Amicable breakup of UMC needed, pastor group says

By Sam Hodges*

Photo illustration by Kathleen Barry, UMNS

Photo illustration by Kathleen Barry, UMNS

DALLAS (UMNS) — A group of United Methodist pastors and theologians is calling for an amicable split of the denomination, saying differences over homosexuality and other issues are irreconcilable.

The group describes itself as traditionalist and says its ranks include more than 80 members, including pastors of some of the larger United Methodist congregations.

“Are we not at a point where we can acknowledge, after years of dialogue and debate, the depth of our differences and together, progressives and traditionalists, give each other the freedom to pursue our understanding of God’s will?” the group said in its statement.

The group makes clear its support for the church’s current official positions on homosexuality, including that marriage should only be between a man and a woman, but says its disagreements with “progressives” go farther, including to whether the Bible is the infallible word of God.

“I don’t think we will ever agree on the issues that deeply divide us,” said the Rev. Chuck Savage, president of the Georgia United Methodist Foundation, in a press release accompanying the statement. “However, it is my hope that we will agree on a plan of separation that will serve both traditionalists and progressives well. My opinion is that if we can reach agreement on such a plan both progressives and traditionalists will emerge stronger.”

Talk of a breakup of the United Methodist Church is not new, and discussions at the 2004 General Conference led to passage of a unity resolution.

But the Rev. Tom Harrison, part of the group releasing the new statement, said recent clergy defiance of church law by performing same-sex unions convinced him that going forward as one denomination isn’t realistic.

“You can’t play that way,” said Harrison, pastor of Asbury United Methodist Church in Tulsa, Okla., in a phone interview. “It’s chaos. My argument really is rooted in the violation of our covenant together, the Book of Discipline.”

Initial reaction to statement

The group’s statement has just begun to circulate, but was met with dismay by the Rev. James Howell, pastor of Myers Park United Methodist Church in Charlotte, N.C.

“We manage to disagree on a great many things, as we do within our very own families, and we can still love and stay together,” said Howell, who offered an unsuccessful “agree to disagree” measure at the 2012 United Methodist General Conference in Tampa, Fla. “No such division will be a win-win. The fissures will be within congregations, and we will thus be irreparably weaker.”

The Rev. Scott Campbell, an outspoken advocate of changing the Book of Discipline regarding homosexuality, also expressed reservations.

“While I appreciate the tone of their statement, I am saddened that we have not tried every alternative that is available to us,” said Campbell, pastor of Harvard-Epworth United Methodist Church in Cambridge, Mass. “Several proposals to restructure the church to allow greater autonomy within differing ministry contexts will be coming before General Conference in 2016. I believe these are worth seriously considering and perhaps even attempting to implement before we take the drastic step of separation.”

The group calling for a split has had conference call talks, but has chosen no name and elected no leaders. Some members of the group are currently unwilling to be identified, but one who is, the Rev. Larry Baird, said he hopes a list of participants will be published this summer.

Baird thinks the next step is for the group to meet in person to begin to talk about how an amicable split might happen. He said he hoped that would lead to discussions with the other side.

“I, for one, would like to avoid the kind of situation that some of our other sister denominations have gone through — the bitter splits,” said Baird, pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church in Grand Island, N.Y. “We’ve got to be able to do better than that, in my opinion. At least, I pray so.”

But the Rev. Bonnie Beckonchrist, board chair of Reconciling Ministries Network, an unofficial caucus which favors full inclusion of LGBT persons in the United Methodist Church, said even an amicable breakup would be costly.

“I believe people, individuals and congregations, will be hurt by such a split,” said Beckonchrist, a retired United Methodist pastor. “The differences we are talking about are located not only in our denomination, but within individual families and congregations. Sitting in the same pew are folks who differ on many things, but in healthy families and congregations grace abounds and love is what ultimately unites them.”

The group advocating a split has turned to Good News, an unofficial caucus that supports the church’s current stance on homosexuality, for help with communications.

But the group is not part of Good News and does not carry its endorsement, said the Rev. Tom Lambrecht, Good News’ vice president and general manager.

“We are definitely intrigued by the whole process,” Lambrecht said. “We’ve heard from various sectors of the church express the sentiment that separation may be the only way to resolve the deep division that’s in the church today.”

The group’s statement notes that division over homosexuality extends to the Council of Bishops.

San Francisco Area Bishop Warner H. Brown, Jr., president of the Council of Bishops, did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the group’s statement.

Bishop Mike Lowry of the Central Texas Annual (regional) Conference, said, “We are struggling with transformation into a new form of connectionalism. All of us would do well to remember the promise of Jeremiah 29:11. I respect the integrity of those who have issued the statement as well as those who disagree. I call on all of us to prayerfully seek God’s guidance in matters of deep division.”

*Hodges, a United Methodist News Service writer, lives in Dallas. Contact him at (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org

This story can be originally found at http://www.umc.org/news-and-media/amicable-breakup-of-umc-needed-pastor-group-says

United Methodist News Service

United Methodist News Service is the official news gathering agency of the United Methodist Church, and a division of United Methodist Communications. Mandated by the United Methodist Book of Discipline, UMNS provides news stories to communicators throughout the world.

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52 Comments on "Amicable breakup of UMC needed, pastor group says"

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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
Scott
11 months 11 days ago

A new denomination of an Evangelical Methodist Church would be extremely exciting. Continued repression by a church run by a liberal hierarchy intent on aligning the UMC with popular culture rather than holy scripture is not.

Guest
Wes Andrews
1 year 3 months ago

Again, the problem is that organizations, educational institutions, “professors”, Bishops, and a very small but powerful minority of clergy are taking faithfully offered tithes and offerings to support their salaries from people who have values these entities despise. Amazing…..

Guest
1 year 3 months ago

The National Rifle Association and the Koch brothers are no doubt delighted to observe what ought to be one of the most prophetically engaged denominations in America aim straight for the iceberg as it mimics — under cover of theological language — the secular cultural divides in the nation, just as we did in 1844 when we split into two denominations over the issue of slavery. We knew then that John Wesley was adamantly opposed to slavery, his last letter before dying being an eloquent denunciation of the practice and addressed to William Wilberforce. We know now that Wesley was in no sense a biblical inerrantist, had women preachers in defiance of St. Paul’s instuctions (which Wesley knew very well), decried the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few, and did all he could back in the day to see that the poor had decent meidcal care. All of these make him a poor champion for the “orthodox” in the current debate, and hint that they are uncritically breathing the vapors from some very non-methodist sources. While we cruise toward 2016 arguing vociferously over gay folk, the NRA continues to run amok, spreading guns across the land and treating with contempt the spilling of children’s blood in Newtown, CT, as well as countless other outrages. The Koch brothers and their ilk do all in their power to dismantle what remains of legitimate government rergulation of industry, to deny the poor and jobless even minimal dignity, to obliterate workers’ rights . . . the list could go on and on. The deeper question in all of this is why we are corporately willing — liberal and conservative — to die on the relative molehill of sexual orientation, while far larger issues cry out for a Christian witness they will never — never — receive from the megachurch community.

Ed Moore

Guest
james
1 year 3 months ago

I am not as kind as Wes. Seems to me Ed you are a liberal/progressive’s dream!! And that is ok. And you are correct–there are MANY things that are not right in the umc and the USofA. We’ll just have to agree to disagree on the “things” that are wrong.

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Wes Andrews
1 year 3 months ago

Ed, both the conservatives and liberals offer “Kool-aid” to any who will drink. For every “conservative” you list who conspires to control there are “liberals” who also seek to control. Ultimately they care more about power than about the people, or justice, etc. It’s an illusion that the “bad buys” fit in either/or OR us vs. them categories.

I agree with you that there are big issues that are missed when the church debates marriage and sexuality. A couple of thoughts: The UMC has debated this openly and every four years the issue is SETTLED. It is the PROGRESSIVES (not those who affirm Scripture) that dishonor and disrespect respect due process as they trample on the voices and decisions made in regard to marriage and sexuality by the faithful representatives at General Conference. The progressives make this a DAILY issue, by betraying the covenant relationship, and yes, it is the the fault of the Bishop-class that disrespect the involvement of the rank and file (what do mere clergy and laity know anyway?).

There are many issues that are vital, but isn’t the family vital? How the body of Christ in the UMC defines family truly matters. How we understand Scripture in the definition of sexuality matters. Sex, marriage and family is the most core issue of all. The issue is SETTLED every four years, except that the progressives keep beating everyone up and distract the UMC from proclaiming the Good News and from seeking justice.

Ed, beware of the “Kool-aid” regardless which hand (the left or the right) that serves it…

Guest
Mark
1 year 3 months ago

Wes, exactly.

But please don’t forget the role of the media/Hollywood/academic and theological elites in all of this. They—who told us years ago that marriage was an outdated social institution—have been on board with marriage redefinition from the get-go. They have conditioned the thinking of Americans into believing that if you agree with the Bible and 99 percent of human history you are a bigot. Also, never forget that the media—being reliably liberal—will always be more prone to report on the Koch Brothers than atheist left-wing billionaire/felon George Soros.

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Gregory Peterson
1 year 3 months ago

“They have conditioned the thinking of Americans into believing that if you agree with the Bible and 99 percent of human history you are a bigot.”

Way to remind me of what the proslavery apologists were writing, though less succinctly, back when my great grandfather was growing up.

By Thornton Stringfellow in his 1856 “Scriptural and statistical views in favor of slavery.”

[Slavery] is branded by one portion of the people, who take their rule of moral rectitude from the Scriptures, as a great sin; nay the greatest of sins that exist in the nation. And they hold the obligation to exterminate it, to be paramount to all others.

If slavery be thus sinful, it behooves all Christians who are involved in the sin, to repent in dust and ashes, and wash their hands of it, without consulting with flesh and blood….

I propose, therefore, to examine the sacred volume briefly, and if I am not greatly mistaken, I shall be able to make it appear that the institution of slavery has received, in the first place,

1st. The sanction of the Almighty in the Patriarchal age.

2d. That it was incorporated into the only National Constitution which ever emanated from God.

3d. That its legality was recognized, and its relative duties regulated, by Jesus Christ in his kingdom; and

4th. That is full of mercy….

[The abolitionists’] hostility must be transferred from us to God, who established slavery by law in that kingdom over which he condescended to preside; and to Jesus, who recognized it as a relationship established in Israel by his Father, and in the Roman government by men, which he bound his followers to obey and honor.

Reprinted in “Cotton is King.” http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/disp_textbook.cfm?smtID=3&psid=280

Guest
Mark
1 year 3 months ago

Yet again this specious argument is presented. The Bible is equivocal at best on slavery, and an intelligent, informed reading of it (the book of Philemon can be viewed as an argument against slavery), in my opinion, argues against it (that’s what John Newton thought!)

In contrast, the Bible is unequivocal in its condemnation of homosexual behavior. It is not a debatable point.

Guest
theenemyhatesclarity
1 year 3 months ago

The idea of a new denomination is exciting, and many would have a part in creating it. There are many more things than homosexuality that have been issues for the orthodox. Imagine:

1. A church committed to serving the least of these AND salvation of souls.
2. No more General Board of Church and Society.
3. No more membership in the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.
4. A pro life stance, much stronger than the confused mess in our current Discipline.
5. Funding for seminary students would be by voucher, and they could chose from a list of approved seminaries where to take the money. Claremont would not be on that list. Costs would go down and the quality of graduates would go up.

I know that all of these wouldn’t happen exactly as I want them to, and there would be other issues I haven’t even thought of, but our church would be much improved on more areas than just the issue of homosexuality.

In Christ,

The enemy hates clarity

Guest
Gregory Peterson
1 year 3 months ago

“There are many more things than homosexuality that have been issues for the orthodox.”

And no doubt there were more things than about slavery that had been issues for the orthodox with the 1844 schism , right theenemyhatesclarity ?

Guest
Mark
1 year 3 months ago

Amen, enemyhatesclarity! The current cultural ethos of sexuality-as-identity is terribly unbalanced and unrealistic. And how about approving only seminaries where 90+ percent of the faculty are Christians themselves!

Guest
William
1 year 3 months ago

Our seminaries should not resemble secular liberal arts colleges. I am most aware of the old worn out academic freedom issue. Of course many private colleges and universities have cut ties with their church denominations over the years after, of course, taking money from them to get established and on solid financial ground. But, for our seminaries, they should be unique Christian focused institutions or schools within their universities with professors who really want to be there to TRAIN ministers to preach the Gospel and proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ. Instead, a number have evolved into something that barely resembles the definition of a seminary. The UMC has a HUGE problem here and, my guess, a major contributor to our current problems.

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james
1 year 3 months ago

What a great post!!! There are SO many things that would/could change in the establishing of a new denomination.

First on the list would be a people who bow in reverence and awe to Father/Son/Holy Spirit!! Perhaps Iliff would be left of the approved list as well!!

Thank you, TEHC, for a positive start to this Lord’s Day–and the celebration of the memory of all those who have served this country in The Armed Forces………………..

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Wes Andrews
1 year 3 months ago

Iliff has been one of the most “progressive” of seminaries. My guess is the students and faculty would be very, very proud of this. In reality, Iliff was started by a family that loved Jesus and wished to promote the spread of the Kingdom of God. Yet, it has been taken over and dominated by progressives who are uninterested in the Kingdom, as defined by Scripture. The founders are rolling over in their grave. Of course, this is one of many UM seminaries that despise the church that supports them. And yes, I know this from personal experience.

Guest
1 year 3 months ago
Guest
1 year 3 months ago

Schism exists right now. The College of Bishops has lost credibility as it cannot even manage accountability among Bishops. The credibility of the polity is collapsing as folks look for ways to dance around the covenant, instead of upholding the covenant, and the leadership of the church uses “unity at any cost” as the excuse of the day to do nothing. Radical progressives ( not all progressives) have chosen to abandon their Vows for their own agenda, and now try to package anyone who dares to disagree as “schismatics”, instead of honestly separating in the “schism” they have seeded and promoted – heaping dishonesty upon dishonesty. The real question? Is there a remnant of leadership (on either or both sides), to honestly separate without going to battle over silly stuff like property and pensions. The ultimate positive outcome? A now dysfunctional top-down theocracy, will by default be dismantled and grass roots Christianity will have a chance to re-seed in the Methodist families of Churches?

Guest
Gregory Peterson
1 year 3 months ago

Vows which uphold the language of oppression …complete with obsolete, long discredited and now pejorative words like “homosexual” must be broken. What conservatives want is to deny for other adults what they allow for themselves like ordination and marriage.

I’m old enough to have heard it all before from people who claimed to be faithful to scripture, only about the “sexuality” of a different minority group. I’ve even been accused of the “unnatural sin of miscegenation.” I’m proudly unrepentant.

Gay is a declaration of a certain sort of personal integrity, which conservatives who are defending privilege generally seem to lack, and therefore fear in others.

Guest
1 year 3 months ago

“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. ”
Note please that in most responses the terms Liberal and Progressive are here are appearing to be used as curse words. As one who seeks to be both liberal in my sharing of my limited income and in my sharing of my time and talents, and progressive in my perspective on the 21st century church, I do find that disconcerting.
I am also curious as to why on earth so many people would want to involve themselves in exploring so thoroughly the sexual attractions and involvements of other consenting adults. 50+ years ago, my parents taught me that people are not all the same and as long as nobody is being coerced or abused, what consenting adults with other consenting adults do should be none of my business. I would certainly not want to encourage anybody else to speculate about my heterosexual marriage. I would certainly think that for so many to spend so very much time speculating on the marriages or relationships of other consenting adults, either heterosexual or homosexual, could be construed to be a bit voyeuristic to some of us who were more thoroughly taught that marriages and other adult relationships are each and every one unique.

Guest
Lisa Keenan
1 year 3 months ago

This is a good question, Velma. It has haunted me, also. I’m just a simple kind of woman who finds solace and community within the church.

After engaging in these discussions, so far, I have learned this:

There is no marriage ceremony in the Bible.

Marriage happens behind “the tent flap”.
Our biological chemistry not only creates a desire and tender bonding very similar to that of a mother to her child, but also analogous of our Creator to his children. It brings an empathy to us that is beyond definition. From this miracle, this marriage of the tiniest essence of male and female . . new life is created.

The Church is, in essence, as a bride awaiting her Groom. He prepares a place for her. Provides, protects and gives his life for her.
She cares ands shows her love for Him by keeping herself strong, healthy, salty and pure. She lives in a world that does not recognize her humble goodness. She must be discerning while she waits for her Groom.

God, our Creator, created marriage in this way. The Church did not. The Church would open the bride to a lie, a wound prone to bacterial infection, if it promoted any other “definition” of marriage.

This is what I have gathered, so far.

Guest
1 year 3 months ago

God’s Word is all we need to look to.
Philippians 2:15 NASB-“…so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world,…”

Guest
1 year 3 months ago

The situation within the United Methodist Church has reached the point of hopelessness. But this statement “Regarding United Methodism’s Future” is the first genuinely hopeful message for Methodisim that I’ve seen in years! Its focus appears to be centered upon the UMC’s mission “to make disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,” it is grace-filled, and strives to factually and fairly summarize the two polar positions (as much as that is humanly possible in this emotionally charged situation).

It is interesting that some are wondering warily about the identity of the 80 while others clearly are attacking the messengers because of the message. My perspective is that the 80 simply are filling a vacuum created by the lack of leadership of our Council of Bishops. Who they are hardly matters. When it comes time to vote at Annual or General Conference, they are only 80 votes under our polity. If their perspectives and opinions don’t reflect that of a majority of our delegates, they have no more power or authority than I do.

Those institutionalists still favoring the middle ground deserve credit for tenacity. Forty years is more than enough for me. It’s time to move on, show the world how Wesleyans can part lovingly over sincere differences and watch how God uses refocused Methodist churches to make disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

Guest
1 year 3 months ago

It’s not the grassroots congregations which are talking “division. It is coming from the same small group of powerful clergy who have opposed the acceptance of homosexuality over the years. Do you really want to ask every congregation to vote on which side to go with? My guess is most UM congregations are divided right down the middle and that most would rather stay together than split.

Guest
WAD
1 year 3 months ago

I dread the vote. It will be ugly, real ugly, especially the time leading up to it. My guess, once the vote is announced, many upon many will depart because they simply will not want to be part of the confrontation.

Guest
Wes Andrews
1 year 3 months ago

Wow, Jack, your statement is as far from the truth as it possible. The small percentage, yet powerful are the progressives. Their way of “winning” is to trample on others, while those who trust Scripture have honored the voices of others in faithful discussion and have succeeded in helping the UMC remain faithful to Scripture. But due process means nothing to progressives.

Guest
Gary Bebop
1 year 3 months ago

It’s a categorical error to assume an orthodox pushback to be nothing more than a tiny hornet’s nest vexing a global denomination of millions. Progressives belittle resistance because they are used to having any; they ridicule and scorn and abuse it. But all of this becomes a public record of rage at defenders of traditional Christian teachings. The raging will ONLY help demarcate the division. Even as the Apostle Paul said: “Indeed, there have to be divisions among you, for only so will it become clear who among you are genuine” (1 Cor. 11:19).

Guest
Mark
1 year 3 months ago

Gary, I think you hit the nail on the head. Liberals, being natural agitators, are used to having their way without much pushback. Their greatest friend is ignorance and apathy on the part of the laity. Most grassroots United Methodists—I just spoke to one today—know nothing about the leftist lobbying of UMC political agencies, and they would be appalled that well-placed bishops and other leaders in the denomination are anti-Biblical, anti-Discipline covenant-breakers on the issue of sexuality. Anyone from just a few years ago would be shocked at what is happening today…and it is NOT PROgressive, it’s REgressive. There is nothing new under the sun (I think of the OT pagan elevation of sexuality above almost anything else).

Guest
Gregory Peterson
1 year 3 months ago

It’s all such a dreadful conspiracy, right Mark? I’m old enough to have heard about those dreadful liberal conspiracies going on fifty years now.

Guest
1 year 3 months ago

Liberals are “natural agitators?”

 
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