A Bishop Says Goodbye to The United Methodist Church

A Bishop Says Goodbye to The United Methodist Church

Firebrand Magazine: May 1, 2022, was the official launch of the Global Methodist Church. This begins a season of transition for many pastors and churches. UMC Bishop Mike Lowry has stated that, effective on that date, he withdrew from the UMC Council of Bishops to unite to the Global Methodist Church. He takes this step in response to a notice from the Council of Bishops that the Book of Discipline prevents him from serving on the Transitional Leadership Council of the Global Methodist Church while simultaneously holding credentials in the UMC. What follows is both the initial letter from the Council of Bishops and Bishop Lowry’s response. 

Letter sent to Bishop Mike Lowry from Bishop Cynthia Harvey, President of the Council of Bishops of the United Methodist Church:

April 21, 2022

Bishop Michael J. Lowry
[Address deleted]

Dear Bishop Lowry:

Greetings to you in the name of the risen Christ. I pray you and your families are well and that you have found time during this season to experience God’s ongoing grace and power in your life that becomes so profoundly evident in this season of Easter.

Today, I write to ask for clarification on your relationship to the Global Methodist Church as we anticipate the pending launch on May 1. In your current role on the Transition Leadership Council, should you choose to remain on the TLC once the GMC launches, I trust that you understand that you will be required to surrender your United Methodist Clergy credentials as there is no disciplinary provision authorizing an ordained United Methodist minister to hold membership simultaneously in another denomination. Upon joining another denomination, membership in The United Methodist Church is terminated. This was upheld by the Judicial Council in decision 696. In the case of bishops, you will also be expected to resign from the episcopal office in accordance with paragraph 408.4 of The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church, 2016.

I would hope to have a conversation with you by May 1 as to your current standing with the Global Methodist Church and your decision. This is a matter of ultimate integrity to the covenant relationship you entered into at your ordination and to the United Methodist Church that ordained you, elected you, and consecrated you.

In these times of transition, our prayer is that we might bless and send each other into new forms of Methodism in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Grace and Peace,
Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey
Council of Bishops, President

Response to the Council of Bishops sent by Bishop Mike Lowry:

April 28, 2022

Bishop Cynthia Harvey,
President of the Council of Bishops, The United Methodist Church
[Address deleted]

Bishop Bob Farr,
President of the South Central Jurisdiction College of Bishops, The United Methodist Church
[Address deleted]

Dear Bishops Harvey and Farr,

I am writing in response to Bishop Harvey’s April 21, 2022 email letter on behalf of the Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church instructing me that I must either resign from the Transitional Leadership Council prior to the formal launch of the Global Methodist Church on May 1, 2022 or face termination of my membership in the United Methodist Church and resignation from the episcopal office consistent with ¶408.4 of The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church, 2016 and Judicial Council Decision 696.

Under ¶ 360.1 of The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church, 2016, I am notifying you that I am withdrawing from the Council of Bishops of the United Methodist Church to unite with the Global Methodist Church as of May 1, 2022. No certificate of conference membership was issued to me when I was ordained in The United Methodist Church. Effective May 1, 2022 I resigned from the episcopal office in the United Methodist Church per ¶408.4 of The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church, 2016.

I take this action with a heavy heart and deep grief. I am thankful for the great nurturing and guidance I have received from the United Methodist Church over the course of my life. I have been richly blessed by friendships and support from a numerous cloud of witnesses across the face of the church universal, including members of the Council of Bishops. Nonetheless, Jesus is Lord. It is first and foremost in allegiance to my Lord and Savior that I take this action.  Such a move on my part merits a rendering to Christians of good-will the reasons which impel me to leave the United Methodist denomination after more than 47 years of ministry and join the newly emerging Global Methodist Church.

In your letter you [Bishop Harvey] state, “This is a matter of ultimate integrity to the covenant relationship you entered into at your ordination.” While I agree that this is an issue of “ultimate integrity,” I perceive a significant disagreement over what constitutes “ultimate integrity” and where our ultimate allegiance lays. Both at my ordination as an elder and my consecration as a bishop in the United Methodist denomination my vow was, as of first importance, taken to God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Secondarily, vows were offered to the institutional expression of the branch of the Church Universal known as The United Methodist Church. I pledged to both God and that Church to uphold the Discipline of the United Methodist Church. This I have done with full faithfulness and manifest integrity. Regretfully, I perceive that the institutional expression of The United Methodist Church has strayed in significant ways from faithfully upholding its own stated Discipline and, even more so, departed from the full truth of the gospel.  Psalm 119 reminds us: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. I have sworn an oath and confirmed it, to observe your righteous ordinances” (Psalm 119:105-106, NRSV). The Apostle Paul admonishes us: “We proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength” (1 Corinthians 1:23-25, NRSV).

The presenting issue, characterized by a dispute over our understanding of human sexuality, more specifically whether or not clergy should be allowed to perform same-gender marriages and whether it is permissible to ordain “self-avowed practicing homosexuals,” masks the deeper and truly significant disagreement over what constitutes fidelity to the historic confession of the Christian faith expressed in the normative nature of Holy Scripture as the primary rule of faith, the ecumenical creeds, the Articles of Religion, and Wesley’s Standard Sermons. Put succinctly, the massive iceberg beneath the roiling waters of our looming separation is the ongoing argument over just what constitutes the theological and moral foundations of contemporary Methodism.

I believe “We are in a fight for the faith delivered once for all” (Jude 3, CEB). My decision to withdraw from The United Methodist Church in order to unite with the Global Methodist Church is a response to the ongoing struggle to rediscover and reclaim the historic Wesleyan understanding of the Christian faith anchored in the Holy Trinity and welded to Christ as Lord and Savior. In our day and time, I believe that the expression of Christianity from both the so-called “right” and “left” of North American culture have been captured and co-opted by the cult of contemporary secularism in its various and diverse disguises. Bluntly, the Christian gospel is neither the left-wing of the Democratic party at prayer nor the right-wing of the Republican party soiled by a disdain for the truth. The gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ transcends all petty pretenders of our idolatrous worship of contemporary culture, including but not limited to hedonism, racism, sexism, greed, and rampant narcissism.

All of us, myself most definitely included, must confess to our complicity to a current cultural captivity and repent of our sin (both individually and corporately). The time for theological toleration saturated with moral indifference is long past. The reality before us is of a diseased Christianity [of both the right and left] that must be countered by “rediscovering radical allegiance to Christ, recognizing the reality of the battle we are in, and reclaiming core Christian orthodoxy” (see A Fight for the Faith Delivered Once for All — Firebrand Magazine, June 29, 2020). The offer of new life in Christ is gracefully given by the Holy and Sovereign Lord of the Universe. Throughout my 47 plus years of ordained ministry, I have been engaged in and remain committed to ministry with, to, and for all people. I believe I see a movement of the Holy Spirit in the current renewal of the Church Universal liberated from cultural Christendom. It is to this higher commitment that I rededicate myself in uniting with the Global Methodist Church on May 1, 2022.

Yours in Christ,

Bishop Mike Lowry

Image by Benjamin Davies on Unsplash

Lloyd Lunceford Church Trust Law Webinar

Lloyd Lunceford Church Trust Law Webinar

Do United Methodist congregations own their buildings? What is a trust? Can the United Methodist trust be revoked? Is there a legal process for disaffiliating from the UM Church separate from what is in the Book of Discipline? When might it make sense to use the legal process, rather than the Discipline’s process? When might a local church need an attorney, and when might it not need one? What legal steps should a local church take to prepare for disaffiliation?

During this confusing time in The United Methodist Church, it is important to have clear, factual answers to the many questions surrounding disaffiliation.

Good News sponsored a Webinar (and posted HERE) to help answer these and other questions and provide helpful information.

Understanding church trust law can help your church discern when it is appropriate to use an attorney and when it is not needed.

The presenter was Lloyd Lunceford, Esq. of the firm Taylor Porter in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He has practiced law since 1984, with emphases in higher education, mass communications, commercial litigation, and church property laws. He served for many years on the board of the Presbyterian Lay Committee, the Presbyterian equivalent of Good News. He was involved in many church property cases during the separation of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and has a wealth of knowledge and experience in this area. You can read more about him at https://www.taylorporter.com/our-attorneys/lloyd-j-lunceford.  

His email is lloyd.lunceford@taylorporter.com.

 

Iconic brushstrokes from Ukraine

Iconic brushstrokes from Ukraine

By Steve Beard

As I watched the evening news during the haunting first few weeks of the scorched-earth invasion of Ukraine, I could not help but see Kateryna Shadrina’s vibrant image of the Madonna and Child superimposed over the video footage on television of mothers carrying their young children in a panicked evacuation of their homeland.

Although I have half-a-dozen depictions of the Mother and Child in my office, the liquid blues and electric yellows and oranges give Shadrina’s a different dynamic. The 27-year-old artist is an iconographer from Lviv, Ukraine.

Her image wreaked havoc on me.

Visual arts animate the imagination in ways that words alone cannot. To see Michelangelo’s Pietà – the sculpture of the lifeless body of Jesus being cradled by Mary after the crucifixion – is to engage a part of the mind and soul that mere nouns and verbs do not touch. Through painting, Van Gogh helped us visualize the story of the Good Samaritan, while Rembrandt illuminated the story of the Prodigal Son. El Greco told biblical stories in Spanish Renaissance fine art, Howard Finster preached the gospel through American folk art, and Marc Chagall challenged us to see the crucifixion from a different vantage point.

Let me be clear, I am not an art critic. I like what I like. But I also understand there is much to learn through the vision of an artist. “The first demand any work of art makes on us is surrender,” observed C.S. Lewis in An Experiment in Criticism. “Look. Listen. Receive. Get yourself out of the way.”

Four years ago, I was drawn to an essay written by John A. Kohan in Image journal about a new generation of young iconographers from Lviv. Icons are a very specialized field of religious visual art – a practice of spiritual devotion within the church dating back to the third century. Over time, stylistic peculiarities developed that differentiated icons from other forms of religious art.

Many of these contemporary Ukrainian artists are notably utilizing unusual color schemes and unexpected textures. The images are arresting and have nudged my own personal spiritual imagination in new ways.

Kohan – who had worked for Time magazine for more than 20 years and is an avid sacred art collector – had been drawn to this fresh expression of ancient spiritual artistry because of the “intriguing new variations on traditional tempera-painted holy images” and because the illustrations were being created on “unusual grounds like glass, found materials, and steel-and-copper-wire tapestry, all in an eclectic mix of abstract, neo-Byzantine, and Ukrainian folk art styles.”

His essay in Image was my introduction to the work of marvels such as Ivanka Demchuk, Lyuba Yatskiv, Natalya Rusetska, and Sviatoslav Vladyka. All these artists – and numerous others – are uniquely showcased by Iconart Modern Sacred Art Gallery in Lviv and its website.

After the invasion of Ukraine, the network evening news began broadcasting from Lviv – 40 miles from the border of Poland. That sparked my memory of Kohan’s Image story. The Rev. Kenneth Tanner, an old friend from college, also introduced me to a handful of other artists from Ukraine through Instagram.

Kateryna Kuziv. “Appearance of Jesus Christ to Maria Magdalena.”

While my low-church Methodist heritage does not offer a framework for iconography, I fully respect and appreciate that the imagery expresses a mystical spiritual dynamic for sacramental Christians that far defies the category of mere “beautiful art.” The pieces are often referred to as “windows to heaven.” Icons are meant to cultivate the soul and be an aid in prayer.

“I believe that art should testify of beauty. The search for it always leads to God as the original source – that is why I choose iconography,” observed Kateryna Kuziv (born 1993). “Beauty always points to something more, a sense of God’s presence. Creating icons for me is a pursuit of God, of paradise as a state of being with Him, a reproduction of the transformed reality, of the purified nature of humanity from sin.”

Natalaya Rusetska. “Resurrection.”

Other artists in this spiritual stream describe their work in similarly transcendent terms.

Natalaya Rusetska (born in 1984): “My art is about the eternal, the timeless, the extraterrestrial, the hidden. One of the inherent features of sacred art is symbolism. This is a figurative creation that reveals the inner essence of the depicted. Sacred art affects and changes the spiritual state of the human.”

Ulyana Tomkevych. “Doubting Thomas.”

Ulyana Tomkevych (born in 1981): “Painting the icon is the special conversation with the Lord and also with oneself. The silent prayer, that gives me the feeling of inner peace and harmony. This is the time for rethinking the Bible stories and the Ten Commandments in the context of the modern human life because the Bible is timeless. I think that first of all God is Love and Mercy. And the daily icon painting helps me to live my life with this understanding.”

A prescribed new vision

“My parents are doctors, so they did not plan for me to become an artist,” said Ivanka Demchuk in an interview with The Day several years ago. At a very early age, she had serious issues with her eyesight (astigmatism, farsightedness). Her ophthalmologist prescribed an intriguing treatment: “To increase the visual load in one eye, I had to obscure the other eye and then do a lot of painting, sculpting, and coloring. From that time on, I attended children’s art clubs, an art school, took an interest in classic paintings.”

Ivanka Demchuk. “Hidden life in Nazareth.”

Today, we are all the beneficiaries. Demchuk’s artistic imagination is on full display in a particularly captivating rendering above entitled “Hidden Life in Nazareth” portraying the holy family as Jesus takes his first steps as a toddler. In the background, there is laundry drying on a clothesline and a worktable with carpentry tools. I had never contemplated the first step of someone who would become known as “The Way” – but surely, there had to be one to be celebrated and pondered. Demchuk’s work helps give believers like me a more panoramic sense to the Incarnation.

Long before Putin’s bloody invasion of Ukraine, Demchuk (born in 1990) believed in the timeless relevance of stories such as the Good Samaritan and St. George the Dragon Slayer battling evil. In the context of the current barbaric war, some of her images take on even deeper significance and symbolism. “The evolution of human consciousness has not gone far enough to render us qualitatively different from people who lived two millennia ago,” she has observed. “We are facing the same problems and issues; we may become traitors just as those who crucified Christ.”

“A sword shall pierce your soul”

“Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: ‘This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too’” (Luke 2:34-35).

The soul pierce. What a gothic declaration to a young mother. Unlike any other human walking the earth, Mary knew Jesus with an unparalleled knowledge and intimacy. In understated fashion, the biblical text declares, “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19).

Kateryna Shadrina’s imagery of the Madonna and Child gives an almost expansive stargazing night scope to Mary’s experience. Mother and Child have been artistically portrayed since the era of the catacombs. The great poet Dante referred to Mary as “the lovely sapphire whose grace ensapphires the heaven’s brightest sphere.” Shadrina’s brilliant color scheme reflects that poetic sentiment. Her insightful artistic collection has rejuvenated my own spiritual imagination when I revisit biblical stories I have read for decades.

Kateryna Shadrina. “Victima.”

Shadrina’s exhibition at Iconart Gallery earlier this year was entitled “Victima” and reflected her views on sacrifice, faith, and love. In addition to her artistry, her thoughts on the subjects are equally compelling.

“Where there is true love, there will always be a place for sacrifice. Sacrifice can be considered as the level at which the power of love is measured,” she writes in the exhibit’s narrative. “And the standard in this is God – the perfection of love. He sacrificed the most precious thing for our hope. But in our pragmatic world, it is very difficult to weigh the pros and cons so that one’s sacrifice is not made in vain. We are focused on the terrestrial things, we catch the moment and don’t know exactly whether to think about the salvation of the soul and the kingdom of heaven.”

Art in bomb shelters.

Because missiles do not recognize beauty, truth, or faith, Ukrainians have been storing precious artwork in bunkers. “There is an egomaniac in Moscow who doesn’t care about killing children, let alone destroying art,” Ihor Kozhan, director of the Andrey Sheptytsky National Museum in Lviv, told the Washington Post. “If our history and heritage are to survive, all art must go underground.”

There are, of course, pieces of great beauty and value that cannot be hidden in bunkers. Statues have been wrapped in foam and plastic. “The stained-glass windows of the Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, founded in 1360, are covered in metal to protect them from Russian rockets,” reports the New York Times.

Maria Prymachenko in 1936. British Museum.

Early on in the invasion, Putin’s army targeted a museum in Ivankiv, 50 miles northwest of Kyiv. Housed in this seemingly insignificant civilian target were 25 paintings by Maria Prymachenko (1909-1997), a world-renowned Ukrainian folk artist who wowed both Pablo Picasso and Marc Chagall.

“The museum was the first building in Ivankiv that the Russians destroyed,” the artist’s great-granddaughter Anastasiia Prymachenko told The Times of London. “I think it is because they want to destroy our Ukrainian culture.”

In a truly heroic gesture, a friend of Anastasiia’s ran into the burning museum and saved as many of the artworks as he was able. “When he saw the smoke from the museum he ran, broke the museum window and went into the fire,” she reported. “He couldn’t take everything out but he knew the most famous paintings were by Prymachenko. Since he only had a few minutes, he just took these paintings, and a few other works of art.”

Prymachenko created brightly-colored mythical and fantastical creatures and her work was called primitive, naïve, or the “art of a holy heart.” With critically acclaimed exhibitions literally around the globe, she stated her motivation in utterly tender terms. “I make sunny flowers just because I love people, I work for joy and happiness so that all peoples could love each other and live like flowers on this Earth,” she once said.

Allowing art to shine

Christianity around the globe is largely represented by three major expressions: Catholicism, Protestantism, and Orthodoxy. Within Ukraine, the vast majority of the population is Orthodox. However, Ukrainian Greek Catholicism is the dominant expression of faith in Lviv and in much of western Ukraine (the “Greek” in the title is about its Byzantine liturgical worship style, not about Greek ethnicity).

“Pilate condemns Jesus” by Ivanka Demchuk.

The contemporary iconographers in Lviv come from a spiritual lineage of survival that knows what it is like to hold fast to life and faith underground. After World War II, Joseph Stalin mercilessly attempted to dissolve and destroy the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. It was forced to worship in clandestine secrecy. The sanctuaries, art, and treasuries were summarily confiscated and handed over to Moscow’s Orthodox Church.

“Harsh repressions followed,” observed Dr. Nadia M. Diuk, then vice president of the National Endowment for Democracy, in a 2016 Atlantic Council report. “Ukrainian Catholic priests were beaten, tortured, and given long prison sentences. Tens of thousands of religious laity met the same fate. UGCC Metropolitan Josef Slipiy was exiled to a hard labor camp in Siberia. The church went underground: services were held in the forests, or in private homes where they dared. Children were baptized in secret and religious rites performed clandestinely, while the Soviet state continued its assault on priests, monks, nuns, and the Catholic faithful, offering respite within the Russian Orthodox Church or repression as the price for refusal to cut ties with the bishop of Rome.” (Dr. Diuk, herself ethnically Ukrainian, died in 2019.)

In 1994, Jane Perlez reported in the New York Times: “While many priests died in concentration camps and believers were persecuted, it was the biggest underground church in the former Soviet Union. Rites were administered, priests ordained and bishops consecrated secretly during these years.”

Part of the legacy of Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika reforms in 1989 was the restoration of the legal status to this ruthlessly persecuted church. On August 19, 1990, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church received possession – once again – of the historic Cathedral of St. George in Lviv. Tens of thousands rejoiced inside and outside the reclaimed sanctuary.

It is not difficult to see the new generation of imaginative artists and iconographers as a significantly blossoming manifestation of relentless faithfulness during decades of Soviet suppression.

“The time when I create the icon is my way of praying, questioning, searching, the time of being with God, before God, the state of happiness and peace,” said Katheryna Kuziv about her art. “The aim is to express the ‘incarnation’ of God’s Word in a visual image, where a touch of God’s reality must take place to awaken a longing for God, to promote the pursuit of Him.”

Although once viewed solely as a distinct art form within Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, John Kohan (spiritualartpilgrim.com) has hopes that an ecumenical reappraisal is taking place with a new generation. “Expanding the range of prototypes of Christ, the Virgin Mary, angels, saints, and key moments in sacred history can only make these images, which are uniquely created for personal prayer and corporate devotion, more accessible to larger numbers of Christians – a development in sacred art-making, surely worth celebrating in the universal church,” he wrote.

During the 1990s, there was not a more popular art commentator on British television than the late Sister Wendy Beckett (1930-2018). For more than 40 years, she lived in obscurity as a reclusive nun devoted to prayer in the middle of the night. However, the plain-spoken elderly nun – an Oxford-educated amateur art historian – became a media sensation with her insightful BBC/PBS tutorials on various works of art – from cave drawings to Andy Warhol, including iconography.

While she had detractors, Sister Wendy most certainly understood the spiritual dimension of icons. She knew that the apparent surrealism was often utilized to invite our eye to gaze at a world unseen. “They are drawing us out of our worldly reality into their world, the true world,” she wrote in Encounters with God, “summoning us to leave behind all that is earthly and to breathe an air more pure than we can understand.”

Steve Beard is the editor of Good News. Art above: “Madonna and Child” by Kateryna Shadrina (left) and Hidden life in Nazareth” by Ivanka Demchuk (right). Special thanks to Iconart Gallery in Lviv, Ukraine. 

 

Hard Things

Hard Things

By Rob Renfroe

When I speak to churches about the problems dividing the United Methodist Church, I begin by saying, “If you are not aware of what I am about to tell you, it will be hard for you to believe. I’ll sound like an ancient astronomer trying to convince you the earth revolves around the sun when everyone is certain it’s the other way around. I’ll come across like the ‘lunatic’ of an earlier era proclaiming the world is round when everyone ‘knows’ it’s flat. Some things are hard to believe even though they are true.”

Then I describe to them the deeper issues that divide the UM Church. I tell them we are divided about the Bible. Over the years, there have been UM pastors who’ve made statements about how the Bible cannot be trusted to tell us God’s will and how they scoff at those of us who believe the Scriptures are the inspired word of God. I recount our differences about the work of the Holy Spirit and how many UM pastors have told me the Spirit is revealing new truths that contradict and override what the Bible teaches. 

I tell them about my conversation with a highly respected tall-steeple pastor who told me, “Rob, the Church created the Bible. So, we can re-create the Bible.” I tell them that worst of all we are divided on Jesus. Some of us believe Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life for all humankind. But we have a bishop who has warned us not to make an idol (a false God) out of Jesus. We have a UM seminary professor who told me, “God is wholesale; Jesus is retail,” meaning Jesus is just one of many religious teachers, not really different from Mohammad or Buddha. We had a UM seminary president who said if you feel a need to tell persons of other religions about Jesus, you don’t understand Jesus.

These are hard things to believe if you have been in your local church with a pastor who is faithful to the Scriptures, where you repeat the historic creeds and mean them, and where you pray for your nonbelieving neighbors to come to faith in Jesus. These are hard things to believe, but they are true.

Now, there is another hard truth we must accept. The Commission on General Conference delayed General Conference for political reasons. The Commission did not simply disappoint us by deciding not to hold General Conference. They chose not to hold General Conference and they chose not to do the work that could have made it possible.

Trusted members of the Commission report that the international delegates who spoke up during the deliberations concerning General Conference argued that it could be held and that delegates from around the world could find a way to travel to the United States. Those who argued otherwise were primarily white, American, and liberal (see article on page 16). 

It’s hard to believe that a desire to sabotage the Protocol of Grace and Reconciliation through Separation was the reason many Commission members voted against holding General Conference. But it’s even harder not to. The Episcopal Church, the Lambeth Conference of Bishops, the United Methodist Women, and the Wesleyan Covenant Association are all holding large in-person meetings this spring and summer with delegates coming from around the world. 

Where there is a will to meet there is a way. Where there is a will to undermine the one solution that would have led to a just and orderly resolution of the problems that divide us – well, the institutional members of the Commission found a way. Ironically, the Commission announced at its March meeting the formation of a task force to explore the possibility of a hybrid General Conference in 2024. This change of heart comes too late and shows what the Commission thought impossible could have been done a year ago.  

Again, I know that’s hard to believe for persons in their local churches who assume all church leaders are honest, fair, and well-meaning. But the truth is the earth revolves around the sun, the world is round, and power politics led to the postponement of General Conference. 

Here’s something else that will be hard to believe. There will be some bishops who will mislead the church and many pastors who will deceive their congregations in the coming months about the future of the UM Church. As local churches consider their options for leaving, they will be told they are overreacting. Some bishops and pastors will tell United Methodists in the pews that “there is no reason to depart because nothing will change – the UM Church will continue to be a big tent denomination that respects all persons and all points of views. You and your church will never be made to do anything you do not want to do.” If it’s hard for you to hear this, I’m sorry. But statements claiming there will be no change in the local church are untrue. And many who say these things know they are.

If you believe the progressives (who will be in control of the denomination when many traditionalists leave) will allow you to deny “justice” to same-sex couples who want to be married in your church; if you believe liberals will permit your annual conference to discriminate against partnered gay persons who feel called to be pastors; if you believe a bishop will never send a progressive pastor to your congregation to make you into “a real Methodist church,” then you are in denial. 

The progressives have told us who they are. They have been open about their agenda. And after the Commission’s decision to cancel a General Conference that could have allowed us to go our separate ways in peace, it is obvious that some church leaders will do anything necessary to reach their goal of a woke liberal denomination, even if it means harming traditional churches.

It’s time to believe hard things. And it’s time to do a hard thing: Prayerfully consider leaving the UM Church. I hope you and your congregation will join other traditional Wesleyans in the Global Methodist Church. It may take time to do that. We have hard decisions in front of us. My prayer is that traditionalists will step into a better day with others who believe in the Lordship of Jesus, the truth of the Scriptures and the transforming work of the Holy Spirit. 

Rob Renfroe is the president and publisher of Good News. 

What’s It All About?

What’s It All About?

By Thomas Lambrecht

There was a popular song in the 1960’s, “What’s It All About, Alfie?” It asks the question, what is life and love all about? It was the theme song of the movie, Alfie, in which a wayward man is searching for meaning in life.

With the postponement of General Conference until 2024 and the announced launch of the Global Methodist Church on May 1, 2022, many people across The United Methodist Church are waking up to the reality of separation in our denomination. Hundreds of churches are applying for disaffiliation from the UM Church. Hundreds more are discerning whether their future lies in the GM Church. In the process, thousands of laypersons who have been in the dark about all the conflicts leading up to this point are asking, “What’s it all about?” Why are many churches leaving the UM Church? Why would our congregation consider leaving for the GM Church?

This article aims to give a succinct, but not exhaustive, summary of what is at stake.

Theological Crisis

Baked into the DNA of United Methodism since 1972 is the idea of theological pluralism – that there are many different understandings of the faith and nearly all understandings are welcome within United Methodism. From the time our denomination was founded, we have not had a coherent, unified understanding of our faith. Is Jesus without sin and error, or was he a flawed human being like the rest of us who somehow became a revered moral teacher? Was Jesus’ death on the cross necessary for our salvation, or was it an act of so-called “divine child abuse?” Did Jesus really rise bodily from the grave, or was his “resurrection” only a greater spiritual awareness on the part of his disciples?

From the beginning of our church in the 1960’s, many boards of ordained ministry have approved candidates for ordination who believed and taught very diverse understandings of the faith. Beneath headline-grabbing issues such as marriage and sexuality, root theological issues have divided United Methodists for decades revolving around evangelism, church planting, the Great Commission, Sunday school curriculum, and even the most fundamental beliefs of the Christian faith. Those moving into the GM Church believe clergy (and indeed all Christians) should be able to recite the Apostles’ Creed without holding crossed fingers behind our back or reinterpreting the words to mean something other than what they say.

One way this doctrinal pluralism manifests itself is through disagreements over the understanding and interpretation of Scripture. Is the Bible “the true rule and guide for faith and practice” we say it is in our doctrinal standards (Confession of Faith, Article IV)? The United Methodist Church affirms, “Whatever is not revealed in or established by the Holy Scriptures is not to be made an article of faith nor is it to be taught as essential to salvation” (Ibid). Yet, many bishops, clergy, and UM leaders, for example, want to rewrite the biblical understanding of marriage taught in Scripture (e.g., Matthew 19:2-9) and ignore or countermand the explicit teaching of Scripture that same-sex relationships are not in keeping with God’s design for human relationships (e.g., Romans 1:21-27; I Corinthians 6:9-11). Some high-profile United Methodist leaders would go so far as to relegate whole chunks of the Bible to the category of “they never reflected God’s timeless will.”

This disregard for the clear teaching of Scripture undermines its authority. If the Bible can be wrong about one important aspect of Christian theology, can it be wrong about other aspects of faith? The Bible should be our authority for what to believe, not what aspects of Scripture we accept as God’s self-revelation and what aspects we ignore. In the latter case, we become the authority for our own faith. But that approach contradicts what we say we believe as United Methodists. We would no longer be true to our Wesleyan understanding.

The theological crisis manifests itself most clearly right now in attempts to officially contradict Scripture by affirming same-sex relationships. We don’t vote at General Conference on the deity of Jesus or whether God performs miracles. But that crisis also manifests itself every time a pastor preaches an Easter sermon without reference to the resurrection or communicates that the way to salvation is “doing all the good you can” apart from Jesus’ atoning death on the cross.

For decades, our denomination has been able to muddle through despite all these theological differences. What has cast the church into an existential turning point now is the second crisis, an ecclesiastical crisis.

Ecclesiastical Crisis

The short description of our ecclesiastical crisis is that The United Methodist Church has now become unable to function by the processes and rules set by our church constitution. Over the years, bishops and other leaders who disagreed with the church’s teachings have increasingly turned a blind eye to violations of that teaching. The unwillingness to hold one another accountable to the teachings and practices of the church is the acid that has eaten away the foundation of our denomination.

In 2002, then-Bishop Joseph Sprague published a book, Affirmations of a Dissenter, that reinterpreted or denied many of the main tenets of Christianity. A complaint was filed against him for “dissemination of doctrines contrary to the established standards of doctrine of The United Methodist Church.” Those in charge of adjudicating that complaint took no disciplinary action against Sprague. Apparently, his beliefs were within the pluralistic realm of United Methodist faith.

Over the last 20 years, the accountability processes for clergy and bishops have broken down. Bishops have decided to circumvent the process by “resolving” complaints with little or no discipline for clergy who violate our church’s requirements. By the same token, complaints against bishops are “resolved” with no accountability by those bishops and church leaders entrusted with upholding the church’s Discipline. Bishops and leaders are only willing to enforce those provisions they agree with.

In 2016, the denomination appeared ready to unravel at General Conference. As a last-ditch effort to preserve unity, General Conference authorized a Commission on the Way Forward to figure out a solution and bring it to a special 3-day General Conference to be held in 2019. Contrary to the wishes and lobbying of many U.S. bishops, the 2019 General Conference reaffirmed once again the church’s historic stance on the definition of marriage and the ordination of non-celibate gays and lesbians. It further added accountability provisions to ensure that the church’s clergy and bishops would abide by the church’s teachings.

In response, many U.S. bishops and annual conferences publicly apologized for the conference’s decision and sought to distance themselves from it. More than half the U.S. annual conferences passed resolutions repudiating the decision of General Conference, with at least 11 saying they would not abide by it. Several annual conferences in spring 2019 ordained persons as clergy who did not meet the denomination’s qualifications. One European central conference removed the church’s teachings from its Social Principles. Another European annual conference and the whole U.S. Western Jurisdiction began looking into the possibility of separating from the UM Church because they disagreed with the General Conference stance.

Faced with this widespread rebellion against church teaching in parts of the U.S. and Western Europe, a group of bishops and church leaders representing traditionalist, centrist, and progressive theological perspectives agreed to a proposal for amicable separation. Called the Protocol for Reconciliation and Grace through Separation, this proposal provided a clear and amicable way for traditionalist congregations and clergy to leave the UM Church, allowing the church to then change its teaching to accommodate a progressive understanding. (For more analysis on why traditionalists are willing to be the ones to move to a new church, despite the current Discipline upholding a traditionalist position, see this article.)

The Protocol was poised to pass at the May 2020 General Conference. With the pandemic causing the postponement of General Conference, finally now until 2024, progressives became increasingly impatient to move the church in a progressive direction. Several annual conferences adopted vision statements that stated they would now start “living into” the future they envisioned, despite the fact that the provisions in the Discipline remain unchanged.

Some individual bishops began taking punitive actions against traditionalist clergy, removing them from their appointments and in some cases even expelling them from the denomination without due process or trial. None of these bishops has been held accountable for their actions. There are bishops now who are openly stating that the General Conference (the only body empowered by our church constitution to make decisions for the whole denomination) can no longer adequately govern the church.

We have evolved to the point in our denomination that the actions and decisions of General Conference can be ignored with impunity by bishops and annual conferences that disagree. Bishops have become a law unto themselves within their own annual conferences, not subject to accountability to other bishops or the broader church. Decisions of the Judicial Council can be ignored. The third postponement of General Conference indicates that the power of institutional preservation of the status quo is greater than the inclination to move into a healthier future. Many progressives and centrists seem increasingly uninterested in an amicable way to allow separation to occur. Instead, many seem to want to punish traditionalists for holding the beliefs that we have and at the same time doing whatever they can to delay or prevent traditionalist clergy and churches from separating from the UM Church in order to join a GM Church that more faithfully represents our faith perspective.

End Game

Where does this leave us, besides in a mess? Given the theological and ecclesiastical dysfunction of the church, many traditionalists are no longer able to wait for General Conference to pass the Protocol. The longer the delay, the less likely its adoption becomes. Meanwhile, theologically conservative church members are leaving our churches and clergy are retiring or leaving the church. Hundreds of churches have requested disaffiliation from the UM Church this year, with hundreds more contemplating that possibility over the next 24 months, even before General Conference meets.

To accommodate this groundswell of departures and to prevent the loss of these congregations to Methodism, the Global Methodist Church has announced it will launch on May 1 of this year. As last week’s Perspective explained, there are ways for a church to move to the GM Church with its property and assets intact. In some annual conferences, the way may be prohibitively expensive, but it is still possible.

Hopefully, the narrative in this article helps explain why many churches are willing to do what they must in order to separate from the UM Church.

 

Thomas Lambrecht is a United Methodist clergyperson and the vice president of Good News

VIDEO: Rob Renfroe on the Postponement of General Conference

VIDEO: Rob Renfroe on the Postponement of General Conference

The Rev. Rob Renfroe, president of Good News, discusses the further postponement of General Conference and the launching of the Global Methodist Church. To watch his video, click HERE.

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GOOD NEWS BOARD ENDORSES LAUNCH OF GLOBAL METHODIST CHURCH

The Good News board of directors fully endorses the formation of the Global Methodist Church and is encouraged by its announced launch date of May 1. We are grateful for the work of hundreds of lay and clergy leaders who have worked to create the framework for a new Wesleyan movement that will be centered on Christ, founded upon the Scriptures, and empowered by the Holy Spirit.

We regret that such a step is necessary. The theological divide in The United Methodist Church has grown so deep and acrimonious that continuing together will only multiply the harm done to people and congregations on all sides. We affirm the decision to move ahead with separation now, given the lack of urgency by church leaders to resolve the crisis and the evident dysfunction of our denominational governance processes.

Many United Methodist members, pastors, and congregations will move to the GM Church immediately. Others will need more time to negotiate a fair exit from their annual conferences. Some may pursue other faithful options for moving into the future. But the birth of the Global Methodist Church gives hope to all orthodox Methodists that a new and better day is dawning.

We express our deepest gratitude to those who have made the launch of the GM Church possible. We pray for the new church’s success in making disciples of Jesus Christ and spreading Scriptural holiness across the land. And we commend the Global Methodist Church to all Wesleyans who believe that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life.