Primary Reasons for Separation

Delegates pause for prayer at the 2019 special General Conference in St. Louis. File photo by Kathleen Barry, UM News.

By Thomas Lambrecht –

As we approach a possible separation in The United Methodist Church this year, one of the important questions to answer is, “Why should we separate?” There are many reasons for the conflict in our church that have led us to this point. Rob Renfroe and Walter Fenton explored many of these issues in their book, Are We Better Together?

The fact remains that there is a certain inertia about staying in a church that has been one’s environment for years, and for many, a lifetime. There is the cry of the conflict avoider, “Can’t we all just get along?” Can we not simply overlook our differences and keep doing what we have been doing?

Due to the pandemic, our churches and leaders have been focused on the critical adaptations to ministry that it required. Theological and practical differences have been set aside in this “emergency” time. It is therefore easy to think that we can just keep muddling along as we have been, ignoring our differences. However, once the “emergency” eases off and life and ministry return to a more normal rhythm, the differences resurface. Several annual conferences experienced that even during this season of virtual conference sessions. The underlying differences in our church are not going away, so the reasons for separation are not disappearing, either.

The differences between the “sides” in this intra-church conflict are so deep and so entrenched that staying together has become unthinkable for many. The increasing trickle of departing congregations and individual members testifies to the growing sense that we are a church that is coming apart. But why?

Many assume that the disagreement over the definition of marriage (does it include same-sex marriage) and ordination standards (do we ordain practicing LGBT persons into ministry) is the primary reason for separation. But these are just the presenting issue for a much deeper divide in the church. That divide is reflected in both substantive disagreements affecting core beliefs and practical abandonment of core church processes.

Source of Beliefs

Traditionalists and evangelicals within United Methodism have always made it clear that the disagreement is about Scripture and the source(s) of our denominational beliefs and teachings. The traditional side focuses on the primacy of Scripture to establish our church’s beliefs and teachings. The tradition of the church plays a role in setting the boundaries for interpreting Scripture. Such interpretation is informed by one’s personal experience of God and life, as well as the best historical, linguistic, and archaeological scholarship. We use reason to make those interpretations rationally coherent. But the source of our beliefs is the clear teaching of Scripture.

Many centrists and progressives, by contrast, continue to operate by what they were taught was the “Wesleyan Quadrilateral” approach to Scripture. This approach sees the tradition of the church and particularly contemporary knowledge (their definition of experience) and the application of human reason to be equal with Scripture as sources of our beliefs.

It should be noted that this is not the approach that John Wesley had to Scripture. This was a modern-day construct developed by Dr. Albert C. Outler, a well-known Wesleyan scholar. “The term ‘quadrilateral’ does not occur in the Wesley corpus – and more than once, I have regretted having coined it for contemporary use, since it has been so widely misconstrued,” Outler confessed.

In Outler’s misconstrued interpretation of Wesley, when modern knowledge contradicts our understanding of Scripture, we must change our understanding of Scripture. This attitude can be seen in the announcement by some that they want to be “on the right side of history.” Human knowledge and understandings are more important than any long-standing perception of what Scripture teaches.

This willingness to abandon (by some) or reinterpret the teaching of Scripture to match current societal understandings manifests in the issues regarding marriage and same-sex ordination standards. But it also holds the potential for any number of other accommodations to cultural assumptions.

Traditionalists believe the old adage still holds true: “Whoever marries the spirit of this age is destined to be a widow in the next.” It is too easy to adapt our beliefs to whatever fits our society, deluding ourselves into thinking that we are being faithful to Christ. Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21).

These two ways of arriving at our church’s beliefs and teachings are incompatible with each other and will always engender conflict. (Traditionalists are not immune from interpreting Scripture in ways that adapt to the prevailing views of a particular time and place. But having Scripture as ultimate authority offers a built-in mechanism to correct such accommodationism.)

Self-determination vs. God’s Revelation

A second foundational difference between the “sides” in this conflict relates to how we define ourselves and determine what is right. Most centrists and progressives value self-determination as the deciding factor in one’s view of oneself. This is connected to the postmodern idea that there is no such thing as absolute truth, but truth is defined by each person for themselves. My “truth” can be different from your “truth,” and we are obliged to respect and affirm whatever is another person’s “truth.”

This concept again plays out in our culture’s ongoing sexuality debate, where a person’s attractions, desires, or sense of self are supreme in defining who that person is. According to the centrist/progressive dogma, no one can question how another person defines themselves or their stated identity.

Furthermore, it is assumed that what “is” is what “ought” to be. The fact that a person defines themselves a certain way means that is God’s will for them. God created them the way they perceive themselves.

Traditionalists disagree. We would point to the pervasive effects of the Fall and the catastrophic impact of sin, both on human experience and human perception. “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). What “is” might be that way because of the sin and brokenness of this world, not because it is God’s will for it to be so. What “ought” to be is what God reveals to us in his Word, through the life of Jesus and the teachings of Scripture. We are not who we think we are, but who God says we are. He is the one who can “search the heart and examine the mind” (Jeremiah 17:10), who knows us better than we know ourselves. Most importantly, it is he who created each one of us and knows what we are meant to be.

Traditionalists believe there is absolute truth that is valid for all people in all times and all places. That truth is revealed to us by God. God is unchanging and his truth is unchanging. What he reveals about himself and about us today is going to be consistent with what he has revealed in the past. We do not get to change the truth when it becomes convenient to do so.

These different understandings of truth will inevitably lead to endless conflicts between what God has revealed as truth and whatever new “truths” people want to adopt for themselves.

Different Agendas

The centrist/progressive agenda is an unapologetic social-justice agenda. Promoting “inclusion” has become the highest value of official United Methodism. The left wing of the church appears to believe that the church’s main purpose is to “transform the world,” often through political action in line with liberal political causes, such as abortion rights, unlimited immigration, and advocating for the Palestinians against Israel.

For traditionalists, the transformation of the world is a consequence of making disciples of Jesus Christ, not the primary goal of the church. As people’s lives are transformed in discipleship, the world is changed. Traditionalists do care about social justice and often work concretely to alleviate poverty, fight racism and sexism, and provide ways for people to overcome adversity. In advocating for social justice, however, we think the church should not always espouse one set of political solutions to addressing society’s ills, but listen to all perspectives.

Furthermore, the strident advocacy of liberal political causes that at times violate our understanding of Scripture has alienated traditionalists, as has the equating of discipleship with promotion of the latest political idea. The church is not built on politics, but on Jesus Christ, and on our worship of and discipleship to him.

These competing agendas pull the church in opposite directions. We cannot walk together if we disagree on the destination.

Breakdown of the Church’s Governance

The differences in the church have become so extreme and strident that the church’s governance has broken down. Since 2011, the church’s rules about marriage and ordination standards have been routinely and increasingly ignored by those who disagree with them. Some bishops have refused to enforce requirements of the Discipline with which they disagree. Under our current Discipline, there is no way to hold such bishops accountable or ensure compliance.

The General Conference is the one body that speaks for all United Methodists and has the power to determine the church’s laws. Yet, following the 2019 General Conference, more than 20 U.S. annual conferences passed resolutions repudiating the actions of General Conference, and leading pastors and laity took out full-page ads in newspapers apologizing for those decisions. A number of annual conferences in 2019-20 openly violated the church’s standards by ordaining self-avowed practicing homosexuals as clergy. This disregard for the church’s rules has spread to other aspects of the church’s life, including the unlawful suspension and removal of clergy (Here) and (Here) without due process and the closing of viable congregations possibly in order to seize their assets.

When significant portions of the church refuse to abide by that church’s governance processes, the church’s unity is no longer viable. Ordained clergy vow to abide by the church’s tenets, even when we disagree, but many now are renouncing that vow by their actions and words. In a troubled marriage, sometimes divorce recognizes the fact that the marriage has already ended. In our church, formal separation would simply recognize the fact that our church has already irrevocably divided.

Fight or Separate?

Some would urge traditionalists to continue to fight for what we believe is right within The United Methodist Church. We must ask, however, is this the best use of the time, energy, and resources God has given us? While we continue the fight, the church declines faster and faster. Separation would allow us to refocus on evangelism, making disciples of Jesus Christ, and strengthening the church’s life and witness.

No, The United Methodist Church is already irretrievably broken. Regrettably, the differences in how we decide what our beliefs are, how we perceive the truth, what our agenda for the church is, and our willingness to abide by the normal processes of the church are so deep that they cannot be bridged or papered over. The least harmful way forward is to recognize those differences and provide a fair and equitable avenue for different parts of the church to go their separate ways, pursuing what they believe to be God’s direction. It will not be easy or painless, but it will end the harm that is currently being inflicted on so many in the church due to this struggle. Relieved of the burden of conflict, perhaps all parts of the church can once again thrive and grow.

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

Comments

  1. Do we really think that this will solve our problems? Will in 20-30-40 years from now, there will be others who want to change the new structures, because it conflicts their belief. after all we are to go into all the world and make disciples .

    • Douglas Fox says

      I think you are asking a similar question from the past. Will the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) really solve our problems? Will the Council of Nicaea really solve our problems? Will the east-west Schism really solve our problems? Will Luther’s reformation really solve our problems? Will the Methodist Revival really solve our problems? Will the Protocol really solve our problems? Since the Church is made up of very fallible human beings, there will always be need for reform. I certainly pray that the new global traditional Methodist denomination will be going strong in 20-30-40 years. However, this will be true only in how Christ-focused, Spirit-led, and biblically-based the denomination will be. It would certainly be okay if there will need to be another course correction in our future. Just because the ship may need further course corrections is not a reason to not take the journey. Blessings!

      • Charles Armour says

        Well said Douglas!!! And one could also add when Nathaniel asked, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” The Gospel has always had those who would deny it since the beginning. But Nathaniel saw Christ, talked to him, and stood both convicted and converted on the spot. Others however were so hardened in their hearts that even Christ could not reach them and felt compelled to move on when he, “Walked away sorrowful.” It is past time for Bible centered traditional Christians to kick the dust off their feet and one way or another,…move on, even though with no small degree of sorrow that it has come to this.

      • Matthew 13: 24-30; John 17:23

    • Separation will solve many problems for the present. As you say, there will be proposed changes to any denomination over time. A denomination’s organizing documents include a way to debate and possibly adopt those changes. The biggest problem with the UMC is that changes have been debated and rejected, but are being adopted piecemeal regardless. The UMC has no mechanism to stop this. If it had, there would have already been a de-facto separation as those who disagreed with church discipline left in frustration.

      If they are wise, any and all denominations resulting from separation will include not only a change process but also a means to ensure that church discipline is being followed. I agree with you that there will always be individuals who want change. The key is to ensure a deliberative and enforceable process to evaluate and approve or reject those changes.

  2. John Baxter Allison says

    Tom,

    Good article, but has the church’s financial condition changed since COVID? We have so few people attending these days, I wonder that our congregation can stay afloat. What impact is this having on the larger denomination? Are we re-arranging deck chairs? Is this King Jesus’s alternate solution or is everything copasetic?

  3. The liberal bishop of the North Georgia Conference had these two main themes posted on the conference website a year ago (copied verbatim) prior to postponement of the 2020 General Conference. To me it is loaded with innuendo, untruth, hidden agenda, insult, disrespect, disregard, dishonesty, deflection, apostasy, and more —- likely the launching of the GREAT DECEPTION by the liberal bishops of the church.

    FROM THE NORTH GEORGIA CONFERENCE BISHOP JAN, 2020

    (1) This Protocol offers a path for The United Methodist Church to continue to be a denomination for those with traditional, centrist, and progressive perspectives. The post-separation United Methodist Church will continue to have room for divergent perspectives and value diversity as an essential component of our faith.

    (2) The Protocol also offers a path to separate for those whose convictions do not allow them to continue to be United Methodist.

  4. Linda Wilson says

    God does not change. Sin is sin. My truth has nothing to do with reality. Love God. Love your neighbor. Pray incessantly. For now we see through a veil.

  5. Gary Bebop says

    None of us controls the levers that determine the future, but we must live even as our grandchildren do, without fear for the days to come. No grandparent would counsel a grandchild to give up and die. The Protocol is a protest against death spiral thinking.

  6. Just so I’m clear – so long as we’re all completely sure that Jesus would shun homosexuals, that there’s no chance he’d consort with those who’ve been marginalized or felt distance from the mainstream of society or the church, that he’d lean into church doctrine and Leviticus to condemn them – then I think this strict constructionalism does indeed make complete sense, and to not welcome all views into the church, to not profess all are welcome, is likely the appropriate response.

    • Thank you for your thoughts, John. Of course, no one in the traditional camp is saying that we should shun homosexuals. We believe all ought to be welcome in worship and discipleship. That includes not only homosexuals, but thieves, adulterers, bigots, and racists, as well. At the same time, the church is able to condemn theft, adultery, racism, etc. The Bible’s teachings on sexuality are not limited to Leviticus, but found throughout the Old and New Testaments. If we do not base our teaching on Scripture, then we are building our church on sand.

      • Tom, thanks for your thoughts. I guess my mind drifts back to Jesus, and that though there’s indubitably a primacy of Scripture, as you note, there might be an even higher order to Jesus. And so I reflect a bit on what enraged him. I get the impression he didn’t much like rules, especially those Pharisaical ones that prevent people from getting closer to him. I also get the feeling he didn’t care too much for overrighteousness or oversubscription to law, or Old Covenant thinking. I similarly don’t get the sense that he was all too pleased with anything that got in between people and a God who loves them…the tables in the temple being the obvious and typical example. And so when I reflect on what frustrated Jesus, and what might frustrate him today, I begin to order my thoughts on the opposite – what might please him. Is there even an outside chance that he would be pleased to see his church stay together by perhaps not just accepting but prioritizing the oppressed? Could there be even the smallest chance that he might subjugate the letter of the law in favor of love? Is there but a small possibility that he would forego Leviticus (and other isolated passages, as you note) to solve for love? And is there even a remote possibility that church history might, in the future, look upon this moment in the same way it does now upon those who cited Scripture’s primacy with respect to slavery, or with respect to a woman’s role in the church? Jesus, indeed, could give us some clues – and whilst I’d agree with you that we should build our church on Scripture, we might be well-served to use Jesus as our guide for every single bit of its construction.

        • You state your case well. We just disagree. In my opinion (which is worth no more than yours) Jesus would treat homosexuality as he did prostitution, adultery, public corruption, etc. He engaged with sinners, but never condoned sin.

          The division in the UMC is about the definition of sin, not whether to welcome sinners to our church. If something is a sin, I can’t condone it and be faithful and I can’t have leaders who openly sin without repentance. If something isn’t a sin, forcing my views about it on another may well be. There isn’t a “middle ground” on that, so we just need to agree to disagree.

          • Specifically and to the presenting symptom — human sexuality and sin. If progressives would just once present a Scriptural based defense of sexual relations other than those of a man and a woman in MARRIAGE, then we would obviously be at an entirely different place. Where is the Scripture that approves of sexual relations outside those of a woman and a man in marriage?

        • Arlene Pennington says

          John, I agree with you and would like to remind folks that Jesus came to show God’s love. We are not here to pass judgement. God and Jesus love all mankind. As a note to remember homosexuals did not ask to be who they are, they just are. God is love, go and do likewise.

        • Susan M Jackson Cook says

          Well said. I am a Methodist lay person who loves the church and tries to follow Jesus message of love and the golden rule which to me, does not mean categorizing people on the basis of their
          sexuality..

    • Diane Waltrip says

      Thank you

  7. Are not there examples of other denominations where people still come worship together and sometimes agree to disagree? The Episcopal church tells its members they do not have to subscribe to every teaching of the church, but they are none the less welcome.
    The Friends (Quakers) church has widely different beliefs among it’s own – although perhaps not so much in the same congregation.

    I’m just not sure the answer is to have a liberal branch and a conservative branch like the Presbyterians. The author tried to convince me that is the answer, because we have not been “united” for some time. But wouldn’t that make us even less united?

    As a person who moves between both right and left worlds, at least in the friends I have, but also in church experience, I say let’s continue the debate, in a friendly way, about what’s really at stake. If scripture is our guide, does it ask us to draw lines in the sand? I don’t think so. If experience (and possibly survival) is our guide, let’s ask ourselves this: by making inclusion our number one value above all else, (we’ve all heard sermons that were one long paragraph about inclusion) how many people leave the church versus the few we gain by reminding everyone how inclusive we are?
    Roughly 3:1. The stats tell us mainlines are losing about 2 – 3 members for every member they gain.
    Keep in mind, most people are moderates. They don’t dislike gay people. However we may not need to hear every week how LGBTQ friendly our church is.
    Find a middle road. It worked for the North American Lutherans.

    • Thank you for your thoughts, Joe. I appreciate your weighing in. I would only mention that both The Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELCA) have gone through schisms in their denomination, similar to what is being proposed. There are now conservative Anglican and Lutheran denominations that separated from their mainline bodies. Some people are comfortable in the type of middle ground you are talking about. Others would prefer a denomination that clearly stands for what the Bible teaches about human sexuality.

      • Tom, I’m familiar with the Lutheran schisms, not so much the Episcopal versions. Back to the UMC church for a moment – I’ve attended UMC churches in the NW, but also in the Midwest, the DC area, the deep south, the NE, and based on my observations, the individual churches seemed to reflect the values of their locality when it comes to LGBTQ issues. Those in a liberal city were predictably liberal, but those in smaller towns or in red states didn’t seem terribly liberal at all. (dare I say this includes Adam Hamilton’s church?) In other words, isn’t it the case that if the church were to officially allow gay clergy, for example, out of 100 UMC churches in Iowa for instance (forgive me for not looking up the exact number) only one or two at most might actually be assigned a pastor who is LGBTQ? If I am mistaken, if the numbers in the field are much more substantial, then I stand corrected. However I know from my experience with the ELCA church, the denomination as a whole is significantly more liberal on paper than the average local congregation is in reality.

        I know you didn’t ask for a defense, but in your defense, progressive Christianity, with a few exceptions, is a dying organism. In the large liberal city I live next to, several very progressive churches, often friendly places with gifted pastors, have closed their doors recently. (not due to Covid) While the conservative evangelical churches, as a whole, are not exactly growing either, mainlines are bleeding much worse. The only two churches that have not lost membership in recent decades are the Catholics and the Mormons. Both quite conservative. Mainlines that are big and growing are rarely ever flying the rainbow flag out front, and I think Adam knows this.

        If you haven’t already, you might enjoy taking a look at a book by Scot McKnight (a conservative Anglican) titled “A Fellowship of Differents”, a book about how church should be a collection of people who have a variety of backgrounds, demographics, beliefs, etc. Hopeful thinking?

        It’s too bad these splits have to be primarily over what Paul said about sexuality. Isn’t it really about biblical interpretation? About what “inspired” means?

        I will be interested to read your response to Adam Hamilton if you write one. Good day!

        • Adam Hamilton! I’ve written about him on our church site. He’s the public face of the progressive movement. He is the guy making the schism centrally focused on “gay rights.” He’s the guy that thinks big chunks of the scripture to apply to him and his followers. He’s the guy that believes the Holy Bible to be an a la carte buffet of scriptures. Pick the ones you like, and set the others aside.

          The first sign (and we missed it) that the UMC charge we split from was headed liberal, was the introduction of Hamilton’s Bible studies (and I hesitate to call them that), coupled with prayers that all too subtly mentioned homosexuality.

          I have to be honest because God commands it, the progressive arm of the UMC is a cancer, and should be excised from the denomination.

    • SIN. What about SIN? Why did Jesus have to suffer and die on the cross? What about SIN, REPENTANCE, CONFESSION, FORGIVENESS, SALVATION, BEING BORN AGAIN, AND A NEW TRANSFORMED LIFE IN CHRIST?

  8. I would have to say Malarky. Tom what you seem to be doing in this “article” is a “cut and paste” as in your taking the essence of what most United Methodist believe, regardless of being either Centrists, Traditionalists, or Progressives and claiming it solely as the view of the Traditionalists. This is a lie. By doing this you are trying to paint and create a deeper divide, than what is really there.

  9. I’ve noticed my more honest comments about the progressive side of the UMC and Adam Hamilton have not been approved by moderation. I would suggest that God has never asked that we hide behind a mask and not address the issues of the day straightforward. If some of my comments seem a bit angry, that’s because I am. I devoted over a decade to the UMC. Helped rebuild a dead and dying church into a vigorous and growing church. I’m retired so I had the time to devote all of me, to the ministries of the church including serving on every board, and chair of the PPRC for about 7 years. I saw all the good of the church and I believed in the church with nearly as much faith as I have in Jesus Christ.

    We are a majority military town, thus pretty conservative. After years of working to get our church back on stable ground, the bishop sent a very liberal pastor to our charge. In his very first prayer before our active, retired, and veteran congregation the words never spoken before in our church were heard … “and we pray for all of our homosexual brothers and sisters.”

    Now I have to point out that there was nothing wrong with including gays in the opening prayer (other than the shock factor), but it was a sign of things to come as the conference worked to covert or destroy our church. Well, the conversion didn’t go well, so the destroy tactic was deployed. I have to be clear that by destroy I mean a lack of clear direction and oversight to a failing church. Our small rural church that worked so hard to go from 30 in attendance to over 100 in attendance, saw a reversal. Folks started to leave, and sadly it was some of our best giving units that walked away. Our robust 230K reserve fund for building maintenance started trickling down and was used to pay operating expenses.

    So when our small group left the church there was only about 20K left in the church coffers. When I say “we left” let me be clear the bishop wanted us gone, and the DS was very clear on this. I was no longer serving on any board at this time, but the knowledge of what was happening behind the scenes was still very fresh in my mind. All we asked was for the church leadership to be open, honest, and transparent with the congregation about the church’s financial situation. In July 2019, the bishop sent me an email in which she said “I realize your deep love for (the charge) UMC. I urge you to refrain from airing this matter with the larger congregation. Doing so will cause harm.” Now I’m still unsure how being honest with the congregation could cause harm but nonetheless, those are her words.

    I could go on for hours about the horrors of the last year and a half we were with the UMC. From a pastor who felt the need to share with me and others the details of private conversations with members of the congregation, to the details of a visit from the mother of an alleged child victim of a pedophile in the congregation who was convicted, and sentenced to prison. As chair of the PPRC, I had no business hearing these things from the pastor. But at the time, I felt I was ministering to him by listening to things on his heart. But again, I never should have known those things.

    There is much more I could say, but the point is many of us who left the UMC are angry. In fact, we’re very angry. The church and denomination we loved, betrayed us, broke faith with God’s laws, and as we’ve seen at a much larger level, bishops have set aside church law to practice as they see fit ordaining gay clergy, appointing one a bishop, and performing same-sex marriages in the church.

    Yes, I’m angry. And I see no reason not to be honest.

  10. Idi Alison Karim says

    Am not in support of the dissolution.

  11. John Wesley Phillips says

    I am not sure where I fit in the new classifications of Methodists. My family has, in past years been Methodist at least since the 1770s and possibly earlier. I am 78 years old and have known many people in the past who disagreed with others in the congregations. I grew up in a large congregation of over 2000 members, and we had a variety of beliefs.

    However, when I began nature study, I found many ideas which didn’t agree with Bible statements. Where do we put the fossil record? How abut DNA? I started collecting insects when I was six years old and went on to major in Biology and minor in Geology in college. So, do the traditionalists think that every word in the Bible is pure History? I believe that the Bible was not written BY God, but For GOD! Writing the Bible was as much a ay of worshiping God as it was a true history of the world from the beginnings in Genesis to the end times in Revelation. I am of course of a scientific background, and I am not sure where I would fit into the Methodist continuum.

    • John, I think it’s important to be clear when using the term Methodist. There will always be a home for you in Methodism, but we need to separate the term being a Methodist from being a United Methodist.

      There are over 80 million Methodist around the world, but less than 9 million of them are United Methodists. When we split from the UMC in 2019, we didn’t stop being Methodist, but we had no choice but to break our covenant with the denomination. It was a clean break with the denomination as we founded our new church the same day. Most importantly we never broke our covenant with our Father God.

      Our church still adheres to many Wesleyan traditions.

  12. John Gudikunst says

    There is a great deal of data available on the subject of church growqth, or more specifically church decline The following quote is from a recent gallup survey: “Membership Decline Steeper Among Catholics
    Gallup has previously reported that church attendance has dropped more among Catholics than among Protestants. Consistent with this, the decline in church membership has been greater among Catholics. Twenty years ago, 76% of Catholics belonged to a church; now, 63% do.

    Meanwhile, 67% of Protestants, down from 73% in 1998-2000, are members of a church. Much of the decline in Protestant membership is attributable to the increasing percentage of Americans who simply identify their religion as “Christian” rather than as a specific Protestant denomination such as Baptist, Lutheran or Methodist. Gallup classifies “Christian” respondents as Protestants but, as might be expected, nondenominational Christians are less likely to belong to a church (57%) than Americans who identify with a specific Protestant denomination (70%).”
    APRIL 18, 2019
    U.S. Church Membership Down Sharply in Past Two Decades
    What is universally recognized is the alaming trend of generational abandonment of the church from “Greatest generation down to Gen Z”:https://www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/generational-cohort/
    While the U.M.C. is the Titanic sinking after it hit the iceberg, we stand around arguing over how to arrange the deck chairs. Jesus saves. Whose job is it to decide whom He saves?
    Jesus Weeps.

  13. I am old. When I was growing up in the 1940’s our church had absolutist views on alcohol. Remember Temperance Sunday? That has moderated greatly. Divorce was shocking and tragic, and people were expected ( but not forced) to leave the church when they divorced. That has moderated. A single mother was shunned, abortions happened to poor people in dirty facilities, and the daughters of the rich “spent a week at Aunt Martha’s”. Attitudes have drastically changed.in my lifetime. I accompanied my grandson to a Dr.’s visit recently. The nurse asked him if he was straight or gay. I was astonished and mortified that the question was even asked. He spoke of a classmate one time as gay without a hint of pejorative inference. The definition of sin is much more cultural than conservative folk are willing to admit, and we do not know what the future generations will consider to be “sinful” behavior. A friend is afraid to go into a store with his grandmother because of what she might say to a person of color. A smoker in public is likely to experience very negative reactions these days, and a person who does not recycle is considered a pariah by many in our neighborhood. Jesus taught us to love our neighbor as ourselves, and much more. These teaching are foundational in forming a Christian ethic for living in our ever-changing times. Let our future not be dominated by folk who, like some churches, reject zippers as ungodly.

  14. Mark Ingelin says

    Regarding bringing the church up to date with current moral standards…How do we reconcile this thought with ‘being in the world, but not of the world?’ Romans 12:2

  15. A divorce? No we’re in the middle of an annulment. The merger/marriage of 1968 was never consummated where love is made between the married parties involved.

    PreCovid the US UMC only served 0.8% of the population. That means each week 99.2% of Americans reject the UMC.

    Rejected probably because they can’t feel any love because in a unconsummated marriage love is absent.

    Inclusion isn’t love.

    In Christ,

    Richard F. Hicks

  16. Kathy Naegele says

    Will you print Adam Hamilton’s well-written, comprehensive and thoughtful response to this piece?
    https://www.adamhamilton.com/blog/a-response-to-thomas-lambrecht

    • Yes, Adam Hamilton is a good writer. He calls himself a centrist — which reveals his true colors — a wolf dressed in sheep’s clothing. He’s a liberal. To say this, “centrists by definition, are willing to live within a church that embraces traditionalists and progressives” is an egregious lie, and he knows it. A post-separation UMC will immediately and officially be taken over by progressives at their first General Conference, and Hamilton will lead the way in seeing that this happens. A post separation UMC will NOT be a welcome place for traditionalists, and traditionalists will have no place there at all. Please, please Mr Hamilton, do not join the lie already being stated by some liberal bishops that traditional, progressive, and centrists perspectives will be equally welcomed and respected in this new post separation UMC. Indeed a true wolf in sheep’s clothing — that’s the good writer, Adam Hamilton.

  17. Brother Lambrecht, I liked your succinct article about the “Primary Reasons for Separation.” I always appreciate how you help us understand emotionally charged issues like we are facing now. I then read brother Hamilton’s blog response and learned some things about how Centrists think. I still think the Centrists and Progessives are deceiving themselves in believing they can make up doctrine not supported by Scripture, but still say they believe Scripture is primary in their belief system. I did find a mistake in his article regarding the Galileo controversy and I did write to him about it and asked that he not use Galileo to make an argument of religion verses scientific discovery. Here is the link that I sent to him. https://creation.com/the-galileo-affair-history-or-heroic-hagiography. I also included the opening summary to the article which is as follows. “The 17th century controversy between Galileo and the Vatican is examined. Fifteen theses are advanced, with supporting evidence, to show that the Galileo affair cannot serve as an argument for any position on the relation of religion and science. Contrary to legend, both Galileo and the Copernican system were well regarded by church officials. Galileo was the victim of his own arrogance, the envy of his colleagues and the politics of Pope Urban VIII. He was not accused of criticising the Bible, but disobeying a papal decree.”
    Sincerely,
    Dale Shunk, Retired UMC

  18. Physically speaking, we cannot separate. We can not remove our respective sections from each other, nor build an impassable wall between them. A husband and wife may be divorced, and go out of the presence, and beyond the reach of each other; but the different parts of our country cannot do this. They cannot but remain face to face; and intercourse, either amicable or hostile, must continue between them. Is it possible, then, to make that intercourse more advantageous or more satisfactory, after separation than before? Can aliens make treaties easier than friends can make laws? Can treaties be more faithfully enforced between aliens than laws can among friends? Suppose you go to war, you cannot fight always; and when, after much loss on both sides, and no gain on either, you cease fighting, the identical old questions, as to terms of intercourse, are again upon you.

    This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing Government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it, or their revolutionary right to dismember or overthrow it. I cannot be ignorant of the fact that many worthy and patriotic citizens are desirous of having the national Constitution amended. While I make no recommendation of amendments, I fully recognize the rightful authority of the people over the whole subject to be exercised in either of the modes prescribed in the instrument itself; and I should, under existing circumstances, favor rather than oppose a fair opportunity being afforded the people to act upon it.

  19. I worry that you are not talking about how you will be approaching Scripture, what lenses you will come at it will, when you put Scripture first. This makes me think fundamentalism. Will you believe in evolution? Will people be allowed to go to the doctor? Will people be offered communion after divorce? I hope you all homeschool your children. For your children’s sake. They will be profoundly confused. Which is, again, why this reminds me of fundamentalism.

    I worshiped with fundamentalists for years. Their faith is stronger than anything, but it breaks when life happens. A gay kid, a disease that doesn’t go away, domestic violence, etc.

    I hope you will make a strong stance in favor of women clergy. I worry about them – the traditionalist female clergy. Progressives will go after them calling them traitors or racists for staying traditional.

    The biggest case for separating is because you want to and there is Scriptural evidence for doing so. Praying for you that you will feel understood amongst your own people after the split.

    Finally, thank you for not being homophobic. A million times thank you.

  20. Sherry Zappola says

    I am a conservative. Not a traditionalist or other. I believe the Bible is the inerrant Word of the Living God. Yes Jesus ate with the sinner, touched them, healed them, interacted with them, however in many cases, as in the woman of adultery He said GO and SIN NO MORE . John 8:3, Also in a healing of lame man was told to sin no more lest a worse thing come upon you. John 5:14. My point is like Zacchaeus, who cheated (sinned) while collecting taxes, was told by Jesus that today he was saved because he repented of his sin and made restitution. My point is that Jesus whole focus was to restore the sinner to one of obedience and a relationship with Him that he was not having otherwise. Lk. 19:1-10. So many Scriptures deal with those leaders who lead their flocks astray and what will be their fate. As a retired pastor, I was always so afraid of my role as a teacher of the Scriptures and told my congregation “I will not offend God with heresy.” I have to answer to Him for my teaching. I taught them what the Scriptures said without apology. Yes we welcomed anyone to come to worship, but never condoned one in leadership who defied the Holy WORD of God. The split is necessary. There are other Methodist denominations that adhere to the validity of the Bible and stand up to the culture who reputes it. If Wesley were witness to the “Unholiness” movement in His beloved church he too would leave.
    God has called us to be holy as He is holy. 1 Peter1:15, from Lev. 11:44-45. Wesley was the holiness movement.

  21. Rev. Dr. Bill Moorer says

    The assumptions which underlie Thomas Lambrecht’s arguments that the Traditionalist wing MUST separate from the UMC because of “scripture” imply that “scripture” somehow finds LGBTQ+ persons unacceptable for full inclusion or ordination in the UMC. Apparently, brother Lambrecht and the Traditionalists hold that portions of the Holiness Code in Leviticus and some Pauline references in I Corinthians call for the breakup of our beloved connection.
    Lambrecht and the Traditionalists seek to preserve, protect and proclaim the cultural prejudice of “homosexuality” which began to emerge around 1000 BCE (cf. Bernard Grun, THE TIMETABLES OF HISTORY, Simon & Schuster, 1975, p. 4.) Jesus never taught this cultural prejudice. The word “homosexual” did not appear in our bibles until the 1946 RSV (I Cor. 6.9), which also names “the immoral, idolaters, adulterers, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers” as unworthy of the Kingdom. But when I research the two Greek words, MALAKOS and ARSENOKOKOITAI, which were replaced by HOMOSEXUAL in the RSV, I find that many Biblical scholars found this word a poor choice, and we know that it has created generations of abuse, scorn, rejection, hatred and death, much of which has been encoded in church polity and policy. And, always lurking in the background is the unspoken shibboleth that LGBTQ+ folks CHOOSE their sexual orientation, whereas heterosexual persons, remarkably, DO NOT.
    The Traditionalist argument falls apart when the above issues are understood. The “teaching” in both the OT and Paul’s letters describe a practice which was clearly exploitive, non-consensual and resembles in no way the practice of Marriage Equality articulated in the U.S Supreme Court ruling, Obergefell v Hodges, on June 26, 2015.

    • Rev. Moorer,
      Thank you for pointing out to us the necessity of separation. Your statements confirm the irreconcilable differences between the progressives/centrists and traditionalists. The debate is finished, actually has bern for a long time, We obviously cannot pretend being a united church any longer, even as Adam Hamilton rebrands liberals as centrists who will be just fine preaching and teaching two diametrically opposite messages at the same time in the post separation UMC.

    • You seem to be on the offensive here. First, let’s be clear that the word homosexual appears nowhere in the scriptures. Next, let me jump all the way to your last argument about marriage equality and the SCOTUS. The decision in Obergefell v Hodges has no bearing on the Holy Bible.

      Now back to the meat of your comment. The discipline states that “the UMC does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching. We affirm that God’s grace is available to all. We will seek to live together in Christian community, welcoming, forgiving, and loving one another, as Christ has loved and accepted us. We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends. We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons.”

      My point in restating this paragraph from the discipline is that this false narrative that traditionalists are against gays and hate lesbians has been perpetrated to divide United Methodist. I can find no systemic let alone an instance of a local charge banning gays from their church.

      In modern history, there is no evidence of churches killing gays. There have been horrific instances of individuals killing gays, but certainly no church. Not even Westboro Baptist Church of protest fame has killed anyone. Next, you bring up the nonsense of choosing sexuality, I doubt this ever happens in any number that could be calculated, so why bring this up? What UMC charge or bishop has suggested this?

      I have to admit that Adam Hamilton has written some pretty compelling arguments on homosexuality, but he does so with grace, compassion, and a sense of unity of purpose. I’m concerned your comment helps divide us more than it does to influence unity.

  22. Does Adam Hamilton really think it’s justified to change a foundational institution of scripture like marriage between a man and a woman? About 2/3 of Christians worldwide view marriage as a sacrament—on a par with baptism and the Lord’s Supper. A sacrament is an ordinance directly commanded, taught, or endorsed by Jesus himself, as marriage is. Can Hamilton really justify from scripture that we, in our “morally superior” generation, have any right to change the definition of a bedrock institution of the Bible in order to conform to the norms of politically correct morality? Hamilton uses the tired slavery argument and ordination of women argument to justify re-defining Biblical marriage and sexual ethics. Though slavery is a common OT topic, never is slavery openly taught or directed as an institution. Slavery was simply an everyday reality of Biblical culture, and that reality is clearly reflected in scripture. Paul’s teachings in a couple places in the NT, however, fly in the face of the practice of slavery. As for ordination of women, I can make a half dozen arguments from scripture to support women preaching. The fact is: There is simply no case from scripture to justify the changing of an essential, foundational institution of the Bible like marriage between a man and a woman. Moreover, Jesus endorses it and teaches marriage as between a man and a woman.
    Does that mean you don’t love the homosexual person? God forbid! The Gospel and the commandment to love is already fully inclusive of all. But that doesn’t mean that, in our ideological hubris, we need to be changing foundational doctrines and teachings of Jesus and the Bible. What comes next? Changing the seventh commandment? Since the commandment against adultery presumes a marriage between a man and a woman as the moral foundation? And if you change the seventh commandment, why not change the first or second, or all of them—to suit the preferred cultural morality of any given generation?
    It’s errant nonsense.
    Finally, what makes Adam Hamilton think that the liberal/progressive UMC would be any different than the Presbyterian Church USA or the Episcopal Church? The data simply does not bear out his conclusions. The data shows that once a denomination caves on marriage and Biblical sexual ethics, progressives take over, in time there’s no room for Traditionalists, the church essentially becomes a mouthpiece for the political left agenda, and the church bleeds members and money. Wishful, idealist thinking on Adam’s part, but not grounded in facts or reality. Friendly advice for Hamilton: YOU and your progressive friends go and help create your own liberal Methodist denomination and stop trying to force the Traditionalist UMC as founded and currently established to conform the Bible to politically correct ideology!

  23. Over the years the more I read about this topic the more I find the attendant discussions surreal. This argument has been going on for years and we’ve gotten precisely nowhere. The article here characterizes it quite well. Increasingly, transient cultural mores are dictating the debate, not Biblical morality, logic or natural law. We are seeing, as never before, the capacity of society to sink to the lowest common denominator.

    As an illustration of the noxious conditioning effect of culture, a recent NBC report states that 1 in 6 Gen Z’s identify as something other than heterosexual. Rather than a light in this increasingly pervasive sexual darkness, large sectors of the UMC have served as centers of capitulation to the spirit of the age.

    I think the time for separation is past. The church has been de facto separated for years. Now is the time for a post-mortem and a phoenix-type movement of resurrection and renewal.

    Why do I find these debates surreal? Because the current culturally-conditioned axis through which most of this turns–and I realize that, foundationally, this is a disagreement over not just the interpretation but the authority of scripture–is the notion that someone’s identity is primarily concerned with what they feel compelled to do with their sex organs. Please forgive the crudeness, but that lays it out there. That’s what this seems to be about, particularly from the liberal perspective.

    Do we really have that low a view of humanity? Is the sexuality-as-identity movement the way of the future? If so, then God help us. We can look forward to continued devolving into familial and social dysfunction.

    There is the almost constant mischaracterization of the traditionalist view as “shunning” or “discounting” or “minimizing” or (pick your favorite word denoting exclusivity), as if traditionalist churches are going to put bars up on the windows and doors to keep certain people out. This straw man argument has become so common as to be uncritically accepted and parroted even by supposed “centrists.”

    Here is the truth: there is no common ground on which to move forward absent total separation. Had this been realized years ago the UMC could have avoided this continued death by a thousand cuts. It should serve as a solid lesson going forward, however.

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  1. […] question through the various other articles that I have sent out. To read them. click here  or here  or here. However, I would like to add that by now having an official name, logo and Book of […]

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