Is There a Way Forward?

By Walter Fenton-

For nearly nine months now the Commission on a Way Forward has been meeting behind closed doors in an attempt to fulfill two almost impossible tasks: producing a plan to definitively resolve the deep disagreement over The United Methodist Church’s sexual ethics and maintain some semblance of church unity.

The idea of a commission was proposed and approved at the May 2016 General Conference in an effort to avoid chaos. The church’s highest administrative body, the Connectional Table, had come to the quadrennial gathering with a plan to liberalize the church’s teachings on marriage and to allow annual conferences to decide whether to ordain openly gay clergy. However, it quickly became apparent that even though the plan had significant support it would still be defeated, just as all previous attempts to change the church’s teachings had been rejected at previous General Conferences.

The Council of Bishops (COB) knew another vote rebuffing efforts to liberalize the church’s teachings would ignite waves of protest by allies of the LGBTQ+ movement. Some feared the conference would spin out of control and prove to be a public relations disaster for the UM Church. The Commission on the General Conference had contracted for heightened security and police presence at the Portland, Oregon Convention Center. All delegates and visitors had to pass through security checkpoints, and for the first several days of the conference the Portland Police Department maintained a pronounced presence in and around the convention center.

Given the dynamics of the situation, the COB seized on a proposal to table all legislation having to do with the church’s sexual ethics and teachings on marriage, and in turn create a commission to study the controversy and propose a definitive plan for resolving the long debate. The proposal narrowly passed 428 to 405. It gave the COB the authority to select the commission members and to convene an unprecedented called General Conference to consider a forthcoming proposal.

While the maneuver averted chaos at the General Conference, it did not cool passions at the annual and jurisdictional conference levels in the U.S. Within weeks of General Conference, several annual conferences voted to defy church law when it came to examining clergy candidates for commissioning and ordaining. Bishop Jane Middleton, on the recommendation of the New York Annual Conference’s Board of Ordained Ministry, ordained and commissioned openly gay candidates.

Matters took a turn for the worse when the five U.S. jurisdictional conferences convened in July. Delegates at the Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, passed several measures calling for ecclesial disobedience regarding the church’s sexual ethics and ordination standards. And then, on July 15, 2016, in Scottsdale, Arizona, the Western Jurisdiction elected as a bishop of the whole church, the Rev. Karen Oliveto, an openly lesbian pastor. It was widely known at the time of her election, consecration, and assignment that Oliveto had presided at dozens of same-sex marriages, and was herself married to Ms. Robin Ridenour, a United Methodist deaconess. The votes for defiance of church law and Oliveto’s election jolted the denomination.

Initially, many United Methodists, bishops included, believed these developments plunged the church into a crisis and warranted standing-up the commission as quickly as possible. However, it took the COB five months to announce the names of the 32 commission members and its three episcopal moderators. Before the year was over, the commission had met just once for an introductory conference call, and original plans for a called General Conference in 2018 were eventually pushed back to February 23-26, 2019, to be held in St. Louis.

In the meantime the church continues to confront growing challenges. Acts of ecclesial defiance have continued. Two large and growing conservative churches in Mississippi have left the denomination with all their property and assets, and other local churches are exploring their options. Several annual conferences are experiencing severe financial strains, with one characterizing its situation as a “crisis.” Some rank-and-file United Methodists have curtailed their giving, or requested that no portion of their tithes and gifts be forwarded to the annual conference or general church. And some local churches have decided to withhold their apportionments entirely.

Since the beginning of 2017, the commission has met four times, twice in Atlanta, once in Washington D.C., and recently in Chicago. The church is slated to spend $1.5 million on the commission, and another $4 million for the called 2019 General Conference. It is no exaggeration to say the fate of the denomination hinges on the plan the commission submits to the COB, and that it in turn presents to the delegates in St. Louis.

My Good News colleague, the Rev. Thomas Lambrecht, serves on the commission that has been meeting behind closed doors and has pledged itself to not divulging information of their proceedings. This article is based on several plans that had been floated prior to the creation of the Commission as well as the public comments made by Commission members and others that characterize their discussion of “simpler” and “looser” connections, as well as “new forms and structures.”    

What follows is a portrayal of the groups involved in the debate, and descriptions and critiques of some potential plans the commission may propose.

Reconcilers, Liberalizers, Conservatives

One group might best be called reconcilers. For the sake of church unity reconcilers can live in a church where others think and act differently about the church’s sexual ethics, same-sex marriage, and ordination standards.

They could make room for pastors who could not, in good conscience, preside at same-sex weddings and for pastors who would joyfully preside at them. And if an annual conference voted to ordain openly gay clergy, reconcilers would welcome them just as long as other annual conferences were free to maintain the UM Church’s current position forbidding such ordinations.

Even more fundamentally, reconcilers would make room for people who believe “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching,” and for those United Methodists who believe such a statement is unbiblical, harmful, and an incitement to violence against LGBTQ+ people.

In their defense, reconcilers are not without convictions regarding these matters. They have them, and, when necessary, will act upon them. However, they believe the church is big enough and that unity is precious enough to accommodate people with diametrically opposing views.

A second group might be called liberalizers. Their ultimate goal is to dramatically liberalize the church’s sexual ethics, its understanding of gender, and its teachings on marriage. Liberalizers, leaning into the Bible’s demand for justice, particularly for those who have been marginalized and persecuted, maintain the church’s present teachings are, at best, based on outdated biblical scholarship, and at worst, grounded in homophobia. They are committed to creating a church where LGBTQ+ people are fully included in every facet of the church’s structure, and where their relationships are blessed and celebrated by the church.

They could tolerate people who think differently than they do, but not at the price of limiting in any way the full rights and responsibilities of church membership to their LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters. Local UM congregations must be prepared to receive an openly gay pastor, and UM pastors must not refuse to preside at same-sex weddings solely on their belief that such weddings are contrary to Scripture and the traditions of the church catholic.

The third group can justifiably be called conservatives. They want to conserve the church’s present standards because they believe they are rooted in Scripture, confirmed by centuries of church teaching, and are widely held by the majority of Christians around the world. They are happy to live in a church where all people are welcome to attend, but conservatives cannot endorse practices they deem incompatible with Christian teaching.

Hope for Unity

The COB’s fondest hope for the commission is for it to propose a plan that definitively resolves the acrimonious debate over the church’s sexual ethics and keeps the church united. Many United Methodists across the theological spectrum share the COB’s hope. However, most acknowledge it is a very tall charge, some think it an impossible one.

Prior to the 2016 General Conference most reconcilers believed the “Third Way Plan,” proposed by the Connectional Table, fit the bill. It seemed to them practical and fair, requiring compromise from both liberalizers and conservatives. For liberalizers, it made room, where possible, for same-sex marriage and the ordination of openly LGBTQ+ people. And for conservative clergy and annual conferences it did not force them to violate their principles when it came to same-sex marriage and the ordination of openly gay candidates.

Now, many reconcilers have reached the conclusion the plan is no longer viable. Most recognize that liberalizers regarded it as an insult to the LGBTQ+ community. The plan, according to them, essentially said LGBTQ+ people would only be tolerated where others in the church are willing to accept them. For LGBTQ+ advocates, the Connectional Table’s plan simply replaced one discriminatory regimen with another. At best, liberalizers regarded “A Third Way” as a step toward, but certainly not a plan that would solve their fight for full inclusion.

Conservatives, too, regarded the plan as a non-starter. It called for redefining marriage in a way that undercut Scriptural authority (the plan called for inserting the phrase “marriage is between two people” into the church’s Book of Discipline), and required them to be part of a church that allowed for practices the vast majority of global Christianity has and continues to proscribe.

Some chastened proponents of the Connectional Table’s “A Third Way” plan now acknowledge some kind of separation is necessary, but perhaps a kind of separation that would still allow for some form of overarching unity covering those with irreconcilable differences. Therefore, it is not uncommon now to hear talk of a “big tent,” an “umbrella,” or a “structural solution” as a possible way forward.

A potential plan, under such a scenario, would call for the creation of two or three autonomous entities, one each for reconcilers, liberalizers, and conservatives. In practice, the three entities would be required to choose new names and they would function as three separate denominations, but they would all exist under something that might be called The United Methodist Communion of Churches.

Under this proposal, the entities would work together in areas where there was clear and broad agreement – for example, on certain mission

Bishop Karen Oliveto. Photo by Patrick Scriven, Pacific Northwest Conference.

initiatives and in response to natural disasters. And, where willing, they would share and contribute to critical agencies like Wespath (the UM Church’s pension and health benefits service). From time-to-time, perhaps once every four or five years, the leadership of the various entities would, in a way similar to the present World Methodist Council, meet together to make decisions regarding those ministries and agencies they shared in common.

Such a plan would, at least in some sense, accomplish the COB’s two major goals: it would definitively resolve the debate over the church’s sexual ethics, and also maintain unity. The subsidiary entities would be autonomous, each with their own names, and the right to make their own decisions regarding doctrine, polity, and social issues, but all would operate under and partake in a United Methodist “communion.”

The plan would have the added benefit of liberating three distinct bodies to engage in creative forms of ministry without the constraints of a current institutional structure that people across the connection believe is too costly and bureaucratic for the severe demographic challenges the church will be forced to confront in the 2020s.

However, such a plan faces serious, and perhaps even insurmountable problems. First, the very aspects that make the plan commendable could lead to its undoing. To create such a communion would almost certainly require constitutional amendments for its creation. That means over two-thirds of the delegates at the 2019 General Conference would need to approve of it, and then it would need to garner two thirds of all the votes in all the annual conferences for ratification. Not only would that process be time consuming, delaying any implementation for one to two years, it would give opponents ample opportunity to rally just thirty-four percent of United Methodist annual conference delegates to defeat it.

Second, people would justifiably question the utility of creating an umbrella organization like a United Methodist Communion if, in fact, such a communion would not be substantially different from the existing World Methodist Council. Would it not be easier, critics might ask, to simply spin off organizations like UMCOR, GBGM, and Wespath, and just allow the three new entities or denominations to use or participate as they wish? A United Methodist Communion would provide only a patina of unity, seem superfluous to many, and so, in time, it would be short lived.

Third, many reconcilers affirm the UM Church’s doctrines, polity, and its stands on various social issues, they just don’t want to fight over them. They are inclined to give people wide latitude to believe and do as they please as long as they do not embarrass the church in the public square or the wider culture. In fact, they are so contented with the name United Methodist that they would be reluctant to yield it up to a supra-organization as the price for a semblance of unity.

Where the debate over the church’s sexual ethics is not raging – in places like Africa and The Philippines – the United Methodist name is widely respected. Many members in these regions would chafe at being asked to align with one of the three entities and thereby accept a new name when they are happy with the present one. They believe U.S. liberalizers are largely responsible for driving the battle over the church’s sexual ethics. They would prefer the liberalizers simply exit the church if they cannot live by its standards.

Liberalizers, however, have no interest in creating their own entity or denomination. Their stated goal has always been to redeem the one they are presently a part of. They too would resist giving up the name United Methodist. To be sure, they wouldn’t be satisfied with a church still short of fully including LGBTQ+ people, but they have fought long and hard for full inclusion, and would feel confident reconcilers would eventually see the light. So for a time, the liberalizers and reconcilers would remain united and continue to debate the church’s sexual ethics and teachings on marriage. Liberalizers would constantly be pushing for full inclusion and full participation. Left leaning reconcilers would show signs of yielding. And right leaning reconcilers would grow frustrated, discovering that the unity and peace they thought they had won was only fleeting, forcing them once again to make a definitive decision they hoped to avoid.

Conservatives too would likely have serious reservations. So much water has gone over the dam since the 2016 General Conference that they have little appetite for remaining yoked to liberalizers. The heightened acts of ecclesial defiance and Oliveto’s election have soured conservatives on the idea that unity can be preserved. Many would balk at finding themselves under an umbrella or big tent with the liberalizers who defied the church’s teachings or even the reconcilers who countenanced the defiance. And they would certainly be opposed to any configuration that forced them to acknowledge an openly gay person as their bishop.

Furthermore, a growing number of conservatives find no great benefit in the name “United Methodist,” indeed, some consider it a hindrance. Many of the denomination’s largest and fastest growing congregations do not feature the name on their signs or other forms of publicity. For instance, the two large congregations who exited from the Mississippi Annual Conference were simply known as Getwell Road Church and The Orchard. At this juncture some conservatives would regard a United Methodist Communion as a fiction at best, and at worst, a supra-organization that would continue to entangle them in unwanted alliances and continued fighting with liberalizers and reconcilers.

So, if a “big tent” or “umbrella” faces such daunting challenges what are other viable options?

Liberalizers Should Leave

A significant number of global conservatives believe they know the best way forward: liberalizers should simply leave the church. After all, the denomination has repeatedly rebuffed their attempts to liberalize its teachings, and it is likely to do so for the foreseeable future. Conservatives in this camp think this way forward can be implemented in one or two ways – amicably or legislatively and litigiously.

Under the much preferred amicable plan, the UM Church would graciously allow all liberalizer congregations and even annual and jurisdictional conferences to exit the denomination with all their property and assets, and they would apply no penalty for unpaid apportionments.

Under the more onerous legislative and litigious plan, the UM Church would close the legislative loopholes liberalizers have exploited in the past, and begin strictly enforcing church law with stiff sentences for all those who defied it. In short, the litigious plan calls for forcing liberalizers out of the denomination and any reconcilers who would abet or countenance their defiance.

These plans are siren songs for conservatives across the global connection. They are, by far and away, their preferred way forward. However, neither is likely to come to pass.

First, the idea that liberalizers will amicably leave the church is naïve at best, and delusional at worst. The plan fails to take liberalizers seriously. As stated above, they are not interested in creating a new denomination; they want to redeem the one they are a part of. They find offers to leave, even offers to leave with all their property and assets, to be insulting, as if they are fighting for their “piece of the pie.” Some conservatives like to tell themselves liberalizers do not want to leave because they know they do not have the financial resources to create their own church. This may or may not be true, but it’s beside the point. When you believe you are fighting for justice, you don’t surrender for property and assets. People who do that are called “sell-outs,” and that term is anathema to social justice advocates.

Second, the idea that liberalizers can be forced from the church is almost as far fetched as them voluntarily leaving. If the events of the past two or three years have definitively demonstrated anything, it is the truism that all the right laws in the church are of little avail if bishops and annual conferences are unwilling to enforce them. That is surely the case in the United States, and it will continue to be the case for years to come. The vast majority of U.S. bishops simply have no stomach for all the bad press that would surround church trials and the eviction of clergy and their colleagues from the denomination.

Given the structural shape of the church in the U.S., these dynamics are unlikely to change any time soon. Conservatives have to work mightily just to defend the church’s current sexual ethics and ordination standards. Closing loopholes and passing more robust legislation is possible, but it will take time and it is by no means inevitable. To be sure, conservative U.S. jurisdictional conferences will elect some conservative bishops who might strictly enforce the Discipline. However, reconcilers and liberalizers will elect far more of their own kind. Just as their predecessors found ways to thwart the will of General Conference, they will do the same, and they will do so even if future General Conferences manage to tighten church law and close loopholes.

Finally, it would seem reasonable for the Commission to reject these plans; they are simply non-starters. In that event, conservatives invested in them would need to acknowledge that they are on their own, and are likely in for a fight that will last for at least another decade or two.

Conservatives Should Leave

Another option would be for conservatives to leave the church. In the U.S., this is unfortunately happening every day, individual by individual, family by family, and in some cases, whole congregations. Many conservatives are as frustrated as reconcilers and liberalizers with the current state of affairs. They believe the church has reached an impasse, the differences are irreconcilable, and therefore further debate is only destructive. Some are clearly ready to leave the denomination – if the terms are acceptable.

But only some conservatives think this way. It is now likely that the majority of U.S. conservatives are in this camp, but the majority of conservatives in Africa, Europe, and The Philippines are not.

Furthermore, for many U.S. conservatives general church matters are not a high priority. They see little benefit in supporting several of the denomination’s general boards and agencies, particularly those they regard as hostile to the church’s sexual ethics, its teachings on marriage, and its ordination standards. In truth, many conservative pastors do what they can to shelter their people from the doings of U.S. bishops and many of the UM Church’s general boards and agencies. As the 2010 Call to Action Report revealed, United Methodists, not just conservatives, have little confidence in U.S. bishops, and believe the church’s bureaucracy is a drag on the denomination.

Therefore, at least some conservative pastors and congregations would leave under the following conditions: they are given title to all their property and assets, and they are immediately free of sending apportionment dollars to their annual conference and the general church.

But there are problems with this way forward too.

First, the majority of conservatives are not invested in this option. Indeed, where conservatives are at their strongest – in Africa and The Philippines – there is little or no interest in this plan.

Second, even in the U.S., a determined minority would reject, out of hand, any offer to leave. Why, they would justifiably ask, should we leave when we represent the majority of the global church, and when the church continues, at least on paper, to support sexual ethics, teachings on marriage, and ordination standards rooted in Scripture and the traditions of the church catholic? They would continue to ally with their global brothers and sisters to fight for what they think is right.

To be sure, a generous exit offer would bleed off some conservatives, but not all of them. Reconcilers and liberalizers would likely find themselves still locked in a church with no interest in reconciliation or liberalization when it came to the presenting issues. In short, there would be no definitive resolution to the matters that exercise us, and therefore precious little unity.

The Messy and Realistic Way Forward

Given this appraisal, it is no wonder the Council of Bishops seized on the creation of a commission. It allowed them to pass along the task of resolving the greatest challenge the UM Church has confronted in its nearly 50 year history. A task many believe they could have resolved by fulfilling their duty to promote the church’s teachings and seeing that its teachings and standards were followed.

Obviously, the commission needs our prayers, patience, and perhaps most importantly, our pragmatism. United Methodists need to disabuse themselves of the idea that the Commission on a Way Forward is going to produce a plan that definitively solves the debate over our sexual ethics and keeps the church united; it’s not. Given all that has happened in just the past year, the divisions are now too deep, and therefore, some are bound to find any plan of unity to be a fiction at best.

Realistically speaking, for those who support unity at any price, they will have to accept, at least in the short term, further battles over the church’s sexual ethics, teachings on marriage, and its ordination standards. Reconcilers, most liberalizers, and many conservatives all say they want unity, but they all still want it on their own terms. That’s undoubtedly a recipe for more church skirmishes.

And for conservatives who just want to be free of the fractious debate, they will have to accept that the way out could come at a steep price. It is possible the Council of Bishops will balk at any proposal allowing conservatives to leave with all their property and assets and the immediate cessation of apportionment payments. Such a stiff response would force those conservative congregations that wanted to leave into potentially protracted, costly, and uncertain legal battles over their property and assets. Other mainline denominations, particularly the Episcopal Church, have demonstrated how costly and bitter that path can be. And even if they were able to break free of the UM Church, they would face the challenge of either going independent or joining a new connection of like minded local churches. Either option would come with its own set of challenges.

It is likely, indeed probable, a mix of much of the above will come to pass no matter what the commission recommends, the COB proposes, and the called General Conference approves come February 2019. There are no good options, only less bad ones. And whatever option is proposed, some will not like it. Still, the number one priority should be ending the conflict definitively, so the church can focus on the mission of incarnating the ministry of Christ and making disciples.

The Commission on a Way Forward is likely to submit its recommendation no later than the COB’s April 2018 meeting. And the COB must publicly release a final proposal 230 days before the called 2019 General Conference, which means the proposal will be available for all to review no later than July 4, 2018.

For now, wise and faithful pastors and lay leaders will spend the interim providing their local churches with as much information as possible, and carefully preparing their local congregations to respond accordingly.

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

Comments

  1. In all of this swirling controversy– too often off the rails and childlike– where does the BIBLE fit in? Does the BIBLE even matter anymore to many in the UMC? Since the BIBLE clearly and unequivocally addresses marriage and the practice of homosexuality, why is the Commission on a Way Forward not focused exclusively on the BIBLE for THE ANSWER to this schism? The BIBLE is as clear on this as is the law of gravity in keeping us from floating into space. Can any Christian church deny the BIBLE and continue being a Christian church?

    • I agree that the Bible seems to be left out. I want to Commission to address the question about whether the Bible is true or in error about marriage as we know it.

    • I am a conservative. But for too long my side of the church has ignored the social justice mandate in the BIBLE. Woven into the Promised Land laws, echoed by the prophets and stamped with authority by Jesus, and practiced by the early church was the call to care for the Widow, Orphan and Immigrant. “Social Justice” is a dirty word in many evangelical churches. So we have Matt 25 (show justice and mercy) churches and Matthew 28 (make disciples) churches and never the twain shall meet – when we need churches that practice both Matt 25 and 28. I am not in the reconciler camp, per se, because I do not think we can just live and let live. So I am wondering where I can find my tribe. I believe the Bible has some clear things to say about sexuality, but honestly, it has a lot more to say about justice. So where do I go? I want to be part of a church that loves well – that sets boundaries but shows as much grace as possible – that is as concerned with unjust civil laws as they are people’s souls. To be Kingdom-minded. Sexuality is honestly only the surface level issue to a deeper understanding of God’s word and will.

      • MStratton Retired Minister says:

        Steve, This “Social Justice” issue came out of Roman Catholic liberation theology. We are Protestants who do put the Bible first and what God says first and foremost. God’s love is in his laws and telling the truth by telling what God says in Scripture. Of course we love the stranger and the poor, as God’s law tells us too. but we do not change God’s laws to fit modern interpretations of what men think when they are not using the Bible as the prime source of information. As true believers we must remain true to what the Bible says, not what man says. And, that is real love.

        • Michael Peters says:

          There are many words used in this discussion.Retired Minister M Stratton used only a few words, yet these reach to the heart. Those who want to add or subtract from God’s word wold do well to trust in God only.

  2. i have read/reread this article…and it is one of the more thoughtful and helpful read in some time…I believe the UMC is a sinking ship….but as it sinks…there is hope….Didn’t Methodism “hopelessly” divide in the 1800’s over slavery—only to have the 1939 merging into the Methodist Church? Why couldn’t this happen again…long after these generations have passed and our heirs observe our stupidities and say, “what’s the big deal?”

    Furthermore…I fear that the real reason so many are trying to keep the denomination together is that the “Big Church” councils and agencies still want their money…so let all these churches and conferences split…just keep the places where all those nifty apportionments go in place…

    • Licensed Local pastor says:

      I believe you are correct sir, this isn’t so much about scriptural interpretation or the authority of scripture as it is about money and keeping the bureaucracy intact. I was once had a friend tell me once a bureaucracy is created its sole purpose is to perpetuate itself and keep itself alive regardless of the cost.

  3. Robert Throckmorton says:

    This is the most thorough explanation that I have found, concerning the crisis that the UMC is about to undergo. I wish there was a solution but we have been searching for 40 years (maybe an intended biblical number). Thanks for the excellent summary.

  4. Robert M Throckmorton, Jr. says:

    I was looking at the UMNS Weekly Digest today and find that the comments from the varied interest groups who responded in the article “Group to Church: Let’s Stay Together” fit very closely to the conclusion of Walter Felton’s article. Neither extreme is very well satisfied with the “uniting” agenda.
    — Rev. Robert Throckmorton, Virginia

  5. William (Bill) Fitzgerrel says:

    Walter Fenton, as he always does, as produced an informative and insightful article on the current crisis. I must say, though, that it is depressing–not because of him, but because of the mess that he describes. I believe the best option is to create a pathway of “amicable separation.” That would apply to any group. It would eliminate the “Trust Clause” as a hammer to keep people together. I would like to see the Wesleyan Covenant Association take the lead in forming a new denomination. It sounds rude, but the African and Philippine UM’s will have to come along. If, say, 80% of conservative US members leave, then the overseas members would just be left with a fractious group in the US of (Fenton’s terms) liberalizers and reconcilers. I don’t think the liberalizers will be restrained in their continued disobedience by litigation, no matter how severe. The overseas members would eventually get fed up and join with the new Methodist denomination. By the way, it won’t be perfect either. But the fighting will be over. By the way, how can the Council of Bishops squelch a move of General Conference to allow an amicable separation?

    • The small churches have been left out of this debate. As a Local Pastor of several small churches I can assure you that the overwhelming majority see no benefit to the denomination, except pastoral appointments. They are broke and the conference sucks money out of them, often for causes they don’t support, especially the bureaucracy. I read my current church the last official report that was put out this summer by the COB. They heard the part about not forcing people to live together and wanted to know if that meant we could get out of the denomination. They are sick of all the battles. The church is 90% conservative and has had to put up with several liberal pastors whose preaching caused many members to leave. The trust clause was instituted by Wesley so he could control the quality and beliefs of his pastors! How is that now working out for us? Today the trust clause is about money to support the bishops, DS’s, and the bureaucracy.

  6. The author rightly addresses the big picture, but as a layman, I really wonder what the dynamics will be in the local church. I think that with about every UM Church that I have been apart of, there is definitely a mixture of conservatives and liberals that work and struggle together to keep a strong church community together. I know that there is a lot more to this than the issue of homosexuality, but there have always been those issues that we have tried to “bury in the background” to keep the community going. Rarely, in the congregations that I have attended, do I have the slightest idea of what side the minister holds dear in these debates; and I am sure that is to maintain the cohesion of the congregation. If we have to choose a side, who will decide where my congregation will go? Whoever is able to vote, I feel that everyone will wind up being the loser. Longtime friends will never be seen again and effective ministries will end because both conservatives and liberals could not lay aside differences to further a much more important commission.

    • bang Ed – you nailed it, Add in Pastors who have a differing value than the church they are appointed to and you have a white hot mess when churches have to choose their way forward.

      the untangling will not be without pain.

      the article did not address a three-way split

      on just the sexual question alone, we lie on a continuum between Jonesboro baptist’s “abomination” and the liberalizer”s “full inclusion.”

      gay rights and marriage outside the church? worship, membership, marriage, leadership, ordination inside the church? celibate companionship? where do you/we want to draw the line?

    • What commission is more important than the Truth?

  7. Excellent assessment, but the outlook definitely looks bleak at best.

    As someone who barely even has a toe left in the UMC after watching how this battle of good versus evil has played out over the last two decades, the results of this commission are the deciding point for me. It’s understandable but depressing to recognize that our conservative brethren in the Global South are not on the same page as US conservatives; I fear for the long term impact if/when US conservatives leave (apostasy cannot be tolerated indefinitely) since there will be no coalition left to oppose the left’s global segregation plan.

    At what point is it time to cease the battle against the spiritual forces of wickedness in our corrupt and apostate denomination and determine instead to come up out of Babylon?

  8. Robert A Combes says:

    Excellent assessment .When it was declared that we will have open doors, open hearts, and open minds, we did not declare that tolerance meant that anything goes. The congregation with whom I worshiped (having returned after a 9 year absence living in TN) with as well as the pastor seemed to be alright with inclusion without repentance, and made it known that since I was the odd man out I would move on.

  9. Ronald Scott says:

    As a member of a small rural UMC in Indiana, I fear that too many members of the Church are not well-informed of the schism within the UMC. At best, they are unaware of what threatens to tear the church apart.
    Before reading the article by Walter Fenton, I read the latest Perspective newsletter in which Thomas Lambrecht raised the question, “What is Unity?” He not only showed the struggle of the Commission on a Way Forward as they search for an impossible answer that will satisfy one and all.
    After reading carefully all that Rev. Lambrecht shared, my eyes fastened on two comments near the end of the newsletter.

    “And the more connection we maintain between progressives and traditionalists, the more traditionalists may decide to withdraw from United Methodism altogether, thus defeating the goal of preserving unity with those congregations and clergy.”

    “All we can hope for is to strike a balance that will satisfy the greatest number of people, while providing a way for those who cannot live with that proposal to exit from the denomination with pension, property, and assets. This approach is the only way to end the conflict that is tearing our church apart and distracting us from our main mission of disciple-making.”

    Personally, I believe that it is time to face reality and cease the agonizing effort to hold the United Methodist denomination together. Of far greater importance is that we remain a part of the Church; i.e., the Body of Christ.

  10. Eric Pone says:

    This may seem odd but what about abolishing all the agencies? Would there be the fight we are having if there simply wasn’t a huge Church staff to support? Once we stripped the denomination of the rocks we have been carrying and strip it down to the core mission maybe everyone would go their own way or maybe we would create a new thing. It seems we are more focused on who gets the silverware (literally) than winning people for Christ. If we strip the church to the studs and we finds that we still can’t reconcile we could simply…..stop. Simply closing the denomination and sending forth what is left is always an option. No one leaves happy, folks can then choose churches that match their conscience and life in Christ goes on albeit without the UMC. Maybe we have hurt our communion so much that only ceasing it will resolve it. I don’t think this is what God wants for us but it seems to be the direction we are already heading.

  11. Without any prerequisites of repentance or change of lifestyle Jesus healed all who came to him; that is how great grace is. Salvation is the free gift of God for all who will come in faith. Ministry in the Lord’s name must be ministry as he did it. There is sufficient love in Christ to welcome all people no matter the condition they’re in or how long they may linger in it after discovering saving grace. That is the work of God’s social justice among his people; the work of love, acceptance, and support. However, grace not only saves the lost, it projects us all forward to a destination of wholeness, holiness, and perfection. Wesley taught us well that grace empowers us to such an end while yet in mortal flesh; and the love of God generously supplies all who call upon Christ with sufficient patience for the lifelong journey of transformation.

    Our present discord is born of the fact that the Liberalizers are not just wanting to welcome homosexuals into the fellowship of the church but are seeking to have homosexual unions sacralized and celebrated. To do so is to attempt to place sexual sin (anything that does not look like Eden) within grace. If you change the destination grace call us to, you change grace itself and veer from the lordship of Christ. This is extremely risky.

    While some would dare to pursue such a path for themselves (an allowance I’m willing to make, though I disagree), to campaign for an entire worldwide denomination to join you is to ask too much. Christ loves, saves, and blesses sinners, never sin.

  12. Thomas Luther says:

    There is no ‘United’ Methodist Church any more. It ceased to exist when its Bishops broke their vows to uphold and teach the discipline of the Church.

  13. Houston Crumpler III says:

    The Bible calls for true believers to separate themselves from false teachers and false believers. There are repeated text throughout the New Testament that calls for us to avoid false teachers, to mark them and avoid them. To fail to do so is to deny the doctrine the Lord’s chosen Apostles set forth.

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