Bishop Palmer pulls no punches in the Episcopal address

After somewhat lackluster morning worship filled with multiple languages and liturgies of confession, Bishop Gregory V. Palmer rose to offer the episcopal address this morning at the Oregon Convention Center.

One word has never left his consciousness: humility.

From there, Palmer took little time wading into the murky waters of the troubled United Methodist Church. Wondering if we only give lip service to the words, “trust in the Lord,” he challenged the conference to remember the Collect for purity:

Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known and from whom no secrets are hidden. Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that we may perfectly love You and worthily magnify Your holy name, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

“The 2012 General Conference took something out of the church,” he said, acknowledging the feelings left in the wake of the 2012 General Conference in Tampa, FL. “Some voices described the experience as a waste of time and resources,”  he said Other voices expressed discouragement, hopelessness, fear and disappointment,” said the bishop.

Bishop Gregory Palmer speaks to the media during today's press conference following the episcopal address.UMR photo by Wes Magruder

Bishop Gregory Palmer speaks to the media during today’s press conference following the episcopal address.

“We are here not for a pity party or to lick our wounds,” he said, “but to discern the next faithful steps in the mission and ministry of The United Methodist Church.”

Palmer described the people of the UMC as prisoners of hope, and highlighted several ministries of the church, including a successful campaign to help eliminate malaria in much of the world.

“I refuse to see discouragement and despair as the new normal,” the bishop said.

Nonetheless, he said that the church suffers from fightings within and fears without. He suggested that our relationships with one another are so superficial that we won’t risk saying the truths that later we might have to apologize for.

He posed a question: “Do our relationships lack depth that engender great growth and transformation?”

Palmer then laid open the pathology infecting the UMC, contending that all are witnesses to the politics of mutual assured destruction and unbridled acrimony aimed toward those with whom we disagree. “Our capacity to turn on one another is destroying the soul of this church. God deserves better.

“We must do better,” he said.

According to Palmer, the integrity and credibility of the UMC becomes suspect every time one person treats another person as not fully human.
“Everyone here is a child of God. Hard Stop. Period,” he said.

The bishop shared a piece of Jewish mysticism that says each of us has an angel going ahead of us. As we move toward others, the angels announce, “Behold, the image and likeness of God!”

Palmer asked, “Can we use that to shape our lives?”

He called for a movement toward redemption and reconciliation as we say to one another, “Come close to me.”

As his message drew to a close, Palmer landed squarely in the Book of Discipline and the mission of the United Methodist Church: to make disciples for the transformation of the world.

He outlined and reinforced Paragraph 122, which provides the nuts and bolts of how we make disciples for the transformation of the world: we proclaim, lead, nurture, and send.

“This is a holistic mission–not one part can be left out,” he said.

Palmer termed it a “holy, urgent and crucial calling” and exhorted the delegates not to demur, disobey or resist this holy calling.

He asked: “Will we go?”

The bishop pressed on, insisting that the church has everything we need.

“We don’t need more information, more slogans,” he said. “We do need trust and obedience.”

Congregants rose to their feet as the Bishop confidently reminded them that the risen Christ is in us, declaring: “If we go, He will be with us.”

Amens and loud applause greeted the powerful crescendo of the episcopal address for General Conference 2016.

Read Bishop Palmer’s address here.

I’m a retired Elder in the United Methodist Church, the place I finally discovered grace after a lifelong search. I love writing, gardening, reading, asking questions and making connections between political and religious practices.

My husband and I jointly claim eleven children (as he says, “mostly by mergers and acquisitions!”) and twelve grandchildren. In between our own travels, we love to have them and many others come and stay with us a bit. We see so much of the heavenly grace in the offering of earthly hospitality.

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22 Comments on "Bishop Palmer pulls no punches in the Episcopal address"

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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Simple point: Democracy does not work in a church where Christ is the head. You cannot vote against Christ and be blessed by God. To allow habitual sinful behavior by democratic vote is to vote against Christ, who quoting Genesis said, “He made them male and female”. (not male and male or female and female). Paul, in the closing verses of Romans, ch 1, puts homosexual behavior in a class with “haters of God”. Vote this kind of behavior in as acceptable and vote against the head of the church, Christ. (The real “hate speech” is that speech made against… Read more »
George Whiteman

Amen! Love the sinner but reject living in sin!


Yeah – he created male and female. And . . . Christ himself never said a single word against homosexuality, trans, bi, etc. He did however give quite specific and clear instructions regarding divorce. If we can evolve to a point where we see clearly that holding to such a strict literal standard no longer serves humanity or Christ’s loving intent and call it good, then why is it so hard to understand that Christ’s loving intent for us is not served in denying any kind of real human love?


(a) Jesus’ speech implied that God did make them to be gay, and (b) Paul did on several occasions condemn habitual sins such as adultery, fornication and homosexuality.


Sorry “Jesus speech implied the God did NOT make them to be gay” (typo )


Or Freudian slip…

Michele Curlee

Maybe the Holy Spirit is influencing his fingers 🙂


Jesus lived in a region whose culture already condemned homosexuality – he had no reason to address this with the Pharisees. Paul however did address it as he planted churches in regions where the dominant culture allowed for homosexual practice.

Why does nobody proceed on to the conclusion of Paul’s clause in Romans 2? “2 Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. 2 We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. 3 Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? 4 Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance… Read more »

While Romans 2 does warn against judging others, but that does not excuse those who commit the sins in the end of chapter 1. (They are not free to sin just because some might be judgmental,)
Paul still makes church members accountable for those sins in Romans 1, and others as well. In fact, he instructs churches in several other places in the NT to “put out” of the church those who habitually sin until they learn not to sin habitually.


Thank you for this encouraging article. Thankful for Bishop Palmer saying, “We don’t need more information, more slogans,” he said. “We do need trust and obedience.” I pray General Conference will get out of the way of excluding persons from obeying the call to serve in the UMC.

CharlesVan Sickle

I’m confused… not at all unusual. What does what he said mean???

Bud Meade

Words of wisdom inspired by the Holy Spirit.

In a culture where “I’m right and you are evil” we have an outline on how to disagree.

This message makes me hopeful for the future of the United Methodist Church.

As we are all sinners whose only hope if the Grace of a loving and forgiving God, we need to remember that those we disagree with are in the same situation.

May God’s grace remind us daily of our true source and teach us how to truly love one another.

Holly K

I did not stream worship this morning, so perhaps it is unfair for me to comment, but is seems kind of disrespectful to the other worship leaders involved in this morning’s service for the author of this article to have described it as “lackluster.”

Michele Curlee
Ask any medical professional the is involved in delivery rooms…God doesn’t always deliver clearly male/female humans. At some point you have to deal with the realities of being human! Not the perfect plan…that functioned for a brief moment only. Here we are with real humans in front of us, delivered into this world without any say in how they came to be the way they are. Are you following a compassionate and merciful God or a golden calf of a book, easy answers in black & white? The letter of law is easy, the principles of love and mercy are… Read more »

Nice address. Nice, but missing the forest for the trees once again. Until there is a fundamental change in relational SKILLS taught and embraced church-wide, along with an aggressive winnowing of the emotionally, behaviorally, relational, mentally ill and addicted leadership, it’s just a nice speech. Until the clergy leaders begin to listen to the Spirit, as expressed through the faithful, it’s just a nice speech.


AMEN! This cannot be overstated enough. Imagine being an ordination candidate and seeing that dysfunction up-close and personal…I ran away hard and fast from the process (as have others I know), and received more clarity apart from the process than within it. UMC Clergy in leadership are not following the leading of the Holy Spirit.


The message: we must move beyond acrimony and destructive combativeness.

The Reporter’s headline: PULLS NO PUNCHES.

Great to see why some are beginning to put quote marks around the first word when saying “United” Methodist Church. Is there left any will not to live as the Pharisees of the 21st Century? Shame on you, Reporter.


Okay…. looking back, it’s possible I was missing some context when I “spoke”. I’m looking in from the outside. Mea culpa, and please accept my apologies.

Self imposed naivety. No talk of rebellion, only relationships that are “deep” enough to absorb rebellion and still have behavioral norms and standards. We are the body of Christ and that is because we adhere to a way of life and “I believe ….” or in simpler terms, “Have you studied the disciplines and doctrinal stands of the church. Will you do them?”. When you as Bishop break the law, there is no law. Only anarchy. The house has changed its foundation to sand. BTW there are sons and daughters of the Devil among you also. Discernment please.

Wow sounds like there are a lot of issues right now. We must remember to love God with all our heart and the rest will work out. Very simple but true

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