Episcopal Oversight

Rob Renfroe

Rob Renfroe

Many of you who read my editorials are pastors of a local church as I am. Imagine this scenario. One hundred of your most committed and loyal members write you a letter. You know they love your church. Most of them have been members for decades. They serve faithfully in your congregation’s ministries and they give generously. Their letter states they are deeply concerned about a matter they believe is endangering the health of the church they love and they hope you will act to address it.

How would you respond? Would you ask to meet with them and hear them out? I know I would. Maybe you would decide to sit down with a few of their leaders and ask them to speak for the group. Short of that, would you send a letter of your own, thanking those who wrote for sharing their concerns? If not inclined to go that far, would you at least in some way acknowledge that you had received their letter? I mean, you would respond, right? Even if you did not agree with their concerns, as a leader you would feel it important to respond to your members who took the time to write, wouldn’t you? And if not as a leader, then wouldn’t simple politeness require you to make some kind of reply to your brothers and sisters in Christ?

What if you did nothing? What would you expect those 100 members to do? Would you expect them to continue to look to you for leadership?  Listen to your sermons, telling them how we Christians should treat each other? Pay your salary?

Others of you who are reading this piece are laypersons. Put yourself in the scenario above as those who wrote the letter. You love your church, you have supported it for years, and you have given your life to its work in your community. It’s unusual for you to write your pastor. But you agree with others whom you respect that the life of your congregation is at risk. After hours of meeting together, the group crafts a letter you believe the pastor needs to read. You say a prayer, sign your name and wait for a response – that never comes.

How would you feel? Confused? Disrespected? Even more concerned about the future of your church? Angry?

Last July more than 100 pastors and theologians sent a letter to the Council of Bishops. They had flown to Atlanta, Georgia, because they loved The United Methodist Church and they were concerned about the future of our denomination. In particular, they were alarmed that some of our bishops had demonstrated an unwillingness to enforce in any meaningful way the parts of the Book of Discipline with which they disagree. Other bishops had stated they would use their influence to preclude the due process given to us in the Discipline for holding pastors accountable when they break our covenant. Together the group that met in Atlanta has given thousands of years of service to the UM Church. They represent hundreds of thousands of concerned United Methodists. And the congregations they lead pay millions of dollars every year in apportionments to support the denomination. They love our church and they have given their lives to its ministry and well-being.

As I write, five months have passed since the statement was sent to the bishops. More than a month has passed since the Council of Bishops last met. Still, there has been no official response from the Council. Not even a perfunctory “thank you for writing” kind of letter.

To be fair, a few bishops have met individually with the pastors in their Annual Conferences who signed the statement. For that we are grateful. But what about the 8,500 persons who signed the statement on the website www.methodistcrossroads.org? No one has communicated to them that their concerns have been heard, much less taken seriously. What about the majority of the 100 pastors and theologians whose bishop did not meet with them?

Some of those who originally signed the statement have publicly asked the question, “Can we continue to live together as one church? Is it time to wish each other well and part company?” Some at the Atlanta meeting made a case for that. But the majority felt we should give our bishops yet another opportunity to assure the church that they will vigorously enforce the Book of Discipline, gladly teach our gracious and biblical position regarding human sexuality, and in some way speak out against those bishops who are unwilling to uphold the Discipline in a meaningful way. What came out of the Council’s last meeting was the same kind of statement that has been issued many times before. It did not address the concerns of those who met in Atlanta. It did not indicate that the Council feels the same urgency regarding the church’s divisions that many of us do. It did not offer new ideas about how to address our differences. It did not provide a reason to hope that The United Methodist Church can look forward to a future any different from our past of decline and division.

We are grateful for our bishops who are committed to enforcing the covenant that holds us together and there are many. And, sadly, we can understand that the Council is so divided that it cannot issue a statement that might encourage those of us who believe in the church’s position. But we can’t understand how the Council apparently feels no need to write 100 of its leading pastors and simply say, “Thanks for your letter.” Maybe it’s too much to expect an invitation to meet with the Council. Maybe we shouldn’t have hoped for the courtesy of a response that stated, “we value your opinions and we are as concerned as you.” But for the Council to not even to send an email that says, “we received your letter, thanks for writing” – that’s a hard one to figure.

Until they do, I guess we’re expected to keep looking to them for leadership, listening to them tell us how to treat each other with dignity and respect, and paying their salaries. I know that would never work in the local church. And I can’t imagine it will serve our denomination very well, either.

Rob Renfroe is president and publisher of Good News.

 

Comments

  1. On the Confessing Movement website, the Council of Bishops’ letter asking for prayer for them and for the denomination was published. I responded on that website by remembering the very document you refer to in the article above. I did not realize that “Methodist Crossroads” request from the Bishops was released 5 months ago–I thought it was about 3 months ago. Anyway, as I noted on the Confessing Movement website, the Bishops in effect thumbed their noses at that Crossroads document. You have put it very well: they did what no pastor with any sense would do–they blew it off. I suggest that it is time for conservatives/evangelicals/orthodox to develop a plan. I think that progressive and so-called “middle way” or “a way forward” folks are going to develop their own plans. Communication and PR are going to play a big role in the run-up to General Conference. If Conservative just sit back and react, I think a disastrous plan will gain high ground. I think this letter to the Council of Bishops (the Crossroads document) was a last-ditch effort to bring the church into conformance with the Discipline. The Bishops’ silence is their answer. Now the Conservatives need to develop a way either to create an amicable schism or just to create a new denomination. Letting this thing to continue to slide down hill is irresponsible and unfaithful.

  2. Lance Whorton says:

    I appreciate the work of the pastors who met and whole heartedly agree with and was pleased to sign the statement. My confusion, and perhaps is part of the lack of response by the bishops, was the secretiveness of the meeting. I’m still not sure who the 100 that were invited are. I lead a small congregation, but was never contacted to see if I was interested in supporting such a statement. I thank you for the work and agree with your concerns. I just wonder if the way it was handled came off as a minority position – which I do not believe we are in. Thx

  3. Jane L. Bonner says:

    I read this article with a heavy heart. I am more than disappointed in the paralysis of the Council of Bishops. I am angry. When I was confirmed into the UMC in 1965, at the age of 14, I was moved so by the Spirit that I wept for over an hour. When I joined another UMC as a married woman, I took my vows and once again wept for the joy of the commitment and beauty of membership. Upon moving to another community, I wept as I confirmed my membership at my new home church. That last vow was over 20 years ago. Between the last two churches, I left the UMC for independent churches because of the unfaithfulness of the UMC in its position on abortion and the hierarchy’s involvement in liberal politics around the globe. The Lord called us back in 1992 to be faithful to our vows. It has been a beautiful, but also sad journey. When you look to a group like the Council of Bishops, or even your own Bishop and find that they are not faithful and that they are not respectful to their flock, it is heart breaking. I weep for them. There is a passage I remind myself about weeping as you sow the seed and joy coming in the morning. I look for the joy when our church, the Lord’s church, once again honors His Word and His Promises and also fears Him. Those of us need to pray for them, but also to reach out to them in the grace and love of Jesus, requesting them to return to His Way. We need to encourage one another and spur one another on to good deeds, brave deeds, sacrificial deeds to bring the UMC to path and promote the goodness of Wesleyan practice and faith.

  4. Excellent question… I am amazed there has been no official response. Incredible.

    We’re on the same team. People may disagree, but our ultimate purpose is in common. No response is a response.

  5. The silence speaks volumes.

    We know that many of our Bishops and those within our agencies are actively working against the cause of Christ and, we also know that many are almost certainly not Christians — they are of their father the devil, and the desires of their father they want to do (cf. John 8:44). Why do we continue to expect unregenerate men to behave as Christians?

    We file petitions, asking for faithfulness from those blind to true faith, while our adversaries have long ago committed to scorched earth tactics.

    • Linda Grubb says:

      Excellent commentary, Paul. We have too many in authority in the church who have never been born again. Our current pastor does not believe in altar calls or one on one evangelism. In fact, at a recent local Rescue Mission service where he was presenting the evening to the residents, he joked about people who pass out attracts and say “are you save?” I was appalled. The church has become a corrupt bureaucracy where power is obtained through political correctness. John Wesley would be heartsick.

  6. It’s time to take action. It’s time for the church to split. We are at an impasse and as it stands, the Church is not centered on the gospel.

    • Linda Grubb says:

      You are so right, Rick. I am just sick over what has happened to a church that once sent preachers into the wilderness of the frontier to win others and establish churches for Jesus Christ.

  7. al milligan says:

    Silence is golden. If you don’t address the situation you can manipulate and direct it in the direction you want it to go. The strategy is working.
    Because we have relinquished the idea that monogamous marriage as a reflection of objective value and rather consider it an arbitrary institution of the state (or God) we are creating a society of “men without chests.” C.S. Lewis writes in The Abolition of Man that if there is no objective value then all law is tyranny and all obedience slavery. In our conquering of nature, Lewis tells us, we have become slaves of our conditioners. .
    Like Butler says “no response is a response.” But maybe there is no response because they do not understand what is at stake.
    Just a thought.

    • theenemyhatesclarity says:

      Al Milligan, I think you hit the nail on the head. The Bishops “do not understand what is at stake.” They do not understand what is at stake either for the continuity of the UMC, or eternally for the many souls who are being misled. I weep for our church.

      In Christ,

      The enemy hates clarity

  8. al milligan says:

    “…is a reflection of objective value”

  9. William T says:

    Rev. Renfroe,
    You stated that likely the Council is so divided that it could not issue a meaningful statement. And, that is the real, realistic, and sad condition of the church. So, the Council issued a convoluted, incoherent, extremely politically correct statement, which, of course, was highly offensive and blatantly insulting to those of the Methodist Crossroads effort who had directly and openly petitioned them to address some very specific concerns. Now, so far ignoring their colleagues who met in Atlanta, on their own time and dime, who made a specific request of them seems to show a whole new level of arrogance, even for them. They are the rotting core of the United Methodist Church.

  10. Rev. David V. Ford says:

    I read Rob’s article with a heavy heart, but I am not surprised at the lack of response on the part of the Council of Bishops. How sad is that? The pun is not lost on me – “Episcopal OVERSIGHT.” What happened to common courtesy? I am one of the 100 who helped to produce the Integrity & Unity open letter to the Council of Bishops. I pray for the Council of Bishops and the whole UMC. I have been under appointment since 1984. Just about the time that this article appeared on the Good News website I was finishing up reading Alan Hirsch’s book entitled, “The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church (which I highly recommend).” Here is a quote from Hirsch’s book that I think is spot on and gives insight into the morass that the UMC finds itself in regarding the homosexuality/bi-sexuality/transgender issue: “Theological liberalism is an indicator of institutional decline not only because it tries to minimize the necessary tension between gospel and culture by eliminating the culturally offending bits, but because it is basically a parasitical ideology. I don’t mean this to be offensive to my liberal brothers and sisters; I wish merely to point out that theological liberalism rarely creates new forms of church or extends Christianity in any significant way, but rather exists and ‘feeds off’ what the more orthodox missional movements started. Theological liberalism always comes later in the history of a movement, and it is normally associated with its decline.” Hirsch speaks the truth in love in the prior quote as did Dr. Wolfhart Pannenberg in this next quote, “Here lies the boundary of a Christian church that knows itself to be bound by the authority of Scripture. Those who urge the church to change the norm of its teaching on this matter must know that they are promoting schism. If a church were to let itself be pushed to the point where it ceased to treat homosexual activity as a departure from the biblical norm, and recognized homosexual unions as a personal partnership of love equivalent to marriage, such a church would stand no longer on biblical ground but against the unequivocal witness of Scripture. A church that took this step would cease to be the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.” I refuse to step over “the boundary.” How do we stop feeding that “parasitical ideology” that is feeding off of the body of Christ? Consider prayerfully and carefully this last quote from F.B. Meyer, “It is often argued that we should remain in the midst of churches and bodies whose sins and follies we deplore, in the hope of saving them for God and mankind. Such reasoning has a good deal of force in the first stages of decline. A strong protest may arrest error and stop the gangrene. But as time advances, and the whole body becomes diseased; when the protests have been disregarded, and the arguments trampled underfoot; when the majority have clearly taken up their position against the truth — we have no alternative but to come out and be separate. The place from which we can exert the strongest influence for good is not from within, but from without. Lot lost all influence of his life in Sodom; but Abraham, from the heights of Mamre, was able to exert a mighty influence on its history.” Do we continue the protests or is it time for the children of Abraham to scale the heights of Mamre for the glory of God and the advancement of God’s kingdom?

    Selah,

    Rev. David V. Ford
    Elder – Virginia Annual Conference of the UMC

    • Rev, Kenneth Bryan Sexton, Jr. says:

      Brother Ford’s analysis and quotes place our Methodist Malaise in clear focus and forthrightness. I am a third generation minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ within the United Methodist Church. My heart is broken and saddened. Those of us who hold to the authority of Scripture, as did John Wesley, and who hold to the great Biblical truths which form our Methodist doctrines and theology are feeling less and less like we belong in what has become of the United Methodist Church. We have looked with hope to the efforts of conservative leaders within our denomination to call our Church back to spiritual relevance. But it seems that those who hold the power (the Bishops and heads of General Boards and Agencies) are more consumed and concerned with political and social relevance. The objections that are being raised by the conservative, evangelical members of our clergy and laity are being brushed aside with a rude and offensive arrogance that offends us all. Brother Renfroe predicted at a meeting I recently attended that GC 2016 would bring about no significant changes and would leave us all feeling as disappointed as GC 2012. I was not encouraged by this predication. Given that neither side in this stalemate will budge, and given the parasitic nature of liberalism as pointed out by Alan Hirsch I wonder how long this can and will go on. To be sure, term limits for Bishops may help with a remedy but a liberal political machine can always reproduce it’s own kind with no real change of mind or heart. Yes we all pray for the United Methodist Church and for it’s bishops and leaders. But I believe brother Ford’s comments and analysis are the ‘hand-writing on the wall’. May God give grace and courage to those who have influence to either lead or cease critical whining. Selah. Rev. Bryan Sexton; Elder, NC AC of the UMC

  11. Ian McDonald says:

    This does not surprise me. The bishops cry unity, unity and then ignore a segment of the denomination that cry for accountability and some sign of scriptural leadership.

  12. http://TheEndofPornbyWire.org
    I am a “new” member of the United Methodist Church but am generally “happy” with my church “day-to-day” and love it so much I will put up with whatever the leaders are going to do. I will perhaps consider joining a Baptist church across the street or will quit going to church altogether. The latter is the most likely option because of the frustrations I feel with humanity in these end times.

    I will write the “Good News” staff a direct note because my further comments should impact the denomination and this is not an appropriate venue.

  13. Thanks for “speaking the truth in love.” May God bless and embolden you as you stand for Him!

  14. Anonymous says:

    Friends, have we considered that the Talbert decision IS the response of the Bishops to the unity statement? We claim there is only silence because we have not received the kind of answer we expect or that we feel is appropriate, even reciprocal, to the unity statement. Yet most of us would preach that the actions of our lives show our faith (James 2:18).

    We may neither like nor appreciate the answer given, but the blunt, horrible truth is that the bishopric have made their intentions crystal clear. And while we may “talk a good game” with well-worded documents and official complaints, these are nothing more than hot air and bad breath until we are willing to take action.

    Which way is the wind blowing; to whence does the Spirit lead?

  15. Dave ONeil says:

    It’s time, question is do we have any leaders? do we know which Bishops are with God. It’s time to create Christian church which follows the bible and not their desires. I have a business background and would be blessed to help make a transition to a God fearing church.

  16. Linda Grubb says:

    Sorry to say that my local pastor does not respond to concerns from his parishioners. Our pastor, of twenty-six years, retired in June and we received a new appointment. Our church was already in decline but this pastor has escalated the process by his dictatorial attitude and lack of true concern for his members. He will not stop to carry on a conversation with anyone and is always in a hurry and will just walk away. I am so concerned for my local church and the UMC as a whole. I have sent the pastor several e-mails with events that have occurred such as the one with Bishop Talbert, the social justice activism of UMW, and the UMC support of Islam by allowing them to use church facilities to worship their false god. We are to be winning souls for Christ, not putting a rubber stamp on false religions in the spirit of love and diversity. My pastor told me that if I sent him any more “negative” e-mails, he would be forced to block me. I asked him how he felt about the church leaving its roots. He stated that the church is “evolving”, that we cannot live in the past, and we must welcome and love everyone in the spirit of diversity and inclusion. That says it all. We now average 100 to 120 attendees between two services and are not meeting our budgeted expenses. We have had to terminate our youth director and much needed building repairs have been placed on hold. We have lost members since his arrival with these people going to conservative churches. And yet, he and the other liberals in the church just don’t get it.

  17. John L. Caudle II says:

    The current state of the UMC causes me great hurt and fear. Hurt that the direction of our denomination is being chartered by those who feel the Trinity is no longer Father, Son and Holy Ghost but is now me, myself and I. Fear that so many promises, covenants and pledges to serve Jesus Christ in accordance with Scripture have been forsaken and/or abandoned outright…and these were promises to God!

    The word blasphemy comes to mind!

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