Commentary: Rumors . . . truth or fiction?

Close up of old English dictionary page with word rumor.

Don’t be distracted or frightened by the rumors you hear in the land.
Sometimes you hear one thing and another time something else: rumors of violence and uprisings.
–Jeremiah 51:46  (CEB)–

I have been hearing rumors about stuff happening at General Conference for a long time. After attending a General Conference or two one gets a little jaded about the rumors that pop up through the conference, understanding that the anxiety that is often part of the event leads to stories about this and that, the actions of this group over here or that group over there. If you’ve been around an annual conference at appointment time you know that rumors and information are often the currency of power and that there is often a secondary agenda attached to them. With time one comes to understand that rumors are part and parcel of this thing we call General Conference, and it often doesn’t pay to get too worried about them.

So tonight when my phone started buzzing with rumors about a proposed plan for the separation of the UMC, I took them with a grain of salt. “I’ll believe it when I see it,” I said. “The devil is in the details.”

But the rumors kept coming. First, I heard that 100 large church pastors were meeting to develop a plan for schism. Then later the word came out that the Council of Bishops was meeting in executive session to propose a plan for separation. “Be ready in the morning,” I heard. “Something is coming down…”

I’ve heard it before. Throughout the General Conference in Pittsburgh there were rumors about an impending split, and in fact, Bruce Robbins and Bill Hinson were engaged in conversations about what a split might look like. In the end, however, they were unable to pull the trigger, and that General Conference ended up approving a statement of unity, created by those in the middle, who committed to staying together even in the face of our differences. Rumors? Yes. Reality? well kind of, but in the end no.

Rumors? Yes. Reality? Well kind of, but in the end no.

A lot of water has passed under the bridge since Pittsburgh. The world as we know it today is a very different thing than what we knew in 2004. Wounds have grown deeper. The gap of trust has broadened. And now rumors which not long ago seemed implausible have a greater ring of truth.

The fact is that I was suspicious of these rumors. The bishops meeting in executive session had an odd ring to it, and I couldn’t understand why large church pastors would want to leave since by and large it seems like they are winning legislatively. Something didn’t smell quite right in Denmark, but the rumors kept coming . . . from credible sources . . . and I found myself wondering if it might be possible this time.

And then it came across social media. Love Prevails, an advocacy group focused on the full inclusion of GLBTQ persons into the life of the church made an announcement that seems to lend credence to the rumor mill:


Of course, the rumors continued to swirl from there. One anonymous source suggested that a plan had been developed that involved the conservative wing of the church separating, taking the African contingent (the growing edge of the UMC) with them. “It’s been signed off by _______ and _______ (two prominent evangelical leaders that we’ll keep nameless at this point),” our source told us. “Make sure you are at the plenary early (as if we aren’t already!) because something will be happening!” another said.

More and more I’ve been hearing despair about attempts to hold this United Methodist Church together in any coherent way. Folks on the extremes at both ends have dug in their heels and a way forward seems difficult if not impossible. There are very valid reasons to believe that what Love Prevails shared is true, although I still walk with care because they have their own agendas for releasing something like this.

In may ways I hope that the rumors are just that . . . rumors . . . and that our Council of Bishops has discerned a way forward that no one has thought of. Divorce is hard, and while it sounds good in the midst of the argument, the reality is much more difficult than anyone imagines. There are issues of property, pensions, and other assets. But there are also people who are trying to be disciples of Jesus involved as well, and just like figuring out custody of the children in a divorce is hard, figuring out who will go with whom in our fellowship will be even harder. I completely understand that something is broken and needs to be fixed and that it seems like we don’t have the power to do it on our own, but I continue to long for the possibility that a wise counselor might sweep into our midst and offer us a possibility that we simply can’t see in the midst of our pain and brokenness.

We’ll know more in the morning. If the rumors are true, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a change in the agenda and a special presentation from the bishops.

For right now, they are all still rumors. Tomorrow we will see if they turn into reality.

Jay Voorhees, Former Executive Editor

The Rev. Jay Voorhees is the Executive Editor of The United Methodist Reporter and the Chief Creative Officer for CircuitWriter Media LLC which operates this site and Jay is an ordained elder in the Tennessee Annual Conference. Jay has written on life and the practice of faith in The United Methodist Church at Only Wonder Understands since 2003.

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8 Comments on "Commentary: Rumors . . . truth or fiction?"

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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Richard F Hicks

In a job I had in the 1980s where I traveled & worked officially in North African & Turkey in the ending part of the Cold War: “Rumors” were called “intel”. “Gossip” which gets written down becomes “history”. Rumors and gossip are useful human com tools. But tools which must be used wisely and confirmed from several independent sources. Thank you, Richard F Hicks, OKC

Paul W.
As you stated, we’ll have to wait to see how much of this is true. The pro-LGBT folks definitely have an agenda — this could all be nothing more than subterfuge to try to get GC delegates to delay strengthening the BoD prohibitions on LGBT clergy and discussing mandatory penalties for violations. I have been surprised though to see a few progressives begin talking about a split after the first few days of GC. For me, several moments at GC have really highlighted the divide in the church. 1) the young people’s address where both speakers interleaved their messages but… Read more »
Everyone “has an agenda” Paul. Everyone. The guy flipping burgers on the night shift “has an agenda”. Don’t toss out coded language that doesn’t really mean anything, especially not to disparage by implication. McCarthy is in his grave. Give his spirit of division whipped up through fear a rest. At any rate, everything you’re describing points to irreconcilable differences. While you don’t want to give credit and instead loudly trumpet your…. er…. agenda, I think what’s clear is that we have one body split in two along lines of conviction, and it’s possible that being of one body will be… Read more »
Paul W.

Christa, for context, go back and read the 1st paragraph of the article where Jay states “rumors and information are often the currency of power and that there is often a secondary agenda attached to them”. Why ridicule me for using the same terminology in reference to the exact same valid context Jay provided? Mockery is an easy rhetorical trick, but a poor method of argument.


Okay, Paul, I see your point re: the use of the word ‘agenda’. I think we can agree that tensions are high on every side. There’s been a lot of rhetoric in comment sections…. likely from all sides…. and I suppose it’s left a lot of us….. again, on all sides….. with a bit of a hair trigger. Please accept my apologies. Grace, peace, blessings to you and yours.


So, nothing came of this? Just rumors?

Dennis Meaker

Thanks for this, Jay.

Dennis Meaker

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