Leadership or Manipulation?

Bishop Bruce R. Ough (left) speaks during a May 22, 2018, oral hearing before the United Methodist Judicial Council, meeting in Evanston, Ill. At right is Bishop Scott Jones. Photo by Kathleen Barry, UMNS

By Thomas Lambrecht –

The bishops have been asked to lead. Apparently, to some bishops that means strong-arming a progressive agenda that has already been rejected by a previous General Conference.

In its recent gathering, the Council of Bishops – behind closed doors – affirmed by a clear majority that it will recommend the One Church Plan to the 2019 General Conference. This plan changes the definition of marriage to “two adults” and removes all prohibitions against same-sex weddings and the ordination of “self-avowed practicing homosexuals.” It also contains allowances and conscience protections for those who want to continue to live by the current biblical standards of the Book of Discipline.

We are grateful that there is a contingent of bishops who do respect the traditional view of marriage and sexuality and who recognize the truly global nature of the United Methodist Church. We regret that they – even including those bishops from outside the United States – are in the minority.

The North American contingent of the Council of Bishops has put forward a proposal that is riddled with problems, and we will be examining it in more detail in the months to come. But I want to point out the direction that many bishops have taken to promote the One Church Plan as the only viable option for the church.

First, the majority of North American bishops have approved a plan that they knew evangelicals and traditionalists could not support. Good News, the Confessing Movement, and the Wesleyan Covenant Association have all made public statements that any type of “local option” plan is unacceptable to us. Over 1,800 attendees at the Chicago inaugural event of the WCA affirmed that “A plan that requires traditionalists to compromise their principles and understanding of Scripture, including any form of the ‘local option’ around ordination and marriage, will not be acceptable to the members of the Wesleyan Covenant Association, stands little chance of passing General Conference, would not definitively resolve our conflict, and would, in fact, lead to the fracturing of the church.”

Yet the majority of these bishops adopted the plan anyway.

Second, from the beginning of its work, the Commission on a Way Forward stated that a “gracious exit” for churches with their property would be part of any plan they put forward. The Commission recognized that the denomination is so polarized that no proposal is likely to be acceptable to all. Rather than spend millions of church offering dollars fighting over the buildings and property (like other mainline churches have done), the Commission believed that it should provide churches and clergy that could not continue in The United Methodist Church after the decision of the 2019 General Conference with a gracious way to exit with their property and pension.

Yet the majority of the Council of Bishops has inexcusably removed the gracious exit from its One Church Plan. Apparently, some progressive bishops believe that they can coerce United Methodist members to stay in the church by holding their church buildings hostage to the denomination. Some annual conferences are starting to use hardball tactics to punish congregations that want to leave. (More about that in a future blog.)

Third, the majority of the Council of Bishops is attempting to prevent other proposals from being submitted in advance to the 2019 General Conference. The Council president, Bishop Bruce Ough, argued this week before the Judicial Council that it should rule out the possibility of any other petitions being submitted to General Conference besides the bishops’ proposal. In his oral argument, Ough maintained that the only piece of legislation that the General Conference could act on is the One Church Plan. He admitted that the General Conference could amend or substitute for that plan, but he believes that none of those amendments or substitutes can be submitted in advance for the General Conference delegates to prayerfully consider. A press release purportedly on behalf of the whole Council of Bishops reflects this position.

Bishop Scott Jones, who submitted his own opposing brief and also participated in oral arguments before the Judicial Council, charged that Bishop Ough was misrepresenting himself. “The Council of Bishops has at no time discussed a recommended answer to the question posed to the Judicial Council nor taken a position authorizing any one or all of its officers to represent it in any particular way,” Jones wrote in his reply brief. “He is misrepresenting the Council which has never taken that position and never discussed how the question should be answered.”

Yet the powers that be on the Council of Bishops felt free to try to restrict the access of grassroots United Methodists in the pews to be able to contribute to a solution to the way forward for our church. I am hopeful that the Judicial Council will rule that other petitions are allowed as part of the official process.

It is the role of leaders to identify a vision or direction and advocate for it. But closing off other options and restricting the choices that followers can make is not leadership, but dictatorship. When bishops advocate for the One Church Plan as the only possible solution to our church’s conflict (despite the fact that a significant number of bishops opposes that plan) they are going beyond what healthy leadership involves. Controlling and manipulating the outcome is not healthy leadership.

Those bishops taking this approach are exhibiting contempt for their evangelical members and clergy – as well as disrespecting their non-North American colleagues who do not share their progressive vision. They are promoting a plan that we have said we cannot accept. They are advocating for the exclusion of other options or choices for the 2019 General Conference. And they are attempting to coerce churches to stay in the denomination in violation of our consciences (should the One Church Plan pass) or else be prepared to lose our property.

The Commission on a Way Forward and the Council of Bishops are advocating that we adopt a “heart of peace” in working together to resolve the impasse that divides and stifles the vitality of our church. But the bishops must lead with a heart of peace in their actions, not just in their words. Disrespect and contempt are attitudes that destroy relationship and increase mistrust. The recent string of decisions by a majority of the Council of Bishops betrays not a respectful attempt to work together to resolve our differences, but an attempt to dictate a solution and force everyone to accept it. Such an approach is more likely to provoke a “heart of war” and set up the 2019 General Conference as a contentious conflict zone. So far, the “heart of peace” seem to be just empty words.

Thomas Lambrecht is a United Methodist clergyperson and the vice president of Good News. He is also a member of the Commission on a Way Forward.

Comments

  1. Is it not amazing, that they take the words of John Wesley, and throw them to the wind: “In all cases, the Church is to be judged by the Scripture, not the Scripture by the Church.”

  2. William says:

    And, the answer is ——— MANIPULATION.

    Rev. Lambrecht,

    The COB keeps saying that the Commission on a Way Forward recommended this “One Church Plan” to them. Is that a fact? If so, why? If not, what specifically did the Commission recommend to them?

    Of course, whoever came up with this Adam Hamilton – Local Option Plan as the only one to present to the General Conference not only are showing CONTEMPT, maybe even HATRED, for traditional/orthodox Methodists, but CONTEMPT for Jesus Christ. For sure, they appear to have abandoned Jesus and have elected to follow Satan instead. EVERYTHING in this redefinition of marriage and updated view of sexual immorality for this new contextual branch of a two headed UMC is abjectly non-Biblical and anti-Christ.

    Good News, the Wesleyan Covenant Association, the Confessing Movement, et al MUST communicate to the delegates what the majority of our bishops are up to and expose them for who they are PRIOR to Feb, 2019.

    • Mary Rivera says:

      Amen!! And the Wesley Covenant Association needs to start putting together a church for the UMC Traditional members to start worshiping in. We need articles spread of what will happen to the UMC should this pass at GC.

  3. The bishops have guaranteed that a civil war will break out at GC2019. If the issue is not resolved then, you can expect many many resolutions to come to GC2020 and unless traditionalists desert in droves in that one year it will lead to a civil war in the denomination. Why not simply recognize that we are broken and give an exit to the churches. Let them associate with who they want and let the two successor denominations (I don’t believe anyone truly wants to end up with the one church model, they either do or don’t want gay ordination and marriage. I doubt very few people have not taken a side by now.) figure out a way to share Wespath and other joint operational issues such as pensions.

  4. Peggy Carr says:

    Just read all of this and how disappointed I am with some of the Bishops, shame on you. For the wants of a few you want to destroy the needs of the many, shame on you. Are you holding hostage the church (homes) of the many to appease the wants of the few? And what about ministers pensions? I believe I am angry right now. Scripture says “Choose this day who we will serve….: and we know what it says about the reason for all this hoopla….to push the desires of a few into the faces of the many. When did it happen that a small group of people get to make decisions for the larger group of people? Did it happen in the middle of the night while we were sleeping?
    My prayers will be for the Holy Spirit of God to speak to the hearts and minds of the Bishops to have ears to hear that same Spirit and say “Not my will but thine be done.” We all will stand before the Judgement seat one day, all……..I am just so sad. It does not matter that some say the Holy Scriptures are old and we live in a world word, it does not matter……Scripture says not to take away or add to it……….many will leave the United Methodist Church, if I were a bettin’ woman of which I am not,,,,,Members will leave and we will be hurting but we will go. “We” will be praying.

  5. Peggy Carr says:

    No vote.

  6. Jane Sterken says:

    I would rather be Biblically correct than culturally correct. When I die I will be judged by God, not the Council of Bishops.

  7. Janeece Bowers says:

    I believe Jesus’ first stop will be to clean up ALL the churches. This is the one place that angered Him the most, with good reason ! This applies to ALL denominations. We are collectively bringing down the wrath of God for our apostasy. On the other hand, it is one of the signs of His soon return. “Life up your heads, for your Redemption draweth nigh.” His judgment will indeed divide the church – the sheep from the goats, and it will be too late to repent.

  8. Linda Trogdon says:

    Years ago, there never should have been a discussion about it. It’s not Biblical. Period, end of discussion. They have been taken captive by principles of hollow and deceptive philosophy which depends on human tradition and the basic principals of this world rather than on Jesus Christ. Col 2:8

  9. Shortly after GC2016, which asked the Bishops to form the Way Forward Commission, an Episcopal observer predicted that, after much show and talk, this is exactly where the Bishops would take the church. This is the exact same path the Episcopal Church went down with their Bishops…

  10. Marcel Lamb says:

    Manipulation is never godly behavior because it is a deceitful mix of truth with devious redirection. That such manipulative methods are used does not surprise as it can be seen in our annual conferences and indeed even in the general conference. Deceit by leaders should always lead the people to challenge and disregard their leadership. Influence used to abuse, is influence lost.

  11. Steve Babcock says:

    What the COB suggests goes well beyond manipulation it is racism. The Western Jurisdiction who started this had a hatred towards the beliefs of the Africans and the Koreans and knew they could never get their agenda through at the General Conference and decided to circumvent their votes. The WJ decided their agenda was important enough to justify racism. The WJ has been in chaos for many years, I expected the COB to be more fair to the rest of the world. I didn’t expect the COB to be racist. I didn’t expect the COB to show contempt for a whole continent. I wish someone from the COB would explain to me why the homosexual agenda is so important that we are committing racist acts

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