Until the Work is Done

By Rob Renfroe

Some have asked about the future of Good News – and understandably so. Our sister organization, The Confessing Movement, has concluded its work to reform and renew The United Methodist Church. More than 7,000 churches have now left the denomination. The bishops have said it’s time to be done with disaffiliation. And leading centrists have said that churches wanting to leave should do so by the end of 2023.

It would be reasonable to ask, “Isn’t the work of Good News done? You worked to maintain a biblical sexual ethic in the church’s Book of Discipline – and were successful. You provided resources for churches contemplating disaffiliation and many have said it was the information you provided that made the difference for their congregations. You helped churches find the legal aid they needed when their bishops misused their authority and denied congregations fair treatment and justice. And Par. 2553 in our Book of Discipline that provides a path for leaving the UM Church expires at the end of 2023. So, good job, but it’s over. What’s left to do?”

But it’s because Par. 2553 terminates at the end of the year that the work of Good News must continue. In the United States, some churches considering disaffiliation were told by their bishops, district superintendents and pastors (I heard them say it), “You don’t have to make a decision now. In fact, you shouldn’t make a decision now because you don’t know what the General Conference will decide in 2024. Nothing has changed in the UM Church and it may be that nothing will change. Wait to see what GC 2024 does and then you can determine whether you should stay or go.”

Those representing the UM Church said these things knowing (1) that paragraph 2553 would expire at the end of 2023, (2) that all centrist and progressive leaders along with the bishops said they were committed to supporting gay marriage and the ordination of practicing gay persons and (3) there would not be enough traditionalist General Conference delegates remaining to prevent the 2024 General Conference in Charlotte, North Carolina, from changing the Book of Discipline. They told churches to wait, knowing that the bishops were done with disaffiliation and had no intentions of creating a new way out for traditional churches.

I get it. Traditional churches that have remained made a mistake. But I also get that it’s hard for good people to believe that a pastor, a district superintendent, or a bishop would mislead them. So, some congregations that trusted the UM Church to be honest and fair will find themselves wanting to leave next May after the General Conference meets and will not have an approved  pathway to do so. Getting out will be a battle. Good News feels compelled to help them fight that battle.

Even more egregious is the unjust treatment that churches outside the United States have received. The bishops ruled that Par. 2553 does not apply to churches in Africa, the Philippines, and other places outside the U.S. So, the pathway that American churches have used to exit the UM Church has been denied to the majority of United Methodists who live in other countries. When I asked a UM bishop if any bishops were making plans to allow those outside the US to leave, the answer was, “Well, I’ve heard some talk about it.” I pressed, “Do you know of any progressive or centrist leader or bishop who is working on legislation for GC 2024 that would allow the Africans to leave?” The bishop’s response was “no.”

The bishops want to be done with disaffiliation – they’ve stated that. It’s apparent they have no desire and no plans to prepare a similar path for international churches to exit the denomination that we in the U.S. were afforded. When I was in Nairobi, Kenya, this September with over forty African leaders, they referred to this double-standard as “colonialism.” And the regionalization plan that the bishops and centrist leaders are promoting so that the U.S. will have its own version of the Book of Discipline and the Africans will not be able to speak into it – that plan, the Africans referred to as “the apartheid plan.”

International delegates know how they have been mistreated by UM leaders. They are very aware that they have been marginalized, discriminated against, and denied justice. When I spoke to the leaders in Nairobi I told them, “You came to the U.S. for decades to fight about issues that were not African issues and that were already settled in the Bible. Still, you came over and over to help us when we needed you. And now that you need us – we’re not going anywhere. We’re staying with you. We’re fighting with you. And we are seeking justice for you.” Even now we are partnering with our African friends in promoting their attempt to receive an exit plan from General Conference 2024.

One of two scenarios will come out of GC 2024. The one that is preferable will provide a pathway similar to Par. 2553 for all UM churches, American and international. If this is the case, Good News will help congregations around the world considering disaffiliation understand where the UM Church is headed and why traditionalists need to leave.

The other possibility is that traditional churches inside and outside the U.S. will be denied justice. In this scenario, churches will need to look at their options and determine their best way forward.

Good News is committed to using all we have learned during this season of disaffiliation to support and coach these churches as they exit the UM Church. Some will leave quietly and start new congregations. Outside the United States, entire annual conferences may decide to leave, as happened earlier this year in Kenya. Other congregations will feel a need to seek justice in the secular courts.

This path is unpleasant, arduous, and emotionally exhausting. Fighting discrimination and oppression always is. But fighting for justice is not something churches in the U.S., Africa, the Philippines and other countries elsewhere will do alone. Because Good News isn’t going anywhere. We’re staying. Until the work is done, we’re staying.

Rob Renfroe is the president and publisher of Good News. 


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