Too Clever by Half

QuiltedBy Walter Fenton – The Western Jurisdiction’s election of an openly gay clergywoman as a bishop of The United Methodist Church essentially smothered developments at other jurisdictional gatherings this past July.

Of course, other bishops were elected; some were conservative, some centrist, and others progressive. Suffice it to say that the Council of Bishops will be substantially the same over the next quadrennium. Which is to say divided, and therefore unwillingly or unable to lead, even when it comes to promoting our church’s teachings and enforcing a clergyperson’s fidelity to them.

Given the lack of accountability it surprises no one anymore that progressives continue to push the envelope when it comes to achieving by ecclesial defiance what they cannot through “Christian conferencing.” The election of an openly gay bishop is now the primary indicator their strategy is working.

But it’s not the only indicator. For example, at the Northeastern Jurisdictional (NEJ) Conference in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, delegates approved resolutions that flaunted the Book of Discipline’s teachings on same sex marriage and the ordination of openly gay clergy.

Some of the resolutions passed with broad support. One resolution, which called for non-compliance with the Discipline, garnered 60 percent of the vote even though the delegates knew the NEJ College of Bishops would have to rule it out of order.

Similar resolutions were, however, ultimately ruled in order because friendly, or what others might call cynical, amendments allowed for their approval.

For instance, a proposal calling for the NEJ College of Bishops to refuse to hear complaints, initiate investigations, or conduct church trials for pastors who preside at same sex services or self-avow as an openly gay clergyperson was initially ruled out of order by Bishop Thomas Bickerton, who said it called for bishops to violate the Book of Discipline. However, he did allow the body to debate it.

Rev. Gere Reist, Photo by Mike DuBos, UMNS.

Rev. Gere Reist, Photo by Mike DuBos, UMNS.

The Rev. Gere Reist, the widely known outgoing secretary of the denominations’ General Conference, offered the following amendment: that NEJ annual conference councils on finance and administration (CFAs) simply “state that there are no funds available for initiating and processing of complaints and initiating of investigations and trials based upon the sexual orientation or marital status of faithful United Methodists or involving clergy for conducting same-sex weddings.”

It was one of the most cynical proposals we have ever witnessed. Clearly Reist had not consulted with the CFAs to determine whether such a statement were true or not. It also ran headlong into the UM Church’s constitutional provision that all clergy have a right to trial. And finally, it would have CFAs state they have “no funds available for initiating and processing of complaints and initiating of investigations and trials” only in cases having to do with clergy presiding at same-sex weddings or identifying as openly gay.

Initially, the progressive majority marveled and rejoiced at Reist’s clever amendment. And even Bickerton congratulated him for a maneuver that would now allow the bishops to rule the resolution in order.

One delegate, who supported the amendment, wondered aloud if it wouldn’t be best, in the interest of fairness, to ask the CFAs to say they have “no funds available for initiating and processing of complaints and initiating of investigations and trials” for any judicial cases.

For maybe a minute, the body seemed genuinely challenged by the idea, but after mulling it over a bit, decided no, CFAs should just say they don’t have funds for certain complaints, investigations, and trials. Apparently, in the case of a pastor encouraging her congregants to withhold their tithes and gifts from an ethically challenged annual conference, funds could be found for judicial proceedings.

A brave delegate from the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference then rose to the floor and had the impertinence to ask, “I have trouble with this amendment; aren’t we essentially asking people to lie?”

For a few moments the assembled pastors and lay delegates – the recognized leaders of an entire jurisdiction of the UM Church – were sobered by the question. But ultimately 96 of the 160 voting delegates decided the ends justified the means; asking people to lie in the interest of the LGBTQ+ agenda seemed fine with them.

Later, the NEJ College of Bishops informed the delegates it would have to rule the entire amended resolution out of order if its title, “Stop the Church Trials,” remained a part of it. The delegates voted 111 to 53 to strip the title so the proposal as amended by Reist would stand.

Finally, another brave soul, this time from the Eastern Pennsylvania Annual Conference, requested a decision of law regarding the legitimacy of the resolution. The presiding bishop said he would issue a ruling in 30 days.

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

Comments

  1. Please, please — those with authority and influence, move expeditiously to make this divided church officiall and put an end to this nonsense!!!!!

  2. A school district that had no discipline in its classroom would never be able to adequately teach students. A military unit without discipline would soon be at the mercy of the enemy. A business without discipline would most likely go bankrupt. A church that eschews its own discipline and ignores Holy Scripture for the sake of following a popular trend is headed for disaster. These progressives should be forced to form their own denomination that conforms to their own twisted ideas.

    • What ever happened to disciplining by ex-communicating those in direct conflict with the Book of Discipline and the Bible. Where are our Leaders responsible for keeping the discipline of our Church? Why is there any division? Those who disagree with our (The United Methodist Church) beliefs are welcome to go and become members of a church with like beliefs. Our beliefs are based on the Bible and have been for over 2,000 years! As Paul writes, those who don’t repent and walk as disciples of Christ are in rebellion to him and our Church….. we are to expel them from us. We love and welcome all people to come and learn about the love that Christ has for them through baptism and repentance (a turning away from our sin). But we are to have nothing to do with those who are trying to divide the Church. Without leadership we lose our freedom to worship. Don’t be of the World, be of the WORD…. stand up for Jesus sake!

  3. :Licensed Local Pastor says

    This is ridiculous! How convoluted is their thinking? The progressives ask for the Bishops to lead on the question of sexuality at General Conference and then thumb their noses at the Bishops Council with the blessing of other Bishops. How much longer do the Bishops think the denomination will be able to stand? The United Methodist Church in some areas is becoming more like the world and will soon be as John Wesley feared a dead sect.

    I will wait patiently for the Lord, to see what he does.

  4. The diagnosis for the United Methodist Church is that it is dying. The prognosis for its survival is the question before us. Do we do surgery? does anyone have or know of an antidote? or do we continue to assign it to conferencing and debate about what to do until the Church expires on its own by attrition and malaise? The patient will not last long enough to continue in the path we are now engaged. We must come to a clear choice for a remedy, quickly and prudently.

    • Surgery needed. NOW!

    • Ignore the inept leadership, then if your pastor is old school, remove the name United and replace with a more defining name – (Pauline?) or, Methodist Church of Jesus Christ –and lastly, withhold funds supporting the inept leadership.

  5. I applaud Rev. Gere Reist! Trials? Come now, sisters and brothers, if you had the money why waste in on “Church Trials,” for people who were born as they are? I am short with blue eyes, that is the way I was born. Most of the world is taller than I, and the majority of people on the planet have brown eyes, I am different, if I was a cleric, would you “try me,” for being different than most of my brothers and sisters.
    You say that being LBGTQAI is against “God’s law?” God did not write the Bible, Jewish scholars wrote the Hebrew Scriptures, and yes, they wrote the NT, too. Years later, Galileo was persecuted for saying that the Earth revolved around the Sun! Epilepsy was said to be “caused by demons possessing the epileptic. OH, I must be “possessed by demons? No, I am not possessed by demons, but I did have a brain tumor removed 22 years ago, and the resultant scar tissue causes, now controlled, seizures.
    Come into at least the 20th century when it was learned that being LBGTQAI is a matter of one’s birth, and not a “sin.”

    • If you believe that the Bible is just a history book written by a group of Jewish men and not the divine word of God then why call yourself a Christian. If you are not going to trust the authority of the Bible (the foundation of the Christian Faith) but instead trust your feelings and thoughts then you should just toss out the Bible altogether. When you do this you have created a new religion and you can call it anything you want but don’t call it Christianity because it is not. With your thought process you are basically saying that if God new then what we know now there would not be scriptures in the Bible about men lying with men being a sin. So with all this said this train of thought makes the Bible irrelevant to you so then Christianity is also irrelevant. The Bible has not changed; the Methodist doctrine was originally based on the contents of the Bible so as the leaders of the Methodist Church begin to evolve with their progressive thoughts they also move further from Christianity and closer to some other religion that does not have a name yet. The Bible is not that complicated on sin until we attempt to find a Biblical reason to do something that is a sin.

    • Carla,

      We are all born sinners. To lie, lust and envy is in our nature. We are BORN with it. The Lord, the church and the bible condemn all sin and recognize our lifelong struggle with it. They are in complete alignment on this. In your nature, you are no different at all. In Matthew 5:28 it says “… anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery in his heart.” It doesn’t matter if you are homosexual or heterosexual at all. It’s in our nature and it’s sin. Simple.

      You may ask, “They why treat me differently?” The answer is that you are being treated differently because you are asking to be treated differently. You want your sin to not be sin. To be open about it and not ashamed. You want a Holy exception! I don’t hear anyone asking to commit other kinds of sins, openly and with pride, and then ask to lead a congregation or a jurisdiction. What other sins do you not want to be sins. Is there a list or is this the only one? I want to openly and with pride be unfaithful to my wife and on Sundays, preach from the pulpit! Or better yet, be a bishop! Take that idea to another church. It has no place in the UMC.

      It’s clear that the Bible is just another book to you. You’ve made that case well. Not Holy. Not timeless. I assume that is why you think the way you do. Yes, it was written by men, but with divine inspiration and God’s oversight to ensure it was perfect. If it’s human and not Holy, flawed and not perfect. If we can pick and choose what we pay attention to then, it has very little value. Perhaps some good ideas and that’s all. Just like any other book.

      I hope the church doesn’t split up, but if it does, those who choose to violate the Book of Discipline should be the ones to leave and then you can create your own church and figure out which book you will follow.

  6. It is suggested that we should “default to the most charitable reading of a statement by our bishops..” The most charitable reading is the one most likely to be wrong.

  7. 1 What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?
    2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask.
    3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.
    4 You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. – James 4:1-4

  8. Jim Markel says

    Before launching into an opinion of the UMC’s current status, I wish to thank Walter, Tom, Rob and the rest of the GN staff for their work in keeping us plugged into this ecclesiastical downward spiral.
    I’ve spent a career in non-profit work and institutions and can assure all UM’s… IT’S ABOUT THE MONEY! If churches, camps, facilities, offices and properties were not at stake; if denominational holdings and budgets, pension monies and outstanding pledges of various sorts were not “in play”; if placements of biblically and theologically educated men and women with specific skillsets were not threatened…this current situation would be much easier to resolve. Unfortunately, both progressives and traditionalists are heavily leveraged in the outcome of this schism. Spiritually, we have arrived at a juncture where neither side is able to perceive a united future, but both are unwilling to push away from a table of plenty. I also know that writing glib comments regarding other people’s income, pension and church investment is relatively easy…when you have little personal stake! But, I would suggest the following: 1) No longer can bishops, district superintendents, pastors or denominational administrators be depended on to resolve this division; their personal stake is much too profound. 2) Laymen must be called upon to negotiate a equitable solution for this disjointed church. 3) No side will be spared the stain that is applied when Christians cannot resolve their differences. Both camps should present themselves to a holy God and beseech him for forgiveness of pride, arrogance and a lack of Love.
    On the other hand, we can continue to wage a “war of attrition”, where both sides become case studies of failed theologies and principles. In summation, “if God is God, then serve him.”

  9. Fitzgerald Reist says

    Walter, It would be nice if you actually quoted the entire amendment that I offered rather than shortening it. You may not be aware, but I was criticized by a progressive as well for that amendment. It changed a directive to the bishops to a request to CFA chairs. The purpose was to try to keep us together. I fear that we will divide and in so doing we will act contrary to the prayer of Jesus.. Obviously from some of the comments that have already been offered, that is what many people desire, though I continue to seek a way in which we can be one in Christ while living with the inevitable differences that accompany mortality. After all, that was the prayer of Jesus. As far as I was concerned, it was not a cynical proposal, but a hopeful proposal that helped fulfill the decision of the General Conference, expressed in the support of the proposal from the COB, to seek to avoid church trials.

    • In response to your desire to “stay together despite our differences”, I offer this summation of Wesley’s sermon “Catholic Spirit” by Kenneth Collins and Jason Vickers, editors of “The Sermons of John Wesley”:

      “Considering the two grand hindrances that stand in the way of those who genuinely love God, namely, that they can’t all think or walk alike, Wesley proposed that fellowship should remain, even thrive, since all may love alike. In other words,…Wesley focused on the holy love that is at the heart of it all as the goal…of all true religion…With this reality in place, brought about by the ministrations of the Holy Spirit, Wesley was willing to extend the hand of Christian fellowship though differences remain in terms of such things as opinions, polity, modes of worship, the sacraments, and extemporaneous prayer. Such generosity of spirit, however, does not represent speculative latitudinarianism, (indifference to all opinions), practical latitudinarianism (indifference to mode of worship) or indifference to all congregations, that is, that one ought not to be well grounded in a particular theological tradition.”

      I read the sermon for myself several years before this book was published and came to the same conclusion. I do not pretend to be a Wesleyan scholar, but I have read enough of Wesley’s writings as well as enough about him that I think he would be absolutely appalled at the theological diversity that has been allowed to run amuck within the UMC. It is erroneous to use “The Catholic Spirit” as justification for keeping the UMC together. I encourage everybody to sit down and spend some time with it. It is written in English and with the help of a dictionary and some perseverance to get into the rhythm of Wesley’s writing–he is very direct–it is very readable. Wesley is very astute when it comes to human nature; as a result, “Catholic Spirit” is a defense of why there are so many versions of Christianity! Given the disobedience/non-conformity that has surfaced I think it is now safe to say that not only are we theologically diverse, our polity is now in question. Personally, I have found the theological diversity to be toxic; it left me understanding nothing in particular. When the going got rough and really needed my faith I had to wander off to gain a clear understanding of who God is and who I am; I still wish somebody within the UMC had been capable of imparting the understanding that M. Craig Barnes and The Heidelberg Catechism did!

      • Fitzgerald Reist says

        Wesley’s theology is far more complex than can be conveyed in a single sermon. May I commend to you Sermon 38, A Caution Against Bigotry. You might find that Wesley expresses himself in that sermon in a manner far more inclusive than you might expect.

  10. The comment that Bishops are unable to lead has some validity–how do you lead when everybody has a different perception of what it means to be a United Methodist? We shouldn’t be surprised that the progressives have ramped up disobedience to the next level–they basically got a tap on the hand when they started this after GC2012. My perception is that by 1972 the UMC had lost any theological consensus. It has been able to float along because everybody worked within the designated processes, now even that is out the window. For a connectional church our structure is very disconnectional with zero accountability at the denominational level.

  11. The Judical Council Docket for October:

    http://www.umc.org/who-we-are/judicial-council-october-2016-docket

    The South Central Jurisdiction petition is pending. Will it make it onto the October docket? If so, what is the likely ruling(s) that could come out of this based on past rulings?

    Since this is the next official action by the church, and rather significant, on the marriage and the ordination of practicing homosexuals conflict in the church, could GOOD NEWS please bring us up to speed on this Judicial Council session? It would be most appreciated.

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