By Thomas Lambrecht-
For United Methodists concerned about the future of our denomination, the current crisis revolves around a critical lack of accountability. For 45 years we have been part of a church where people have a variety of thoughts and opinions about theology and ethics, including whether same-sex marriage or the ordination of LGBT persons is contrary to God’s will. We are willing (even if not always eager) to continue having discussions with people whose viewpoint is different from ours.
But what really spurs distrust and disillusionment with our denomination’s leadership is when those charged with teaching and upholding the beliefs of The United Methodist Church simply ignore that responsibility and do what is “right in their own eyes.” We believe that our doctrines and ethics are arrived at and sustained by a process of holy conferencing, culminating in the decisions of the General Conference, which meets every four years as the only body able to speak for the entire United Methodist Church. To intentionally, knowingly, and publicly disobey or disregard the teachings and requirements thus arrived at, is an affront to who we are as United Methodists.
Such disregard has just happened in the West Ohio Annual Conference, once a bastion of evangelical thought and vital ministry. A committee on investigation has just nullified the most serious charges filed against one of the conference’s clergy, the Rev. David Meredith.
Meredith was under charges because of his being married to another man, a headline-gathering wedding that took place in his former parish in Cincinnati just three days prior to the 2016 General Conference. He has made no secret of his marriage, in fact publicizing it in hopes of influencing the actions of General Conference. He further used the platform of being a candidate for bishop in 2016 to publicize his disagreement with church teachings.
Accordingly, Meredith was brought up on complaints by a number of clergy in West Ohio. The “just resolution” process was unable to bring a resolution to the complaints. So the evidence was turned over to a counsel for the church, who acts as the church’s prosecuting attorney to bring the complaints to a legal charge that can then form the basis for a trial.
The first step in the trial process is for the counsel for the church to bring the complaints before a committee on investigation, which acts like a grand jury to determine if there is enough evidence to charge the accused person. It is that committee on investigation that has just issued its findings by stripping away most of the charges against Meredith.
Under church law, Meredith was charged with three offenses:
- “Immorality including but not limited to, not being celibate in singleness or not faithful in a heterosexual marriage”
- “Practices declared by The United Methodist Church to be incompatible with Christian teachings, including but not limited to: being a self-avowed practicing homosexual”
- “Disobedience to the order and discipline of The United Methodist Church”
Meredith never contested the fact that he is in a same-sex marriage. The marriage license is a public record, and Meredith has promoted the fact of his marriage on Facebook and through other avenues. Being in a same-sex marriage is neither being celibate in singleness nor being faithful in a heterosexual marriage, and is thus by definition immorality according to our church law.
Judicial Council decision 1341, which found that Bishop Karen Oliveto had been potentially illegally consecrated as a bishop, found that being in a same-sex marriage constitutes self-avowal of being a practicing homosexual. The decision states, “Being legally married and living in a same-sex relationship is a public declaration containing both personal and objective elements and, therefore, constitutes self-avowal under ¶ 304.3.” Meredith could deny being a self-avowed practicing homosexual by stating such, or by testifying that his marriage does not involve sexual contact. As far as I know, he has done neither.
Yet, the West Ohio Committee on Investigation has thrown out charges one and two. The committee has effectively ignored the Discipline and decided to impose its own standard of morality, essentially declaring that there is nothing wrong with a clergyperson being in a same-sex marriage or being a self-avowed practicing homosexual.
By doing so, the committee has also weakening the third charge. If the church cannot argue that Meredith is guilty of immorality or being a self-avowed practicing homosexual, on what basis can he be accused of disobedience to the order and discipline of the church? It will make for a very weak case.
Perhaps in the interest of “unity” or to further its own agenda, the committee on investigation has gutted the accountability process in this case. The only way the church has of holding its clergy accountable to the standards they promise to live up to when they are ordained is the complaint process. Complaints can hopefully be resolved in a way that brings about reformation of behavior and the redress of harm done, while protecting the innocent. This committee decision does none of these, in fact encouraging further disobedience by other clergy in West Ohio and across the church.
And when complaints cannot be resolved, the only recourse is a fair and open trial process that allows the evidence to be openly considered and a transparent judgment made, with provision for appropriate consequences. The committee’s decision short-circuits this accountability process by summarily throwing out the very basis for the complaint against Meredith, not due to a lack of evidence, but because the committee evidently disagrees with the church’s standards.
This egregious violation of the church’s law and accountability process can be appealed. Good News hopes that such an appeal would lead to a restored process that demonstrates that the church is able to hold its clergy accountable.
If an appeal fails, this committee’s decision will demonstrate that our church is no longer governable. We will no longer be governed by laws, but by people who reserve the right to undermine or ignore requirements that they disagree with. Such an outcome would demonstrate our ever-deepening schism and could only reinforce the movement toward anarchy and the reliance on raw power in our church-values that hardly comport with being disciples of Jesus Christ, let alone leading to the (positive) transformation of the world.
Thomas Lambrecht is a United Methodist clergyperson and vice president of Good News.
Ever since the disobedience started shortly after GC2012, I have been stunned that Bishops have not recognized that the fact we no longer have a way to function as an organization is what will be the final undoing of The United Methodist Church. We are no longer united about anything, embracing theological plurality is not a truly Methodist/Wesleyan understanding of the church. Take away United and Methodist and that leaves us as a non-descript church which pretty much describes who we are.
Yesterday in worship, the pastor celebrated the amazing public turnout in the Pumpkin Patch the day before–including the number of dogs from the local animal control shelter who had found a “forever home” via the Pumpkin Patch–but nary a word about the ever dwindling attendance in worship. We are officially now “The Pumpkin Church”. Supposedly we are neutral when it comes to the sexuality question but our calendar contains the monthly meeting of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays which is clearly about normalizing same sex relationships. The opening paragraph of the stewardship letter was a polite request to either start showing up and “reconnect with the church” or terminate your membership…
Goes without saying, this act by this committee on investigation is reprehensible and obscene, Plus, their treatment of their fellow clergy who filed the complaints is dastardly, and their disregard of recent Judicial Council decisions is reprehensible. This whole thing reeks of the corrupt, rigged outcome. Shameful does not even begin to describe this.
It would be interesting to know how an appeal process is supposed to work and what tools the progressives could use to short circuit that.
As for the Commission on a Way Forward – one question. Which side of this divide is actively working to disrupt, harm, even destroy the discipline/unity (what little is left) of the UMC?
Does this affect your attitude, thoughts, and perspective regarding your participation in the Commission on a Way Forward?
If so, how?
It is wonderful to know your church is sponsoring PFLAG! What a great witness to our Open Hearts, Open Minds, and Open doors.
Thank you for your question, Steve. I would say that this situation does not change my perception regarding the state of our church, but only reinforces it. I have always thought that it was going to be impossible for evangelicals and progressives to live together in the same church under the same rules. The work of the Commission is to provide a structure that has the necessary space. The West Ohio situation only emphasizes how important that space will be. It also emphasizes the urgency of moving toward a resolution of our impasse. As long as we continue to battle over accountability, we are being distracted from our mission and we are driving people out of the church on both sides. The Commission, the Council of Bishops, and the General Conference all need to urgently work toward a solution that ends this battle once and for all in a way that respects the deeply-held beliefs on all sides.
This is like a seven-game World Series that must be played to the final out. The crowd will begin to peel off. Watching pitch counts is boring. Institutional progressives are in for the duration, but will evangelicals endure?
There are only three possible solutions to this situation if you are a conservative. 1. A total split, I have no desire to be connected to the progressives in any way. Maintaining a connection is a fantasy of the leadership of the denomination. 2. Give at least every church a out from the Trust clause and let every congregation decide what they want to do. I am sure this would scare the leadership of the church because most of the congregations don’t value the denomination anymore. 3. Change the book of discipline to allow other conferences or jurisdictions to take control of those that won’t impose the discipline out lined in the book of discipline. In other words if a bishop or agency of a conference refused to impose church law, they could be removed and replaced by someone who would. I doubt this one will go over either. Obviously the first option is the most sane.
I think you nailed it.
It seems to me that the author and the comments have done a very creative job of deflecting from the real underlying issue–some very unChristian language in the man-made Discipline which language is truly hateful.
If you find the language regarding homosexuality in the Book of Discipline “unChristian and truly hateful,” then I would really hate to see what you make of some of the biblical language, particularly that surrounding Sodom and Gomorrah or the story of Gibeah at the end of Judges. A significant portion of the US church does not have a biblical-based view of who Jesus is, and our witness suffers for it. The short answer is that all sin is abominable in the sight of God, and we take it far too lightly. The solution to human sinfulness, in the sexual arena or otherwise, is NOT to pretend like it doesn’t exist. God most certainly will not (Read your Old Testament, read Revelation). We cannot sugarcoat the truth and retain it. Sin is sin (and deserves eternal punishment) and the only way through it is Christ’s substitutionary death on the cross. To echo Peter in Acts 2, “Repent and Believe.” That is our only hope, and to pretend otherwise is not loving to God, not loving to others,and, ulitmately, is not being faithful to him “who loved me and gave himself for me.”
It’s difficult to imagine any annual conference agreeing to give local churches the option of separating with their property. Some things are easy to propose but impossible to execute. Conferences are reinforcing their grip on existing assets, not relaxing it prefatory to a theoretical division of the church. (How well I know this from experience!) Neither will conferences relinquish their authority to another annual conference or jurisdiction. Let’s cease fantasizing about that option.
It appears that the most of the Bishop’s in the United Methodist Church have no integrity when it comes to enforcing Church Discipline or the scriptures for that matter. Most Bishop’s give wink and a nod to complaints like this and then have the people underneath them share in their lack of integrity by dismissing charges or reaching ridiculous “Just Resolutions”.
2 Timothy 4:3 For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.
So if we don’t agree with the progressive’s that the BOD language on Homosexuality needs to be changed we are supporting hateful language? How do you feel about the rest of the moral code in the OT or Jesus definition of marriage in the Gospels?
From Ezekiel 16:
48 As I live, says the Lord God, your sister Sodom and her daughters have not done as you and your daughters have done.
49 This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.
50 They were haughty, and did abominable things before me; therefore I removed them when I saw it.
Thus says the Word of the Lord regarding Sodom.
Regarding caring for sheep in our flock : Ezekiel 34 says,
16 I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.
17 As for you, my flock, thus says the Lord God: I shall judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and goats:
18 Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, but you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture? When you drink of clear water, must you foul the rest with your feet?
19 And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have fouled with your feet?
20 Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them: I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep.
21 Because you pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide,
22 I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged; and I will judge between sheep and sheep.
I hate to tell you but Jesus never said there was no sin or blanket forgiveness. Forgiveness is conditional based on our accepting Christ as our savior and giving up our previous ways. There is a reason he said many are called and few are chosen. As he told the woman who was about to be stoned. “Go and sin no more”. He did not tell her to “keep sinning, your covered by my death”. Unless you think you are smarter than God or closer to Jesus than the writers of the scriptures I suggest you reread a true translation of the Bible (there are plenty to choose from) and have a talk with the Holy Spirit.
Progressive and Evangelical are not mutually exclusive terms.
Yes, they are. I would highly recommend J. Gresham Machen’s “Christianity and Liberalism.” It is a little out of date with it’s examples, but the fundamental timbre of the discussion he absolutely nails. just substitute Progressive for Liberalism.
No, they are not – or you are defining “Evangelical” incorrectly as to Methodist doctrine.
When our Leadership is not following our doctrines and precepts, they are like a small amount yeast in a lump of dough. As time goes by, the whole lump has become affected by the yeast. As our Leadership goes so does the whole Church. God does not bless a Nation, Church or people if they are unrighteous. How long will it take for the Church to realize we need to get the yeast out of it.
I think that most of us in the orthodox camp are having a difficult time of understanding what is meant by such concepts as “a structure that has the necessary space”. I cannot visualize such a structure myself. Any structure, other than complete separation, in my view, is a structure that sanctions sin in and violates Christian marriage in a section of that structure. Even with all the disobedience going on in our denomination now, these things are still illegal per our present Book of Discipline and our Judicial Council. To compromise that in any structural design would be egregiously wrong and drive off far more members, including me, than strengthening our present structure to force accountability and bring back justice to the complaint process. Progressives are the ones in violation of our church law, not traditionalist. Rewarding law breaking, under any structure, will not work.
Sure they are. I don’t care which doctrinal basis you would like to argue from, it is impossible to be an “Evangelical” without the “Evangel,” whether you reject it outright or simply reject the need for it by redefining sin.
How do Progressives justify their positon by scripture?
They are better scholars than those who view the words simplistically – and wrong.
Apparently though anybody providing information which is contrary to this article’s underlying belief set is going to have their post deleted.
Nothing like controlling the masses by limiting their access to information.
You should be ashamed.
Your straight forward question cuts to the very essence of our schism. Until progressives step forward with Scripture that demonstrates approval of homosexual sexual relations and a description of marriage other than between man and woman, then there is no grounds to change the position of the UMC on said matters.
I am not ashamed to ask a fair question about this issue. You are not providing any answers. I don’t believe any information would be deleted unless you know otherwise. I am new to this site and would like to have a better understanding about this issue.
Deborah I highly doubt they are better scholars.
I must take exception to calling into question the integrity and honesty of this website. The staff of Good news has been amazingly open to presenting both sides of our current doctrinal and biblical dispute. Although they do not require my defense of their behalf, I have never doubted their credibility, even when presenting points of view with which I did not agree. I’m quite sure some of my candor submitted on past issues have made the GN staff squirm…nonetheless, they did not edit my words. I believe the challenge still stands: Can Progressives justify their position by scripture? Lacking a clear and biblically based response, we will have the answer!
In reading this article, I found a glimmer of hope. Sadly though, I am not so sure the UMC can recover from their lack of teaching biblical truth over the last 40 years or so. The UMC has become no better than the “world” that we are told in scripture not to conform to. We are told to rightly divide the word of God, not re-write. I really do not care if you consider and call me a conservative. If holding steadfast to the word of God makes me conservative, then by all means, I’m conservative. I do wish to conserve the true word of God, not change or liberalize it with modern ideas. When will you realize that true Christians are NOT of this world. They are set apart, given knowledge that is hidden from the eyes of the stubborn hearts. I pray for eyes to see and ears to hear.
Agree with you. The scripture, true word of God should be the sole decision on anything. It does not change with culture. God’s word is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. I do not base my views on the UMC doctrine. I base it upon the bible.
Andrew, I actually have been thinking about the image of God and I think Progressives are trying to create God in mankind’s image.