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

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14 Comments on "Western Jurisdiction won’t walk away from UMC"

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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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… Read more »

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.

roger wolsey
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… Read more »

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


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."

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… Read more »

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.


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.

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… Read more »

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

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