In a press release issued tonight, a group of some 60 conservative pastors and theologians from the United Methodist Church announced that they had begun conversation about how to respond to what they see as deepening divisions in the church. The group came together via conference call earlier this week, and they stated they believe “the present reality, where a growing number of United Methodist bishops are unwilling to enforce the Book of Discipline, is unacceptable and untenable.” The group said that they were forming a smaller working group to bring suggestions to the larger group for responses, including suggestions of withholding funding from the church, advocacy with the Council of Bishops for greater enforcement of the Book of Discipline, and the possibility of creating a proposal for the division of the United Methodist Church into two denominations.
“Lyle Schaller’s 2004 book, The Ice Cube Is Melting, described a problem that still confronts The United Methodist Church today: two groups are locked in diametrically opposed positions,” said the Rev. Dr. Tom Harrison, pastor of Asbury United Methodist Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma. “Since his book was published, the conflict has escalated to the point where one group is breaking the covenant which binds us together. A new path must be found.”
While the divisions in the UMC over the issue of human sexuality and gay marriage, leading to what the group sees as acts of disregard and disobedience to the Book of Discipline, the groups believe that the deeper and more important division in the church is the different understandings on the inspiration and authority of the Bible. “We believe that the Bible is God’s word – inspired by the Holy Spirit in its entirety and authoritative for determining what is spiritually and morally true. Many progressives see the Scriptures very differently, so much so that they accept some parts as coming from God and dismiss other parts as being uninspired – even flat out wrong,” said the Rev. Dr. Charles Kyker, pastor of Christ United Methodist Church in Hickory, North Carolina.
An issue of concern for the group was what they see as a disregard for the covenant of the church. The group said that while they had been willing to engage in debate and dialogue, they believed that the church had arrived at a settled doctrine and practice, and that the decisions to ignore the provisions in the Book of Discipline were are breach of that covenant.“Our connectional covenant depends on obedience and faithfulness to the policies adopted by the General Conference of The United Methodist Church,” said the Rev. Steve Wood, pastor of Mt. Pisgah United Methodist Church in Alpharetta, Georgia. ‘From bishops, to clergy, to boards and agencies, it is that covenant that makes us united and binds us together. When the covenant is not maintained and protected at any level of the church, we suffer from disunity and create a diffused witness to both the church and the world in which we live.”
“The heightened conflict within our denomination is hindering the ability of both progressive and orthodox United Methodists to pursue the mission of the church as they see it,” said the Rev. Dr. Maxie Dunnam, retired pastor, author, and seminary president. “We must resolve this conflict, so that we can focus wholeheartedly on the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”
No list of participants in the conference call was made available at the time of publishing this article. The group also gave no timeline for followup calls or meetings.