Jumpstarting a New Methodism

Jumpstarting a New Methodism

By Jeff Greenway and Mike Lowry —

In our recently published book Multiplying Methodism, we discuss in detail why we separated from our present denomination and helped form the Global Methodist Church. The weight and history of this moment is not lost on us.

We’re reminded of a powerful scene from The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. Early in the story, the good wizard, Gandalf, explains the history of the Ring to the young hobbit, Frodo Baggins. This mystical ring has been lost to the world of men for centuries, until it’s found by Gollum – a strange creature whose entire appearance was transformed by the ugliness that comes with trying to hold onto power (which the Ring symbolizes). The rediscovery of the Ring also corresponds with the rise of the dark wizard, Sauron – and the advance of evil on Middle Earth. As he comes to grips with the weight of this moment in time, Frodo – the most unlikely of heroes – laments: “I wish it need not have happened in my time.” 

Frodo knows something he can’t not know and feels the weight of responsibility to do something. The good wizard Gandalf speaks a word of wisdom in response to Frodo and to us: “So do I, and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

We can totally relate. We wish this season in the life of The United Methodist Church hadn’t happened in our time, but here we are. We have decided what to do with the time that’s been given to us. The words of Mordecai to Esther reverberate in our hearts and minds. “For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this” (Esther 4:14). We have come to believe that God is calling us to spend a portion of that time here at the dawn of the New Methodism to state clearly why we believe it’s time to leave The United Methodist Church and join the newly formed Global Methodist Church. 

The foundational framework of the local church in the Next Methodism will have at a minimum four essential pillars. Vibrant faithful local congregations will exhibit qualities of being:

• Genuinely orthodox – a relearning and re-commitment to the historic theological core of the Christian faith;

• Truly Wesleyan – key Wesleyan distinctives will be taught, embraced, and lived out in practice;

• Unashamedly Evangelistic – we will engage in the making of disciples of Jesus Christ in answer to the Great Commission given by the risen Christ without apology or pause. Sharing the good news (gospel) of salvation in and through Christ will once again be at the essence of who we are in both thought and action;

• Passionately Missional – a renewed Methodism in the local church will be committed and actively engaged in combating injustice and oppression living out the great commandment to love God and love our neighbor as we love ourselves.

Friends, the time has come for us to reclaim our theological roots, rediscover the practices that fueled the Methodist revival, and stop fighting so we can beat our swords into plowshares and start planting the seeds for a new expression of Methodism. We can live into a new and renewed future – to reclaim and live out the powerful DNA that propelled John Wesley and the first Methodists to take the gospel to the world and spread scriptural holiness across the land. We know that no great movement of God has come without great sacrifice, determination, and faith from God’s people – and that will likely be the case for us. Salvation is free – but discipleship is costly.

Here are our top ten reasons we recommend you consider joining the Global Methodist Church.

1. Consistent Faithfulness in Doctrine. What we believe matters. It was with great intention we named our new book of order The Transitional Book of Doctrines and Discipline. We wanted to move our basic beliefs from being merely historic and suggestive documents – to authoritative standards that are a source of doctrinal authority and spiritual integrity. Our doctrinal beliefs and practice are rooted in historic Christianity and will keep us connected and in step with the global big “C” Church of Jesus Christ. Rather than continuing to approach Scripture, doctrine, and practice from a place of skepticism and syncretism, we look forward to working with people who hold the same view of Scripture, doctrine, and practice.

2. Reclaim Accountable Discipleship. When Methodism was sweeping across the United States, and where it is currently sweeping across countries and regions, it’s often rooted in small groups exercising accountable discipleship. Many of the United Methodist churches located across the United States today were class meetings formed when the Methodists were adding “a church a day” in the 1840s. One of the things that slowed our prior growth was the establishment of the Sunday school – a more informational model of discipleship – instead of the class meeting, which was a more transformational model. 

3. Church Planting. The Transitional Leadership Council of the Global Methodist Church has embraced the goal of launching 3,500 new communities of faith in the next seven years. This will not be generated out of District or Conference offices, but rather out of local churches. This is already taking place in parts of the Methodist movement which are going on outside North America. In the United States, new church starts will learn from places like the Philippines and Africa. These new communities of faith will not likely be parachute drops or start with a large investment of resources. Instead, they will use early Methodist DNA and some of the house church and micro-church models developed by organizations like Exponential and Fresh Expressions. We will be launching churches that look more like class meetings than brick and mortar edifices reflecting the past. 

4. Mission Driven Rather than Structurally Bound. Purposeful systems and structures are important ways we move forward, but The United Methodist Church presently has 13 General Boards and Agencies that are drowning in their bureaucracy. 

In contrast, during the last five years, over 1,000 volunteers have worked with the Wesleyan Covenant Association to put together recommendations on mission partnerships, accountable discipleship, church multiplication, ministry in the margins, and a host of other initiatives – without the encumbrance of a bloated structure. 

We believe the Global Methodist Church will resist bureaucracy and organize itself in flexible, fluid commissions that will do most of their work virtually using the technologies we all learned to use through the recent pandemic – which will enable much more diverse, creative, and economically viable participation in the denomination’s system while keeping it lean and nimble.

5. Term-Limited Episcopacy. Historically, Methodist bishops were never intended to be a class of “super-elders,” but the reality is the Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church has acted as such. We (Bishop Mike Lowry and Jeff Greenway) have different views of what the episcopacy should look like, views anchored in the biblical and early Christian model of the episcopacy.

I (Jeff Greenway) chaired the initial task team that developed the first draft of the Doctrines and Discipline, and one of the early conversations we had was whether to eliminate the episcopacy. We decided we believe having bishops is historically important but have made some recommended changes that will need to be affirmed by the convening Conference of the Global Methodist Church. We recommend the elimination of jurisdictional conferences (which are the residue of institutional racism and the source of the move to regionalized expressions of faith in the UM Church), and that bishops be elected at the General Conference. We recommend bishops be elected for a maximum 12-year term, and if the bishop is not of retirement age, their title is “Bishop Emeritus” when their term ends, and they return to serve a local church. 

We’ve also separated the spiritual and temporal responsibilities of United Methodist bishops. The role of the bishop in the Global Methodist Church will be primarily spiritual – teaching the faith, ordaining clergy, and fixing appointments – but the operational leadership of the more temporal affairs will be delegated to a Connectional Operating Officer. This person will be hired by and accountable to the bishops but will provide day-to-day leadership to the temporal operations of the denomination. I (Jeff Greenway) use a model like this in the local church I serve. 

I (Bishop Lowry) believe it is time to lay aside the Judicial Council structure and ask bishops to once again lead the church and not simply manage (and protect) the institution. Bishops are to be “overseers.” Bishops would have the responsibility to rule on church discipline. A simple review could be instituted to check any attempt at abuses of power.

As you can see, while a few of the details are still to be decided by the convening conference of the Global Methodist Church, the proposals being placed before it call for a redefined episcopacy. The two of us have our own differences about the future shape of the episcopacy. This will be a time of discernment and learning for all as we seek the will and guidance of the Holy Spirit. What we are firmly united in is a yearning for the day when our bishops are servants committed to guarding and defending the faith rather than institutional bureaucrats leading us away from it.

6. Systemic Accountability. The Global Methodist Church is committed to systemic accountability. When I (Jeff Greenway) was leading the team that drafted the first proposal for the Doctrines and Discipline, there was a short time when we were attempting to write a polity that was reacting to everything we were experiencing in The United Methodist Church. We quickly got bogged down and could have easily spent so much time articulating what we’re against or moving from – that we would lose sight of what we’re being called to. We finally decided we can’t build a system that prevents bad actors or ineffectiveness, but we could build one that makes it easy to remove them.

We believe one of the reasons The United Methodist Church is in a constitutional crisis is because those who were charged with guarding and defending the faith and holding us accountable to our common covenant are not accountable themselves. The Global Methodist Church will exhibit covenantal accountability at every level – including an accountability system for bishops that is not controlled by bishops.

7. Lean Bureaucracy, Lower Costs, No Trust Clause. While there needs to be some systemic structure to the new denomination, those planning for the launch of the Global Methodist Church have been intentional in planning for a lean bureaucracy. We don’t envision a top-heavy, centrally controlled denominational system that gets hung up in survival. We dream of a church that is a movement and gives permission for multiple structures, systems, and mission partners.

We will have a convening conference in the near future which will likely be followed by another General Conference in short order. 

We don’t envision General Boards and Agencies populated and controlled by ministry insiders, but rather Commissions served primarily by volunteers who use the technology we’ve discovered during the pandemic to provide policy leadership to the initiatives of the church. One result of this leaner structure will be lower denominational costs. While most United Methodist congregations currently contribute up to 15 percent of their income (minus mortgage and mission-related funds) for apportionments, the Global Methodist Church will begin with a shared ministry of 2 percent of their income (minus mortgage and mission-related expenses) with a maximum of 6.5 percent – which can only be changed by a super-majority of the General Conference. The goal is to keep more resources in the local church for mission and ministry. 

The Global Methodist Church will not have a trust clause. While the history of the trust clause was to maintain sound doctrine, our recent history in The United Methodist Church is the trust clause was used to keep a dysfunctional church together. 

8. More Congregational Input on Clergy Selection. Gone will be the days when churches and pastors are not consulted and engaged in the clergy selection and assignment process. A major step in developing a system of clergy deployment that has significant input from the laity in churches receiving a pastor and clergy accepting a new assignment will be the abolition of the “guaranteed appointment.” In truth, the guaranteed appointment is, in Bishop Lowry’s terms, a “dead-man walking,” in both The United Methodist Church and the Global Methodist Church. It is simply no longer financially sustainable. 

Furthermore, the abolition of the guaranteed appointment will, we believe, be a significant move in the direction of developing effective clergy. One of the most distasteful aspects of my (Bishop Lowry) work as a UM bishop was the need to appoint people to local churches who were not effective or competent. It is time for the clergy union as a protective association to end. Simultaneously, the GMC must and will be dedicated to putting in place systems that protect and enhance appointment making across gender and ethnic lines. 

The convening conference of the GMC will be considering a modified call system for clergy deployment. While neither of us knows the final shape that modified call system will take, we can imagine a system where Presiding Elders will work with the lay leadership of a church to put together a short list of recommended possibilities. The laity will have the ability to add to that list if desired. The final appointment placement will evolve by common agreement between the Presiding Elder, pastor, and congregation with the bishop retaining a veto in unusual situations. 

9. Easier Path to Ordination. The present path to ordination in the UM Church is a long one. It is often not attained until long after a person has invested up to ten years and thousands of dollars in educational training. To that end, we envision a much more careful system of local church examination and endorsement of someone as a candidate for ordained ministry. 

Yoked with the abolition of the “guaranteed appointment,” we seek close cooperation between conferences and seminaries. With strong local church endorsement of candidates for ordination, it is possible to move towards a system of clergy training and development which simultaneously does not leave seminary graduates with excessive debt and renders a much higher ability and spiritual development for new clergy seeking pastoral assignments. 

10. Global from Day One. The next few years will see the churches and pastors migrate from the UMC to the GMC in successive waves. The first wave of existing and new churches has come during this last Annual Conference season, and we believe waves will come in December of 2022, the summer of 2023, December of 2023, and if/when the UM General Conference makes a pathway to amicable separation possible when the proposed General Conference meets in April of 2024.

That said, the initial wave of churches and clergy joining the GMC is coming from around the world – the Bulgaria Annual Conference, groups of newly forming churches from regions in Africa, existing congregations in the Philippines, existing congregations from various conferences in the U.S., new church starts, and networks of house churches in regions of the U.S.

We’ve also been in regular communication with existing Wesleyan denominations from around the world who are interested in exploring how we may be able to partner in mutually beneficial ways.

As we work together with the Transitional Leadership Council, we are impressed with the strength and contributions of our global partners in vision-casting and decision-making. 

We wish to strongly reiterate that the Global Methodist Church will not be United Methodism 2.0. We issue this invitation to prayerfully consider joining a dynamic movement of like-minded, warm-hearted, Jesus-loving, Wesleyan, evangelical, orthodox, and covenant-keeping Christians who are connected in mission. United in Christ, we are committed to sharing the gospel in both word and deed for the sake of the bruised and battered world our Lord came to save. 

Jeff Greenway and Mike Lowry are committed to seeing the emergence of a new and fresh expression of Methodism around the globe. Greenway is the Lead Pastor of the Reynoldsburg United Methodist Church near Columbus, Ohio. Prior to that appointment, he served as the president of Asbury Theological Seminary and was a district superintendent in the Western Pennsylvania Conference. Lowry was elected to the episcopacy of the United Methodist Church in 2008. He served as the Resident Bishop of the Central Texas Conference. He has joined the Global Methodist Church as its inception as Bishop Emeritus. This excerpt is adapted from Multiplying Methodism: A Bold Witness of Wesleyan Faith at the Dawn of the Global Methodist Church (2022).   Photo: Shutterstock. 

The Forgotten Commission

The Forgotten Commission

By JJ Mannschreck — 

As a millennial clergy in The United Methodist Church, I have joined several Facebook groups designed for ministers. Some of the groups are for a specific area or region. There’s even one for each side of the theological spectrum (a progressive clergy group and one for traditionalist clergy). These groups can be a wonderful way to connect and share celebrations and burdens, ask questions, and collaborate with resources. 

One day I got a notification that a fellow clergy had posted in one of these groups. I clicked on the post and saw that it was an advertisement inviting people to attend his church’s Sunday morning services.

Obviously posting an invitation to Sunday worship in a clergy group is a silly thing to do. After all, 100 percent of those people have somewhere to be on a Sunday morning. I chuckled at the time and rolled my eyes. But the posts kept coming. Every week, clergy were advertising their Sunday services to one another. After the third or fourth time, I reached out to the clergy. I tried to kindly explain that he was sending these messages in vain because he was aiming at the wrong target audience. You don’t need to reach people who are already in church. Our mission of evangelism is to reach the unchurched and tell them about Jesus. 

He reassured me that it was not an accident and that these were the most likely people to respond to his post. I found it absolutely baffling. This is the digital equivalent to posting service times on the wall inside the church instead of posting them on the sign outside! It completely forgets our actual calling as pastors. Our job is to create disciples of Jesus Christ, not shuffle them from one building to another. But then I realized that this illustrates a larger problem in the UM Church.

Going back decades now, United Methodism long abandoned the practice of evangelism. We have simply forgotten what it looks and feels like to tell someone – who does not know – about Jesus Christ. I have had people tell me that evangelism feels mean. It’s quite rude to imply that someone’s beliefs could be wrong, and that Jesus is the only way to heaven. I hear things like, “Well, church works for me. But I know it just wouldn’t connect for my friends.” 

In the contemporary church, our growth model comes almost exclusively by attracting members from other churches. On a practical level, our entire outreach strategy is to simply be nicer than the other churches in town. If you think the Catholic Church is being mean because of their communion standards, come on over to the Methodists. We have an open table. If the Baptists are talking too much about hell, come on over to the Methodists. We barely mention it. 

There is a formula to our outreach and it goes like this: If those mean old [insert denomination] are making you feel bad because of [insert theological position], well you just come on over the Methodists. We don’t have any standards! 

The pool from which we draw new people consists of those who have already been discipled by a different church, and we have made a name for ourselves by gathering those rejected by other denominations. We gather the leftovers of other churches, because we do not know how to plant the seeds ourselves.

Actually, I am proud of the way United Methodism has created a space of kindness and healing for those who have been hurt by the church. This is a good thing, and we should continue those efforts. There is so much brokenness in the church, in every denomination. If the UM Church can be a part of the healing process for even one person, that is worth working towards. 

My concern for the future, however, is that we have forgotten how to do anything else! The mission of the church is to create disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, and of course, that phrasing is just a Methodist twist on Jesus’ instructions in the Great Commission. “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20). 

Unfortunately, when I look around at the church today, I would say we do not believe it is a Great Commission. In fact, it feels like a Forgotten Commission. Teaching people who don’t know Jesus about him is an essential piece of our mission. We will have to relearn that skill if we want our church to thrive.

Too many of us, both progressive and traditionalist, are eager to get to the other side of this current disagreement so we can get back to being the nicest church in town. The process of drawing people from other churches is not a sustainable system. Fifty years ago it worked because even if someone didn’t go to church – they probably grew up in the church. We didn’t need to teach them the basics, because they’d at least gotten that much from their childhood. The migration from one unhealthy church to another was cause for eye rolling and head shaking, but leadership mostly shrugged it off. Over the years it has become the only method of growth for too many of us. 

It’s a very different world out there now. There are entire generations who have grown up outside the church, and they have never heard the gospel – not even the kid version. We need to be able to answer the question: Why should I follow Jesus instead of these other religions? Why should I have any religion in my life at all? Our churches will not grow unless we relearn how to share the love of Jesus with those who have never heard of him.

The Global Methodist Church’s first big initiative will be planting new churches and reclaiming our Wesleyan roots of evangelism. At the same time, the UM Council of Bishops appears to be jockeying to hold on to as many congregations and buildings as possible. One group is planning for a new future, and the other is spending all of its energy in the present trying to hold on to the resources of the past. And that’s the difference.

JJ Mannschreck is Lead Pastor of Flushing United Methodist Church, in Flushing, Michigan. Photo: Jon Tyson, Unsplash.   

Is Leaving United Methodism Wrong?

Is Leaving United Methodism Wrong?

By Norwood N. Hingle III —

William Willimon has been a noteworthy figure for the last half-century in United Methodism. Not only has he served the denomination as a bishop who is now in retired status, but he has also influenced scores of students and pastors to this day through his teaching at Duke Divinity School and his books. One could say he is a respected patriarch to United Methodism’s centrist faction. 

His article, “The United Methodist Divorce Is a Mistake,” appeared in the United Methodist News Service on August 17, 2022. Willimon’s article forced me to reflect on my own circumstance, as well as many of my colleagues. Last July, after over 28 years as a pastor, I withdrew from The United Methodist Church as an Elder in Full Connection in the Louisiana Conference and am now an ordained Elder in the Global Methodist Church. Was I wrong?

My story is similar to many of yours. I was born and raised United Methodist. My Mom is, and my deceased Dad was, United Methodist. And my grandparents on both sides identified with the UM Church. My family history spans over a century in Methodism, and the Lord has richly blessed us through this denomination. Unfortunately, there have also been serious concerns about the UM Church.

As a teenager in the 1970s and 1980s, I was aware that there were essentially two streams flowing within United Methodism. One was fully committed to the expression of Christianity in the Book of Discipline where the doctrinal standards and other doctrines presented were viewed as correct understandings of the Bible, and it was expected that United Methodists – clergy and laity – should embrace them and be held accountable to them. 

The other stream was a broad group committed to one of two views: either to allow for re-interpretations of traditional doctrines though not necessarily believing each of these re-interpretations, or to pursue significant re-interpretations of traditional doctrines, where at times re-interpretations led to outright rejections of these doctrines. This second stream would allow for clergy and laity to believe some things usually seen as outside the orbit of Christianity. 

Examples are the following: Jesus had merely a spiritual, not bodily, resurrection; Jesus’ virginal conception and divinity are optional; salvation only through Jesus is too exclusive; other world religions should be affirmed as equally true to Christianity; discipleship is equivalent to social justice; and marriage and ordination should include those in same-sex relationships. 

It is this second stream which dominates key areas of the UM Church: the General Boards, denominational literature, college and seminary faculty, and Council of Bishops. And it is this second stream which is expected to change the Book of Discipline in General Conference 2024 – if not, then certainly by 2028 – to allow for marriage and ordination of practicing homosexuals. 

In this assessment of United Methodism I believe Bishop Willimon and I would be in basic, if not total, agreement. Nevertheless, we disagree whether a “divorce,” as he calls it, is necessary. He makes at least five points against a divorce that we do well to evaluate. 

First, he asserts we have only just begun to discuss homosexuality. “After just 40 years of debate on same-sex marriage and LGBTQ ordination – a mere twinkling of the eye in church history – some self-proclaimed traditionalists (and a very few progressives) say they’re tired of arguing.” Actually, it has been 50 years of debate, going back to General Conference of 1972. But perhaps that is nit-picking. One must ask how long is long enough to debate these issues? 

Are such issues settled by time or by a sober recognition that reconciliation of the two positions is impossible? It is noteworthy that over the decades of debate on homosexuality, the two streams have grown farther apart, not closer. Evidence of the growing divide can be found in events just from this year, such as a drag queen’s certification for clergy candidacy in the Illinois Great Rivers Conference and the LGBTQ celebration service in the chapel at Duke Divinity School – which the Chaplain’s Office apparently helped coordinate – where God was addressed as “the Great Queer One,” “Drag Queen,” and “Transman.” 

Lest we think these are merely isolated events, we should recall the Western Jurisdiction’s election and consecration in 2016 of a female bishop married to another woman. Perhaps what is even more disappointing is that the Council of Bishops did nothing to remedy this unauthorized consecration. Such circumstances do not encourage hope for unity, but rather dismay at the high level of disfunction, chaos, and anarchy that is entrenched in the UM Church. 

The careful observer will perceive that divorce in the denomination is not a mistake. Moreover, the expiration in 2023 of the Book Discipline’s paragraph 2553 – which allows congregations to leave the UM Church with their property – brings an urgency to disaffiliate now.

Second, Bishop Willimon has a strong distrust of where many disaffiliating United Methodists will land – in the Global Methodist Church (GMC). He states the GMC doesn’t “accept the label schismatic (what schismatic ever has?)” and they “prefer instead to say that they have been pushed out of the church they once loved. Give me a break. No UMC congregation in the world has ever kicked out a member for being too orthodox, traditional, or conservative.” 

Unfortunately, Willimon has descended from critical thinking to mockery. In all my experience with the Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA) and GMC, I have never heard or read anyone say he or she was pushed out or excommunicated from the UM Church. Instead, it is the dominant presence of the second stream described above which has in effect pushed them out of the UM Church; they no longer find it possible to use their God-given gifts and graces in such a denomination. 

Willimon also dislikes the GMC’s draft Transitional Book of Doctrines and Discipline. He claims it “defines the first of their ‘basic qualifications of the ordained’ as ‘fidelity in Christian marriage between one man and one woman, chastity in singleness.’ This comes first, before ‘knowledge and love of God’ and ‘a call by God and the people of God.’ Really, GMC? Aren’t you setting the clergy competence bar a bit low?” 

Indeed, Willimon would be correct here – but only if this is what the draft document actually states. Unfortunately, again, he has sunk to mockery and misrepresentation of the GMC. One is encouraged simply to go to globalmethodist.org, click on “Our Beliefs & Governance,” and then click on “The Ministry of the Called.” There, one will find “basic qualifications of the ordained,” and the first qualification listed is, “Have a personal faith in Jesus Christ and be committed to Christ as Savior and Lord.” The second expectation is a four-line paragraph which begins, “Nurture and cultivate spiritual disciplines and patterns of holiness consistent with the General Rules…” and lists a number of areas such as “integrity in all relationships” and “fidelity in Christian marriage between one man and one woman.” It is the third expectation which mentions a call from God to ministry. 

Willimon has been negligent not only in his misrepresenting the GMC, but also in missing the spiritually mature discernment the GMC has expressed here.

A third reason Willimon is against a UM separation is that he believes conservatives are consumed with only one issue – homosexuality. “GMC advocates charge that the UMC has sold out to contemporary culture. But who told the GMC that same-sex relationships are the chief challenge in the UMC? Not the Bible. Not Jesus, who makes not even a cameo appearance in most of these debates.” What is perplexing here is that Willimon seems to dismiss that homosexuality could ever be “the chief challenge” in the denomination. But even the liberals don’t doubt that! Haven’t the liberals brought up this chief challenge at every General Conference since 1972? Didn’t we have a special session of General Conference in 2019 which was devoted to that one chief challenge? 

Significantly, though, I have never read or heard anyone in the WCA or GMC state that homosexuality was the chief challenge. Willimon has set up a straw man. I have found that the WCA and GMC often assert that homosexuality has been the presenting issue along with a host of many other issues, as described in the second stream above. 

Also, it is surprising that Willimon brings back the tired, old argument that Jesus never addressed homosexuality, which implies it was not that big of a deal to him. There are many sins Jesus did not address, but no one thinks that he would have approved of them. Over 20 years ago New Testament scholar Robert Gagnon showed how specious this “silence of Jesus” argument is in his near-exhaustive work, The Bible and Homosexual Practice. Gagnon concludes, “The portrayal of a Jesus as a first-century Palestinian Jew who was open to homosexual practice is simply ahistorical. All the evidence leads in the opposite direction” (p. 220). Three points about Jesus are relevant here. 

First, Jesus was a law-abiding Jew, not wishing to abolish the law and the prophets but fulfill them (Matthew 5:17). Jesus’ Bible was the Old Testament, and whenever homosexuality appeared there it was without exception presented as the antithesis of God’s will. Second, in the time of Jesus of the first century AD, homosexuality was not a debated issue within mainstream Judaism, and such behavior was rejected, as seen in the writings of Philo and Josephus. Gagnon observes that “first century Judaism, as far as we know, had no dissenting voices on the matter” (p. 188). Third, Jesus’ teaching on marriage is relevant here. His understanding of marriage was based on Genesis 1-2 on the creation of a man and a woman; moreover, Jesus was known to strengthen, not weaken, the Old Testament teaching on marriage, as seen in the issue of divorce (Matthew 19:1-9). Thus one gets the sense that if Jesus had been confronted with someone caught in the act of homosexuality, as he was confronted with the woman caught in the act of adultery, he would have been compassionate and have said to her, “Go, and sin no more.”

Fourth, Willimon thinks that Jesus would never have been for a divorce in the UM Church. “As a preacher, I know the frustration of being unable to talk others into my position on some important subject. Sure, I’ve longed to excommunicate the intransigents. Alas, Jesus doesn’t work that way. He never walked away from an argument or refused conversation with even the most thickheaded of opponents.” 

I think Willimon has confused keeping personal ties with ministry focus. Many of us, like myself, know those across the theological aisle whom we truly love and like, and we hope to keep up these relationships no matter where we minister. But Jesus did give instructions to the disciples on church confrontation and, if necessary, excommunication from the church where one believer sins against another (Matthew 18:15-20). And we do know of instances in the early church where there were splits over deep theological differences. For instance, in 1 John there was a church split because one group did not believe Jesus was the Son of God who had come in the flesh (2:18-25; 4:1-3). I believe there is sufficient evidence from the discussion here so far that, unfortunately, we have deep theological differences. The time has come for those on both sides to abandon attempts to persuade the other and to think both understandings of the gospel can work well together. The two streams represent incompatible worldviews. It is time to part ways.

Finally, Willimon also presents the odd argument against divorce based on the fact that most Methodists are “clueless” about denominational issues. “In their unconcern for Methodism beyond their congregation I think they’ve [laypeople] got things in proper perspective. The denomination is largely irrelevant to their encounters with Christ, in church or out, and contributes little to their taking responsibility for the mission that Christ has assigned to their congregation.” 

This is an odd argument, indeed – especially coming from a bishop. Whatever happened to the Methodist connectionalism about which we hear regularly at annual conferences? It is this connectionalism that affects all Methodists with a trickled-down effect. We see this from our apportionment dollars going to support seminaries, our itinerant appointment system connecting various clergy to different congregations, and our bishops exercising the substantial authority to appoint pastors. Willimon is correct in that most laypeople don’t know what is happening in the denomination, but whether they realize it or not, they are connected to the UM Church and thus significantly affected by it.   

Bishop Willimon’s desire to avoid a divorce in the UM Church is laudable. As a conservative, my hope – and that of such groups as Good News and the Confessing Movement – was to try to bring renewal so the centrist/liberal stream would change its ways and merge with the traditional one, the two becoming one. The evidence shows that this hope will not be possible. In a practical sense, a divorce happened in the UM Church years ago, and we are just now realizing it formally. It is time for conservatives, as I have found, to move on to the ministry the Lord has for us.  

Norwood N. Hingle III, is the pastor of Lighthouse for Christ Church in New Orleans. His PhD in New Testament is from the University of Aberdeen. Photo: Shutterstock.

Depending on Hope

Depending on Hope

By Jenifer Jones —

September first was my one-year anniversary working with TMS Global. My job is to interview cross-cultural witnesses (CCWs, or missionaries) and write their stories.

You’d think this job has the potential to be depressing. After all, the world kind of feels like a dumpster fire so much of the time. But I’ve found that the opposite has happened. These people I talk with who live and work in very hard places are often filled with optimism and hope, rather than the despair I expect.

Here are a few things I’ve learned about how to stay hopeful in challenging times. 

1. Recognize that the world is broken, but God is still good. Cross-cultural witnesses (CCWs) often see and experience very hard things. It may take a bit of wrestling, but at some point they learn to accept that we are dealing with the effects of living in a broken, fallen world. But that doesn’t lessen the reality of God’s goodness. Oftentimes the suffering remains, but people experience God’s love, comfort, and presence in the midst of suffering, giving them hope and relief.

2. Develop a solid theology of suffering. One CCW believes it’s important to understand what God has done to suffering through his work on the cross.

“His death in particular, stripped naked, beaten, mocked, turned away from, betrayed – there are so many layers of suffering. He takes what was a mockery and what was meant to belittle, oppress, smash him, his spirit, the movement of God, and he transforms that into the greatest moment in history,” she said.

We can even learn from Jesus’ posture on the cross, with arms fully outstretched. “He gives us this model of facing our suffering,” she observes, “and doing so, in our case, with open arms to God.”

She has a deep sense that God is good, and that he uses what the enemy has meant for harm for his purposes and his kingdom, working all things together for the good of those who love him. She also has a firm belief that God really can transform and redeem anything.

3. Know what you are, and are not, called to. One CCW who lives in South Asia says the need in his region can be overwhelming. He has to decide who he can and cannot help. Understanding his calling helps him make these choices. Ultimately, he notes, his calling is to pursue the Lord and know him more. And God is asking him to live out his calling in a specific way.

He is surrounded by suffering and hunger. He knows he cannot help everyone. “That would be overwhelming,” he said. “But the 25 people that we now employ at our textile business, and their families, in that specific small little group, I think is my calling. So I can work hard and maybe have an effect on that small number.”

He believes he and his team could have 100 businesses like the one they have now and still not make a drop in the bucket, from a numbers standpoint. The need around them is so great. “But that’s God’s problem. He has called us to be obedient in this specific thing, and we have to trust he’ll call and move and do other things in other places with other people,” he said.

4. Take breaks and practice self-care. Our CCWs tell me it’s important to rest, spend time alone with God, see a counselor, talk with a spiritual advisor, and do other things to be re-filled and prevent burnout. They also say it’s important to incorporate joy and celebration into our lives. Whether we are a cross-cultural witness or not, we can’t be just focusing on the hard stuff all of the time!

5. Remember that God can bring life anywhere, even where it’s least expected. One of our CCWs tells Bible stories inside of brothels. Others minister to men and women in prison, provide trauma care for people in refugee camps, start businesses in heavily impoverished areas, and more.

All over the world, in brothels, prisons, refugee camps, communities experiencing poverty, oppression, war, or abuse – places where it seems impossible for the light to break through – our men and women are seeing God bring light and life. If God can work in these places, surely he can work, and is working, anywhere and everywhere.

6. Remember that God can use hard times to unite the Church. One of our international partners lives in Estonia, where he pastors a church. Over the last year, several Ukrainian refugees have arrived in his community and at his church. He found that when the Church is pressed, it often results in unity, as there’s only time to deal with what is truly important.

“Now that lives are on the line, it’s a matter of life and death for many people,” he said. “Until now, we had our own opinions and differences. And now we come together to seek God and pray and fast and do everything we can to host the Ukrainians.”

He discovered that the war between Russia and Ukraine is causing Estonian Christians to pray more, seek God, and come together as they work to become ministers of reconciliation.

7. Remember that God is still working, even when things seem like a mess. When the Taliban took over Afghanistan following the departure of the US military, various news outlets depicted a bleak picture for those who live in the country. Two of our CCWS have connections in Afghanistan. They believe it’s important to keep loving, praying, and serving.   

“Let’s not be fearful. Jesus is still Lord. We need more workers. We need more people going to the hard places. We need more people praying and giving,” they said.   

They speak of God as a master chess player. Even when the board looks chaotic, and it looks like God is losing, he’s still got a move, and he’s still in control. They encourage believers to see events in light of the entire biblical revelation. God is still working out his purposes. And eventually, people of every tribe, tongue, and nation will gather around the throne, praising God, including Afghan believers.

This is just a sample of the wisdom I’ve gained from talking with cross-cultural witnesses over the past year. These stories have changed how I see the world.

This is one reason why it’s so important to tell stories of the ways that God is working in the world. When we become glued to the news or internet 24-7, our focus can be limited to only see nothing but trouble abroad and in our own country. But when we take a deeper look, or a wider view, we can see that in the midst of it all, God is working, and his purposes are still being accomplished. That’s the way our cross-cultural witnesses have chosen to see the world, and I’m so grateful that they’ve given me a glimpse into what they see.

Jenifer Jones is a communicator for TMS Global (tms-global.org).

Depending on Hope

Smelling Heaven

By B.J. Funk —

In the past few years, I have had a sweet, calming, and beautiful surprise happening in my life. I have smelled heaven.

I first recognized this indescribable occurrence when I sat in the lounge chair in my living room. Suddenly, from out of nowhere came the most beautiful fragrance. I looked around, startled by the compelling, comforting wonder. No one else was in my home; no candles were lit. I had not earlier sprayed perfume that might have lingered in my bedroom and now wafted into my living room. Besides, I had never smelled this scent before. 

Within a few minutes it was gone, as if compelled to take flight back to its origin. The delicate fragrance left completely. I sat pondering what had just happened.

Months passed. I was in the same lounge chair when suddenly, without any notice, another beautiful smell passed over my face. This was the second time, and this smell was different. I put my head back and allowed the sensation to completely permeate my nose. In a few minutes, the delightful smell left.

Months later, a new, soft fragrance surrounded me in that same lounge chair. I sat as if suspended in time, not sure of what was occurring, filled with questions, and hoping the lovely smell would stay longer. It did not. 

In all three of these situations, I was alone in my home. No candles burning, no perfumes, no room spray, no hair spray, nothing had been released into the air. This happened several more times. Perhaps I might have ignored this intriguing occurrence except for what happened next.

One night, I was in bed and about to go to sleep, I was suddenly surrounded by another delightful smell reaching my nostrils. I was puzzled. How was this happening? Where were these beautiful smells coming from? 

In my bed, lying next to my husband’s place, something clicked in my soul. All of the pleasant smells were connected to Roy. After thinking in solitude, I believe I interpreted, with the Holy Spirit’s help, exactly what was happening.

My lounge chair sits in the exact spot where a hospital bed cradled Roy as Jesus took his hand and carried him to heaven thirteen years ago. As I sit there, my head is in the direct vicinity where Roy’s head was as eternity embraced him into another realm. I had never realized this before.

It is with this new understanding – that heaven is reaching down to me at the spot where Roy lay – that I drew the revelation that for some unknown reason, heaven’s smells were making a connection with me, always at the place where he had last been at rest. There is no clarity about why this happens to me.

You may ask if I feel God is getting me ready to leave this earth. Not really. I have no clue about that. I don’t ask him to explain. I feel that if I did, he would say, “You can’t figure this out. Just enjoy.”

It’s the same understanding I feel daily with God. I could never describe the moment in time when I knew, for the first time, that I was loved deeply by a loving God who yearns that I accept his offer of a relationship. Nor could I explain to anyone how salvation has changed my heart forever. These mysteries belong only to God. I accept the joy of knowing him and never doubt that this supernatural occurrence has happened, never attempting to figure it out. I love God’s “Surprise moments,” when heaven invades earth at His command.

My immediate family is with the Lord. My mother, my daddy, my one sibling, and my husband. I miss them. But, when I smell heaven, I rejoice that they have that beautiful smell always. I dance inside just for that momentarily uncomplicated piece of earth-time when I get to know a bit of what they always know in marvelous amazing quantity in that beautiful, sweet-smelling land called heaven.

B.J. Funk is Good News’ long-time devotional columnist and author of It’s A Good Day for Grace, available on Amazon.

Young Adult Methodist Connection

Young Adult Methodist Connection

By Elizabeth Fink —

Would you believe me if I told you that from the age of 18 to the present, I have had at least 13 different addresses and attended eight different churches? I think it is safe to say that I had good reason to refer to myself as a nomad during my early adult years. Each place I lived offered its own unique experiences and has helped develop me into the person I am today. 

However, there is one challenge that presented itself everywhere I went, and that was the lack of a peer group or community of young adults that shared similar foundational beliefs. Many young adults find it difficult to cultivate that kind of formational community in or around the Church.

From my perspective, United Methodism does not offer a strong young adult ministry. United Methodism’s “Young People’s Ministries” mainly focuses on children and youth. Young adults are often tacked onto that group because they don’t know where else to put them. In most churches, no one really knows what to do with young adults, so they either get ignored or attached to another group. There is a wide gap between youth ministry, college ministry, and young adult ministry, and yet churches often think of them in the same category.

What made it more difficult for me to find community was that even if I did find a young adult group, it either leaned theologically more progressive or functioned solely as a social club, with too much virtue signaling and not enough Jesus. I remember thinking to myself on a fairly regular basis, “Am I really the only traditional Methodist young adult around?” On occasion I did find another traditional young adult in United Methodist circles, and it was the Holy Spirit that led us to find one another. We were drawn to each other like bees to honey.

It wasn’t until I joined the Wesleyan Covenant Association and got more involved that I truly began to feel like I wasn’t alone. I met more and more young adults who were seeking the same kind of community and foundation of faith I was. Many of these are spread out across the United States and even around the world, so when the idea of starting a young adult group was brought up in the WCA, I thought, “This is brilliant!”

We have created a group called the Young Adult Methodist Connection. The Wesleyan Covenant Association sees and acknowledges the struggle for young adults to find and connect with one another and wants to help link those clergy and laity who are under the age of 40 and interested in joining the Global Methodist Church. By leaving young adults without a deep faith resource to turn to, the UM Church has inadvertently stirred up a holy discontented generation of young adults who crave a deep relationship with the living Christ and are motivated to spread scriptural holiness throughout the land.

Our hope is that no one will feel alone or isolated, and that young adults won’t struggle to find others in the GMC like them who are strong in their foundation of biblical faith. This is especially important now because many of us are feeling the effects of being caught up in the toxic environment that is found throughout the UM Church as it struggles with splitting. 

When it comes to what a young adult group needs to look like, some words that are familiar to a lot of us come to mind: “prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness.” More than ever, young adults need a space where they are encouraged and can serve as an encouragement through prayer, testimony, and having a safe space to ask questions and to discern.

There will be opportunities for general group gatherings with the potential for events specifically geared towards young adult clergy, seminary students, and lay leaders. We will keep you informed on new developments and upcoming events. 

One of the exciting parts of developing this fellowship from the ground up is that we have a chance to shape it from the beginning. It will be a global community of young adults formed and led by young adults. 

I’m looking forward to meeting and connecting with more young adults like me spread out over the connection. We are a generation of leaders ready to enter a new denomination with excitement about the future. 

Elizabeth Fink is a student at Asbury Theological Seminary and the secretary of the WCA’s Global Council. If you are interested in being a part of this group or have any questions, please contact me at youngadults@wesleyancovenant.org. There is also a Facebook group. Photo: Shutterstock.