By Rob Renfroe
A reassuring ruling from the Judicial Council was released on November 2, 2009. The Council serves as the supreme court of the United Methodist Church and it functions as a binding interpreter of church law as stated in The Book of Discipline.
At General Conference 2008, roughly half of the members of the Council were up for re-election—the majority of whom were supported by Good News and other renewal groups. They were all were soundly defeated.
Many observers saw this as an orchestrated and successful attempt to replace Council members who had voted in favor of Judicial Council Decision 1032. Decision 1032 determined that Virginia Annual Conference Bishop Charlene Kammerer was wrong when she ruled that the pastor of a church did not possess “the right and responsibility to exercise responsible pastoral judgment in determining who may be received into church membership of a local church.”
The Council of Bishops shortly thereafter issued a statement against the ruling and in support of Bishop Kammerer. Several pro-homosexual special interest groups did the same.
Interested United Methodists have since watched closely to see how the new Council would rule on controversial matters, particularly those regarding human sexuality. The Council was recently given the opportunity to do so as the result of an action taken by the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference.
At its 2009 gathering, the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference adopted a statement regarding the practice of homosexuality that differed markedly from the church’s clearly enunciated statement in The Book of Discipline. The statement affirmed by the conference was essentially a minority position advocated by liberals and pro-homosexual advocacy groups at the 2008 General Conference in Fort Worth. It claimed that the United Methodist Church “is divided on the practice of homosexuality,” and it sought to remove from the Discipline the church’s long held position that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” Baltimore-Washington’s position was rejected by the gathered General Conference delegates.
However, Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference Bishop John Schol imprudently ruled that it was appropriate for his conference to adopt a statement that was in direct conflict with the church’s official position. Indeed, it was in direct conflict with a position reaffirmed by numerous General Conferences.
In a unanimous decision, the Judicial Council reversed Bishop Schol’s ruling. It ruled that annual conferences cannot “articulate a new and different standard of church belief using language that has been specifically rejected by the General Conference” and “may not negate, ignore or violate” the church’s position “even when the disagreements are based upon conscientious objections.”
In other words, we are one church. And it is the General Conference that speaks for the church—not special interest groups, annual conferences, or even bishops. The Judicial Council’s ruling makes clear the inappropriateness of an annual conference’s attempt to claim greater enlightenment, a special revelation, or a more sensitive conscience on a matter clearly addressed by General Conference.
Along with previous rulings that overturned two Western Jurisdiction annual conference votes supporting clergy who perform same-sex marriages, this latest decision gives hope that the current Council will be the fair and impartial interpreter of the Discipline that the United Methodist Church deserves.
We commend the present Council for its good work regarding this most controversial issue and for allowing the General Conference to speak for the church. In doing so, its members are following a tradition of integrity and faithfulness that has served United Methodists well.
Serving as a member of the Judicial Council is one of the most important and taxing positions in the church. Its ruling can either keep us together or tear us apart. Please join me in praying for the members of the Council as they serve Christ and his Church.
Rob Renfroe is the president and publisher of Good News. He is the pastor of adult discipleship at The Woodlands United Methodist Church in The Woodlands, Texas.
By Eric LeMaster
Pastors and academics converged in early October at United Methodism’s Duke Divinity School in Durham, North Carolina, to discuss the changing landscape of Christianity in North America and abroad. The convocation raised a call to action to reengage culture domestically, while highlighting the increasing prominence of the Global South in the world communion.
Notable among those speaking were Dr. Philip Jenkins, professor of humanities at Pennsylvania State University and author of numerous books on the growing Global South church, and Os Guinness, Christian scholar and founder of the Trinity Forum. Attending the event were pastors and church leaders from various mainline denominations from the southeast, primarily United Methodists.
Most speakers addressed the need to reevaluate the domestic strategy of mainline churches to engage culture and reverse the contraction of congregations in the West.
Kendra Creasy Dean, founding director for the Princeton Theological Seminary Institute for Youth Ministry, dealt with the loss of young people as a major failing of the church in our times. This failure, she says, is exhibited in the startling minority (only eight percent, according to the National Study of Youth and Religion) of American Christian teenagers who are “highly devoted”—those who are active in their churches, pray independently, etc.
“People who are in economic development know that the most important stimulus you can invest into a developing economy is to invest in young people,” said Dean, relating this to the need to make greater spiritual investments in the coming generation. She also asserted that the best way to develop young people is “to invest in the spiritual formation of the adults that love them best”—whether in the context of youth ministry, the family, or the general congregation. Strong leaders are necessary, she argued, to counteract what she called “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism”—the relativistic, feel-good theology of choice for many church-goers, and a philosophy devoid of a dynamic relationship with Christ.
In a series of sermons concluding each day of the conference, Dallas United Methodist pastor Tyrone Gordon, senior pastor of St. Luke’s “Community” Church reiterated the need to be forward thinking in preaching the gospel. Gordon emphasized the inadequacies of current strategies to engage culture, especially the church’s role in combating social injustice.
“Micah spoke to a culture where the powerful were oppressing the powerless,” Gordon said, drawing from the prophet’s words that true religion is both social and spiritual. “Workers were being exploited. Immigrants were being ignored. The courts were corrupt.…The faces, the corporations, the political players may have changed, but the game sure looks the same.”
“Justice is lacking in our nation, and sometimes the worst perpetrator of injustice by silence is the church,” Gordon admonished. “We have bought into a gospel of prosperity that diminishes suffering, sacrifice, commitment, and surrender. We’ve been just naming it and claiming it, and just milking the people for whatever we can get, in the name of the gospel.”
The growth of the Global South.
While congregations in Europe and North America are shriveling, those of the Global South are seeing unprecedented growth and vitality. According to Dr. Philip Jenkins, there are practical reasons for the contraction of North American and European mainline church congregations. The great shift in demographics, a trend which he considers “the most important change in progress in the world today,” can be partly attributed to declining birth rates in Western countries that have predominately Christian traditions—a pattern Jenkins characterized as an “attempt to almost breed [ourselves] out of existence.” This is contrasted with African populations in countries such as Uganda, which is projected to double within the next several decades, and other nations which may see growth on the order of 15 percent or more.
The rapid encroachment of Islam in Europe through immigration and the relative stagnation of church participation also contrast dramatically with the Global South’s Christian expansion through conversions.
Global South Christianity tends to be very conservative by some perspectives, based on their stances on controversial social issues such as human sexuality. Jenkins warned against pinning “the North’s ecclesiastical labels on the South”—our packaged understandings of “conservatism” versus “liberalism”—but this has not prevented some very heated exchanges between the two groups. He quoted one liberal Episcopal activist as saying Africans should “go back to the jungle [they] came from and stop monkeying around with the church.” Equally inflammatory to some are the African leadership’s conservative views on the American Episcopal Church, especially concerning homosexuality, which some Africans equate with a “cancerous mass that must be excised from the body.”
The Christianity of the Global South also seems strikingly different from Western churches in its apocalyptic and supernatural emphases. “If you’re not prepared to take healing [and the supernatural] seriously, be prepared to take a different line of work,” said Jenkins. The secularization of Christianity in the West is far from the reality abroad and we should come to terms with a faith that is overwhelmingly “traditionalist, orthodox, and supernatural” in churches in Africa and South America. However, Jenkins suggested that if we look at Christian history, such a movement is truly a return to form.
Jenkins distanced himself from saying that one paradigm is better than the other—asserting rather that this is what works in the Global South, and that we should come to terms with it without trying to project onto it our domestic church politics. This includes scriptural interpretations that are unique to African, Asian, or South American sensibilities. “There’s so much of Christian history that we should look at in order to realize how many different ways Christianity has manifested itself, while being in the apostolic norm,” he argued. “The more we know about the history—the accurate history—the less we’ll be concerned about the wonderful world that’s opening up before us.”
Cultural challenges in the West.
In his presentation, Dr. Os Guinness maintained that our engagement with culture has been a losing battle, much due to the philosophical paradigm of modernism that Western Christianity helped to create.
Guinness warned of the distortions modernity has imposed on religion, but especially on Christianity. “Modernity has done more damage to the Christian faith than all the Christian persecutors in Christian history,” he said, noting this worldview’s fragmenting effect on individuals in society. “Many people have not only different hats in different places, but different souls. And faith is not compartmentalized.” He further argued that this has caused belief “to become not an authority, but a preference,” in which “the Lordship of Christ is denied.”
Relating this fragmentation of values to the church’s role in the public arena, he warned: “We must choose our stance in public life with care.” The U.S. as a nation has swung from a “privately engaging, [but] publicly irrelevant” faith mid-century to a faith that’s highly public, but privately inadequate. As an example, he cited the 2004 elections in which Catholic hierarchy considered withholding sacraments from members of Congress who were privately pro-life, but publicly pro-choice.
“I personally thank God for the decline of the Religious Right. I’ve attacked it for 30 years,” quipped Guinness, referencing his distaste for the way politicians have often used their religious affiliations to either garner support or direct public policy initiatives. “Politics is downstream from many of the sources of the ideas in our culture. They [public policy leaders] asked politics to do what politics simply can’t do.”
Like Jenkins, Guinness responded to the shift in spiritual gravity from the West to the South with optimism and promise. “The Global South is almost completely pre-modern. So they have yet to face the challenges that have undermined us in the West,” he said, “but their challenge will come to them. And our privilege is to teach them how we have failed.”
Eric LeMaster is a research intern at UMAction in Washington D.C.
For the Cause of Unity
On November 5, 2009, twelve representatives of renewal and reform groups within the United Methodist Church met with the Bishops’ Unity Task Force. The same task force had previously met with a group representing the Reconciling Ministries Network and the Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA).
The wide-ranging and forthright discussion focused on matters that threaten the unity of the United Methodist Church. In this issue of Good News, we excerpt a portion of the statement dealing with unity and division within the United Methodist Church that was presented to the Bishops’ Unity Task Force by the renewal and reform group leaders. This was excerpted from the beginning and conclusion of their presentation. In the May/June 2010 issue of Good News, we will offer the middle section, highlighting the group’s specific concerns surrounding the way General Conference activities are conducted.
For the Cause of Unity
We are grateful for the opportunity to have this discussion and appreciative of the initiative the Council of Bishops has taken to explore the critical issue of unity. It is crucially important to us to lift up the unity of the church. We love the United Methodist Church, are committed to it, spend time defending it, and have served and supported it throughout our professional lives. We have come both to listen and to speak, and to seek to keep our hearts open to the Holy Spirit throughout this dialogue—for division within the Body of Christ breaks the heart of God and weakens our witness in the world.
We have come to be honorable partners in this process. Whether this conversation goes beyond this day or not, we seek to open ourselves not just to the Spirit but also to you, our Bishops. We want to be as honest with you as we can possibly be about tension points we see within the denomination, about dangers our church may face if they are not addressed, and about ways forward through them. We do this for the sake of working together so that these points of difficulty can be addressed. We also know that you have perspectives you would share with us, and we will be honest and thoughtful in our responses.
We also think it important to say that we do not perceive ourselves as representing fringe elements of the church. As we think of the people we serve, they form the core of the people in the pews, who pay the bills, build new congregations, support missions, love the Lord, and love his church. While they form a working majority at General Conference, the numbers they represent in the local church are even more significant. Therefore, it is doubly important to us that we are here, so that we can reflect to you with a significant degree of accuracy the feelings and thoughts of much of the heart of the membership of the United Methodist Church.
The theology of unity
We come here representing a network of renewal groups, some of which have been in operation since the 1960s. … We are committed to the mainstream generous orthodoxy of the church catholic and of classical Methodism. The focus of renewal movements varies, of course, according to the renewal movement. We have worked diligently for a deeper commitment to—and immersion in— Scripture, to the retrieval of our doctrinal heritage in the Articles of Religion and Confession of Faith, to the development of comprehensive mission that includes evangelism, disciple-making, church planting, social engagement, and to a fresh and continuous Pentecost in our midst. More specifically, we are committed to the transmission of the Christian faith as bequeathed to us through the Wesleys and Methodism. We believe that Methodism has inherited a viable and precious version of the Gospel (in its doctrines and in its practices) that was birthed of the Spirit and that is vital to the church catholic in the future. Of course, some may disagree on what that legacy is, but we cannot but be faithful to the light as we see it.
We have no interest in dividing the church. Our aim is the renewal of the church, not its division. It is daft to seek to fix or renew something in order to divide it. On the contrary, division would be a very messy and unmanageable development. It would consume precious energy and massive resources that we want to use in sustaining healthy churches, in renewing the denomination, and in carrying out mission and evangelism. We have, in fact, been vital in enabling many United Methodists to stay within our church, especially those who have felt alienated for various reasons (some healthy and some unhealthy). We love our church—warts and all—and have absolutely no interest in causing schism.
We believe that our unity is both a gift and a task. It is a work of the Spirit, and it demands constant effort. Unity is fragile today. The evidence from other mainline Protestant traditions (Episcopal, Lutheran, and Presbyterian) is obvious and compelling on this front. We support both the teaching and canon law of our Book of Discipline on homosexual practice. Contrary to what is often thought, this is not the primary issue for us. It has been made a primary issue by those desiring to change our teaching and discipline; we cannot ignore it because it simply keeps recurring again and again. Our primary commitments are scriptural, doctrinal, and missional. We place these in a theological vision of the Methodist tradition that is committed to the divine revelation enshrined in Scripture. So the bigger issues are those of faithfulness to our Lord and to the church as a community of Word and Sacrament rightly ordered in faithfulness. These are not matters that can be resolved by political slogans like “the extreme center” or “the middle way” or “inclusivism.” Theological and missional integrity under the authority of divine revelation are vital to us.
As we in the renewal and reform groups seek what will make for unity in the church, we find a number of tension points that we believe are disruptive of the unity that we all seek.
1. Some leaders of the church seem to be promoting an agenda of changing the United Methodist Church’s position on human sexuality. This is being done both overtly and more subtly. Examples include the following:
• Bishops who speak at Reconciling Ministries events, including celebrations at Reconciling Congregations within their annual conferences.
• Bishops who participated in an “extraordinary” ordination of a self-avowed practicing homosexual person who was denied acceptance into ministry in the UM Church.
• A bishop taking the microphone on the floor of General Conference and haranguing the delegates about how our votes on this issue were contrary to the will of God.
• The utilization of “testimonies” by self-avowed practicing homosexuals during worship services and other programs sponsored by boards and agencies and annual conferences, in an attempt to promote the acceptance of homosexuality.
• Placing self-avowed practicing homosexuals or vocal proponents of the acceptance of homosexual practice in positions of high visibility in the church, for example, music leaders at General Conference.
• Articles printed or promoted by general boards and agencies contradicting United Methodist positions, such as a recent article on the General Board of Church and Society website that promoted the acceptance of sexual relationships outside of heterosexual marriage, with no commitment or covenant expected.
These and many similar activities are corrosive to the unity of the United Methodist Church. They represent a minority of the church attempting to force its agenda on the majority. We believe the leaders of the church, including its bishops, should promote and defend the church’s position on issues, not a minority agenda that alienates people in the pews and fosters division in the church.
2. On the flip side of the coin, there is often a deafening silence when it comes to promoting and defending the United Methodist Church’s position on doctrinal and social issues that are controversial in the church. There have been times when a bishop has spoken out in defense of the church’s position, but then has been pressured by colleagues into subsequent silence. It seems that it is acceptable for bishops and others to speak out against the church’s position, but it is not acceptable for bishops and others to promote the church’s position.
3. It is our perception that the renewal group constituency—theologically orthodox, evangelical, or conservative—is not adequately represented on boards and agencies and other denominational decision-making bodies. Several general boards have fewer than 10 percent of their directors voting in a theologically conservative direction, whereas recent Barna surveys and other studies have identified that over 50 percent of United Methodists consider themselves to be conservative theologically. Numerous surveys over the past 20 years have demonstrated that General Conference delegates, general board members, and agency staff are not (as a group) representative of the opinions of grassroots United Methodists. The Byzantine nominations process used to constitute boards and agencies, including the Connectional Table, are so convoluted that it is nearly impossible for us to gain fair representation on these decision-making bodies. Even within various boards, classically orthodox members are often excluded from strategic committee assignments.
There is great concern about diversity of externals, such as race, gender, age, or those differently abled, but there is very little attention paid to ensuring the presence and participation of those committed to the historic doctrines and mission of the UM Church. This lack of proportional representation leads denominational decision-making bodies to speak and act in conflict with the beliefs and values of many grassroots United Methodists, resulting in a widespread lack of trust by laity in these church bodies. Inasmuch as bishops are heavily involved in the nominations process at the Jurisdictional level and at the various boards and agencies, we believe that bishops could exercise leadership in assuring that orthodox United Methodists are proportionally represented at the various tables where the current and future ministry of our church is being set.
4. To us, there seems to be a misuse of the principle of accountability within the covenant of ordained ministry. On the one hand, there is little or no accountability exercised over bishops, elders, or deacons who contradict the church’s doctrinal standards or moral positions. On the other hand, there have been instances over the past ten years of leaders using the complaint process to silence or expel classically orthodox voices in some annual conferences. While we sympathize with the desire to eliminate the guaranteed appointment, we are afraid that its elimination will provide one more tool for the marginalization of solid, loyal, classically orthodox clergy within annual conferences.
These are some of the items we have identified as leading to a fracturing of our United Methodist body and increasing the tensions that lead to disunity among us. They are reflective of the polarization of our church and society at large. They also reflect a struggle for power within the church that seems to be more about a certain agenda or vision of the church, than about promoting the unity and mission of the church. We are alarmed that some pursuing this power and control agenda disregard the consequences of their approach to the unity and vitality of the church. It seems as if they would rather have their way in the church, even if it leads to widespread membership losses or even outright separation.
Worst case scenarios and how to avoid them
Our intent is not to be caustic, hostile, or divisive; but simply to be honest. We acknowledge that our major problem within our local congregations is not with the practice of homosexuality, but with heterosexuality run amuck.
Nevertheless, we strongly support our current stance on this issue. Simply put, we welcome all people, but we do not affirm all behavior.
If there was a change in the position of our denomination in regards to the practice of homosexuality no longer being incompatible with Christian teaching, it obviously would have a devastating impact on the United Methodist Church. The experience of the Episcopal Church in America is an example and should serve as a warning to us. Very serious and dire consequences would in all likelihood ensue for the United Methodist Church as well. Membership and worship attendance loss, apportionments withheld and unpaid, and litigation would occur in local congregations and within entire annual conferences. It is not only large congregations that would be adversely affected by a change in our stance, but churches (and conferences) of all sizes.
At a meeting in August 2009, the senior pastors of 92 of the 100 largest United Methodist Churches in the United States had a discussion about this matter in relationship to General Conference. These churches have over 150,000 in weekly worship attendance, and pay between $45-50 million in apportionments each year. While those in attendance vary significantly in ministry and theological styles, they left that meeting with a definite consensus that it is imperative that the 2012 General Conference focus on our pathways in worship, prayer, and mission planning, and to defer all legislation concerning human sexuality.
In the strongest possible language we can use, we would ask that the bishops actively work to help avoid changing the current stance on sexuality.
The center of God’s will and a way forward
Again, we want to thank you for the invitation to dialogue and to discuss issues that are dear to all of our hearts.
Hopefully, you have heard how much all of us and those we represent love the United Methodist Church and our Wesleyan heritage. We are committed to preserving the wonderful gift God gave the world through the Wesleyan revival—its doctrines, disciplines, and spirit.
How do we move forward as a church together in mission?
One way that we are convinced will not work for the long term is finding “middle ground.” We disagree with that concept theologically and practically.
1. Theologically, the goal should not be to take a poll of all views within the church and land somewhere in the middle of the most extreme views—mistakenly thinking that such an approach is unity. It is not. It’s little more than a politically expedient way to ignore the deep issues that divide us.
The goal is to be faithful to what God has revealed. Where we in the renewal movements are wrong, we want to be corrected. Where we are right, we cannot deny what God has said simply because others see matters differently.
Though our disagreements as a church often center on sexuality, we know that the real issues that divide us are much deeper and more important — issues such as the authority of the Scriptures, the present work of the Holy Spirit, and the uniqueness of Christ (whether his work on the cross is the sole means of salvation for all the world). Even on matters we consider essential, we know that United Methodists are not of one mind. And our differences on these issues do raise the question of what kind of unity is truly possible for the people called Methodist.
We can disagree amicably and with respect. We can look for points of agreement and celebrate those. And we can believe the best about each other. But our goal is not to find a middle ground. Our goal is for the church, theologically and missionally, to be faithful to what God has revealed and to live in the center of God’s will.
2. Practically, we are uncomfortable with the concept of finding middle ground because we don’t believe that’s what the other side desires. In Pittsburgh the motif that was chosen by the Reconciling Movement was “like water on a rock.” It’s a great metaphor and one that is telling. The goal of the Reconciling Movement is not to agree to disagree—it’s to wear away at least some of the long-standing, traditional Christian beliefs regarding human sexuality. Simply stated, it is to change the views that have been in The Discipline for decades and in the Church for centuries.
Any movement away from the current positions and towards what some might describe as middle ground will simply create a new starting point for further dialogue—again with the stated goal of trying to reach new middle ground. Only this time, we will begin even further from where the Church has always been theologically, and closer to a view that the majority of United Methodists hold to be incompatible with Christian teaching.
Practically, finding middle ground will become nothing more than a series of steps, with the goal of each time taking us further from traditional beliefs and closer to views that the Church has rejected. Like water on a rock, the ultimate goal is to wear away our resistance to a cultural flood that rejects traditional Christian teaching. And the other side will not be satisfied until this end has been reached.
We don’t fault those with whom we disagree for promoting their beliefs. They have every right to do so. But we’re not naive. “Middle ground” is only a step toward changing the Church’s views, and it is best to admit so at present and acknowledge that we can’t take that journey together.
How do we move forward?
One way is to watch our language. It’s hard to believe we can move forward together when we are likened to the KKK by persons representing the other side. It’s hard to believe we can work together when we are called racists, as we were at General Conference, or when bishops refer to us as sinners because we have voted our conscience.
We respectfully ask that if leaders of our renewal groups have ever used derogatory language to refer to persons whose beliefs or practices differ from ours that we be given that information. We will personally ask them to apologize and make whatever amends are necessary.
How can we move forward together?
The best way we know is to agree that The Book of Discipline will be our guide, and for our bishops not only to enforce it but also to promote it. It should not fall upon the renewal groups to defend and promote the position of the church regarding sexuality or any issue. That is the charge given to our episcopal leaders. And yet, when have we ever heard our bishops give a thoughtful, substantive defense and rationale for our views? The loudest voices are those that speak in favor of changing the church’s position. That does not create unity, and it does not assure our church members that the leadership of the church represents them and their beliefs.
Again, we are grateful for the invitation to meet with you. And we pray God’s wisdom and courage for you as you move forward.
Bishops’ Unity Task Force
• Sally Dyck, Chairperson (Minnesota)
• Mike Lowry (Central Texas)
• Minerva Carcaño (Desert Southwest)
• Peter Weaver (New England)
• Daniel Arichea (The Philippines)
• Joao Machado (Mozambique)
• William J. Abraham is the Albert Cook Outler Professor of Theology and Wesley Studies and Altshuler Distinquished Teaching Professor at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas. He is widely known as a theologian, philosopher, and scholar of Methodism, most recently as co-editor of The Oxford Handbook of Methodist Studies (Oxford University Press 2009).
• Larry R. Baird is in his seventh year as District Superintendent for the Cornerstone District of the Western New York Conference. He has served on the General Board of Discipleship, the Northeastern Jurisdiction Episcopacy Committee, and New ACT—the body responsible for enabling leaders in four Annual Conferences to create a new upstate New York Conference.
• Eddie Fox is one of Methodism’s foremost evangelists. He has been the World Director of Evangelism for the World Methodist Council since 1987. A member of the Holston Annual Conference, Dr. Fox has served as a General Conference delegate on several occasions.
• Tom Harrison is in his seventeenth year as the Senior Pastor of the 7,600-member Asbury United Methodist Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Dr. Harrison has been a General Conference delegate and alternate. He currently serves as chairperson of the Oklahoma Annual Conference Council on Finance and Administration.
• Liza Kittle is a member of Trinity on the Hill United Methodist Church in Augusta, Georgia, and is the current President of the Renew Network, the women’s ministry program arm of Good News.
• Tom Lambrecht is an ordained minister in the Wisconsin Annual Conference and former Chairperson of the Board of Directors of Good News. He served as the coordinator of the Renewal and Reform Coalition efforts at the 2008 General Conference.
• Senator Patricia Miller has been the Executive Director of The Confessing Movement within the United Methodist Church since 1997 and has served as a General Conference delegate from South Indiana five times. She became a State Senator in Indiana in 1983 and continues to serve in that capacity.
• Rob Renfroe is the President and Publisher of Good News and previously served as the Chairperson of The Confessing Movement Board of Directors. He is the Pastor of Adult Discipleship at The Woodlands United Methodist Church, north of Houston, Texas.
• Chuck Savage is the Senior Pastor at Kingswood United Methodist Church in Dunwoody, Georgia. He has been in full-time ministry for sixteen years and was elected as a delegate to the 2008 General Conference. He currently serves on the Board of Trustees of the Board of Church and Society.
• Steve Wende is the Senior Pastor of First United Methodist Church of Houston, one of our denomination’s leading congregations. He is a member of the Texas Annual Conference and has served as a General Conference delegate five times.
• Alice Wolfe has served as a pastor in the West Ohio Conference for twelve years and is currently serving as Senior Pastor of Anna United Methodist Church in Anna, Ohio. She served as a delegate to the 2008 General Conference and to the North Central Jurisdictional Conference in 2004 and 2008.
• Steve Wood is the Senior Pastor of Mount Pisgah United Methodist Church, a 9,000-member congregation in the Atlanta area. He has served as a church planter, the pastor of a multi-ethnic church, and as a delegate to both General Conference and Jurisdictional Conference.
By Rob Renfroe
In the last issue of Good News, we reported that representatives of several renewal and reform movements within the United Methodist Church had met with the Bishops’ Task Force on Unity. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss how we might move forward in mission together as a united church.
We were grateful for the opportunity to share our concerns and thoughts regarding unity with the task force at Lake Junaluska. And we commend our episcopal leaders for addressing our divisions and seeking to resolve them through prayer, dialogue, and understanding.
The Bishops on the task force greeted us warmly, listened carefully, and asked appropriately thoughtful questions. We agreed not to discuss our conversation outside of the meeting. Knowing that we would not be quoted and possibly misquoted in public gave us all a freedom to express our concerns forthrightly and passionately.
However, we do have an agreement with the bishops on the task force that we may share with others the documents that we gave them, expressing our views. Later in this issue of the magazine, you will find the first of two articles containing those documents.
I believe the composition of the team we assembled made it obvious that the renewal and reform groups do not represent some “right-wing, fringe element” within the church (please see the biographical information of team members on page 17). What should be abundantly apparent is that the renewal and reform movements hold and promote the beliefs of the great majority of United Methodists. We are not trying to re-make the United Methodist Church into our own image; we are simply working to keep the church Christ-centered and biblically faithful—exactly what most United Methodists desire.
Those who would marginalize our movements as “fringe” or “extreme” would do well to ask themselves why the most controversial amendments passed by General Conference all failed at the Annual Conference level. It’s because much of the church’s leadership and those who are driven by a liberal agenda are out of the mainstream. The amendments we supported passed. Those we opposed failed. We are not the ones out of touch with the heart and soul of the United Methodist Church.
What strikes those of us who lead the various renewal and reform groups as strange is that we are often tagged as being driven by a single issue—homosexuality. Strange, isn’t it? We are not the ones who force the issue to be debated and voted on at General Conference. We don’t send petitions to change the current position in The Discipline. We are not the ones who wear pins or stoles or who make dramatic protests once the voting is over. We would be more than happy never again to have to spend time, energy, and money on this “single issue.” Yet, the very persons who sing the constant refrain that too much time is spent on this issue and that we should “major on the majors, not the minors”—these are the very persons who have forced us to devote inordinate amounts of time to the same single issue every four years for the past four decades.
As you will note as you read the article on page 12 in this issue about the meeting with the Bishops’ Unity Task Force and the one in the next issue of Good News, homosexuality was just one of many concerns we brought to the task force. Settle this issue and we will still be a divided church and we will still need to work on unity. Resolve the issue of homosexuality the wrong way and it will have the same disastrous effect it has had on the Episcopal Church. So, we had to address that issue in the documents we gave the task force.
But our true concerns are much broader. How do we spread the gospel to a culture that is becoming increasingly secular? How do we bring hope to the billions of people who are living in physical and spiritual poverty around the world? And how do we revive the United Methodist Church so that together we can do the work that God has called us to do?
Rob Renfroe is the President and Publisher of Good News.