By Rob Renfroe-
It’s a new year. But will it be a new day for the people called Methodist? That’s the question many of us are asking as we look forward to a year that will be instrumental in determining the future of The United Methodist Church.
The called General Conference to discuss the bishops’ proposal to resolve our differences regarding sexual ethics will be held in February, 2019. By this summer at the latest we will know what the bishops will recommend as the best way forward for our divided church. Immediately we will need to determine if their plan is something that evangelical Methodists can support. If so, we will do our part to promote it. If not, we will do all we can to defeat it and to propose a solution of our own.
For fifty years Good News has labored to renew the church and defend the faith within The United Methodist Church. Knowing that there are many factions at work within the UM Church with their own visions and agendas, we want to work for a good outcome next February as the future of the church is determined.
- We will analyze the bishops’ proposal carefully and fairly when it is released. We will make our analysis public for open discussion and debate. The pros and cons of this proposal need to be articulated and made clear so that the people in the pews – those with life-long commitments to the UM Church – can discern and understand all that is at stake in the proposal by the bishops.
- We will survey leading orthodox pastors and theologians for their input. Good News is very aware that we represent hundreds of thousands of faithful pastors and laypersons – in the United States and internationally – who will have many different concerns and points of view. Our job is to educate, organize, and motivate – and we will do our work best when we have listened to others.
- We will travel to Africa and elsewhere to listen to our brothers and sisters there and to share our perspective with them. If United Methodists are to step into a faithful future, it is essential that evangelicals in Africa, Asia, and Europe help craft that future along with us. We are most grateful for the partnership we have with faithful believers in other parts of the world and for their influence upon the UM Church. We value their insights and their leadership, and we will do all we can to maintain and deepen our relationships with those in Africa, Asia, and Europe who have stood boldly in the past.
- We will be speaking at evangelical gatherings in Annual Conferences throughout the United States, educating delegates, pastors, and laypersons about the bishops’ plan and the best way forward. Our team looks forward to speaking at events where the clergy and laity want to become better informed about the options for the future of The United Methodist Church.
- After listening to orthodox leaders in the U.S. and around the world, we will determine the best response to the bishops’ proposal and we will do all we can to educate and prepare evangelical delegates to promote scriptural Christianity at General Conference. This work will begin this year, but will also include educational breakfasts during the General Conference in St. Louis in 2019. We have held these breakfasts at every General Conference for decades. After a time of worship, we have provided the most comprehensive daily legislative analysis to delegates to move forward with one heart and one mind on the floor of the General Conference.
- Finally, we will be prepared with a strategy should General Conference fail to adopt a solution that is acceptable to evangelical United Methodists. It’s terrifying to contemplate but it’s very possible that a solution will be affirmed that we cannot support or, more likely, no solution will be passed. This kind of legislative logjam has occurred at past General Conferences. At that point it will be imperative that traditional United Methodists act together. We will not have the luxury of asking people to hold on and wait for a few months until someone proposes a way forward that we can support. People will start leaving. Some pastors will resign. Churches will make plans to pull out of the denomination. We pray fervently for a good outcome, but whatever happens, we must step into the future smart, strong, and together.
As you can see, there is much to do THIS year, before we arrive in St. Louis in 2019. We are dependent upon the prayers and wisdom of dedicated and committed United Methodists who have supported us for the last 50 years. There is a new day coming for United Methodists. We at Good News will do all we can to make sure that the new day is a faithful future we can step into together.
Rob Renfroe is a United Methodist clergyperson and the President of Good News.
The only solution available to the United Methodist Church for it to REMAIN as a Christian church and together as one denomination is the Commission on a Way Forward Option #1 ——- to maintain the CURRENT Book of Discipline with an actual plan of accountability and enforcement of said BOD. Obviously, enough time and detailed procedures would have to be put in place for those currently in defiance of the BOD to decide whether to pledge anew their adherence to church law or be granted a gracious exit with their property and benefits. After all, it is not those who are currently living and abiding by current church law that are causing this schism. It is clearly those in open rebellion and defiance who are causing this schism. On the other hand, if either Option #2 or #3 is adopted, the church will surely split.
Yes, Option #1 gets vigorous support of evangelical-orthodox folk like myself. But I would be quick to admit that there’s no apparent “way forward” for this option. How would General Conference “enforce” such an option? The church has shown no moral courage in that direction. Advocates for Option #1 should cease repeating these fantasies about “gracious exits” for the progressives. Progressives now have hierarchical control of assets (and appointment-making) in many annual conferences. These “hegemons” will never surrender their sovereign prerogatives except to court order.
I hope the various evangelical renewal groups can get their heads together and have a unified proposal if a new movement becomes necessary. We don’t need to have competing proposals from the various groups. Also, I hope that, should a new movement be necessary, there will be great care given to selecting leadership. Not all of the popular, successful evangelical leaders within the denomination would be suitable for leadership in a new movement. (Look what has happened to some of our previous popular leaders.) It’s too easy to become successful by prioritizing method over message. The message must be something much more profound than what could heard in a typical evangelical chuch on any given Sunday. We will hopefully still be some kind of “Methodist” church, and those Wesleyan distinctives need to be strongly emphasized, regardless of how popular they are. At this stage, proclaiming such distinctives may not build numbers very much, but it certainly will help build Christians into faithful followers of Christ.
This is a realistic assessment of the pitfalls that option #1 will be an easy way forward. I don’t think progressives who have invested their lives in reforming the church to their particular view will readily abandon their perceived calling. The church is in this mess because multiple generations of Bishops have believed that what the church does trumps the need of having a core doctrine/set of beliefs. We are witnessing the failure of the church’s experiment in theological plurality that has resulted in multiple factions with contradictory beliefs all believing they have “The Answer”. And to make matters worse, everybody cites Jesus, the Bible and John Wesley to prove their respective points that cancel each other out. As a result, the church is incapable of making a unique contribution to the Christian landscape..
Amen and Amen!
Gary, Betsy, and Terry,
Your insights, reality checks, and assessments are likely describing where the the proverbial rubber meets the road. I pray not. I pray Option #1 will be adopted with enforcement provisions, perhaps significant financial consequences for non-compliance. If you are right, however, then #6 above becomes the reality. I am placing my trust in the Wesleyan Covenant Association as the one to draw ALL orthodox Methodists, including Good News, into one place to come up with one solution for said contingency. The large Mississippi congregation that recently departed the UMC with its property is affiliated with the WCA. The WCA has stated that it is there as a fall back option should the 2019 General Conference fail to find a solution acceptable to evangelical/orthodox Methodists. I am with Terry here — the various orthodox folks MUST unify and come forth with a UNIFIED PROPOSAL for General Conference OR a UNIFIED POST-PLAN should General Conference fail this group.
Any plan that is perceived to “compel” others to abandon their elected mission will fail to pass General Conference or be ratified by annual conferences. Coercing others is not an option. Progressives have shown reptilian endurance and flexibility and cunning while evading Disciplinary enforcement. But traditional orthodox Methodists would be fools to continue to fund such a monstrous hypocrisy.
Since the three options came out I have contemplated their ramifications. Option 1 may be the preferred option for many orthodox Methodists but making this option work is not easy. I will require a strict discipline that would either drive out progressives or cause them to be purged out of the church. The power of the Bishops would have to be limited and there would have to be a procedure to step in when they refuse or drag their feet to enforce the discipline. A jurisdictions ability to hold up a complaint would have to be removed and other jurisdictions allowed to step in when they refuse to enforce discipline. The use of :just resolutions” would have to be severely restricted. There would have to be a major change in our agencies, to remove progressives from them. Seminaries would have to be monitored to make sure that they did not teach against Methodist doctrine and many of our professors would have to be purged from them. This would be a very ugly process. The Southern Baptists went through this 20 plus years ago and there condition was nowhere as extreme as ours. Do we think that a group of people who put a high value on love and peace are going to be willing to do this. I suspect that many of our delegates are centrists who want everyone to get along are going to support this. The third option requires a 2/3 vote to change the constitution. Does anyone really expect that a proposal that would be acceptable to 2/3 of the General Conference to split the church will happen. The most likely option to pass will be #2. It would be acceptable to those centrist who just want everyone to get along and for the Methodist Church to continue. Egged on by the progressives who claim to centrists, those that want to avoid ugliness and conflict will vote this way. Progressives will also vote this way knowing that it would cause traditionalist to leave and giving them the votes to change the church to full gay rights. The most likely out come in 2019 is either #2 or no outcome at all. Perhaps they will give a grace period allowing those traditional church who want an out, to have one. Either way the WCA needs to prepare for the fallout. If churches take a “graceful exit”. They will need to have examples of how to set themselves up and organize in a congregational matter. What will they us for doctrinal standards, church organization, etc. There will also be a great concern over how to find or replace a pastor when the time comes. Our churches are used to appointed pastors and may find the task of having to search for a pastor reason enough not to leave the Methodist church. The WCA or some similar organization can provide relief and security in these matters. Churches will need a ready and familiar association to move to and join.
I agree completely with Terry.
Let’s stop indulging illusions of closing loopholes and herding bishops into compliance. There’s no General Superintendent of the United Methodist Church. We cannot whimsically stretch our weakened sovereignty to cover every new rent. When traditional orthodox Methodists are finally fed up with the status quo (which Ronald Reagan defined as “Latin for the mess we’re in”), they will refuse further accommodation. They will cease scheming about even more complex, unenforceable options. If WCA would rightfully embrace its birthing role, many Methodists now perplexed and sidelined would flee to it for sanctuary, renewed identity, and reinvigorated mission.
Can a church focus on Christ as its center and not focus on His Word? I think not! My brothers and sisters in Christ, please put term limits on Bishops and be strong enough to enforce discipline within the church! When a Bishop makes a vow to God and the Church to uphold and teach church unity and discipline and then does the opposite, they should be removed from the church! If this had been done there would be no church crisis! Poor leadership from top to bottom! God will judge us unless we repent and return to His living Word!
I agree wholeheartedly. We have to face reality and taking power from the Bishops is a pipe dream.
Betsy describes the most unfortunate fact of multiple generations of Bishops failing to adhere to, defend, and uphold core church doctrine beliefs and the failed experiment with often contradictory theological plurality. As has been pointed out many times with our schism, a house divided against itself cannot stand. I understand the concern with Option #1 as “unrealistic”. But, to me, either Option #1 with real and consequential enforcements be enacted and seriously TRIED or a plan leading to a full division of the church from top to bottom be enacted with these as the only two real options available. Liberalizing the BOD will not happen in that none of those proposals even got out of committee in 2016 since these same delegates will comprise the 2019 General Conference. And, all of those “local option” plans are completely unrealistic, unworkable, self-destructive —- with the broadcasting from the mountaintop, “look at us, a house divided against itself and watch it implode”.
It would appear that these Methodists would overwhelmingly vote for Option #1:
Notice how easily we slip into the “ad hoc fallacy” when arguing for stricter rules. What happens in Alabama does not alter reality in the Western Jurisdiction or the Northeast. Anyone proposing that General Conference “get tough” with bishops and annual conferences must reckon with the historical trend against real enforcement. Progressive regional conferences and and their bishops are resolved to support “full inclusion” over the squawks of an offended plurality. The Judicial Council does not act preemptively nor does it make arrests. Special pleadings are worthless. What’s needed is visionary traditional leadership with radical courage.
it seems that that the more connectial a denomination is, the greater the problems are within that denomination. In the UMC, we are technically connectional, but we appear to be practically hierarchial, with so many properly-selected leaders expecting nearly complete deference. The United Methodist system provides entirely too many opportunities for leaders to let their egos run wild, and for some folks to run on into full corruption. How much do we really need all of the connectionalism we have in the UMC? There are entirely too many “power” positions available that can be filled by power-hungry (and possibly doctrinally corrupt) individuals. I do not see “going independent” as of any value to us, because, even among “non-denominational” congregations, there are practical connections that bind like-minded conngregations together. (Independent, non-denominational churches need to be very careful: Starting new congregations, with authority emanating from the mother church, makes for the beginnings of another denomination.) We need some degree of connectionalism, even official when necessary, but maintaining our current form (even in a new denomination) will only assure potential corruption. No church organizational system is corruption-proof, but we can hopefully do much better. (Do you think Wesley might approve?)
Terry Lowe is correct that even non-denominational churches have associations, but these associations do not have the authority to take away a congregations property which they have built and maintained with their own treasure when the association decides to become apostate. It is time to consider a fourth solution: revoke the trust clause, at least for a period of time (this is already in all three proposals) and let the churches decide what is best for them. Those who leave will be able to associate with whoever they want. Those who stay will be able to shape the UM of the future. We know that the church is in a period of reformation, a move away from strongly connected denominationalism may well be what the shift is all about. This week even the Mennonites are splitting over human sexuality. This is the easiest option for the church to inact. All it would take is a 50% vote at GC and may have wide support. It is a way for those who hate the debate to escape and for “moderates” to rid the church of “extremeists” (at least some, especially those at the top) will hope so. For those who think option 2 will never be approved ask yourself this question: faced with the local option or the split, how many of our nice, forgiving, non-confrontational peacemakers will finally be worn down by the debate and give in and vote for this one. This is what happened in Maine. The gay marriage folks lost several votes, but just kept hammering away and even the Catholic church got tired of the battle and finally a slim majority let it happen.
Scott, I believe you are correct, that our “nice, forgiving, non-confrontational peacemakers” could be “worn down by the debate”. The exodus that we have only begun to witness is a certain sign of this. I can see that we are already worn down. This is why I see such value in the work that the Wesleyan Covenant Association is doing. They are providing the encouragement, and the organization, to ensure that action is taken, before it is too late, to preserve the integrity of the beliefs to which they hold dear. In a nice and forgiving way they are seeking to move forward into a future that honors their orthodox roots. It is the WCA’s express purpose to stand firm, not compromise, and provide a solid foundation for a workable future. Their work will do much to secure the future of the faith that I for one hold dear. I am only a retired pastor who happens to live out in what is still called The Western Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church. But I can certainly see, with eyes of faith, what is needed to secure a future for all of us involved in these troubling times.