Rev. Rob Renfroe

Rev. Rob Renfroe

By Rob Renfroe-

If the Western Jurisdiction wanted to create a schism within The United Methodist Church, its delegates could not have devised a better plan than their recent election of the Rev. Karen Oliveto to serve as a bishop of the UM Church. As is widely publicized, Oliveto is married to another woman and has announced that she has performed over fifty same-gender weddings.

This provocative act is simply the latest indication that the UM Church is coming apart. Nine annual conferences have now voted that they will not comply with the church’s positions regarding sexuality – meaning they will allow partnered gay persons to serve as ordained pastors and they will not hold accountable pastors who marry gay couples.

Unfortunately, the way the UM Church is organized, there is little that can be done to bring these annual conferences into compliance with UM doctrine. And though Rev. Oliveto’s election has been appealed to the Judicial Council, it is unlikely that the Council will rule her election out of order. Any elder “in good standing” may be elected to the episcopacy. At the time of her election, Oliveto was in good standing within her annual conference.

The election of a partnered gay bishop was not a surprise. Good News had been predicting such an event for the past two years. Knowing progressives could not change the church’s official views legislatively at General Conference, they had two options: give up the fight or step up their acts of disobedience, in hopes of demonstrating that there is no real accountability within the UM Church and signaling to others that they may now disobey the church’s instructions regarding sexuality.

The ironic part to this drama is that when orthodox United Methodist leaders have questioned whether, with all of our differences, we could live together as one church, they were condemned as “schismatics” by progressives who said we should all remain at the table and “continue the conversation.”

What’s obvious at this point is that when the conversation is not to the liking of progressives, they feel free to disregard the views of the majority and do what they “know to be best.” And they expect us “to stay at the table and remain in holy conferencing” – not because they are open to change or to honoring the conversation but because they know they can turn over the table and dishonor the practice of holy conferencing without any consequences. And should we even hint that we don’t see the point of continuing in dialogue any longer since it has no bearing on what progressives do, we are made out to be the villains, rather than those progressives who disrespect holy conferencing and the table they claim brings us together.

Question. If I was unfaithful to my marriage covenant and my wife discovered it, and if I responded by saying that I had my reasons and that I intended to be unfaithful in the future and that there was nothing she could do to change my mind, what would you tell her to do? If I told her that to be a good spouse she needed to stay in relationship with me and keep talking about our relationship, not because I’m open to changing but simply because that’s what a good wife should do – how would you advise her?

I’m guessing you would think that I have no right to tell my wife how she should respond. (I have never counseled a couple whose relationship has been shattered by adultery that the cheater should be the one to determine the rules for the faithful spouse.) I’m guessing that if she was willing to put up with such continued abuse, you wouldn’t find her noble and healthy but weak and co-dependent.  At some point, you’d tell her “he’s not going to change; it’s unhealthy for you to stay in this relationship; so you can respect yourself, you have to say, ‘enough.’”

That’s where we are. We have an unfaithful spouse. He has his reasons for what he’s doing and he has told us that he is never going to change. And he tells us that we should stay in conversation because that’s what good people do.

This is the situation that the bishops’ commission must address. Trying to create some compromise that allows continued unfaithfulness will not work. Re-writing our marriage vows so that fidelity is no longer required won’t heal our relationship. Attempting to “contextualize” our behavior so that the spouse can cheat in places where cheating is acceptable won’t resolve our differences.

That’s why “A Third Way” failed. That’s why talk of re-writing the Book of Discipline and removing restrictive language about the church’s teaching on sexuality is foolish. And that’s why claiming that churches in more liberal contexts should have a different position than those in more traditional parts of the world is unthinkable. We don’t determine faithfulness based on the sentiments of a fallen culture but on the clear teaching of God’s word.

So we are in a time of crisis and chaos. And the future of the UM Church is in question. Why are we here? There are many reasons but the primary one is this: our bishops have been permissive parents. Many have signaled that pastors are free to be unfaithful to our covenant in their annual conferences. And even the conservative bishops have not unified, organized, spoken out together, or warmly promoted our church’s biblically based sexual ethics. And what permissive parents always discover is that failing to enforce the family’s rules never leads to a healthy, unified family but to a family that is dysfunctional and selfish.

In this vacuum of leadership, many orthodox leaders – lay and clergy – have created the Wesleyan Covenant Association. This network of innovatively traditional Wesleyan churches is coming together to witness and work together for the orthodox faith, to resource each other for effective ministry, and to strategize for the future, regardless of what the commission may recommend. They have decided that it’s time to stop waiting for the progressives to change their stripes (they won’t) or for our bishops to restore integrity to our covenant (they are too divided to do so).

Whatever God has in mind for the people called Methodist, the Wesleyan Covenant Association is prepared to lead the way to a better day for Bible-centered Methodists. It will have no authority to change the church’s teachings and has no desire to do so. But it does have the power to encourage faithful United Methodists to step into the future strong, smart, strategic, and together.

God has the ability to bring order out of chaos, blessing out of brokenness, and life out of death. What he asks of us is faithfulness.  And if we do that – if we remain faithful and together – whatever happens, there is a better day coming. God will create it. And honestly, I cannot wait to step into that future with brothers and sisters who long for the world to know Jesus.

Rob Renfroe is the president and publisher of Good News.


  1. Last evening I attended a “District Leadership Summit”, as Board of Church Location member, of the Rockford District in the NIC.

    It seemed to me that some discussion about the renegade Conferences and the Oilevto appointment would be appropriate. Our Conference is among the ones who have vowed to disobey our Discipline. It was a productive and interesting evening, but I kept thinking about the serious problems we face.

    I mentioned the topic in a discussion with another member. After some delay he said, “The Pope said we are not to judge”. I spent a couple hours in bed last night praying about this.

    Our Lay Leader approached me about the issue last week, so we will be in the process of withholding apportionments if the Board approves.

    Prayers for the Wesleyan meeting in October.

  2. Pastor Rob,

    As always, I appreciate your kind and thoughtful approach too our current situation. And though I do not believe that harsh observations are often helpful, I believe it’s important to “speak the truth in love.” This situation has been birthed after many long years of progressive aggression against God’s word and the UM Book of Discipline. I have maintained before and I’ll maintain it again: the end game is less spiritual and biblical and more financial. Logic suggests that it would be easier for the progressives to leave the UM church and join with the Episcopal, Presbyterian or Unitarian churches; they would certainly find greater comfort and kinship for their social-spiritual agenda in those environs. I’m certain that their “reluctant coupling” with traditional UM’s has not been to their liking or edification. So, given current circumstances…why have they chosen to stay their course? Currently, the UM church controls properties, ministries, budgets, pensions and other far-reaching assets. Additionally, the credentials of many seasoned clergy, missionaries and administrators are in some stage of uncertainty. The simple fact is that unless the Holy Spirit moves in great and profound fashion (and I surely do not overlook this possibility), we are staring at a split, breaking of bonds, schism or division of assets…take your pick. Two loving, caring, civil groups of disagreeing people (which both traditionalists and progressives claim to be) should be able to negotiate a separation in which both groups can follow their vision of God’s light on their pathway. Nonetheless, reviewing the tactics and techniques being followed by our progressive brothers and sisters, I seriously doubt that this will be an “supportive division”; rather, I believe that the core group of UM’s are in the traditionalist camp, and with it, the majority of influence over financial resources and recent church growth among over international UM church. They will rant and rave about this being a USA issue and attempt to exclude the whole of our church brothers and sisters. We need to be alert to this and never allow these precious international members to be excluded from full participation and consideration. They have brought critical strength and vision to our wounded church; we cannot allow their witness and voice to be minimized or unheard!

  3. Rev Rob,
    I continue to struggle with your third paragraph. With the way we are organized, little can be done. How discouraging. Sounds like the third way is already underway — that is, regional conferences and jurisdictions deciding which portions of the BOD to follow. I call it de facto. Of course the Judicial Council is yet to address these recent developments. But, you do not see them doing anything about this Western Jurisdiction election because it was technically correct? Now, this new Bishop is in violation of a number BOD regulations, yet is already seated. Are there no complaints pending regarding her various violations? Or, were “just resolutions” reached prior to her election? Finally, what is coming up at the October Judicial Council session that touches on this schism within the church? Will that session be of significance?

  4. I think I get the technical good standing reference, but don’t we have a rule against financial support for homosexuality promotion, and wouldn’t that apply to the episcopal fund at this point?

  5. The bishops of the Church are lawfully required to administer the Book of Discipline as it requires. They are in an illegal status – both within the Church; and within the laws of our Nation governing organizations. It is time to bring civil action against the College of Bishops for violation of their trust clause with the United Methodist Church. We should put their behavior and the property trust clause requirements before a competent court and demand a verdict – if they may violate their administrative legal responsibilities to enforce the Book of Discipline why is the property trust clause still in force? It is time to realize we are not in dialogue with our adversaries – we are at war. They have deluded us into enabling their continued disobedience and we are selling out our Church and the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ in order to remain in dialogue. The time for talk is long past – we need a Paul Revere to summon us to arm. Who will take up this mantle?

  6. Charles Spurgeon : “Numbers of good brethren in different ways remain in fellowship with those who are undermining the gospel; and they talk of their conduct as though it were a loving course which the Lord will approve of in the day of His appearing. We cannot understand them. The bouden duty of a true believer towards men who profess to be Christians, and yet deny the Word of the Lord, and reject the fundamentals of the gospel, is to come out from among them. If it be said that efforts should be made to produce reform, we agree with the remark; but when you know that they will be useless, what is the use?”

  7. Somehow the situation in the UMC reminds me of a marriage where one spouse is ignoring the secret abuse of an offspring in order to keep peace in the house and remain supported. Like it or not, the progressive wing of our denomination has been debasing and corrupting our offspring for decades now and many have left the faith or have joined the cult of liberation theology. I think we need to see this for what it is. We are not only dishonoring Christ, we have been placing our own children at risk and lost many already.

  8. Over and over I hear, “We must avoid schism at all cost.” It seems to me schism has already occurred. Those who hold to Wesleyan orthodoxy to have stood idly by while allowing those have chosen to follow the way of the World rather than God’s Holy Word to run rough shod over us and the truth. This Schism began long before the 1968 merger. It began as Seminaries taught doubt and questioned orthodoxy. Let us call a spade a spade.

  9. I am glad the Judicial Council will be considering this; but I am dismayed that they will not be considering the validity of the ordination status of OTHER clergy who are “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals.” At least three practicing homosexuals were ordained this year, and others have publicly declared their violation of the discipline. I also know of ordained clergy who have married someone of the same gender. Shouldn’t that invalidate their ordination and make them ineligible for appointment?

  10. Where is the leadership? This all reminds me of a bunch of preachers who only preach “feel good” sermons for fear of losing a member of the congregation. Talk is cheap. Stand and fight for our Wesleyan beliefs. The Apostle Paul didn’t hesitate to toss a member who was making the church look bad by compromising Christian beliefs.

  11. Thank You Rob for speaking the truth so many of us feel.

  12. Was Rev. Oliveto “married” to a woman when elected Bishop? If so, how could she have been deemed “in good standing?”

  13. I am a 5th generation Methodist. My 4th great grandfather was a circuit riding Methodist preacher in Ontario Canada until the age of 99. Sadly, I am a member of the conference to which Rev. Oliveto was just appointed. After much prayer, I have left the Methodist church along with many members of our congregation and am seeking a church that stands firmly on the Word of God. Pray for those of us who have had to face this decision, but know we must obey God’s word first and foremost.

  14. I feel your pain. My husband and I left the United Methodist Church for the same reason last year. We have joined the Free Methodist Church which is of the Wesleyan tradition. They are very firmly rooted in the Word of God and have a heart to reach the millions who are lost here at home and around the world.

  15. I live in Montana and my new Bishop is Karen Oliveto,. What I did was talk to the Church Treasurer and told her that I wouldn’t give to the church if she paid apportionments. Our Church has decided not to pay apportionments.
    All Bishops and clergy live off the generosity of Christians. Statistics tells us that the most generous are conservatives. Your money and my money has been supporting this nonsense. If Methodists from other conferences would refuse to let their money go to apportionments, this would be settled very quickly .

  16. May I recommend a book to read that seems to parallel the schism that has been growing for years in the United Methodist Church. As a long time Methodist that finally “had enough” I am now a member of a PCA (Presbyterian Church in America) church in our city. I am currently reading the history of the split that formed the PCA church in 1973 entitled “For A Continuing Church” by Sean Michael Lucas. It has been eye-opening to see how the Presbyterian denomination has seen & experienced an almost identical growth in the division between the conservative and progressive factions within the church. For those who fight to avoid a split at all cost, this book with show you that such a split, even though painful, can result in a much better denominational arrangement.

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