turn and those who have come to the Methodist Church intending to force change will give up.

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