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.
Harbinger? Asbury, Jesus People, and a Timeline of Crosscurrents
Hughes Auditorium at Asbury University in Wilmore, Kentucky. February 2023. Photo courtesy of Suzanne Nicholson.
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.
By Thomas Lambrecht
As churches are disaffiliating from The United Methodist Church over theological and ethical differences with the denomination, they are considering where to affiliate next. There is a small percentage that are choosing to remain as independent congregations, a course of action we believe to be shortsighted. (See last week’s Perspective on this issue.)
As someone who was heavily involved in helping create the Global Methodist Church, I whole-heartedly believe this is the best option for local churches looking for a Wesleyan denomination with which to affiliate. Here are a number of reasons why.
1. Formed by leaders we know and trust
The Global Methodist Church was formed by people who want to see the GM Church committed to making disciples for Jesus Christ. They have served in leadership in the same Renewal and Reform groups that have worked for decades to promote doctrinal integrity and biblical positions in The United Methodist Church. These include The Confessing Movement, Good News, and the Wesleyan Covenant Association. They are dedicated to the advancement of a Scripturally-based, historic Wesleyan understanding of the Christian faith. They are people of personal integrity and a strong life commitment to the lordship of Jesus Christ. Since these leaders have a track record of faithfulness and integrity, we can confidently follow their leadership in a new denomination.
2. Centered on maintaining Wesleyan doctrine and theology based on Scripture
The GM Church embraces a warm Wesleyan theology and a vibrant spiritual outlook. It has the same doctrinal standardsas the UM Church, with the addition of the Apostles Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Definition of Chalcedon. Agreement with the doctrinal standards is required of churches aligning with the GM Church. All bishops and clergy will be expected to agree with, preach, and defend these doctrines, with robust accountability to ensure doctrinal faithfulness. The teaching of these doctrines through a new catechism will be a featured part of all GM congregations. At the same time, doctrines not considered part of the theological and ethical core are open for exploration and difference of opinion. As John Wesley said, “as to all opinions which do not strike at the root of Christianity, we think and let think.” The GM Church will have a clear vision about the “root of Christianity” and will make sure it is protected.
3. Prioritizing evangelism and church planting
GM congregations will be challenged to partner together to plant new churches and extend the evangelistic ministry of the church in their communities and in other parts of the nation and world. New churches are already being started under the auspices of the GM Church in the U.S. and in other countries. The GM Church has established a goal of planting thousands of new churches around the world during its first years of existence. We believe our congregations will have a vision for outreach and a global perspective.
4. Leaner, more effective denominational structure
The GM Church at both the general and annual conference level will rely on fewer and smaller organizational units to steer its ministry, rather than building large bureaucracies that require much spending to maintain overhead. The GM Church will partner with existing ministries with demonstrated effectiveness and commitment to Wesleyan theology to extend the church’s work, rather than building new ministries from scratch. This approach will enable much greater flexibility and adaptability to changing ministry circumstances.
5. Prioritizing the work of the local church
The local church is where disciples are made. The GM Church exists to support the ministry of the local church, not vice versa. All denominational decisions will be made within the framework of what will strengthen the ministry of the local church.
6. More resources for local ministry
The GM Church has capped the amount that a local church can be asked to contribute to the denominational structures. A maximum of 1.5 percent of local church operating income will go toward general church expenses. A maximum of 5 percent will go toward annual conference expenses. Initially, only 1 percent will go to each. More resources will stay in the local church to be used for effective ministry there.
7. No trust clause
The local church will own its own property free and clear, with no legal trust or obligation to the GM denomination. A simple, straightforward path of disaffiliation is offered for congregations that no longer find their home in the GM Church.
8. Robust accountability
Bishops, clergy, laity, and congregations will hold one another accountable to maintain Wesleyan doctrine and exhibit continued transformation and growth in discipleship. Bishops will be held accountable by a global committee of laity and clergy, not other bishops. Clergy will be held accountable through a fair and equitable judicial system. Laity will be encouraged to participate in accountable discipleship groups to support their growth in faith and Christian living. In the rare instance that a congregation welcomes teaching contrary to GM doctrinal standards or refuses to support the denomination’s work financially, it may be removed (following a collaborative dialog process).
9. Strong and clear biblical stances on marriage, sexuality, pro-life, and other bedrock issues
The GM Church’s Social Witness statements clearly define marriage as between one man and one woman, while reserving sexual relationships for marriage. Without getting into partisan politics, it states a clear pro-life stance on unborn children, while calling for greater support for women with unanticipated pregnancies. It puts forward clear, non-partisan statements on other bedrock ethical concerns, such as the value and dignity of all persons, opposition to prejudice and discrimination, concern for the poor, care for the earth, the rule of justice and law, and religious freedom. Scriptures are cited in support of each of the GM Church’s Social Witness statements. Readers are encouraged to consult the entire Social Witness section of the Doctrines and Discipline for more details.
10. A truly global church
The GM Church already has members in the U.S., Asia, Europe, and Africa. It is expected that a majority of members might be located outside the U.S. Members from all parts of the globe will be equally and fairly represented at General Conference and in the general work of the church. The denomination will be multi-racial, multi-cultural, and multi-national, learning from one another and living out the Gospel of Jesus Christ in many different ways.
11. Greater local church involvement in pastoral appointments
While pastoral appointments will still be fixed by the bishop, the local church will have greater input into whom the bishop appoints as pastor. Bishops will work with local churches to ensure their welcome of female and ethnic clergy on an equal basis. Pastoral appointments are intended to last longer, giving greater continuity to ministry.
12. A redefined role and process for bishops
While not included in the Transitional Book of Doctrines and Discipline, leaders of the GM Church are committed to a term episcopacy. Bishops are proposed to only serve for a set maximum term, perhaps 12 years, and would not be elected for life. Bishops are envisioned as spiritual and missional leaders, while being relieved of the responsibility to administer the temporal affairs of the church, which can be delegated to lay or clergy staff. Bishops are proposed to be assigned at the call of the annual conference to ensure the best leadership match.
13. Missions through partnership
The GM Church aims to facilitate missions by horizontally linking churches and annual conferences with each other across national boundaries. Financial support for missions will generally travel directly to partners, rather than through a mission bureaucracy. The two-way exchange of volunteers and learning opportunities will foster a mutual equality among mission partners around the world. Local churches and annual conferences will become more invested in cross-cultural missions through increased direct contact with mission partners.
14. Shorter route to ordination for clergy
Rather than the 6-10 years it takes in the UM Church to reach ordained ministry, clergy candidates can expect to be ordained as deacons in 1-3 years. Ordination as elder would take an additional 4-6 years. Half of clergy education would take place after ordination, enabling clergy to integrate classroom learning with current job experience. Various educational routes will enable less expensive and more flexible pathways to ordained ministry. Ongoing clergy mentorship will be an essential part of ministry in the GM Church. Denominational support for clergy education will be a keystone of the connectional financial plan.
15. Greater flexibility in ministry and structure
With unity on essential doctrines, much greater flexibility can be given for how local churches and annual conferences do ministry, based on their ministry context. The GM Church will have minimum requirements for organization of local churches and annual conferences, with maximum flexibility and adaptability for how those structural requirements are met. Best practices will be shared across the church, so that clergy, congregations, and annual conferences can continually learn from each other and implement the most effective methods of winning people to Jesus Christ and discipling them in the faith.
16. Social Witness statements will require greater consensus
To minimize divisions over denominational positions on social issues, all such statements will require a 75 percent supermajority vote to be adopted. The focus of such statements will be more on biblical principles than advocating partisan political solutions.
17. Opportunity to build a new denomination
With the GM Church, we have the opportunity to build a new denomination for the 21st century that maintains the best of our Wesleyan tradition, while adapting our methods to fit ever-evolving circumstances and correcting for the shortcomings experienced in The United Methodist Church. Joining another, pre-existing denomination means agreeing with and conforming to a church culture and manner of operating that has been developed over decades and will not easily change. The GM Church offers a much cleaner slate on which to write the principles of an effective and Christ-centered denomination that is more flexible and adaptable to today’s world.
Churches considering affiliation with the Global Methodist Church should study the Transitional Book of Doctrines and Discipline, which outlines how the church will function initially. A convening General Conference will flesh out details, such as the election and assignment of bishops. Churches should also contact the GM Church to invite a representative to speak and answer questions, as well as offer further clarification on what to expect.
Ultimately, the Wesleyan witness for Christ will be stronger if most of the disaffiliating churches align with one denomination, rather than splintering into various independent congregations or aligning with multiple existing Wesleyan denominations. The GM Church offers the best option for keeping the best of Methodism, while having the flexibility to try new ways of organizing for ministry and reaching the world for Jesus Christ.
Thomas Lambrecht is a United Methodist clergyperson and the vice president of Good News. Photo: Matt Botsford, Unsplash.
By Thomas Lambrecht
Two weeks ago, the African Colleges of Bishops released a statement criticizing the Africa Initiative and the Wesleyan Covenant Association for, in their words, “working to destroy our United Methodist Church.” The statement also accused the Africa Initiative of “working with and supporting the Global Methodist Church, a denomination that has not been recognized by the General Conference.”
As a result of these accusations, the African bishops committed to:
- “Dissociate from any activities of the Africa Initiative and will not allow any activities of the Africa Initiative in our areas”
- “Not allow or entertain any activities of the Wesleyan Covenant Association who are wrongly influencing God’s people in our areas”
- “Not tolerate anyone giving false information about The United Methodist Church in our areas”
Since that September 8 statement, the narrative has sprung up that African United Methodists will not be joining the Global Methodist Church. It is important to clarify what is going on in Africa and what the implications are for the future of Africa in Methodism.
Who signed the bishops’ statement?
The statement is misleading, in that it lists the bishops who were present at the meeting, not those who supported the statement. We have been told by informed sources that at least two of the bishops present opposed the statement and do not agree with it. Seven active bishops were present out of the 13 total active African bishops. Some of those not present also do not agree with it. So this is a statement of some of the African bishops, but not all.
Is the WCA and Africa Initiative “working to destroy our United Methodist Church?”
The bishops supporting the statement apparently believe that any kind of separation would “destroy” the UM Church. The possibility of separation was endorsed by the 2019 General Conference by its enacting the Par. 2553 disaffiliation process. So there is official sanction for discussing disaffiliation. There is no question that the large-scale disaffiliations that are currently going on will usher in change to the UM Church. But even the loss of 20-30 percent of its members would hardly “destroy” the denomination. The bishops are guilty of hyperbole here.
The WCA, Good News, The Confessing Movement, and UMAction, have consistently had only one goal in mind for our working together with the Africa Initiative. That goal is to empower the voice and ministry of African United Methodists. The Africa Initiative reaffirms that goal in their statement of purpose:
- “To foster partnership, network, and fellowship among leaders of the annual and provisional conferences of Africa
- “To facilitate training in cross-cultural evangelism and missions, discipleship, leadership development, prayer revivals, and resource mobilization for annual and provisional conferences of Africa
- “To raise the voice of the African Church within global Methodism, by supporting the practice of biblical orthodoxy, training delegates to General Conference, and speaking out against unbiblical theological persuasions, teachings, and practices that have the propensity to misrepresent and undermine Wesleyan doctrines.”
This is not destroying the church, but building up the church.
Can the bishops effectively prohibit Africa Initiative activities in Africa?
Those bishops who have been opposing the work of the Africa Initiative in the past have already tried to stop its work in their areas. Some pastors and lay leaders have been forbidden to attend meetings or share information. The laity, in particular, have not abided by such prohibitions, believing that bishops cannot prevent people from meeting with whom they want to meet. Some clergy have needed to be more cautious due to the possibility of losing their jobs and livelihood. But the Africa Initiative has found ways to share information that do not open leaders up to the possibility of discipline from their bishops.
The attempt to assert complete control over the life of the church is a very real temptation for some bishops, especially in areas where laity defer to ecclesiastical authority. It is natural that persons who benefit from the status quo would want to preserve it. But African United Methodists will not easily allow their bishops to force them to act contrary to the people’s beliefs and interests. When several of the African bishops attempted to coerce their delegates to vote for the One Church Plan at the 2019 General Conference, the delegates voted their conscience and overwhelmingly supported the Traditional Plan.
The sharing of information and the coordinating of activities will continue in Africa.
The African members of the WCA Global Council have issued the following response:
“As leaders of the WCA in Africa, the statement by our esteemed bishops left us flabbergasted. This militant and combative position by some of these bishops does not proffer the unity and love for which they call. If anything, it opens a massive rift between them and the flock that they are supposed to look after. To openly attack your own flock diminishes the essence of being ‘good shepherds’ that the bishops are supposed to exemplify. In Africa it is generally considered disrespectful to answer back to elders, but we feel pushed into a corner, and unfortunately there is no longer any space behind us.
“The values and mission of the Wesleyan Covenant Association resonate well with what Africans believe and how we live. That makes the partnership of Africans, the WCA, and the rest of the Reform and Renewal Coalition a natural and obvious one. Further, it is most disappointing for us to realize that the Reconciling Ministries Network, which promotes same-gender marriage and the ordination of active gay and lesbian clergy, enjoys free reign in Africa to the extent of building and dedicating churches and our bishops remain very comfortable with it. As leaders of the WCA in Africa we will continue to contend for the undiluted Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
The entire response of the Wesleyan Covenant Association to the unfounded charges of some African bishops, including the above words from its African council members, is found here. The entire statement of the Africa Initiative in response to the African bishops is found here.
Rather than issuing statements attempting to stifle and control the actions of renewal-minded African clergy and laity, the African bishops desperately need to get their own house in order. For example, at least one bishop is publicly promoting and supporting the presence of U.S.-based Reconciling Ministries Network in Kenya, which advocates for same-sex marriage and the ordination of gay and lesbian clergy. In addition, the African bishops have thus far refused to call special central conference meetings to elect new bishops and retire existing bishops. Several of them are beyond the mandatory retirement age of 72, yet continue to serve and, by their plan, will continue to serve until at least the end of 2024. Another example of disregarding the Book of Discipline when its provisions are inconvenient. (The Burundi Annual Conference has asked the Judicial Council to rule on whether the African bishops must step down at age 72 and call a special conference to elect their replacements.)
Will the African church remain in The United Methodist Church?
In a report of its May 2022 leadership prayer summit, the Africa Initiative stipulated, “The Africa Initiative shall continue to encourage African churches and conferences to patiently await the 2024 General Conference while advocating for the adoption of the Protocol for Reconciliation and Grace through Separation, and while acknowledging unique circumstances in some areas of the Continent that may cause members to act before then.” The strong preference of the African church is to consider the possibility of disaffiliation as annual conferences within the context of an approved Protocol that provides a clear process to follow. At the same time, there are a few countries where traditionalist pastors and lay leaders have been unjustly terminated from the church without the due process afforded by the Discipline. In those areas, it makes no sense to wait to form units of the Global Methodist Church because the individuals involved have already been forcibly “disaffiliated” from the church.
There will be some parts of the UM Church in Africa that will remain in the continuing denomination. After all, there are millions of United Methodists on the continent. As to whether the bulk of the African church will remain in the UM Church following the 2024 General Conference, that is another question. The Africa Initiative prayer and leadership summit stated, “The United Methodist Church in Africa shall not be part of a denomination that changes the current language of the Book of Discipline in order to legalize homosexuality, same-sex marriage, or the ordination of practicing LGBTQIA+ people as pastors. This is the ultimate, decisive, and undisputed position of the UMC in Africa.”
The leaders we have spoken with in Africa have no interest in remaining in a denomination that affirms same-sex relationships in contradiction to Scripture.
Is the WCA or the GMC sharing “false information?”
The official communications of Good News, the WCA, and the GMC have been careful to share information that is accurate and sourced. We have made the details of some of the examples given available upon request. So far, all we have heard are general charges of lying or misinformation, without pointing to any specific statements that we have made that are inaccurate.
No one knows for sure how the continuing United Methodist Church will evolve after separation. It is fair for different people to have different opinions, backed up by solid reasoning. Some centrists declare that the UM Church is not going to change and that traditionalists will be welcome in the UM Church. This is based only on their promises of good faith, promises that we are reluctant to trust, given the consistent violation of other promises made to us down through the years.
At the same time, there are many examples of individual clergy being excluded from United Methodism due to their traditional theological views. A number of licensed local pastors have been summarily fired by their bishop or district committee simply for sharing information about the disaffiliation process with their congregation. The majority of delegates at the 2024 General Conference will probably favor the removal of all provisions limiting same-sex marriage or the ordination of non-celibate gays and lesbians. While probably not requiring pastors or congregations to embrace same-sex weddings or gay pastors, one should not underestimate the power of peer pressure and denominational culture. Nearly all UM seminaries promote the affirmation of same-sex marriage and ordination, meaning that will be the default position held by most UM clergy trained there over the next generation. Absent intentional efforts by progressives and centrists to welcome and support traditionalist views in the denomination, it is unlikely traditionalists will long feel comfortable remaining United Methodist. So far, we have seen little evidence of such intentional efforts at theological inclusion at the denominational level.
Efforts to suppress or punish people for having different opinions by some African bishops does not indicate that traditionalists are welcome in Africa. Good News and our Reform and Renewal partners believe we can trust African people to make their own decisions without being told what to do by their bishop. Our obligation is to make it possible for them to hear our side of the story, which is only fair, since the bishops can share their side of the story unimpeded. By attempting to take coercive and punitive action against their own people, some African bishops are betraying their role as shepherds of the flock. Let us hope they reconsider their position and agree to move forward openly and amicably.
Thomas Lambrecht is a United Methodist clergyperson and the vice president of Good News. Photo: Greater Nhiwatiwa (in purple dress), wife of Bishop Eben K. Nhiwatiwa (left), explains the history and significance of the Chin’ando prayer mountain to bishops attending the Africa College of Bishops retreat held September 5-8 at Africa University in Mutare, Zimbabwe. Photo by Eveline Chikwanah, UM News.