Yesterday’s statement from Good News spurred lots of conversation on Facebook and on the UMR site. It also raised questions about Good News’s motivations and intentions for the future. Earlier today we reached out to the Rev. Tom Lambrecht, Vice President and General Manager of Good News to address some of these questions. Rev. Lambrecht has been a UM elder since 1982, and is a graduate of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. A long-time advocate for evangelical renewal in the UMC, Tom also served as the lead counsel for the church in the trial of the Rev. Amy DeLong and an assistant council for the church in the trial of the Rev. Frank Schaefer. We appreciate Tom’s willingness to answer our questions:
Some would say that the bishops are exercising the discretion allowed them in the Book of Discipline to respond to charges in non-judicial ways. Obviously Good News sees that as a failure to uphold the Book of Discipline. How would you have preferred to see them respond?
When bishops declare that they will do everything possible to avoid more trials for those who defiantly break the Discipline’s requirements, they are not upholding the Book of Discipline. When bishops do not discourage violations of the covenant and in fact even attend same-sex weddings, they are not upholding the Book of Discipline. We would like to see bishops promote and defend the doctrines of The United Methodist Church, including its teachings on marriage and sexuality, as the Discipline requires them to do. Where there is willful violation of our covenant, we would like to see meaningful consequences designed to bring about compliance, not more endless attempts to change the church’s teaching through controlled “dialog.”
There has been speculation that the language of the statement which talks about the unwillingness if the bishops to enforce the Book of Discipline and the “covenant we live by” is a setup toward a “breach of contract” argument for the courts as a possible path for allowing conservatives to leave while retaining their church property. Has Good News indeed considered a strategy based around the breach of contract argument?
We do not believe the preferred way forward is through the secular court system. Instead, we will look to the General Conference to provide for an equitable resolution of this conflict. Resorting to secular courts would be an extreme last resort. We do, however, believe that the trust clause is designed to protect United Methodist doctrine, not simply maintain control of property. Churches and clergy who abandon United Methodist doctrine are violating the trust clause just as much as congregations who leave the denomination.
There have been attempts at past General Conferences to formally acknowledge the divisions in the church (the Hamilton/Slaughter initiative was the latest) which have usually been rejected or dismissed by persons aligned with the Good News movement. Is this acknowledgement of division a change in your policy/strategy?
We believe that past attempts at General Conference to acknowledge differences of opinion were efforts to provide permission for people who disagree with the church’s teachings to act contrary to them. Given the fact that actions contrary to church teaching are now occurring, we are looking to General Conference not just to acknowledge our differences but to provide a resolution for them. We are in a different place now that demands a much stronger response
Isn’t withholding financial support of the denomination also a breaking of the covenant?
We believe that the actions of dozens of clergy to perform same-sex unions without a corresponding accountability for those actions have already broken the covenant. Some progressive groups have already pledged to not only withhold financial support but to disrupt church meetings and impose their agenda upon the church. To the extent that the covenant is already broken from one side, we believe that to that extent those on the other side are not bound by it any longer.
In the past you have seemed to say that those who disagree with the current stance of the Book of Discipline should leave the church. This latest statement seems to suggest that biblically orthodox members and churches may be considering leaving instead. Is this a change from your original position.
In terms of what might be proposed by biblically orthodox groups, a variety of options are on the table. It makes the most sense that those who cannot live with the teachings of the church ought to be the ones to leave, and we would want to make that possible graciously and generously. If that is not possible, a separation of the church into two new entities, one orthodox and the other progressive, might make the most sense. We are not at this time advocating for biblically orthodox members and churches to leave the denomination, but that may become necessary in the future.
There are some who have said that the phrase “…those of us who are biblical Christians…” was condescending and suggests that you believe that anyone who disagrees with your positions is not biblical nor Christian. Isn’t the central issue that divides us a different way of approaching and interpreting the biblical text? Are you saying that those who disagree with your positions are non-biblical? Where is there room for disagreement on biblical interpretation?
Progressive groups have adopted the mantra “biblical obedience,” implying that those of us who support the church’s teaching are not obeying Scripture. How is our statement any different? We recognize that Christians of good will can disagree on matters of biblical interpretation. However, the real division in our church today is not over issues of sexuality, but over our views on the inspiration and authority of Scripture. There are many clergy and laity in our church today who reject the deity of Christ, the atonement, the bodily resurrection of Christ, and other cardinal doctrines of the faith based on the same approach to Scripture that leads them to reject the church’s teaching on human sexuality and marriage. Those who adopt such an approach are not operating biblically. Our statement does not claim that we are the only biblical Christians. It says that “those of us who are biblical Christians AND who have agreed to live by The Book of Discipline” are needing to examine what options are available to us.