A Delegate’s Reflection on the 2022 North Central Jurisdictional Conference

16 11 2022

The following general definitions will be helpful as you read:

  • Traditionalist – one who believes the UMC’s current position on human sexuality best captures the heart of the Scriptures: that all people are of sacred worth and beloved by God, and that sexual activity is meant to only be expressed within a covenant marriage relationship between one man and one woman. I am a traditionalist.
  • Progressive – one who wants to change the UMC’s position to define marriage as being between two consenting adults and allow for ordination of practicing gay and lesbian people. Progressives also believe a traditionalist perspective is unjust and causes harm to the LGBTQ+ community.
  • Centrist – one who wants to change the UMC’s position (like Progressives) but maintains that Traditionalists are still welcome in the future UMC. Centrists say they want to keep everyone together in the UMC despite the differences in belief about marriage and human sexuality.

Background

I was elected in 2019 to serve as a clergy delegate to the North Central Jurisdictional Conference for the 2020-23 quadrennium. After the 2019 special session of General Conference upheld the Book of Discipline’s current stance on human sexuality (again), there was a groundswell of progressive and centrist clergy and laity in the United States who worked together to elect exclusively progressive/centrist delegates for the following quadrennium. In our own conference, this group has been known as “IGRC for Unity”. They were highly successful in narrowly electing a slate of delegates (almost) entirely void of traditionalists. In fact, of the ten clergy elected in our conference, I was the only traditionalist. Only two of the ten laity elected were traditionalists. So, in total, for Jurisdictional Conference, three of our twenty delegates were traditionalist (and only one of ten for General Conference – a layperson).

As you likely know by now, the General Conference was supposed to meet in 2020, but was delayed due to the pandemic. Leading up to GC2020, traditionalist, progressive, and centrist leaders all worked together to draft legislation, known as The Protocol, to allow for amicable separation of traditionalists from the UMC to form a new denomination (the now Global Methodist Church). There was great support for this Protocol across the theological spectrum until GC2020 was delayed until 2021, then again until 2022. After it was delayed again (or canceled?) until 2024 when the next GC would have met anyway, the progressive and centrist supporters of the Protocol withdrew their support and the Global Methodist Church launched in May of 2022.

In November of 2021, the North Central Jurisdictional Conference met virtually and passed this covenant as an aspirational vision for the future UMC. I encourage you to read it if you haven’t already. There is some good in it (combatting racism for instance), but it is overwhelmingly focused on social agendas including LGBTQ+ affirmation, to the near exclusion of evangelistic and discipleship endeavors. Traditionalists only made up 20% of the delegates and the covenant passed by 80%. Over the last six months, there has been increasing pressure from progressives and centrists for traditionalist delegates to resign if their churches are considering disaffiliation or who may not decide to stay in the future UMC. Some such delegates did resign, or their churches disaffiliated. So, entering our North Central Jurisdictional Conference in Fort Wayne, Indiana November 2-5, traditionalists were outnumbered roughly 85%-15%.

Despite the pressure to resign, I did not. I was elected primarily by traditionalist clergy from IGRC, and I was their sole voice. I did not go for myself. Furthermore, I am also faithfully United Methodist until I am not. I cannot predict the future, nor how long I will remain in the UMC. I will love the UMC if I am part of it, and I will love it and pray for its blessing even if I am not part of its future.

The Work of the NCJC

The Jurisdictional Conference’s primary work is to elect bishops to serve within the Jurisdiction. There are five regional jurisdictions in the United States. These five Jurisdictional Conferences are always scheduled to meet simultaneously so episcopal elections are happening throughout the United States at roughly the same time. Throughout the US, a total of 14 bishops were scheduled to be elected (only 13 were – the North East Jurisdiction had a deadlock vote and couldn’t agree so they opted to have one vacancy until the next elections in 2024). Our North Central Jurisdiction elected three bishops from a pool of ten clergy candidates who had put their names forward over the past two years. None of the ten candidates were traditionalist. Knowing this, I hoped to work with other traditionalists to elect bishops who were more centrist than progressive although those lines are oftentimes quite blurry. In my opinion, a few of the candidates would be more favorable to traditionalists remaining in the UMC.

**As a side note, it’s important to understand that the UMC in the United States is in significant decline whereas the UMC outside the United States is growing overall. In Africa where the UMC is growing the most, they have far fewer bishops per member than anywhere else. Africa has more UMC members than the United States and yet only has 13 bishops compared to 46 in the USA. If this interests you, check out this article by my colleague, Rev. Tom Lambrecht.**

A Subtle, but Clear Disdain for a Traditionalist Perspective

Although the majority of delegates within my own conference, along with those I interacted with from other conferences were kind to me personally, there continued to be a spirit of condescension, mocking, and intolerance for traditionalist perspectives. It’s important that you hear this evidence – especially in light of many centrist statements that traditionalists will continue to be welcome in the future UMC.

  • One bishop’s preaching suggested that the evidence of transformation through Christ in our lives means that we would no longer be heterosexist or homophobic (among other “isms”). This is very important to note given the definitions of homophobia and heterosexism that we spent two hours hearing about and discussing during our Friday afternoon session. More on that in a bit.
  • During the episcopal address, the president of our college of bishops subtly suggested that traditionalists aren’t using their intellect. He later suggested that the progressive/centrist majority should keep traditionalists in the UMC in order to continue to persuade the traditionalists to see things differently.
  • On the first ballot, a progressive bishop was elected. Despite her credentials, her election is troubling for traditionalists. During candidate interviews she shared that it is not important that we in the church “agree on Jesus.” She also gave very vague answers regarding the bodily resurrection of Jesus.
  • Our final bishop elected (another progressive) had a Q&A session that I attended previous to his election. During his verbal resume, he shared his pride in being appointed to a traditionalist church in the heart of Wisconsin which he transitioned to become a “reconciling” church (this means a progressive, LGBTQ+ affirming church). He was elected on the following ballot.
  • Across the five jurisdictions, all thirteen bishops elected were either progressive or centrist. None were traditionalist. A gay bishop (married to a man) was almost elected in the North East Jurisdiction (he received over 50% of the vote but needed 60%). In the Western Jurisdiction, a different gay bishop was elected – this in defiance of the General Conference’s voice as articulated in the UM Book of Discipline. Several of the retiring bishops were traditionalist, meaning the overall council of bishops will be substantially centrist/progressive come January 1, 2023.
  • We overwhelmingly passed four resolutions despite my objection to each:
    • Two called into question the integrity of those who may leave the UMC and asked them to resign from their leadership positions and delegations. I spoke against one of these resolutions.One called us to lift “queer” delegates to positions of leadership and dismiss charges brought against anyone for disobedience on our policies regarding marriage and human sexuality.
    • One called for General Conference to establish a United States specific regional conference allowing the US to have some autonomy from the worldwide UMC. This is a way for progressives in the US to not be subject to decisions made by a (largely traditionalist) worldwide church where they will eventually be the minority.
  • On Friday afternoon, we spent two hours in a session hearing about “the impact of homophobia, transphobia, and heterosexism within the UMC.” During this time we remembered our baptism, participated in specially crafted liturgy, heard painful stories from three individuals, and had group discussions around various questions. Although the time was worthwhile, and I applaud the courage of those sharing their stories, I arrived at this simple conclusion: The given definitions of homophobia and heterosexism leave absolutely no room for those holding a traditionalist interpretation of Scripture. You can be the most loving, welcoming, non-judgmental, caring congregation to all people, but if you hold a traditionalist interpretation of Scripture resulting in the current stance on marriage and human sexuality of our denomination, then you are deemed to be homophobic and heterosexist.

Given these pieces of evidence, it became abundantly clear to me that although my bishop and some centrist leaders say that traditionalists are welcome in the future UMC, that welcome will come with conditions. At best we will not be tolerated by some and barely tolerated by others. At worst, we will be ridiculed as being unintelligent or less than sanctified, we will be labeled as homophobic and heterosexist, and our churches will be targeted for re-education until we are persuaded to change our understanding of Scripture’s teaching. The North Central Jurisdictional Conference had enough evidence to suggest that traditionalists can expect the worst.

A Miracle of God for which I’m Grateful

Confession time. I have experienced anger growing in me over the last few years dealing with our denomination’s brokenness. I have done all I know how to do to guard my heart along the way, but it hasn’t been enough. My anger has come partly from grief as I’ve seen the denomination I love so much become something I can’t support. The grief extends to relationships that have been strained or ruined as a result. My “family” (meaning my clergy covenant community) has crumbled during a particularly stressful time of ministry during the pandemic. Yes, grief is at the root of much of the anger, but there’s more. It’s also an awareness that the church I’ve worked faithfully to build is in danger of falling apart by disobedience to our church’s doctrine and discipline. The casualties are people I love and local congregations I care deeply about. There’s a sense of injustice in that, hence the anger. In addition is the personal uncertainty. What happens to my family if, for integrity’s sake, I need to leave the UMC? The uncertainty is scary and thus the anger.

I am not generally an angry person, and this slow brewing over the past few years has wounded me. I’ve tried to deal with it and have kept most of its negative affects at bay although it occasionally seeps out. But it has been slowly poisoning me for quite some time. Several weeks ago, a friend and mentor of mine pointed out that he could see its affects all over my face. He encouraged me to pray prayers of surrender and to trust God with the future – regardless of what the future brings. At the same time, my wife encouraged me to read a book by Brant Hanson called “Unoffendable”. I took both pieces of counsel to heart, and I must tell you, it’s been absolutely freeing. God has done a miracle in my heart.

I was not looking forward to the North Central Jurisdictional Conference. You read the percentages. I was going into a losing battle. Many people didn’t even want me there. However, I continually prayed prayers of surrender to God, and as a result, God gave me a heart of peace and compassion for those with whom I disagree – those who might consider me an enemy. There were some on my delegation that didn’t feel I should be there. A few refused any contact with me outside of an occasional greeting in passing. These had been friends. But I had a clear sense from the beginning of opening worship that the pandemic coupled with the continuing conflict and dysfunction in the UMC has left many of our churches, pastors, and episcopal leaders feeling broken and tired. God gave me a heart of compassion for each of them. During an extended time of prayer, I prayed for God to bless every individual on our delegation. I lifted their families and their churches by name to God. And in return, God gave me an overwhelming heart of peace toward those who have fought so hard to change the church in a way that I cannot support. Where anger once resided, compassion and love took up residence. Please hear me. That is nothing short of a transformational work of God in my heart. I did not deserve that miracle. I didn’t even directly ask for that miracle. But God gave it nonetheless. It’s a state of being and relating to others that I hope endures. I can even say that by the end of the conference I was genuinely happy for the joy and unity that the 85% had together even though I knew in my heart that there was no place for me or for other traditionalists in the future they envisioned.





A Pastoral Reflection on the United Methodist Church and Thoughts on Disaffiliation

24 10 2022

I have wrestled with how to best communicate the information contained in this reflection. After much prayer, I’ve felt God’s nudge to share this in its entirety. Warning: It’s long! It is primarily intended for those I pastor at Troy United Methodist Church although others may find it helpful. If you would like to interact about what’s written here, please contact me directly as I have turned off comments. I am an elder in the United Methodist Church and I’m simply reflecting on some of my experiences and how those bear upon questions surrounding disaffiliation.

BACKGROUND

In June, 22 lay members from our church council and transition team voted unanimously to begin the formal inquiry process to disaffiliate from the United Methodist Church (UMC) and pursue eventual affiliation with the Global Methodist Church (GMC). Since that time, our transition team has provided responses to frequently asked questions for our congregation to better understand our rationale for each decision. We have waited to host congregation wide informational meetings until we finalize negotiations with our conference to determine the parameters for such a disaffiliation. However, that process has been extremely slow, and we still do not know when the conference will schedule our first meeting. We learned last week that due to the number of churches seeking disaffiliation they are revising their process. As of today, 44 churches within our conference are at some point of the current process. As we wait, we will do all we can to answer questions, so our members have complete and accurate information before being asked to vote on disaffiliation from the UMC and, (if that vote passes by a 2/3rds majority) affiliation with the GMC. In this season of waiting, I have observed the anxiety level rise for several members of our church. Here’s my summary of what I’m hearing and perceiving:

Most people are just curious when we’ll have the vote. I wish I knew! Some others have felt that they are only hearing “one side of the story” and believe it may be a mistake to disaffiliate from the UMC. Certainly, there are various opinions about the issues at hand. Those in the broader church advocating for disaffiliation see things one way. Those in the broader church trying to persuade churches to stay UMC see things another way. Our leadership has shared (in the previously mentioned FAQs) their understanding of the issues and a hope-filled vision for the future.

What follows is some of my personal experience of the United Methodist Church. It is my hope that it will help you sort through a few key issues while also answering some of the commonly asked questions I’ve been hearing.

I LOVE THE UMC

I hope you know how much I love the United Methodist Church (UMC). I was not raised in any church, but as God was wooing my heart as a 5th grader, I began attending a UMC where my best friend’s dad was the pastor. I found a loving and welcoming church community. My memories of the people and ministries of that church are forever part of my story. In fact, tears are coming to my eyes as I remember some of my Sunday school teachers and memories of a vibrant church. Sadly, last June, that church permanently closed its doors a mere 30 years after making such an impact on my life.

God worked through the UMC to bless me and grow me! I went through confirmation and was baptized in May of 1990 but didn’t understand the gospel message until July of 1990 when I attended a United Methodist Church camp. There I surrendered my heart to Jesus and began a personal relationship with him. My early life nourishment came primarily through my local church youth Sunday School as well as UMC summer camp where I connected with many UMC pastors who became influential in my life. In early college my life was further impacted by the UMC through a spiritual retreat weekend for students called Chrysalis (not officially UM, but a movement of renewal that many UMs participated in). That community blessed me throughout the years as I participated in many teams, grew as a leader, and learned the power of prayer and evangelism. Simultaneously, I got connected with a brand new UMC where I attended college and was hired to lead their youth ministry. It was through this church where I participated in a yearlong Disciple Bible Study class and responded to a call to ministry. Through that new church I got a glimpse of what a church could be – a community where lives were transformed by the gospel. I also met my wife in that church!

When I went to seminary, my UMC district and local church helped support me financially through scholarships. UM pastors from my conference visited me at seminary and encouraged me. While at seminary I fell in love with Methodist theology and believed God wanted me in the UMC. When I felt a call to be a church planter and began preparing myself for that eventual possibility, the UMC invested in me and gave me an opportunity to live out that call. The UMC provided a network for mission partnerships in Appalachia and Liberia that have been a rich blessing in my life. I cannot overemphasize how much I love the UMC, in large part because the UMC has loved me.

WARNING SIGNS

I remember the first time I felt awkward about being part of the UMC. While I was in college, a spiritual mentor and friend of mine questioned my involvement in and commitment to the UMC. I didn’t understand it then, but I later came to understand why when I learned that not everyone in the UMC believed the same gospel I was taught. I remember the first time a UM pastor told me that some UM pastors don’t believe in the literal resurrection of Jesus and that some seminaries teach that the Bible can’t be trusted. I didn’t believe it until I met such a pastor. It blew my mind. Really. It rocked my world. I didn’t understand how it was possible to be a pastor of a church and not believe Jesus rose from the dead or needed to die on the cross for our sins. This pastor later became a district superintendent.

Maybe that was an isolated incident I told myself. But as I rubbed shoulders with more and more clergy my own age, I realized this was not isolated. I remember having a conversation with one pastor I really liked personally. He lamented the fact that we sang a song at Annual Conference (yearly gathering of clergy and lay representatives of churches in our conference – the southern 2/3rds of Illinois) that spoke about the blood of Jesus paying for our sin. He referred to the atonement and the wrath of God as “divine child abuse” and that he preferred songs that didn’t speak of Jesus as our substitute. I had another conversation with a pastor friend who was involved in interfaith groups. It was a joy to hear about the common ground we could find in working with other religions to promote the well-being of society, but I was surprised when she told me that she didn’t believe Jesus was the only way to the Father. Others in our young clergy group agreed. Not only are these beliefs contrary to the Scriptures, but they are also contrary to our Methodist doctrine.

Later when I served on the Board of Ordained Ministry (the group that approves clergy for ordination), I had had a role in evaluating the doctrinal beliefs of candidates. I can confidently say that over 50% of the candidates openly disagreed with parts of our church’s doctrine.  Despite several board members raising significant questions we approved each of them for ordination. Here’s a sample of what I encountered (beyond the beliefs that I already noted above that were also represented in some of our newer clergy):

  • Some candidates refused to ever use the word sin. They believed that humanity only needs God’s grace to recognize their God given potential, not for forgiveness for sin. They did not understand repentance to be necessary for salvation. 
  • Many candidates denied the existence of Satan, the enemy of our soul.
  • Several candidates denied the existence of hell. (I also encountered this belief in a senior pastor of a large UMC in our conference!)
  • There were some candidates that would refuse to refer to the “Kingdom” of God or the “Lordship” of Jesus Christ because they believed those were harmful terms.
  • I recall at least one candidate who challenged Jesus’ virgin birth.
  • All candidates acknowledged that Scripture should be primary in developing our theology, but many acknowledged that where reason or experience seemed to contradict Scripture that it shows us we are likely interpreting it incorrectly.

I have connections with a relatively new church start (a missional congregation) in our conference. It has been substantially funded through congregational development dollars that come from your apportionments. This particular church is an LGBTQIA+ affirming congregation and employed (as an associate pastor) the self-proclaimed “first Drag Queen in the world to become a Certified Candidate for Ordination within the United Methodist Church.” This pastor recently preached at a UMC in Florida in drag including a children’s sermon. On this person’s website they share a video of their belief about the Bible – that it is “nothing”. This young person was certified by a district in our conference with full knowledge of their style of ministry. This certification makes this person eligible for financial support from apportioned funds that our church pays into.

If you speak with other UM pastors, they will each have their stories. These are not uncommon teachings or beliefs. They can all be lumped together in a broad category called “Progressive Christianity”. Although there isn’t one comprehensive definition for progressive Christianity, the basic underlying tenant is that the Bible isn’t authoritative in the same way as Christians have understood it throughout history. I and others have warned that progressive Christianity is becoming more and more pervasive in United Methodism. Some may question how pervasive it really is. I can only share from my experience that it is VERY pervasive some places and becoming more pervasive everywhere else. If your experience is only at the local church level, then it primarily depends on your pastor whether you are exposed regularly to these teachings. But a bigger question may be gnawing at you: How is this diversity of theology (called theological “pluralism”) even possible in the UMC?

REASON #1: The “Big Tent” and a Lack of Accountability

The United Methodist Church was founded in 1968 when the Evangelical United Brethren Church and the Methodist Church merged. Each of those denominations had merged with others in the decades leading up to the 1968 merger. There was certainly common ground, but it also provided a level of theological diversity – creating a “big tent”. However, within that diversity there was unity around our “Doctrinal Standards” found in our Book of Discipline. You can see a summary of those core beliefs on our website. Agreement on those standards was supposed to provide the borders for the big tent. However, throughout the 54-year life of the UMC, those doctrinal borders have been repeatedly crossed without recourse. How is that possible? The short answer is our system allows for it in a few ways:

  • Guaranteed Appointment – Ordained Elders (I was ordained elder in 2007) in good standing are guaranteed a job in the UMC with a decent minimum salary, money for health insurance, and housing among other benefits. An elder remains in good standing unless he or she is found guilty of a chargeable offense. Although “dissemination of doctrines contrary to the established standards of doctrine of the United Methodist Church” is a chargeable offense, it is rarely, if ever brought up, let alone enforced. Therefore, pastors whose teachings go beyond the big tent borders will always have a job.
  • Lifetime Bishops – Bishops, once they are elected from the ordained clergy, are bishops forever in the UMC. Bishops have significant authority in the UMC and are the chief shepherds of each annual conference with the power to make appointments of clergy to serve in churches. If a bishop is ineffective or teaches beyond the big tent borders, there is little recourse since the bishop never has to face re-election.
  • Bishop Accountability – Bishops CAN be brought up on charges. However, bishops are ultimately only accountable to other bishops within their jurisdiction (regional groupings of annual conferences). So, if enough bishops agree on false teaching, they can protect one another from removal from office. One such example was the election of bishop Karen Oliveto in the Western Jurisdiction. Rev. Oliveto is an openly partnered lesbian who was elected as bishop in 2016. Despite judicial council (the supreme court of United Methodism) rulings that her election was out of order because of our church discipline, she remains a bishop. Why? Because her fellow bishops won’t follow through on the chargeable offenses brought against her which the judicial council has already ruled on.

Our system of governance in the UMC is broken and it allows for teaching beyond the borders of our big tent. Some people love the big tent of United Methodism. Others, including me, prefer a tent that is only as wide as our doctrinal standards allow.

REASON #2: Theological Education

The second reason theological diversity (beyond our official big tent borders) is so prevalent, comes from the training our pastors receive. The UMC has 13 official seminaries. I am not personally familiar with the inner workings of those seminaries. My information comes from friends who have attended them, and from online research. This article from last month is an accounting of the theological progressivism rampant in at least 12 of our 13 official seminaries. It is very disturbing. As a trained ministry placement supervisor for Eden Theological Seminary near St. Louis, I am not surprised by what I read about our UM seminaries. Although Eden is not an official UM seminary (it is affiliated with the United Church of Christ), it does train many pastors in our conference. Eden Seminary describes itself as part of the Progressive Christian Movement and has the objective of creating progressive Christian leaders. It is rare, if not impossible to find a professor at Eden who fits within the borders of the tent of United Methodism’s doctrinal standards. From what I’ve heard from friends, this is also the case in almost all our official United Methodist seminaries. For comparison’s sake, the seminary I attended, Asbury Theological Seminary, which is not an official UM seminary but is thoroughly Methodist, has the following as its missional objective: to prepare theologically educated, sanctified, Spirit-filled men and women to evangelize and to spread scriptural holiness throughout the world through the love of Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit and to the glory of God the Father.

What’s important to note here is that all United Methodist Churches that pay apportionments (we paid almost $120,000 over the last 12 months) support these official UM seminaries. They receive funds from the Methodist Education Fund (MEF) for each UM seminary student that pays their tuition and supports the seminary. Some of your apportionments fund these scholarships to the tune of nearly $27M annually.

Unfortunately (from my perspective at least) the lack of accountability within our system and the type of education many of our pastors receive means that the theological diversity within our UMC is being pushed far beyond the borders our big tent was ever meant to hold.

ATTEMPTS AT REFORM

United Methodism has always had a big tent (since its forming in 1968), and there have always been those whose theology has pressed beyond the borders of our doctrinal standards. There have also been movements within the UMC to make sure our tent doesn’t extend beyond those standards. If you’re interested in a thorough history of these ongoing challenges, I highly recommend James Heidinger’s book, The Rise of Theological Liberalism and The Decline of American Methodism. I have only personally witnessed the challenges in the last decade, but those ten years have been filled with significant conflict.

Since 2012 I have been elected and served as a delegate from our conference (called the Illinois Great Rivers Conference – IGRC) to three General Conferences (2012, 2016, 2019) and four Jurisdictional Conferences (2012, 2016, 2021, November 2022). General Conference is a global gathering and the highest decision-making body of the UMC. It is supposed to be the only group that can officially speak for the UMC primarily through the creation of the church’s guiding covenant called The Book of Discipline. The Jurisdictional Conference is a regional gathering (we are part of the North Central Jurisdiction) where bishops for that region are elected and appointed to serve within that region. I will not rehash everything that has transpired over that time period. Instead, I recommend you read this brief summary by my friend and colleague, Rev. Chris Ritter. I will simply offer a few of my experiences.

I went into GC2012 with the understanding that the UMC was in decline and that many of our systems and structures were outdated and top heavy. I was also aware of growing pressure for the UMC to change its sexual ethic to become affirming of some same-sex sexual practice. I left disillusioned as I learned the problems were much deeper. It began with an opening worship service where a UM Seminary professor led us in a prayer to mother earth and the ancestors of indigenous people while waving a smoking urn. It was so outside our doctrinal standards that one of our conference’s lay delegates quit and flew home early, resigning her membership in the UMC. I was also disturbed that as we progressed through the book of Mark in daily scripture and preaching throughout the 10 days, we skipped right past the cross. We moved from Jesus’ baptism to his miracles to the last supper to the resurrection. I remember tweeting at the time that to ignore the cross is to ignore the central, saving act of God in human history.

My experiences at GC2016 and GC2019 were even more heart-wrenching. Rev. Ritter’s post gives the summary timeline but being there in person was surreal. It was clear at both conferences that there were not enough votes to overturn our historically orthodox views on human sexuality. It also became perfectly clear that it didn’t matter what the GC decided on paper. In practice, UMs would continue to defy the will of the GC. Furthermore, from the stage of GC2019, a well-known “centrist” pastor who is currently running for bishop compared our stance on human sexuality to a virus like Ebola – this in a room filled with delegates from Africa who just experienced an outbreak of the deadly disease on their continent. Another bishop prayed for God to smite those who believed the Bible teaches a traditional view of marriage. From these comments and others like it, it became clear to me that there would never be peace in our denomination as long as our big tent continued to expand beyond our doctrinal standards and our shared covenant, the Book of Discipline, as established by the General Conference.

My hope for some sort of resolution picked up some steam in 2020 when a negotiated separation was agreed upon by leaders of widely diverse theological viewpoints in the UMC. Supporting legislation (The Protocol) was crafted for the May 2020 GC. However, the pandemic delayed that gathering and much political posturing has occurred since then. Again, I refer you to the brief summary by Rev. Chris Ritter. In a nutshell, currently the Protocol is dead in the water having lost its support from those wishing to remain United Methodist, General Conference has been further delayed, and traditionalists have launched the Global Methodist Church – the denomination that would have been formed if the Protocol would have been passed. The GMC’s tent would be constrained to upholding our current doctrinal standards.

WHAT TO DO FROM HERE

There are a few options for current United Methodist Churches and members. What follows are the options currently before our congregation. I hope you find it helpful in answering some of the prevalent questions I’ve been hearing lately.

Remain in the Continuing UMC – this option generally appeals to three different groups of United Methodists.

  1. Those who currently disagree with the denomination’s stance on human sexuality (that all people are welcome in our churches and loved by God but that same-sex sexual practice is sinful) and would like to stick around the UMC in the hopes that it will be officially changed – a very real possibility at the next General Conference in 2024.
  2. Those who value and appreciate the big tent of the UMC and are okay with the borders of that tent extending beyond our doctrinal standards.
  3. Those who simply don’t know about or don’t believe the movement toward theological progressivism that is taking place in the broader UMC.

I do not expect to change any minds of those who are in camp #1 above. I do love you and assure you that even if Troy UMC disaffiliates, this congregation will continue its ongoing ministry of welcoming ALL people, offering opportunities for membership and ministry for ALL people, while also remaining true to a historically Christian understanding of human sexuality. There is still a place for you in the future of our church even if we disaffiliate.

But what about those in camps #2 and #3 above? It is my hope that some of my experiences will help you sort through your discernment. If you want our church, Troy UMC, to continue its ministry the way you’ve experienced it for the last 30+ years, I believe you’ll be disappointed by remaining in the UMC for the following reasons.

  • The borders of the theological tent will continue to expand far beyond our doctrinal standards. Although the United Methodist Church will NEVER officially change its doctrinal standards (it’s nearly impossible to do so as since it is part of the constitution of The Book of Discipline), in practice, pastors who adhere to our theological standards will become fewer and fewer. Since very few have been entering the UMC over the last decade, and now that there is a denomination that does adhere to their theological beliefs (the GMC), fewer and fewer will be available to appoint to our church if it remains UMC. This is one big reason our church’s leadership has moved toward disaffiliation – because they are thinking about the next generation of ministry in our congregation.
  • With several other large, theologically conservative congregations in our conference disaffiliating (at this time at least five of our twelve largest churches are at some stage of the process), the financial burden to support the bloated infrastructure of the UMC will fall to those who remain – particularly the large churches like us.
  • Based on multiple conversations I’ve had with numerous members of our church, if our congregation chooses to remain UMC, a very substantial core of our church membership and staff will individually choose to leave the UMC. Certainly, no matter what happens, some of our members will choose to leave. That is inevitable. However, our leadership proceeded toward disaffiliation, in part because of the belief that far more will leave if we stay UMC than if we disaffiliate from the UMC.

I want to be clear. No one is forcing anyone out of the UMC. In fact, at least one prominent UMC pastor (who plans to stay UMC) has gone on record to say that there will always be a place for traditionalists in the continuing UMC and that the UMC won’t be changing its doctrine. It is true that the doctrine will not change on paper, but as I’ve tried to articulate, it is already being ignored more and more in practice, and our theological education and governance systems ensure that this will continue. Furthermore, it’s important to note that NOT ALL pastors choosing to remain UMC want there to be a place for traditionalists. This is part of our problem in the UMC – there is no one person or group that speaks for everyone. If you want “the other side of the story” please know that there are MANY other sides than the direction our leadership is advocating. The only group that can officially speak for the UMC is the General Conference, and their voice has been silenced through delay or ignored through defiance.

Here’s an example of a leading United Methodist pastor (who plans to stay UMC) from West Ohio (our jurisdiction) who doesn’t want any traditionalist pastors to remain in the continuing UMC. In a recent discussion on his vision of the future UMC, he strongly expressed a desire to block any graduate from Asbury Theological Seminary (where I received my training). He said, “We won’t take one of them after the split if I have any say about it.” He has tried to make that a reality through the board of ordained ministry in his annual conference. When a member of our church who doesn’t see eye to eye with me on human sexuality found this pastor’s statements online, he said to me, “I get it now, Andy. Even if I am comfortable with a big tent on human sexuality, I understand that there may not be a place in the future UMC for you or for our church.” That leads us to our second option.

Disaffiliate from the UMC – this option generally appeals to the following groups of people:

  1. Those who agree with our denomination’s current stance and prefer to have uniform practice across the denomination on issues of human sexuality.
  2. Those who don’t want to see the “big tent” of the denomination extend beyond the borders of our doctrinal standards and want a system of governance that holds pastors and churches accountable to those standards.
  3. Those who may disagree with one or more aspects of #1 and #2 but want to see the mission and ministry of Troy UMC continue as it has for the last several decades.

**NOTE – I am not including ANYTHING about the positive vision of the Global Methodist Church that our leadership is excited about. You can read about that in the FAQs. In this write-up I am simply addressing my mixed feelings about the past, present, and future UMC.**

A few things that disaffiliation doesn’t mean.

  • Disaffiliation doesn’t mean that we give up the good things about United Methodism. Many of our partnerships through UMCOR, the Midwest Mission Distribution Center, Red Bird Mission, Lessie Bates-Davis Neighborhood House, individual churches, and others can continue! Currently our Mission Team fosters partnerships with UM ministries and non-UM ministries. There is no reason we can’t continue in positive partnerships with UM ministries!
  • Disaffiliation doesn’t mean we cease to be Methodist or give up our heritage. You may not know, but Troy UMC has not always been UMC. Our church was founded in 1843 and has been part of the Methodist Episcopal Church and the Methodist Church before being United Methodist. Our leadership intends for us to remain Methodist!
  • Disaffiliation doesn’t mean that we won’t care for our members who want to remain United Methodist. If we disaffiliate and you choose to remain United Methodist, our leadership will help you get connected with one of the TEN other United Methodist Churches within TWELVE miles of our church building in Troy.
  • Disaffiliation doesn’t mean we hate the LGBTQIA+ community or will turn them away from our church. I am aware of at least a handful of members (or attenders) of our church who identify as LGBTQIA+. At least some of them are active in our ministries, understand both our denomination’s stance and my stance on human sexuality (that any same sex sexual activity is sin and that marriage is between a man and a woman), and still choose to worship and be active here because they are welcomed, loved, included, and challenged as they sort out their understanding of what it means to be faithful to follow Jesus. That will never change. What will change if we disaffiliate is that we will no longer be part of a denomination that does harm by sending mixed signals.
  • Disaffiliation does not mean we lose our building. Our leadership has been assured by our conference that Troy UMC can negotiate a way to disaffiliate with its property and assets for an exit fee. We are waiting for our conference to begin that process, and you will hear more about it if and when it progresses.
  • Disaffiliation does not mean Troy UMC will be bankrupt. The costs to leave the UMC are approximated in our FAQs and will be formalized in the near future. Our leadership will have a plan for repayment of those expenses and believe those costs will be recouped within a decade or less. Furthermore, the church building will no longer be owned by the conference (as it currently is) but by our local church.
  • Disaffiliation doesn’t mean everything will be perfect. Our leadership believes it is the best course of action for our church’s future, but it doesn’t mean it will be easy. We will still have the mandate to share the gospel with others and to grow as disciples. This is not easy work in our world today, but it is worth sacrificing for. And it’s my hope that we will do that together.

FINAL THOUGHTS

As I bring this long message to a conclusion, I want to express my grief one final time. I love the United Methodist Church. God has worked through the UMC to bless my life in countless ways. As a pastor over the last 20 years I’ve baptized hundreds of people and welcomed nearly 1,000 people into membership within the UMC. I love our doctrine and our heritage. I love the people of the UMC. I’ve given the best years of my life to ministry in the UMC. The pain and the struggles our denomination has gone through have nearly derailed me. They’ve made me question everything. Honestly, that’s not all bad though, because it’s forced me to the Scriptures time and time again and deepened my understanding and love for Jesus and his gospel as well as the beauty of the church. More importantly to me has been my growing awareness of my desperate need for Jesus and his grace. There is no manual to follow to lead a church through the discernment process we’ve been going through in some capacity over the last 4 years. I know the process has been painful for some of you. It certainly has been for me. I have been doing my best, but I can confidently say that I would do some things differently based on what I’ve learned along the way. For my missteps I apologize and ask your forgiveness. I try to extend the grace that I hope to receive. Regardless, I believe our leadership has prayerfully arrived at a way forward for Troy UMC after thorough investigation and months of discernment. The story isn’t finished. The disaffiliation team still needs to negotiate exit terms, our congregation needs to have informative talkback sessions, and our membership still needs to vote. I hope that will occur in the very near future. But more than anything, I ask you to pray for our church, assume the best in each other, speak with me if you have problems or questions, and give the grace you hope to receive. If we do that, we can embrace as brothers and sisters in Christ even if we disagree.

Faithfully, Pastor Andy

P.S. I can provide names and links for a variety of the items I mention here. I kept names out for the sake of decency. Let me know if you feel you need more specific information.

P.P.S. As I was mulling over how to organize my thoughts, I came across this pastoral letter from a UM pastor in Texas. It captured MANY of my thoughts and experiences. He was more concise than I have been too! I commend it to you if you’re interested in reading another letter. And by the way, it includes many more examples of the theological challenges in the UMC. If you are someone who thinks the problems are not prevalent, his experience added to mine may make you reconsider.





A Short Message to UMC Pastors after General Conference

4 03 2019

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United Methodist pastors and church leaders across the theological spectrum, I have a simple plea for you. No, I’m not trying to sway you to my “side.” No, I’m not even pausing to suggest that you treat each other with decency and respect (although that would be in order). No, my plea is even more basic than that.

Please take care of yourselves.

The above picture is a screenshot of my daily resting heart rate over the past month. In the month before General Conference, I was becoming increasingly overwhelmed by the sheer number and intensity of the emails and letters I was receiving. So, in the week leading up to our specially called session, I took time off for a couple days of family vacation, and focused time of prayer and reflection. Want to guess which day was the last day of that short sabbath? You guessed it – my resting heart rate of 49 BPM – that was Friday, February 22nd. You can see how the next several days went. After experiencing what I’ve been referring to as “the toxic environment of Facebook” post General Conference, I essentially got off social media in an attempt to care for my own soul. As you can see above, my body has responded with a loud, “thank you!”

The stress is real, friends. And yes, I want to call you friends still. Though maybe you won’t want to be my friend after what I have to say here. At the end of the day, your statements of conviction on Facebook, or to the news outlets or even in your churches won’t have nearly as much influence on leading people to Jesus as the joyous, refreshed, Spirit-filled life you lead in your everyday life. Oh ya, many of us are no longer leading that kind of life. Instead, we’ve become consumed by the busy, the frantic and the reactionary.

I propose this. How about we take a few days – maybe a week or even all of Lent – and pause, reflect, be silent, love those closest to us, do something fun, walk with Jesus and receive his grace afresh in our lives – heck, maybe even laugh? Then, regardless of our theological bent, we will actually have something of God’s Kingdom to offer all those folks out there we say we want to embrace.

*Special shout out to our Illinois Great River Conference’s Pastoral Care and Counseling team – You have made yourself available for us during this time of immense stress. Thank you!*





#GC2019 Update 4.1 – Pastoral Postlude

26 02 2019

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Tomorrow I officiate the funeral of a friend who died of cancer at the age of 48.

Puts General Conference happenings in perspective, doesn’t it? What is it for you? Returning home to family challenges? Preparing a sermon when your own heart is weary and troubled? Ministering to people you love who are dealing with brokenness, illness, miscarriage, or some other tragedy? Chances are you have something that breaks the General Conference bubble and returns you back to reality.

Up to this point in my General Conference updates, I’ve largely stuck to passing on the information. Let me be pastoral for a moment and do my best to encourage you.

No matter what plan you favored, there are some affirmations I believe we can all cling to and find hope:

  • God is still on the throneLord, you remain the same forever! Your throne continues from generation to generation. (Lamentations 5:19)
  • Jesus still loves everybody and didn’t come to condemn but to saveFor God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:16)
  • The Holy Spirit is still at work giving life and transforming peopleThe Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you. (Romans 8:11)
  • The Triune God is still calling us to be ambassadors of Jesus in this world – So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:20)
  • The Bible is still authoritative, and we need to wrestle rigorously with it allAll scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

No matter how you feel after the results of General Conference, I pray that you not only take comfort in these truths but also let them challenge and convict you to be the hands and feet of Jesus in this world that is still lost, lonely, hurting and in need of a savior.

 

 

 

 





#GC2019 Update 4 – Take a Deep Breath and Press DELETE

26 02 2019

AbbeyThis was originally a long post, but the Holy Spirit spoke to me and I deleted all except the following:

Today has been extremely frustrating. I’ve again witnessed the reason why very little if anything happens at this level of the church. The majority will of the body can easily be ambushed by parliamentary procedure. In my opinion this has been an example of how easy it is to throw out our “hearts of peace” when “we don’t get our way.”

Lord, help me be more gracious when I don’t get my way. Maybe deleting what I first wrote is a simple first step.

 

 





#GC2019 Update 3.1 – An Emotional Day

25 02 2019

This afternoon was wrought with emotion. First the information:

After several amendments and attempts at other amendments, the One Church Plan was defeated – 386 in favor and 436 against – a 50 vote differential. You could hear a pin drop. Being in the front row, I could see the disappointed reaction of many bishops who had touted the plan as their preferred way forward for the last year. Nobody moved – no celebrations, no outcry. Just silence. The truth is, nobody celebrated because nobody won. There has been a collective sense throughout this General Conference that regardless of the outcome, there are no clear winners. Everybody loses. Such was my perception after this vote.

But work continued. A third exit plan was defeated and then a motion was made to bundle the final 18 petitions together and reject them all with one vote. On the surface this seemed logical because none of them received more than 27% “high priority.” However, included in these 18 petitions were the Simple Plan (18% high priority) and the Connectional Conference Plan (12% high priority) – both of which had been faithfully constructed as a potential way forward. After amendments to remove both plans, only the Simple Plan was removed to be discussed – a gracious way to at least hear the pleas of the LGBTQ+ community. And that is what we turned our attention to after soundly rejecting the other 17 petitions.

Emotions obviously ran high. It was clear that this global body was not going to approve the Simple Plan, but there were very few speeches against the plan. In the end, the Simple Plan was voted down by a 60%-40% margin – an indicator to many that the vast majority who favored the One Church Plan saw it as a stepping stone to the more progressive Simple Plan. Still, no celebration. The hurt of the LGBTQ+ community and its allies was obvious. Even in the speeches against the Simple Plan, the speakers indicated that no harm was intended to anyone, but nonetheless it was felt. Again, there were no winners in any of these votes.

The closing worship service was sensitive to the Spirit’s movement among us. There was very little (if any) joy – just a sadness. I observed the body reflecting our shared covenant to love each other and treat each other with respect, keeping our hearts at peace, but clearly understanding “that none of the affirmations in this covenant prevent us from acting on our convictions at General Conference. This [covenant] is about how we will live with one another, not about how we will vote.” But it is difficult to live in that tension. Lord help us.

Tomorrow brings the final day of work. The legislative committee of a whole is complete. All petitions were dealt with (and on time!). Now the plenary body will deal with the following petitions handed to them from the legislative committee:

  • The two Pension petitions
  • The Traditional Plan – amended, but still not constitutional – needs more amending
  • Two Exit Plans

Other petitions CAN be resurrected either as a substitution to the main motion, or as a minority report that replaces the main motion brought by the legislative committee. Each of them would require a majority vote.

So the work isn’t done, but many of our tanks are empty. Pray for the Lord to fill us with the Holy Spirit for a final day of work.





#GC2019 Update 3 – Legislative Committee work

25 02 2019

On Sunday afternoon the General Conference began its work as a legislative committee. For those of you confused between the work of the plenary session and the legislative committee, let me explain:

  • In a normal General Conference, we divide all the legislative material into groups depending on the section of the discipline it seeks to alter. I explain that in this blog entry from GC2016:
  • Because of the importance of the legislation for this specially called session, the sessions committee (an elected group who meets ahead of time to work on the schedule and agenda) agreed that all General Conference delegates would serve as one legislative committee.
  • The work of the legislative committee is to perfect and filter the legislation before sending it on to the plenary session.
  • Anything that receives a 50.01% approval vote in legislative committee is sent on to the plenary session to debate, amend, and vote on.
  • If a piece of legislation receives less than 50.01% of the vote in legislative committee it is not completely dead, but I’m not going to get into this much because it would require at least 50.01% of the plenary to resurrect the legislation, and if it didn’t receive over 50% in a legislative committee made up of the entire body, it likely won’t receive over 50% from that same body (make sense?).
  • A couple other notes – the legislative committee is not presided over by a bishop but by a member of the body who is elected by the body. Same with vice chair and secretary.

So, what is happening in our GC2019 legislative body of the whole? First, the objective. We need to vote on every piece of legislation on our docket. EVERY ONE. And it must be done by tonight so the report can be printed in our materials for our plenary session for tomorrow. As you can guess, we won’t be able to spend time on every piece of legislation. If it did not receive a large percentage of “high priority” votes the day before, it is likely that it will be quickly rejected without much conversation. We will see how that plays out.

Here’s the update on the progress thus far through lunch on Monday:

Sunday afternoon we approved the two petitions that dealt with clergy pension calculations for any clergy person who leaves the denomination and still has a “defined benefit” as part of their pension. That benefit will be converted as fairly as possible (according to Wespath, the UMC’s benefits provider) to a lump sum benefit. This was a “no brainer” as it potentially applies to any and all ways forward.

Monday morning we began with the Traditional Plan. If you recall, the Bishops originally told the Commission on a Way Forward to not work on such a plan, so they spent the vast majority of their time working on the One Church Plan and Connectional Conference Plan. After some pressure to have three plans, the Commission was allowed to create such legislation in the final days of the Commission’s work. When the Judicial Council was asked to make preliminary rulings on the One Church Plan and Traditional Plan (late in 2018) several parts of the Traditional Plan were ruled in conflict with our Book of Discipline’s constitution. Thus, there are several necessary amendments to be made in order to attempt to bring it into compliance. That’s what much of Monday morning was spent doing. In short synopsis, several amendments were made, several speeches were made against the plan as a whole, and the plan was ultimately approved. However, for it to be constitutional, it will need to be amended further by the plenary session on Tuesday.

After the Traditional Plan was passed, we moved on to the Gracious Exit Plans. After a few amendments, the Taylor plan was approved followed by the Boyette plan in its entirety. In case it isn’t obvious, no more than one of these would be able to be approved by the plenary session on Tuesday.

When we come back after lunch, we will have the One Church Plan before us followed by another Exit Plan and 18 other pieces of legislation that received less than 30% “high priority.” I expect many if not all of those to be dealt with swiftly, but again, we will have to wait and see.





#GC2019 Update 2.1 – The Straw Poll

24 02 2019

img_0126Although there is a lot of work still to do, our Sunday afternoon prioritization of legislation may indicate the general will of the body. Please note that it is possible for people to vote for MULTIPLE plans and legislation as “high priority” – So, conceivably, some delegates could have voted “high priority” for ALL of the legislation below. The numbers below indicate the people who voted “high priority” for each piece of legislation or plan.

Remember, the rest of today and Monday we will work as a legislative committee to “perfect” each piece of legislation through amendments and substitutions, etc. We will then vote on each piece of legislation/plan and if that is passed by 50.01%, then it will be passed on to the plenary body (all of us) on Tuesday.

Also note, I haven’t reported the breakdown of several other pieces of legislation we voted on because each one would take significant time to explain. Let’s just say none of them were any better than the options below!

Pension Work (applies to ALL plans)
Pension legislation – 518/815 – 63.56%

Way Forward Plans
Traditional Plan – 459/826 – 55.57%
One Church Plan – 403/828 – 48.67%
Simple Plan – 153/819 – 18.68%
Connectional Conference Plan – 102/820 – 12.44%

Exit Plans
Exit Plan (Taylor) – 412/823 – 50.06%
Exit Plan (Boyette) – 406/820 – 49.51%
Exit Plan (Ottjes) – 395/816 – 48.41%

Here’s my brief interpretation. It seems that by a slight margin (50 or so votes) the body seems to prefer the Traditional Plan over the Once Church Plan. Neither the Simple Plan nor the Connectional Conference Plan gained much traction. As a delegate at the 2016 General Conference, this is not surprising. Most of the delegates are the same from 2016 to 2019 and these vote differentials are about the same as we dealt with similar “Local Option” legislation then.

Furthermore, it seems like about 50% of the body favors considering an exit plan for churches who cannot, in good conscience, abide by whatever Way Forward plan we end Tuesday with.

I was encouraged that despite the magnitude of these revelations that nobody cheered and there weren’t any overly disruptive protests. It seems that at least for now, we are continuing to proceed with the work before us with grace and respect.

 

 





#GC2019 Update #2 – Hearts at Peace

24 02 2019

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This morning, while most of you were in worship at one of your great churches, at General Conference we worshiped together then began our business, highlighted by the report from the 32 member Commission on the Way Forward. This commission was charged with the task of outlining options for ways forward for the United Methodist Church despite deep differences in approach to and belief about human sexuality. They were not a monolithic group by any means. They were, in fact, a diverse group of people – men and women, bishops and pastors and laity, theological conservatives and moderates and progressives, heterosexuals and members of the LGBTQIA community.

Before getting down to business, the group spent significant amount of time building relationships with one another despite their differences. The commission’s report included powerful testimony from Alice Williams, a layperson who identifies as LGBTQ+. She was deeply intimidated and initially wondered if she was “invited but not welcome.” She shared her heart that not only were LGBTQ+ voices heard, but she was loved and respected by the entire commission. What a great witness to the broader church.

Multiple prayers yesterday and today have emphasized a desire to love those who think differently than us. We’ve sung songs about needing one another. In fact, our General Conference delegation from the Illinois Great Rivers Conference agreed to such values at the beginning of our meetings and deliberations. We borrowed it from a document called “Hearts at Peace” that was affirmed by the delegates of our broader North Central Jurisdiction. I believe it captures the heart of love and a graceful way to handle difficult conversations. Let me share some excerpts from that “Heart of Peace” document (italics are mine for emphasis):

In affirmation of the values expressed in [Ephesians 4:2-6]

  • We will have a heart of peace toward one another and will avoid objectifying or demonizing those with whom we disagree.
  • We will come to General Conference in a spirit of discernment, trusting that if we allow the Holy Spirit to move, God will show us the way.
  • We will be good stewards of our time and resist delaying our discernment process by excessive focus on the rules. We will honor the work of the Commission on the General Conference and the design of the called special session by working within the existing rules.
  • We will work for the betterment of The United Methodist Church and the realization of its mission, especially as that mission is expressed in the ministries of local churches and of other connectional structures.
  • We will honor the work of the COWF because we believe that the years of relationship building and discernment given to the Commission was a gift that we cannot replicate in the four days of the called session.
  • And, we will honor the leadership and discernment of our Council of Bishops in the recognition that the delegates of General Conference 2016 specifically asked our bishops to lead.

We understand that none of the affirmations in this covenant prevent us from acting on our convictions at General Conference. This statement is about how we will live with one another, not about how we will vote.

I find the tenor of this highly charged General Conference extremely grace giving and kind thus far. But then again, we haven’t voted on anything of significance yet. That comes this afternoon when we vote on the priority of the legislation before us. How that vote goes will be the first indicator of the will of this worldwide body. Which of the main plans that the commission outlined will the body favor? Will the body favor discussing potential exit plans for churches that cannot, in good conscience, abide by the globally discerned direction of The United Methodist Church?

This afternoon will be telling, and I anticipate that once the results of legislative priorities are revealed, we will all hear a collective gasp and roughly 45% of our General Conference delegates will be tempted to cry, clench their fists and exchange their “heart at peace” for a “heart at war.” Will you join me in praying that whoever is disappointed after this afternoon, delegate or not, will participate in the values of peace, love and gentleness that the Commission on the Way Forward and our Illinois Great Rivers Conference has chosen to adopt?

 

 





#GC2019 Update #1 – Worldwide Discernment

23 02 2019

img_0116Sometimes I get tunnel vision – when I fail to see too far beyond my own circumstances. And sometimes, sometimes, by God’s grace I’m blessed with a Holy Spirit insight into a broader picture.

The United Methodist Church just finished a set-aside day of prayer to begin our specially called session of General Conference to determine a way forward in the midst of differences in views on human sexuality. In the midst of our united prayers, God opened my eyes to something I already knew but easily forget in my tunnel vision.

In the months, weeks and days leading up to this General Conference, I personally received somewhere between 200 and 250 “contacts” from those concerned about the direction of the broader church. These contacts consisted of a few phone calls, and dozens and dozens of emails and letters. A small handful were from the congregation I serve. The vast majority were from United Methodists within our Illinois Great Rivers Conference. And I received a handful from others across the United States. Furthermore, I spent many hours reading blogs and articles written by UM leaders with varying viewpoints. As much as I hoped to keep my mind open to all points of view, I realize now that I was undoubtedly in a tunnel – a tunnel of Stars and Stripes – Red, White and Blue.

But in our day of prayer, I was ejected from that tunnel by the Holy Spirit. We spent segments of our day in prayer led by United Methodist bishops from all across the world. We prayed for the church in Europe and Eurasia, singing songs in Russian and Swedish. (By the way, did you know that “How Great Thou Art” was originally a Swedish hymn?) We were led in powerful prayer by representatives from Africa – the Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Uganda and Zimbabwe. Yes, we were also led by leaders from the United States but concluded our regional prayer-times with moving leadership from the Philippines and Southeast Asia. Again, God’s Spirit reminded me of what I already knew. Roughly 45% of the 864 delegates to this General Conference are from outside the United States. In my attempt to remain open minded to all viewpoints, I realize now that I missed hearing from nearly HALF of our connection.

Make no mistake about it. We have all studied the Scriptures and the legislation before us. There is deep faith, tradition and courage in the global church. And we are here collectively as a worldwide United Methodist Church to discern God’s will. We each bring our cultures and regional tunnel vision, but collectively we will discern God’s will that transcends any one culture. I take comfort in that. I take comfort in the fact that God (for better or for worse) has yoked me to a denomination that is connected across oceans, national boundaries and languages. (We all have translation devices!) And God has used that BROAD connection to help me get out of my narrow tunnel vision.

No matter what decisions are made or not made over the next few days, I hope you take comfort in knowing that the Holy Spirit, who transcends all cultures, is working through a global body to discern God’s will together. Could we still get it wrong? Yes, that is always a possibility. Will people be upset and even hurt by the decisions made here? I’m sure that will be the case. But there is a far greater probability that we will get it right and that we will be able to share grace and compassion with one another precisely because as a worldwide church, it is a lot harder to get caught up in isolated tunnel vision.