Africa Initiative Speaks:
Why Disaffiliation is an option for the United Methodist Church in Africa
September 2, 2023
Over the past months, much has been written by proponents of the “regionalization plan,” claiming that they have received overwhelming endorsements for its passage at the forthcoming 2024 General Conference. They have also indicated their perceived justifications as to why they claim regionalization is the way forward for keeping The United Methodist Church (UMC) “global and united.” These proponents may be correct, given that both the Connectional Table of the UMC and the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters have indicated their support for regionalization. However, the UMC Africa Initiative holds a contrary view. We write this article, therefore, to elucidate the position of the majority of United Methodists in Africa (clergy and laity) on why we reject regionalization, and rather opt for disaffiliation as our best option.
The traumatic General Conference of 2019 in St. Louis was supposed to end the conflict in The United Methodist Church over its ministry with LGBTQ persons, including issues of same-gender marriage, and the election and consecration of gay persons as episcopal leaders within the UMC. Parts of the Traditional Plan were adopted, which maintained the traditional definition of marriage as between one man and one woman, and continued to restrict the ordination of partnered gays and lesbians. Accountability to maintain the Book of Discipline was also increased. However, in the aftermath of the 2019 General Conference, about 28 annual conferences in the U.S. and several in Europe voted for resolutions disapproving the changes adopted in St. Louis by the General Conference, the UMC’s highest decision making body. Some of these conferences vowed not to enforce the Discipline, yet claiming to still be in good standing with the United Methodists. Some bishops made similar statements that they would not uphold parts of the Discipline that they disagreed with. Since then, they have violated several laws of the church and continue to do so with impunity.
We wonder, if the leadership of a nation lives in flagrant disobedience to its own governing constitution, thereby fostering acts of lawlessness, what would they expect of their subjects. Such has been the case within the UMC global. Since the St. Louis 2019 Special Session of the General Conference, the church has proved ungovernable by the actions of several politically influential and economically affluent liberal and progressive leaders within the church, including some bishops. They have determined that if decisions of the General Conference do not go their way, they will disobey them until they are changed. Such an attitude on the part of some episcopal and other influential leaders within the church does not suggest that attempts at regionalization of the denomination would do any better. The acts of lawlessness, as describes in the book of Judges, would only increase within global UMC. As the Scripture points out, “In those days, Israel had no king, and everyone did as he saw fit” (Judges 17:6, NIV).
Efforts to Address our Disagreement
The refusal to abide by the Discipline across much of the U.S. and parts of Europe caused a crisis in the church. The actions of gross disobedience to church laws by some members of the Council of Bishops, some annual conferences, as well as some influential leaders brought into question the relevance of their continued leadership of the church. Amidst the crisis, the late Bishop John K. Yambasu of the Sierra Leone Episcopal Area convened a meeting of representatives from across the theological spectrum. After several months of negotiations, the group endorsed a Protocol for Reconciliation and Grace through Separation, announced publicly in January 2020. The Protocol recognized that it was proving impossible for the diverse theological perspectives held within the worldwide UMC to remain together in one church.
The Protocol provided a uniform pathway for traditionalists to disaffiliate from the UM Church; even though it should have been the progressives disaffiliating since it was their One Church Plan that failed to pass at the 2019 General Conference; while the Traditional Plan passed, thus maintaining the traditional stance of the church that had governed its life and ministries since the merger of the Evangelical United Brethren Church and the Methodist Church in 1968. However, for the sake of peace, traditionalists accepted to part ways with their liberal and progressive brothers and sisters, and trusting God to supply all our needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. The agreement of the Protocol also allowed central conferences, annual conferences, and local churches to vote to disaffiliate at minimal cost, while retaining their buildings and property. In addition, it gave the new traditionalist denomination evolving from the UMC $25 million in start-up money from reserve funds of the UMC. But, to our shock and dismay, progressives and centrists who had supported the Protocol later rescinded their decision, thereby putting all the work of the Protocol in a limbo.
Furthermore, the Protocol had asked bishops to delay any complaints or charges against clergy for performing a same-sex wedding or being an ordained self-avowed practicing homosexual. Many bishops agreed to this delay, which had the effect of encouraging more same-sex weddings to take place and allowed annual conferences to begin more openly ordaining partnered gays and lesbians, even though that was not the intent for delaying complaints. It was done in good faith, in the hope of fostering peace toward amicable separation. Regrettably, several progressive U.S. annual conferences took advantage of that agreement and, in 2022 and 2023, ordained more openly gay clergy. As if their actions to elect a partnered lesbian as bishop in 2016 against the constitution of the church and the decision of the Judicial Council was not enough of a gross violation, the progressives went ahead in 2022 to elect another partnered gay man as a bishop in the Western Jurisdiction. This means that there are now two openly gay/lesbian bishops of the whole church. Now, how can a part of the church that is pushing for regionalization continue to grossly violate our common Book of Discipline, the decision of the General Conference, and the Judicial Council, and still advocate for a United Methodist Church comprising of traditionalists and progressives? How can unity, in the true sense of the word ever exist within such a denomination when one wing of the church can violate our commonly held decisions at will with impunity, and when our biblical and theological perspectives on very cardinal issues differ so widely? If all of these vices, and gross disobedient actions of the liberal/progressive wing of the church are taking place when traditionalists and progressives have not yet officially separated, one wonders what the situation would be like if regionalization passes at the forthcoming General Conference, and every region begins to make their own governing laws without the inputs of other regions, in the same denomination.
Why Disaffiliation is our best option
In view of the prevailing situations within the worldwide UMC, we do not need additional convincing proofs that both traditionalists and progressives can no longer remain in one denomination and faithfully carry out the mission of the church. We are fully convinced that, disaffiliation of traditionalists from the UMC is our best option, going forward. The continued violation of church laws by the economically powerful and politically influential liberal and progressive leaders, coupled with the acquiescence of some of their progressive counterparts in Africa are sufficient proofs that remaining together as one church, following 2024 General Conference is inconceivable and impossible.
These liberal and progressive brothers and sisters within the UMC have over and again made is crystal clear that they do not care about our biblical understanding and practices, and our religious and cultural values. What matters most to them is the imposition of their liberal/progressive views and practices upon the denomination. Therefore if it means that they would take advantage of the poverty-stricken condition of some African annual conferences and use their financial powers to plant some of their liberal cultures and practices amongst them, they would do so with no regrets. As example, despite being fully aware that the UMC in Africa has made it clear that we do not condone the practice of homosexuality, the Reconciling Ministry Network within the UMC is championing the acceptance of homosexuality within the worldwide UMC. It has recently supported the planting of two reconciling churches in the Kenya-Ethiopia Annual Conference. They have done so surreptitiously without disclosing their true identity to a people unfamiliar with their promotion of same-gender marriage, and LBGTQ practices within the church.
Sadly, Our Africa College of bishops, who themselves wrote a press release to the global UMC in 2015 denouncing the legalization of homosexuality and LBGTQ practices, have condoned all these evils under their watch with an approval of silence. By their silence, they have approved of the actions of their colleague, Bishop Daniel Wandabula of the East Africa Episcopal Area, who oversees the Kenya-Ethiopia Annual Conference. Not only did Bishop Wandabula collaborate with the Reconciling Ministry Network to plant these gay churches in Kenya (something he would never do in his home country, Uganda, without facing the consequences of the law), he officially consecrated these gay churches as official congregations of the Kenya-Ethiopia Annual Conference. What a betrayal of the sacred office that Bishop Wandabula occupies! Does he qualify to continue to serve the UMC in Africa as a shepherding pastor? Like many African clergy and members, I strongly doubt. This is why disaffiliation is the best option for traditionalists in general, and the UMC in Africa in particular. Our souls are wounded by these acts of defiance against the clear teachings of Scripture and the Book of Discipline that governs the UMC globally. We cannot continue to make disciples of Jesus Christ within such an ecclesiastical context, and expect them to become his faithful followers.
Another case in point is the action of the Council of Bishops to attempt to usurp the function of the Judicial Council by interpreting a decision of the General Conference. The Judicial Council decreed that elections of bishops should take place in 2022 to replace bishops due for retirement. However, with no legal authority to do so and without consultation with the Committees on Episcopacy in each Central Conference, the Africa College of Bishops, with the acquiescence the Council of Bishops, refused to hold elections in the Central Conferences of Africa. Whereas, some of the African bishops refusing to step down have long passed retirement age in 2020, the Council of Bishops play blind eye to their insistence to stay on. We are cognizant of the fact that such a decision would have never been allowed by the Council of Bishops in any jurisdictional conference. But, for Africa, it was okay with them to treat us differently. This act of oppression and suppression of the rights of members of the UMC in Africa is nothing short of neo-colonialism.
This was not the case in 2016. Following General Conference in Portland, Oregon, all bishops across the connections who were due for retirement were compelled by the same Council of Bishops to step down by August of that year, 2016, and replaced with interim bishops until elections were held. Former Bishop John G. Innis of Liberia was one of such Bishops whom the Council of Bishops forcibly retired by August 2016 and replaced with an interim Bishop until the Liberian episcopal election was held in December 2016. However, this time around they have ignored that provision of the Book of Discipline. The action of the Council of the Bishops and their progressive leaning colleagues in Africa has disenfranchised the members of the UMC in Africa from exercising their rights to elect and replace retired bishops. It appears, that action is a part of their agenda to “divide and conquer” — that is, to liberalize parts of the church in Africa so that when disaffiliation happens they would still have a presence on the continent. This is an act neo-colonialism to the core, and we, Africa Initiative, representing the majority voice of the UMC in Africa, vehemently oppose it.
The perception of most liberals and progressives of the church in Africa is that we are poverty-stricken and ignorant, as one bishop in the U.S. said, “[we are] children who need to grow up.” For them, to possess a progressive mindset, and submit to progressive tenets and practices, even if they contradict the clear teachings of Scripture, means that they are intellectually sophisticated. Hence, they claim leaders of African United Methodism must accept progressivism to demonstrate growth.
Despite their perceptions of the UMC in Africa, we are not ignorant people. Regarding financial resources, our challenge may be the practice of honest Christian stewardship of God’s resources entrusted to our care, but we are not without resources. God is with us to carry on the mission of the church in making Christ-centered disciples for the transformation of the African Continent in particular, and the world in general. And God is big enough to meet our every need. Therefore, we strongly disagree with the perceptions of these liberals and progressives of the UMC in Africa. Besides, it is obvious that the practice of biblical and theological liberalism and progressivism has only contributed to a rapid decline of the church in America and Europe, the loss of its youthful population to secularism and Islam, and great uncertainty about its sustainable future.
On the contrary, in our commitment to biblical Christianity, as handed down to us since the birth of the Christian church, and our refusal to adapt progressive tenets within the African Church, we continue to witness daily massive evangelization, new church plants, Christ-centered discipleship and rapid growth. About sixty-five percent of the African church membership is within the age range of 18 to 35 years, thus signaling a church with a sustainable future. Therefore, if our loyalty to Christ and commitment to the Gospel on the one hand, and our rejection of liberalism and progressivism on the other hand leads to continued numerical and spiritual growth of the church in Africa, we prefer the former than the latter.
We are cognizant of the fact that, liberal and progressive bishops and influential leaders of boards and agencies of the UMC do not have to visit or live in Africa to impose their agenda in some annual conferences here. As long as their demands can be carried out by some of their counterparts who rely upon them for financial resources for salaries and other material resources to function, they believe they can fulfill their goals. This is neo-colonialism, and we reject it. Some African bishops and leaders are fully aware that the Continent of Africa is abundantly wealthy. If its resources are adequately mobilized and utilized to benefit the church, our partnership with U.S. and European churches and institutions would be respectfully and mutually benefitting. But, as the situation stands, the church in Africa is disadvantaged because its independence and decisions are often compromised because of an over-dependence upon highly liberal and progressive churches and institutions in the U.S. and Europe. Despite our current challenges, disaffiliation remains our best option, not only would it save the African church from further liberal and progressive persuasions, its leadership would be compelled to look within and pursue the path of self-sustainability.
We are therefore resolved that, the liberals and progressives within our global connections may “have the whole world, but give us Jesus.” Let us go our separate ways and serve the Lord. We are content to serve the Lord in our poverty and make Christ-centered disciples than to compromise our faith and ascribe to liberal and progressive tenets for American dollars from progressives and liberals. It is within our poverty that we continue to make more disciples for Jesus Christ that are biblically committed, Christ-centered, evangelistically functional, Holy Spirit-empowered, and discipleship-driven. That is why the Central Conferences now account for more membership within our global connection than the five jurisdictions of the U.S. And the UMC in Africa now leads in membership growth globally. We want to continue to grow unperturbed. This is our holy passion and vision.
Liberal and progressive leaders of the UMC in the U.S. and Europe cannot compel the UMC in Africa to be subjugated to their progressive beliefs and practices, neither can they force us to remain within a denomination that has abandoned the teachings of Scripture on the issues of same-gender marriage, ordination of LGBTQIA+ and the consecration of gay/lesbian persons as bishops. We cannot walk together, and do ministry together having strong opposing biblical and theological views on these matters. We cannot continue to be a part of a church where some of our episcopal leaders would condone the unscriptural and unethical behaviors of their colleagues.
All of the above is convincing evidence that the UMC under its present leadership is an institution opposed to historical Christianity, the faith embraced and practiced by the vast majority of Christians in all times and in all places. Unlike a few in Africa who have selected to succumb to the whims and caprices of their progressive counterparts in the U.S. and parts of Europe, we will not sacrifice nor compromise our understanding and practice of the Scripture for American dollars from liberals and progressives. Our position is emphatic, “You may have the whole world, with all its resources, but give us Jesus.” Let it not therefore surprise anyone that, following the 2024 General Conference, given all of the manipulations that have taken place to change the language of the Discipline, and push through the regionalization plan, many annual conferences in Africa will vote to disaffiliate from the UM Church. We will move out along with our spiritual, human, financial, and material resources, because, at this juncture, disaffiliation is our best option.
Rev. Dr. Jerry P. Kulah
General Coordinator, Africa Initiative
On behalf of the UMC Africa Initiative
New Life for Fractured Churches —
By Walter Fenton —
According to the latest figures, more than 6,100 local churches have disaffiliated from The United Methodist Church since 2019. According to a recent Christianity Today article, many more would as well, save for the often costly and complicated process required to do so. The bar for disaffiliations has been set so high in some annual conferences that local churches have joined together to petition civil courts to mandate that annual conferences allow them to exit the denomination. In some states judges have ruled against them, while others have ruled in their favor.
However, some congregations, which do have the freedom to hold disaffiliation votes, come to discover a minority of their members can block the majority’s will to exit the UM Church. The high bar of 67 percent of a congregation’s membership must vote in favor of disaffiliation.
What happens when local churches come up just short?
“Many of our people were just heartbroken,” said the Rev. David Lindwall, the former pastor of Montgomery United Methodist Church, in Montgomery, Texas, a community about an hour north of Houston. In early September 2022, Lindwall explained, “Fifty-eight percent of the congregation’s members voted to disaffiliate from the denomination, and of course, many of them attended the church for years. They had poured their time, talent, and resources into its missions and ministries, and lovingly cared for its facilities; they were very faithful members.”
Lindwall – who served Montgomery UM Church for 12 years and whose family had formed strong bonds in the congregation and community – acknowledged his disappointment with the outcome. And as the Rev. Cabe Matthews, his associate pastor wryly put it, “We had a bad week at the office.”
Layman John David Peeples of Collierville United Methodist in Collierville, Tennessee – a suburb on the eastside of Memphis – could commiserate with Lindwall and Matthews. Earlier this year, on a Sunday in late February, 495 members (64 percent) of the Collierville congregation voted to disaffiliate from the UM Church, but 278 (36 percent) voted to remain. The majority fell 12 votes short of the 67 percent required for disaffiliation.
Peeples, who co-led a committee that helped the church move through a long discernment process regarding disaffiliation, was deeply disappointed and exhausted. “Frankly, it was good that the very next morning I needed to leave town to attend to family matters for several days; I needed to be away. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do when I got back home; I guess I figured I would just start looking for a new church to attend.”
In Montgomery, Lindwall, Matthews, and leading laity decided they wanted to make sure members who had voted to disaffiliate did not have to go looking elsewhere. They immediately started making plans to plant a new church, and two months later, in early November 2022, Christ the King Global Methodist Church held its first worship service in a local junior high school.
“It’s as if we traded a building for a mission, and for a much deeper faith,” said Matthews. “While we have an immense amount of work to do, there is an easiness to it, a lightness I have never known before in my life in ministry. In a way, we are just having fun! When we gather, there is a deep joy that we all feel. We know who we are and what we are about, and we know the Lord is with us!”
For the members who decided to leave Collierville UM Church, the pathway to something new was different, but the results are remarkably similar. The majority of the members of the church’s largest Sunday school class had voted for disaffiliation, and they decided they still wanted to meet together on Sundays. Its leaders started searching for a location the day after the vote; they found space at a funeral home. The idea was to meet for Sunday school, and then dismiss people so they could go looking for new churches to attend for worship.
As other Collierville UM Church members learned about the class gathering and where it planned to meet, they asked if they could join them. The requests kept coming all week, so by Sunday, instead of a class meeting, 350 people crammed into a space for 150, and held a worship service.
“People stood against the walls, stood in aisles, and in the foyers,” said Peeples. “There was no plan to hold a worship service or start a new church, but apparently the Holy Spirit did have a plan. We’ve been worshipping at the funeral home ever since, and given the interest and enthusiasm, we decided to plant a church. We are now known as First Methodist Church Collierville.”
The fledgling congregation eventually hired the Rev. Eddie Bromley to serve as its pastor. Bromley, a former associate pastor at the Collierville UM Church, felt called to lead the new church plant.
“My wife and I planted a church 20 years ago; it was in a small rural community,” said Bromley. “We had 40 people, and we all had about 18 months to plan, train and launch. Over almost a decade the church almost got to the size of 200 people, which was fantastic. But this time, rather than 40 people and a pastor starting a church, the Holy Spirit started a church, welcomed 350 people, and then a few weeks later invited a pastor to come and be a part of it. So, I get the joy of pretending to be the leader of this, as if I were smart enough to make any of this happen.”
While Bromley is a Global Methodist Church pastor, the new congregation has not made an affiliation decision. He is currently in the midst of a sermon series exploring Wesleyan distinctives, and notes that the people forming the new church appreciate their Methodist heritage and do not want to lose it.
“We’re trying to lay some good groundwork so when we do begin talking about denominational alignment, or at least the possibility of it, we’re not just sharing ignorance,” said Bromley. “We don’t want to make an alignment decision for just pragmatic reasons. I mean, there are some pragmatic reasons for being aligned with a denomination, including where do they get their next pastor when I’m gone, but I think there are deeper, more important reasons for alignment, and we want to carefully consider them.”
For the people who planted Christ the King in Montgomery, they decided fairly quickly to affiliate with the Global Methodist Church. And both Lindwall and Matthews, who were named the co-pastors of the new church, are GM Church clergy. The congregation has the distinction of being the first GM Church plant in the Eastern Texas Provisional Annual Conference.
“The lay people who stepped up to plant the church are highly committed, very generous, and very, very faithful,” said Lindwall. “They realize they’re on board a mission that is bigger than themselves. They’re interested in building a legacy church that will be in this community for years to come. It’s a challenging and exciting venture!”
Recently, the congregation unanimously voted to merge with The Woodlands Methodist Church, just 25 miles southeast of Montgomery. The Woodlands, also a Global Methodist Church, already has other local church sites in the area. The congregation’s new name will be The Church at Montgomery.
“We’re just honored that The Woodlands approached us,” said Lindwall. “We, of course, are theologically aligned and share the same passion for reaching people for Jesus, discipling them in faith, and helping people in need. This merger propels our mission forward, and will make it possible to accomplish some of our goals much sooner than we anticipated.”
The majority of the nearly 3,000 local churches that have joined the Global Methodist Church did so through successful disaffiliation votes, and so they came with their property and assets intact. But, like the Church at Montgomery, others are the result of people and pastors who have walked away from cherished sanctuaries and chapels, and in faith did something they never imagined doing – planting a church.
“We’re so busy just helping local churches and pastors transition into the GM Church that we’ve not had the time to determine how many of them are church plants, or how many of those planted churches are the result of people who lost a disaffiliation vote, and then boldly decided to plant a new church,” said the Rev. Keith Boyette, the denomination’s chief connectional officer. “But whatever the case, so many of the stories are an inspiration and testament to people’s fidelity to God’s call on their lives. And we’re confident a number of church plants that are still considering an alignment decision will ultimately join the GM Church.”
For the past year the Global Methodist Church has been partnering with the River Network to assist laity and clergy who would like to plant a church. Just recently the GM Church’s Transitional Leadership Council approved an additional 13 church planters and authorized them to plant churches from Concord, North Carolina to Chicago, Illinois to Los Angeles, California, and places in between.
Walter Fenton is the Global Methodist Church’s Deputy Connectional Officer. A graduate of Yale Divinity School and Vanderbilt University, he is an ordained clergyperson and former colleague at Good News.
Centrists Describe Future UMC —
By Thomas Lambrecht —
The last two Perspectives (here and here) extrapolated what the future United Methodist Church might look like on the basis of a foundational article from Mainstream UMC (a centrist advocacy group within The United Methodist Church). A new Mainstream article this week goes further in describing how many centrists see the future of the UM Church.
The article is entitled, “Next Steps (1 of 3): Honesty.” True to its title, the article is honest about where centrists see the church today and where they believe it will go in the near future. This honesty is commendable and helps United Methodists across the spectrum understand what is at stake, as they make decisions about their alignment with the church. It should be remembered that centrists purport to represent the “broad center” of the church and hold most of the power positions in the bureaucracy and the Council of Bishops. Therefore, centrists are a key power bloc in determining the decisions made by the church. Below are some quotes from the article that tell us what we need to know about its vision for the future of the UM Church.
Current U.S. Church Identity
• “Many US and Western European churches and annual conferences are already meeting the ministry needs of their mission field by openly, unapologetically ordaining and marrying LGBTQ persons. … We do not buy into black-and-white dualistic understandings of human sexuality.”
This statement points to the reality that many U.S. annual conferences have moved beyond living by the Book of Discipline. They are disregarding its teachings on marriage and human sexuality. They are ordaining persons regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or partnered status. Clergy who perform same-sex weddings are, for the most part, not experiencing any adverse consequences. Most U.S. and Western European annual conferences have adopted a theology that affirms LGBT relationships and practices.
“There is NO scenario where the US church changes this identity.” Regardless of what the Discipline says, much of the U.S. church has moved on in ignoring it. There will be no going back from this current situation in the U.S. church.
Centrists and the Bible
• “We believe in the primacy of Scriptures and prayerfully explore them through the lenses of Tradition, Reason, and Experience. We believe the Biblical views on slavery, women, polygamy, divorce, and homosexuality are descriptive Biblical truths, that describe what was true for others in another time and place. We believe in the prescriptive Biblical truths of justice, inclusion, and grace.”
Although stating a commitment to the primacy of Scripture, when it comes to issues of marriage and sexuality, many centrists in fact give primacy to experience and reason. There is no real doubt about the clear teaching of Scripture. But many have found a way to say Scriptural teachings don’t apply in this case. They would say, “Because our experience of sexuality and knowledge of sexuality is greater than and different from the biblical authors, we know better what God really wants us to do (namely, affirm same-sex relationships).”
Many centrists use a “canon within the canon” to determine what the Bible teaches. They focus on “justice, inclusion, and grace” (as they define them) to decide whether a particular biblical teaching is in or out. If a particular teaching is not just, inclusive, or gracious (again, as they define them), then that teaching is not applicable in today’s world. (In contrast, traditionalists believe we should strive to understand the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27) with all its nuances, seeing the Bible as a whole and understanding how its various teachings and time periods fit together.)
The effect of this focus on justice and inclusion is a particular social-justice agenda for the church that may or may not reflect the actual teachings of Scripture. More significantly, it takes the church’s focus off of evangelism and discipleship and shifts it to the political sphere. Many centrists believe the church is accomplishing its mission when it advocates for particular political positions. While such advocacy may be needed at times, the overwhelmingly biblical emphasis is on evangelism, discipleship, and lovingly caring for others in practical ways. This has been the hallmark of evangelical and traditionalist Methodist churches for generations.
General Conference 2024
• “We, very likely, have the votes to remove the anti-gay language at General Conference 2024.”
This is a true statement. In the aftermath of the 2019 General Conference in St. Louis, delegate elections in the U.S. annual conference resulted in a more progressive delegation. By our calculations, the delegate count would have been very close in 2020, although still slightly favoring traditionalists. Since that time, however, almost 6,200 U.S. churches have disaffiliated, including a number of traditionalist delegates to General Conference. This year, many U.S. annual conferences elected replacement delegates for those who resigned or died since 2019, meaning the delegation will skew even more toward the progressive end. In addition, some annual conferences in Europe that would normally send traditionalist delegates have withdrawn from the UM Church.
• “If we do have a ‘compatibilist’ majority, there is NO scenario where, after suffering significant membership losses in the US, we do not vote to change the language at this upcoming General Conference.”
Many centrists view changing the church’s position on the marriage and ordination of gays and lesbians as an issue of the church’s survival. The allusion to “significant membership losses” indicates they believe that our current biblical stance on these issues is causing the membership losses. This makes centrists very motivated to change the church’s definition of marriage and allow ordination for partnered gays and lesbians. They think it is the only way the church will survive in the U.S.
This whole line of thinking is questionable. Not one of the other Mainline denominations saw their membership grow as a result of changing their position on marriage and sexuality. In fact, their membership losses (Episcopal, Presbyterian, Lutheran, northern Baptist, and United Church of Christ) only increased.
Regardless of whether centrist theories of church growth are correct, their statements indicate it is a near certainty that the definition of marriage and ordination standards will be changed at the 2024 General Conference in a progressive direction.
• “We do not yet have 2/3 for regionalization.”
This statement recognizes that the African delegates hold the key to whether regionalization takes place. African delegates make up about one-third of the delegates, so they could potentially block regionalization at the General Conference if they are not convinced it is the right thing to do. Even more importantly, African annual conferences make up over half of the annual conference members that need to vote by two-thirds to approve the regionalization constitutional amendments. Even if only two-thirds of African annual conference members vote against regionalization, they can defeat it.
The regionalization proposal is being marketed as coming from the central conferences outside the U.S. because some of the leaders behind the proposal are from the central conferences. However, the grass roots membership of the central conferences is not yet convinced to support regionalization. Therefore, its adoption at the 2024 General Conference (and subsequent ratification by the annual conferences) is questionable.
• “There is NO scenario where Africa would ordain LGBTQ pastors, even if the General Conference told them to. There is NO scenario where the United States will go back to trials and exclusion, even if the General Conference told them to.”
This statement points out the basic irrelevance of the General Conference. No matter what the General Conference decides, people will do what they think is right, even if it contradicts the General Conference.
Some U.S. bishops have been pushing to marginalize the power of the General Conference and weaken its authority. They believe the General Conference is inefficient and causes division in the church. They would rather the Council of Bishops and the general boards and agencies would run the church. Of course, this would disempower the voices of the grass roots of the church who elect the delegates and empower a favored elite to govern the church. It would also turn United Methodist governance on its head, as the General Conference has been given supreme authority over the church by the Book of Discipline. But again, no matter what the Discipline says, certain leaders think they know better how the church should be run than the voice of the people.
This quote also shows how committed to the LGBTQ agenda centrists are. As we saw in the aftermath of the 2019 General Conference, no matter what the General Conference decides, centrists and progressives will persist in their defiant actions. The possibility of any kind of Traditional Plan or maintaining accountability to a traditional, biblical view of marriage and sexuality is out of the question for the U.S. part of the UM Church.
Centrists and Africa
• “We are committed to remaining in relationship with Africa and the Philippines but recognize that they are much more traditional than even the US traditionalists. They may not be willing to stay in relationship with a church that is openly, unapologetically ordaining LGBTQ pastors … We need to be prepared to live with that … The US is ‘compatibilist’ and willing to live with regions that are much more conservative. The most traditional regions, Africa and the Philippines, then get to decide if they are willing to live with the US church. We cannot, however, live together under false pretenses.”
Although centrists say they are willing to live with regions that are much more conservative, there will continue to be efforts to persuade United Methodists outside the U.S. to support the LGBTQ agenda. Just as the U.S. government often lobbies African governments to change their laws about marriage and homosexuality, UM progressives and centrists will continue to lobby the central conferences to accept and eventually affirm LGBTQ persons and relationships.
Centrists represented by Mainstream UMC are prepared to acknowledge that more traditional parts of the church outside the U.S. may decide to separate. That is a significant acknowledgement. Let us hope that, rather than throw up roadblocks to traditionalists outside the U.S., centrists are prepared to allow them to make informed, prayerful discernment and will honor their decisions.
Currently, the Council of Bishops is saying that Par. 2553 does not apply outside the U.S., even though the language adopted by the 2019 General Conference plainly says, “This new paragraph became effective at the close of the 2019 General Conference.” The only other way for churches outside the U.S. to disaffiliate is through becoming an autonomous Methodist Church, a laborious process that requires General Conference and central conference approval.
Some bishops and other leaders have been advocating for churches to postpone their decision about disaffiliation until after the 2024 General Conference. They are saying that one never knows what the General Conference will decide until the votes are taken. While these leaders are technically correct, the Mainstream articles have given us a clearer understanding of what will happen at the General Conference and what the future UM Church will look like. We can predict the outcome with near certainty.
There will be proposals at the 2024 General Conference to allow local churches and annual conferences outside the U.S., as well as local churches in areas where U.S. annual conferences have imposed significant additional costs, to disaffiliate from the UM Church. Centrists can help facilitate their vision of the future UM Church by adopting these new exit paths. Let us put an end to the fighting and allow mature Christian adults to make their own prayerful discernment about their participation in the future UM Church. Mainstream UMC has given us a much clearer picture of what that future church will look like.
Thomas Lambrecht is United Methodist clergyperson and vice president of Good News. Image: Delegates and bishops join in prayer at the front of the stage before a key vote on church policies about homosexuality during the 2019 United Methodist General Conference in St. Louis. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS.
By Thomas Lambrecht
As of this week, over 3,000 U.S. churches have now disaffiliated from The United Methodist Church since 2019. This means the denomination has lost ten percent of its congregations. More annual conference votes are scheduled for the weeks ahead, and it is estimated that nearly 5,000 churches will have disaffiliated in the U.S. by the end of this year.
Disaffiliation is only the first of two crucial decisions for a congregation’s future. The second decision is whether to affiliate with another denomination or remain independent. And if the decision is to join another denomination, which one?
At last count, over 2,000 congregations had officially joined the Global Methodist Church, with many more in the pipeline to be approved. That makes it far and away the most popular choice among disaffiliating churches. There have been a few congregations that have joined other Methodist/Wesleyan denominations or formed informal networks of (mainly) large churches.
The choice to remain independent is probably the second most popular choice of disaffiliating churches. This article makes the case that connection to a denomination is a vital aspect of Christianity, and particularly of our Wesleyan heritage.
In Our DNA
Connection to one another is in the very DNA of Methodism. That connection began with the formation of small groups called “class meetings,” clusters of twelve who met together weekly for encouragement and accountability. In Wesley’s words, they “united in order to pray together, to receive the word of exhortation, and to watch over one another in love, that they may help each other to work out their salvation” (Book of Discipline, p. 78).
The key to the connection was “watching over one another in love” and “helping each other to work out their salvation.” Accountability and encouragement together led many to a steady growth in faith and kept them from falling away.
As Methodism grew, only those preachers who were “in connection” with John Wesley were allowed to preach in Methodist gatherings. That personal connection was again for the purpose of accountability and encouragement. It ensured that only Methodist doctrine was proclaimed from the pulpit. Those “in connection” with Wesley met annually (the annual conference) to pray for one another and to ensure that they were still all on the same page in terms of doctrine and practice. After Wesley’s death, the connection transferred to the annual conference itself. The Methodist preachers were in connection with each other and still met annually for accountability and encouragement.
Over the last 200 years, connectional accountability has been weakened and, in some instances, lost altogether. That is why the Global Methodist Church is so determined to reestablish that personal relationship of accountability and encouragement among its clergy.
That same principle of connection extends to congregations, as well. Congregations that are independent and not connected can easily come to feel isolated and alone, in need of encouragement. And they can easily lose the ability to hold themselves accountable to the mission of the church and to acting with integrity to live out the Jesus way of life and ministry.
Recent Examples of Needed Accountability
Just last week, it was announced that an influential evangelical pastor and author was placed on an indefinite leave of absence from Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville. The pastor, Scott Sauls, “apologized for an unhealthy leadership style that harmed the people who worked for him and the church.” The leave came about after an investigation by the Nashville Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in America. The investigation found that the church’s lay elders were also responsible for allowing an unhealthy culture on the church’s staff.
The involvement of a denominational accountability system enabled this church and pastor to address a problem before it blew up the church. Problems could be identified and remedies sought in order to correct the problems. The hoped-for result will be a healthier church and a pastor with a healthier leadership style. (In the interest of full disclosure, Good News magazine published an article by Rev. Sauls in the March/April issue. This was prior to the action by the presbytery.)
Contrast that way of addressing a similar problem with what happened at the Mars Hill Church in Seattle. Formed in 1996, by its peak in 2013 Mars Hill Church had an average weekly attendance of over 12,300 at 15 locations. When allegations of bullying and unhealthy leadership style surfaced regarding Pastor Mark Driscoll, the church had to attempt to resolve these issues on its own. Driscoll refused to accept the church’s proposed remediation steps and resigned. By 2015, Mars Hill Church dissolved and closed, and many of its other locations became separate, independent congregations.
Without the stability of outside oversight and denominational support, Mars Hill was unable to address an unhealthy leadership culture and ultimately could not survive as a church.
The sexual abuse crisis in the Southern Baptist Church (SBC) is another illustration of the importance of denominational support and accountability. Although the SBC is considered a denomination, it is really an association of independent churches. There is little denominational structure for holding pastors accountable for misdeeds or even communicating with other prospective churches that a potential pastor was found to have problems. The association has no authority to impose accountability on a local church.
When SBC pastors were accused of wrongdoing, they often just left their church and became a pastor at another congregation. Serial abusers were never caught and continued their abusive behavior. Churches have become potentially liable for million-dollar lawsuits filed by abuse victims. Without a denominational accountability and support structure, those congregations are left pretty much on their own to deal with a horrendous problem.
None of these examples are meant to besmirch the integrity of the denominations or networks associated with the clergy in question. United Methodists who have served on their annual conference’s board of ordained ministry are well aware that these kinds of challenges are confronted in all denominations.
At the same time, being independent sounds great, especially in reaction to the, at times, heavy-handed, top-down United Methodist denominational culture. That is, until the local church must find its next pastor all on its own, ensuring that they adequately vet the candidate for doctrinal fidelity, ministry effectiveness, and lifestyle congruence with the Gospel.
Beyond These Walls
A positive example of what a denominational connection can do was featured in the recent Beyond These Walls (BTW) missions conference held at The Woodlands Methodist Church in the Houston area. Originally put together by missions pastors at a number of large Methodist churches, BTW this year more than doubled in size, thanks to the denominational connections through the Global Methodist Church. BTW brought in top-notch speakers and workshop leaders to inspire, minister to, and equip local church pastors and lay leaders to make missions a key part of their ministry. It was the highest quality missions conference I have ever attended!
The personal connections local mission leaders could make at BTW with mission agencies will allow them to expand the mission outreach of their local churches. Dozens of workshops helped leaders learn how to do mission work more effectively, whether across the street or across the globe. At the conference, the Global Methodist Church announced the launch of its new mission portal that will become the denomination’s platform for connecting local churches to missions around the world. These blessings are not nearly as available to, nor are they as likely to be taken advantage of, by independent congregations not in connection.
It is often pointed out that connection has a multiplier effect in mission and ministry. Churches banding together in a common project or ministry can accomplish things that no single congregation can accomplish on its own. Opportunities for partnership and common action abounded at BTW.
I am, of course, biased in favor of the Global Methodist Church as the best option for disaffiliating UM congregations. I respect the integrity and effectiveness of its leaders, and I have confidence in the new denominational structure they are building that focuses on equipping and empowering local churches as the primary locus of ministry.
But whether it is the GMC or another denomination, the best option for local churches is to be in connection with other congregations that share their beliefs and values. As congregations make that second important decision, I hope they will move toward connection—it’s who we are as Christians and as Methodists!
Thomas Lambrecht is a United Methodist clergyperson and vice president of Good News. Photo: Lead Pastor, the Rev. Mark Sorensen, prays over next-generation leaders at the church conference where The Woodlands Methodist Church voted 96 percent to align with the Global Methodist Church. Photo by Steve Beard.
Hughes Auditorium at Asbury University in Wilmore, Kentucky. February 2023. Photo courtesy of Suzanne Nicholson.
Screen shot of Ruth Graham’s New York Times story on February 23, 2023.
By Steve Beard —
After two weeks of an extraordinary spiritual stirring on the campus of Asbury University, The New York Times eventually reported in a lengthy story that “more than 50,000 people descended on a small campus chapel to experience the nation’s first major spiritual revival in decades – one driven by Gen Z.” The student-led round-the-clock public meetings came to a crescendo when the live-video simulcast of the Collegiate Day of Prayer on February 23 was broadcast from the campus in Wilmore, Kentucky.
Interestingly enough, the worldwide premiere of Jesus Revolution – a film about a hippie spiritual awakening of the ‘60s and ‘70s – took place on the following day. In the works for six years and told through the eyes of Greg Laurie, the film features charismatic evangelist Lonnie Frisbee and Pastor Chuck Smith of Calvary Chapel. The Southern California congregation had roughly 30 people in 1966. It grew to 15,000 in less than 10 years. The 200 cribs in the nursery illustrate the age of the new membership wave.
Times change. Culture morphs. But, rolling back the clock, there is a spiritual connection between the Asbury campus in Wilmore and the noteworthy events on the West Coast through the Jesus People.
Fifty-three years ago, also in February, the students at then-Asbury College experienced a similarly lengthy revival in Hughes Auditorium. The 1970 Asbury revival is spoken of in reverent tones for the generation that experienced a “divine moment” that lasted for more than a week. Legions of teams from Asbury testified in churches throughout the country about what had occurred on campus.
“The unusual revival which came to Asbury College early in 1970 and spread to scores of campuses across America is evidence that God is still at work in His world, lifting men and women out of self-centeredness, secularism, and boredom,” observed Billy Graham.
In retrospect, the 1970 Asbury revival was one very unique and distinct aspect of a dizzying array of spiritual touchpoints taking place within a tumultuous era. “With the Lord, it is usually in the worst of times that the best things happen,” observed Graham in the foreword to Robert E. Coleman’s One Divine Moment. “The Protestant Reformation, the Wesleyan Revival, and the Great Awakening in America in the nineteenth century are examples.”
In 1970, Asbury was a heartfelt awakening localized on a college campus that can be seen as a vibrant expression of an unmistakably wider simultaneous and distinct spiritual passion brewing in West Coast coffeehouses, communes, and Pacific Ocean mass baptisms 2,100 miles away.
Completely unique and regionally-oriented, both movements made global impacts and were sparked by the spiritual hunger of young people – from straight-laced students to scruffy hippies.
While the 2023 re-percolating of the historic well of revival at Asbury was broadcast internationally via TikTok and other social media platforms, the chronicling of the Jesus People movement five decades ago was done through the medium of national magazines.
In 1966, Time magazine provocatively probed the question “Is God Dead?” for its cover story. Five years later, Time’s psychedelic cover story reported on “The Jesus Revolution.” In that same year, Life magazine wrote about “The Groovy Christians” and Look magazine declared: “It’s an old-time, Bible-toting witness-giving kind of revival, and the new evangelists are the young. They give their Christian message with cheerful dedication. Turn on to Jesus. He’s coming. Soon.”
Responding to the 1970 experience at Asbury, Graham pondered: “Perhaps the eruptions of revival which swept through a segment of our college youth in the early months of 1970 are harbingers of what the Holy Spirit is ready, able and willing to do, throughout the world, if Christians will dare to pay the price.”
Some modern day church leaders are left wondering the same thing.
When Time reported on the nationwide spiritual movement in the early 1970s, it featured three groups: the Jesus People, the “straights” (non-hippie young people), and charismatic Catholics. “The movement, in fact, is one of considerable flexibility and vitality, drawing from three vigorous spiritual streams that, despite differences in dress, manner and theology, effectively reinforce one another.”
For Good News readers, the following timeline attempts to put broad cultural movements – both good and bad – within an ecumenical faith-based context of the era of 1960-1974.
1960 – YWAM (Youth With A Mission) founded by Loren Cunningham (Fall). More than 60 years later, YWAM is considered the largest mission-sending agency in the world.
• John F. Kennedy is the first Roman Catholic elected as President of United States (November). Amongst supporters, his administration was dubbed “Camelot,” a literary reference to the legend of King Arthur and his court.
• Teen Challenge is launched by David Wilkerson. His mother helped found two coffeehouses in Greenwich Village (The Lost Coin and The Living Room).
1961 – Dr. Gabriel Vahanian publishes The Death of God: The Culture of our Post-Christian Era (January)
• Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) is launched by Pat Robertson (October)
1962 – Marilyn Monroe dies at age 36 (August)
• The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council is launched to renew and reform Roman Catholicism (October)
• Cuban Missile Crisis (October)
• James Meredith becomes the first Black student to study at the University of Mississippi, also known as Ole Miss. (October)
Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park, photo by Steve Beard.
1963 – David Wilkerson writes The Cross and the Switchblade. It sells 11 million copies in the first 10 years. (January)
• In August, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivers the “I Have a Dream” speech in front of 200,000 on the Washington Mall (August)
• In September, A Ku Klux Klan bomb kills four African American children at 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama (September)
• C.S. Lewis, author of Mere Christianity, dies on same day that President Kennedy is assassinated (November)
1964 – The Beatles appear on the Ed Sullivan show in front of 70 million viewers (February)
• Methodist Bishop Gerald Kennedy is on cover of Time (May)
• Civil Rights Bill of 1964 is signed into law (July)
• John Sherrill, a reporter for Guideposts magazine, publishes They Speak with Other Tongues (August) about the widespread charismatic movement
• Dr. Martin Luther King wins the Nobel Peace Prize (December)
1965 – Dr. Harvey Cox publishes his book The Secular City. “The age of the secular city, the epoch whose ethos is quickly spreading into every corner of the globe, is an age of ‘no religion at all.’ It no longer looks to religious rules and rituals for its morality or its meanings.” (January)
• First American combat troops enter the Vietnam War (March)
• In its article, “The God is Dead Movement,” Time quotes Dr. Thomas Altizer, associate professor of religion at Emory University: “We must realize that the death of God is an historical event, that God has died in our cosmos, in our history, in our existence.”
• The Presbyterian Lay Committee is launched to work for renewal and reform in its denomination.
• Dr. Martin Luther King and Congressman John Lewis, also a clergyman, attend President Lyndon Johnson’s signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 into law. (August)
1966 – John Lennon states: “We’re more popular than Jesus now; I don’t know which will go first – rock ‘n’ roll or Christianity.” (March)
• “Is God Dead?” is the cover of Time on April 8, 1966. The provocative 5,600 word essay was written by Time religion editor John T. Elson. “In search of meaning, some believers have desperately turned to psychiatry, Zen or drugs. Thousands of others have quietly abandoned all but token allegiance to the churches, surrendering themselves to a life of ‘anonymous Christianity’ dedicated to civil rights or the Peace Corps.”
• Anton LaVey launches the Church of Satan. “This is a very selfish religion,” LaVey said in an interview. “We believe in greed. We believe in selfishness and all of the lustful thoughts that motivate man because this is man’s natural feeling.” (April)
• Charles Keysor writes “Methodism’s Silent Minority” in the Christian Advocate, the journal for Methodist clergy (July). “Within The Methodist Church in the United States is a silent minority group. It is not represented in the higher councils of the church. Its members seem to have little influence in Nashville, Evanston, or on Riverside Drive. … I speak of those Methodists who are variously called ‘evangelicals’ or ‘conservatives’ … A more accurate description is ‘orthodox,’ for these brethren hold a traditional understanding of the Christian faith.”
• World Congress on Evangelism sponsored by Billy Graham and Christianity Today’s Carl F.H. Henry held in Berlin (October)
1967 – Timothy Leary urges 30,000 hippies at the “Human Be-In” held at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco to “Tune in, Turn on, Drop out!” (January)
• Elvis Presley releases his album, “How Great Thou Art” (February)
• Catholics from Duquesne University (Pittsburgh) experience a Holy Spirit encounter at a Episcopalian retreat. Subsequently, the “First International Conference” of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal is held at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. (February)
• Evangelical United Methodists publish the first issue of Good News magazine (March). The lead article by Los Angeles Bishop Gerald Kennedy was titled “The Evangelicals’ Place in The Methodist Church.” The issue also included the sheet music and lyrics to the hymn “God Is Not Dead” by the Rev. M. Homer Cummings.
• The Beatles release Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (May 26)|
• Six-Day Arab-Israeli War (June 5-10)
• “Summer of Love” draws 100,000 hippies to San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury to hear rock music, experiment with hallucinogenic drugs, and hear anti-war and free-love speeches (June)
• At an inter-denominational gathering hosted by Billy Graham and Christianity Today in Washington D.C., three of the Methodist delegates were Charles W. Keysor, editor of Good News; Dr. Frank Stanger, president of Asbury Theological Seminary; and the Rev. Philip Worth, chairman of the board of Good News and Methodist clergy from New Jersey (September)
• The Living Room, a Christian hippie outreach/refuge, is launched in Haight-Ashbury
1968 – Christian Life magazine’s January cover proclaims: “Psychedelic Christians: Where and How They Live.” The story, “God’s Thing in Hippieville,” is written by Maurice Allan. “They are by all conventional standards, a weird mob. I like to think of them as a kind of evangelical Robin Hood and his merry men. With their different costumes, communal ghetto-style living, and anti-authoritarian ways, they outwardly resemble the mythical English folk-hero. Also, like him, they are essentially on the right side of what is righteous and good. Sideburns, para-military jackets, thigh-high dresses, red Indian motifs –they dig these and/or other tell-tale marks of the interstitial culture of the psychedelic scene. Strongly pacifist, not unduly patriotic, yet they love Jesus Christ, and their allegiance to him is undeniable. They stroll like medieval mendicants along Haight street, strumming autoharps, playing harmonicas and passing out day-old doughnuts.”
• Johnny Cash records “At Folsom Prison” (January)
• Evangelist Oral Roberts becomes a member of Boston Avenue United Methodist Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma (March)
• At “His Place,” a coffeehouse rescue mission on Hollywood’s Sunset Strip, Arthur Blessitt urges addicts and runaways to try “getting high on Jesus.” (March)
• Dr. Martin Luther King is assassinated (April)
• The Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church merge to form The United Methodist Church (April)
• Senator Robert F. Kennedy is assassinated (June)
• Calvary Chapel pastor Chuck Smith meets “Jesus People” evangelist Lonnie Frisbee in Costa Mesa, California. Together, they launch House of Miracles communal house.
• On Christmas Eve, the crew of Apollo 8 read in turn from the Book of Genesis as they orbit the moon (December)
Chuck Smith and Lonnie Frisbee baptize young people in the ocean.
1969 – The Christian World Liberation Front (CWLF) is established by Jesus People in Berkley, California, by former Campus Crusade for Christ staffers (April)
• The Byrds record Art Reynolds’ gospel song “Jesus is Just Alright with Me” (June)
• Right On, put out by the Christian World Liberation Front, was the first of the underground published Jesus newspapers, appearing in Berkley (July).
• Chuck Smith and Lonnie Frisbee baptize thousands of young Jesus People converts in the Pacific Ocean at Pirates Cove in Newport Beach, California
• The Woodstock music festival attracts more than 400,000 young people to Bethel, New York (August)
• The Hollywood Free Paper is launched in Los Angeles as a Christian response to countercultural underground newspapers. Published from 1969-1978, it had print runs that sometimes exceeded more than one million copies per issue. (October)
• Billy Graham preaches at the 1969 Miami Rock Music Festival from the same concert stage as Canned Heat, the Grateful Dead, and Santana. Graham actually donned a disguise to get a feel for the festival the night before he would preach. “My heart went out to them,” he wrote. “Though I was thankful for their youthful exuberance, I was burdened by their spiritual searching and emptiness.” (December)
Students pray at Asbury College in 1970. Screenshot.
1970 – The students at Asbury College in Wilmore, Kentucky, experience an unusual revival beginning on February 3. Classes were cancelled for a week. “The young people in this movement have been the key,” Dr. Dennis Kinlaw, president of Asbury, wrote in Good News. “Faculty and administrators have been chauffeurs and guides while the Spirit has used the young to open closed doors and storm the enemy’s bastions.” An estimated 2,000 witness teams went out to churches and at least 130 college campuses around the nation.
• Professor Bob Lyons and students from Asbury Theological Seminary (also in Wilmore, Kentucky) host the first Ichthus music festival in May. It would be held in Wilmore from 1970-2015.
• Good News publishes the testimony of a transformed drug addict named Coni, republished from Right On, the Jesus People newspaper in Berkeley. “Jesus, they call you God. They say you can change people’s lives. Right now I can’t dig life. Living in this rotten world is a bummer. All I can think about is nodding out forever. But for some outrageous reason, life wants me anyway. I’ve tried to end it three times, but every time I came through,” confessed the young woman. “I don’t believe in anything and I don’t have anything. And since I am cursed to live, I want a reason to live. I’ve hit bottom and can’t seem to get out.”
• The Cross and the Switchblade film released nationwide starring Erik Estrada and Pat Boone (June)
• Good News hosts the first convocation for evangelical United Methodists in Dallas. Speakers include E. Stanley Jones, Bishop Gerald Kennedy, and Tom Skinner. (August)
• “Some call it an ‘underground’ movement. Others describe it as the closest thing to New Testament Christianity this country has ever seen,” reports Rita Klein in Christianity Today. “But those involved – thousands of bearded, long-haired, rather unkempt former hippies – term it a ‘spiritual revolution.’”
• The Rev. Dennis Bennett, an Episcopal priest, publishes Nine O’Clock in the Morning, about experiencing the baptism of the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues.
• First Baptist Church of Houston sponsors SPIRENO (“Spiritual Revolution Now”) youth rallies featuring evangelist Richard Hogue.
• The Word of God covenant community is launched for charismatic Catholics in Ann Arbor, Michigan
• Judy Collins includes “Amazing Grace” on her “Whales and Nightingales” album
• Rick Griffin, a leading designer of 1960’s psychedelic posters and closely identified with the Grateful Dead, became a born-again Christian.
• Time publishes “Street Christians: Jesus as the Ultimate Trip” in August. “Jesus freaks. Evangelical hippies. Or, as many prefer to be called, street Christians. Under different names – and in rapidly increasing numbers – they are the latest incarnation of that oldest of Christian phenomena: footloose, passionate bearers of the Word, preaching the kingdom of heaven among the dispossessed of the earth.”
• Hal Lindsey publishes end-times best-seller The Late Great Planet Earth
• Inter-Varsity Christian Youth Conference has 12,000 participants at the University of Illinois (December)
Jesus Christ Superstar black light poster.
1971 – Billy Graham uses index-finger gesture while riding in the Tournament of Roses parade on New Year’s Day and acknowledges the Jesus People chanting “One Way!” along the parade route
• Look magazine’s February cover proclaims: “Today’s Kids: Turning to Jesus, Turning from Drugs.” In his story, “The Jesus Movement is Upon Us,” Brian Vachon reports: “It’s an old-time, Bible-toting witness-giving kind of revival, and the new evangelists are the young. They give their Christian message with cheerful dedication. Turn on to Jesus. He’s coming. Soon.” The now-defunct Look was a national bi-weekly with a circulation of about six million. “It was unquestionably the most remarkable week of my life,” wrote Vachon. “They had the best sounding music I’ve ever heard. Everyone wanted me to accept Christ, too. I haven’t decided yet, but I’m thinking about it.”
• With a circulation of seven million, Life magazine publishes “The Groovy Christians of Rye, N.Y.” – a 3,500 word feature by Jane Howard about newly-converted teens and their befuddled parents. “They don’t see their new faith in terms of rebellion, or of fundamentalism, but as the dazzlingly simple cure for a ‘hunger’ for absolute truth – a famine … as acute in Westchester County as anywhere else. … the growing band of new Christians have been looking intently backward, all the way to the first century A.D., and are clearly transfixed by what they find.” (May)
• The musical Godspell is first performed off-Broadway in the East Village of Manhattan (May)
• With a circulation of four million, Time‘s cover proclaimed “The Jesus Revolution.” The provocative 5,600-word essay was written by Time religion editor Mayo Mohs, with reporting from Richard Ostling, Barry Hillenbrand, and Margaret Boeth. “Jesus is alive and well and living in the radical spiritual fervor of a growing number of young Americans who have proclaimed an extraordinary religious revolution in his name. Their message: the Bible is true, miracles happen, God really did so love the world that he gave it his only begotten son.” (June)
• “Youth are turning to Christ on a scale that perhaps we’ve never known in human history,” Billy Graham tells the crowd gathered at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. The Christian World Liberation Front arranged for busses from the University of California campus in Berkeley, luring curious onlookers with the bold letter message on the side of the busses: “People’s Committee to Investigate Billy Graham.” (July)
• Donald M. Williams writes “Close-up of the Jesus People” for Christianity Today. “Up until now, youth evangelism has been inaugurated by adults. Now it comes by youth. The same hip teen-ager who last year turned his friends on to drugs may now be turning them on to Jesus.” (August)
• Billy Graham publishes his book, The Jesus Generation. “Tens of thousands of American youth are caught up in it. They are being ‘turned on’ to Jesus.” Other books in the genre published in 1971 included The Jesus Movement in America, by Edward E. Plowman; Jesus People Come Alive, edited by Walker L. Knight; House of Acts, by John A. MacDonald; Turned On to Jesus, by Arthur Blessitt; The Jesus People Are Coming, by Pat King; Jesus People, by Duane Pederson; The Jesus Trip, by Lowell D. Streiker; and The Jesus Kids, by Roger C. Palms.
• Associated Press names “Jesus People” one of its top ten stories of 1971
• People of Praise, an ecumenical intentional community begun by charismatic Catholics, is begun in South Bend, Indiana
• Andrew Lloyd Weber’s rock opera “Jesus Christ Superstar” is first performed on Broadway (October)
• Kenneth N. Taylor’s personal paraphrase The Living Bibleis published
• J. Benton White, coordinator of the religious studies program at San Jose State College in California, writes “New Youth Revival Exploits Feelings of Powerlessness” about the Jesus People for the Christian Advocate, the journal for Methodist clergy. “How do we respond? How do we get involved? I’m not certain we need to. Perhaps as some of these youth mature in Christian faith, they will find that the established churches will meet their needs. In the meantime, the professional role should include trying to understand young people while at the same time preserving the essentials of faith as we have experienced it. And we need to ask ourselves why this religious revival had to take place outside the confines of established denominations?” (December)
1972 – Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm announces her run as the first African American woman for the U.S. Presidency from Concord Baptist Church in Brooklyn (January).
• The United Methodist Council on Evangelism was held in San Francisco. According to the February 3 issue of the Christian Advocate, there was heckling and debate between a contingent of Jesus People from Berkeley and the controversial pastor of Glide United Methodist Church. The booing occurred after the Rev. Cecil Williams claimed that evangelism was “theologically abstract, irresponsible, and unchristian.” The session was “quickly overshadowed by a verbal confrontation between the Berkeley group, Mr. Williams and his friends.” Speaking at the Council on behalf of the Jesus People was Dr. Jack Sparks of the Christian World Liberation Front.
• Explo ‘72 was an event organized by Campus Crusade for Christ and held at the Cotton Bowl stadium in Dallas. Tens of thousands of young people attended the event. “The Rev. Billy Graham, the evangelist, says it’s a ‘religious Woodstock,’” reported the New York Times.“In any event, a meeting under way here is the largest religious camp meeting ever to take place in the United States.” Special guests included Roger Staubach, quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys, and Johnny Cash. (June)
• Life’s cover story, “The Great Jesus Rally in Dallas,” covered the Campus Crusade event (June)
• Dr. Jack Sparks of the Christian World Liberation Front speaks in St. Louis at the Good News Convocation for United Methodists. He shares about his counter culture ministry in Berkeley, California, and challenges the young people in attendance to abandon the hotel and witness for Jesus in a park. According to Christianity Today, the following day, sixty young people and fifteen adults shared their faith with strangers at the St. Louis Zoo. (August)
• A Time to Be Born, a book documenting the Jesus People movement in Southern California, was published by Brian Vachon with pictures by Jack and Betty Cheetham. The three had worked together on the February 9, 1971, feature for Look magazine.
• “Surely we can extent the hope to Jesus People that in spite of our dissimilarity, change can and will take place within the established church,” wrote the Rev. Ralph Bailey in an article titled “Both Generations Needed to Bridge the Spirit Gap” for the Christian Advocate, the magazine for Methodist clergy. “In so doing we would be helping them to see the possibility that they may be able to ‘put it together spiritually’ with that context. We could, but will we? The old questions come back to haunt us. ‘Why bother? Do we want them here?’ How we deal with these questions and their attendant fears may determine whether thousands of Jesus People decide to ‘do their thing’ in or outside the church as we know it. Hopefully we can both reach out across the Spirit gap and then cross over to iron out some of the other kinks in our relationship.”
• The Doobie Brothers release their version of “Jesus is Just Alright with Me” (November)
1973 – Jesus People USA, an intentional Christian community, sets up base of operations in Chicago’s North Side
• Larry Norman releases his album, “Only Visiting This Planet”
• The Rev. Dennis Bennett helps start Episcopal Renewal Ministries, soon renamed Acts 29, to promote the charismatic renewal movement within his denomination.
• Key ‘73 was launched as an ambitious nationwide pan-denominational evangelistic campaign. According to its Congregational Resource Book, the program had the “vision of every unchurched family in North America being visited by someone who comes with loving concern to share his faith in Christ.”
• Johnny Cash releases film Gospel Road: A Story of Jesus, a project he and his wife June fully financed. “It’s my life’s proudest work,” Cash told the Nashville Tennessean. “John came up with the idea of doing the crucifixion in lots of places to show that Christ died for people all over the world,” said documentary film director Robert Elfstrom, an agnostic. “We ended up doing it once at Jericho in Israel, on the waterfront in Brooklyn Heights, on the Strip in Las Vegas, at the Hollywood sign in Los Angeles, and in Death Valley.” While they were filming in Death Valley, reports Robert Hilburn in Johnny Cash: The Life, “a VW minivan filled with hippies drove up, and they stopped to watch. They got out, smoked some dope, and then returned to the van. As they sped off, the driver yelled, ‘Good luck with the resurrection!’”
Steve Beard is the editor of Good News.
By Rob Renfroe —
Over the last few months I have had the privilege of speaking to more than a dozen churches and conferences in six different states and once to brothers and sisters in Europe, the Middle East, and the Philippines via social media. What I enjoy most are the conversations I have with individuals after my presentation is completed.
Different locations and cultures, but there are similar themes that emerge as we talk. There is always sadness that we are at a place where division is necessary. But there is also great excitement about the future as we look forward to re-envisioning what an orthodox Wesleyan movement can be and do for a lost world. What took me by surprise at first, but now I’ve come to expect, are those persons who believe they should wait before making the decision to stay or go.
Some tell me that there’s no reason to leave right now because “nothing has changed.” What they usually mean is that our official UM doctrines are still orthodox and biblical. On the face of it, that’s a true statement, but it’s not a good description of reality. We presently have pastors who preach that Jesus was not resurrected from the dead or that the resurrection doesn’t matter and that Jesus did not die for our sins. We have seminaries that teach Jesus is just one of many ways to God and one that has even created curricula for persons wanting to be ordained in the Unitarian-Universalist denomination that denies the Trinity and the deity of Christ. We now have a commissioned candidate for ministry who preaches in drag and is celebrated by centrist pastors as being a gifted communicator of the Gospel. We just elected a second bishop who is married to a spouse of the same sex. No bishop charged with teaching and enforcing our doctrines has ever spoken out publicly against any of these false teachings and practices.
Believing that “nothing has changed” because our written doctrines have not been altered is a strange way of looking at reality. It would be like having a peace treaty with a neighboring country that’s dropping bombs on your territory and saying, “But nothing has changed; they haven’t rescinded the treaty.” It doesn’t matter what’s on paper if it’s not being followed or enforced. Nothing has changed? Everything has changed. Compare where we are to what Wesley preached. To where we were when the UM Church began in 1968. To what the Bible teaches. “Nothing has changed” is the last thing you can say about where the UM Church is now.
Others tell me they can stay because centrist leaders have told them that traditionalists will always be accepted and they will never have to accept a progressive pastor. There’s so much wrong with that statement that it’s hard to know where to start.
First, centrist leaders on a national level have never kept the agreements they have made with traditionalists. In Portland they agreed with us that the UM Church could not stay together and we needed to work together for a respectful separation. But they came to General Conference 2019 with a plan that went back on that commitment. They agreed that the special called 2019 GC would settle our differences over sexuality once and for all – until they didn’t get their way and then they condemned the UM Church and ignored the decisions of the General Conference. Most recently they have reneged on their commitment to the Protocol of Grace and Reconciliation through Separation after helping to create it and pledging to support it. For those still unconvinced, the recent actions of the Arkansas Annual Conference should be telling. At a special called conference held November 19, the conference refused to approve the disaffiliation of three churches which had fulfilled every requirement for leaving the denomination. Each of these three churches had made their way through the arduous pathway created by the Arkansas AC and had passed a motion to leave by more than two-thirds. Still centrists and progressives there refused to honor their decision. So, when centrists state that no traditional church will ever be made to do anything they find disagreeable, they already have. There’s little reason any serious person should trust what centrist leaders promise about the future.
Second, every UM Church will one day have a progressive pastor. In November our five U.S. jurisdictions elected thirteen new bishops. Not one was a traditionalist. The UM Church in the United States will never again elect a traditionalist bishop. And you can be sure few, if any, traditionalists will ever again seek ordination in the UM Church. Why would a young person looking at forty years of ministry join a denomination that despises his or her views – which one of our recently elected bishops described as “a virus which will make the church sick.” You may have a traditional pastor now, but the well is drying up, and the day will come when there will be no one to appoint to your church but a liberal pastor with a progressive theology.
Most importantly, I believe, is not whether traditionalists will be accepted, but what they will have to accept if they remain. In the future, traditionalists will be in a denomination that allows its pastors to preach that Jesus’ death did not make atonement for our sins and that he is just one of many ways to God or that permits its pastors to pray to God as “the Great Queer One,” as future UM pastors did at UM Duke Divinity School recently. If you remain in the UM Church, give your time and your money and lend your name to the UM Church, you will be supporting all of this. You will be aiding a church that promotes sin and allows its leaders to deny our most important Christian beliefs. Will you be accepted as a traditionalist in the UM Church over time? Probably not. But more importantly, you will have to accept a church that undermines the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Still others tell me they are remaining in hopes that something similar to the Protocol will be passed in 2024, something that is more fair and less costly for churches than the present exit path they are being offered by their conference. I can certainly understand this desire. Many bishops are abusing their power and adding exorbitant fees for churches that wish to disaffiliate. But there’s no reason to believe that General Conference 2024 will bring any relief. Literally thousands of traditional churches will have left the denomination by 2024, meaning there will be fewer traditional delegates at the next General Conference to fight for a better deal. Centrists and progressive leaders have stated they will not support the Protocol. Do you believe they will offer a more generous pathway than before for exiting churches now that they have the upper hand? Paragraph 2553 in the Book of Discipline that churches are using now to depart goes away at the end of 2023. There is absolutely no reason to believe that waiting until 2024 will be advantageous for churches wanting to leave in the future.
Finally, some have said they will remain to “be a witness” within the UM Church. If God is calling you to be a Jonah, by all means, be faithful and stay. We traditionalists have tried to be a witness for the past fifty years. Those within the UM Church who have had ears to hear have heard. Those who don’t have not. If God has called you to stay, do so. But please make certain it’s God calling you to do the hard ministry of staying, not your desire to avoid the hard work of leaving.
What I find wherever I speak are good people who love Jesus, who are committed to the Gospel, and who care deeply about their church. It is a privilege to be with them, to listen to their concerns and hear their stories. I also discover that good people can be in different places when it comes to leaving. But I am convinced the UM Church is on a pathway that will take it far from the orthodox Christian faith and from proclaiming that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world and the Lord of all. If you feel called to remain in such a denomination, then stay. If not, the time to leave is now. Do not remain because leaving is difficult.
This moment is about the Gospel. This moment is about Jesus, lifting him up and proclaiming his glory. This moment is about doing the hard things required to be faithful. Do not take comfort in misleading promises or false hopes. The time is now.