UM clergy and laity call on Council of Bishops to take a stand

Since October, more than 14,000 United Methodist clergy and lay people have signed on to a letter calling upon the Council of Bishops to issue a clear statement of support for the denomination’s standards regarding marriage and homosexuality.

The original letter to the United Methodist bishops was spearheaded by the Revs. Tom Harrison, Charles Kyker, Ed Robb III, Ken Werlein, and Steve Wood. An additional 54 pastors joined the effort.

After the letter was sent individually to all of the active United Methodist bishops, a website—www.FaithfulUMC.com—was created to allow additional clergy colleagues and lay members to join in the call from the concerned pastors.

“The United Methodist Church needs clear and prophetic leadership right now,” says the Rev. Ed Robb III, senior pastor of The Woodlands United Methodist Church in The Woodlands, Texas. “As clergy, we are asking the Council of Bishops to make a clear and concise statement supporting our denomination’s stance on marriage and human sexuality.”

The swelling grassroots support of the letter to the bishops developed in response to the proposed threat of more than 1,000 United Methodist clergy to break the denomination’s prohibition against conducting same-sex unions. The letter calls upon the Council of Bishops to “issue a public statement that you understand the proposed disobedience to be a grave threat to the unity and the life of the UM Church and that you stand together in your commitment to defend and enforce the Book of Discipline.”

Concerned laity and clergy from virtually all areas of the United States and several representatives from other countries have enthusiastically responded. Signatures have been sent in and logged on the website from both large and small United Methodist congregations.

“I’m grateful our pastors have given us an opportunity to have a voice,” says Dixie Brewster, the immediate past lay leader of the Kansas West Annual Conference. “I can’t tell you how many times persons in my church have asked, ‘Why do we pay our apportionments when our leaders don’t listen to us?’ At least now we’ve said we don’t want our money going to support the boards that try to overturn the Discipline.”

“The Bishops have to understand that once all these pastors violate the Discipline, people will wonder who’s allowing this—and why,” continued Brewster, a member of Milton United Methodist Church in Milton, Kansas. “And people will leave our churches; some already have. Being a leader means being out front—ahead of what’s about to happen. Not trying to get the cows back in the barn after they’re out.”

“My concern is very simple and basic: Is the Book of Discipline to be followed or is it optional? Does it have authority over my role as clergy and over us as a congregation?” says the Rev. Tom Harrison, senior pastor of Asbury United Methodist Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma. “Chaos results without clarity.”

Many laypeople have rallied around their pastors for taking a public stand. “I signed the laity statement on the FaithfulUMC.com website, and I commend the forthright stance on defending the United Methodist Book of Discipline,” says Jon Goodale, lay member of Faithbridge United Methodist Church in Spring, Texas. “I wholeheartedly support these ministers in this effort.”

Goodale wrote a note of encouragement to his pastor, the Rev. Ken Werlein—one of the original signers, thanking him for allowing his voice to be heard on the unity of the United Methodist Church. “I appreciate the courage of these pastors in remaining true to our faith whether it agrees with the culture or is in direct opposition to the culture.”

Diane West, lay member of Living Faith United Methodist Church in Omaha, Nebraska, is very thankful for the letter-writing campaign.“This is a time in our history where strong, decisive, scriptural leadership is not only necessary, but also imperative,” said West. “The clergy who have taken a stand by adding their names to the letter are to be commended for guiding and protecting their flocks honorably. By their actions, they are helping to restore, in part, a trust in our leadership that has been broken with the laity, and they are letting us know that our voices will be heard.”

Adapted from www.FaithfulUMC.com.

Excerpt from the Council of Bishops response:

“One of the deep disagreements and divisions within the church is over the practice of homosexuality, recently heightened by a group of clergy who have declared that they will perform holy unions in opposition to the Book of Discipline. This has caused different experiences of deep pain throughout the church. As the bishops of the church, we commit ourselves to be in prayer for the whole church and for the brokenness our communities experience. Furthermore, we ‘implore families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends. We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons’ (par. 161F). We will continue to offer grace upon grace to all in the name of Christ.

“At times like these we call upon each other to remember and renew our covenant with God and with one another as United Methodist Christians. As bishops chosen, consecrated and assigned by the Church, we declare once again our commitment to be faithful to this covenant we have made. As the Council of Bishops we will uphold the Book of Discipline as established by General Conference.”