By Rob Renfroe –
In six months, the General Conference of The United Methodist Church will meet once again. And once again the business of the conference will be consumed with our differences regarding sexual ethics.
Various groups have filed their plans for a way forward. What these plans reveal is that, after a special General Conference was held to determine The United Methodist Church’s position regarding marriage and ordination, nothing has been resolved. The church’s traditional, biblical sexual ethic was reaffirmed; but many progressives and many of those who call themselves “centrists” have been unwilling to live by the church’s position and are gearing up to defeat it in Minneapolis.
The preference of Good News and our partners in the Reform and Renewal Coalition is a fair and respectful separation that ends the fighting. Before and after the special Conference in St. Louis, we have been in many conversations, looking for “centrist” and progressive leaders who agree that we need a solution that has no winners or losers and that allows all of us to pursue ministry to the world as we believe God has called us to do.
Thankfully, we have found some nontraditionalists who have been willing to work with us. Some even helped to craft The Indianapolis Plan. While not a perfect plan, it achieves a form of separation we can gladly support. The “centrist” and progressive leaders within the church who have chosen to work with us in this endeavor are sincere pastors and laypersons who believe that continued fighting will harm their local churches and The United Methodist Church’s witness to the world. They have concluded, as we have, that a fair and respectful separation honors Christ and does the least harm to his body.
Sadly, however, most high-profile “centrist” leaders reject such a solution. It’s hard to understand why. At General Conference 2016 in Portland, the Rev. Adam Hamilton publicly stated the only solution he could envision for ending our stalemate regarding sexuality was to create three new churches. He made this statement to a group of seminarians who were observing the Conference after he attended four lengthy meetings with traditional, progressive, and other centrist leaders.
I participated in those meetings, and I can report that with the exception of the bishops who did not share their personal views, everyone in those meetings agreed that it was time for separation. Of course, the Rev. Hamilton and some of the other centrist leaders in those meetings, led the charge to defeat plans for amicable separation less than three years later when we met in St. Louis.
Other centrist leaders in closed-door meetings since St. Louis have stated to me that it’s time for a respectful parting of the ways. But, publicly they are opposing every plan that resolves our differences without winners and losers. Their amicable separation is: “Centrists win. Traditionalists leave.”
At the Church of the Resurrection’s annual Leadership Institute, the Rev. Hamilton told those gathered, “We are going to remove from the Book of Discipline the language that is harmful to human beings, the policies that are continuing to to bring harm to the LGBTQ community….” In other words, the “centrist” plan is to put us through the ugliness and the pain of St. Louis, once more, with the hope that this time they will win. And when the church’s traditional sexual ethics have been reversed to embrace same-sex marriage and the ordination of practicing gay persons, Hamilton believes conservatives will depart. In the same speech he estimated that between 3,400 and 6,800 traditional churches would leave the denomination.
Regrettably, the strategy behind the plan that most well-known “centrist” leaders support is: “We win. Y’all leave.” Their plan is not a separation of equals but an exodus of those who hold to the church’s historic teaching on marriage and sexuality.
I had hoped we were beyond this point. Good News has for years argued that it is time to create a solution that stops our dysfunction and that has no winners or losers. It is time – past time – to conclude that a “winner-take-all” or a “winner-take-most” approach is beneath us and is unhelpful in resolving our differences.
Those behind the “centrist” strategy have been persons who in the past we looked to as voices of reason. We disagreed with them on sexual ethics, but we found we could have honest dialogue with them and we believed we all had the good of the church in mind. But when offered a way forward that is fair, amicable, and respectful, their preferred approach appears to be an abrasive and harmful fight they believe they can win. And at that point, they are sure, they will not have to offer traditionalists much to leave.
Who will prevail in Minneapolis? A coalition of traditionalists and lesser-known progressives and “centrists” who want to end the fighting and separate? Or high-profile “centrist” leaders who promised their followers a victory in St. Louis and who are willing to fight the same ugly battle again because, “trust us, this time we really can win”?
If amicable separation is defeated, the Reform and Renewal Coalition has also filed legislation that will complete and strengthen the Traditional Plan. It is not our preferred solution because it will not resolve our differences, stop the fighting, or bring unity to the church. St. Louis proved that. But it will be on the table in Minneapolis.
I am reminded of lines from a Robert Frost poem: “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” We have traveled the same path for many years, really decades. It has led to acrimony, disobedience, dysfunction, and decline. It’s time to choose a path that will make all the difference.
Good article and thank you. Other lines I have seen say, “It’s better to walk alone than with a crowd going in the wrong direction.” Two more examples of these “wrong directions” were recently reported on the peopleneedjesus.net site.
One where Janet Gollery McKeithen from Ocean Park United Methodist Church, California, said they were leaving. The language wasn’t pretty. Interestingly, the church’s declaration of intent to disaffiliate used paragraph 2553.3 as amended by GC-2019. Yet clergy vows to follow other discipline language from GC-2019 are obviously being ignored because the current UMC position regarding human sexuality is in conflict with Ocean Parks faith and understanding.
The second from Rev. Jim Leggett of Grace Fellowship Church in Katy, Texas, where a short video was used to explain how and why his church’s leadership voted unanimously to recommend they join the Free Methodist denomination. A mid December vote by the entire congregation is scheduled. The video explains their position better than I could, and I wholeheartedly understand it.
Here in North Carolina AC 2019 has taken a position like that of the Ocean Park UMC. All the elected clergy delegates in the Western Conference had previously signed a Sacred Witness letter related to the harmful language in the TP, and vowed to resist it. There are a reported 1,093 clergy in the eight western districts from which all ten delegates were elected. I know of one same sex marriage, and possibly others. No Rev. Anna Blaedel cases yet that I am aware of but am sure if there were our Bishop would be inclined to repeat words like those of Bishop Laurie Haller when the just resolution in that case was announced this week.
Laity in our church has prayed about this and I believe trust is a major issue. Tithing may suffer because clergy cannot say laity made vows to tithe and support church missions when they themselves do not follow ordination vows. To some, it seems fitting to eliminate the “middle man” and simply give locally to those in need. Time will tell.
In the 50+ years my wife and I have been UMC members, I can’t think of a more trying and volatile time. Members on her side of the family have already left the UMC. Some on my side have joined a non-denominational church who have TP values. We have immediate family here with us and that is the only reason we are still hanging on. I have doubts we will make it to GC 2020. We continue to pray, but some answers need to present soon, very soon.
At least you finally realize there is no peace to be had. They will fight until they know they can no longer win which would be in 8 years. I would tell to suit up for battle and forget the road less traveled because no one is taking that path. Good luck
If you are a local pastor there is no longer the promise of free speech. If a local pastor can be removed in North Georgia, one of the most conservative conferences, for no stated cause, then all of us in that position are in danger. The pastor’s sin was apparently hosting a simulcast of the WCA conference. If the liberals win in 2020 the purge will be on. The Bishop is a UMC Next person and I believe reflects their goals. Thankfully I am in the postion to retire.
God will prevail.
The perfect solution for me was to leave the United Methodist Church this month for another Protestant denomination because I need a more peaceful environment for my remaining years.
What about the Connectional Table Plan that the Central Conference bishops have recently endorsed (see UMC News) making the American “branch” of the church another central conference in and of itself? Obviously, the first move of said conference would be to liberalize sexual ethics, marriage, likely taking on gender identity, plus who knows what else. Why is the highly traditionalists Central Conference joining up with the American progressives? Does this make any sense? What is going on here? Regardless, the Wesleyan Covenant Association along with the Renewal and Reform Coalition need to strongly and emphatically reassure those of us supporting them financially that we will have a landing place whether it be our current local church or another.
Thank you for your concern, Anthony. We have heard that the African bishops did not object to the U.S. as a central conference plan because:
1) They interpreted it narrowly to only apply to certain pension and legal matters, not that it could lead to different ordination standards in the U.S.
2) The African church would not be part of a denomination where the standards on sexuality changed, so it would not matter what that denomination did or how it was organized.
Regardless, the WCA is prepared to provide the structure for a new denomination in the event that the UMC changed its position on sexuality.
It would be funny were it not so sad, but I just made a comment on another article about progressive Bishops and their plan to push the traditionalist who won the vote in May, out of the UMC. What they, the progressives want is the name United Methodist Church. Above all else, they want that name. For years they have not cared what happened to traditionalist (even before we had that name), they just wanted us gone.
In my conference we have seen traditional churches fail at the hands of the conference. While we can’t prove that was their intent, it sure looks that way. One local church was allowed to open a tattoo parlor in the church. What was left of the small congregation, left.
My own small rural church that was flourishing just a few years ago, and had over 230K in reserves is now bankrupt. A traditional church of veterans, retired and active duty military, the Bishop sent in a progressive pastor. The congregation voted with their feet and left.
We split from that rural UMC earlier this year over its lack of stewardship. Though we are nondenominational, we hold our Wesley traditions close and align with much of the structure put forth by the WCA.
You my friend are in my prayers as you near retirement. I recommend you read the WesPath FAQs on what happens after the 2020 GC.
It would be wonderful if your congregation could be one of the thousands of local UM churches that could end up in this new denomination:
Dedicated, Faithful, and Honorable Leaders
By Walter Fenton
There is no hiding the fact that many United Methodists are disappointed in many of the U.S. bishops who have led the church since its inception in 1968. These bishops have presided over a denomination in the U.S. where church membership has gone from over 11 million to now fewer than 7 million, where average worship attendance has fallen by over 25 percent in just the last two decades, and where dramatic financial cuts are being made to budgets at every level of the church.
U.S. bishops have also presided over and some have contributed to a long and bitter dispute that has surely exacerbated the decline in membership, the dramatic plunge in average worship attendance, and the church’s growing financial crisis. But for many United Methodists, whether in Africa, Eurasia, the Philippines or the U.S., the greatest disappointment in some U.S. bishops stems from their inability or outright refusal to uphold the church’s teachings and maintain the good order of the church. With some justification they hold mostly U.S. bishops responsible for the decline and dysfunction of the church.
Consequently, as many United Methodists contemplate a new Methodist movement, they are skeptical, even cynical, about a church that would include bishops in its governing structure.
And yet, the office of a bishop has been a part of the church since its earliest history. In his First Letter to Timothy and in his Letter to Titus, the Apostle Paul sets forth the qualifications of a bishop (from the Greek word episkopos) of a local church or a community of churches. By the second century, the role of a bishop becomes more clearly defined in the writings of the early church fathers (many bishops among them) who promoted and defended the faith, risked their lives for it, and in some cases were even martyred for their steadfast witness to Christ as Lord and Savior.
For both good and ill, bishops were powerful figures in the medieval church. When the Church of England parted ways with the Roman Catholic Church in the 16th century, the office of bishop was retained, and it continues to be an important office in churches belonging to the Anglican Communion to this day.
As an Anglican priest all his life, John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement, respected the office of the bishop even though he sometimes had contentious relationships with some individuals elevated to it. When he sent Francis Asbury and Thomas Coke to America to lead the newly formed Methodist Episcopal Church, he appointed them as superintendents of the denomination. However, it was not long before Methodist clergy and laity began referring to them as Bishop Asbury and Bishop Coke, and so from very early in its history the office of bishop became part of the Methodist movement in America.
In its proposed “Book of Doctrines and Discipline” the Wesleyan Covenant Association calls for continuing this important leadership office that it believes is rooted in Scripture and the traditions of the church universal (“Book of Doctrines and Discipline,” paragraphs 600 – 615). However, it also clearly recognizes few if any local churches, clergy, and laity planning to join a new Methodist movement will have any interest in reconstituting an episcopacy modeled on The United Methodist Church. So while it does include an episcopacy in its governing structure, it also includes a number of critical safeguards that would keep bishops accountable to their well-defined roles (see paragraph 608). These would include, but not be limited to the following:
All bishops would be accountable to a General Committee on Episcopacy (paragraph 610) composed of an equal number of clergy and laity. This body, rather than a coterie of episcopal colleagues, would have responsibility for handling complaints brought against a bishop.
A bishop’s total years of service could not exceed twelve years (paragraph 605). He or she, after serving twelve years, would return to service in the local church or some other area of ministry. “A former bishop in good standing could receive the title “bishop emeritus,” but only active bishops would serve on the Council of Bishops.
Bishops would not serve as chairpersons of general church administrative committees. Their principal tasks would be “communicating and defending the cause of Christ and the doctrines of the church,” partnering with the annual conferences they serve to envision the best ways to fulfill the church’s mission, and ordaining and deploying clergy for service in local churches and extension ministries (see paragraph 608 for complete listing of a bishop’s proposed role).
Bishops would be assisted and joined in their oversight of a new church by presiding elders (paragraph 614 – 616) and a connectional operating officer (paragraph 613).
Presiding elders would be “persons who serve a local church [themselves] or are in retired relationship.” They would preside over districts within annual conferences consisting of 20-30 local churches. In addition to other duties, their principal responsibilities would be to serve as the “chief missional strategist of the district, supervise the clergy of the district, and play a pivotal role in the deployment of clergy.”
The connectional operating officer would “bear responsibility for the fruitful and accountable functioning of the general church,” and therefore “provide oversight to all general church staff.” He or she would be “directly answerable to the Council of Bishops.” The individual would be selected by the Council and would have to be “approved by the General Committee on Episcopacy.” He or she would essentially serve as a chief operating officer for a small and nimble general church structure focused on serving local congregations around the world.
Fair or unfair, bishops in particular will have to work hard to overcome the skepticism many United Methodists now have regarding their office. They can do so by adhering to the role and duties of a bishop as defined by a new church. By that same token clergy and laity will need to check their skepticism, and pray for, support, and sustain bishops in their roles. They will need to remind themselves that those elected to serve as bishops in a new Methodist movement will have joined that movement for the same reasons they did. Therefore, their bishops will share their commitment to proclaiming the Gospel and promoting and defending the good order of a new church. Clergy and laity could also find assurance in key provisions limiting the power of episcopal leaders and that hold them accountable for fulfilling their duties.
The history of the church is replete with stories of fruitfulness and growth when dedicated, faithful, and honorable leaders partner together with clergy and laity to make disciples of all nations. The WCA believes God will guide and bless a church and its leaders that works to mitigate the power of sin inherent in any human institution and continually works to build a church deeply committed to the great commission.
The Rev. Walter Fenton is Vice President for Strategic Engagement for the Wesleyan Covenant Association and is an elder in the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference.
Let’s not adopt the language of the other side. This is not a sexual ethic item. We are arguing over the primacy of authority. One side says it’s the Bible and the other side believes its “society’s whim” we must follow. I stand with the Bible, so should the UMC. John Wesley would be proud of the conservatives as he would have booted the progressives from the congregation without as much as a second thought.
Scripture does talk about a separation of the sheep and the goats. Jesus himself said, “My sheep know my voice”. Now, there are those who do say they don’t agree with church theocracy. Does not mean God will take their side, especially since God is the one who made the decisions long ago. Scripture from the very beginning tells of a conversation satan and the woman had. It was more of a negotiation of terms. To negotiate a peace treaty. He was very convincing and yet God came to judge the one who caused the problem to begin with. We know the goats are the ones that continue to cause strife and division not only with words, but their very actions. Every time we negotiate with the devil, we lose. Satan and goats come to kill, steal and destroy. Methodism will continue to negotiate until it does split and only then will the sheep be known.
As the local pastor who was removed in North Georgia without cause, let me say that we have to keep our focus on God. And I realize that can be difficult. But if we allow ourselves to be distracted by the works of Satan through various church leaders, we will find ourselves in places of fear. We must not fear the evil that surrounds us. Instead, we must keep a laser focus on the One who has overcome evil.
When we place all our trust in Jesus and none in our positions, pensions, circumstances, etc., we move into positions that allow God to use us for His intended purpose. In the aftermath of what the bishop intended for evil, God is blessing my congregation and me more than I could have imagined. There is no question in my mind that God led us to where we are right now. There is no question that He will lead us out of this situation and ultimately to the place he intends for our ministry to be. And isn’t that exactly where we really wanted to be in the first place?
Will faithful Christians face persecution when they stand up for Jesus? Yes, they will. But God will use that persecution and our response for His glory, that others might see us and also surrender their lives to Jesus. May God bless the remnant of Christ’s church. And may Jesus be glorified by our response to whatever form of persecution we face.
As our website indicates, we hold our Wesleyan traditions very dear. Though we split from the UMC, I don’t think we have all together ruled out affiliation with a new denomination as articulated by the WCA. We however are adamant in belief that Bishops and DS’s under the current construct serve no purpose in a new denomination. We have seen the inside of the white castle, and it was a dark and scary place.
On the issue retention or division of property following the split, progressives have made it clear they want this to be as hard as possible for churches desiring to sever all ties with the UMC.
I met with attorneys in Raleigh before our split, which was largely over the lack of stewardship at our church. They revealed that there was little we could do regarding the church council and the nose dive they were leading church in.
What they did do was suggest we take a cue from larger churches in other denomination. The two options was to share the church story in the media, a kind of riches to rags story in our case. Or for everyone to simply stop tithing and hold fund in abeyance until the reformed.
Ultimately we decided to take our gifts and leave. The church had become too divisive. Leaving gave us the opportunity to do what we had offered to do for the church, that was ramp up the online media presence, reach out to the community, join in partnership with other church in other denominations. We have succeeded in doing that.
When our old church declined to help one of its longest members with a handicap accessible ramp, we jumped on the project even though we had no idea how to build one. We reached out to other pastors and the first pastor receiving our request for help, jumped in feet first on the project. We raised the money, and they provided the know how. We shared the labor. It was a huge success for the lady we built the ramp for, and for those worked the project. We received a huge response from the community in mass media.
I share that story, because the dying church we left would have benefited greatly from the exposure that project received.
Lastly, I think progressives are ill advised in their approach to churches leaving with their property. We believe when churches stop paying apportionments as some have already done, that progressive Bishops will respond in a much more civil way.
Christians have been persecuted for their differences with the greater culture since Christ walked the earth. Stand fast, speak the truth and fear nothing but God.
I appreciate your testimony but it’s too vague in its allusions for us to really grasp your situation when you say, “In the aftermath of what the bishop intended for evil, God is blessing my congregation and me more than I could have imagined.” Could you be a little more forthcoming? We are all trying to make sense of the difficulties and persecutions faced by others. Blessings . . .
I just read the latest affront to the traditional plan which hit my e-mail today in the form of the United Methodist News Service. The latest issue shared the news of the United Methodist Resistance Movement. Their website http://www.resistharm.com is literally on the attack against traditionalist. How can the UMC be united in love when one faction, representing less than 4% of population is on the attack and using propaganda to accomplish its goals of subverting other Christians.
There will be no amicable separation of ways at next years GC, they have launched an all out offensive against anyone who does not share their views. They state that traditionalist hate gays, and always have.
More interesting is that the Resist Harm movement doesn’t identify who they are. There is zero information about who makes up the movement, who its members are or anything else about its origins on the website. The site is cloaked in secrecy, and the registered owner is cloaked as well. UMCNext does link to the ResistHarm site. They also list a number of liberal sponsors or partners.
My overriding question is how do radical groups get away with using the name United Methodist as part of the title of their organization, or as their tag line. It would seem to me that all 11 million United Methodist own that name, and that it being used by one group, attacking another would be wrong ethically, morally and maybe even legally.
I am thankful for Good News.
I have been many years ago in a church that split…..with a lot of pain and fighting in each side. So I decided to attend a Biblically sound protestant church until this is resolved or maybe forever.
And what is that path? So many words and no answers. It’s all so confusing and disheartening to the local lay person. I’m just weary of it all. And ready to find a new church family/home.
Thank you, Rev. Sean Hachem! I firmly believe that the Church grows most tremendously during times of persecution. Thank you for your example of what it looks like to take a stand for truth. I too am a Local Pastor. I have made it publicly known that I am a clergy member of the WCA. I have had an LP friend say, “Michael, you know you are not guaranteed an appointment. You probably should keep quiet.” The way I see it is this is one of those times to quote Martin Luther: “Here I stand–I can do no other. God help me. Amen”. God will honor the faithfulness of those who stand on the Solid Rock. Blessings!
I believe leaving is winning.
There is no legislative way out of this mess. The Progressives will not obey or recognize anything that evangelicals pass. It is time to quit legislating and just go
That is the only way to end the ugly fighting. Let them have the UMC name. Churches that have left the denomination are thriving, both big and small churches.
A holdout in Kansas
I don’t think this is a to retire , but great time to help us little people fight.