Traditionalist Apprehension about a Post-Separation UMC

By Thomas Lambrecht –

National Cathedral in DC from Creative Commons.

Last week, I reported that the Western Jurisdiction was beginning a yearlong campaign to prepare for General Conference and the ensuing separation provided by the “Protocol for Reconciliation and Grace through Separation.” This very appropriate work by the Western Jurisdiction joins the work of the Wesleyan Covenant Association and other groups who are preparing for what Methodism will look like post-separation.

The fleshing out of the Western Jurisdiction vision for the post-separation church will raise issues traditionalists will have to wrestle with. Most prominent is the pivotal question of whether traditionalists can or should remain in the post-separation UM Church or align with a new traditionalist Methodist church.

The Western Jurisdiction makes an explicit effort to welcome traditionalists to remain within the post-separation United Methodist Church. They aspire to provide “a home for diverse people, ideas and theological perspectives.” They assure that “individual clergy and congregations will not be forced to conduct or host same sex marriages.”

Would traditionalists be welcome in a post-separation United Methodist Church? The Western Jurisdiction responds: “Yes, they will be welcomed and encouraged to stay as part of The United Methodist Church, but must be willing to accept that others hold different views and will have a right to conduct same-sex marriages and ordain qualified lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons.” (Unanswered is the question of whether pastors appointed to traditionalist congregations will share that church’s traditionalist views or instead be an advocate for the new liberal perspective.)

Such welcome is a wonderful aspiration. However, traditionalists of good will are rightly apprehensive. One must wonder if such toleration can truly be the lasting reality in a post-separation UM Church controlled by an overwhelming majority who favor same-sex marriage and LGBT ordination. A post-separation UM Church will have a shrinking minority of traditionalist members, even if a percentage of the UM churches in Africa were to remain with the post-separation UM Church.

According to plans submitted to General Conference, centrists and progressives envision a church where each region of the global church will be able to set its own policies (as proposed by the Connectional Table ). That means U.S. United Methodists would not be governed by the global church, but by only the U.S. portion of the church. Thus, more traditionalist African voices would have no influence on U.S. church teachings or practices.

The Episcopalian Experience

Traditionalist apprehension is growing each day that the current same-sex marriage controversy within The Episcopal Church unfolds. After all, The Episcopal Church is United Methodism’s closest sibling mainline denomination. (Their General Convention occurs every three years instead of every four.) Follow this trajectory of how that church’s policies evolved:

  • 2003 – first openly partnered gay bishop is consecrated
  • 2009 – first openly lesbian bishop is consecrated (many traditionalist Episcopalians separated from the church after 2003, leaving the denomination in unfettered control of centrists and progressives)
  • 2012 – a “provisional rite” for same-sex unions is authorized for those who desire to use it
  • 2015 – an official gender-neutral marriage rite is adopted, while at the same time allowing bishops the discretion about whether or not to allow same-sex marriages in their diocese (the equivalent of our annual conferences)
  • 2018 – it became mandatory that bishops allow same-sex marriages in their diocese
  • 2019 – the last remaining traditionalist bishop is put under charges for not allowing same-sex marriages in his diocese
  • 2020 – that bishop was recently found guilty by a church court of “failing to abide by the Discipline and Worship of The Episcopal Church” – his punishment is yet to be determined, but it is widely surmised that he will be removed from office as a bishop

Blogger Jeffrey Walton recalls this insightful quote from the late theologian Richard John Neuhaus.

Where orthodoxy is optional, orthodoxy will sooner or later be proscribed. … Orthodoxy, no matter how politely expressed, suggests that there is a right and a wrong, a true and a false, about things. When orthodoxy is optional, it is admitted under a rule of liberal tolerance that cannot help but be intolerant of talk about right and wrong, true and false. It is therefore a conditional admission, depending upon orthodoxy’s good behavior. The orthodox may be permitted to believe this or that and to do this or that as a matter of sufferance, allowing them to indulge their inclination, preference, or personal taste. But it is an intolerable violation of the etiquette by which one is tolerated if one has the effrontery to propose that this or that is normative for others.”

For the purposes of this article, I take “orthodoxy” to mean the church’s traditional understanding of marriage as between one man and one woman, and that sex should be reserved for marriage.

The Episcopal sequence of events is discomforting. For those clergy and laity who will be required to make a decision, there is a legitimate concern that they will find little tolerance from those who value diversity of opinion when traditionalists advocate for a biblical definition of marriage between one man and one woman as being God’s intention for all of humanity.

Many traditionalist Episcopalians believed in good faith eight years ago that their theological commitments would be honored and guarded in their evolving denominational situation. Today, the situation for traditionalists in The Episcopal Church looks dire.

The real question is not whether traditionalists will be tolerated or even welcome in a post-separation United Methodist Church, but will they ultimately suffer the same fate as our Episcopal brothers and sisters.

The post-separation United Methodist Church envisions a diversity of views on the definition of marriage, but it is not difficult to imagine that official church teaching will embrace same-gender marriage and LGBT ordination. The pressure of “church culture” will (intentionally or unintentionally) move traditionalist clergy and members toward accepting that understanding. The presence of traditionalist views within a post-separation UM Church will undoubtedly diminish and eventually fade away.

Once traditionalists adopt the position that the clear biblical teaching on marriage and sexuality is only one acceptable viewpoint among many, they may find themselves unable to maintain other distinctive traditionalist understandings of Christian doctrine and practice. That is one of the lessons from the Episcopal saga.

As we begin to prepare for the 2021 General Conference and life after separation, it will be important for traditionalists to consider how these questions surrounding marriage and human sexuality will affect their denominational membership. For some, this decision will be heart wrenching. We will all need much prayer and a greater measure of God’s grace as we move through this difficult time.

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

Comments

  1. This is just another sign of the desperation and concern among progressives that the newUMC cannot survive financially if all traditionalists leave. This is a real fear based on numbers by the General Commission on Finance. Traditionalists should not remain in the newUMC under any circumstances. The newUMC’s position on many social issues is simply incompatible with Christianity. Any position on abortion that does not condemn it as a sin and murder is inconsistent with scripture. That alone should be a line in the sand for traditionalists.

    The progressive position on gay clergy and same-sex weddings falls second to that issue. Additionally, we have witnessed the unethical lengths progressives will go to in order to push their agendas forward. There should be no need at this point for anyone to question which path Jesus would have us take.

    Progressives would have you believe that Jesus’ commandment to love our neighbors means we not only forgive our neighbor’s sins, but we should accept their continued sin as an expression of His love. None of that last statement takes into account guys like Adam Hamilton who preach that the laws of Leviticus were only for the Hebrew and that man and woman today are free to do whatever they desire sexually without sin.

    The entire Bible is a roadmap for all of God’s children not only yesterday but today and beyond.

    P.S. Certainly I know Leviticus was written for the Hebrew, but much of the Bible was writing to a specific group. That does not mean that those lessons were not left in writing for us today.

  2. Erin Grimm says

    Even I have been outcast as someone who affirms LGBT because I advocated for the dignity of people who didn’t support it. A lot of the liberals take conservatives as a pet project to convert them. As someone who ran with liberals until they excommunicated me from their group for defending conservatives I still remember the intentionality with which conservatives were handled as a project to convert. I respect your beliefs entirely, but do want to add that others who have differing views come about those with just as much of a discernment process. Liberal progress narratives ignore that truth in conservatives just as conservative traditional narratives can overlook it in liberals. And yes I realize liberal and conservative are reductive terms, but they fully apply to my context. The only reason I’m in PCUSA is because my husband likes my church and was raised Presbyterian and also because I find homophobia unchristian since there are plenty of gay Christians who chose celibacy or heterosexual marriage who are often overlooked by conservative paradigms. I hope people will still treat all as image bearers. I wanted to affirm this article. And also the previous comment about finances. I do think that PCUSA compromised for financial purposes. I will add that we do lifeway Bible studies, which can be quite conservative. It’s a mixed bag and that’s kind of a relief bc it staves of fundamentalism. I also appreciated the Neuhaus quotation and find it convicting of my own stance. I’ll probably become more conservative as time goes on. I want to be Nazarene myself.

  3. “The real question is not whether traditionalists will be tolerated or even welcome in a post-separation United Methodist Church, but will they ultimately suffer the same fate as our Episcopal brothers and sisters.”

    Answer: YES, ABSOLUTELY!

    How will the “new” traditional denomination go about educating traditionalists on what’s at stake when affiliation voting time comes? If progressives are already starting this false narrative that traditionalists have nothing to worry about by staying put in a psUMC, then how aggressively will they work to convince them, and what tactics will they employ? I just shutter at the thought of what they’ll likely be doing and saying. Am I overstating this apprehension? And, will the “new” traditional denomination be prepared to combat this? As a traditionalist, will I be prepared to combat this in my local congregation?

  4. I think it’s naive in the extreme to believe that traditional, orthodox Methodists will not be marginalized and railroaded if they choose to remain in a post-split UMC. There’s literally zero reason to believe such a possibility is even remotely realistic.

    The example to look to is how it’s played out in The Episcopal Church. The difference is, traditionalists have an opportunity many of their brothers and sisters in TEC never had – to separate and not lose everything in terms of buildings and property. They should take it.

  5. I believe that two clearly distinct denominations are emerging. I believe that each Methodist should be presented with the differences as they have evolved, perhaps in the form of a choice survey, in order to make an informed decision.

    Please critique the below survey example and offer suggestions and/or corrections:

    To Which Methodist Denomination Do You Wish To Belong?
    Please Check ✔️ One

    ——— A Progressive Denomination (Post Separation UMC)

    1. Believes in a liberal understanding of Biblical Authority, Primacy of Scripture, and Biblical Interpretation in order to offer an alternative vision for people to embrace where Scriptures can be selectively and contextually placed in categories, at the discretion of the reader, essentially consisting of (1) Scriptures that express God’s heart, character, and timeless will, (2) Scriptures that expressed God’s heart, character, and will for a particular time but no longer binding, and (3) Scriptures that never expressed God’s heart, character, or will.

    2. Believes in a new understanding of Christian marriage to include same-sex marriage as a right derived from a liberal, alternative vision, and contextual Biblical interpretation perspective for people to embrace —- accompanied by the right to conduct same-sex marriage ceremonies inside the church sanctuaries by the church clergy.

    3. LGBTQ+ identified persons welcomed into full-inclusion with their committed sexual relationships affirmed, thus freeing them from the call of repentance for the forgiveness of previously understood sins of sexual immorality —- an alternative vision of God’s love and grace for people to embrace derived from a liberal, contextual Biblical interpretation perspective — while having an undefined position regarding the sexual practices and lifestyles of the heterosexual community outside those of a man and a woman in marriage.

    4. Full inclusion of LGBTQ+ candidates seeking licensing and ordination into the ministry who are in committed LGBTQ+ sexual relationships —- as well as being a safe harbor for LGBTQ+ clergy from across the denomination —- while having an undefined position for heterosexual candidates engaged in committed sexual relationships outside those of a man and a woman marriage.

    ———- A Traditional Denomination (New Traditional Methodist Church)

    1. Believes in the traditional Wesleyan understanding of Biblical Authority and Primacy of Scripture in that “all Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). The core of the Christian faith is revealed in Scripture as “the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints (Jude 1:3). Illuminated by tradition,reason, and experience, the revelation of Scripture is the church’s primary and final authority on all matters of faith and practice.

    2. Believes in God’s created order for Christian marriage as only that between a man and a woman as Jesus described and emphasized when he said — “haven’t you read that at the beginning the Creator made them male and female, for this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh? So, they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate” (Matthew 19:4-6).

    3. Believes in the historic, universal and Wesleyan understanding of the Good News Gospel. Therefore, LGBTQ+ identified persons, heterosexual identified persons, ALL persons welcomed equally into full-inclusion (Wesleyan Prevenient Grace) in order to partake of repentance, conversion, and reconciliation to God preached in Jesus’ name for the forgiveness of sins —- including the sins of sexual immorality —- thus receiving salvation and being born again, being transformed, and being turned from a sinful orientation to a new orientation in Jesus (Wesleyan Justifying Grace) in order to pursue, with the help of the Holy Spirit, holiness and good works for the glorification of God (Wesleyan Sanctifying Grace).

    4. Believes in the traditional, historic, universal, and Wesleyan Biblical standards of sexual behavior for candidates seeking licensing and ordination into the ministry as those practicing fidelity in a marriage of a woman and a man or celibacy in singleness.

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