Conservative church leaders consult on divisions in the UMC

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.

Rev. Dr. Tom Harrison of the Asbury UMC in Tulsa, OK

Rev. Dr. Tom Harrison
Asbury UMC, Tulsa, OK

“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.”

Rev. Dr Charles Kyker Christ UMC, Hickory, NC

Rev. Dr Charles Kyker
Christ UMC, Hickory, NC

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.

Rev. Steve Wood Mt Pisgah UMC John's Creek, GA

Rev. Steve Wood
Mt Pisgah UMC
John’s Creek, GA

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.”

Rev. Dr. Maxie Dunnam

Rev. Dr. Maxie Dunnam

“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.

UMReporter Staff

This story was posted by a staff member of The United Methodist Reporter. For over 160 years The United Methodist Reporter has been helping the people called Methodist to tell their stories. If you have stories that you think need to be told, please let us know at editor@circuitwritermedia.com
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122 Comments on "Conservative church leaders consult on divisions in the UMC"

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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)
 

Guest
1 year 4 months ago

A friend sent me UMR editions and asked for my take on schism. I’ve read all, including comments. I’m a 65-year-old, white, married daughter of old Dixie, with Methodism in my DNA. I’ve taught Bible studies over 40 years, been a lay delegate to conference, and lay staffer at a conference office, yet the stereotype attributed to me doesn’t match my opinion or relationship with Christ. I first heard schism decades ago over a women’s meeting with the word ‘imagination’ in it and it’s gathered steam since. Desire by a faction of clergy to tear this denomination apart is fixed and only recently have LGBT issues been fuel for the break-up fire. My congregation is white haired and skinned on one side of the aisle and black and brown on the other. We host a Hispanic mission and all the children under 18 in our building are Latino, most able to speak English — not one white child. We are down to serving Communion only 4 times a year and even with that, there must be a special pair of servers off to one side to offer bread and cup to those who can’t abide the idea of receiving from ‘dirty’ brown hands. Those demanding such an act of ugliness at Our Lord’s Table are very strong on the anti-gay issue. I only go because dear friends encourage me to keep teaching. We’ve lost all but a handful of young adults and no new ones join. My money goes elsewhere and on Tuesdays I receive Communion (in unity with all communicants) at an Episcopal church. It’s lively with children, young adult leaders and real growth at ease with diversity. No whiff of schism. They’ve apparently cut their losses and moved on. God will help me decide if I move my church home there. I am and will be a Christian as devout as I am able and please, God, make me more so. I will worship, pray, give, serve and receive the Sacrament and will until I die. But as a Methodist? It looks like probably not. Too many of you fellows love tearing things up way too much. I’m about done with it.

Guest
1 year 12 days ago

Amen! been a Methodist all my life and about done with it! born and raised In a Methodist church,but now am feeling more at home in the Baptist Church! I am 67 years old. My family believes in the Bible…..not just parts of it…..all of it. I think I will be moving with them to a different place where the Bible is truly taught and appreciated and lived.

Guest
1 year 4 months ago

How can I get in touch to support and allow the congregation I serve to align with this effort?

Guest
Elaine T.
1 year 4 months ago

I really believe there are lots and lots of good people who love the teachings of Jesus and work at telling others. I also believe that there are many who love Jesus and seek to tell and live out His story of redemption through the blood of the Lamb. When I read Matthew 7:21-23 Jesus seems to make a similar distinction. “Not everyone who says ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name? and then I will declare to them I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.”

Guest
1 year 4 months ago

This whole discussion proves the point, mentioned in the article, that there is not now and most likely never will be, agreement on these issues. I believe a split will be a mercy and allow all groups to pursue the mission of the church as they see fit as mentioned by Dr. Dunnam. It’s sad but I see no other alternative to allowing everyone to pursue their faith without constant conflict and fighting.

Guest
Gene
1 year 4 months ago

Why are we likely to split? Because in place of holy conversation, “talk to the hand” would a rough equivalent to the majority of the posts written above.

Guest
Jor Mor
1 year 4 months ago

As the PK of a UMC pastor in PA, some of these comments make me smile and some make my heart melt. It isn’t 1960 anymore. You may disagree with “the homosexual lifestyle”, and that is your right, but it is also your right to continue to disapprove of interracial marriage. Thankfully, we won’t let you stop the latter, and soon we won’t let you stop the former. Jesus loves all. In an overpopulated world, I don’t think he’s worried who is raising the child as long as it’s a good home. #LoveConquers

Guest
Wes Andrews
1 year 4 months ago

Jor, it’s never been about a personal disagreement with someone else’s life-style. It’s not about personal fear toward homosexuals. NO ONE is afraid of homosexuals especially in the case of the UMC. What progressive thinkers like to do is mischaracterize the point of view of those they disagree with. so they have more leverage (deceptive at it may be) to win an argument. It’s not about what I (or traditionalists/conservatives) like or think. It’s about the authority of Scripture and what Scripture says. The Biblical definition of sexuality and marriage is NOT obscure. It is disingenuous for progressive/liberals to suggest that it’s “not clear” or that “it’s not even about homosexuality at all.”

You may have never been exposed to the idea of the authority of Scripture depending on the spiritual teaching and training in your life. The reason authority matters is because humanity needs what God has given, that is a transcendent unchanging universal truth. If that doesn’t exist then there is NO basis for justice. There is no basis for higher law. There is no basis to fight oppression, other than the eventual defeat of today’s oppression with tomorrow’s oppression.

Progressives in this way essentially cut their nose to spite their face. They claim that homosexual marriage is a justice issue, but deny/reject/ignore the authority that makes justice possible.

Guest
Mark
1 year 4 months ago

Wes, I think you are right. Once the basis of morality is subjectively viewed through a prism of irrationality and extremism constructed to suit selfish interests then the whole church enterprise collapses under the weight of competing personal agendas.

Guest
Rick
1 year 4 months ago

Competing personal agendas… like being treated with equality? Vs. denying equality.? One is definitely a personal agenda. The other is a denial of personhood.

Guest
Mark
1 year 4 months ago

I see nothing in Wes’s statements that deny anyone’s personhood.

Guest
Rick
1 year 4 months ago

Agree. Not about the authority of Scripture. That is a huge smokescreen to cover the refusal of traditionalists to consider that LGBT Christians can love God, commit to another person, and serve the church just like anyone else. The ‘authority of Scripture’ canard does not stand up. It’s disingenuous to only appeal to the scriptures you like and pretend the whole book has authority. I know numerous LGBT Christians who describe themselves as evangelical. They are more theologically conservative than I am, but I respect their faith and admire their courage. They believe they are fully accepted by God and that their covenantal relationship with a same-gender partner is fully blessed. They hold a high view of Scripture and appeal to its authority. They have had to struggle mightily with the handful of verses that are used against them, and they have resolved those theological issues much as women and divorced folks have found grace and freedom despite the Scriptures traditionally used to exclude them. So…. unless someone has a direct line to God determining whether their understanding of biblical “authority” is more authoritative than that of other sincere believers in Jesus, I’m ready to stop hearing the pointless and pompous appeals to authority in this endless debate.

Guest
Ken
1 year 4 months ago

No, it is not about “The Authority of Scripture,” Wes. Disagreeing with your very narrow interpretations of a select little handful of biblical passages is not the same thing as refusing to accept the authority of Scripture. The passages you refer to simply are not some blanket condemnation of all homosexuality in all places at all times; they address specific events in specific places at specific times. You can agree with that or disagree with it, but your continued pronouncements that those who make that argument are “rejecting the Authority of Scripture” are false and border on slander.

Guest
Elaine T.
1 year 4 months ago

I see the Bible from the beginning to the end glorifying male/female sexuality. In the beginning God created men and women for each other thus having created the first human institution…marriage. In Revelation 19 we find the marriage of the Lamb (Jesus) with the Church (Christ’s bride). God loves us so much that he uses marriage to illustrate His love for his committed believing people (His church the Bride). Then right smack in the middle of the Bible you find The Song of Solomon where you find a beautiful portrayal of men and women who express their love for each other. It can not be denied that the Bible does have a negative stand on homosexual activity . So many people just don’t understand how there has been such a turnaround in the church. If you really want to be honest you have to admit that millions and millions of dollars have been spent to change people’s attitudes. Experience is raised up as proof and after mountains of money has been thrown at studies to prove the premise that people are born that way they have still not been able to overcome the hurdle of identical twins . If one is born gay then the other one would be gay but this is not always the case. In describing those who hold to a more orthodox viewpoint, there are those within the church who call them haters and bigots, and say they are passing judgment, attacking, abusing and condemning the homosexual activity. All you have to do is say that there are people who say that God has redeemed them from the homosexual lifestyle then you will truly hear rabid vitriol!

Guest
Paul W.
1 year 4 months ago

The division in the UMC is between 1) those who believe that the Bible is truly God’s Word, that Christ, the Son of God, physically died and rose from the dead, paid the penalty for our sins, will come again to judge the living and the dead, and that there is a literal heaven and hell and all who do not place their faith in Christ and die in their sins will not see heaven, and 2) those who don’t believe this.

Up until about one hundred and twenty years ago, anyone would call this division what it is — believers and unbelievers, Christians and non-Christians. Now, though, in our 20th/21st century enlightened view, unbelief of various forms has been “re-interpreted” within our church as now being an acceptable part of the club. We do no favors for our friends who are deceived by progressive/liberal theology though when we smile and pretend that they are fellow Christians; all must turn from their sins and place their faith in Christ in order to escape the wrath which is to come. We also do no favors for the UMC when we allow unbelievers (even good-intentioned truly-nice-people of-course-I’m-a-Christian unbelievers) to attain positions of authority within our local churches and beyond.

Guest
1 year 4 months ago

Who will listen to me? Who will read my words? No one probably, but here is what I have to say.

Our issue over homosexuality is fundamentally a problem of deontological ethics. That is, the problem is that we have posed the question wrong, posing it in a positive/negative way. We ask ourselves, “Is homosexuality permissible?” But this question is the source of our anger, frustration, and potential crisis of schism. The problem is that we ask the question, automatically prompting a yes/no answer. Therefore, when we answer, we polarize ourselves, and there form exactly two camps of individuals: pro and con. Polarization is not only destructive, but teems within American society, and has for the past couple of decades. American politics is an excellent example of polarization caused by this kind of question.

Stanley Hauerwas, perhaps our brightest ethics scholar in the post-modern world, urges us to think not deontologically, in terms of permission (yes/no). Rather than ask ourselves, “Is homosexuality permissible?” we should ask ourselves, “who are we becoming in Christ Jesus?” As the church on earth, who are we supposed to be if we are to remain salty and a powerful light and testament to the cross? Who are we becoming if Christ is alive, the Holy Spirit remains faithful, and God’s kingdom is certainly to be ushered back to earth one day?

Both conservatives and progressives are thinking deontologically, and this is our downfall. It’s not our fault! It’s our habit from which we can yet be forgiven through repentance. It’s an injustice which we have been exposed to through the principalities of this world. But Christ can–and will–redeem us yet! But Christ has not called us to be passive in our world, but actively participating in the movement and life of the Spirit.

Both sides feel hurt by the other, but both sides are in love with Christ. The conservatives are hurt because they feel that progressives are not taking Scripture seriously enough. If we lose our biblical witness, what do we have left? On the other hand, progressives are hurt because they feel that conservatives are reading into the letter of the law rather than the Spirit of the Word. If the Spirit of the text is lost, or cannot be applied to a rapidly-changing modern context, what do we have left? Both sides are defending the same text, because both sides are one body of Christ and one community, one people with one text. We need to understand this, no matter how differently we read that text.

My brothers and sisters, if you continue to read, I urge you to reprogram your thinking and instead ask yourself the question, “who are we as the church becoming in Christ Jesus?” Rather than focusing on the matter of homosexuality in a yes/no paradigm, we ought to move forward in unity around Jesus’ witness and life on earth. What are the primary themes of Jesus’ teaching in the Gospels? What kind of community should Christians live in according to Acts and Paul’s letters? What is our mission, our purpose, indeed our identity?

I believe that, progressives and conservatives alike, will find that Jesus would come down clear on the homosexuality issue: schism is not in God’s plan. In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Guest
Scott
1 year 4 months ago

The “conservatives” referenced in the article claim that those opposed to their viewpoint are “violating covenant.” Yet, their first threat is to cut off funding to the denomination. That is a huge breach of covenant. Does anyone else see the hypocrisy in threatening a violation of covenant to respond to a violation of covenant? Are they basing their principles on the Bible or Hammurabi’s Code?

 
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