The pastor of one of the United Methodist Church’s largest congregations is urging those casting votes for delegates to the 2012 General Conference not to allow personal friendships to carry more weight than theological orthodoxy.
“[If a brother or sister wants my vote] and yet they don’t believe the same things I do, all I can say is ‘I love you, but I’ve got to vote my conscience,’” said the Rev. Dr. Stephen P. Wende, pastor of Houston’s First United Methodist Church, in a Jan. 8 address to a clergy group in the North Georgia Annual Conference.
Wende urged the the election of General Conference delegates “who will represent God-honoring, Kingdom-focused, Christ-first, biblically strong positions.”
The elections will occur at annual conference sessions across the UMC this year. The General Conference will be held April 24-May 4, 2012 in Tampa, Fla.
The outcome of this year’s elections, Wende said, will determine if the United Methodist Church will “be built on the path of orthodoxy, the primacy of Christ, and the advancement of the kingdom.”
Wende spoke to a gathering of North Georgia’s Wesleyan Renewal Movement, held at Mt. Pisgah UMC in suburban Atlanta.
The Texas pastor noted that the North Georgia Conference, the largest annual conference in the United States, plays a unique role in the overall direction of the United Methodist Church.
“We need North Georgia involved at the highest levels of the [UMC], helping the church keep its weight on scriptural authority and the apostolic tradition. And if North Georgia won’t [do that], then we’re all in trouble.”
According to the Wesleyan Renewal Movement’s December 2010 newsletter, the group seeks to “promote the election of delegates to General and Jurisdictional Conferences who are committed to ensuring [that] the Book of Discipline and the election of bishops reflect [the] principles of [John] Wesley and the Bible.”
WRM clergy are “unified in our belief that the actions of [the] General Conference are key to revitalizing our church or to sending it further into decline,” the newsletter said.
In his address, Steve Wende said he is encouraged by many things happening in the United Methodist Church, believing that the denomination made a positive turn in the early 1990s.
Our numbers are not great because we are [not doing well] in certain parts of this nation. We are hemorrhaging members and ministry. But in other parts of this nation and in Africa…the Holy Spirit is moving in dramatic ways.
I think the best days of this denomination are absolutely ahead…. But I also believe that those good days are not automatic — and that if the corner has been turned, which it has, we now need to make sure that the ship keeps going in a healthy direction.
Wende urged his audience to recommit to “thinking theologically.” He noted that his own preaching has become much more doctrinally focused in recent years because “the most important challenges being launched against…the church today are not about ‘practical’ issues.” Instead, those challenges are focused on “what orthodox Christians believe,” he said.
Our ministry to the poor and service to others…is not what offends the culture. What offends the culture is Jesus…. It’s Jesus [who is] being attacked. And if we are not willing to defend at the point of attack, we have betrayed our Jesus.
We have to be willing ourselves to learn again how to think and speak theologically about the basics of the faith.
The Houston First pastor also said United Methodist pastors need to focus on building “healthy, caring, authentic Christian relationships” with each other as well as with lay people. “All healthy [church] politics grows out of people who first understand what healthy relationship looks like and who [build a] community of healthy relationships,” he said.
To listen to Steve Wende’s address to the Wesleyan Renewal Movement, use the audio player below (35 min.), or download an mp3 file (12.5MB).
A native Texan, Steve Wende is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, Yale Divinity School, and Princeton Theological Seminary.
He is a board member of the Confessing Movement Within the United Methodist Church and has been a delegate to several UM General and Jurisdictional Conferences.
Dr. Wende has served as the senior pastor at First Methodist Houston since 2001.
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Related articles and information
|•||Mentioned in Dr. Wende’s address: The Hitchens Transcript: An exchange between Christopher Hitchens and Marilyn Sewell | The Portland Monthly (January 2010)|
|•||Mentioned in Dr. Wende’s address: A west coast lament (comparing growth trends in the North Georgia and Cal-Pac Conferences) | Steve Beard, Good News (October/November 2010)|
|•||Mentioned in Dr. Wende’s address: Statement in opposition to Structure Study Commission Report | Albert C. Outler, from the Journal of the 1972 General Conference (April 17, 1972)|
|•||Wesleyan Renewal Movement | Steve Wood, pastor of North Georgia’s Mt. Pisgah UMC (June 14, 2010)|
|•||Unity Task Force Meeting: Dialogue with Renewal Leaders (PDF) | Meeting with the Council of Bishops Unity Task Force, Lake Junaluska, N.C. (Nov. 5, 2009)|