Failure of Leadership

The Rev. Rob Renfroe

By Rob Renfroe –

The United Methodist Church gave the Council of Bishops two years and hundreds of thousands of dollars to come up with a new solution that would stop our fighting and allow us to move forward focused on our mission of making disciples for Jesus Christ.

Unbelievably, the best it could come up with was a rehashed plan that has failed every time it has come before General Conference. The plan will be voted on by the same delegates who defeated it in 2016. It’s a plan that does not represent the majority of United Methodists and that the African delegates we work with closely have all said they could never vote for. The Confessing Movement, the Wesleyan Covenant Association, UM Action, and Good News have all said they cannot live with it. It’s a plan that will make many if not most evangelicals leave the church.

More importantly, it’s a plan that denies the clear and consistent message of the Bible, stands in opposition to 2000 years of Christian teaching, and requires us to marginalize ourselves from the global Christian Church – 95 percent of which supports a traditional sexual ethic.

It seems surreal that this was the plan to be floated to create a unified Methodist church and a vibrant Wesleyan witness to the world. Two years and hundreds of thousands of dollars later, and all the plan has stirred up is anger and disillusionment.

We have many fine bishops who teach and promote the orthodox Christian faith and uphold our biblical sexual ethic. And for them we are immensely grateful. But, clearly they are in the minority.

The very idea that the so-called “one church plan” will create unity by allowing every pastor, every church, and every annual conference to come up with its own sexual ethic is ludicrous. Why would the majority of bishops endorse such a such a flawed plan?

One possibility is hubris. Progressive and centrist bishops seem to believe that if they all come out together, the strength of their united influence will be sufficient to sway enough evangelical and African delegates to adopt a plan they have rejected previously as unbiblical. Evidently, these bishops have no idea that many of us distrust them and rather than thinking of them as the solution to our problems, we think they are a part of the problem. They don’t teach the doctrines of the church – which is their charge – and they don’t enforce the discipline of the church – which is their duty.

Perhaps they put forth their plan because they simply don’t comprehend evangelical theology and our heartfelt convictions. For example, one progressive bishop told an evangelical leader: “I don’t understand why you can’t accept the local option. It lets pastors who want to marry gay couples do so. But it doesn’t compel people like you to perform such services. I don’t understand why you can’t live with that.”

That bishop spoke more truth than he realized. He doesn’t understand people like us. It has to be frustrating for so-called centrists and progressives to come up with an approach they believe to be very reasonable and that allows everyone to do what they desire, only for us to find it unacceptable. After all, what could be more American than telling everyone “have it your way”?

To avoid any future misunderstandings, let me clarify what we believe. For starters, we honestly believe the Scriptures are “God-breathed” and, therefore, authoritative for our lives. We don’t believe we get to ignore or need to correct the parts of Scripture that a progressive culture finds hard to accept.

Furthermore, we believe in the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ to transform human lives. Few things can be more offensive than hearing that the local option is a solution that “contextualizes” the Gospel. If all they meant was thinking of creative ways to present Christ to people in different cultural settings, we’d be all for it. But when progressives talk about contextualizing our sexual ethics they mean changing the message to conform to the prevailing culture. So we are told that it’s still acceptable to teach traditional sexual values in the south, but it’s not acceptable to teach the same values where the culture is more progressive.

Traditionalists do not have a utilitarian view of truth. We don’t think the truth is whatever works or whatever sells. We don’t believe that God’s word is a lump of clay that we can fashion into our own image or into the likeness of a fallen and sinful culture.

We believe in the ministry of the Holy Spirit – and that the Holy Spirit is always doing new things. However, we will never be persuaded that “the new thing” the Spirit is doing is repealing the written word of God. Instead, we are utterly convinced that the Spirit never contradicts what the Scriptures teach because the Scriptures were Spirit-inspired, God-breathed. 

Has God changed his mind? Has God received more light along the way? Has God evolved into a Western, 21st century, postmodern progressive as the ages have passed? If not, then how can the same God now be revealing a sexual ethic that contradicts what he has previously stated to be his will?

I get that progressives and centrists just don’t get us. It may well be that traditionalists are from Mars and progressives are from Venus and that we will never speak the same language. But what needs to be understood is that we cannot support a church that denies the full inspiration, truth, and authority of the Scriptures.

The bishops can try to lead the church to a place where parts of the Bible, the parts they like, are accepted as inspired and other parts are not and can be dismissed because you know better. But it will not be an easy trip taking the church there because there are millions of faithful United Methodists who will pray and resist every step of the way.

The evangelical renewal movement has told the Council of Bishops and the Commission on a Way Forward we cannot live with the local option. We have told them it will force us to leave the church. We have voted it down at General Conference. When they offer their plan in response, one gets the sense that they merely treat our convictions with contempt.

How else can the Africans perceive the bishops’ plan? Every African bishop has spoken against it. Where the church is the poorest, where the church is opposed, where the church is at times persecuted, the North American bishops knowingly created a plan that most if not all of the African delegates will reject.

Ironically, we are constantly told we’re better together. It has become a progressive and “centrist” mantra. If they really believed that, however, they would not propose a solution that dismisses the truths we hold dear and guarantees many of us will have to leave the church.

For the past six years, I have written and argued that we need a solution where there are no winners and no losers. We need to admit that we will never agree on a sexual ethic or on the inspiration and authority of the Scriptures. And rather than continue this prolonged conflict, we need to set each other free.

But that’s not what the bishops have done. That’s not what the centrist leaders who are behind the Uniting Methodists local option have done. They have decided to fight for what they believe. They have decided that winning is more important to them than a solution built upon mutual respect.

In St. Louis next year, there will be a traditionalist plan brought to General Conference that will maintain our current position on sexual ethics and that will make it easier to enforce the Discipline when it is broken by a pastor or a bishop. It will be the position held unanimously by our African brothers and sisters, most of The Philippines, many in Europe, and the evangelical delegates from the United States – in other words,  the same coalition that has carried the day every four years since 1972. And it will prevail.

To those on the Council of Bishops who proposed the “one church plan” and claim to be on the right side of history, let me propose that there’s something more important. And that’s standing on the right side of eternity. And for that we must stand on God’s eternal word and contend for the faith once and for all entrusted to the saints. And that is what we intend to do.

Comments

  1. Mickey J Sizemore says:

    I agree with you. The”One Church” plan cannot work. One thing which concerns me now are the parishioners going to the United Methodist Churches. It is not clearly evident what pastors or churches support. Many parishioner do not know either.
    I’ve asked two Methodist pastors recently how do they feel about the Council of Bishops proposal. I’ve only got double-talk in response. (Not a stance or decision). So my next questions are, 1. ‘How does your congregation feel about the proposal?’ Again, it’s double-talk. Both of these pastors are “Progressive”, but they won’t admit what they are advocating. 2. ‘Is your congregation aware of your stance?’ By this time, we usually have to part ways, because the conviction hits them. However, it’s not a conviction they admit. They just think I’m trying to bait them. I myself, as a parishioner, have been duped before. I supported a church for years, only to find the pastor advocated this sexual un-ethical view. I am really cautious now about what each individual UMC supports. Each parishioner should know what the pastor/church supports too. Each United Methodist Church should be required to post their views NOW on this issue! I think the exodus would shut down the un-ethical churches.

    • Mike Peters says:

      Micky J. Sizemore,
      You nailed it. In the end it is the Laity who holds the cards. We will not accept any clergy who will not fit our congregations. “Christ rules there above all heavenly rulers, authorities, powers, and lords; he has title superior to all titles of authority in this world and the next.”

  2. Michael Beasley says:

    Home Run Rob! As a Certified Lay Speaker for our UMC I have seen what this malice of leadership is doing to so many small country churches. At my last pulpit supply, 6 people over age 75 attending, because its been their church forever. The leadership and pastor following them literally ran everyone else away. It was a growing church in the country with good vibes of love when I spoke there 2 years ago. Not anymore. As evangelicals we need to move quickly after February, while there are still enough attending to keep many church doors open.

  3. Barbara Ray says:

    Bsrbara H. Ray
    As a local pastor and shepherd of two churches, I have taken my stand for the Traditionalist Plan with Accountability. I have endeavored to influence my churches, other pastors and churches who are within my circle of influence. I encourage all Christians who are also evangelicals to endeavor to influence all who are within their circle of influence to advocate for the Traditionalist Plan with Accountability and make their sentiments known to their Lead Delegate of their Conference’s Delegation to General Conference 2019 (February) in St, Louis. One has only to call the conference office and find out the name(s) and contact number or email address of the Lead Delegate, make contact and request that their sentiments be passed on to the Delegation. Thank you, Rev. Rob Renfroe and Rev. Tom Lambrecth, and standing up and speaking out. Sincerely in the love of our Lord and our denomination, Barbara H. Ray, AL-WFL Conference.

  4. Herbert Lenz says:

    You say that the traditionalist plan will make it easier to enforce the Discipline. Can you be more specific? I don’t see how the bishops and clergy who are in open defiance of the rules can be forced to exit the church, and I doubt that many of them will do so voluntarily. If the traditionalist plan passes at general conference, but fails to resolve the conflict, what then?

  5. Bill Fitzgerrel says:

    I know I will be misunderstood in what follows, and I write it with a heavy heart. I certainly agree with the Discipline stance on sexual ethics. I agree that a Traditionalist plan should be adopted. My concern is, what happens next? If the Traditionalist plan passes, will the Progressives just redouble their efforts to hijack the denomination? Will they have the grace and the good sense to admit defeat and leave (hopefully with a “gracious exit” plan)? Let’s keep in mind that there are plenty of issues (like lots of gray hair) besides the sexual ethics issue. “Winning” at GC 2019 for the Traditionalists should just be a beginning of revitalization. For starters, the seminaries need to be overhauled. I guess I could go on and on… Thanks to Rob Renfroe, Tom Lambrecht, et al at Good News as well as the leadership of WCA.

  6. Glen Gaboury says:

    Lots of good comments already. I will just add a big hearty AMEN!

  7. ‘However, we will never be persuaded that “the new thing” the Spirit is doing is repealing the written word of God.’ I was curious as to what your stance is on those passages that support slavery, genocide, trial by ordeal, prohibition of female clergy, and the general subjugation of women. Jesus himself rejected scripture in the case of the woman taken adultery.

  8. William says:

    David,
    Actually Jesus interpreted Scripture literally as recorded in Matthew 19:4-6 and Mark 10:6-9 with relation to the conflict at hand. Sexual relations are reserved strictly for God’s created order for marriage. All other sexual relations outside that constitutes sexual immorality. This is an abject consistency with relation to sin throughout the Bible. Of course this flies in the face of this sex obsessed age that we live in, and people, with the help of Satan, are frantically searching for ways to Biblically justify the practice of sexual immorality.

  9. Donald Burk says:

    If the traditionalist plan passes and amounts to business as usual (continued conflict among the same players for all the same reasons every year and every four years), there are a significant minority in our congregation who will leave the UMC; I might be one of them.

    One reason is that we would still be under the same group of bishops, most of whom don’t insist on a biblical sexual ethic. Truth be known, they probably don’t believe many of the foundational doctrines of the Faith, those that for evangelicals are not open to debate.

    I, along with so many, deeply distrust the bishops and the rest of the heirarchy in our connectional system. I have grown to distrust connectional systems in general. Many of us have grown so weary of ours that we are likely to leave it without significant changes that go beyond what even the traditionalist plan calls for. That would be a negotiated separation of the UMC into two totally independent denominations. I agree with what has been said by others (including the author of the present article, I think) that it is the only plan that would prevent an outright fragmentation of the UMC.

  10. I apologize for the long length of this post in advance.

    I have sat in the pew and watched as a UMC pastor of six years at this particular church say from the pulpit on Easter Sunday, “I don’t believe that Jesus died and was raised from the dead”. He was quickly re-assigned to a different church, but why wasn’t he removed from being a pastor?
    I have many other stories of things I have seen and heard but instead I would like to move on to the following information.

    Below are two Youtube links to videos with comments by two current pastors of large churches in the UMC.
    ________________________________________________________
    Video #1:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SnRVhB2tYS8&t=159s

    Pastor Ginger Gaines-Cirelli who says proudly in this video……
    “I am definitely part of the United Methodist Church, and from the day that I was ordained, in which I ‘said’ that I would support the doctrine of the church – I knew that I would be working to change what the Book of Discipline says about homosexuality. I think the Book of Discipline is counter to the word of God that we find in scripture, so the way I deal with the Book of Discipline is to fight it.”
    ________________________________________________________
    Video #2:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p_WVdAo1Vso

    Pastor Adam Hamilton says he disagrees with the Book of Discipline on the subject of homosexuality. All we need is “dialogue” with the LBGTQ community, and we will change (over time) in the UMC.
    ________________________________________________________

    If the Traditionalist side wins, what is going to happen to pastors such as these? Pastors of large churches who have publically said they would fight against the Book of Discipline, even though they took an oath to support it. It sounds like they intentionally lied when they took their oath during ordination!
    Doesn’t Proverbs 6:16 says…..
    “There are six things the LORD hates–no, seven things he detests:
    haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that kill the innocent,
    a heart that plots evil, feet that race to do wrong,
    a false witness who pours out lies
    and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.”

    Paul in Galatians 1: 8-9 said….
    “Let God’s curse fall on anyone, including myself, who preaches any other message than the one we told you about. Even if an angel comes down from heaven and preaches any other message, let him be forever cursed. I will say it again: If anyone preaches any other gospel than the one you welcomed, let God’s curse fall upon that person.”

    These are harsh words, but I believe the reason the UMC is at it’s current state of being (continual conflict between traditional and progressive) is because the UMC has allowed there to be “another message” to creep into the church in the name of “tolerance, unity and love”.

    I pray that if the Traditionalist side wins, there is a firm stand, – by pastors in the pulpit and the people in the pews – who demand that God’s Good News be preached and not any other message! People who are willing to “contend for the faith”!

  11. Chris Terrill says:

    My wife and I grew up in the in the Methodist Church, before it was the United Methodist Church. We were married in the Methodist church, we raised our children in the UMC (not an entirely satisfactory process).

    It has been one goal post after another in trying to deal with our present circumstances. It was let’s wait for the out come of the GC of 2016, then 2019, etc.

    Well, I’m done, I’m done, did I mention I’m done. I can’t wait until 2019! I think in 2019 there will be some other issue that will occupy us, etc. for some greater time. What will we do? And some extended process will ensue. I’m tell you I won’t be there. I have been a member of the WCA, but I will be gone because I have lost faith in the UMC, and beyond that I wonder what my faith stands for, the UMC has left me in doubt as to what faith is and what comes next. And I can tell you at the end of life it is a pretty empty.

  12. A number of questions are raised in these comments about how we will hold conferences, Bishops, churches and clergy accountable if the 2019 GC votes for the Traditionalist Plan.

    Most of those concerns and questions are answered by Tom’s most recent article which outlines the Traditionalist Plan. Take time to read it; assuming discipline is carried out faithfully, there are clear ways to hold everyone accountable to the BOD’s standards.

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