A few hard questions

Sep 7, 2022

By Rob Renfroe

I don’t understand those in The United Methodist Church who call themselves “centrists.” I have listened carefully to their claims, but the more I listen, the more questions I have.

First question: Do centrists actually believe that truth is “contextual”? I’ve heard them say the UM Church can have different practices regarding sexual ethics because we are in different contexts. They state in more liberal parts of the country we may marry gay couples and ordain practicing gay persons. In more conservative areas, people may not be ready for the church to adopt those practices, so it’s permissible not to. 

But is truth contextual? Missiologists stress the importance of using words and images that present the gospel in a way that is understandable in a given culture/context. But they never argue we should change the message of the Bible to be acceptable to a particular culture. But that’s what centrists are championing – the church may proclaim two contradictory truths at the same time – one affirming same-sex behavior, the other condemning it. Why? Because one view will be accepted in one context and the other in a different context.

Do centrists believe the culture we live in should determine our message? That truth is relative and ethics are situational? That when necessary the church may, and perhaps should, “conform to the pattern of the world” (Romans 12:2), rather than transform the world? The apostles proclaimed a message of sexual holiness that was easily accepted by the Jews of their time. It was the same message they preached to the hedonists in Rome who found the apostles’ views offensive and restrictive. Different contexts. Same message. Why? Because the apostles knew their task was to make the truth plain, not palatable.

Another question: How can centrists state they are staying within the UM Church because UM theology will be uniquely positioned to reach our current culture after the traditionalists leave? Those who believe adopting a progressive sexual ethic will attract secular people to the UM Church and reverse our 50 plus years of decline are either so monumentally naïve that it borders on the miraculous or they are disingenuous. 

In 2010 The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America allowed for the ordination and marriage of gay persons. Today the ELCA’s Office of Research and Evaluation projects that the whole denomination will have fewer than 16,000 in worship by 2041. Since endorsing same-sex marriage in 2005, United Church of Christ membership has declined by 30 percent. Since the Presbyterian Church USA re-defined marriage in 2015 as the union of “two people” membership has decreased by 20 percent and youth profession of faiths have dropped by over 50 percent. The Episcopal Church USA approved their clergy performing same-sex unions in 2015. Rather than an influx of secular people to the church, the Episcopal News Service quotes church growth expert the Rev. Dr. Dwight Zscheile, “The overall picture is dire … At this rate, there will be no one in worship by around 2050 in the entire denomination.”

Abandoning the biblical view of marriage has not caused any mainline church to grow. Doing so has only increased the rate of their decline. There is no reason to believe it will be any different with the UM Church. 

A third question: How can centrists promise the post-separation UM Church will not become predominantly progressive in its teachings? I know one centrist pastor of a large church who responded by saying, “That won’t happen, not on my watch, I won’t allow it.” I had to laugh. 

The Reconciling Ministries Network recently hosted a panel that was asked about their dreams for the future UM Church. One panelist shared his hopes that the UM Church would become a “queer denomination.” Another envisioned a church that includes “every thought, every idea.” 

A pastor on the staff of the church I served for over twenty years recently attended a seminar for youth pastors. Led by staff members of some of the denomination’s largest “centrist” churches, he and others were informed that in the future youth leaders would not use the word “kingdom” because it represents God as King – as male. In fact, those leading said we should no longer refer to God as Father. Gender-neutral pronouns would be used for the kids, who would not be divided into groups for boys and girls. This, he was told, was the future of youth ministry in the post-separation UM Church. He was uncomfortable with the presentation, but not as uncomfortable as when the lecture stopped and the entire room stood and applauded. His conclusion was that he and other traditionalists have no place in the future UM Church.

When traditionalists are gone, the pastor who said the UM Church will not go woke on his watch, and others like him – 10 years or so left in ministry, white, in large churches and who are trying to keep the UM Church from becoming thoroughly progressive – will be who we conservatives have been for decades: the enemy progressives see as impeding the march towards justice. They will be surrounded by progressives who care little about their achievements as leaders and pastors because status in the brave new world that will be the UM Church will be gained not by growing a church but by how many “victim boxes” a person can claim, what’s known as intersectionality. 

Centrists will not be the driving force of the Post-separation UM Church. Very quickly, they will not be the ones electing bishops or delegates to General Conference. Young, woke progressives will soon be in charge. You may believe the centrists know where the UM Church is going and that they will keep it from going too far.  Or you can listen to those who long ago predicted that the church would be right where it is today when we tell you that the future of the UM Church will become more and more theologically and socially progressive until it is unrecognizable as a truly Wesleyan church. 

One last question: Would centrists rather be in a denomination that requires its pastors and bishops to be orthodox but would not marry gay persons? Or would they rather be in a denomination that marries and ordains gay persons but allows its bishops and pastors to deny critical Christian beliefs? The UM Church presently has a bishop who has taught that Jesus can be an idol. We have a past UM seminary president who said it’s wrong to tell others about Jesus if they already have a religion. We have pastors who believe that Jesus did not die on the cross to pay for our sins. We have annual conference boards of ministry that will not ordain persons who believe Jesus is the way, the truth and the life for everyone. We have pastors who do not believe in the virgin birth and some who either do not believe in the resurrection or who teach that believing in the resurrection is not essential for Christian faith. This will not change in the future UM Church. It will only increase. 

So, my question is this: when did gay marriage become more important to centrists than being in a church that with one voice proclaims that Jesus is Lord; that he is the Savior of the world; that he died for our sins; that he was crucified, dead and buried, but on the third day he rose from the dead?

I know many centrists hold to the most important truths of the Christian faith. But for the life of me, I do not understand the claims they make: truth is not absolute but situational, the UM Church will grow once we codify a liberal sexual ethic, and the UM Church will not become significantly more progressive and woke. And I certainly cannot comprehend how being part of a church that rejects 2000 years of Christian teaching on marriage is more important than being in a church with pastors and bishops who together, as one, affirm the great scriptural truths that define the orthodox Christian faith.

19 Comments

  1. Pastor, as clearly as you have stated the problem, let me be even more blunt. The UMC, like the other American “mainstream” protestant denominations on the road to extinction. The UMC had the advantage of seeing other denominations reach this same fork in the road before it and to see the effect of the bad choices they made. If the UMC had effective leadership, the #1 issue on its agenda would be how to reverse the decline in membership in the US. Yet, the only thing the world sees the UMC debating is ordaining XYZ clergy where every denomination that has taken that path has accelerated its decline. Woke politics—not spreading the gospel of our Lord and Savior—is now the institutional mission of the UMC. Once you folks hop on the GMC lifeboat, the UMC is going to choke itself to death on a Bologna sandwich of woke. The sad part is that there are going to be a lot of gospel preaching UMC churches that are doing to drink the Coolaid and not get into the lifeboat who are then going to suffer the fate of such churches in the ELCA, EC, etc.

  2. Question: What is the first and most basic tenant of Christianity?

    “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth; and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, Our Lord…..” Where have we heard this before? Of course, we recite it every Sunday!

    If you are confused or have doubts, about what we, as Christians, profess to believe these days, please refer yourself to the Apostles Creed, as it clarifies the basic tenants of our faith. The early Church fathers clearly endorsed a version of this document nearly 1700 years ago. That is not to say that nuances in churches don’t occur from time to time. They always have and they always will, but…..STAY WITH THE BASICS and don’t yield to noise all around that is trying to distract us! The noise is out there and it is everywhere! It is persistent! You have to screen it out!

  3. Thank you Pastor Rob Renfroe for being willing to speak truth from the Scriptures in ways to spark a your readers’ minds. Your insight & teachings have been helpful throughout my 22 years of ministry in the UMC. You have blessed more than you realize with your spiritual gifts and faithful witness to our LORD, Jesus the Christ.

  4. Rob, my perspective is different than the one you offer. I choose to love you and respect you as a child of God and a follower of Jesus Christ. I also choose to love and respect those who are called to be a part of a new denomination.

    My perspective is that many United Methodist Church congregations declined because they did a poor job in the areas of evangelism and in loving those who were “different” in some way, whether that be appearance or beliefs. One of the reasons I was drawn to the United Methodist Church was that Jesus reached out to “the least, the last, and the lost”, people who were marginalized in Jesus day and those we continue to marginalize today. I knew myself to be one of “those” people and Jesus loved me, just as he continues to today. Sometimes, we choose rules over loving; it’s easier. What makes homosexuals worse sinners than the rest of us, including you and me. I still believe that grace is pure gift, none of us earned it nor are we superior to anyone in the eyes of God. If I fail, and I have in a multitude of ways, I choose to err on the side of grace.

    I wish you and my sisters and brothers who choose another way the very best. I love you and pray for your endeavors.

    Don Storey

  5. Rob, I’ve always considered “centrists” to be truly “fence-sitters,” not really deciding which way to fall, (although that could be the case), but deciding not to fall one way or the other for fear of having to really make a choice. Thank you for your concise article!

  6. One last question paragraph is my problem. Who are these pastors, bishops, past Seminary president, board of ministry noted here. No one has been able to answer the question and give me solid truth about their beliefs. Please help me with this information.

  7. The Southern Baptist Convention’s got its own share of problems rooted in pride and vain glory but in this they were able to stave off the liberalization of the denomination by ousting those entrenched in the denominational bureaucracy. That same denominational bureaucracy and the bishops who lead the UMC (with the rare exceptions for what few conservative bishops there are domestically) is what the progressives will be left with and why it is necessary to separate from them to go in another direction (a divorce). It is not done lightly as this has been on the horizon for decades and has finally come to a boil).

  8. Great, great article Rob!! Keep up the good fight. Warmly, Dwight Edwards

  9. The Unitarian Methodist church.

  10. Thank you Pastor Rob Renfroe for being clearly expland this issue in thé UMC today, yes it is good today and tomorrow it will bé danger for thé entire because many people forger quickly. Yesterday it was an anglican church, Baptiste church, and next day people will talk about UMC. Money is there to help not to destroy faith. God remain God. Nothing will not change our faith to God but people will dire and God shall bé God. Centrist sympathiser do not understand what they are doing. Let us move toward thé global methodist church where WE are seeing God through scripture. God bless you Pastor Rob for thé contribution

  11. The problem is they love one another more than they love God. They interpret godly love incorrectly.

  12. I have been told that the new UM are going to been gender neutral and change the Apostles Creed and NOT say God the “Father” instead they will say God the “ Creator “ any mention of God being a male will be removed such as the BOD, Hymns, Bible verses and so on. What other changes are been made.

  13. Don, this is not correct. They will not be able to change the Apostles’ Creed or remove any mention of God being male from the BOD, hymnal, or Bible. In some contexts, the use of masculine language for God will be discouraged (for example, for those applying for ordination as clergy in some annual conferences). The official documents will not change. But the way that people talk about God may change, particularly among progressives in the continuing United Methodist Church.

  14. Thank you for your comment, Don. I appreciate your tone of grace. To clarify, we do not believe “homosexuals are worse sinners than the rest of us.” We are all equally sinners in need of God’s forgiveness and grace. However, same-gender practices are the one behavior that some in the church are promoting as good and acceptable to God, in contradiction to what the Scriptures teach. Unfortunately, that has led to focusing more attention on this question. We have no desire to single out one class of people, but that is who progressives are singling out for special approval at the moment.

    I pray God’s best for you, Don.

  15. Thank you for the question, Phyllis. If you will email us directly, we will respond to your request. info@goodnewsmag.org

  16. I simply cannot understand how in the same post you claim that centrists/progressives are attempting to “conform to the pattern of the world,” while also pejoratively calling those you disagree with as “woke”. How exactly does adopting the vocabulary of partisan pundits “transform the world” as you call Christians to do? In the words of Jesus, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” Matthew 7:3.

    And as to your comments on the decline in membership and attendance within various denominations, I noticed that you failed to mention similar declines occurring within the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest denomination in America, and one known for its conservative/traditionalist theology. As I’m sure you’re aware, membership in the SBC has declined for 14 straight years, and attendance has declined significantly as well. In fact, polling released today by the Pew Research Center indicates that fewer and fewer Americans are going to any church at all, whether those churches be traditional or “woke” or anywhere in-between.

    I pray for an amicable split within the UMC, but these posts do nothing to advance that goal, nor do they help spread the *good news* preached by Jesus.

  17. Thank You for your article. To older people, Centrist are taking the same playbook, Pres. Clinton did years ago. They think they can carpartmentalize beliefs. It just brings chaos.

  18. Re’ the Florida case, demanding churches that want out pay the full market value of their properties. What a perfect time to insist on the previously agreed upon Protocol to part equitably. We could demonstrate that the American head of Methodism is in minority of World Methodism, that they have not acted in good faith. We should not be paying for permission to part when previously we agreed to amicably split, dividing the denomination’s resources. I believe that it is poor stewardship to turn our back’s so quickly on the money that our members have paid into the denomination in good faith. Who cares that the Protocol never came before the legal body for approval, in was agreed upon in good faith. Further, it could be argued that the covid delays were put in place in order to kill the Protocol.

  19. I have watched all five of your UTube videos regarding why you feel current UMC churches should disaffiliate from the UMC and join the GMC. You have clearly been successful in convincing a number of Houston area churches to disaffiliate and I am sure your videos are being used by the WCA/GMC proponents here in the AWF Annual Conference. It truly breaks my heart to see this schism within my beloved denomination. I was a Methodist child of God from the cradle, became a United Methodist in my teens in 1968, and have remained steadfast in my commitment to Jesus and to the United Methodist Church my adult life, and there I shall remain. Thankfully my pastor, DS, and bishop all seem to be committed to remain in the UMC. I do hope those of you who leave will be successful in creating a new expression of Methodism and that we can then co-exist and both thrive. But my individual discernment process has revealed that I am much more an Adam Hamilton type of United Methodist than a Rob Renfroe type of GMC Methodist and reminds me that the UMC is the right place for me. And, I would humbly request that you focus more on selling the GMC than on maligning the UMC.

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