Through a Glass Darkly

By Rob Renfroe –

What will happen at the special General Conference this February? Right now, it’s anyone’s guess. We see through a glass darkly, not able to predict with confidence what the delegates will do and knowing that God can always surprise us and provide a solution to our problems that none of us imagined. Frankly, that’s what I’m praying for.

However, there are a few options that, at this point, seem most likely.  Two that we can take off the board are the Simple Plan and the Connectional Conference Plan.

The Simple Plan goes too far. It redefines marriage as two adults, condones sex outside of marriage, prevents conservative annual conferences from refusing to ordain practicing gay persons, and allows pastors throughout the connection to marry gay couples. Whenever similar proposals have come before General Conference in the past, they have been defeated by a wide margin. The majority of the UM Church has not yet moved this far in a progressive direction.

The Connectional Conference Plan (CCP) creates three jurisdictions, each one with a different sexual ethic. No coalition has formed to support it and no group is doing the hard work of promoting it to the rest of the church. The CCP requires numerous constitutional amendments and there is little likelihood that a super majority of both General Conference delegates and then later of annual conference delegates around the globe will support it.

The plan with the greatest likelihood of passing is the Traditional Plan (TP). It maintains our present position of affirming the worth of and welcoming all persons to the ministries of the church without allowing for practicing gay persons to be ordained or for our pastors to marry gay couples. The Traditional Plan has several provisions that would allow the church to enforce the Book of Discipline more effectively when pastors and bishops violate our policies. Each of these provisions will need to be approved individually.

Why is the TP most likely to pass? Because it is most in line with what delegates have supported at every General Conference since 1972. It was the plan that the majority of the delegates supported less than three years ago in Portland – most of whom will be voting again in St. Louis. Whether all of the enhanced accountability measures can be passed remains to be seen. But it is most likely that a Traditional Plan of sorts will prevail. And a Traditional Plan provides the most hopeful path to a faithful future for The United Methodist Church.

It is also possible that no plan will be approved. If General Conference begins to approve a Traditional Plan, it is very likely that some progressives will move to keep the conference from passing a plan. Some will do so surreptitiously. There will be countless “points of order,” amendments, and substitute resolutions coming from the floor, bringing work on a Traditional Plan to a standstill. Others will be more blatant. In the past, scores of pro-LGBTQ supporters have entered the bar of the conference without permission and have brought deliberations to a halt with their chanting and protests. The bishops have been reticent to remove the demonstrators and the better part of a day has been lost before the protesters have been convinced to leave the conference floor.

At past General Conferences when the delegates met for nearly two weeks, the protests were a temporary disruption to the work of the conference. But in St. Louis, the delegates will have only three days to select, perfect, and pass a plan. It’s very possible, unless the bishops are willing to remove the protesters forcibly and quickly, that their demonstrations will not allow sufficient time for the conference to complete its work. 

If nothing is passed, we will return to our churches with the same position – and the same divisions – that presently characterize the denomination. So, will we be stuck with the status quo?

No. It is highly probable that we will enter a time of chaos and crisis. Progressives will be angry that nothing has changed. Their liberal bishops will have failed them. Their “centrist” partners who assured them that they could change the church democratically will have proven themselves, once again, ineffective and out of touch with the majority of United Methodists. The progressives will see no other method of change left open to them but wide-scale disobedience. It would not be surprising for large numbers of progressive UM pastors to co-officiate high-profile gay weddings. In 1999 the “Sacramento 68” – ordained UM pastors, actually numbering over 100 – jointly conducted such a service without any enforcement of the church’s position. We could see the same in the coming months should no plan pass – only on a much larger scale. More Boards of Ordained Ministry are likely to announce publicly, as many have already, that they will ignore our policy of not ordaining practicing gay persons. And there is little reason to believe progressive bishops would enforce the Book of Discipline in any meaningful way. If a Traditional Plan passes, there would at least be some ways for the church to counteract such disobedience. But if no plan passes, chaos would be the order of the day.

What would conservative churches do? Many would stop paying apportionments, either in total or, at least, the part that supports our national boards and agencies, including the episcopal fund that pays the bishops’ salaries. Some will leave the denomination. And some, before they go, would attempt to lead their annual conference out of the UM Church.

Is it possible that General Conference will pass the One Church Plan (OCP) – allowing every pastor, every congregation, and every annual conference to determine its own sexual ethic? It is not likely; but yes, it is possible. If it does, we know what will happen. Exactly what has happened in every other mainline denomination that has liberalized its sexual ethics. Traditionalists will leave – lay people, pastors, and congregations. But only after lengthy, litigious, and costly battles have been fought. That’s not a threat. It’s reality. It’s what we learn from other denominations – all the other denominations – who have gone this way before. The only way around this dire scenario is for General Conference to provide an equitable exit path for congregations to leave with their property.

I do not know what will happen in St. Louis, but the glass I am looking through is dark. And my heart is heavy. We Wesleyans have a most marvelous gift to give the world. It’s a gift of grace and hope and power that comes from God himself.

Instead, the bishops we asked and empowered to think creatively to end our division, are offering the world a church that will continue to be embattled, self-absorbed, and dysfunctional. My heart breaks because it did not have to be this way.

Is there any hope? Yes, God is good and God is sovereign. I believe he still has plans for the people called Methodist. Maybe it will take a period of crisis and chaos for progressive and centrist leaders to realize that the time has come to stop denying reality and embroiling the church in a destructive battle that ruins our witness and harms our churches. Maybe the months after St. Louis will be the dark that comes before the dawn. Or maybe, even before St. Louis, we can come to our senses and work for a future where there are no winners or losers, no victims or villains – just people who see things differently and who are willing to set each other free.

Surprise us, Lord God. Surprise us.


  1. David Miller says:

    I am experiencing this crisis today. My Bishop (Bickerton) has come out as a resister to Traditional values. My pastor will not speak clearly in support of Biblical truth. I am totally deflated. My heart is broken.

    • David,
      It looks more and more that many of these progressive leaders in our denomination do not know Jesus. It looks like the Jesus they know is a designer Jesus that conforms to their personal views, their personal agendas, and to their worldly idols. It looks as if they never experienced salvation and transformed lives themselves. They seem to be unable to witness. Perhaps they thought they didn’t need salvation personally, and certainly not to be pastors and church leaders. They can’t seem to relate to or comprehend the Gospel, therefore they can’t preach it. They certainly don’t seem to understand Wesleyan prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying grace, thus unable to teach or preach that either. They seem to see themselves more like CEOs than preachers. They administer, they pose and prance, they attend endless meetings, they chair committees, they write books, they dress in their robes and tassels, they fund raise, they teach “good” lessons, they give motivational talks, they NEVER offend by mentioning sin and salvation, they are forever in a public relations mode, and they play politics with great skill. They must have faked their way through the ranks and to the top — which, in itself, casts a dark cloud over the denomination’s ordination process, at least in certain places. They certainly seem to fit the warning that Jesus gave about wolves in sheep’s clothing.

      • In addition to all the activities you have listed, they also are paid nice salaries with benefits and since they refuse to hold each other accountable they are in their positions for life. Sad situation.

        • Michael A Peters says:

          P. Perry said, in few words, all that need be said. The time has come to reorganize on behalf of Biblical teaching. Simply said, are not a United Church.

      • I don’t disagree with that summation, but will add that conservative leaders do much of the same thing, except the part about not mentioning sin or the Gospel. Well, let’s just say their definition of the Gospel is based on Luke 4:18 in which the good news is living your neighbor, as you well know. There is and always has been a way to bridge the divide for Christ provides the theological answer in Mark 10 and Matthew 19, but neither the most brilliant theologians on the right or the left have a desire to bridge that gap. They have ears but they do not hear, eyes but they do not see. Christ has already provided. Hear. See.

      • Joan Watson says:

        I agree with your assessment that pastors are now functioning more as CEO’s working to keep things running smoothly and less as spiritual guides. And when it comes to our local Bishop, he sat on stage with Adam Hamilton who characterized the traditional plan as “regressive” and going backwards. So even if the traditional plan passes I question how effectively it would be implemented. After all, we are in this mess because Bishops have not been completely forthcoming in carrying out the will of General Conference re sexuality since the question first arose in 1972. Prior to GC2016, a progressive gathering was held in our conference and the previous Bishop put in an appearance and told them he hoped they got what they wanted. And what they wanted was to force the church to bend to their will.

        If the One Church plan passes I will hang around and see how things play out. But as far as I am concerned, all the one Church plan accomplishes is hanging the sexuality question over every conference and local church like a bomb waiting for somebody to light its fuse–the only question is how soon somebody will light it.

        When it come to Jesus, here is an excellent big picture assessment of the difference in understanding that divide us:
        “There is a profound difference, then, in the attitude assumed by modern liberalism and by Christianity toward Jesus the Lord. Liberalism regards Him as an Example and Guide; Christianity, as a Savior: liberalism makes Him an example for faith; Christianity, the object of faith…If Jesus was only what the liberal historians suppose that He was, then trust in Him would be out of place…liberalism regards Jesus as the fairest flower of humanity; Christianity regards Him as a supernatural Person.” (p. 82)

  2. Thomas Thies says:

    I am 66 years old, a retired Elder, saved in the UMC in High School, served a church in New England, endorsed as a Navy Chaplain and have been involved in this battle when serving the church during Annual Conf.! I pray a resolution for this Feb – either revival or gracious exit for either group. The UMC is historically and an evangelical, biblically led and Christ centered church. LORD, lead us this or lead us some other way!

  3. Should the OCP prevail, I don’t think there will be a large mass of people instantly leaving at one time. Many will wait to see the overall fallout of the local church. Pastors that have hid their real feelings will come out slowly. Incrementally over a few years, the UMC will become weaker and weaker, having no power for conversion through professions of faith and the loss of a lot of membership.

    • EXACTLY! How could a pastor who either practices sexual immorality or condones it possibly preach believable Justifying Grace — repentance, forgiveness, conversion, salvation, and a new transformed life in Jesus Christ? He/she certainly could not witness. And who in his/her right mind seeking Justifying Grace would ever enter such a church?

      • Robert A Combes says:

        It is my experience that the Pastor of my former congregation ( who flies the rainbow flag on certain occasions) preaches love and tolerance of everyone w/ no emphasis on the need to change as a result of the Gospel, as long as you love and tolerate all is fine. Once I was confronted w/ my sin and the price that was paid I no longer could remain the same, I was brought to my knees and am no longer the man I once was.

  4. David ROMINGER says:

    I was an atheist for 40 years before recognizing Christ as lord and in total control of my life. I remained atheist because some Christians would tell me things I could not in my heart believe. Some said only some are saved, meaning God had damned others before they were born. Some said that homosexuals go to hell for all eternity. How can the sins of this temporary existence carry eternal punishment with a just and righteous God? I saw Christians that were contemptuous of other religions and even other Christian denominations. How can you worship a God that says love everyone as long as they believe exactly what you believe? I had heard many spout scripture out of context and even removing lines to prove a point. If the word of God is perfect, how can man change it? After all this, I found a loving family of Methodists. They knew I was an atheist and they loved me anyway. I started reading the teachings of John Wesley. Everytime I read an article or heard something on TV that didn’t seem right to me, I looked it up on the UMC’s website and sure enough 100% of the time it wasn’t right with Methodists either. I’m now active in my church. I try my best to show the love so many have shown me. I teach a Sunday school class, although I’m definitely not a good teacher. I like to say that I share what I have learned the past week to a group of friends at church. I’ve just been nominated as our lay leader and will be attending our annual conference this summer. It seems to me that the Traditional Plan is the only plan the follows the rules set forth in the Book of Discipline. I pray that God and the Holy Spirit will be active in the hearts of our bishops and give them the wisdom required to lead us together into a bright future.

  5. This is distressing indeed. It’s a real shame too. There are so many people out there who need to hear the good news of Jesus Christ who forgives and cleanses us of our sins. I’m sure the devil is having a hay day will all this.

  6. Robert A Combes says:

    you might find this article illuminating on the subject –

  7. UMC Woman says:

    The “One” Church Plan is hypocrisy divided into three. All Christian denominations must submit to the authority of God’s righteous Word no matter what and cannot righteously serve two masters via the OCP. Genesis, Romans, Isaiah, etc., are clear about God’s position in this matter. It’s simply a matter of whether all denominations will follow scripture or try to please everyone and lose their obedience and blessings and incur judgment from God in the process. The Wesleyan expression of faith says: “Am I living the Weslyean expression of the Christian faith?” Will we continue to live that Christian faith as defined by scripture? No, not if we comprise via the OCP.

  8. Phil Brewster says:

    The most recent Gallup Poll on most trusted American institutions reflects the continuing decline of trust in the church and organized religion. The US military is now the most trusted institution and the church, which was equal in trust not long ago, is now only half as trusted as the military. I hope those attending the Methodist World Conference on behalf of the largest Protestant denomination, take note of the tragic irony that at this same pivotal moment in the history of Christianity, the Catholic Church, the world’s largest Christian denomination, is simultaneously collapsing over the issue of sexual sin. Alas Babylon.

    • Is there any way we can remain together and work together as a denomination if we are not honest with each other?
      Is it OK to use dishonest means to achieve what you believe is a worthy goal or a “greater good”?
      Is it OK when clergy and bishops are ordained and consecrated by saying they believe and will defend doctrinal positions which they do not believe and will not enforce so they can be in a position where they can work toward what they believe to be a “greater good” i.e. the full acceptance of homosexuality and homosexual “marriage” by the United Methodist Church?
      Does the end justify the means?

  9. Steve Babcock says:

    I live in Montana and Karen is my Bishop. My church has been directly effected, we have lost good members from our church, that will probably never come back.
    I was Lay Delegate for our Annual Conference in 2000, after the 2000 General Conference. That year one of our DS was arrested for bad conduct at the Conference and our Bishop was nearly arrested.
    This was the first Annual Conference I ever attended. I was shocked at how much hatred and vicious comments directed at the Africans and the Southern Conferences. The delegates to the GC were so full of hate it bordered on irrational behavior.
    I heard pastors and lay people say that they didn’t think the Africans should have an equal vote. Their reasoning was that the Africans didn’t contribute enough money to have an equal say at GC. They were clearly being racist.
    I never attended another Annual Conference. I couldn’t stand being around such hatred and racism. My friends tell me the hatred was worse in the following years.
    The only reason there is a special 2019 GC is because the Western Jurisdiction decided to act on their racism. They decided to bulldoze over the Africans.
    When the WJ elected Karen as Bishop they did it out of hatred and racism to those who had voted against them in the past. Our delegates were voting on sexual orientation not credentials.

    • The progressive wing of the UMC is denying or is egregiously distorting the Word of God in embracing the secular LGBT agenda. They seem so caught up in this that it has essentially become a form of idol worship for them. And yes, the foundation of this idol certainly looks to be hatred and vengeance. The election of Oliveto was rigged throughout just to get the first gay person elected as bishop in the denomination. She was actually used in order for those in the Western Jurisdiction to make their point. The comment out of that election went something like this — “this should certainly stand the United Methodist Church on its ear”.

  10. Andy Wilson says:

    Why would any sane person think there is a way forward? The UMC is dead. They just don’t realize it, yet. It is sad, but Christ centered Christianity will survive and thrive, just not in the UMC.

  11. thanks for the content

  12. Gary Bebop says:

    There is a lot of bitter frustration being expressed in this comment thread. But none of it visualizes a “way forward.” Traditionalist leaders must cope with a thoroughly demoralized conservative core. While legislative attempts to rally and reunify the church around reinforced stipulations are “necessary” and courageous, they will likely lead to political stalemate. Progressives will contravene new rules by a thousand evasions, all the while insisting on their scruples in doing so. “Calling them out” does not work. Traditionalists must avoid drifting into stalemate (a church without unity and without discipline). A costly, painful repentance is required. Traditionalists must say NO to the interlocking networks of support that prop up the Progressive agenda. Stop feeding the Beast.

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