Commentary: Time for United Methodists to move forward

By JOHN LOMPERIS

The UMAction Steering Committee recently met in Washington, D.C. to discuss current developments, challenges, and opportunities within our United Methodist Church. These faithful United Methodist lay and clergy men and women from across our denomination love our church and are committed to its renewal in faithfulness and in a disciple-making focus. I am privileged to be accountable to them.

The headline-grabbing controversies today are the entirely predictable fruit of years of too many of our bishops and denominational officials aiding and abetting trust-breaking, “progressive” clergy in acting as if they are accountable to no one higher than themselves and as if the church exists to provide them with a condition-free platform for their personal agendas.

While renegade ministers may win praise from a few non-Christians for validating sexual sin (homosexual or heterosexual), this misleads and spiritually harms precious human beings to whom the church should have been ministering in a compassionate, uncompromising, redemptive, and authentically Christian way.

What our church needs now is not that short-sighted denialism that protects our own comfort by leaving addressing our serious challenges up to others. No constructive purpose is served by misleadingly pitching one-sided, stepping-stone liberalization proposals as “compromises.” Nor do we need sentimentalist idolization of sub-Christian notions of “unity” or white-washing cries of “peace, peace” in places in our church in which there is no peace.

The serious and constructive conversation United Methodists need to have about unity must be grounded in biblical and historic Christian teaching about the foundation, purpose, nature, and, yes, limits of church unity.

And none of us who love the United Methodist Church can afford to ignore directly facing some key facts:

  1. Our denomination, together with the clear, consistent witness of the global body of Christ across two millennia, affirms biblical standard that sexual relations are a gift from God only for within the covenant of faithful marriage between one man and one woman. A more permissive ethos simply cannot be reconciled with the UMC’s Doctrinal Standards (especially Methodist Article VI and Wesley’s Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament).
  2. While this official stance of the church could theoretically be changed through the proper channels at General Conference, the last couple of General Conferences have affirmed the present, biblical teaching in our Social Principles by a growing majority. At the 2012 General Conference, liberal activists ultimately made the unprecedented choice to give up even trying to convince delegates to remove our denomination’s separate, binding policies forbidding our clergy from conducting “ceremonies which celebrate homosexual unions” or personally being sexually active outside of man-woman marriage.
  3. Some U.S. United Methodist clergy, constituting a small minority of the whole, have very publicly declared their unwillingness to keep their own word given at ordination to God and the church to uphold United Methodism’s doctrinal and moral standards. They insist on keeping all the benefits of being United Methodist clergy, but claim a unilateral right to pick and choose which of their responsibilities and voluntarily made promises they will honor. Some bishops and other denominational officials have in various ways encouraged, enabled, and directly joined such divisive covenant-breaking.
  4. In their words and actions, countless “progressive” United Methodists have made it perfectly clear that they emphatically do NOT see evangelical United Methodists like us as their brothers and sisters in Christ, in any meaningful way.
  5. By rejecting foundational Christian doctrines like the resurrection of Christ (as “Reconciling” movement hero, Bishop Joe Sprague, does), claiming independence from our denomination’s community covenant, and refusing basic Golden-Rule civility to any United Methodists outside of their faction, many progressive United Methodists strike at the heart of any principled, lasting foundation for church unity. Covenant-breaking clergy leave little room for trust when they declare that not even their own most solemn vows to God and the church can be trusted.
  6. Any possible path forward from here will be long, difficult, and accompanied by significant disappointment-driven losses by some United Methodists on one side or another. But the alternative to losing a few church-killing, accountability-rejecting ministers is not keeping everyone together but rather sacrificing countless sheep to protect a smaller number of unprincipled shepherds.

We must have the courage to realistically consider what we can do to faithfully move forward.

I invite all those interested in the unity of our church to join UMAction in:

  • Explicitly recognizing that any truly Christian church unity will ultimately insist on some firm communal boundaries;
  • Insisting on meaningful consequences for clergy and other UMC leaders who willfully and recklessly attack our unity by openly opposing our Doctrinal Standards and/or disregarding our biblical, covenantal standards related to sexual self-control; and
  • Opposing current efforts of progressive United Methodists to use the name and resources of the whole church to support very partisan, debatable political agendas issues on which faithful Christians can and do disagree, as this fails to honor our unity and diversity and suggests that only people of certain political persuasions are welcome in our churches.

For their part, our bishops have the ability, if they choose, to offer some of the leadership our denomination so desperately needs for faithfulness, healing, and constructively moving forward in ministry. Today, many United Methodists across our theological divide are questioning the value of honoring and working through our denomination’s established, apportionment-funded system. At such a time as this, any of our bishops could do much to re-establish trust if they had the courage, acting individually and/or jointly with some other bishops, to:

  • Take the sort of actions respectfully urged by the Methodist Crossroads statement (of which IRD President Mark Tooley and I were among the original signers);
  • Use their “bully pulpit” to actually teach the value and beauty of biblical standards for sexual self-control, including but not limited to as they relate to homosexuality;
  • Join the few of their colleagues who have actually upheld longstanding church law forbidding any of our congregations from formally identifying themselves as part of the sexually liberal Reconciling Ministries Network; and
  • Publicly commit, together with the Commission on the General Conference whose members they (essentially) appointed, to NOT fail our church as spectacularly as they and their appointees did at the last, embarrassingly wasteful and dysfunctional, General Conference. This would include making clear their firm determination to not let any outside protest group illegally take over or change the agenda for General Conference meetings, to no longer extend to such protest groups any special privileges or platforms not also extended to evangelical renewal caucuses, and to ensure that high-priority reform proposals supported by orthodox United Methodists will have no less opportunity for fair consideration in plenary session than the top priorities of progressive United Methodists.

I realize that our bishops are a rather diverse group. But even if we see a lack of strong collective action, I would hope that some of our orthodox bishops will not wait indefinitely on their colleagues before offering some strong, encouraging public leadership that would be immeasurably helpful for our church.

For our part, UMAction will not wait on others.  We are moving forward, in partnership with others, to:

  • PRAY for our denominational leaders, and for revival to erupt throughout our beloved United Methodist Church;
  • Promote a positive vision of what our church, with God’s help, can be;
  • Continue to remind fellow United Methodists of the big picture, from the clear New Testament obligation to continually “contend for the faith” within the church itself to the reality of progressive United Methodists living on borrowed time, with large, growing U.S. annual conferences overwhelming rejecting the LGBTQ agenda, young United Methodists rejecting marriage-redefinition, our denomination becoming increasingly dominated by more biblically faithful non-American members, and progressive-dominated regions of the church rapidly declining into irrelevancy;
  • Build on strong support already seen to work to reform our accountability structures to require clear, meaningful, deterrent penalties for clergy who choose to violate our marriage standards and to remove from bishops the powers they have abused to prevent accountability;
  • Relentlessly insist on accountability for covenant-breaking clergy and denominational leaders, never being intimidated or accepting defeat; and
  • Walk in unity with all willing to walk in Christian unity with us.

The renewal and reform of our beloved denomination is ultimately a much more fundamental, long-term effort than addressing the most immediate challenges. Thus, UMAction is committed to rebuilding a culture of loving moral and doctrinal accountability at all levels of United Methodism. We will encourage evangelical United Methodist church-planting efforts that will reach new people, including younger people, for Christ far more effectively than liberal congregations hanging rainbow flags on their decaying buildings.

We will also help fellow United Methodists discuss the need to dissolve the radicalized Western Jurisdiction, which seems to be bizarrely seeking to become a sort of autonomous “dumping ground” for failed liberal clergy from other regions, to merge into one or both of the neighboring jurisdictions. Now that this region’s ever-plummeting membership has fallen below that of some annual conferences, it simply makes no administrative sense to continue it as a separate jurisdiction. As a first step, it is high time for our denomination to stop squandering our limited resources for ministry by ending the subsidy currently giving the Western Jurisdiction more bishops and corresponding denominational influence than their own churches will pay for.

Another long-term conversation our denomination needs to have concerns the wisdom of our current constitutional rules giving our clergy an unqualified right to a trial. UMAction certainly affirms the general importance of protecting those wrongfully accused of being wrongfully punished. But for cases in which the facts of someone’s wrongdoing are not disputed, this could eventually be modified to prevent renegade clergy from imposing all kinds of unnecessary costs and heartache on an entire annual conference by insisting on an ugly church trial before they can be held accountable.

We invite our fellow United Methodist brothers and sisters from across our global connection to join us in these commitments and conversations.

Special Contributor to UMR

Special Contributor

This story was written by a special contributor to The United Methodist Reporter. You may send your article submissions to
editor@circuitwritermedia.com
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47 Comments on "Commentary: Time for United Methodists to move forward"

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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)
 
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Eric Pone
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The writer basically says adopt the conservative mindset period and liberals get in line. Well I am not ordained in the UMC but I attend a UMC church. What about those of us who choose to maintain ordinations outside the communion and choose to wed same sex? You can’t ‘kick us out or discipline us’. The truth is that there are now many many ways to be ordained without the strict accountability of the mainline church. There are many ways to be in active five fold ministry without the politics that the writer espouses. I say let them do what… Read more »
Elaine T.
Guest

George, George, George, Westboro!!!! You have got to be kidding! Granted you would not share the same beliefs with Wesboro people, BUT you have more of a Westboro attitude than any of the people and groups you have maligned here, Your emotionalism gets more and excessive as you go on. I do recognize that our Lord loves you as much as he loves a schlub like me.

George Nixon Shuler
Guest

And, one would infer, as much as the Lord loves the oppressed.

Elaine T.
Guest
That is a given!. I believe as a safe guess that 99.9% of the people here believe that. I am curious though, do you consider yourself oppressed by my belief that the Bible teaches that marriage is for one man and one woman. If that is the case then I guess I should consider myself oppressed by your posts. That is not the case for me because with God’s help I am able to love anyone that disagrees with me. Loving and agreeing are not synonymous There would have been no discipline in my household if I had agreed with… Read more »
George Nixon Shuler
Guest
From the posts here, I would have to say your estimate is considerably excessive. It seems to me that more or less the commenters here are split about 50% to 50%, one half being inclusive persons who see God as bigger than their petty prejudices, and 50% who believes God hates the same people they do. As to whether or not you make me feel oppressed or not, that would be a no, but, keep in mind, I am a white heterosexual married male with an adequate income more or less, showing all of my 62 years in the vale… Read more »
George Nixon Shuler
Guest

Mark, Mark, Mark….assertion is not argument. Why do you suppose the right-wing billionaire Richard Mellon Schaife, he of the “Get Clinton” infamy, funds the IRD so generously? Why is their slick magazine “good news” always chock full of hateful prose and lies concerning LGBTs and women who obtain abortions? Why have they used their extensive resources to provide General Conference delegates in their camp with cell phones to summon then to vote? Make no mistake, my friend. This political movement is merely taking advantage of poor schlubs like you by fueling your ignorance and fear.

Mark
Guest

Well…George, I will not resort to calling you hateful names (like “poor schlub”), but I will point out the abject hypocrisy of someone who thinks the IRD publishes Good News Magazine calling OTHER people ignorant.

Again, look within for the cause of your anger, not without.

George Nixon Shuler
Guest

That’s a term of endearment. Spreche nicht Yiddische? I know the IRD and Good News are technically separate entities, but the overlap is tremendous, especially when it comes to sources of income..

Mark
Guest

Yeah, I am familiar enough with Yiddish from my Jewish uncle to know that schlub is no term of endearment. Maybe you should educate yourself further about the word: http://www.yiddishslangdictionary.com/word/313/schlub

Good News and IRD are totally distinct entities with different origins and goals. Perhaps you should educate yourself a little more before further embarrassing yourself.

George Nixon Shuler
Guest
I’m certainly not embarrassed. One often speaks endearingly of others in counterintuitive ironies. I’m a schlub, you’re a schlub, heck, we once even had a conservative pastor who was enamored of one evangelical preacher’s mssive “The Ragamuffin Gospel” and Little Orphan Annie and Kipling’s Kim notwithstanding that term’s hardly an honorific. Study irony – it’s found throughout the gospels and literature and is much appreciated by those not mired in dogmaticism. IRD’s and Good News’s collaboration is like the dark money in political spending collaborating with regular party apparatchiks on a common goal. Of course, IRD does not as its… Read more »
Christy Thomas
Guest
Mark
Guest

I am afraid you destroy your credibility from the get-go by mischaracterizing—rather hatefully—the IRD.

It is so sad that people—especially pastors—in this denomination cannot disagree, even strongly, without portraying opponents in factually inaccurate ways.

George Nixon Shuler
Guest

He referred to the IRD as “…a heavily funded right wing political group that has been trying for at least 20 years to destroy the UMC…” That’s just a statement of fact. The group is heavily funded by far-right interests and does not have the interests of average UMCers at heart. It is a dangerous satrapy of extremists in our midst whose funders and staff are largely not UMs.

Mark
Guest

The IRD is trying to help renew the UMC, not destroy it. Saying the IRD is trying to destroy the UMC is not just factually wrong, it’s hateful.

Mark
Guest

Oh my…if anything is unfactual and hateful it’s what you just wrote. Methinks you may be engaging in the psychological phenomenon of projection.

George Nixon Shuler
Guest
Renew what? What made them decide we are in need of this supposed “renewal”? My friend, the facts are otherwise. This is a right-wing political machine dedicated to the proposition that the UMC should resemble the Westboro Baptist Church. They are political operatives spreading a gospel of hatred. Occasionally we view their hate-dripping rag, “Good News.” There’s nothing good about it, and it distributes no news whatsoever. It is merely the voice of slick-haired preachers on the political make who make allies for themselves by spreading lies to the dim which are overcome with ignorance. .
Matt
Guest

These comments are not helpful at all. We need to listen to each other and stop name calling. Calling pastors “renegade”, liberal or conservative, etc. is not helpful in this conversation. Actually this article doesn’t call for conversation, it calls for disunity. This article is anti-Biblical as it calls for a split unless all must submit to this writers opinions. Jesus himself called for unity in the church. Let’s stop listening to writers like John Lomperis and encourage those who wish to work toward reconciliation and unity.

Rev. Jim Brooking
Guest

Renegade ministers? The founder of my faith, the Christian Faith, was a renegade minister by the name of Jesus Christ!

Charles Moher
Guest

This is a group that appears to have unlimited resources. My pastor has received numerous letters from them. They are also the group that will see that the UMC separates. I don’t understand how the writer of this article can’t see how opposite of Christ they are. There is no name attached and we know that it is worthless without a name and not worth our time. Hiding behind their action group… unbelievable. We will move forward whether groups like this like it or not.

Doug
Guest
I have a sideline view of this debate among my Methodist friends and have found it interesting to say the least. What I like is that there is a focus not on same sex marriage but rather same sex sex. The progressives and the lbgt community have directed our conversation away from the real issue. Is sex between a man and a woman God’s design or not. Is same sex sex a perversion of God’s design? Have that conversation and you will know if there is a belief in Scripture and God’s plan for relationships. I appreciate the candor of… Read more »
Scott
Guest

Doug, your comment cuts to the chase. When the argument is cast in it’s most basic terms as you have done, the lie of same sex “marriage” becomes apparent. It really is a question of whether one believes the Scriptures or whether one does not. If not, then anything goes.

John Wilson
Guest
Well said. The Methodist Church is the church my fathers, in that several of my ancestors founded Methodist Churches in New York, Ohio, Iowa and Nebraska. I grew up in a large (over 4000 members) Methodist congregation in the West. Unfortunately, no one really educated me about the strengths of the church as I was growing up. For example, when I hit puberty, there was no clear guidance from the church about sex. I had Mormon friends. For them, the lines were bright and clear. As I started learning more about their Church, I was called in (perhaps at the… Read more »
Erik
Guest
To quote the article: “As a first step, it is high time for our denomination to stop squandering our limited resources for ministry by ending the subsidy currently giving the Western Jurisdiction more bishops and corresponding denominational influence than their own churches will pay for.” Here’s a thought: Why not reduce the number of General Conference delegates from the Annual Conferences in the Southeastern Jurisdiction in direct proportion to the percentage of General Church apportionments they pay. If I remember right, they only pay about 80 to 85 percent of their General Church apportionments. So, in other words, if North… Read more »
BJohnM
Guest

I wouldn’t be opposed to that, so long as this applies to every conference, including those covering Africa. Let’s calculate each and every conferences overall apportionment contribution, and base the number of delegates they get to send to GC on the number of dollars they send in. Grand idea.

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