Western Jurisdiction won’t walk away from UMC

By Patricia Farris, Special Contributor…

Is the glass half full or half empty? It’s a trick question, of course, because the answer is always “Yes.”

But in a win-lose paradigm, only one side can be right.

And so, there are those, including my friend and colleague, Claremont School of Theology Professor Jack Jackson, who see the glass following General Conference 2012, as half, or less, empty. (See Dr. Jackson’s essay, “Breaking up is hard, but right thing for UMC,” Reporter Oct. 19.) Echoing the proposed “amicable separation” solution of 2008, the only course seems to be one of separation, in which the Western Jurisdiction and others of like mind agree to walk away.

This interpretation sees the situation through the legislative frame that shapes the General Conference debates and votes: a win-lose frame. And given that the General Conference is hardly a level playing field, and that lots of money is spent every four years to direct the voting and the outcome, I would agree with him that nothing much is going to change on that front anytime soon. (Never mind that even some Central Conference delegates in Tampa were eager to talk with me quietly about how attitudes are changing at home. A gay son . . . a divided family . . . the devastation of AIDS. We’re changing, they told me, though the culture of silence is still so heavy that it prevents many from speaking up.)

Is the glass half full or half empty? This time, the Hamilton/Slaughter amendment offered the GC a way to answer “Yes.” But when it became clear that that vote had been shut down, too, something shifted deep in the body.

Having wrestled with the issues of inclusiveness over the last many sessions of the Western Jurisdictional Conference, a new frame has emerged from the bottom up or the inside out. It’s a frame that envisions a different cup. A cup overflowing.

Patricia Farris

It was Bishop Melvin Talbert who put it into words. He had come to General Conference, he said, anticipating ecclesial disobedience. But in that crucible of prayer and pain, he received a new vision, one of biblical obedience. Inspired by Bishop Talbert, we in the Western Jurisdiction coalesced nearly unanimously in our intention to simply show forth the God we know to be the God of love. This was the outcome of decades of struggling together around these issues while living into the truth of our lives. Biblical obedience will happen in many different ways across the congregations and ministries of the Western Jurisdiction. It’s about being the church within the church, witnessing to the bountiful and limitless love of God.

As a pastor, I know that it is long past time to openly and faithfully extend the full ministry of the church to those already in our pews, those who had been baptized and confirmed in our congregations, those who sing in the choir each week, those in the UMW . . . all the precious people whom God has created, gay and lesbian as well as straight. It is time to be clear that the bounty of God’s love and grace includes them all. It’s not about arguing over a few verses of Scripture. It’s about the incarnation. It’s about grace. It’s about the beloved community, the body of Christ. And it’s about witnessing to our faith to all those who have been hurt and cast aside by our narrow and punitive policies.

I’m firmly convinced that what we’re now experiencing is God creating a new way to bring forth new life in the church, making room for growth in the church, spiritually and numerically. It’s what theologian Jürgen Moltmann called “the inner renewal of the Church by the spirit of Christ,” and “the Church in the presence and power of the Spirit.” This is a new frame from which to look at where we are, a frame shaped by the work of the Holy Spirit, God present with us for guidance, for comfort and for strength. The Holy Spirit is continuing to bring new life to the church, empowering it for ministry in the world, bearing witness to God’s reconciliation, healing and transformation as a foretaste of the coming Reign of God.

Will there continue to be diverse views of all this among us as we go forward? Certainly. The work of the World Council of Churches on the Nature and Purpose of the Church is helpful here: “Diversity is not the same as division. Within the Church, divisions (heresies, schisms, political conflicts, expression of hatred, etc.) threaten God’s gift of communion. Christians are called to work untiringly to overcome divisions to prevent legitimate diversities from becoming causes of division, and to live a life of diversities reconciled.” We’ve still got a lot of work to do with one another.

We in the Western Jurisdiction aren’t going anywhere, despite repeated invitations from others to walk away. We are as committed United Methodists as we ever have been. Biblical obedience is not about threat, but gift; not so much a challenge as a joyful witness and invitation. We are living into God’s claim on our hearts and the call we feel, lay and clergy, to let God’s Kingdom shine forth. This new life is pastoral, confessional, scriptural, theological and missional. It’s about obeying the Great Commandment to love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength, and our neighbor as ourselves. And it’s about doing so graciously, honestly, non-violently, hopefully, so that the dialogue, the prayer and the searching continue, in our various congregations and in the church at large.

Is the cup half full or half empty? Wrong question. The cup is overflowing with love and grace. Clearly God isn’t finished with any of us yet, nor with “the people called Methodist.”

Come, Holy Spirit, come.

The Rev. Farris is senior minister of First UMC of Santa Monica, Calif., and a veteran delegate to General Conference and Western Jurisdictional Conference.

Special Contributor to UMR

Special Contributor

This story was written by a special contributor to The United Methodist Reporter. You may send your article submissions to


  1. John Battern says:

    I don't understand how Rev. Farris can say with any degree of integrity, "We are as committed United Methodists as we ever have been." Being United Methodist means living in covenant with other United Methodists. That covenant is set forth in the Book of Discipline which empowers United Methodist clergy to do certain things and forbids them from doing others. Committed United Methodists live within those boundaries even when they don't personally agree with them because they have made a promise to do so.

    The WJ statement of conscience does not void the covenant which exists. If those within the WJ cannot live within our United Methodist covenant, then they should have the integrity to leave. And not because diversity of ideas are bad, but because to act upon their statement violates the covenant under which truly committed United Methodist live.

    • Rev. Farris can say these things because she is being led by the Holy Spirit to reflect the Living Christ. Blind obedience to The Book of Disclipine, rather than the truth which Christ came to model, is sinful! My only issue with this article is that Rev. Farris forgot to include transgender people. As the spouse of Rev. David Weekley: http://www.shermanswilderness.org & a member of Reconciling Ministries Networks Transgender Extention Ministry, I know all to well the damage blind obedience to the BOD does to individuals and The UMC in in their call to BE the Love of Christ and make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Since telling our story in 2009 many have tried to use the BOD as weapon against us. We have received multitudes of letters, emails, phone calls and visits from former United Methodists because of the damage done by blind obedience to the BOD around issues concerning TLGBQ persons and the discrimination and hate this kind of blind obedience breeds. I implore you, John Battern and others who think similarly to, educate yourselves, to search your hearts, to listen to real stories of those the BOD excludes from the cirlcle of God's love. Time to change the Book of Discipline! The Western Jurisdiction is being a prophetic voice. Thankyou for this!!!!!!

      • Respectfully, Deborah, it's this simple: Change the Discipline as you advocate, and the UMC will lose a couple million members withing six months – from the Global South, and from the traditionalist/conservative areas of the US church. They will do exactly what the traditionalist members of other denominations have done when they've changed their stands on sexuality issues in order to accomodate current cultural practices. The evidence is plainly clear for all to see, and if the UMC does the same thing, the result will be the same, too.

        • PS The Church should be a place where someone can be delivered, by God's grace, from sin (including sexual sin) – not a place where it is celebrated.

  2. Amen Pastor Farris. "Best of all is, God is with us." "The best is yet to be" – John Wesley

  3. The only constant is change. God does not change but our corporate understanding of God and humanity and history and medicine and women in society / leadership roles and sexuality and family and divorce and remarriage and theology changes… and has changed over and over again throughout history. We don't live in the 15th or the 5th centuries…. The whole denomination will be weakened if some leave…. we need to be in community with those we do not agree with 100%. In fact factional breakaways in recent years have done poorly all around. Look at the Episcopal Church for evidence of that. Polarization is not the Spirit of God, in my view. We need to focus less on sexuality and more on all the stuff Jesus taught….. We must focus on what we agree on – which is a whole lot more than what we disagree on… The church is not OURS but GOD's.

  4. methodistpie says:

    Looks to me like the Western Jurisdiction has already walked away from the UMC. Wouldn't bother me, particularly, except for the financial reality that the rest of us are subsidizing them.

  5. It is a sad state we are in. American liberals don't like the direction that the delegates from the Global South are taking the UMC, and instead of either living within the covenant (or leaving with integrity), they choose to ignore the covenant and do as they please, using their "personal consciences" as their highest form of authority instead of either the plain language of Scripture on the sinfulness of homosexuality, or the clear (and democratically enacted) doctrine in the Discipline.

  6. I have read about Bishop Talbert's action. One person's obedience is another's disobedience. Regardless, as UMs, we are tethered to the scriptures as our guide and final authority related to issues of faith and practice. God's authority is mediated through them to us. If biblical obedience is important, we need to align with the biblical witness. The UMC cannot embrace what God does not embrace or bless what God does not bless. Nowhere in scripture do we see anything that indicates that God accepts homosexual behavior or those who live under its domain. This is a hard message for those who make diversity and allegiance to progressive ideology their god. Simply stated, biblical obedience requires that we not affirm certain behaviors or lifestyles. I sense that most of those who argue for the acceptance of homosexuality have already rejected the idea of divine judgment and damnation. Having already affirmed that all will be saved, now they have to go into the world and embrace those who are living in sin without asking them to surrender their disobedient lifestyle to God. The author talks much about grace little of biblical repentance and what it means to live under the sovereignty of God, a God who calls us to radical discipleship and holiness. In another decade, we will not need to have this conversation with the Western Jurisdiction. It is fast dying on the vine. Soon, it will be a memory. The ax is already laid at the root of the tree. Those who do not bear fruit unto repentance are being chopped down. This is God's doing. I do not want to become a partner with that fate.

  7. A lot of words to say "We're right, you're wrong. We're going to do what we want and you have to live with it."

  8. theauldwan says:

    All the ponticating does not change the fact that sin is still a sin… It's in the Book.

  9. roger wolsey says:

    To those who criticize this article's author saying "The WJ is already breaking covenant and/or that the WJ should secede," let's consider the metaphor of a marriage. If two alcoholics are married and yet one of them repents, seeks help, and begins living life having shed the shackles of substance abuse, do you consider the one who got well to have violated their covenant? By shedding ourselves from homophobia and bigotry, and by choosing to remain "in our marriage," we of the Western Jurisdiction are demonstrating deep loyalty to our covenants both to God and to the rest fo the UMC.

    Here are two blogs that speak further to this:
    1. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/faithforward/2012/04
    2. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/faithforward/2012/07

    In covenant,

    Rev. Roger Wolsey

  10. So, the Western Jurisdiction is the spouse who refuses to leave the bottle continually returning to, embracing and celebrating sin and abusing the other partner?

    Problems with your analogy: The WJ is not an equal partner with the General Conference. The better analogy is parent and child with the child needing instruction.

    If you want to stick with your marriage analogy then more appropriate is a marriage, founded in God, in which one partner(WJ) strays to indulge in autonomy and personal pleasures outside the marriage covenant and blames the faithful partner for not joining them in forsaking God.

  11. The question is, does the Disciplinary covenant trump the Baptismal covenant? If those who have been baptised and been subsequently received in the United Methodist Church before any prohibitions on homosexuality were introduced to the Disicipline, are they now subject to new rules that limit their standing in the church as baptized members who share equally in the means of grace and in the dignity of being children of God.

    Breaking the Disciplinary covenant in order to honor the baptismal covenant cannot be properly called a sin. It may be 'irregular' in the sense of not obeying the regulations of the UMC, but all Christians are bound by the covenant of Baptism in which we reject the evil powers of this world and affirm the new life of being in Christ. Rejecting the validity of someone's baptism is a greater sin against the Holy Spirit, than any irregular actions taken in violation of a church polity or canons.

    In this world it is necessary to make rules that govern the life of communities. Churches also must do this. But these rules are NOT divinely inspired. They are penultimate rules subject to the higher law of the Gospel. A case in point, the Rev John Wesley violated the canons of the Church of England in assuming to ordain ministers for America. That was an irregular action not recognized as valid by the Church of England, and a source of continuing schism in the Church. Schism is considered a sin in the historic churches of the past. But I think United Methodists might not consider it to be such a grevious sin, and one that was necessary under the circumstances to fulfill the Gospel obligation to spread the good news of Christ to all the world. Here the Gospel mandate trumped church order.

    We have an analogous situation here, with the Western Jurisdiction believing it is necessary to break the rules of the UMC in order to welcome and include those whom the majority of United Methodists consider to be living in sin in spite of their baptism.

    The General Conference has a choice to make: either recognize that United Methodists are not all of the same mind regarding the status of baptised homosexual people and so let this question be decided at a lower level of administration such as the annual conferences, which prior to 1972, did make those kind of decisions, or it can try to enforce the rules of the Discipline more rigorously, a path that will lead ultimately to schism, forcing out those who cannot in conscience accept the present set of prohibitions regarding LGBT people.

    I do believe that the 'Moderate Middle' of General Conference will not want to force a schism by extreme means. Consequently we will have diversity by default. Western Jurisdiction (and other areas as well) will simply ignore these rules and mitigate them whenever attempts are made to enforce them.

    The Western Jurisdiction isn't leaving. The next move is up to the conservatives. They can either accept the fact that the rules cannot be enforced in certain regions, or attempt to push the progressives out of the UMC by other means. That will prove to be exceedingly costly due to the legalities involved. Again, I doubt that the 'Moderate Middle' regardless of how they feel about homosexuality, will want the negative press and the huge cost of litigation. One simply need look no further than what is going on in The Episcopal Church to get some idea of the price to be paid for this attempt at achieving the purity of the church via the courts.

    The reality is that the gay issue is a lost cause for conservatives in the USA. Like with racial integration, conservatives in churches will be the last to give it up, but in another generation this will be but another sad chapter in ecclesiastical footdragging.

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The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)


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