Commentary: Expelled from the United Methodist Church?

 "church next door", © 2008 Beck Gusler, Flickr | CC-BY-SA | via Wylio

“church next door”, © 2008 Beck Gusler, Flickr | CC-BY-SA | via Wylio

By Rev. Thomas Lambrecht*

Recently, progressive blogger Jeremy Smith made the claim that “Conservative activists in the United Methodist Church are pushing out the perceived source of all things bad: Progressive Methodists.” Not only does Rev. Smith perceive an effort to “expel” progressives from our church, he also detects a trajectory changing who should leave the church. “Over the past 10 years, for folks seeking to divide the UMC, the rhetoric of ‘who leaves’ has shifted from ‘the Conservatives want to leave’ to ‘let’s make the Progressives leave.’”

A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose

Rev. Thomas Lambrecht A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose

In response to the narrative that Smith is positing, I wish to correct the historical record about this supposed shift from conservatives leaving to progressives leaving the church. I also want to dispute the notion that anyone is trying to “expel” others from the church.

Smith believes that the Rev. Dr. Bill Hinson’s speech raising the possibility of separation at the 2004 General Conference was “asking for the conservative churches to part ways with the wayward denomination.”

As one who also attended that conference and was present when Hinson gave his speech, that was not what he said or what he meant. This is what he said: “Our friends who have broken our covenant [namely progressives] feel that they themselves are broken… They are seeking autonomy from the larger body. They garnered more than 300 votes in an attempt to do things their way with regard to ordination in the Western Jurisdiction. Let’s set them and ourselves free to pursue our highest aspirations.” He concluded, “I believe the time has come when we must begin to explore an amicable and just separation that will free both sides from our cycle of pain and conflict. Such a just separation will protect the property rights of churches and the pension rights of clergy. It will also free us to reclaim our high calling and to fulfill our mission in the world. Therefore, let us, like Paul and Barnabas, agree to go our separate ways.”

What Hinson proposed was mutual, amicable separation as a way of releasing progressives to follow their consciences and pursue ministry in the way they feel God calling them. There was no talk of “conservatives leaving” or “expelling” anyone. At most, the raising of the question was a way of allowing progressives to leave, if they desired. Dr. Hinson’s heart was that the church should be released from fighting itself in order to carry on a more effective mission in the world. “We cannot fight both church and culture,” Hinson said. “Our culture alone confronts us with more challenges than we can humanly speaking confront and challenge. That struggle, combined with the continuous struggle in the church, is more than we can bear.”

Dr. Hinson acknowledged his own sadness with regard to the dividedness of the church and the ongoing pain suffered by both sides (and those in the middle). “No sincere person can rejoice in another person’s pain. No one enjoys stepping on another person’s dream… I believe it is time for us to end this cycle of pain we are inflicting on each other,” he said. “The thought of hurting another makes us sick. They hurt us by defying the covenant, and we hurt them with our votes to uphold theDiscipline every four years.”

It is in that spirit of wanting to stop the cycle of pain that Drs. Bill Arnold and David Watson have proposed allowing any local church to withdraw from The United Methodist Church based on a declaration “that it is in irreconcilable conflict for reasons of conscience with the provisions of The United Methodist Church Book of Discipline on the practice of homosexuality and the blessing of homosexual unions.” There is no expulsion here. Only a desire to treat others as we ourselves would want to be treated, and a desire to respect the sincere consciences of others in our church body. It is also a concession to the idea that full-blown amicable separation may not be legislatively possible at the 2016 General Conference.

It is in that same spirit that Good News, understanding that the local church in Cassopolis, Michigan, was considering leaving the UM Church, stated that the congregation should be permitted to leave the denomination with its property and assets, if they so desired. “We believe the exercise of the trust clause to hold congregations within the church is a poor foundation upon which to build church unity,” Good News stated. We do not believe covenant ought to be coerced by financial considerations or the trust clause. Those who cannot abide by the covenant they made with The United Methodist Church ought to be allowed to leave without penalizing them. There is nothing new in this. We have maintained this position for many years. And we would hope that, if the language in the Book of Discipline were to be changed, we who could no longer live with that covenant would be similarly treated.

There is no “trajectory” moving from evangelicals leaving the UM Church to expelling progressives. In case the Rev. Smith has not noticed, it is evangelical congregations who are now leaving the denomination (such as Wesley UM Church in Quarryville, Pennsylvania and others).

Dr. Hinson’s question still stands, however. Is it time to consider the possibility of amicable separation? Can we continue to live together in the same church, while hurting each other through our deep disagreements?

I have no desire to expel anyone, nor any desire to leave the church in which I have faithfully served for over 30 years. I pray that I do not face that choice in the future.

(The full text of Dr. Hinson’s speech can be found in the May/June 2004 issue of Good News.)

*Tom Lambrecht is the Vice President and General Manager of Good News.

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16 Comments on "Commentary: Expelled from the United Methodist Church?"

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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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Jamie Westlake
Guest

Great reflections, Tom, on a difficult and painful reality our church must consider.

Richard F Hicks
Guest

As a UM layperson, as a local pastor I’ve been expelled, once publicly, from several UM churches/annual conferences. In my cases, and I suspect in all cases is always boils down to this: The current club determines its members – who is in, who is out, who is up, who is down – just as Christ Jesus taught – NOT! In each of my cases clergy were seen to use their power to protect one of their own or one of their lay club members. Thank you, Richard F Hicks, OKC

Riley Case
Guest
Let’s face it. The church’s problems will not be solved by the upcoming General Conference. There is no “way forward” that will leave us united. In a day when there is increasing mistrust of institutions there will be more and more churches seeking to disaffiliate with the denomination. This will be our test as a people. Will we handle this amicably or create more bad feeling than there is already. Are the same people who argue against clergy trials over matters of officiating at gay weddings will to say we will work for a just resolution without civil suits? Time… Read more »
Jamie
Guest

My fear as being a pastor of a fast growing UMC in the south is that homosexuality is not the issue. Folks we are dying as a denomination and all we can talk about is sexuality. Yes it is important, but not if we do not a denomination to debate it.The focus needs to be on making disciples and putting butts in the pews. I am glad we consist of the left and right but right now we are all wrong. Blessings

Scott
Guest

As someone else who heard from Dr. Hinson (his sister was in the congregation that I was serving), part of his frustration was that Radio Africa was defunded (or discussed) while at the same time seeing caucuses spend in the hundreds of thousands of dollars on protesting.

Gary Mosimann
Guest

When is a covenant no longer a covenant? We certainly have lost our focus if we are not laser-beamed on Christ Jesus! Also, please, everyone, allow me to love all my neighbors, and at the same time allow me to consider sinful what the scriptures considers sinful. Society evolves all the time, acceptable things change in society. In God’s great intentions of what is “good” doesn’t seem that fickle.

Mike Floyd
Guest
Don’t know that I should comment considering I am not a United Methodist, but will take the liberty since the local church here provides genuine concern for my well being as well as that of my family. Basically to quote an old adage I’ve picked up from somewhere along the way “A person who doesn’t stand for anything will fall for anything”. I applaud your conservative stand and pray you hold to it. America needs it. One thing though that concerns me about conservative Christians (including non-Methodist) though and I battle with it myself is the out-casting of the gay… Read more »
Riley Case
Guest
Let’s face it: General Conference will not solve our problems. There is no “Way Forward” that will draw us together as United Methodists. In this time of growing distrust of institutions, there will be more churches wanting to disaffiliate with the denomination. The question we should be asking is, how can we deal with this in a Christ-like manner. Shall we enter into the civil courts over buildings? The Presbyterians and Episcopalians have handled these matters poorly. If a growing number of persons are saying, no more clergy trials over gay marriage, will the same persons then turn around and… Read more »
Mark McRoberts
Guest
As an LGBT cradle Methodist who really joined the church before the 1972 discriminatory evil language (I would cuss like a sailor here if I could) was not in the discipline in 1966. All I can say is a POX on the house of the UMC and especially the Good News folk who hate me. Don’t extend any faux christian love, I have had enough of your evil ways. Right now all I want is the two 30 foot tall stain glass windows my ancestors donated to the church back in 1926. They can be crushed if they can’t come… Read more »
Sue O
Guest

For me, the key question is why the good news movement is so hung up on homosexuality? There is so much legitimate work we could be doing in the name of Christ. I often wonder if the hate and hostility shown to LGBT persons isn’t based on the persons own, deeply closeted, homosexual longings. Yes, I’m looking at the author of this article! I’m weary of all of you, which is why I have been avoiding church and looking for better ways to live out my faith.

Douglas Asbury
Guest
If by “those who are,” you mean “those of us who are LGBTQ United Methodists,” then, yes, we are “hung up on homosexuality”, because those in the church who believe that God could not possibly have created us this way and that the UMC could not possibly allow us to discover how it is we are to “glorify God and enjoy God forever” (to draw a phrase from our Calvinist sisters and brothers) through living out with integrity our God-given sexuality along with those whom God made “straight” are actually fighting against God and not us; and we will not… Read more »
Mike
Guest

Agreed Mark. Its being shoved down Christian throats and I feel its been brought on because they have felt excluded. They are sinners requiring heeling, which ain’t going to happen if we shove it off to the side. Now we see the result. Its getting shoved down our throats. I myself struggle to accept them. I can not accept or condone official unions though. Another problem we have seen in the media are the ugly results with mutilation of our young people they have preyed upon.

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