By Rob Renfroe —
This editorial will be a bit different. It’s an invitation to play a game titled “Name that Bishop.” Bishops in The United Methodist Church play a critical role. They not only provide administrative oversight and vision for their episcopal areas, they are also charged in the Book of Discipline “to guard the faith, order, liturgy, doctrine, and discipline of the Church.”
Before we begin our game, it’s worth noting that several of our best-known traditionalist bishops are retiring in 2022. Scott Jones (Texas Annual Conference), Mark Webb (Upper New York Conference Annual Conference), and James Swanson (Mississippi Annual Conference) have announced they will retire this year.
It’s also worth stating that the leaders of all the traditionalist renewal groups, including Good News, believe that after this year The United Methodist Church will never again elect a thoroughly orthodox bishop in the United States. With the mass departure of traditional churches which has already begun, the votes simply will not be there in the future to elect bishops like Jones, Webb, and Swanson.
So, back to our little game. I’ll give you the quote and you try to “name that bishop.” Some are newly retired, others still very active. All of them influential in the future of the Post-Separation UM Church and in guarding its doctrines.
Writing about Jesus’ encounter with the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15, this UM bishop stated that Jesus had to “come around” to see her as a genuine person and treat her as she deserved because he first judged her according to her gender and ethnicity. The bishop continued, “Like you and me, he (Jesus) didn’t have his life figured out. He was still growing, maturing, putting the pieces together about who he was and what he was supposed to do. We might think of him as the Rock of Ages, but he was more like a hunk of clay, forming and reforming himself in relation to God.” Then this bishop gives us a stern warning about Jesus: “too many people make an idol out of him.”
Who was this bishop who said Jesus was prejudiced, didn’t know who he was well into his ministry, and that he could be an idol, i.e., a false god? Karen Oliveto, bishop for the Mountain Sky Area. Now, can you name the bishop who admonished her for teaching that Jesus can be a false god? You can’t because none of those charged with guarding our doctrine condemned or corrected her heretical teaching about our Lord Jesus.
Name the UM bishop who wrote the following about General Conference 2019: “We prayed for openness to different points of view, unity, communion, gracious listening, holy conferencing, empathetic feelings, and generosity of spirt. It didn’t work. At some point I shifted my own prayers to, ‘Lord, please melt the hardened hearts and smite everyone who intends to vote against the One Church Plan.’” The One Church plan allowed every pastor to determine if he or she would marry gay couples and it permitted every annual conference to determine whether to ordain practicing gay persons. If you disagreed with that policy, this bishop believes you have a hardened heart. The difference, in his mind, is not that you hold to 2000 years of Christian teaching and to what the Bible very clearly seems to state. The problem is not simply a disagreement among good people. The problem is your bad heart, and this bishop prayed for God to smite people like you.
Who was this bishop? Will Willimon, one of our most read and most influential bishops for the past twenty years. Can you name the bishop who called on him to rethink how he framed this message or soften his thoughts about literally millions of good United Methodists who love Jesus, attend church, go on mission trips, and care for the poor in their communities? Of course, you can’t because none did.
Which bishop stated it wasn’t your heart but your head that needed fixing if you disagreed with liberalizing the church’s position on sexual ethics? After stating that persons with a traditional sexual ethic were guilty of homophobia, this bishop went on to state that traditionalists possess an “inability to incorporate the value of reason in their thinking.” You’re simply lacking mentally if you agree with the historic Christian Church and you disagree with him. Which bishop made this statement? Robert Hoshibata, the recently retired bishop of the Phoenix Area.
Can you name which bishop challenged him that our episcopal leaders really shouldn’t call our members mentally defective? No, you can’t, and you can’t because – well, you know why.
Can you name the bishop who demeaned an entire continent of faithful United Methodists? After what this bishop viewed as a disappointing General Conference, she wrote: “Delegates from Africa once again proclaimed that their anti-homosexual stand was what U.S. missionaries taught them. I sat there wondering when our African delegates will grow up. It has been 200 years since U.S. Methodist missionaries began their work of evangelization on the continent of Africa; long enough for African Methodists to do their own thinking about this concern and others.” Disagree with what this first-world bishop believes, and you are juvenile in your thinking. You need to grow up. The world has moved on past what you were taught, past what the Bible states. You need to get with it and believe what post-modern western bishops and pastors believe. Who was this bishop? Minerva Carcaño, bishop over the California-Nevada Annual Conference.
Certainly, something that could be seen as colonialist or even racist would be condemned in a public statement by other bishops. Can you name just one who called upon Carcaño to retract her statement that was terribly unfair and hurtful to our African sisters and brothers? I’ll answer that for you. No, you can’t.
Which bishop was recently quoted in a newspaper article as saying, “And while I believe in our traditional, orthodox faith that’s rooted in the scriptures, I have also always believed that we have to adapt our doctrine and our scriptures to changing life circumstances that people have.” I mean if enough people are experiencing something or if circumstances today are different than they were when the Bible was written, that’s a pretty good reason to adapt our scriptures from what they originally stated and meant, right? We should keep up with the times and let human experience override what has been given to us in the Bible. I mean which would you trust – an old book written by people who don’t know nearly as much as we do or the ever-changing experiences and circumstances of fallen, sinful human beings?
Who made this statement? Ken Carter, the episcopal leader for the Florida and Western North Carolina Annual Conferences, and the president of the Council of Bishops from 2018-2020. And which bishop spoke out against – well, by now you know the next question and you know the answer.
If you have been told that you can “#stayumc” and your traditional views will be respected, you need to hear what our bishops really believe about you and your beliefs. Not what they say when they’re trying to keep your church and your people and your money in the UM Church. But what they say when they are being honest. These bishops who are to provide vision for the church, guard our doctrines, and determine who your next pastor will be, they have told you what they think. Disagree with a liberalized sexual ethic and you have a bad heart, you possess a weak mind, and you need to grow up. If you believe Jesus was not a hunk of clay working out his bigotries and coming to grips with his own identity, you might be guilty of idolatry. And at least one UM bishop has been honest enough to state that he has prayed that God might smite people like you. And all the rest remained silent when these things were said. If you believe these bishops and others elected to replace retiring traditionalist bishops will never send a liberal pastor to your church to “help” you become “a real Methodist church,” you have much more faith than I do.
Welcome to the post-separation UM Church. If you have ears to hear, it’s not hard to perceive where it’s headed and just how welcome you and your traditional beliefs will be.
Rob Renfroe is a United Methodist clergyperson and the president of Good News.