Progress Report on Annual Conference Actions

By Thomas Lambrecht –

We are halfway through the U.S. annual conference season. Annual conferences represent local churches and clergy in regional areas of the country. There are currently 55 annual conferences in the U.S. As of Friday, 29 of those annual conferences have met.

Several of the annual conferences have passed resolutions opposing the 2019 General Conference enactment of the Traditional Plan. Some of these have been challenged by a question of law because they commit the annual conference to not enforcing the Book of Discipline. Other resolutions are legal because they merely register an opinion. Some other annual conferences have defeated or refused to consider such resolutions opposing what the General Conference did.

In addition, Baltimore-Washington, Michigan, Northern Illinois, and North Texas have ordained or commissioned openly gay clergy. The woman ordained in North Texas is living in celibacy, so she qualifies for ordination under our standards. The two clergy in Baltimore-Washington and one in Northern Illinois are living in same-sex marriages, so they definitely do not qualify. One of the two gay persons commissioned in Michigan is living in a same-sex marriage and thus does not qualify, while the other is not and so apparently does qualify.

This effort on the part of some annual conferences to explicitly defy the Discipline is part of the “resist” campaign fostered by progressives and moderates. Because they do not agree with what the church has decided, they are refusing to go along with it.

The “resist” effort is best summarized by a statement made by the Rev. Adam Hamilton, convener of the UMCNext Conference, at the close of that conference. “We are going to live and be the kind of church we want to be, regardless what the denominational rules says [sic].” A number of U.S. bishops have publicly stated that they are going to run their annual conferences as if the One Church Plan had passed, regardless of what General Conference actually enacted. Such an approach demonstrates even more vividly the division that exists in our denomination. The divide has been deepened and moderates have generally moved in the direction of the progressives.

Nowhere has this shift been illustrated more than in the election of delegates to General Conference. Part of the agenda of the moderate and progressive coalition is to switch enough votes among the U.S. delegates to overturn the actions of the 2019 General Conference in 2020. The passion and anger among those opposed to the church’s position has motivated them to unprecedented efforts to elect sympathetic delegates. We have heard there has been a concerted effort to get many more retired clergy are attending annual conferences in order to vote for progressive candidates. We have also received reports of voter suppression in some annual conferences, where Licensed Local Pastors who meet the qualifications of the church Constitution have been denied the ability to vote for clergy delegates or have been required to provide extra paperwork, such as seminary transcripts.

So far in the election process, the number of conservative delegates has been reduced by about 20 percent compared to the previous delegation. It is not yet enough to switch the results of General Conference, but the progressive and moderate coalition is making progress toward that goal. In the end, the conservative delegation would need to lose about a third of its strength to give the progressives and moderates a realistic opportunity to reverse the outcome of St. Louis.

Interestingly, all of the traditional delegate losses have come among clergy. Overall, traditional lay delegates have actually gained slightly in numbers. This result points to the fact that the clergy and the laity in our denomination are generally headed in different directions.

In the delegation in St. Louis, 46 percent of the traditional delegates were clergy. So far in the 2020 delegation, only 30 percent are clergy.

There are several possible reasons why the clergy vote has shifted dramatically to the left.

A Northern Illinois Conference ordained two deacons and seven elders, including an openly transgender deacon. Four were commissioned as provisional deacons, including two openly LGBTQ candidates. Video image from Northern Illinois Conference livestream.

Most obviously, many moderate clergy who in the past would have been “swing” voters, voting for both progressive and conservative candidates, have decided to cast their lot entirely with the progressives. This illustrates that there is no “middle” or “center” in the church anymore (if there ever was). All United Methodists are committed to the belief that all individuals are persons of “sacred worth.” There can be no compromise about that tenet.

At the same time, we have argued for a long time that one either supports the practice of homosexuality or one does not. There is no compromise or middle ground between those two positions. One either favors same-sex marriage in the church or one does not. One either approves of ordaining practicing gays and lesbians as clergy or one does not. The decisions in St. Louis have sharpened the question for many who previously were trying to sit on the fence, and they have generally come down on the side of supporting the practice of homosexuality. One working definition of a “moderate” that has been floating around is that a moderate is a progressive who wants the change in the church to go slower.

In the clergy shift, we also see the influence of our United Methodist seminaries, nearly all of whom explicitly support the ordination of practicing gays and lesbians as clergy. Many UM seminary presidents and deans signed statements before and after the special General Conference calling on the church to change its position. Many faculty at these institutions come from a progressive viewpoint-some very forcefully so. Many of our UM seminaries are taking steps to explicitly welcome and encourage LGBTQ persons to attend. Many UM seminaries emphasize social justice coursework and deemphasize biblical study. For many of them, the study of the Greek and Hebrew languages in which the Bible was written is optional. This approach to theology and the advocacy for LGBTQ equality deeply influences students at a formative time in their lives, leading to a clergy that is substantially more liberal than the laity who make up the people in the pews.

Clergy also tend to be institutionalists. We naturally gravitate toward protecting the institution of the church, since it is our livelihood and career. Many moderates believe the best way to protect the institution is to make it more relevant to the culture in which we live. They have bought into the mistaken assumption that a progressive Gospel will attract more members than a traditional one – a false premise that has yet to materialize into reality within any of our progressive mainline sister denominations.

Furthermore, when clergy hear a consistent progressive message from their bishop and other conference leaders, who also tend to be disproportionately progressive, they bow to that pressure. After all, if “getting ahead” or receiving a good appointment depends upon upholding the “party line” of the bishop and leadership, that is the direction many clergy will go.

Ironically, in a quest for diversity, the church is becoming less diverse. We are hearing that more and more of the delegates are coming from metropolitan areas, rather than rural churches. Support for traditional theological approaches is waning. Other mainline denominations have found that growing more progressive means growing older, whiter, and smaller. That may be where the moderate and progressive wing of the church is headed.

As we argued in the lead-up to St. Louis, many moderates would be willing to tolerate the presence of evangelicals in the church, as long as the moderates and progressives get to do ministry the way they want. Now that the church is trying to get serious about seeing that clergy live by its policies, however, they are singing a different tune. Many moderates cannot be in a church that does not allow progressives to perform same-sex marriages and ordain practicing gay and lesbian clergy. So they have cast their lot with the progressives.

The result of this approach would be to jettison most of the global church and adapt United Methodism to current American culture. That is the direction being chosen by many in these important delegate elections. That is the opposite direction from where most evangelical United Methodists would like to see the church move.

Since different parts of the church are headed in different directions, it would make more sense to allow the different parts to separate and move unencumbered in the direction they believe their ministry should go. It remains to be seen whether that is the approach moderate and progressive leaders are willing to take.

Thomas Lambrecht is a United Methodist clergyperson and the vice president of Good News. 

Comments

  1. It was obvious from the South Carolina AC how great the divide was between clergy and laity. All the clergy elected were liberal. They tended to be female (6 out of 8) and younger. The progressives were well organized and prepared, clergy and laity. Many wore UMC Next buttons. The WCA did some organization, but not much. The first two laity voted through were liberal and popular. After that all of the laity were conservatives. I really hope Thomas is correct that the progressives will not flip enough delegates to reverse the traditional plan. If they do, they will with the hope of forcing the traditionalists out, and I doubt they will make it easy or cheap to leave. The current disaffiliation plan is much too expensive for all but the large churches. 2020 will probably be the last time progressives have a chance to change the rules. After that Africa will have close to, if not a clear majority of the delegates and the denomination will turn conservative for generations. If your conference has not met yet, please be prepared. The future of Biblical authority in the UMC depends on it.

  2. Let’s see, where to start…

    Ah, the old ‘Progressive Gospel is a failure’ argument! So, apparently, is the conservative one.

    https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/06/southern-baptist-church-needs-change/591331/

    And I agree that the church needs to split.

    But lets get to the meat of the issue here. While the LGBTQ+ situation is the flashpoint, it’s not the true problem here.

    How do we read the Bible?

    We don’t agree on the basic way to read and evaluate scripture, and that fractured basis is the source of all of our issues. And we WON’T agree, as our views are very divergent there.

  3. John Bryan says

    Why have clergy become more liberal than the laity?

  4. Robert A Combes says

    Here in the Fl Annual Conference 2019 concluded w/ no Traditionalists going to National. Also this —- Resolution No. 8: That the Florida Annual Conference condemns the decision of the 2019 General Conference to pass the Traditional Plan and apologizes for the harm that it has caused LGBTQ+ persons, their families, friends and the body of Christ. The body approved the resolution.
    Res. #5 voted down, stated that this conference would abide by the latest guideline from Book of Dis. about homosexuality and full enforcement of offenders.
    we’re in for a battle royal , we are encouraged to: But you, O man of God, flee from these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made the good confession before many witnesses. 1 Tim 6 11&12 Berean Study Bible

  5. Gary Bebop says

    The Pacific Northwest held its annual fest of defiance and rebellion. There were WCA voices, but they were so muted and nice that the chair and the platform staff barely took notice. Traditionalists didn’t get the memo that the Progressive sect won’t be cajoled or rolled by niceness and style points. And don’t count on negotiations being merciful if Progressives gain enough votes to flip GC2020. The battle is real; for Traditionalists it is existential. Niceness and style won’t outsmart the wiles of the devil.

  6. Here’s a thought. It seems to me that a major part of the problem facing the “Traditional Plan” has to do with the “traditional” way the UMC is governed. Has the WCA or any other UMC church leaders considered the possibility plan of changing the church constitution to turn over the ownership of church property and the selection of pastors to the individual congregations? It seems to work for other denominations and it may be a better way forward than fighting for a gracious exit plan. This would free the individual churches to determine their direction rather than having it imposed on them.

  7. I hate to sound negative, because I believe nothing is too tough for God, but it seems to me the majority of clergy in the U. S. Church is determined at this point to reject the outcome of St. Louis. Why should Traditionalists continue to stay? Where should we go? Will the Traditionalists form something new that we can call home? I realize in a few years the delegates in Africa and other Traditionalist areas will constitute a majority of the delegates at GC (assuming the Progressives don’t in the meantime figure out a way to lessen their representation), but U. S. Traditionalists don’t live in Africa or Eastern Europe. The UMC in the U.S. already treats us like pariahs. If a workable division is not addressed soon, certainly by no later than GC 2020, I predict a sizeable percentage of U.S. Traditionalists will realize they have no choice but to abandon the UMC. I’m so tired of the fighting. I’m ready to move on.

    • We will have no choice but to abandon the UMC if the local church confirms that it has become the progressive leaning church I already suspect it is. Because of some local happenings that completely reinvented this church a while back we already restrict our involvement to Sunday morning worship. Having monitored the development of this situation since GC2012, I already knew about and experienced the animosity progressives have towards traditionalists. Since GC2019 it has become very apparent that much of denominational leadership and certain influential pastors have absolutely no respect for the traditionalist viewpoint or the people who approach Christianity from this perspective; they are convinced it has absolutely no place in 21st century America.

      • In other words — they have no respect for the Word of God as written in the Holy Bible. This is actually about their disrespect and animosity towards God, not people who are called traditionalists. Now that fact is absolutely astounding and abjectly incomprehensible.

        • Hi William,

          I honestly have a question for you. I’ve been reading your posts, and there’s one thing that keeps popping up.

          When did God appoint you to decide who is a real Christian and who isn’t?

          When you say explicitly that progressives “have no respect for the Word of God as written in the Holy Bible”, you are saying I’m a bad Christian – or not a Christian at all. When you say this is about my “disrespect and animosity towards God”, you have no idea who I am or how I feel – yet you feel you have the right to judge me on behalf of Jesus.

          Because when you post these things, you are going all-in on the Judging, and not paying any attention to the ‘love thy neighbor’ stuff, and not even coming anywhere near the ‘love your enemies’ part.

          Maybe God has spoken to you directly and told you to be his judge. I’d like to hear about that. In the meantime, I hope that Jesus guides us both into righteousness.

          • “Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth?” Galatians 4:16

            William is correct in his summary. The issue is whether or not the Scripture is the inerrant word for God. If it is then we would do well to attempt to obey it. If it is not we will simply pick and choose what we like and ignore or discard the rest. [Something evangelicals are often wrongly accused of]

            You also assume animosity and hate. You are wrong. If you were hated by traditionalists we would be encouraging you to commit sin which is EXACTLY what the “progressives” are doing to large segments of the culture. The frustration is in you no recognizing this – WE DO NOT WANT TO SEE YOU FAIL.

            Are we to ask God “Am I my brother’s keeper?” We are the break as you head for the brick wall. We are the control rods in the reactor. I see Williams’s posts as utter frustration that we have failed and cannot fulfill this role. Not to mention that we traditionalists will be no longer represented in conference.

            Why will progressives not leave? Is it greed? Do they want our assets? I say take them! If I am left with just the Scripture and the Armor that guards my heart then I am rich beyond earthly dreams. Or is it that someone who wants to commit theological suicide also wants company in the endeavor? This so as to have plausible deniability before God: “My brothers did it with me!” as if that will be any defense in the face of omniscience.

            Maybe these will give you an idea:
            Matthew 18:15
            James 5:19-20
            Ephesians 4:25
            Galatians 6:2
            Ephesians 4:32
            Hebrews 3:12-13
            1 Thessalonians 5:11
            Ephesians 4:1-32
            Luke 17:3
            1 Corinthians 6:1-8
            1 Corinthians 5:1-13

            We ARE to hold each other to account. Indeed I was rebuked by a brother many years ago (when Khufu ruled Egypt) I leaned and I repented. He was scripturally right and I was wrong. I choose the hard path – to obey, to learn, to accept God’s rebuke.

            Many progressives claim that this is the Holy Spirit leading them – indeed scripture has an answer for that as well – 1 John 4:1 (basically the entire chapter) “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test spirits to see whether are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.

            Perhaps this parable will help:

            A man went to a doctor as he was not feeling well. The doctor told him he had cancer but if he started treatment right away he had a very good chance of survival. The man being prudent went to get a second opinion.

            The second doctor knew the man had cancer but did not want to hurt the man’s feelings therefore the second doctor told the man he was fine, gave him some aspirin and sent the man home.

            Which of these doctors did the right thing?

            “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” – 1 Thessalonians 5:18

          • Not me by any means — Scripture does the speaking. The debate is with Scripture, not me. As just one rather relevant passage of Scripture with relation to our current conflict, progressives reject these direct words of Jesus in his discourse on divorce and are aggressively trying to get the UMC to do the same. That’s not disrespecting the Word of God and denying Jesus?

            https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+19%3A4-6&version=NIV

          • Divorce? You mean the divorce, that Jesus speaks against in 3 gospels, that the UMC basically accepted in the late 1960’s in a full capitulation? Because that’s the next couple of verses:
            https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+19%3A+7-9&version=NIV

            The divorce where Jesus says that the Bible isn’t purely the Word of God, because ‘hard hearted’ Jews forced Moses to add that in? Is that Jesus disrespecting the Word of God there and throwing Moses under the bus as being a weak willed leader?

            So two questions:
            If you think that progressives are wrong in going against the part that you quoted, isn’t the entire UMC wrong in going against the part I quoted – so (as I’ve predicted) the next move from Traditionalists has to be a further step into fundamentalism by banning divorce and forcing out anyone who has not followed Jesus specific word?

            And secondly, you say above: “…they have no respect for the Word of God as written in the Holy Bible.”

            Which Bible?
            https://www.forgeonline.org/blog/2019/3/8/what-about-romans-124-27?fbclid=IwAR2qS5rIbFPePEauIiztAwmXtl3eaJDwej0Vly40UxfAz_BD2i4P-oOAUM8

          • Hi Ely,

            I appreciate your response, and while I think you are wrong on several points, I agree with the general idea.

            #1, equating LGBTQ to cancer is ABOMINABLE.
            #2, see my response to William re: divorce, and as an additional plus read the article that I linked.
            #3, here’s a specific quote from you that I need to address:

            “The issue is whether or not the Scripture is the inerrant word for God. If it is then we would do well to attempt to obey it. If it is not we will simply pick and choose what we like and ignore or discard the rest. ”

            Scripture is the inerrant word of God? If you read the article I referenced, you can see where a couple of translational points made a huge change in the ‘inerrant word of God’. Which was inerrant? They can’t both be, as the translations have different actual literal meanings.

            And go back to divorce.

            Then I want you to take your inerrant Word of God and consider 3 specific references from the mouth of Jesus:
            https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+19%3A+7-9&version=NIV
            https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Mark+10%3A2-12&version=NIV
            https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=luke+16%3A18&version=NIV

            So what can we take from this teaching?
            The UMC is supporting sin by allowing divorce, divorced pastors in the pulpit, remarrying divorced people. This, based on the words of JESUS, is incontrovertible fact based on Word Of God logic. [This was actually held to well into the 20th century, a Methodist pastor was actually brought up on church charges in the 20’s for marrying a divorcee when he was in his 70’s.]
            Secondly, Jesus HIMSELF picked and chose from the scriptures. Go read up on ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’. There’s a reference to it in the OT, which is pretty specific that neighbor = immediate community; and since the Hebrews were to keep to themselves and not mingle with others [Joshua 23, et al], finding a guy beaten and naked on the road would require NO action from a bypasser from a different cultural group. Add in that Samaritans and Jews despised each other at the time, considering each other to be ‘neighbors’ within the context of that parable would be mind-blowing.

  8. Gary Bebop says

    Traditionalists have but a small window of time to escape the consequences of a possible flip of GC2020. Don’t count on preserving church property for Traditionalist ministry if such a flip were to occur. Progressives control the governance and policies of many conferences. They are now emboldened by prospects for a flip. There will be no rewards to Traditionalists for humble years of faithful service. You will be shown the door. Progressives are looking past you to your assets.

    • The still will not get the votes in 2020. Even if they do, the will lose by 2024 when Africa has the majority of votes. Time is not on their side. You have to have some patience

      • Gary Bebop says

        Not to quibble, but Progressives believe their hour is at hand. Traditionalists will not be able to coast through 2020. Prepare for Progressives to squeeze the bottle to get all the ketchup. They want the assets, and they control the apparatus of appointment.

    • charles armour says

      Gary, sadly I fear that what you say is true. It is not unlike the days of old when it was written: “And a new Pharaoh arose in Egypt who did not know Joseph.” That said, the Children of Israel stuck together and with faith and courage, they eventually found the promised land. Somehow traditional Christians MUST stick together even if we are indeed forced to leave our properties behind. I do fear that in the modern world that might be easier said than done. I am praying that we all shall. If nothing else I will start a house church for my family and friends. at least then we will yet say: “As for me and my house we shall serve the Lord.”

    • If they flip the church in May, 2020, that could not become law until Jan 1, 2021 at the earliest? That would, indeed, be a rather small window to exercise options under the 2019 exit provision? If that is the case, a new global denomination is looking more and more a blessing. Let the left behind liberals have and fund the left over bloated and ineffective bureaucracy and fund the payrolls of all the liberal clergy. A new denomination would be rid of this albatross and could create a quality staffed, mission focused Wesleyan denomination to go forth without any notice at all at the local church level of the old, invisible structure of the past. Every current member would be forced to do some serious and eternal consequences soul searching to decide which denomination to affiliate with, the Biblical one or the apostate, non-Biblical one — or go elsewhere as the third option.

  9. Teresa Dawson says

    For another perspective, the fact that over half of the UMC conference delegates has resulted in a loss of only 20% traditionalist delegates could be seen as a positive. However, if the moderates/progressives fail to get the delegate numbers needed to overturn the actions of the GC 2019 conference, look for them to use whatever means necessary to stymie the attendance of African delegates to next years conference. These people are at war with those in the UMC who wish to adhere to biblical standards on homosexuality and will stop at nothing to achieve their goal. The Book of Revelation speaks about churches who abandon the authority of the word of God and unfortunately, the UMC is now in the midst of that battle.

  10. I’m a former UMC Local Pastor and I left the church because of this very issue. I knew going in that the denomination was becoming liberal/progressive but my hope was to help pull the church back to it’s biblical foundation. Shortly after becoming an LP in my conference our vote was taken away at annual conference which left me with no voice. I chose to leave and now pastor a non-denominational church.

    My thinking for leaving was this: One day I’ll stand before God and give an account for what I taught my flock and how I represented what God has said in His word. God will not judge me based on my loyalty to and denomination, but I will be judged based on my obedience to His word.

    Keep fighting for biblical truth, but should the day come when the progressives take control remember your obedience is to Christ not any denomination, church or pastor.

    Praying for my brothers and sisters in the UMC.

  11. With all due respect to the article writer, if you have heard ‘reports’ about irregularities in the paragraph that finishes:

    “…We have heard there has been a concerted effort to get many more retired clergy are attending annual conferences in order to vote for progressive candidates. We have also received reports of voter suppression in some annual conferences, where Licensed Local Pastors who meet the qualifications of the church Constitution have been denied the ability to vote for clergy delegates or have been required to provide extra paperwork, such as seminary transcripts.”

    If these reports are valid, then they need to be taken to the Judicial Council by those who report the irregularities immediately. Just as the accusations about buying votes and other irregularities were made by some at the 2019 General Conference were made but never really investigated, illegalities of this type cannot be tolerated.

    If they are true then basically one side in the debate is saying ‘what matters is what we want and anything that gets it done is moral and ethical. This is how the secular political world rolls these days, and why there is such bitterness on both sides of the aisle.

    When it happens in the denomination where political voting is the basis of our governance, then the destruction of the denomination has already happened and we are the point of deciding how to split. Or, we are close to doing what the New Testament condemns in several places about taking our disputes into the secular world of a court, and most of us should just leave.

    • Wholly agreed.

      Don’t engage in fearmongering. If these actions are actually taking place and improper, they should be thoroughly exposed, reported upon, and adjudicated.

      And if that means that a Bishop has been suppressing things and that there’s no sense of accountability or censure, then that needs to be reported as well.

      Call it out. Be direct. God expects us to be brave.

      On the other hand, I don’t know the rule about retired pastors. Are they able to vote? If that’s just a legitimate exercise of voting rights, is this just complaining because the other side is ‘winning’ using legitimate and effective means? There’s an implication that such a push is improper in some way. I’m guessing that the retiree vote is just fine.

  12. Joe Webb says

    Soon it will be clear if GC20 flips the actions of GC19. Progressives will have an actual AC count of votes in their camp. If they make no move to begin organizing to leave UMC, they will flip GC20 in their favor. If they begin to move on, they don’t have the votes to change the conservative stance of the church.

    • Reynolds says

      Why would the liberals leave if they can flip the vote. I would suspect the conservatives would leave or wait until 2024 and flip the vote again I read that they have about 73% of the US vote. Is that enough to flip the vote

  13. My church is in the Tennessee Annual Conference as I’m in Nashville and the term laity around here is a joke. Our “laity” are all employees or spouses of the UMC Boards and Agencies along with Pastors wives. It is a Deep State concept and they will do anything for power.

    • Gary Bebop says

      That’s the true state of the art of politics. Annual conferences are incestuous warrens. Clergy offices are covens of cronies, and laity offices are filled with spouses of clergy and such. Turbulent times expose disturbing truths. As in Macbeth, ambition is ever in play.

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