Another Board of Ministry Opts for Defiance

Photo Illustration by Kathleen Barry, United Methodist Communications.

Photo Illustration by Kathleen Barry, United Methodist Communications.

By Walter Fenton-

Before The United Methodist Church’s 2016 General Conference even adjourned, the board of ordained ministry in the largely progressive and rapidly shrinking Northern Illinois Annual Conference, announced in an open letter on Thursday, May 19:

“We publicly affirm that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, and straight candidates will be given equal consideration and protection in the candidacy process. Sexual orientation and gender identity are not and will not be considered in the evaluation of candidates by the Board of Ordained Ministry of the Northern Illinois Conference.”

With its statement the board joins the Baltimore-Washington, New York, and Pacific Northwest boards in their repudiations of The United Methodist Church’s clear statement that, “self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church.”

“I don’t know how we can interpret this precipitous and ill-conceived statement as anything other than an act of schism on the part of our board of ministry,” said the Rev. Scott Field, lead pastor at First Church, a United Methodist Congregation, in Crystal Lake, Illinois. “Anyone paying attention to our denomination’s General Conference in Portland (Oregon) could readily see there is no movement for changing our church’s biblically sound and long held teachings on this matter. With all due respect, this statement is more of a provocation for separation than one that seeks to unite the church.”

Progressives had hoped General Conference 2016 would completely overturn all prohibitions against the ordination of openly gay clergy and same-sex marriage. And some centrists advocated for a compromise that would have allowed progressive pastors to preside at same-sex services and give liberal annual conferences the right to ordain openly gay clergy.

It became apparent early in the 10-day conference that neither approach could win the support of the majority of the 864 delegates. Most progressives and centrists backed a proposal to delay debate on the church’s sexual ethics to a special called session of the General Conference or to its next scheduled meeting in 2020.

Bishop Scott Jones

Bishop Scott Jones

During the conference the denomination’s Council of Bishops [COB] issued a document addressing the long and contentious debate over the church’s sexual ethics. While it proposed a special commission to study the matter, it also made clear that in the interim, the church’s teachings still stand and will be enforced.

As if to emphasize the point, earlier this week Bishop Scott Jones of the Great Plains Episcopal Area, released an open letter of his own to the people of the Great Plains Annual Conference. The letter addressed a complaint filed against the Rev. Cynthia Meyer in the light of actions taken at General Conference.

Earlier this year, Meyer announced to her Edgerton, Kansas, congregation that she was a lesbian living in a partnered relationship with another woman. A formal complaint was filed against her, and an attempt to reach a just resolution of the matter failed. The case is now before a committee on investigation, and based on it findings, Meyer could face a church trial and the possible loss of her ministerial credentials.

Jones pointed out that “there have been social media statements which are based on misunderstandings of the document” the COB released in Portland. He noted that the special commission will “study all the paragraphs in our Book of Discipline regarding human sexuality,” but he also made very clear that, “the General Conference made no changes regarding human sexuality,” and therefore “Bishops will uphold [it] while these conversations continue.”

According to the open letter from the Northern Illinois board of ordained ministry, the decision to reject the UM Church’s standards was a unanimous one. Apparently the whole board of the dwindling conference is pressing for disunity and schism in spite of the bishops’ plea for unity.

Walter Fenton is a United Methodist clergyperson and analyst for Good News.



  1. Short of complete surrender to the demands of the progressives, nothing will be acceptable to them. Obviously we are in schism and an amiable parting of ways is the only way forward. The next commission, following the sure failure of the one about to be appointed, will need to devise an exit plan for those who refuse to be legitimate members of the UMC. It will need to be a plan of volunteer withdrawal with property and equitable accrued benefits or forced suspension following a reasonable opportunity of apology and compliance. After all, these conference have essentially withdrawn themselves from the UMC anyway, so a plan needs to be implemented to formally finalize their actions one way or the other.

  2. The Council of Bishops are a timorous group. The Methodist Church has heard an uncertain trumpet sound for the battle. It is not what we are against but what are we for that makes all the difference. Sound doctrine, reproofs and corrections are always a winner. GC2016 did not have the will to win and solidify a World Church conscience. Continued defiance without accountability, as pledged by the CoB, is in essence de-fact-to schism.

  3. I agree with William’s assessment. In addition to conferences declaring they will not abide by the Discipline, there is the fact that the liberal/progressives had their own ordination ceremony and then added their own separately blessed elements to the communion provided by GC. They have clearly stated they are a power unto themselves and are not subjected to the authority of the General Conference and have no intention of doing so. Whether we like it or not, General Conference is the only thing that is currently designated to speak for the church. We are in the mess we are in now not because legislation failed, but because people have put themselves above the authority of General Conference–starting with some Bishops. I keep going back to how the Apostles chose a replacement for Judas: they narrowed the choice down to two, rolled the dice, accepted the answer and everybody moved on. Well, General Conference has consistently come up with the exact same answer time and time again and yet we are stuck in this morass because one group of people does not like the answer and basically wants to keep “rolling the dice” until the correct answer as they perceive it emerges. Check out the online petition currently posted on the Reconciling Ministries Network website that demands a specific outcome from the not yet named commission. The fact the UMC does not trust its own processes is most definitely a sign of a much deeper problem that I find more disturbing than the question about sexuality.

  4. Licensed Local Pastor says

    Well it certainly seems that the schism has already occurred. The Illinois Conference by this action has rejected the leadership of the Bishop’s in favor of their own gnosis. It is time for the Bishop’s to realize that there is no hope for the United Methodist Church as it stands now to stay in connection with those who would ignore the authority of the scriptures.

    Mark 3:25, If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.
    Matthew 12:25 Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand.
    Luke 11:17 Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them: “Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall.

    Time for an amicable separation, if that is even possible.

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