An Open Letter Response to James Howell

Thomas Lambrecht

By Thomas Lambrecht –

Dear Dr. Howell,

A friend called my attention to the video you posted on YouTube for your congregation. I believe you to be an informed and thoughtful person, which makes your gross misrepresentation of the Traditional Plan and those who support it appear to be not just a mistake but a purposeful mischaracterization of the motives and character of your brothers and sisters in Christ.

We may well see the issues of marriage and sexuality in different ways, but there is no reason to call into question the character and motives of those we disagree with.

At one point in the video, you describe Traditional Plan supporters as “not your kind of conservative” to the conservative members of your congregation. Frankly, the persons described in your video are not my kind of conservative either. In fact, I have never met anyone in The United Methodist Church who conforms to the ugly caricature you have labored so hard to create.

As one of the primary authors and the submitter of the Traditional Plan, allow me to address a few of the misstatements you make in your video, with the hope of correcting the record and enabling your listeners to get a more accurate picture of the Traditional Plan.

You say, “The goal of the Traditional Plan is to stamp out homosexuality from the church and to stamp out even those who are sympathetic.” There is no truth in that statement. The Traditional Plan affirms the long-standing position of The United Methodist Church that all persons are created in God’s image, of sacred worth, in need of God’s grace, and in need of the ministry of the church. At the same time, the church affirms that the practice of homosexuality is contrary to God’s will for human flourishing.

As the Wesleyan Covenant Association recently stated, all persons, gay or straight, celibate or sexually active, are welcome in our churches and ministries. We are all broken and fall short of God’s glorious standard. We can, and do, welcome people into the church and into our lives whether or not we can condone all of their behaviors. Our hope is that all persons will have a personal, life-changing encounter with Jesus Christ, own him as their Savior and Lord, and experience the transformation of life we all seek by the power of the Holy Spirit.

You say that Traditional Plan supporters “wish to be rid of centrists, moderates, progressives, and even thoughtful conservatives.” Once again, there is no basis in the language of the Traditional Plan for this claim. The Traditional Plan sought to regain conformity across the church with what the church has decided in conference, the actions of the General Conference, which is the only body that can speak for United Methodism as a whole.

What organization establishes rules and standards and then allows its leaders to routinely violate those standards with impunity? The Traditional Plan allows those who cannot abide by the policies of the church to withdraw under gracious terms, keeping local church property. It expels no one. The Plan’s concern is not over people who disagree with the church’s policies, but with those who willfully break them. Would you not do something similar with clergy who were unwilling to provide infant baptism or ordain women to ministry in our church?

You say, “Severe penalties are imposed on anybody who thinks at all sympathetically and doesn’t act at all severely toward the LGBTQ community.” Once again, this is false. The Traditional Plan says nothing about what anyone thinks about gay persons or hopes for the church. It establishes penalties for clergy who perform same-sex weddings. It also requires annual conferences to abide by the church’s policy restricting self-avowed practicing homosexuals from being candidates, commissioned, or ordained into ministry in our church.

The Plan requires no one to “act severely” toward the LGBTQ community. The Plan merely continues the long-standing policy of not allowing same-sex weddings to be performed by our pastors or on church property and of not allowing self-avowed practicing homosexuals to serve as clergy.

You claim, “None of our pastors who serve our [local] church could be ordained under this plan.” This could be very confusing for the members of your local congregation. The only persons who could not be ordained under the Traditional Plan are self-avowed practicing homosexuals. Those who are merely supportive of same-sex marriage or LGBTQ ordination are not addressed in the Traditional Plan and certainly are not penalized. I would encourage your listeners to read the Traditional Plan for themselves to determine what it says.

You go on to say, “If you answer yes to the question ‘will you accept gays in your church’ you cannot be ordained.” Again, this is false. All the Traditional Plan supporters would, to use your phrase, “accept gays in our church.” Accepting LGBTQ persons in the church does not prevent a person from being ordained under the Traditional Plan, only an unwillingness to abide by the policies set by the church, which every candidate for commissioning and ordination promises to uphold.

You cite the first rule of John Wesley’s Methodism is to do no harm, and you state that the 2019 General Conference “did a lot of harm.” I agree. When Traditional Plan supporters are called hateful and bigoted, when they are accused of bringing a “virus” into the church, when every parliamentary trick in the book is used to thwart the will of the majority and to mock our longstanding practice of holy conferencing, a lot of harm is done. When Traditional Plan supporters’ motives are falsely represented, when provisions of the Traditional Plan are distorted and misrepresented, when deception becomes an acceptable advocacy practice, a lot of harm is done. Even in deep disagreement, we can and should treat one another with Christ-like love and respect. Can we not treat one another the way we would want to be treated?

It is possible you are saying that the church’s position that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching is inherently harmful. If so, that indicates to me that some form of separation is most likely the only way to resolve our differences, as you yourself have acknowledged.

Neither of us wants to be part of a church that does harm. For you, calling same-sex relationships sinful does harm. For me, affirming same-sex relationships does harm by contradicting the Scriptures and by foreclosing the opportunity for repentance, personal transformation, and holiness. When the church calls out sin — whether it be heterosexual, homosexual, or non-sexual — it might be “harmful” in the sense that it hurts the feelings of those caught in that sin, but the ultimate goal is our healing, forgiveness, and redemption. Just as many medical treatments cause short-term pain in the interest of healing, God’s call to holiness may cause pain but lead us to reconsider our life choices and pursue God’s will for our flourishing. That is the goal of the Traditional Plan.

Finally, you say that you “stand with people whom other people may not want to be around.” That kind of derogatory innuendo is a tremendous disservice to your congregation when you attempt to portray in this way your fellow United Methodists who supported the Traditional Plan in St. Louis. It is reckless for you to presume to say we do not want to be around LGBTQ persons. Many of us have gay persons in our families, in our neighborhoods, and in our local churches. We want to be around them — and we are — simply because we love them.

Furthermore, we want to be a living example of Jesus’ love in drawing them to himself. How can people be drawn to Christ (our primary goal as Christians) if we are unwilling to “be around” them? That is a self-defeating proposition and one that would not characterize most evangelical United Methodists.

Dr. Howell, I am disappointed that you would so cavalierly dismiss Traditional Plan supporters with your false portrayal of the Plan and our thoughts and motivations. Such an approach might influence your congregants, but it does a disservice to the church, and it will not help us to resolve our church’s crisis in a God-honoring way. It would go a long way in advancing the dialogue in our church upon a higher plane if you retracted or corrected your video.

Thank you for your consideration.

In Christ’s service,

Tom Lambrecht

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

Comments

  1. Eric Pone says

    I took the time to watch Dr. Howell’s Video on YouTube to ensure I was understanding both ends of the argument here. I believe Dr. Howell represents the attitudes of many Moderates and Liberals within the denomination post GC. I personally as a conservative found the actions of GC quite disturbing to the point that I have left the conservative congregation I was attending over it and am looking for a more moderate congregation open to all. I have read, reread, and read all the analysis regarding the Traditional Plan. I truly believe that the evangelical wing of our denomination truly desires to follow Christ according to their conscious.
    At the same time discrimination whether biblically based or not is wrong. And the Bible has been found wrong on many issues from the ordination of women to the supporting of slavery. This denomination has attempted to justify racial segregation as part of its history based it in clear biblical language. It didn’t make it right, just, or in line with our understanding of what is right or wrong.
    It is clear it is time to separate and go our separate ways. I personally feel it is time for more US-centered mission ground that is in line with American values. Obviously, Traditional Methodists want to maintain our global reach and breadth of ministry.
    While I understand your arguments, I don’t agree that love was the intent so much as a political perspective couched in biblical language. I feel both sides took a US fight over regional political and cultural values and forced everyone else to get involved. That was wrong on both sides. It may well be time for the US conferences to go our separate ways and like other Methodist movements onto new glory. I will continue to track this site and the WCA site to ensure that I have a balanced understanding of both sides views. But in the meantime, I am looking for a new place to worship.

    • Mark McCoy says

      Hi Eric, quick question. You write.. the Bible has been found wrong on many issues from the ordination of women to the supporting of slavery. I believe the Bible to be God’s inspired word so how how do you support your thoughts?

    • David Case says

      You presume much to say the bible has been “wrong” on the ordination of women. United Methodists have their official position on the matter, but great denominations that are thriving and accomplishing much work for the Kingdom take the opposite interpretational position while defending with sound exegesis and grace. I am not going to argue the point here – but nothing in the UMC’s latter 20th century change on the subject supports your statement. There are huge swaths of God’s people outside the UMC that believe differently.

  2. Diana Strickland Bridge says

    It has been my observation of James Howell in past communication, and now in this video, that he skews the Truth and manipulates his followers emotionally, in order to pursuade them to agree with him. Why does he feel the need to do this?

    If he believes his own position, he would choose, instead, to stand on facts and have no need to malign those with whom he disagrees. Intelligent, conscientious, faithful followers of Christ will be uneasy, even through the work of the Holy Spirit, upon hearing his speech in this video.

    Thank you Tom Lambrecht, for again speaking Truth in Love, for responding with reason and self-control, and for continuing to love those who twist your words and persecute you. Thank you for not joining those who pervert the truth to get their way. It would be very easy for you and Rob Renfroe to respond in kind, but you do not. Thank you for your example of loving all people, all of God’s children and the Church in such tangible ways.

    May God strengthen you and pour out His Favor upon you.

  3. Jerry D. PASCHALL says

    That is what got Jesus killed by the Jews who wanted to change ways
    to suit themselves. Jesus is not going to change and will continue to say, “follow my words. Jesus said, ” don’t try to change my words one jot or tittle. Wake up, your judgement will come. Be ready

    • Ronda Weatherford Calhoun Buckmaster says

      Agree!

    • Ann Jones says

      FYI:
      Jesus wasn’t “killed by the Jews”. His death was a group effort by Gentiles, Peopel of Israel, Romans and anyone else who didn’t like what he said and stood for. See Acts 4:27

  4. Great points, but one was left out. Howell’s lies and misrepresentations do irreparable and material harm to the church, and the UMC’s potential to gain and therefore save new members, etc. In other words, his falsities are harmful and hurtful with intention. And I can’t even ask him to be forgiven, for he knows exactly what he is doing.

    • Scott, I am sorry to say, as one who formerly sat in his church, that Jude 4 has words for Rev Howell. I do not say this lightly or flippantly but with sadness. He does know exactly what he is doing and saying.

  5. The words of Pastors like Rev. James Howell seem somehow more insightful because they are from large churches. In Rev. Howell’s case, about 5200 members. However a closer look seems to show that on average only approximately 24% of that amount regularly attend services during the week. Will all of those who attend regularly see Dr. Howell’s video? Or will they simply listen to his words as the unbiased truth? Surely a portion of them have and study other sources regarding scripture and what happened at GC2019.

  6. James Hosey says

    Thank you Tom for your words. I believe that God’s word is so clear and we need a plum line in our society today. So many have removed themselves from honesty and truth. I believe God’s word states that we are to hide His word in our hearts, that we will not sin against Him. Our whole message is a message of Transformation, just as Paul’s message was to those in Corinth. Our position is to (LOVE) the sinner and hate the sin that causes those that we love to walk in darkness. WHERE the Spirit of God dwells we find liberty and freedom. Could it be that one’s sexual identity is the Cross that must be carried as we follow the Lordship of Christ over our lives. John Wesley’s message was one of Holiness unto the Lord. Jesus loved the woman at the well, reached out to her which was not the custom of a Jew, especially a rabbi to do. Yet Jesus told her to go and sin no more. God’s grace comes to bring change in our lives and that is what living a Christian life is all about. We are not a social club, but the living body of Christ, waging war against the flesh and the devil! When Jesus was tested, where did He turn? He turned to the WORD OF GOD. IT IS WRITTEN! STAND ON GOD’S WORD, OR YOU WILL FALL FOR EVERYTHING!

  7. William Harrison says

    I fully agree Mr. Lambrecht. It so much false news about what the Traditional Plan is about. It’s such a shame that so many of the Methodist leaders are teaching false information. The Traditional Plan is the only biblical plan and is the only plan that Gods word approves. It’s sad that the church has become a battleground and a place where it’s leaders are misleading the people. One day all that are deceiving and preaching false teachings will have to answere to a higher being. Thanks for posting the truth and my God bless you.

  8. Jim Wolfgang says

    Reply to Eric Pone: Eric I regret that you did not feel comfortable in the conservative church you formerly attended, I do hope you choose another United Methodist congregation to become part of their fellowship, worship, and ministry. Despite our dis-ease, the U.M.C. is in my opinion the truest representation of the New Testament Church and no individual or congregation should leave due to our disagreement. As a very wise saintly woman (now in the church triumphant) once stated “we can disagree without being disagreeable”. Please understand, Thomas Lambrecht’s views are representative of every “traditional” United Methodist I know, including mine. They also represent every congregation I have been privileged to pastor, mainstream United Methodism, which have included homosexuals undoubtedly as well as other sinners like myself who have faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior from “the wrath to come.” They, like me are “traditional” and you would be welcomed at any of them irregardless of political or other differences of opinion. As a pastor I only expect the members of my churches to live by our United Methodist beliefs (Christian) as they expect me to do the same and be faithful to the vows I made to them and all United Methodists at my ordinations. Shalom.

  9. I attended the church where James Howell is pastor for a couple of years. My wife grew up at that church and wanted to go back. I was married in that church. His speech before the Supreme Court ruling was much veiled on these issues. After the SC decision there was an immediate flip to be more vocally supportive and outspoken of the LGBTQ community and the issues the Methodist Church is facing now. We did not stay long at the church after this change. We now attend a conservative Methodist church that preaches the whole gospel. Pastor Howell’s sermons never mention the need for repentance or talk about the how Jesus’ blood covers our sins. They are highbrow and occasionally gobbledygook in theology quoting authors that aren’t Christians. The church started using a “Modern Affirmation of Faith” instead of the Apostles Creed, and they recently ripped out a beautiful chapel and replaced it with a meditation labyrinth. These labyrinths are steep in new age spirituality. Tom’s rebuttal of James’ video was dead on. He said with authority what I could only have tried weakly to argue. Thank you Tom.

    • Michael,
      It is heartbreaking reading your firsthand report on Howell’s church in Charlotte, NC. There are no words to express the sadness of this situation. May God offer a way to enlighten those misfortunate folks still attending that church, or even on roll, to join you and get out of that place as soon as possible. As for the greater church, this sort of heresy can only be solved now with either Howell, Hamilton, et al forming a new denomination or with a separation plan brought before the 2020 General Conference.

  10. Charles Armour says

    The Bible is one of the most amazing books in history and should be so even for a nonbeliever. Its writings set the stage for nearly all later literary techniques which we now take for granted. It makes vivid use of irony throughout and employs both major and minor themes as point/counter points to force the reader to wrestle with complex theological and social issues.

    Whereas one major theme in scripture is certainly patriarchal, a stern counter theme is offered by God when He specifically lifts up select women for the greater purpose of His Kingdom. The Ancient Near East was by any measure, a man’s world, yet God in His wisdom lifted up Debra to be a Judge, and in the same story it is Jael who finally kills the evil Sisera. In other words, women not men win the day and save Israel. Later Ruth redeems the old Naomi, who in turn redeems the younger Ruth, setting the stage for the Davidic lineage. Here, the Bible challenges not just genderism but also ageism. Esther the princess saves the Jews but has to convince the wavering man Mordecai to stand firm in his own faith. Again a woman saves the day. On and on it goes with women being lifted up throughout scripture until finally the first Christian sermon is preached by a woman when all the men are hiding. “He is risen!”; proclaims Mary Magdeline. Every later sermon ever preached is but a footnote of that first one.

    As for slavery, while the Bible speaks of the then universal institution of human bondage, it also strongly proclaims human freedom as a fundamental of Christian ethics. Paul in his letter to Philemon, issues one of the earliest calls for abolition in history when he writes that although the law certainly allows Philemon to keep the hapless Onesimus as a slave, Christian ethics call for his freedom. As in the Sermon on The Mount, Paul admonishes Philemon to as a Christian go beyond the law, and set Onesimus free.

    The Bible thus in no way when considering its entirety, speaks against the ordination of women or condones slavery, quite the opposite. The problem is rather with folks lifting out of the greater Biblical context select parts to justify their own preconceived notions rather than allowing this rich, varied and inspired Word of God to speak as a unified whole.

  11. Attacking the word of God demonstrates the power of that word. That’s really what James Howell is doing with his video, attacking the word of God. Are heresy and even blasphemy being exposed in our denomination as a result of this 2019 General Conference?

    The Rev.Tom Lambrecht clearly speaks the word of God with humility — “our hope is that all people will have a personal, life-changing encounter with Jesus Christ, own him as their Savior and Lord, and experience the transformation of life we all seek by the power of the Holy Spirit”.

    For a repentant sinner, especially one engaged in sexual immorality, one who responds to God’s prevenient grace —- which minister would he/she seek out for genuine healing, for experiencing justifying grace, and for living into sanctifying grace, Tom Lambrecht or James Howell?

    Is there a real tragedy, one suspected for some time, now being fully exposed in our denomination? Are people in these progressive churches being led astray, being deceived, being told what many of their itching ears want to hear? Can these poor souls be rescued from their deceivers? It seems that this completely dwarfs any and all debate about church structure and polity.

  12. Gary Bebop says

    Tom has issued a powerful, necessary open rebuke of a false liberal narrative. This false narrative presents itself as the royal explanation, the anointed one, dominate and canonical, but it is a fraud. Tom faced the accuser with courage and honesty. Other faithful United Methodist leaders must speak truth to falsehood. Expose it to the light of truth.

  13. I watched Dr. Howell’s video. What is most disturbing is that he knows that most of what he says is false.
    It is the height of disservice, infinitely tragic, to tell “all of us sinners” that sin is not sin. This is the antithesis of love, and must be called out. Real love is to preach the truth in love, and that there is complete salvation from sin in Christ alone by grace through faith.

  14. I have a question, when is Rev. Howell’s church leaving the UMC? When will the bishops and other congregations that have violently (IMO) attacked the General Conference and those who disagree with them do the right thing and form their own structures/denomination?

    Obviously many churches, conferences, and bishops will never agree to the result of the General conference, so shouldn’t they be getting ready to leave it?

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