New Liberationist Denomination?

By Thomas Lambrecht

A group called the Liberation Methodist Connexion has announced their formation as a “grassroots denomination, the first Methodist denomination committed to being intentionally LGBTQIA2S+ affirming and centered in liberating intersectional justice ministries.” Some 45 clergy and lay leaders, mostly from The United Methodist Church, made the announcement, including some well-known pro-gay activists and at least three General Conference delegates or reserves.

According to their website [thelmx.org], this new denomination has been formed “of former, current, and non-Methodist faith leaders working on the unfolding of the kin-dom of God. We intentionally invite the full participation of all who are living out their God-given identities and expressions.” They list 14 specific identities and expressions, including “gender expressions and sexual identity, religious or non-religious backgrounds, heritage/nationality/ citizenship/immigration status, socio-economic/housing status, monogamous and non-monogamous, hair color or styles, tattoos/piercings/body art, and use of drugs.”

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind,” the Apostle Paul instructed. “Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2). In relationship to Christ, all our lives are transformed. Rather than transformation, the Liberation Methodist Connexion (LMX) focuses instead on affirmation – affirming people in their self-chosen identities and lifestyles. The LMX refers to all these identities and expressions as “God-given.”

The new Connexion has been formed out of the work of UM Forward, a progressive caucus group that lobbied the 2019 special General Conference to remove all language from our Book of Discipline denoting marriage as between one man and one woman and requiring that self-avowed practicing homosexuals not be ordained as clergy. Not all of the leaders of UM Forward have signed on to the new group.

Doctrine

One of the first things a person might ask of a potential church home is, “What do you believe?” Aside from one casual reference to being “followers of Christ,” there is no mention of Jesus as the Son of God, Savior of the world, or Lord of all. There is no mention of the need for personal repentance or turning to God for meaning and purpose.

Instead, according to an article by United Methodist News Service, “the new Connexion has no doctrinal litmus tests,” and “focuses more on actions than beliefs.”

According to its website, the Liberation Methodist “theology is not written in stone because our human understanding continues to evolve as we deepen our personal and collective understandings of God. We have been expanding our methodist [sic] theological heritage with various expressions of Liberation theologies, theories, and praxis. God remains infinitely gracious, creative, merciful, and engaged with creation, healing and redeeming the world.”

“There are no doctrinal litmus tests in the movement. We are moving beyond the supremacy of a single belief system,” the Rev. Janet G. McKeithen, a member of the Connexion working group, told Religion News Service.

There is no mention of Scripture or the source of its doctrine, apart from human theories and ideas. In some ways, it appears to be a self-made religion with little overt connection to our United Methodist heritage.

Practice

“We seek not answers that lead us to correct doctrines as to why we suffer. We seek correct actions, correct praxis where God sustains us during the unanswerable questions,” stated the Rev. Althea Spencer-Miller, a New Testament professor at United Methodist Drew Theological School and one of the organizers. The focus of “correct actions” is working for social justice.

Once again, according to its website: “We are journeying toward a new way of being followers of Christ that refute the imbalance of powers, principalities, and privileges that has plagued Methodism: colonialism, white supremacy, economic injustices, patriarchy, sexism, clericalism, ableism, ageism, transphobia, and heteronormativity. … [T]he work of liberating holy resources includes a commitment to reparations and the healing of the earth. … We dream of a new community, freed from hereditary limitations and historical precedent, where we hold all material things in common and embrace new ways to value the gifts of everyone.”

One must ask the question, “Without a doctrinal foundation, how is one to determine what ‘correct actions’ are?” The LMX appears to substitute radical progressive social ideology for theology. One can apparently believe any number of things about God, salvation, and our eternal destiny, but there is a fairly rigid understanding of what “right” causes and actions are expected of LMX members.

Timing

The timing of this announcement is interesting. The Protocol for Reconciliation and Grace through Separation allows for the creation of any number of new Methodist denominations. It even sets aside $2 million to help support any non-traditionalist denominations that may emerge. However, the Wesleyan Covenant Association has delayed forming a new traditionalist Methodist denomination until after the Protocol is passed at the upcoming General Conference, although it is doing plenty of groundwork to prepare the way for that new denomination.

“The timeline of the Holy Spirit is driving our decision to launch the LMX at this moment, and we are following her call,” the Rev. Althea Spencer-Miller told UM News by email, explaining the decision to move ahead prior to the Protocol’s enactment.

This decision may also be a reflection of the impatience we all feel at the postponement of the 2020 General Conference, which was scheduled to deal with the Protocol and open the door to separation. Many United Methodists are ready to move into the next Methodism, whatever form it takes, and to leave behind the debilitating doctrinal conflicts that have damaged the church.

The move may also be an attempt to create a public counterpoint to the work of traditionalists in preparing for the next Methodism. Creating a safe space for the full affirmation of “LGBTQIA2S+” persons has long been an urgent goal for progressives. Creating the LMX now gives hope and direction to those who long for such a new course. It may stem the tide of churches and individuals on the progressive side who are leaving the UM Church to become independent. As many as a dozen progressive congregations have left or are in the process of leaving. The LMX gives them the possibility of a new home.

Implications

The creators of the LMX have done the church a service in spelling out their vision for a new progressive denomination. (I hesitate to call it “Methodist,” as I see little connection to historic Methodism in their vision.) There could not be a starker contrast between the vision painted by the LMX and that described by the Wesleyan Covenant Association. The two visions are near-polar opposites.

This new denomination sharpens the choices available to annual conferences and local churches, as they determine their path into the future.

The new progressive denomination also introduces ambiguity into the current church situation. While calling itself a denomination, the LMX “is not asking people to choose between the LMX and their affiliations with other faith communities,” according to UM News Service.

The United Methodist Church does not allow people to be members of more than one denomination at the same time. Membership in another denomination, especially for clergy, automatically removes one from membership in the UM Church. This could affect several of the organizers, who are either active clergy or delegates to General Conference. Their participation in the LMX could disqualify them from serving in the UM Church.

It is expected that this new denomination will appeal to a relatively small number of individuals and congregations. Leaving behind the trappings of traditional Methodism, abandoning Methodist doctrinal standards, and centering on a radical social agenda will probably not attract a wide following.

The formation of the Liberation Methodist Connexion does, however, put pressure on the General Conference to resolve our denominational impasse by providing a clear and affordable process for congregations and conferences to separate from the church. By this action, progressives have indicated they do not have the patience to wait indefinitely for a resolution to our conflict. Traditionalists likewise have a definite end to our patience. It is time to move forward in new directions. The LMX will be that new direction for some.

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

Comments

  1. The LMC should be applauded for their intent of direction. They have made it plain where they want to go. This makes it easier for Others to decide what their beliefs are to be. Tradionalist will turn this group down quickly. Blended minded groups will have to decide which others will suit them best. The true Gospel Ship is the one with the best rudder (doctrines) and Captain. The absolutes of the Bible, maps out the route to take, to the promised land. All have sinned and come short. Without Faith it is impossible to please God. Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins. What Gospel Ship will you board to journey with to the Promised land.

  2. Tom, please pardon me for patching together what I consider the most important content of your analysis:

    “The creators of the LMX have done the church a service in spelling out their vision for a new progressive denomination. There could not be a starker contrast between the vision painted by the LMX and that described by the Wesleyan Covenant Association. The two visions are near-polar opposites. The formation of the Liberation Methodist Connexion does, however, put pressure on the General Conference to resolve our denominational impasse by providing a clear and affordable process for congregations and conferences to separate from the church.”

    There are at least three denominations emerging — the LMX, the post schism UMC, and the Traditional Methodist Church, two liberal and one traditional. It can’t be missed that the progressives are already splitting out of the starting gate, the LMX and the psUMC.

    “AFFORDABLE PROCESS” — let those separate from the post schism UMC seamlessly with their properties.

  3. Any final protocol should require every congregation be informed of all available options in an impartial manner, then vote on which way they choose to go. Ownership of the properties, along with the liabilities tied to those properties, would then convey with the congregation. If we deal with this in a mature Christian fashion, this could all be addressed in a short period of time, without any lawyers getting rich. We should expect most annual conferences and DS’ to go with the progressive arm, as that group has been very effective at filling the pastorate and bishop slots over the last few decades. Seminaries could do the same thing, aling with the new denomination of choice, no harm, no foul. Just need to make this separation as pain free as possible, and the sooner the better.

  4. Having been a Methodist pastor, I can say with authority that the liberal side of Methodist should be less concerned with a church split, and be far more concerned with it being splintered by various factions with not only their own narrative, but their admitted fracturing of the church. There are many times in scripture God said enough. He was finished with the things he once prospered. The Methodist denomination it once was, is no longer. It will cease to exist. The destruction which is full swing, will cause the church to wither and die. The calling to, be ye separate, has now become , of the world. The fact that a pruning is going on, shows the ones leaving the denomination will be rooted and its branches will grow from the stem and produce much fruit, possibly a hundred fold. Fear not says the Lord

  5. Tim Claus says
    December 10, 2020 at 9:42 am
    Any final protocol should require every congregation be informed of all available options in an impartial manner, then vote on which way they choose to go.

    ————————————————————————————-
    Tim, I believe, has identified the KEY. After passage of the or a separation plan — the KEY will be “INFORMED OF ALL AVAILABLE OPTIONS IN AN IMPARTIAL MANNER” before voting.

    There is no historical evidence that the progressives and many of the so called centrists who plan to remain in the new post schism UMC will participate in true impartiality. For example, the progressive North GA Conference bishop, for example, had already started, prior to the pandemic, the narrative that ALL theological perspectives — progressive, traditional, and. centrist — will be welcome and respected in the psUMC. Nothing could be further from the truth, and this bishop knows that. At the same time then, the bishop took a veiled swipe at traditionalists in the North GA Conference as a fringe, strange, and ignorant contingency. My guess — progressives will begin to more and more identify as centrists themselves, especially after the announcement of the new liberation denomination, and embrace this centrist narrative/talking point in an attempt to deceive as many traditionalists and confused centrists as possible, for as long possible, for the bottom line — to keep an eagle’s eye on their MONEY and their continued donations.

    I just hope the “new” Traditional Methodist denomination will not underestimate the progressives and how they’re likely to deal with IMPARTIALITY running up to affiliation voting.

    • Providing fair and impartial information even by mandate isn’t going to happen across the board. The UMC we split from in the NC Conference, Beacon District has refused to discuss this issue with its small congregation. In fact, in speaking with leaders in various UMC’s in NC and VA, this decision as to which way to go will be made by the church leadership without the knowledge of the congregation or their input. With so many liberalists and far-left Bishop’s (especially in our area), it is impossible for this to be fairly discussed.

      • When I mean discussed impartially, it is with each of the identified groups providing the information directly to the congregants, not filtered through a thoroughly biased leadership ‘hierarchy’. Can’t believe how many folks in my own congregation see this split as about the LGBQT-alphabet issue, and not the underlying issue of living in accordance with the teachings of Christ, and living a god inspired life. Gay marriage and pastors may have been the final straw, but this has been a long time coming due to a multitude of issues relating to how the church relates to, and lives with, the secular world.

        • I find it not only sad but deeply troubling that so many pastors, likely out of job security, have toed the line of secrecy on the issues of the split. I know many pastors rely on their church incomes and retirements, but there should be a line in the sand when it comes to honesty, truthfulness, and ultimately care, concern, and compassion for their congregations. We cared so much about the lack of stewardship, setting aside of the discipline, attacks from the pulpit, and a departure from the path of Jesus Christ, that we left, in large numbers we left. Deuteronomy 31:6 comes to mind.

  6. You will know them by their fruit.
    Those who seek to kill, steal and destroy come
    From one source only. It’s time Methodists actually
    Study scripture and leave the liturgy calendar alone.

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