The Consent of the Governed

By Tom Lambrecht –

It is a concept entrenched in modern Western culture that governments “derive their just powers from the consent of the governed” (Declaration of Independence, United States). To be governed without our consent is the definition of what the Declaration calls tyranny, or in modern terms we would call dictatorship (by either an individual or a powerful group).

While the church is a completely unique entity compared to a national government, this understanding applies to our denomination, as well. Clergy voluntarily assent to submit to the government of the church by taking vows of ordination. Laity voluntarily submit to the government of the church by affirming the vows of baptism and church membership.

It has become strikingly evident over the past several months that a significant part of The United Methodist Church no longer gives its consent to be governed by the church, despite those vows. German and Scandinavian church leaders have declared they will investigate becoming autonomous churches rather than submit to the decisions of the St. Louis General Conference. Several bishops in the U.S. have announced that they will ignore what the General Conference enacted and operate their annual conferences as if the One Church Plan had passed. Up to a half-dozen practicing homosexuals have been ordained or commissioned in U.S. annual conferences in defiance of the longstanding prohibition in our Book of Discipline. Over a dozen U.S. annual conferences have passed resolutions rejecting the decisions made by the St. Louis General Conference.

Influential mega-church pastor, the Rev. Adam Hamilton, has stated, “We are going to live and be the kind of church we want to be, regardless what the denominational rules says [sic].” How exactly does that play out when thousands of local United Methodist congregations say the exact same thing, withholding apportionments and resisting pastoral appointments?

How can The United Methodist Church continue without the consent of its bishops, annual conferences, clergy, and members?

In the colonial era, the writers of the Declaration of Independence stated that, when a form of government no longer has the consent of the governed or becomes destructive to the purposes for which that government was established, “it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.” That was the justification for the American Revolution.

This spring, in response to the General Conference decisions, the moderate and progressive wings of the church in the U.S. and parts of Europe have decided to revolt against the government of the church and to establish a different foundation on principles amenable to the majority of church members in those parts of the church. We see this in the examples of disobedience cited above and calls to “resist.” In addition, those favoring same-sex marriage and the ordination of practicing LGBT persons are determined to reverse the outcome of St. Louis through the perfectly acceptable means of electing more progressive General Conference delegates in some annual conferences.

Yet were the progressive/moderate coalition able to undo what General Conference decided, either explicitly or implicitly allowing same-sex marriage and LGBT ordination, the traditional wing of the church in the U.S., Africa, the Philippines, and parts of Europe would no longer be able to grant the church their consent to be governed by a policy that they see as a direct contradiction of Scripture. The current situation would simply be reversed, with a different group withholding consent.

Even if the 2020 General Conference continues to affirm the traditional definition of marriage and sexual ethics, progressives have stated they will refuse to abide by the church’s policies. Based on apparent success in electing progressive and moderate delegates to the Jurisdictional Conferences, they believe they will have the votes to elect at least a dozen bishops who will refuse to enforce the church’s standards and will carry on the revolution.

Our church is now unquestionably in a constitutional crisis, where our ecclesiastical framework appears to be unable to resolve the conflict. We have two irreconcilable positions, and one faction is willfully choosing to violate the constitutionally established processes of the church. “Resist” is the mantra of the moment, but this will lead to long-term ecclesiastical paralysis, loss of legitimacy, and eventual collapse.

We have one part of the church government (some bishops and annual conferences) choosing to willfully violate church law established by another part of the church government (General Conference) operating under its constitutional authority. This after the law was affirmed by a third part of church government (Judicial Council). So we have different parts of church government operating against each other. What makes this a crisis is that there appears to be no mechanism for resolving the dispute, since some no longer accept the authority of General Conference and see it as “illegitimate.”

There is a safety valve for the church to deal with irreconcilable conflict, in that the church is a voluntary association of like-minded people. When people are no longer of like mind, they can choose not to associate (or can disassociate). Many tens of thousands of United Methodist lay members have chosen over the past 25 years to disassociate from a church they no longer agree with. Many have left because the church has become too progressive, while others have left because the church has remained committed to a traditional reading of Scripture.

Since the current church government has lost the consent of a large group in the church, it cannot continue the way it is. One group will not consent to a church government that does not allow same-sex marriage and LGBT ordination. Another group will not consent to a church government that does allow those things. So that means at least two new church governments will need to be established – one for progressives and one for conservatives. Whether either group will need to split into more factions is yet to be determined.

It is difficult for many to accept that we have reached this point. However, by their actions and statements, many progressives and moderates have established that they can no longer bear with the traditional position that has been consistently affirmed by our General Conference for 47 years. They are unwilling to allow the church to insist that its bishops and clergy function according to the General Conference’s reading of Scripture and under the General Conference’s authority.

There is no way to force people to accept a church government that they cannot in good conscience support. Nor would it be at all desirable to do so. Therefore, we must accept the fact that a separation must occur in our church. That separation can be done amicably or it can be done contentiously. One way or another, however, it must happen. We can no longer think that unity under a single church government is possible.

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

Comments

  1. I agree Thomas. One thing we do not need to do is let this resist group keep the name The United Methodist Church. While the name is somewhat toxic, it is still recognized by many people and in many places.

  2. Charles Armour says

    A resolution/separation needs to happen sooner rather than later. Otherwise the UMC risks becoming a zombie church. Perhaps some “starry eyed progressives” might join the “New Revolution” of the leftist congregations, but Evangelicals have so many other fine options for churches, and are often not that much into denominations in the first place.

    My parish is literally surrounded on all sides by both denominational and nondenominational Bible centered congregations, all of whom have excellent pastors and programs. We now live in a consumer driven society. So why would anyone who maintains a traditional theology and who has not been affiliated from youth with Methodism even consider joining the UMC in its present state of chaos? There there are other equally fine churches within a block or two of most Methodist congregations without such turmoil.

    I have noticed a measurable decline of new visitors since this awful present debacle began. I fear significant harm will be done to Methodism if we have to wait until 2020 to decide and then 2022 for any plan to be implemented. This is all such a tragedy.

  3. God does indeed know how to get us out of this mess we fallen humans have made. Whatever His solution is, it will probably surprise many of us. If we evangelicals are willing to let go of the institution and its riches, God can do great things for and through us.

  4. This commentary is objective and painfully true. My one hope is that all sides can come to an agreement after division as to how to maintain support of worthwhile ministries and institutions that the entire church has sponsored in the past. While we certainly have our differences that divide us, we also continue to do great work throughout the world through our combined efforts. It would be such a shame for those ministries to die on the vine as a result of our differences.

  5. Pastor Tom,
    I take no exception to the main thrust of this article, although I would remind you that many, more skeptical UMC members predicted that the progressive-moderate branch of the church would never accept a church that did not extend full acceptance of LGBT persons/pastors/bishops in the UMC. This was widely spoken of in various GN article feedbacks over the last 3-4 years. What I do not understand are a few issues that perhaps someone at GN could address:
    1) After conducting himself like a schoolyard bully at GC’19, why does GN speak of Adam Hamilton in hushed, reverent tones? His vitriol directed at traditionalists and his promise to conduct himself and his church in the manner of his conscience, rather than the UM Book of Discipline should earn him little consideration.
    2) Since GC’19, most U.S. based traditional leaders are AWOL. I can appreciate the desire for reconciliation and healing; however, the vast majority of public pronouncements from the progressive-moderate branch of the church have been belligerent and aggressive. Are Traditionalists suppose to be ashamed that the vote supported a biblical interpretation of what a Christian church should be? I appreciate your consistent exchange with GN supporters, as well as that of David Watson; but, what happened to Rob Renfroe and Maxie Dunham? Prior to GC’19, both Rob and Maxie were quite visible in marshalling the forces. Now…listen to the silence.
    3) We had a clear goal; we won the vote; we’ve attempted to offer a gracious exit plan for those who do not agree with the non-disputable priorities of the UMC. If those members of the progressive-moderate branch of the church refuse to support and conform to church discipline or leave in good conscience to start an alternative church, should they not be declared heretics and be defrocked by the UMC? What reasonable course is left to us?
    Since the 1960’s, the sad foreshadowing of this conflict was predictable. There are moments that God sends angels and ministers of mercy to heal, bind up wounds and speak in conciliatory tones. I hasten to add, however, that God also raises warriors to defend the faith and purify His church. We need less doubt and more confidence to preserve the Wesleyan tradition and God’s church.

    • Steve Salis says

      The problem with your 3rd point is that the Bishops would need to do the defrocking and punishing, and they are the problem. Bishop Carter has no appetite for going against the very ideology that he openly supports, so why would other Bishops feel inclined to obey the vows they swore under their ordination and appointment. The GC has been the only consistent voice for Scriptural Orthodoxy and it is impotent.

      • Steve,
        Your point is well taken. The current situation in the UMC is that the vast majority of pastors, administrators and bishops have been educated and indoctrinated by seminary training in decidedly liberal schools. Even the so-called evangelical/moderate clergy are hesitant to call-out their “old seminary buddies”, despite their lack of commitment to God’s Word. I agree that the current cadre on the COB would not reverse their trend and begin to hold clergy accountable to the BOD. I never suggested that the solution would be easy or fast. We need nothing less than a total purge of all clergy who are not willing to uphold both the Bible and the UMC BOD; anything less will only bring us back to this same place at some future point. I assume this will require serious restructuring of the BOD to mandate accountability among UM clergy, as well as in our seminaries, agencies and other organizations.

      • Could we wait and see how the Bishops, Agencies, etc. act after January 1, 2020?There is a slight chance they will see where their energies should go. They did try to get a mandate to Minneapolis in May and June but apparently they didn’t . Everyone is catching their breath. There probably is a constitutional crisis, but we will see as deadlines to enacting the decisions of the special General Conference 2019 come to pass. They have many valid options of good conscious to choose from. Fairness has been brought up. I have a lot of ideas about selling off a lot of properties to pay off a vested amount of the careers (personal retirement)that have been shortened and they go forth not defrocked, just with an asterick ,if the UMC exists in the future . If all denominational names are changed there is no problem with their usage of the term ordained by the UMC. There are exciting visions about local church vitality , scripture, worship, evangelism. The trust of all physical property is still with the denomination. Just need some ideas that the delegates can choose from. Does a crisis mean the groups begin to make binding plans to live together separately(separate meetings)?

        • A lot of us have had too much “wait and see.”
          An equitable plan of separation is a clean cut rather than a dirty cut with increased pain and delayed healing. I would rather see a scalpel used than a blow torch.

    • Some observations re Rev. Hamilton:

      1. While credit must be given for building a large congregation, I believe that Rev. Hamilton has let his success go to his head. Most revealing to me was listening to his messages at the Florida Annual Conference a few years ago. I forget the exact title of his series, but it was about building a successful church/congregation. There was no discussion about LGBT. His messages were excellent and very instructive but I was shocked by how little credit he gave to the Lord and is was mostly “me” or “we.”

      2. Good News has mentioned this before, but I find Rev. Hamilton’s dividing scripture into “three buckets” even more shocking. Let’s leave it at that.

      His behavior at and following the GC2019 is absolutely quite alarming!!!

  6. w.f. meiklejohn says

    Jim says; ‘we won…’ Tragically, nobody “won”. We all lost and have zero credibility. The ANTI-baptists who want a decentralized system, no bishops, and celebrate catching anyone doing something “wrong” in their view, in order to exact punitive measures continue to wreak havoc. Somewhere we were supposed to ‘make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world’ but that’s been irrerepably compromised to the the mantra of “Our way or the highway”. No wonder “Jesus wept”

    • W.F.,
      Respectfully, I did not say “we won”; I said “we won the vote.” Big difference…and now, if the UMC has the stomach for it, the REAL work begins! Ahead of us lies the challenge of reversing decades of drift by our clergy, bishops and administrators toward the lure of world and away from the things of God and His Word. It is of little importance if any of us feel as though we’ve won; it is critical that in this mish-mash of church properties, confused parishioners and injured feelings that Christ wins! Our church desperately needs to experience a rebirth of accountability to God’s Word and to the Discipline of the UMC. Nothing less will do, to insure the survival of the church. And one last thing…as presently constituted, what kind of disciples would the UMC produce? And if we go out to win the world, what kind of church will we be bringing them into? Until the UMC returns to their roots (Bible & Book of Discipline) and their first love, we should refrain from evangelization and instead concentrate on cleansing, renewal and restoration!

  7. Jim Wolfgang says

    Like so many traditional United Methodists I am discouraged by the ongoing violation to the covenant connectionalism of the denomination by those who will not abide by our beliefs. However, this is not the time to leave, this is the time to stand firm in our faith to the Biblical teachings that are manifest in this most authentic example of the New Testament church presently in existance. Anyone leaving for an “independant” church is joining an anomaly of what Paul and Peter wrote concerning the Church as the body of Christ, with Christ the Chief Cornerstone, and the “parts” intrinsically and unseparably joined together. There are over eleven million United Methodists, it is a minority (smaller than their loudness implies) which is disrupting the connection. We need to stay true to the faithful United Methodists who upheld traditional United Methodism at the 2019 Special Called General Conference: this is what the presentday New Testament church known as traditional United Methodism looks like. I pray we use the Christian virtues of patience and faithfulness and wait for the Council of Bishops to act in January when the new changes to the Discipline take effect, and keep faith to our church through the 2020 General Conference: surely this church we love and the Lord we serve inspires this of us. The time is now when people will not put up with sound doctrine, turn away from truth, and wander away to myths, “as for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully” (II Tim. 4:5). The best way to carry out that ministry is through traditional United Methodism.

  8. Gary Bebop says

    Cal-Pacific leaders have just issued a declaration of ongoing resistance to the will of GC2019 and a vigorously argued counterpoint against using apportionment withholding as political punishment. It’s a lucid document that communicates resolve to stay with the church and not to separate. The great game is on, the battle so many Traditionalists have forsworn because it would be a public relations disaster and require a holy will, God’s armor, and personal sacrifice. But it appears the West has decided.

  9. Dear Mr. Wolfgang,

    What reasonable expectation do you have that the COB will soon see the light and institute policies which uphold the principles passed at GC 2019? I am not critical of your having hope, but what evidence exists that the US COB has any intention of following what passed? By the pronouncements of a sizeable number of US Bishops, their main thrust is to try to undo 2019 and get some form of the misnamed One Church Plan passes in 2020. In the meantime, faithful Traditionalists who faithfully pay their apportionment watch their gifts go to support those Bishops and General Agencies that actively work to undermine and defy our BOD and who seek to have God’s church reflect secular society rather than the reverse. I just can’t find any logic or spirituality in letting the COB and certain agencies hitting us upside the head and our saying, “Thank you sir/ma’am, I’ll have another.” I want to see concrete legislation introduced at GC 2020 by Good News and WCA and like-minded groups to separate and go our separate ways or I will have no choice but to resign from the UMC and start searching for a new church home. And they can have the name and logo if that is the stumbling block. It’s just a name and a brand and a damaged one at that.

  10. Teresa Dawson says

    The majority of United Methodist conferences in the United States have made clear that they have no intention of following the Book of Discipline or enforcing the Traditional Plan. I understand that many traditionalists would prefer not to take drastic measures in dealing with this open defiance, but there may not be a choice. The Global United Methodist Church may have to disaffiliate the American United Methodist Church. It will be complicated and messy, but this open defiance of church law and biblical authority cannot be allowed to continue.

  11. Jim Wolfgang says

    John, I had to think hard about how much confidence I have in the COB because in truth, I don’t have much either. I do think there are some, including my present bishop, who I believe will vote to enforce the discipline, but the rest are a question mark. I am very concerned about how big the covenant breaking block is.Your sentiment expressed in the ending of your comments reveals just how much is riding upon the leadership of the COB. Up until the last year they haven’t needed to do much except lead their annual conferences, but now the division of the “progressives?” (who have broken the covenant they made with the U.M.C. and caused this dis-ease) and the traditional believing United Methodists calls for the real leadership the bishops signed up for. Time to choose and have some backbone, make good on the covenant they made with all of us that they would uphold the Discipline, even if their personal opinion is different, this is much bigger than their individual preference. In Exodus 32:26 Moses issued the call “Who is on the Lord’s side?” and the faithful had to make the hard choice which undoubtedly set them against friends and even family. They chose to be faithful to the Lord AND the covenant keepers. It was a “make or break” time for the descendants of Abraham, and we still have the nation of Israel as a result of those who chose faithfulness. The Lord takes covenant most seriously and these thousands of years surely uphold that truth. It seems obvious to me that any bishop who sides with the covenant breakers in our U.M.C. is making the wrong choice- they are untrustworthy and unfaithful. I might also add every clergy person, including bishops, made those covenant vows not only to the whole denomination, but also to God! I love the United Methodist Church, but it must be the traditional one it has always been as expressed in our Discipline to be authentic as a New Testament church. Things need to change, and it must be done this coming year.

  12. Gary Bebop says

    I sympathize with everyone who wants to separate. However, that impulse may play into the devil’s claw. Progressive administration dominates the U.S. church. That fact has dire implications. The Progressive party has already plotted the path to controlling the destiny of our local churches. That’s why Cal-Nevada has issued its carefully worded advisory, which argues against separation. This is about the assets. If you want to save your local church property, you must endure the fight (as a good soldier of Jesus Christ). Traditionalists must hold the ground won at GC2019, not surrender it in 2020.

    • The impulse is a clarion call, now, or am I misreading? This is also about saving the vision and the future (the direction) . Managed separation is not my expertise, however , the forthcoming spreadsheets should have trusted endorsements of lay and clergy. Maybe some Christian business leaders that have unwound enterprises out there?

      • Gary Bebop says

        The obstacle to separation with fairness is the price tag. If one is trying to salvage ministry and has no other interest, the prospect is simple: just walk away and the people will follow. However, in most cases, there are other issues in play: material interests, legacies, powerful constituencies, and more. Separation is probably feasible in specific but limited circumstances. It’s hard to generalize about it. Progressive conferences will not be inclined to relinquish rights to properties or wealth where the conference perceives it has a clear advantage in negotiations. Some cases are already in arbitration.

  13. The Methodist Church is in derision. There is not a strong Leader, a person or an assembly, that has come forth with a vision for either Conservative or Progressive Group to entreat enough cohesive people to follow them. We are at the crossroads and don’t know which way to take. Plans for each Group should be drawn up and submitted to the GC2020 for separating as a divorce proceeding would for a married couple. Each side cannot continue in our current relationship. A commitment document toward a vision for the future should be prepared; so that delegates would have clear and precise precepts of what is being addressed by their vote. The Easy Out Plan should be valid for both parties. Otherwise we perish in our own separate ways, individually and as an ununited Church.

  14. Joe Webb says

    The likely way ahead is simple. Progressives have no plans to leave the UMC. They are in the majority in the American church. Individual traditionalists will gradually find a new home, regardless of the official position of the Church expressed in the Discipline, even some churches may leave, depending on the legal hurdles, probably no Annual Conferences. UMC will be left in control of progressives and soon all Bishops and church hierarchy will be progressive with no room left for Traditionalists.

  15. Thank you Jim and Gary for your responses. I understand nothing is too difficult for God, and in an ideal Christian world, the Bishops and clergy would uphold the oaths they took at ordination. I hope that happens, but just don’t see it happen. I enjoy a good political fight as much as the next guy, but I’m having a hard time seeing what can be “won” in this current battle over the soul of the UMC in the USA. So we can all return to our mission of leading folks to Christ and back to a Christian way of living, I think the only win win scenario is to separate into different Wesleyan denominations. I appreciate your hope and your will to fight on, but in my mind, it’s time to move on. Shake the dust off our feet and move on.

    • Gary Bebop says

      Just as you illustrate, Traditionalists are puzzled about what course is prudent now (given the uproar in the wake of GC2019). If one follows the comic (but utterly serious) narrative being discussed by Progressive agents such as Jeremy Smith, you realize that the Progressive sect is fixated on magical numbers and tantalized by the prospect of ridding the church of its traditional legacy. Traditionalists remaining as placeholders are thorns in the flesh. Paul was not able to dispense with his, neither will victorious, hegemonic Progressives, when and if the time comes. Leaving the UMC means laying down use of the brand, the logo, the appurtenances of office, the treasure in endowments and real estate, and more. Traditionalists may march out, but Progressives will insist they leave empty-handed.

      • What does it profit to gain the whole world and lose your soul? A church doesn’t technically have a soul but we have a witness.

  16. If we truly have God in three persons on our side, are w really empty-handed? The other stuff is just that … stuff. I love my sanctuary as much as the next person. I was married there and my children were baptized there, but in the end, it’s just bricks and mortar. God is bigger than that. Hopefully legislation will be passed in 2020 that will allow both Traditionalists and Progressives keep their church property; if not, I’m not waiting another four years to wallow in acrimony and dithering about what to do.

    • Gary Bebop says

      Again, I sympathize with the sentiment to emigrate out of this mess. There is biblical justification for shucking off the past (Luke 17:38, Isaiah 43:18). However, some foresighted leaders perceive that a Traditionalist separation would end any cohesion that now exists. Traditionalists would atomize, diffusing into the Wesleyan-holiness
      cosmos, thus dispersing the reform & renewal movement. This prospect is sobering. What’s needed is vigorous, counterintuitive leadership to stave off this prospect of lost and milling sheep.

      • Gary Bebop says

        My Luke reference should read Luke 17:32.

        • Charles Armour says

          Seven Mississippi congregations just left, The Evangelical Diaspora has thereby begun. Meanwhile, Progressive UMC sites have several articles published per day. As for Traditional sites, save for a few comments posted herein, one hears mainly…crickets. Traditional Methodism is thus losing the social media battle. Generally whoever is able to frame the debate, wins. but such a victory may well become a pyrrhic one

          God will indeed take care of His children wherever the “Faithful Remnant” may reside, but the UMC as an institution is fast becoming, “fallen”, as once was The Virgin Israel. “Fallen is the Virgin Israel, never to rise again, deserted in her own land, with no one to lift her up.” (Amos 5:2)

  17. So the deeds /real estate contracts are in the name of Annual or Jurisdictional Conference and not “THE “UMC? I am way too ignorant about this stuff, but not afraid to give my uninformed opinions, it seems. . Gary Bebop, I do appreciate your interpretations.
    Who was the kid on the playground who always said “that’s not fair!”. Get her to the table!!! Or hire the person we (USA) hired to distribute the 9/11 victims’ fund. He seems to enjoy complex financial distribution matricies. Some denominational money should be spent now for consultants.
    Try to avoid lawsuits and stop the trickle of tired individuals and now churches.

    • Gary Bebop says

      Charles Armour says it’s “crickets” out there right now. Traditionalist leaders have been quiet while Progressive worthies prattle away on social media. Agreed, I wish there was a more vociferous advocacy for the Traditionalists. I’m just saying . . . Progressive promotion in my liberal conference is incessant.

      • Rev. Greenway beautifully speaks for WCA in UMNews interview and article about the Cal-Nevada executive statement.

  18. Ann Jones says

    Hosea 4:6 – “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge….thou hast forgotten the law of thy God….” 

    I have been reading the book “Let Us Prey: The Plague of Narcissist Pastors and What We Can Do About It” by R. Glenn Ball and Darrell Puls.

    Darrell Puls is a professional conflict interventionist with forty years experience in the corporate world and in church conflict resolution. His many years of experience and observation on what destroys a church is invaluable.

    He states that the “church” has been naive for far too long in not realizing how many NPD’s are in their ranks. Overt and Covert forms of them. Their mission is to cause trouble, and to gain power!

    In Chapter 11 (pg. 174) the author says….

    “Admittedly, in some denominations, the local church does not have much say about who will be its pastor but that is not a valid reason to sit back and passively take who is sent to you.”

    “One of the most basic functions of a church leader [or leaders] is to protect the local church and that means not blindly accepting what is given you.”

    It has fianlly come to the point – and is very obvious now – that in the UMC, church leaders (and the people) have been VERY negligent in whom they allow to lead their churches [church denomination]. Then we all wonder why things are in such a mess now?

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