By Rob Renfroe
For the first time, the United Methodist Council of Bishops has issued a collective statement that all of its members “will uphold the Book of Discipline as established by General Conference,” regarding the various issues related to homosexuality.
The statement was the direct result of a letter sent by 59 leading pastors to all active bishops, asking the Council to address the then 900 pastors who had pledged to perform gay marriages, contrary to the Discipline. (You can read the entire statement from the Council of Bishops at www.GoodNewsMag.org.)
Since the letter was sent, more than 2,500 pastors have added their names to the letter and more than 12,000 laypersons have signed an even more pointed statement at the website www.faithfulumc.com. As reticent as the Council has been in the past to address the topic of homosexuality in any sort of unified way—even as it was tearing the church apart—it is obvious that the letter and the 14,500 signatures were effective in motivating the Bishops to do what they should have done long ago.
We are grateful to the Council for issuing a statement and to the thousands of United Methodists who asked them to do so.
So we have a statement. That’s the good news. The statement itself—well, that’s another story. In a 21-sentence document, two sentences deal with upholding the Discipline. Out of 526 total words, only 41 state the Bishops’ commitment to defend the covenant that holds us together. In fact the UM position regarding gay marriage is never stated. Nor does the statement promote our beautifully balanced, biblically faithful, and compassionate position regarding human sexuality. (See page 30.)
Instead, much greater attention, verbiage, and passion is given to the same issues we regularly hear touted by the Bishops: the importance of “being in ministry…for all persons,” a warning “not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends,” and a commitment to offer “grace upon grace to all.”
There is a place for such statements. But those issues are not the ones that are threatening the unity and the future of the UM Church. I believe what evidently many of our Bishops are not convinced of: United Methodists, in general, and UM pastors, in particular, are among the most compassionate, grace-filled and grace-giving persons on the planet.
When 1,000 rogue pastors have promised to break our covenant, what we need is something more pointed and more theological than a document that devotes the majority of its content to telling us to be kind to one another. We get that already. United Methodists have always gotten that. And it’s not a lack of kindness that is threatening to destroy the unity of the UM Church.
We needed a statement that addressed firmly and specifically the proposed actions of those who have rejected holy conferencing, who have pledged to throw the church into chaos, and who believe they can represent the UM Church while rejecting the clear teaching of the Scriptures and 2,000 years of Christian tradition.
What we wish the Council of Bishops would have said.
Grace and peace to you in the Name of Jesus Christ.
We live in a time of great social change. In particular, our culture, and even some in the church, are confused about sexual wholeness. In such times, it is imperative for the church to be clear about its teachings. As Bishops of The United Methodist Church, it is our responsibility to make certain that the church and the world know exactly where we stand.
A statement is especially necessary at this time because 1,000 UM pastors have pledged to perform marriages for homosexual couples, contrary to the Book of Discipline which states that no UM pastor may do so and no such service may be held on UM property.
Our UM position concerning homosexuality is one that has received careful consideration, much prayer, and constant reaffirmation for over 40 years. We believe that it is biblically faithful—all persons possess sacred worth, but the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.
As shepherds of the church we are committed to upholding, defending and promoting our position which offers sacred worth, sexual wholeness, and the beauty of holiness to all.
To those who possess a same-sex attraction and to those who love them, we want you to know that the UM Church is a safe place for you. You are welcome in our churches, and we are deeply sorry for any actions or words which purposefully or inadvertently have been hurtful to you.
To those pastors who have pledged to perform gay marriages, we admonish you not to do so. If for conscience sake you feel that you must, know that we will not allow you to fracture the unity of the church or break our policies without severe penalties. We pledge that we will not wait for others to file charges against you if you perform same-sex marriages. We will do so. In addition, you will immediately be suspended and not reappointed until your case has been resolved. You have the right to disagree with our UM positions. We have the responsibility to enforce them. And we will faithfully do so.
We have a time-honored, Wesleyan tradition of resolving our disagreements. It’s holy conferencing. Not only are we troubled by your pledge to perform services not allowed by the Discipline, we are also grieved that you have decided no longer to follow our Wesleyan way of resolving conflicts together. Your pledged actions make future conversations difficult if not impossible. And that is most regrettable.
We implore you to live by the Discipline and recommit yourselves to holy conferencing. It is our hope and prayer that you will. If you are not able to do so, integrity may require you to find another denomination. Integrity will require us to enforce the Discipline, offer both grace and truth to the world, and not allow the actions of those who disagree with our positions to divert our energies from making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
—The Council of Bishops
Rob Renfroe is the president and publisher of Good News.
By Thomas A. Lambrecht
Three years after the United Methodist Council of Bishops declared that ordinations conducted by Church Within A Church (CWAC) have “no official status,” two more ceremonies resembling ordination rites were conducted by CWAC on October 23 at St. Mark’s Presbyterian Church in Tucson, Arizona.
According to a CWAC press release, DeLyn Celec was discontinued from the United Methodist ordination process when she answered “yes” when asked if she was in a civil union with her partner.
“I am called to Extraordinary Ordination with the Church Within A Church Movement,” Celec said. “Its distinctively Wesleyan heritage, and commitment to ending oppressions of all types, makes it feel like my Church.” Celec will continue serving as Worship Arts Coordinator at United Methodist-related Shenandoah University in Winchester, Virginia.
Robyn Morrison stopped her United Methodist ordination process when her lesbian daughter asked her why she would want to be ordained in a denomination that would not allow her to perform the wedding of her own daughter.
“I feel called to sacramental ministry within the Methodist tradition,” said Morrison. “Sadly, exclusion in the United Methodist Church continues to harm me, my beloved daughter and my beloved friends, who are gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual.”
United Methodist ordained elders participated in and led the ordination service. The preacher for the service was the Rev. I. Malik Saafir, senior pastor of Theressa Hoover United Methodist Church and lead consultant for the Janus Institute For Justice, LLC, in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Leading the ordination ceremony was the Rev. Greg Dell, retired member of the Northern Illinois Annual Conference known for his 1999 conviction and suspension for officiating at the union of two gay men; the Rev. Susan Morrison, retired and currently teaching at Boston University School of Theology; and the Rev. Dr. Traci West, Professor of Ethics and African American Studies at Drew University Theological School (Madison, NJ).
Additionally, the worship was led by Mark Miller, the co-worship leader at the 2008 General Conference.
Three years ago, the UM Council of Bishops issued a public statement that the ceremony in which two ordinations were conducted by CWAC “was not approved by any United Methodist annual conference, board of ordained ministry or cabinet” and that the ordinations had “no effect within The United Methodist Church.”
Good News believes that this “extraordinary ordination” was a sign that proponents of the acceptance of homosexual behavior are prepared to go outside The United Methodist Church to get their way. The fact that four United Methodist ordained elders led this event signifies how broken our church really is.
The Church Within A Church Movement is actually an incipient new denomination. It offers to credential pastors, holds regular training and support meetings, and sponsors new church plants by its ministers. While evangelicals have been accused of preparing to start a new Methodist denomination for years, CWAC has already done so, to little fanfare and no objection from those concerned with the unity of The United Methodist Church.
It seems that the CWAC would be the perfect place for those clergy and congregations who can no longer live within the United Methodist covenant.
By Thomas A. Lambrecht, vice president of Good News.
By Shane Raynor
You can learn a lot from reading just one sentence. Consider the first of the United Methodist baptismal vows: “Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin?”
If you read it quickly, you might think this is a basic promise to “be good,” stated in three different ways, but it’s not. There’s a lot of information packed into this one question. In these 17 words, you find the three basic evil influences with which Christians struggle, and three things we have to do (the three R’s) to help us overcome them. You’ve got to wonder if most of us knew what we were really getting into when we said yes to all this.
As we travel the road to become more like Jesus, we run into three main obstacles: the world, the flesh, and the devil. By “world,” I mean the negative human influences and the corrupt, unregenerate culture around us. By “flesh,” I mean our own human tendency toward sin. And by “devil,” I mean Satan himself as well as demons.
Reject. The world is referred to in the baptismal vows in the phrase “evil powers of this world.” We promise to reject these evil powers. These powers don’t include anything supernatural, but they are often under demonic influence. Evil powers of this world include evils like slavery, abortion, sexual abuse, persecution, oppression, corruption, systems that perpetuate poverty, drug trafficking, exploitation…the list is endless. Cultural influences such as various movies, television shows, video games and music could also be included as part of the evil powers of this world. Rejecting these means refusing to accept them, rebuffing them, discarding them as useless, or casting them out or off. How many of us are truly rejecting the evil powers of this world?
Repent. It’s been said that each of us is our own worst enemy. This makes sense to me, because a lot of times we don’t even need an outside influence to make us sin—we manage to handle that just fine on our own. When we become Christians, we still have to deal with the flesh—that part of us that, if not disciplined and brought under the power of the Holy Spirit, will take us down the wrong road every time. I think of our flesh like a car that isn’t in proper alignment. If we take our hands off the steering wheel long enough, we’re usually going to wind up in a ditch, or worse, in another lane crashing into some other vehicle. The Holy Spirit helps us control our flesh and keep it in check. Repenting is what we do when we make an active choice to change both our hearts and our lives—a choice that helps transform us both on the inside and the outside.
Renounce. This is a strong word. It means something along the lines of disavow, disown, forsake, or repudiate. When you renounce someone, you’re publicly declaring that they have no authority over you anymore and you’re dissociating yourself from them. In the baptismal vows, you’re not stopping at merely condemning forces of evil (denouncing), you’re severing any and all ties between you and those forces completely (renouncing). When you say you renounce something and you mean it, you’re doing something powerful in the spiritual realm, even if you only feel like you’re saying words at the time.
Our war with evil is happening on three fronts: between our spiritual nature and our corrupt one, between us and the world, and between us and spiritual forces of wickedness. We can’t focus on only one front and be effective. As with other parts of the Christian life, balance is a major key to maximum effectiveness.
Shane Raynor lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is an editor and blogger at MinistryMatters.com.
By Liza Kittle
I had the pleasure of leading a women’s retreat with one of my women’s ministry mentors, the Rev. Kris Key. It was a beautiful weekend spent with some lovely new sisters in Christ of the Mountain Valley United Parish in Cobleskill and Jefferson in upstate New York.
Kris told a story taken from David Platt’s best-selling book Radical about his friend Bullen who lives in a ravaged area of Sudan, devastated by twenty years of civil war. Thousands of his friends have been killed by a militant Muslim regime and he has grown up there alone since childhood, having been separated from his family. Despite all this hardship and pain, Platt was mesmerized by Bullen’s shining smile and outlook on life.
As Bullen and Platt sipped tea together in this downtrodden place, they talked about how God had worked in Bullen’s life, brought him to faith in Christ, and God’s plan for his future. Bullen looked at his friend and said, “David, I am going to impact the world.” With much skepticism, Platt asked Bullen how he was going to do this. “I’m going to make disciples of all nations,” Bullen said. David repeated back to him, “So you are going to impact the world by making disciples of all nations?” Bullen smiled big and said, “Why not?”
Bullen had the confidence and faith that he was going to impact the world. He believed in Jesus’ command to make disciples of all nations and his life plan was to act in obedience. Platt contends that Bullen’s plan for his life is the same plan Jesus has for every individual life—by making disciples, each one of us can impact the world.
Many times as Christians, we lose sight of this central mandate of our Savior Jesus Christ. We question how we as individuals can impact the world and bring glory to God. We forget that God’s mission field is not only in Sudan, but also in our homes, neighborhoods, and the corner grocery store. Each one of us can make a difference in our own sphere of influence. Bullen didn’t focus on the massive destruction around him. He focused on what Jesus proclaimed for his disciples to do, one step at a time. Likewise, we shouldn’t let our circumstances overwhelm and derail us from Jesus’ proclamation that applies to us as well.
Many times as members of The United Methodist Church, we lose sight of Jesus’ call of impacting the world by making disciples. We seem to forget that sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ and making disciples is the core purpose of the Christian life and we become complacent in our participation in this Great Commission. We begin to worship the institution more than Jesus.
Being a United Methodist can lead to many days of disillusionment. Clergy and lay members alike sometimes feel like just throwing in the towel and heading for the door. Things happen within the denomination that discourage and detract us from continuing in the spiritual battle for the heart and soul of The United Methodist Church.
Things like hearing that more than 1,000 clergypersons have signed a public statement declaring they will be available to participate in same sex unions, openly defying our Book of Discipline. Like hearing that the “Church Within A Church” Movement—a progressive group—has held another “extraordinary ordination” of an openly gay pastor in the presence and with the blessing of United Methodist leaders.
Things like reading that church leaders have participated in public political activism such as the recent group of United Methodist Women (UMW) leaders in New York marching in the “Occupy Wall Street” movement. Things like learning that the UMW partners with the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, a group that advocates for no restrictions on abortion access.
We ask ourselves, “How can we ever stand up against such pervasive pressure from so many fronts? How can I as one person really make a difference in this battle for our church? Can I make an impact on the global church?”
Yes. Why not?
Even in the face of mounting discouragement, it has never been more important for faithful United Methodists to stand firm and persevere. We have much at stake at General Conference 2012 and many important issues to address. Why not help the effort through daily prayer for this important conference? Why not become informed on all the issues by reading up on all the processes of General Conference and the issues? Why not help support the Renewal and Reform Coalition financially by making a generous donation for our presence in Tampa?
Why not…make a global impact on the world by keeping this historic denomination centered on Jesus and making disciples of all nations.
Liza Kittle is President of the Renew Network (www.renew-network.org), P.O. Box 16055, Augusta, GA 30919; telephone: 706-364-0166.
By Gary Prichard
Although it has always been by faith, it seems that as we grow older it should be more obvious to recognize the Lord’s will for our lives. The signs of faith that give us direction and assurance should also be more obvious than when we were new in our faith. Right?
Nevertheless, every situation challenges us to discern if we are really going in the direction the Lord intends for us.
My grandmother had faith that her prayers would not be unanswered. She gave me my first birthday present, a King James Bible. I ran across it the other day. It had pages torn out, but sandwiched between the old pages was a piece of paper I had written in my college days at Cal Poly, in my junior year of engineering school.
I had just accepted and made a commitment, in a profound way, to follow Jesus as a way of life. On this piece of paper, now 49 years old, I had written, “Today I asked the Lord to help me find some funds to pay for this registration….If I find the funds today, I will know that the Lord was in this and I will proceed….On the way back from the post office to my dorm it started raining so hard, I took an alternate route through the Ag-Science Building, when I spotted the head custodian, the boss of my part-time job on campus….He said he was just turning in my time card and wanted to know if I would be interested in working another two days after class this week!”
The Lord had answered my prayer in a profound way. The reality is that there is Someone who will show us the way if we will trust, honor and obey.
Keep an eye on the principle within
After graduation and being drafted into the Army and serving some time as a design engineer, I became executive manager of a shopping center with seven stores in a remote town in the California desert. My father and stepmother were the owners of the Eagle Mountain Shopping Center. It was not only a profitable business but was extremely interesting. It provided many vocational opportunities such as working with employees, developing relationships with regular customers, and the challenge of maintaining the equipment and facilities.
The shopping center served a community that had been built around an iron ore mine near Desert Center, California. It was a town of 3,700 people, with more living in some outlying areas such as Lake Tamarisk—an area created for executives who wanted to live on a golf course. That’s where my wife Phyllis and I bought our first home when I began working in the family business.
Eagle Mountain was established in the World War II days to supply iron ore to Kaiser Steel’s production plant in Los Angeles. My father, Frank L. Prichard, a building contractor, had constructed many of the houses in Eagle Mountain. Kaiser had asked him to take over the operation of the mess hall and town store in the late 1950’s, and eventually build and operate a shopping center. It was built to include a grocery store, variety/drug store, restaurant, laundry, post office, bank, service station, beer bar, and bowling lanes.
Since the nearest place to make purchases was Indio, 60 miles away, this shopping center was a convenience for those living in Eagle Mountain and it also provided a way for the community to socialize and get caught up on local gossip.
My stepmother, Margaret, managed the office, and if it weren’t for that, I may have never seen my folks. Their Mooney Super Executive was parked at the Eagle Mountain airport for quick getaways. Both Dad and I had private pilot licenses.
A Change of Direction
After a couple of years of this exciting work, I began to experience some changes in my life. I had given my heart to Jesus, but now, it seemed I was chasing rainbows. The kind with the pot of gold at the end. I was drifting away even though I was taking my family to church. There was a spiritual war inside of me. I knew my life needed to count for something good, and in order for that to happen, Jesus needed to be in control. It seemed worldly things were filling my mind and establishing my goals. The work in the shopping center swallowed up most of my time, and the grind was eroding a balanced home life and the discipline of spiritual commitments. But, I loved this work and if I would have to serve the devil through all this work perhaps the ways of the world might be fun! This statement appalled me! I could not believe I was even contemplating such an irrational notion.
A dramatic event caught my attention and began to turn me around. My daughter Jennifer almost died of spinal meningitis at 9 months old. The pediatrician said it was the worst case of this disease that she had ever seen in which the child did not die. I held my daughter in my arms at the Desert Hospital in Palm Springs in 1974 and cried out to heaven, “Please Lord, before you take this child, I want somehow for her to know that I love her so much and that I need to confess my inattentiveness to showing her I loved her—but now I need her to respond to me!”
In that very moment it was as if the Lord spoke audibly to me, “Gary, I want no less from you. Why do you ask me for a response from your daughter when your response to me has been empty!?” And in that moment she opened her eyes and smiled at me and I heard the angels sing. I instantly recalled the Bible verse talking about angels singing over a repentant sinner (Luke 16:10). I was stirred to the core.
That experience, coupled with the testimony of a Lay Witness Mission, provided influence which led to my calling into full-time Christian work. I was reading Lloyd Ogilvie’s Let God Love You during a morning devotional at my kitchen table when I heard God call me. I began to grasp the power of the Cross and Jesus’ personal atonement for me again. It motivated me to give up chasing a million dollars and to accept a call to the ministry. It has been 35 years since that day and I have been wonderfully blessed, to God be the glory!
At 36, I told my dad I was going to seminary. He was shocked that I would do such a foolish thing and give up a million dollar family business to work for thankless people in the church! My wife of six years, who also had a wonderful job of teaching school, said she would support me in a decision to move and go back to school. She had said this prior to my calling, and I wondered what in the world she was talking about. Somehow the Lord had impressed this on her heart prior to putting it on mine.
Blessing and Response
In the first year of seminary, at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, I had a profound dream. I envisioned the Eagle Mountain Shopping Center in the midst of a ghost town. This dream contained such clear visions that I remembered it in vivid detail, including tumble weeds rolling across the empty parking lot. Memorable dreams are not common with me—especially one as alarming as this one. I immediately wrote and encouraged my folks to get out of the business as soon as possible. They sold the business soon and within five years the community was closed.
Eagle Mountain is now a ghost town, after serving as a prison for a few years. Tumbleweeds are blowing across the parking lot of the one-time lucrative shopping facility. Although Hollywood has produced a few James Bond-type of movies there, it is basically a ghost town. I am grateful to have listened to the voice calling me to come forth, like Lazarus.
Construction and Service
Ten years ago, at 60 years of age, it seemed a bit early to retire from the pulpit and pastoral ministry. My wife Phyllis—a special needs pre-school teacher—was providing needed funds for our new home and increased expenses. I knew if I stayed in the pulpit ministry I could receive a much larger pension and be more assured of a better retirement. But, what about using my gifts for ministry in another way?
It is much easier to look for financial stability and allow this to be the determining factor for the future. What about the everlasting arms? They had worked before, what about now? “Let us hold unwaveringly to the hope that we confess, for the one who made the promise is trustworthy” (Hebrews 10:23). In 2 Corinthians 13:5 it says, “Put yourselves to the test to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves!”
I served four churches and the last was for 14 years. When I reached 59, one year prior to my retirement from the pastoral ministry, our church was involved in a building program. This was the last phase of our four building projects. The old sanctuary needed to be converted into a much needed fellowship hall with a large kitchen. Since we were doing this job on faith with no funds to start, we had to look for volunteers.
Someone suggested I call the Nomads, a United Methodist Ministry that provides volunteer construction, remodeling, and repairs for churches, children homes, camps, colleges, outreach missions, and disaster rebuilding. With a variety of skills, Nomad members do maintenance, cleaning, painting, electrical, drywall, sewing and flooring.
With the help of Nomad volunteers, it took us about six months to build a beautiful kitchen and two large bathrooms, and a maintenance room and food storage room. The Fellowship Hall also needed remodeling which we could do with future Nomad projects. The project turned out better than expected and I knew the Lord wanted Phyllis and me to work with Nomads.
Launched 23 years ago in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, Nomads began when United Methodist “snowbirds” from Illinois, Iowa, and Indiana wanted to do some work among area congregations. These Winter Texans approached local United Methodist churches and offered their services. That first year there were 24 members who completed five projects in Texas and Oklahoma.
Nomads grew as an all-volunteer organization under the North Central Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church. Membership grew, and in 2001, Nomads incorporated and became an organization under the General Board of Global Ministries.
After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Nomads began doing disaster recovery work in Mississippi. It was estimated that Nomads donated a total of 102,000 hours of volunteer labor in 2009. Five disaster Response Projects have been offered over the past year in Mississippi, Texas, Indiana, and Iowa with a total of 10,600 hours of donated labor.
The Hands in Ministry
When I reached 60 years of age, I could feel the powerful tug of building and using my hands in ministry. But, would a small minister’s retirement be enough to give toward mission work? On the day of retirement, just 10 years ago this June, we said goodbye to our local church and had our truck and fifth-wheel parked outside for the congregation to view. We were able to purchase our rig from the sale of a rental house in which we had invested a few years earlier. Now, we were embarking on a new adventure of “trust and obey.”
After serving 5 years, Phyllis and I accepted the position of Southwest Project Coordinators for Nomads. We have now served a total of 10 years this coming June and find ourselves involved in finding, overseeing, and working with teams and agencies in 5 states. We have worked 42 projects nationwide. In 2010, there were more than 120 couples serving in 27 projects in the Southwest.
Nationwide, there were 120 projects during the first five months of 2011. Most of these projects are done in the winter when those living in the North travel south to get out of the cold weather. While Florida, Texas, and Arizona are the main focus areas, the work is accomplished in almost every state including Alaska (and if a highway can be installed, we will include Hawaii).
There are presently 1,200 Nomads. All the projects must be United Methodist-related or somehow connected to a local United Methodist church. The Nomads are blessed to have some very generous churches, agencies, and individual donors who contribute each year from their mission budget or tithe to support our work around the country. Some churches take up collections for Nomads and many of our members tithe or make annual donations. The Annual Meeting for Nomads was held in September 2011 in Forest City, Iowa, where 300 Nomads contributed by bringing craft items to an auction. The Nomads auctioned these items off to each other and raised over $40,000. These funds will be used for Nomad projects in 2012.
For everyone involved, it is a walk of faith.
It is still true to trust and obey. A heart that is focused on giving to others is blessed more than one at first realizes. You cannot out do the Lord.
Gary and Phyllis Prichard are the Southwest Project Coordinating Committee for Nomads. If you would like to contribute to Nomads, they are Advanced Special #982658 through the General Board of Global Ministries. You can learn more through their website; www.nomadsumc.org.