Images of UM Fracture

By Thomas Lambrecht –

Screenshot from the “virtual” annual session of the California-Pacific Conference.

The current focus of our denomination is rightly on how to do effective ministry in the midst of a pandemic and how to understand and address racism in our nation and in our church. For most of our pastors and leaders, there is not much bandwidth left to keep abreast of denominational conflicts.

Unfortunately, the conflicts besetting the denomination have not gone away since the 2020 General Conference was postponed until 2021. Rather than honor a spirit of unity with patience before next year’s gathering in Minneapolis, where a new expression of Methodism can be launched, there are decisions made by progressive leaders that continue to sow division within our denomination regarding marriage and sexuality.

Annual Conferences

For example, at this year’s “virtual” gathering of the California-Pacific Annual Conference, the ordination service was conducted in front of an enormous “Reconciling Ministries Network” banner in the sanctuary of the First United Methodist Church of Pasadena. For those watching online, it gave the appearance that the ordination service was being conducted under the guidance of a singular advocacy caucus rather than a worldwide denomination.

In the Mountain Sky Annual Conference, clergy were invited to a “Zoom” webinar entitled: “Let’s Talk: LGBTQ+ Weddings” set for July 15 by the “United Methodist Association of Retired Clergy & Friends” (UMARC). According to the promotional material, the Rev. Harvey Martz, vice chair of the UMARC, declares, “Perhaps there is no better way to repent for past pastoral malpractice than to intentionally reach out to the LGBTQ community, acknowledging past sins, and instituting inclusive wedding policies in our local churches.”

Rather than respecting the fact that there are deeply held, Scriptural beliefs regarding same-sex unions, which are also enshrined in the Discipline as official church policy, these convictions are dismissed as “pastoral malpractice.”

Church Agencies

The General Commission on Religion and Race (GCORR) celebrated Pride Month in June, calling upon the church to “consider the impact of intersectionality,” a “paradigm that addresses the multiple dimensions of identity and social systems as they intersect with one another and relate to inequality (such as racism, genderism, heterosexism, ageism, and classism).” The principle of intersectionality supposes that all forms of discrimination are related, and one must combat them all in order to make progress against any form of discrimination.

“Genderism” is the belief that there are two genders, male and female, not a range of “gender identities.” “Heterosexism” is the belief that heterosexuality is humankind’s God-given manner of experiencing sexual relations. Rather than being harmful discrimination, these two “isms” have been part of our Judeo-Christian understanding of marriage and sexuality for over 3,500 years. Importantly, neither the Bible nor the Church condemns persons who experience gender dysphoria or non-heterosexual attractions. It is when we act on these feelings, inclinations, or temptations that we contravene God’s will.

The primary task of GCORR is to combat racism. That is a task that all United Methodists should affirm. There is a solid basis in both the Bible and the Book of Discipline for upholding equality and fairness for all persons, regardless of race or ethnicity.

But when the agency tasked primarily with overcoming racism instead celebrates and promotes the affirmation of LGBT behavior, that agency violates church policy and forfeits much of its credibility. Both the Bible and our Book of Discipline are clear: we love and affirm every person as created in the image of God, with infinite value and worth. At the same time, we acknowledge certain behaviors as contrary to God’s will for human flourishing.

To use church funds to “promote the acceptance of homosexuality” is contrary to United Methodist policy. At the same time, it is our policy “not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends.” This is admittedly a balancing act. But in its celebration of Pride Month, GCORR comes down completely on one side of the balance. When agencies such as GCORR contravene by their actions and words the official stance of The United Methodist Church, it is no wonder that individual members and churches are reluctant to enthusiastically pay funds to support the work of the general church. This is yet another example of the general church structure ignoring the will of the church body and disregarding the authority of General Conference.

Screenshot from GCORR’s Facebook page.

Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary

In another example of recent violations of church standards, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary (Evanston, Illinois) recently announced it will bestow one of its distinguished alumni awards upon Sue Laurie. As a self-avowed lesbian, Laurie was ineligible for ordination in the UM Church. However, during the 2016 General Conference in Portland, Oregon, Laurie was “ordained” as clergy by a group of friends and colleagues. Although this “ordination” has no official standing in the church, GETS chose to recognize it in their honoring of Laurie by granting her the title “Rev.”

Since at least the 2000 General Conference, Laurie has been a leader in the disruptive demonstrations that halted the work of every conference before 2016. At the 2008 General Conference in Fort Worth, Texas, as an act of protest following the reaffirmation of the denomination’s current stance on marriage and human sexuality, Laurie and her partner, Julie Bruno, married in a sidewalk service outside the convention center.

GETS prepares dozens of clergy to serve in annual conferences of the upper Midwest. The impact such a seminary has in undermining the church’s teachings for generations cannot be underestimated. With its alumni award, GETS once again affirms its stance in opposition to United Methodist standards and policies, despite the fact that GETS receives hundreds of thousands of apportionment dollars each year from the church. This is another reason why UM members and churches are reluctant to wholeheartedly support giving funds to the general church.

Implications

Boards and agencies of the church have been flaunting the will of General Conference for years. Those of us who deal with such adverse actions day in and day out may become accustomed to this constant drumbeat of disobedience. But many United Methodists have been unaware of the blatant nature and common frequency of such actions over the years. It is the buildup of this repeated pattern of disregard for the teachings of Scripture and the decisions of the General Conference, the only body empowered to speak for the whole church, that illustrate the current impasse in our church.

Regardless of current challenges, that impasse is not going away. We remain two churches pretending to be one. Despite the wishful thinking of a few in our church, hoping this division would go away, it will not. Our deep theological differences cannot be overcome by thoughts of unity or appeals to solidarity.

During this time of waiting for the next General Conference to open a pathway to resolve our impasse, Good News and our coalition partners are diligently preparing for the founding of a new Methodist denomination that will reflect the doctrinal and moral commitments of the church through the ages and specifically our Methodist heritage.

We are part of an eternal Kingdom of God, in which there is one Ruler and Source of truth and righteousness. Earthly kingdoms and nations come and go, but the realm of our heavenly Father persists forever. As we prepare for the next iteration of Methodism, we are conscious of being part of that eternal stream. In our day and time, it is to that eternal Kingdom and its Sovereign that we seek to be faithful. If your heart is as our heart, we invite you to join us in this adventure.

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

Comments

  1. Good News and our coalition partners are diligently preparing for the founding of a new Methodist denomination that will reflect the doctrinal and moral commitments of the church through the ages and specifically our Methodist heritage.

    ———————————————————————————
    There are no words that can adequately express the gratitude to the coalition partners who have worked so hard and sacrificed so much to bring us to this hour. PRAISE GOD AND HALLELUJAH!!

  2. Thanks for the article. It’s more of the same—supposedly Methodist people being typically “United Methodist.”
    I am concerned about the future of whatever new Methodist denomination arises following General Conference next year. Right now we are looking at at least one new denomination on paper, and, from what I have seen, looks good; however, the big question is what that will eventually turn into in reality after the “new” has worn off. It can be a body of holy people fulfilling God’s will, or it can become just another growth machine, or another “feel-good” factory, or another denomination whose main goal is the perpetuation of the denomination itself, or another denomination whose leadership is made up of thinkers who eventually become enamored with their own (and their peers’) novel ideas that have no basis in scriptural principles.
    If the connectionalism in the new denomination is too tight, I fear we will wind up right back where we are now with lots of churches, pastors, and leaders who were once holy, but now have become self-adoring. If the connectionalism is too loose we will become more like independent churches whose direction is determined by a maybe-competent, or maybe-incompetent, pastor. (Have you ever noticed how many former UM pastors have “gone independent” with some of them later returning to the connection after their independent churches failed?)
    I hope that those who feel called to propose a new denomination are busy working up their proposals. I don’t hear that much about what they’re doing.

    • Michael McInnis says

      Terry, perhaps you’re unaware of the work being done by the Wesleyan Covenant Association (and others) to plan for the launch of a new denomination if GC votes next year for an amicable separation (the “Protocol”)?

      This work has been going on for several years, including the crafting of a new Book of Discipline that will guide the new church as a whole body in a common Wesleyan, Biblical and Spirit-led direction.

      Not sure how you’re not hearing “that much about what they’re doing.” As St. Paul said in one of his speeches, this has not been done in secret… do a search for “Wesleyan Covenant Association” and you’ll be able to get up to speed. Or just go back and read articles on this website; there’s plenty of news and information here as well.

      • The WCA is the only group I know of that has been working on a new Methodist denomination. In reading the first response to this article, I notice that Good News is planning too. I expect the possibility of several plans. I just hope we don’t have a territorial conflict as to the final outcome.

        • Thank you for your comment, Terry. Rest assured that Good News and the Wesleyan Covenant Association are working closely together toward a common goal. No turf battles here!

          Tom Lambrecht

          • Tom,
            What role will the reality of entire sanctification play in the new Methodism besides just being an official doctrine? Will pastors be expected to believe in it and preach it without explaining it away, or making it nothing more than just trying to get better? Will pastors be expected to call for people to be sanctified and filled with God’s perfect love? Could it be that Methodists will once again become a holy people, spreading scriptural holiness throughout the land? Wesley and the early Methodists felt it was absolutely vital.

  3. The progressive arm of the United Methodist Church no longer walks with Christ. I know that sounds harsh, but it’s Biblically sound. The notion progressives use that some passages in the Bible were written for “different people in a different time,” is ridiculous at best. The entire Bible was written for all of mankind to stand the test of time. If Leviticus wasn’t written for us today, then nothing in the Bible was.

    We broke free of the North Carolina Conference, Beacon District almost a year ago today. Since then we have grown to have a reach in 105 countries around the world as of this writing. We are growing in ways that the progressive UMC just didn’t allow for.

    One of the largest stumbling blocks for the UMC isn’t necessarily what’s in the Discipline, it’s that the Discipline exists outside the framework of the scripture. When modern man and woman draft rules that are so outside the framework of the Bible, they have gone too far.

    But the real problem facing the UMC today is that they have lost their way, and are pandering to special interest groups that don’t represent the entire Body of Christ. Do they realize that the articles they keep posting in UMC News suggest that the UMC has been racists and still is? Is that the new member message they really want to send.

    It’s clear the UMC is searching for a new identity that is far from the long-held biography of Jesus Christ.

    • w.f. meiklejohn says

      “there are decisions made by progressive leaders that continue to sow division within our denomination regarding marriage and sexuality.” A very interesting statement but do you have proof or is this just an example of the ‘pot calling the kettle black’? I personally am not able to process the idea that the ‘Traditionalists’ are taking the high ground and are innocent of covert, clandestine activities to prevent the seeking of common ground.

      • Michael McInnis says

        There is no “common ground”. We’ve tried to “seek common ground” as you say for most of the time that we’ve existed as the ‘United’ (what a misnomer!) Methodist Church – and we’ve failed.

        Traditionalists have continued to uphold the Book of Discipline – which is the result of action taken by the General Conference every four years – IOW, the voice of the church in response to scripture and the Holy Spirit – while Progressives have continued to ‘cross their fingers’ while swearing allegiance to the BOD, then blatantly disobeying it.

        How are Traditionalists covert or clandestine in their obedience to the Book of Discipline, then?

      • w.f.
        Your position and words are just another example of the reason for the emergence of the new Methodist denomination. Please keep this stuff coming in that it only shines light on the glaring need for this coming new Methodist Church.

  4. As an outsider looking in, the separation will allow Traditionalists to preach the Gospel; while the progressives will be able to preach secularism to their hearts content. Both sides will be happier, and in the case of the former group the Gospel of Christ will no longer be covered under a bushel basket.

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