We Must Have a 2022 General Conference

The Rev. Rob Renfroe, president of Good News

By Rob Renfroe – 

Will we hold General Conference in 2022? That’s the question many people are asking. The simple answer is we must. And we can.

This year, the most vocal progressive church in my annual conference, the Texas Annual Conference, requested and was granted disaffiliation. It will join the United Church of Christ, a denomination that has no ties with our Wesleyan heritage.

Last year, the second largest congregation in our conference left. It is a traditionalist church with a pre-COVID weekly worship attendance of 3,000. 

Outside of Texas we are witnessing the same exodus. The largest progressive church in the country, Glide Memorial in San Francisco, disaffiliated earlier this year. Asbury Memorial Church in Savannah, Georgia, left in 2020 explicitly because of United Methodism’s stance on marriage and sexuality. Three smaller progressive churches in Maine are in the process of leaving the New England Conference. UM News Service reports that 51 congregations disaffiliated from the UM Church in 2020.  

Two traditionalist midwestern megachurches have also disaffiliated. Granger Community Church in Indiana, with a weekly worship attendance of nearly 4,000, and multi-campused Christ Church in Illinois, with a weekly attendance of well over 2,000, have both departed. 

The longer we wait to resolve our differences, the more opportunity there will be for mistreatment of congregations, real or imagined.  The largest church in Georgia, Mt. Bethel in Marietta, has announced its intention to leave because its senior pastor was to be removed without the church or the pastor being consulted. The largest church in New Jersey (a Korean congregation) has split for a similar reason. And three Korean churches in Southern California are at odds with their bishop and district superintendents because their pastors have been told they would be removed. (See article on page 36.)  

Of course, it’s not just churches; it’s people, too. We are told that some persons are leaving UM churches or not joining because they cannot be associated with a denomination that does harm to LGBTQ persons. Every week our office receives notice from long-time Methodists that they are leaving the denomination because they can no longer sit under the ministry of a pastor or a bishop they believe is preaching a gospel that is contrary to what God has revealed in Scripture.

Some of the exiting churches are uniting with other Wesleyan denominations. Some are not. Most of our members who are leaving are joining Baptist or non-denominational churches. 

Whether we are progressive, “centrist,” or traditionalist, we all believe there is something very special about our Wesleyan witness that prioritizes God’s grace and emphasizes his call to holiness of heart and life. The longer we wait to hold General Conference and adopt the Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation, the more churches and members we will lose to the Wesleyan way and the weaker our witness will be. 

We must end our division and move on. That means General Conference must meet in 2022.

But, can we? What if delegates outside the United States are not fully vaccinated and are unable to travel? Or they cannot receive visas to come to this country? Good News is encouraging overseas delegates to get vaccinated wherever possible. We are working with others to try to ensure visas will be available to delegates and others.

But what if, despite all of our efforts, international travel is still impossible and an in-person General Conference cannot take place with all our international delegates present? Then a virtual or a hybrid General Conference can and should be held. Is that really do-able? Of course, it is. Corporations hold meetings with hundreds of their employees in scores of different countries every day. They have found the required technology to hold such meetings. 

The reason these companies did not decide that virtual meetings are too difficult to pull off is simple. They want to make money. The desire for greater profits has been sufficient for corporations to find or develop the technology required to conduct detailed, multinational meetings. And if we do not do the same, it will only be because the Kingdom of God is not as important to United Methodists as making money is to corporate America.

Nearly every capital city in the world has a hotel near its major airport with sufficient technology for delegates to connect securely with General Conference. Delegates could stay in those hotels at no greater cost to the church than the hotels in Minneapolis. And whatever additional technological costs may be required will be more than offset by the savings of not having to pay for air travel to the United States.

Some of us have been calling for separation since 2004. It has taken others of us longer to reach the same conclusion. But the vast majority of our representatives were prepared to vote on the Protocol in 2020. We gave the Commission on General Conference the benefit of the doubt when GC 2020 was postponed, and we understood their concern that equal access to technology and full participation at the Conference might not be possible for all delegates. 

But it is now time for the Commission to be understanding of us. The Church is hurting. We’re losing congregations and members. Our Wesleyan witness is being weakened. We need the Protocol to be passed. We need to adopt it no later than 2022. It can be done and it must be done.

Comments

  1. Rev. Dr. Randy Russ says

    Rob, thanks for your challenge to the Bishops to make GC 2022 happen. Sadly it will be too late for my wife and me. I was baptized in 1958 as an infant in the Methodist Church in Houston. My wife and I have been biblical tithers for many years, completed Walk to Emmaus, all Disciple studies, and led a large Adult Sunday School class for many years. I am a commissioned Deacon in the Mississippi Annual Conference but could not in good conscience out of loyalty to our Lord be ordained and under the authority of apostate Bishops/DSs. Bishop Swanson actually invited the Episcopal Bishop of Mississippi to preach the ordination sermon and lay hands on ordinands. We also have not been encouraged by the progress in forming the Global Methodist Church…its seems we are bleeding congregations who would form a critical core of the new denomination. Also it appears powerful forces within the institutional faction may be having second thoughts about the Protocol. This observation is suggested by their treatment of faithful congregations in Georgia, New Jersey, and California. So after years of prayer, study and counsel it was time to move on for us. Sadly our adult children have also chosen to disaffiliate with the UMC. I am not sure there will be much left for the GMC when and if GC is held in 2022…but I know our good and gracious Lord will move forward in ushering in His Kingdom despite the mess we have made. Thanks for your perseverance and witness.

    • Rob Mitchell says

      Karen and I have faith that God is in control of our church and that he will get us to where we need to be in his good and perfect timing. We are trying to follow the fruit of the Spirit, in particular patience and faithfulness. We are also following God’s guidance to us in Proverbs 3:5, 6. He knows far more than we give ourselves credit for.
      Rob and Karen

  2. George Johnson says

    This is a good article!

    The Protocol needs to be addressed as soon as possible because of the significance of the decision and need to move forward for the whole Methodist church.

    The General Conference needs to be rethought for the future. The idea of getting hundreds of people from all over the world together in person in one place is probably obsolete with todays technology and todays challenges such as pandemics. Also, the cost of the travel must be significant.

  3. Fred Richmonf says

    Rob, you are wise, dedicated, and well-intentioned.
    You are also right, but this continues to be a Sisyphean task. With the Bishops and bureaucrats playing the role of the boulder.
    As for Glide, despite its connection to Ed Robb, Sr.,that’s a blessing for it to leave.
    Blessings to you?

  4. Personally, I don’t think the Protocol is going to happen period, 2022 or any other year. From what I’ve witnessed the UMC is holding on to whatever they can keep come hell or high water. There is a reason it keeps getting put off, and COVID is the perfect excuse or smoke screen. No I’m saying that COVID isn’t real. It is, but it’s being used for political and bureaucratic purposes. I know. It’s a shocker. In this age of technology, a remote vote IS DOABLE, but that’s not the plan. It’s about stringing this thing out as long as possible until the numbers are in their favor.

    The longer this mess goes the more traditionalists will give up and leave their churches. The reason I know this is because it’s happening in the church where I’m in ministry. Most of those still in our church are centrists who don’t want to rock the boat either way. They just want things to stay the way they are or used to be. I get it. It’s hard to give up something that spans generations.

    If the Protocol happens, and that’s a big if, there won’t be enough traditionalists left to carry a vote to disaffiliate. Most of our traditionalist have left or are going to leave after the strategic and intentional appointment of a 2nd Progressive pastor in a row by our conference in an overwhelmingly conservative rural community.

    When the progressive UMC declared to “resist” after the vote didn’t go their way in 2019, they weren’t playing around. This was a holy war that the progressives waged to win. Well, the resistance and revolution is now complete. They won. They are in control now and there is very little that anyone can do about it. I’m not sure we should. It’s time to move on for all of our sakes. The new progressive UMC is going to hold on to everything they can even if it means closing churches down and selling their property to cut their loses.

    It shouldn’t be a surprise in our culture, age, or generation that people get tired of waiting. I agree with Dr. Russ above. There may not be much left for the GMC to salvage. I totally understand the desire to leave amicably, but I don’t think that’s even on the progressive radar. Like I said, this is a holy war, and they won’t give up conquered territory. Traditionalists, conservatives, or whatever you want to call them are being black balled, canceled, and/or pressured to conform or get out. Traditionalist don’t have any bargaining chips or leverage left. It is my understanding that the 1st and 2nd postponement of the protocol was done without any consideration of the Protocol or consultation with the WCA or GMC. Why should they? They don’t have to. Again, they won. Next on the agenda is changes to the Book of Discipline in 2022.

    I’ve seen the online missiles being launched back and forth between camps. The damage to our witness has already been extensive and irreversible. I hate to put it in these terms but the “Methodist” brand has been severely tarnished no matter what side your on. In an age when institutional respect is at an all time low, you would think that would be a consideration by both sides. But the split at this point is more about property and money than anything else. I know it’s cynical, and I’m not usually prone to conspiracy theories, but I think it’s pretty obvious where this is going, nowhere. I don’t think the powers that be understand what this is doing to local churches and ministry staff.

  5. Paul Lambert says

    Thanks Rob. It is clearly time to “Call for the Question”.

  6. I believe as I have stated time and time again that members of the WCA and other traditional congregations must stop supporting the UMC financially. Money is very literally the only form of accountability available. I would further suggest the framework of the GMC is inherently flawed, it too closely resembles a system of failures actively destroying the UMC today.

    When members of the WCA sit back and say we’re showing grace during this period of schism by not filing charges against the very bishops violating denominational doctrine, you have no legs to stand on in suggesting a denominational doctrine is necessary.

  7. There is no incentive for the bishops to hold a GC in 2022. By delaying they get to drive traditionalists out of the denomination and liquidate assets. If you really want a GC 2022 then you have to play hardball. Start filing charges by the dozens and put extreme pressure on the bishops to convene a GC.

    • Thanks for your thoughts, Kevin. The bishops do not determine whether or not to hold General Conference. That decision is made by the Commission on the General Conference. We know people on that commission and are staying abreast of any developments that might hinder General Conference taking place. The best thing we can do to assure General Conference is to get as many people vaccinated as possible. Only the easing of travel restrictions will enable General Conference to take place.

      Tom Lambrecht

      • If the bishops do not want a GC 22 then it will not happen no matter what the commission thinks. It would be reassuring if our bishops released a statement showing their commitment to GC 22. Have the contracts been signed for the convention hall?
        The vaccination rate is about as high as it will ever get. Now they are talking about booster shots after 8 months. It is almost like starting from zero again. And there will always be another variant. Counting on more vaccinations is not a plan, especially when other countries are involved.
        I give GC 2022 a 50/50 chance. You might want to be working on a plan B.

  8. Myoung Jae Lee says

    Hello!

    The Korean Methodist Association is also having an internal conflict over homosexuality. In addition to homosexuality, Korea is also experiencing conflicts over anti-discrimination laws.
    Within the Korean Methodist Church, there are non-systematic organizations called the Methodist Straightening Community, the Council for the Restoration of Holiness, and the Headquarters of the Wesleyan Holy Movement.
    They are actively working to restore the sanctity of the Methodist Church.

    The heads of these organizations have met with the supervisory chairman of the Methodist Association and have suggested that homosexual consenters should not be allowed to work within the Methodist Church.
    I am the Secretary-General of the Wesleyan Holy Movement.

    Best regards, sir.

    My English is not good enough. Please excuse me. Nevertheless, thank you for reading through.

  9. Myoung Jae Lee says

    I read your article together during the Korean Methodist Church (kmc) meeting last August. I thought your concerns were in common with us. So we agreed to invite pastors from the American Methodist Association who are suffering the same pain as us to create a time to encourage each other. So I politely suggest that the Korea-U.S. Methodist Association Conference will be held in Seoul.

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