Perspective, August 3, 2011

Here We Go Again

In the wake of the recent clergy trial in Wisconsin that doled out a 20-day suspension for a United Methodist clergywoman for performing a same-sex union, a United Methodist pastor in Minnesota has already conducted a handful of ceremonies for same-gender couples.

Here we go again.

According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Bishop Sally Dyck made a public announcement regarding a complaint against the Rev. Greg Renstrom, pastor of New Harmony United Methodist Church. The five-member cabinet of the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church formally lodged the complaint June 29.

Renstrom admits that he “participated in services of blessings” on June 25, five in Minneapolis’ Loring Park and one in Blaine. All the services were held in public parks, and he says that none took place in United Methodist churches or properties.

Renstrom, who said the complaint was not unexpected, said he understands that the blessings could be viewed as contrary to United Methodist rules, but that “it’s all worth it.”

While other mainline denominations do not prohibit their clergy from performing same-sex weddings, United Methodism is very clear and unambiguous in affirming that marriage is only between a man and a woman. It is a chargeable offense for United Methodist clergy to perform same-gender unions. Furthermore, ceremonies celebrating same-sex marriages are not allowed to be conducted in United Methodist sanctuaries.

Renstrom appears to be the latest clergyperson to break covenant with his clergy colleagues and test the resolve of the denomination by flagrantly performing numerous same-sex unions.

Sam Hodges, editor of The United Methodist Reporter, filed a story on July 15 reporting that “more than 900 UM clergy, in conferences across the country, have pledged to officiate at same-sex weddings and other services celebrating homosexual unions, in defiance of church law.”

Good News believes that the threat of widespread “ecclesiastical disobedience” places the unity and future of the United Methodist Church in jeopardy.  This disobedience is an “end run” around the processes in place to consider changes to the United Methodist stance on same-sex marriage.

Having been repeatedly rebuffed by votes at General Conference upholding the traditional view of marriage, and having been disappointed that the Judicial Council has failed to unilaterally change the church’s position, pro-gay advocates are now resorting to a tactic that is supposed to resemble 1960’s-style civil disobedience to get their way.

“We applaud the action of the Minnesota Conference cabinet in filing a complaint and moving into the investigative process,” says the Rev. Thomas Lambrecht, vice president of Good News. “Bishops and annual conferences need to hold clergy accountable to the covenant of our Book of Discipline. What is at stake here is not just the United Methodist Church’s position on homosexuality, but the very integrity of the covenant that binds us together as United Methodists. If some are allowed to willfully violate the terms of our covenant—to which they vowed obedience as clergy—with little or no penalty, it will open the door for others who disagree with various stances of the church to engage in unilateral disobedience of their own. This is a recipe for division and anarchy within the church.”

It is particularly unfortunate that these actual and threatened acts of disobedience are occurring now in the life of the church. After decades of membership loss, we seem poised to take concrete, constructive steps toward a healthier and more accountable denomination through the various proposals in response to the Call to Action report. When we need to come together around common solutions to the challenge of 21st century ministry in our denomination, we are instead distracted and torn apart by the ongoing conflict over homosexuality.

Let us be clear, what takes place in Minnesota does have repercussions in Alabama, as well as the Congo. It is time for those who cannot abide the longstanding position of our church to consider other options that leave our covenant intact.

The latest issue of Good News
The new issue of Good News arrived last week in mailboxes across the nation. Don’t forget that if there is a particular article that you wanted to send to a friend who is interested in the renewal of the United Methodist Church, the latest issue is found on our website at www.goodnewsmag.org.

This issue features Dr. Steve Harper’s excellent explanation of Wesleyan spirituality, extensive coverage of the trial of the Rev. Amy DeLong, and Rob Renfroe’s editorial on the responsibility of our bishops in response to the DeLong challenge.

Our newest staff member
The Board of Directors of Good News is pleased to announce the appointment of the Rev. Tom Lambrecht as our new Vice President and General Manager.

Tom has been the senior pastor of Faith Community United Methodist Church in Greenville, Wisconsin since 1999. He has been a United Methodist minister within the Wisconsin Annual Conference since 1982. The Board of Ordained Ministry of the Wisconsin Annual Conference has approved him to serve in extension ministry at Good News, and Bishop Linda Lee made the appointment.

“Tom’s keen intellect, his long history as a leader in the cause of renewal, his administrative gifts and his passion for the Gospel will enhance all that Good News does to reform and renew the church,” said the Rev. Rob Renfroe, President and Publisher of Good News. “We are thrilled that he is coming on board.”

Lambrecht most recently served as the counsel for the United Methodist Church in a June 21-23 trial involving the Rev. Amy DeLong, a clergywoman who performed a same-sex union, an action that is prohibited for United Methodist clergypersons (see page 18). He successfully argued twice before the Judicial Council on matters related to annual conferences challenging the United Methodist stance on homosexuality and same-sex unions.

Since 1992, Lambrecht has worked with Good News as a part of their legislative team at five General Conferences and as a member of the board. He served as the chair of the Good News board for four years, and is currently coordinator for the Renewal and Reform Coalition General Conference effort. The Rev. Lambrecht has been instrumental in the cause of evangelical renewal within the Wisconsin Conference since 1983, helping to establish the Wisconsin Association of Confessing United Methodists (WACUM) in 1996, the first conference-level Confessing Movement organization, and serving as its first president. Currently, he serves as the North Central Jurisdictional Coordinator for the Confessing Movement.

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