Editorial: Be Forewarned

Jul 5, 2022

By Rob Renfroe

Will the post-separation United Methodist Church be “the big tent” denomination that centrist pastors and bishops claim it will be? Leading centrists tell us that there will always be a place for traditionalists. The beliefs of conservatives will be respected and valued, we’re told. Some centrists will even go so far as to say that the future denomination needs traditionalists to be at its best. The promise is conservatives will never have to do anything they don’t feel comfortable doing and they certainly do not need to leave. You know, open hearts, minds, and doors – open enough to embrace even the likes of you and me.

Can we trust what our centrist brothers and sisters are telling us? In a word, no. I’m sad to say this is a lesson I have learned after working with leading centrist pastors and bishops for the past two decades. What they promise they will do today is completely forgotten tomorrow if it proves inconvenient. There are exceptions, of course; but at the upper level, those who can be depended upon to be true to their promises are just that – exceptions. 

In Portland at the 2016 General Conference, progressive, centrist, and traditional leaders were called together by the president of the Council of Bishops to discuss moving forward with respect. What was to be one two-hour meeting turned into four. Before we were done, everyone in the room agreed there was no position that could hold the church together, not even “the one church plan” that progressives and centrists had supported. Out of those meetings came the Commission on a Way Forward that was to propose a new solution that would end the fighting.

However, the Commission brought to the church not a new solution that would lead to a respectful separation, but the same plan that had been defeated in 2016 – the same plan that centrist leaders had agreed could not hold the church together. Their commitment to a gracious parting that was made in Portland was forgotten, and they lobbied fervently for the passage of a plan they had agreed could not hold the church together. Why? Because they were convinced that with the full support of the bishops and with the misinformed belief that a good number of African delegates had changed their position, they could win. So, they reneged on their commitments, they broke the bonds of trust we had created and forced a fight that did not need to occur.

General Conference 2019 was billed as the Conference that would settle our differences once and for all. We would pray, we would engage in holy conferencing, and this special called Conference, dedicated to this one issue, would declare who The United Methodist Church was to be and how we would live together. Of course, when the progressives and the centrists lost, they refused to see the Conference as God giving us his will. Instead, it was decried as mean-spirited traditionalists and Africans infecting the church with a terrible virus (those were the words of a leading centrist pastor). In full-page statements in leading newspapers across the nation, the prayerful deliberations of General Conference were excoriated as prejudiced and hateful. Who signed these statements? Hundreds of centrist and progressive pastors and leaders. Why? Because they lost. All their talk about how together at GC 2019 we would receive God’s will for our future sounded so good. But, of course, their words meant nothing when the result was different from what they believed it would be.  

Later in 2019, a group of leaders representing the vast spectrum of theological opinions within the UM Church met to create a plan to end our fighting. Miraculously, they did. Called The Protocol for Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation, it was endorsed by every special interest group in the denomination. However, even before General Conference 2022 was postponed, some centrist leaders who had supported the Protocol began to speak against it, saying that it would have to be renegotiated. Why? Because they believed they were gaining the upper hand and could negotiate a more favorable deal. Again, their word meant less than their desire for a political victory and greater control.

When GC 2022 was postponed until 2024, many traditional churches decided it was time to disaffiliate. Without the Protocol each bishop now has enormous power in determining what will be required for churches wanting to leave. Bishops can be gracious or punitive. Ironically, those who have accused traditionalists of being legalistic are requiring that exiting churches pay every cent that is required by the Book of Discipline. Some “centrist” bishops are even requiring that churches pay what the Discipline does not require. In addition to apportionments and the unfunded pension liability specified in the Discipline, they are demanding anywhere from 25-50 percent of a church’s total assets before allowing them to leave. These bishops know that these fees will either make it impossible for many churches to leave or will cripple them financially, if they leave, and greatly diminish their future ministries for the Kingdom. Why are they doing it? Because they can. Because they are angry institutionalists. 

How can we trust centrists who have lectured us about having hearts of peace if they are now demanding their piece of flesh? One UM pastor said, “Well, Christians should not begrudge paying a price for their convictions.” She seemed to miss the part that those requiring us to pay that price were other Christians.

Can we trust these centrist leaders when they tell us that our views will be respected? Views that we have been told are unloving and unjust? Leaders who have proven themselves duplicitous and hypocritical and willing to use their power to control and damage faithful congregations who simply want to live by the standards General Conference has set?

The post-separation UM Church – a place of peace, a big tent, a denomination where traditionalists will be respected? How can we ever believe such a claim? We should not trust those who do not keep their commitments. From my experience, those making the promises are the same leaders who see those who disagree with them as hatemongers and bigots. 

So, when centrist and progressives assure you the big tent of the UM Church will be grand enough for you, trust me, sometimes past results do predict future performance. Some will tell you we can all get along because they are naïve enough to believe it to be true. Others know it’s not true, but they will say it anyway. Why? Because they can. Because it makes them feel better about themselves when they pretend to be open-minded. Because it serves their purpose of keeping as many traditional churches as possible within the UM Church until they can appoint a centrist or a progressive pastor to serve those congregations and turn them into “a real United Methodist Church.” Why? Because they know some good-hearted traditionalists cannot believe that their bishop or their pastor would ever tell them something that’s untrue. 

You may want to stay in the UM Church. You may be progressive in your theological views and that’s your prerogative. But if you are a traditionalist, think twice about trusting the assurances and the promises made by centrist bishops and pastors. Their track record of keeping those promises speaks for itself. Do not stay because you hope you’ll be treated well if you remain. You won’t. 

There are many centrists and progressives of character who desire a peaceful solution to our division that does not create winners and losers. For them we are grateful, especially for those bishops who are working in good-faith with traditional churches. But those who are telling you that the UM tent will always be big enough for traditionalists – I cannot think of a single reason you should stake the future of your church upon their promises.

Rob Renfroe is a United Methodist clergyperson and the president of Good News. This editorial appeared in the July/August 2022 issue of Good News.  

28 Comments

  1. Rob, the default positions of liberals/”progressives” in or out of the church are these:
    1) Say or do whatever.you need to in order to advance your agenda;
    2) “Commitments” are but a means of buying time to advance your agenda;
    3) Truth is not a virtue; and,
    4) It’s all about power for the leaders and their allies.

    Your advice is exactly right. No trust should be extended (see 1-4 above).

    Thank you for your leadership

  2. Believe you have this mapped out correctly. Unfortunate it has come to this point. Many will be deceived, and I pray continuously for guidance. This one seems so clear but must not be.

  3. Rev. Renfroe,

    Well, I published the response to your post on June 26, 2022.

    One website describes my 3-minute piece, “UMC schism, a holistic take,” as an “argument for centrism” I do not describe it that way at all.

    I would describe it as an argument against *incompatibilist* “leaders” and their absolutism, certitude, and *extremist* rhetoric. [Groups 1 & 5 = *incompatibilist* “leaders” … see typology via link]

    Link: https://mysticalmobius.net/2022/06/26/umc-schism-a-holistic-take

    Respectfully,
    Michael. L. McKee (not the bishop)

  4. We at Grandview FUMC are already seeing all of this! Our Pastor claims the WCA, GMC and, Good News “folks” are all liars and are just trying to recruit us. Most of us are not falling for her lies and the lack of attendance and contributions definitely show it…

  5. Thank you for your advice and insight! It is very helpful and encouraging! I, too, believe that we should join the GMC. I have watched your videos and read this article. These will all be very helpful when we propose to disaffiliate and join the GMC because you have covered the questions that our members will ask us. Thank you so much for your leadership!
    Blessings,
    Mary Ann Williford
    FUMC Lindale, TX

  6. Thank you ever so much Rob Renfroe. Your persistence will pay great dividends. Please keep doing what you are doing. Bob Gaddis

  7. You wrote: “…this special called Conference, dedicated to this one issue….” Yet what actually was the number one issue decided by a vote at the conference? Wespath.

  8. The truth – evil is predatory. It cannot abide righteousness. Once you compromise with evil, it will demand total submission.

  9. Hi Rob, this is a very good article and I appreciate your straight-forward summary of where we are and our current circumstances. Your writing is very clear and concise.

    I believe we have not completed this fight. The Book of Discipline has not changed and continues to state that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. No matter how noisy the LBGTQ community and their leaders get on this matter; I believe no church community should be leaving until the Book of Discipline has been rewritten. Why are we all considering leaving? The UMC is still the church that proclaims marriage between one man and one woman and no practicing self-avowed homosexual can be an ordained pastor (contrary to what is happening in the west) That church law has also not been officially changed. I believe we need to continue to pray fervently to the LORD and take up our cross and fight. If someday the language in the Book of Discipline is changed and the current beliefs in God’s WORD are not upheld, then would be the time to leave. I am sensing we are abandoning ship too soon. What do you all think? In Christ’s love, Donna

  10. Thanks for your thoughts, Donna. The concern is that the window for disaffiliation appears to be closing on December 31, 2023. After that date, there is no assured path for churches to depart with their property. If we wait until GC 2024, when we expect the Discipline language will be changed, it may be too late to depart. Reforming the UMC at this point appears impossible, since there are many bishops who refuse to follow the Discipline and there is no real mechanism to hold them accountable. Laws on paper in the Discipline mean nothing if we cannot enforce them. If churches are able to depart now, we are advising them to do so.
    In Christ,
    Tom Lambrecht

  11. Thank you so much Tom and Auriel for your response. And thank you for the opportunity to express my opinion in this forum.

    I am disappointed if we are making the decision to leave at this time out of fear of what may happen. Are there no other options? Perhaps we could petition to extend the date of disaffiliation until after GC 2024? I haven’t seem anything on this as yet. Annual conferences will be gathering throughout 2023 and petitions can be written to that affect. I know this is a big undertaking. I believe when this disaffiliation legislation was originally written it was intended for those who did not agree with the Traditional Plan. Not for those who agreed. I don’t believe Traditional churches should be paying this high price to be permitted to leave with their property ahead of a change in church law. In Christ, Donna

  12. Rob,

    Thank you for this informative up date as to the status of where the Church stands now. I saw the elements of this coming sometime back. Most Tradionalist give the other side more latitude than they deserve. Question: How is the Global Methodist proposing how a progressive member will be treated in this Church, same as anyone else, they must be chaste, not active in their lifestyle, at Communion ( Paul says a person shouldn’t take communion unworthily) etc.

    Peace and Grace

  13. Hi Tom
    Why is “with their property” so important?

    In respect, patience, and love,
    Kevin

  14. Thank you for your question, Kevin.

    One reason the property is so important is that it is often the primary tool for ministry that the local church has. The opportunity to meet together for worship, small groups, administrative meetings, and provide on-site ministry are often the heart of a local church’s ministry strategy. Reproducing all that a physical facility offers would be time-consuming, expensive, and sometimes impossible with the available facilities in a local community. Depriving a local church of its physical facility would severely handicap its ability to do ministry.

    A second reason the property is so important is that it was already purchased by the congregation for its ministry and often tailored to the needs of that particular congregation. How is it fair to insist the congregation donate what it paid for to the denomination, thus handicapping its ministry? Why should the local church then have to pay a second time to provide a new suitable facility, when they already paid for one once?

    In most cases, the ancestors who paid for and provided the property were traditionalists. Why should a traditionalist congregation not be allowed to maintain that facility provided by their traditionalist ancestors? Why should the proceeds of the sale of that property go to a denomination that is heading in a more progressive direction, out of step with the beliefs of those who provided the property in the first place?

    For the sake of the congregation’s ministry and because of fairness, providing a way for the congregation to keep their property is very important to congregations in the U.S.

    In Christ,
    Tom

  15. Thank you for your question, Rob. The behavioral standards for clergy and laity in the Global Methodist Church will be the same for everyone. Particularly for clergy and bishops, there will be robust accountability to those standards. One of the main differences between the UMC and the GMC is that the GMC will expect people to live by what we say we believe. Over the last 20 years or more, accountability in the UMC has become very fickle and inconsistent.

    Tom Lambrecht

  16. I posted a learning session on the GMC last Friday on Social Media. The very next day my former pastor (a centrist) created his own post with the exact same picture of the learning sessions with the following quote….”It breaks my heart to see these folks tearing up communities and joking for power. The Book of Discipline won’t and can’t change until 2024. This is only about power at this point.

    But we, like generations before us, will remain faithful in this storm.”

    I have changed my attitude this week to now recognize that I am now “these folks” and according to Matthew 5:11, I am blessed!

  17. A very wise woman told me “the way a picture looks depends on where you sit”. This is so true in this debacle. People’s future – meaning lifestyles and jobs – are at stake. What is being forgotten is the common man that shows up at church each Sunday, sits in the pew, prays, sings, and listens to the message and donates to his church. This man is being forgotten so the people leading the church can have their way. These are the folks that raised funds and paid for and maintained the building in which they worship. They have been cast aside. I’m afraid the new denomination is close to being a parallel to the old denomination and in a few years will be at the same crossroads. Just change the sign, let your faith be your guide, and get back to worship and making disciples. Support and recruit younger members so there is a future to a church. Have more weddings and less funerals. God is on your side. Let your faith show, not fear.

  18. What would Jesus say. What would Jesus do and how disappointed must Jesus be with us.
    Please let we, His people, love Him and make Him know His sacrifice for us is appreciated.

  19. In short: When someone shows you who they are, believe them.
    As you so aptly show here, progressives have shown us time and time again who they are.
    Why would this time be any different? I don’t believe it will, and they’ve given me no reason to think otherwise.

    Thank you for writing this.

  20. Traditionalists saying they can’t trust Centrist-Liberal Pastors to tell the truth is the most amazing instance of the “pot calling the Kettle black” that I have seen in a long-time. The WCA and GMC habitually accuse us of not believing in the historic creeds, the divinity of Christ, or the resurrection. Their only proof is that one or two persons who identify as Liberals/Centrists have made statements to that effect- statements taken out of context and which in no way reflect the views of the vast majority of Centrists-Liberals. However- I agree that those who are promising that there will always be a place for Traditionalists are simply not being honest with themselves or with conservatives! But don’t make it sound like the misinformation is only coming from one side!

  21. I am so grateful not to be affiliated with any form of Methodism anymore. You’re all more concerned with being right and retaining power than you are about loving people. I don’t think any of you are following Jesus in loving your neighbors.

  22. Heterosexual people do not decide to be so nor do homosexuals. Our sexuality is preordained as is hair color and and other attributes; there is a freedom in Christ to live out what God has given. Let us not negate the gifts the human race has been blessed to receive.

  23. It is always nice to receive pats on the back as you”preach to the choir”. Which is what this article is all about.
    My Methodist heritage goes back generations. I am a traditionalist but by no means a conservative. So I wish you would stop using the term.
    I have been slandered by one of the Bishops you support. I have been told by that bishop he would have placed me in an appointment without consultation. An appointment that would not value my gifts and graces. But you have not mentioned these things because they are inconvenient truth.
    So enjoy your cushy job with all your supporters around you but please do not berate those of us out in the field who bear the marks of our faithfulness to the UMC mission. Thank you,
    Rev Michael caldwell
    The Texas conference
    Medically disabled 🤠

  24. I am not convinced that the GMC is the place for me. I am certain that the UMC is making it difficult for me to stay. My thoughts? Stay in my local church and convince the congregation to stop paying the apportionments and the pastor if he/she fails to obey the Book of Discipline.
    Reading the comments reminded me of the time my new church refused to pay what they had agreed on, and the time my father was removed without consultation among the cabinet. These two events occurred in 1988 and 1963 respectively. The leader ship of the United Methodist Church has gotten nothing except worseIn the almost 80 years of my father and my ministry.

  25. Simple solution . Five or six heavily indebted churches in each conference set up a new corporate identity and leave their building and meet in local convention centers/auditoriums. There is not a conference that can handle that debt service.

    No one will do it because we worship our buildings and prestige

  26. I truly empathize with Michael’s message above. As a student pastor who was sent to far west Texas, I asked my District Superindent about something that I, as a student pastor really needed help with. The DS told me to “go shopping” and to forget about it. When the UMC sends people to carry Wesley’s message, they absolutely must help when those people sincerely ask for help. As a single woman, I asked for help. I got none. The DS had told me that my filling that “spot” at that small rural church was a bit of “serendipity” for him at the time.

    I understand that this does not directly respond to your article, Rob, and I love your writing and messages. To me, you are a guiding light. I just want to say there are people whose minds and hearts have been crushed by the hierarchy of the UMC. Keep fighting the good fight.

    Cheryl Ferguson
    .

  27. I was raised in the Methodist church and have watched the traditions I was raised with seep away, specifically (among other observations) changing the words of hymns to be politically correct. Given the fact that the progressive’s are dead set on changing the traditional Methodist doctrine rather than leaving themselves and writing a discipline that suits their beliefs speaks volumes. Given their insistence on this course of action, it is logical to assume that when the discipline is rewritten to suit them that the ability for traditionalists will be cut off.

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