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United Methodist Bishop Mack B. Stokes died last week just shy of his 101st birthday.

Bishop Mack B. Stokes (UMNS photo)

Below are insights from Bishop Stokes on the topic of human sexuality, offered from the standpoint of Christianity’s historic teaching and the particular emphasis of Wesleyan believers regarding on holiness of heart and life.

The material is excerpted from the out-of-print book Scriptural Holiness For the United Methodist Christian (Discipleship Resources, 1987).

Bishop Stokes’ other books include The Holy Spirit in the Wesleyan Heritage (1993), Major United Methodist Beliefs (revised 1998), and person-to-Person: Building a Relationship with God Through Prayer (2007).

Marion “Mack” Boyd Stokes served on the faculty of Emory University’s Candler School of Theology from 1941 until 1972, when he was elected to serve as a bishop of the United Methodist Church.

(NOTE: References below to the United Methodist Book of Discipline have been updated to conform to current wording and paragraph numbering.)

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When God created human beings in his image, God made them male and female (Gen. 1:27). And God called them to be “fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1:28)…. Therefore, in keeping with the biblical revelation, “we affirm that sexuality is God’s good gift to all persons” (¶161F, The Book of Discipline—2008).

As is the case with all human desires, sexual desires need to be directed and controlled. God’s call to holiness includes Christian stewardship of our sexuality. For this reason the biblical teaching is that “sexual relations are affirmed only with the covenant of monogamous, heterosexual marriage” (¶161F).

This raises serious questions…. What about premarital sex? What about homosexuality? What about promiscuity? What about adultery?…

[W]hen God’s love is immediately present and operative in us, how do we act?… For one thing, we act in full respect for the sacredness of our own body and soul, as well as for the body and soul of the other person…. It is not enough to think in terms of “consenting adults.” That is relevant in democratic courts of law…. [But] Christian youth and adults are governed by the presence of the living Christ in them and reserve for their life-partners in marriage the full expression of their sexuality….

[In regard to homosexuality,] the basic question is: What does holiness — the love of God and neighbor — move us to do?

Beyond question there are persons with homosexual tendencies. And beyond question they are precious in the sight of God. Christ’s grand redemptive work has been done for all. And all are called to be redeemed by grace through faith. But is the practice of homosexuality in keeping with God’s holy purpose for our lives?

Among the ancient Greeks and Romans the practice of homosexuality was condoned. And among some people today this practice is condoned and even publicly acclaimed. But in the Hebrew-Christian heritage this practice has not been approved. It has been repudiated as contrary to the revealed purpose of God for our lives.

Our standards are not to be governed by the pagans of ancient Greece and Rome. Nor are they to be guided by the standards and values of those of our own time who are not interested in what the Holy Creator requires.

It is one thing to have homosexual tendencies — just as it is to have tendencies toward promiscuity — but it is another to practice it. This is why we United Methodists say that “we do not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice incompatible with Christian teaching” (¶161F)….

[As regards promiscuity, i]s it not one of the cheapest and most contemptible ways of using others as means to the gratification of elemental selfish desires? And is not this on the side of evil and against God and his righteousness?… In the light of the Bible and God’s holy purpose, promiscuity is as far removed from the grace of God in Christ as hell is from heaven….

[In summary, w]e may say that scriptural holiness leads us to practice the formula: In singleness, chastity; in marriage, fidelity.


Related posts
What will the bishops do?
Worth reading: ‘Forgetting How to Blush: United Methodism’s Compromise with the Sexual Revolution’
Chasing away young people by being faithful to the gospel?
What is at stake in the battle over marriage
Should United Methodists agree to disagree on homosexuality?
A word from Mr. Wesley: Holiness in singleness
Why the United Methodist Church cannot condone homosexuality
Pro-homosexuality foundation pours millions into Catholic and mainline Protestant dissident groups
Riley Case: Retired bishops’ statement is a sign of UMC’s sickness
Renewal & Reform Coalition responds to retired bishops’ call to alter UMC’s sexuality standards
In GBCS article, UM elder argues against celibacy for single clergy
Board of Church and Society sex-ed writer: Sex outside of marriage can be ‘moral, ethical’
Judicial Council overturns bishop’s ruling on sexuality statement
Billy Abraham on United Methodism: ‘There is no common faith among us’

Related articles information
Why The Church is so concerned with same-sex marriage and homosexual ordination | Timothy C. Tennent (Nov. 26, 2012)
United Methodists uphold policy that calls homosexual acts ‘incompatible with Christian teaching’ | Daniel Burke, Religion News Service (May 3, 2012)
The church addresses marriage and sexuality | Thomas A. Lambrecht, Good News (January/February 2012)
Outsider influence over homosexuality at General Conference | Karen Booth, Good News (January/February 2012)
Eros defended or eros defiled — What do Wesley and the Bible say? | Ben Witherington, The Bible and Culture (Patheos.com) (Feb. 14, 2011)
Christianity elevates sexual morality (a historical overview of the Christian church’s teaching on sexual morality) — Chapter 3 of How Christianity Changed the World | Alvin Schmidt (Zondervan, 2004 — via Google Books)
Book: Staying the Course: Supporting the Church’s Position on Homosexuality (ordering details) | Maxie Dunnam and H. Newton Malony, ed. (Abingdon Press, 2003)
Anyone who works under the authority or auspices of the Church must be held to the highest standards of behavior, free of misconduct in any form | UMSexualEthics.org
United Methodist churches perform same-sex weddings with one foot in the closet | Amanda Hess, TBD.com (Sept. 30, 2010)
UM Judicial Council backs clergy dismissal over affair | Linda Bloom, UMNS (April 27, 2010)
What the evidence really says about Scripture and homosexual practice: Five issues (PDF) | Robert A. J. Gagnon (March 2009)
How churches can refine message on homosexuality | Robin Russell, United Methodist Reporter (May 19, 2008)
The church and homosexuality | Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker, e-Review (Florida United Methodist News Service) (July 12, 2006)
Resources list: Ministry for and with homosexual persons (requested by the UMC’s 2004 General Conference) (PDF) | United Methodist Publishing House
Homosexuality and the Bible (PDF) | R. Albert Mohler Jr., Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
Homosexuality and the Great Commandment (an address to the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh) | Peter C. Moore (November 2002)
‘Good News’ says push to accept homosexual practice threatens to split United Methodist Church | United Methodist News Service (May 6, 1997)

Read Full Post »

Bill Bouknight

This post is by Dr. William R. Bouknight, associate director of the Confessing Movement Within the United Methodist Church.

It first appeared in a slightly different form in the October 2012 Confessing Movement e-newsletter.

Bill Bouknight is the author of The Authoritative Word: Preaching Trust in a Skeptical Age (Abingdon, 2001) and If Disciples Grew Like Kudzu (Bristol House, 2007).

Links have been added by MethodistThinker.com. — Ed.

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When members of the United Methodist Council of Bishops gather next week (Nov. 4-9) at St. Simons Island, Ga., they will find it difficult to ignore a retired bishop, Melvin G. Talbert.

Bishop Talbert has urged more than 1,000 UM clergy who have committed to officiating at union ceremonies for homosexual couples “to stand firm in their resolve” — even though officiating at homosexual unions would violate the United Methodist Church’s Book of Discipline.

Furthermore, the Western Jurisdiction has asked Bishop Talbert to oversee a grassroots movement that challenges the entire UMC to operate as if Paragraph 161F of the Book of Discipline “does not exist.” That is called nullification.

In reaction to these developments, more than 70 UM orthodox clergy and laity sent an open letter to the Council of Bishops urging them to “publicly censure” Bishop Talbert. The letter also asks the executive committee of the Council to file a formal complaint against the bishop.

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No-so-great expectations

Despite strong concern within the church about Bishop Talbert’s conduct, my guess is that the Council will do little or nothing about this matter.

From the UM
Book of Discipline

¶161B Marriage

— We affirm the sanctity of the marriage covenant that is expressed in love, mutual support, personal commitment, and shared fidelity between a man and a woman…. We support laws in civil society that define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

¶161F Human Sexuality

…Although all persons are sexual beings whether or not they are married, sexual relations are affirmed only within the covenant of monogamous, heterosexual marriage….

The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider[s] this practice incompatible with Christian teaching. We affirm that God’s grace is available to all….

This pledge by more than 1,000 UM clergy to perform same-sex unions is not new. It was on the Council’s agenda a year ago. Yet the Council could not even bring itself to ask those 1,000 clergy to refrain from violating the Discipline.

(Do you suppose that if 1,000 clergy threatened to withhold apportionment payments, the Council would be that reticent?)

The Council’s problem is that it is hopelessly divided about Scriptural authority, theological worldview, and sexual morality.

Since about 1970, some bishops have been elected who have a relativistic view of Scriptural authority. Some ignore and/or don’t believe in some United Methodist doctrines spelled out in the Articles of Religion and Confession of Faith.

On the days of their ordination, they affirmed their belief in all of those doctrines (PDF—see pages 22 and 23). But somehow over the years they have changed. Yet not one of them has reported that change to the Board of Ordained Ministry and offered to turn in his or her credentials.

It is a safe prediction that the Council of Bishops will take no action with regard to Bishop Talbert. Nor will it ask those 1,000 clergy not to violate the Book of Discipline.

Instead, the Council will issue a call for all United Methodists to be tolerant, non-judgmental, and nice — and to engage in holy conferencing.

And the United Methodist Church in the U.S. will continue to decline.

Therefore, the Lord seems to be passing the torch of leadership to the African Methodists. Instead of rebelling against the Book of Discipline, they are focused on making disciples of Jesus Christ for the eternal salvation of persons and for the transformation of the world.


Related posts
Group of clergy, laity calls for censure of Bishop Talbert
Worth reading: ‘Forgetting How to Blush: United Methodism’s Compromise with the Sexual Revolution’
Chasing away young people by being faithful to the gospel?
What is at stake in the battle over marriage
Should United Methodists agree to disagree on homosexuality?
General Conference 2012: More attempts to change UM standards on sexual behavior
If defiance continues, United Methodism may come crashing down
Bishop Mack Stokes: Holiness in human sexuality
A word from Mr. Wesley: Holiness in singleness
Why the United Methodist Church cannot condone homosexuality
Renewal & Reform Coalition responds to retired bishops’ call to alter UMC’s sexuality standards
Renewal & Reform Coalition releases letter to Council of Bishops
Judicial Council says no to same-sex marriage
Billy Abraham on United Methodism: ‘There is no common faith among us’

Related articles and information
Bishop accused of urging disobedience | Heather Hahn, United Methodist News Service (Aug. 24, 2012)
United Methodists uphold policy that calls homosexual acts ‘incompatible with Christian teaching’ | Daniel Burke, Religion News Service (May 3, 2012)
The church addresses marriage and sexuality | Thomas A. Lambrecht, Good News (January/February 2012)
Outsider influence over homosexuality at General Conference | Karen Booth, Good News (January/February 2012)
Book Review: Forgetting How To Blush: United Methodism’s Compromise with the Sexual Revolution by Karen Booth | James V. Heidinger II, Good News (March/April 2012)
UM clergy vow to wed homosexual couples | Sam Hodges, UM Reporter (July 15, 2011)
Eros defended or eros defiled — What do Wesley and the Bible say? | Ben Witherington, The Bible and Culture (Patheos.com) (Feb. 14, 2011)
Christianity elevates sexual morality (a historical overview of the Christian church’s teaching on sexual morality) — Chapter 3 of How Christianity Changed the World | Alvin Schmidt (Zondervan, 2004 — via Google Books)
Book: Staying the Course: Supporting the Church’s Position on Homosexuality (ordering details) | Maxie Dunnam and H. Newton Malony, ed. (Abingdon Press, 2003)
Anyone who works under the authority or auspices of the Church must be held to the highest standards of behavior, free of misconduct in any form | UMSexualEthics.org
United Methodist churches perform same-sex weddings with one foot in the closet | Amanda Hess, TBD.com (Sept. 30, 2010)
UM Judicial Council backs clergy dismissal over affair | Linda Bloom, UMNS (April 27, 2010)
What the evidence really says about Scripture and homosexual practice: Five issues (PDF) | Robert A. J. Gagnon (March 2009)
Slavery, homosexuality, and not being of one mind | Riley B. Case, via The Sundry Times (July 1, 2008)
How churches can refine message on homosexuality | Robin Russell, United Methodist Reporter (May 19, 2008)
Homosexuality and the Great Commandment (an address to the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh) | Peter C. Moore (November 2002)
‘Good News’ says push to accept homosexual practice threatens to split United Methodist Church | United Methodist News Service (May 6, 1997)

Read Full Post »

A group of more than 70 United Methodist clergy and laity is asking the Council of Bishops to censure retired Bishop Melvin Talbert for encouraging UM clergy to disobey the Book of Discipline’s prohibition on officiating at homosexual-union ceremonies.

The request came in a July 19 open letter (reproduced below) sent to each bishop. That letter was released publicly last week.

Bishop Talbert speaking in May in Tampa, Fla.

The Discipline notes that sexual relationships between two people of the same sex are “incompatible with Christian teaching” (¶161F) and it prohibits clergy from officiating at union ceremonies that solemnize a relationship between two men or two women (¶2702.1).

At a May 4, 2012, gathering in Tampa, Fla., held on the final day of the United Methodist Church’s quadrennial General Conference, Bishop Talbert said existing UM standards on human sexuality are “immoral and unjust and no longer deserve our loyalty and obedience.” His remarks came two days after the General Conference voted to maintain the UMC’s long-held position on homosexuality.

Bishop Talbert urged clergy who had previously committed to perform union ceremonies for homosexual couples “to stand firm in their resolve to perform marriages among…same-sex couples.” Doing so, he noted, would involve “defying the [church] laws that prohibit them from doing so.” He also called on local UM churches to host such ceremonies, an action also proscribed by the UMC’s Book of Discipline.

Although 14 other UM bishops were in attendance as he spoke, Bishop Talbert said he was not speaking on their behalf or as a representative of the Council of Bishops.

The July 19 letter asking that Bishop Talbert be censured is below, along with audio of Bishop Talbert’s May 4 address. Some links below have been added by MethodistThinker.com — Ed.

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July 19, 2012

Dear Bishop ________________ ,

Grace and peace to you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ! We uphold you in our prayers for the important work that God has entrusted to you on behalf of His church.

We are compelled to write this open letter to you out of deep love for The United Methodist Church. Our unity is once more challenged by the remarks of one of your number and we ask that you take appropriate action to respond.

According to the websites of Methodists In New Directions and the Reconciling Ministries Network, Bishop Melvin Talbert made the following comments on May 4, 2012, at the Love Your Neighbor Tabernacle in Tampa, Florida:

The derogatory rules and restrictions in the Book of Discipline are immoral and unjust and no longer deserve our loyalty and obedience. Thus the time has come for those of us who are faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ to do what is required of us….

The time has come to join in an act of Biblical obedience. I call on the more than 1,100 clergy [who have signed marriage initiatives] to stand firm in their resolve to perform marriages for same-sex couples and to do so in the course of their normal pastoral duties, thus defying the laws that prohibit them from doing so….

The time for talking is over. It’s time for us to act in defiance of unjust words of immoral and derogatory discrimination and laws that are doing harm to our GLBT [gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, and transgendered] sisters and brothers.

The Reconciling Ministries Network reports that standing with Bishop Talbert were retired Bishops Judy Craig, Violet Fisher, Elias Galvan, Susan Hassinger, Don Ott, Sharon Rader, Roy Sano, and Jack Tuell; and active Bishops Warner Brown, Sally Dyck, Grant Hagiya, Bob Hoshibata, John Schol, and Mary Ann Swenson.

Each bishop of The United Methodist Church has agreed to live within the covenant defined by our Book of Discipline. Each bishop is charged in the Book of Discipline “to uphold the discipline and order of the Church.”

Use the audio player below to listen to Bishop Talbert’s May 4 address in Tampa:

(If player doesn’t work, click here for mp3.)

We are deeply concerned that Bishop Talbert has undercut that very discipline and order, by encouraging dissension, disunity and disobedience, and advocating anarchy and chaos in response to the actions of the 2012 General Conference, taken after focused prayer, study, and holy conferencing.

Sadly, Bishop Talbert reiterated his call for UM pastors to disobey the Book of Discipline and pledged to do so himself, if given the opportunity, when he preached at the ordination service [PDF] on June 16 at the California-Pacific Annual Conference.

Some of the other bishops who stood nearby as Bishop Talbert spoke in Tampa on May 4, 2012

By their action in standing with Bishop Talbert as he made his statement at the Love Your Neighbor Tabernacle, the other bishops appear to have lent their credibility and influence to his call for disobedience.

We have corresponded with all the bishops who stood with Bishop Talbert and received replies from most of them. Some did not know ahead of time what Bishop Talbert was going to say and do not support his call for disobedience. Others did know and do support that call. Without a public statement clarifying where those bishops stand, however, it appears to our church that all were supportive.

In its November 10, 2011 letter [PDF] to United Methodist Sisters and Brothers in Christ, this Council of Bishops declared:

At times like these we call upon each other to remember and renew our covenant with God and with one another as United Methodist Christians. As bishops chosen, consecrated and assigned by the Church, we declare once again our commitment to be faithful to this covenant we have made. As the Council of Bishops we will uphold the Book of Discipline as established by General Conference.

The actions of Bishop Talbert specifically, and any of those retired and active bishops who stood with him, knowing what he was prepared to say, directly contravene this commitment made by the Council of Bishops as a whole. We commend the commitment of the Council of Bishops to be intentional in holding one another mutually accountable to the office and responsibilities of bishops as outlined in our Book of Discipline.

Now is the time for you to demonstrate your commitment by acting to hold these who have been disobedient to the order and discipline of The United Methodist Church accountable for their inflammatory actions. We ask that:

  • the executive committee of the Council of Bishops and the colleges of bishops in the various jurisdictional and central conferences when they next meet publicly censure Bishop Talbert for his statement;
  • the executive committee of the Council of Bishops request that those retired and active bishops who stood with Bishop Talbert as he called for disobedience to the Book of Discipline issue specific statements repudiating Bishop Talbert’s call to perform same-sex unions, and should they fail to do so, publicly censure them for their actions;
  • the executive committee of the Council of Bishops file a formal complaint against Bishop Melvin Talbert under ¶ 2702 (e) [disobedience to the order and discipline of The United Methodist Church in violating his responsibility to uphold that order and discipline], ¶ 2702 (f) [dissemination of doctrines contrary to the established standards of doctrine of The United Methodist Church], and ¶ 2702 (g) [engaging in behavior that undermines the ministry of another pastor].

We acknowledge that these are challenging days in The United Methodist Church. We affirm our commitment to the Book of Discipline, including its statement “that all persons are individuals of sacred worth, created in the image of God. All persons need the ministry of the Church in their struggles for human fulfillment, as well as the spiritual and emotional care of a fellowship that enables reconciling relationships with God, with others, and with self.”

We fully support the Discipline’s affirmation [in ¶ 161F] “that God’s grace is available to all. We will seek to live together in Christian community, welcoming, forgiving, and loving one another, as Christ has loved and accepted us. We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends. We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons.”

We will continue to uphold you in prayer. We will continue to work together to preserve the unity and integrity of The United Methodist Church, and to make disciples for the transformation of the world.

We look forward to the actions you will take in response to this open letter.

Yours in Christ,

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The Rev. Ed Robb III, The Woodlands UMC, The Woodlands, Texas
The Rev. Thom Abrahamson, Armona UMC & Lemoore UMC, Lemoore, Calif.
The Rev. John Allen, Flower Mound Trietsch Memorial UMC, Flower Mound, Texas
The Rev. Scott Allred, Aldersgate UMC, Chico, Calif.
Turner Arant, Confessing Movement Board, Sunflower, Miss.
The Rev. Larry Baird, Trinity UMC, President of Confessing Movement Board, Grand Island, N.Y.
The Rev. Richard Bayard, Retired Elder, Visalia, Calif.
The Rev. Bill Bouknight, Associate Director, Confessing Movement, Columbia, S.C.
The Rev. Keith Boyette, Wilderness Community UMC, Chair of Good News Board, Spotsylvania, Va.
The Rev. James Buskirk, Confessing Movement Board, Tulsa, Okla.
The Rev. Riley Case, Associate Director, Confessing Movement, Kokomo, Ind.
The Rev. Bryan Collier, The Orchard UMC, Tupelo, Miss.
The Rev. Robert Collins, Jr., Centenary UMC, Modesto, Calif.
Robert Draper, Good News Board, Hot Springs, Ark.
The Rev. Maxie Dunnam, Confessing Movement Board, Memphis, Tenn.
Mickey Ellis, Confessing Movement Board, Houston, Texas
The Rev. Charles Ferrara, New Life Community Church UMC, New Fairfield, Conn.
The Rev. Scott Field, Wheatland Salem UMC, Good News Board, Naperville, Ill.
The Rev. John Gerlach, Trinity UMC, Windsor, Conn.
The Rev. Robert Gorrell, Church of the Servant, Oklahoma City, Okla.
Judy Graham, Confessing Movement Board, Houston, Texas
The Rev. Ronald Greilich, Elder, Retired, Clovis, Calif.
The Rev. John Grenfell, Jr., Good News Board, Fort Gratiot, Mich.
The Rev. Randall Hageman, Gateway Community UM Congregation, Houston, Texas
The Rev. Rick Hanse, West Hartford UMC, West Hartford, Conn.
The Rev. Chet Harris, Dueber UMC, Canton, Ohio
The Rev. Tom Harrison, Asbury UMC, Tulsa, Okla.
The Rev. Matthew Hartsfield, Van Dyke UMC, Tampa, Fla.
The Rev. Tony Holifield, Central UMC, Fayetteville, Ark.
The Rev. Godfrey Hubert, Foundry UMC, Houston, Texas
The Rev. Kent Jackson, Branford UMC, Branford, Conn.
Tom Junk, Confessing Movement Board, Tulsa, Okla.
Joe Kilpatrick, Confessing Movement Board, Tucker, Ga.
The Rev. Chong IL Kim, Bible UMC of New York, Dix Hills, N.Y.
Katy Kiser, Good News Board, Carrollton, Texas
The Rev. Thomas Lambrecht, Vice President, Good News, Spring, Texas
The Rev. Charles Kyker, Christ UMC, Confessing Movement Board, Hickory, N.C.
The Rev. James Leggett, Grace Fellowship UMC, Katy, Texas
The Rev. Kenneth Levingston, Jones Memorial UMC, Houston, Texas
The Rev. Joseph MacLaren, University Carillon UMC, Oviedo, Fla.
The Rev. David Mantz, First UMC, Port Jefferson, N.Y.
The Rev. Jim Martin, The River UMC, Richmond, Texas
The Rev. John Ed Mathison, Confessing Movement Board, Montgomery, Ala.
The Rev. Gregory McGarvey, Carmel UMC, Confessing Movement Board, Carmel, Ind.
The Rev. Randell Mickler, Mt. Bethel UMC, Marietta, Ga.
Dan Moore, Confessing Movement Board, Martinsville, Ind.
The Rev. Delroy Murdock, St. Paul’s UMC, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Norman Neel, Good News Board, San Augustine, Texas
The Rev. Allen Newton, St. James UMC, Montgomery, Ala.
The Rev. Randy Paige, Christ Church United Methodist, Port Jefferson Station, N.Y.
The Rev. James Presig, Lee’s Summit UMC, Lee’s Summit, Mo.
The Rev. Glen Raley, First UMC, Marysville, Calif.
The Rev. Robert Renfroe, The Woodlands UMC President of Good News, The Woodlands, Texas
Donna Schlitt, Confessing Movement Board, Houston, Texas
The Rev. Mike Schreiner, Morning Star Church, O’Fallon, Mo.
Donald Shell, Good News Board, Houston, Texas
The Rev. Dan Slagle, FaithBridge Church, Good News Board, Spring, Texas
The Rev. Ralph Sigler, Harvest Church UM, Dothan, Ala.
The Rev. Roger Spahr, Cornerstone Church, Watertown, S.D.
David Stanley, Confessing Movement Board, Muscatine, Iowa
Helen Rhea Stumbo, Good News Board, Fort Valley, Ga.
The Rev. Jeff Switzer, Sandtown UMC, Confessing Movement Board, Sandtown, Miss.
The Rev. Alpher Sylvester, Bethany UMC, Brooklyn, N.Y.
The Rev. Richard Thompson, First UMC, Good News Board, Bakersfield, Calif.
The Rev. Robert Thompson-Gee, Poughkeepsie UMC, Poughkeepsie, N.Y.
The Rev. Doug Thrasher, Hillside UMC, Woodstock, Ga.
The Rev. Robert Tindale, Killearn UMC, Tallahassee, Fla.
The Rev. Kirt Watkins, Sea Cliff UMC, Sea Cliff, N.Y.
The Rev. Stephen Wende, First UMC, Confessing Movement Board, Houston, Texas
The Rev. Ken Werlein, FaithBridge Church, Spring, Texas
The Rev. Alice Wolfe, Christ UMC, Baltimore, Ohio
The Rev. Steve Wood, Mount Pisgah UMC, Confessing Movement Board, Alpharetta, Ga.
Marianne Wright, Good News Board, Valdosta, Ga.
The Rev. Harold Zimmick, Asbury UMC, Madison, Wis.


Related posts
Chasing away young people by being faithful to the gospel?
Should United Methodists agree to disagree on homosexuality?
General Conference 2012: More attempts to change UM standards on sexual behavior
If defiance continues, United Methodism may come crashing down
Podcast: Mark Tooley, author of Taking Back the United Methodist Church
Outcome of DeLong trial likely to exacerbate disunity of UMC
Bishop Mack Stokes: Holiness in human sexuality
A word from Mr. Wesley: Holiness in singleness
Why the United Methodist Church cannot condone homosexuality
Pro-homosexuality foundation pours millions into Catholic and mainline Protestant dissident groups
Breaking the covenant: Why aren’t ‘Reconciling’ churches being held to account?
Renewal & Reform Coalition responds to retired bishops’ call to alter UMC’s sexuality standards
In embracing homosexual marriage, Foundry UMC rejects UM boundaries, breaks with 2 millennia of church teaching
Board of Church and Society sex-ed writer: Sex outside of marriage can be ‘moral, ethical’
In Mississippi Conference, testimony from lesbian couple stirs controversy
Judicial Council says no to same-sex marriage
Billy Abraham on United Methodism: ‘There is no common faith among us’

Related articles and information
Bishop accused of urging disobedience | Heather Hahn, United Methodist News Service (Aug. 24, 2012)
United Methodists uphold policy that calls homosexual acts ‘incompatible with Christian teaching’ | Daniel Burke, Religion News Service (May 3, 2012)
The church addresses marriage and sexuality | Thomas A. Lambrecht, Good News (January/February 2012)
Outsider influence over homosexuality at General Conference | Karen Booth, Good News (January/February 2012)
Book Review: Forgetting How To Blush: United Methodism’s Compromise with the Sexual Revolution by Karen Booth | James V. Heidinger II, Good News (March/April 2012)
UM clergy vow to wed homosexual couples | Sam Hodges, UM Reporter (July 15, 2011)
Eros defended or eros defiled — What do Wesley and the Bible say? | Ben Witherington, The Bible and Culture (Patheos.com) (Feb. 14, 2011)
Christianity elevates sexual morality (a historical overview of the Christian church’s teaching on sexual morality) — Chapter 3 of How Christianity Changed the World | Alvin Schmidt (Zondervan, 2004 — via Google Books)
Book: Staying the Course: Supporting the Church’s Position on Homosexuality (ordering details) | Maxie Dunnam and H. Newton Malony, ed. (Abingdon Press, 2003)
Anyone who works under the authority or auspices of the Church must be held to the highest standards of behavior, free of misconduct in any form | UMSexualEthics.org
United Methodist churches perform same-sex weddings with one foot in the closet | Amanda Hess, TBD.com (Sept. 30, 2010)
UM Judicial Council backs clergy dismissal over affair | Linda Bloom, UMNS (April 27, 2010)
What the evidence really says about Scripture and homosexual practice: Five issues (PDF) | Robert A. J. Gagnon (March 2009)
Slavery, homosexuality, and not being of one mind | Riley B. Case, via The Sundry Times (July 1, 2008)
How churches can refine message on homosexuality | Robin Russell, United Methodist Reporter (May 19, 2008)
United Methodists uphold homosexuality stance | Robin Russell, United Methodist News Service (April 30, 2008)
United Methodism in crisis: Scriptural renewal through the Good News Movement | Chapter 4 of Public Pulpits: Methodists and Mainline Churches in the Moral Argument of Public Life by Steven M. Tipton (University of Chicago Press, 2008 — via Google Books)
Methodists strengthen stand against homosexual practice | Christianity Today (May 5, 2004)
Homosexuality and the Great Commandment (an address to the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh) | Peter C. Moore (November 2002)
‘Good News’ says push to accept homosexual practice threatens to split United Methodist Church | United Methodist News Service (May 6, 1997)

Read Full Post »

Bill Bouknight

This post is by Dr. William R. Bouknight, associate director of the Confessing Movement Within the United Methodist Church.

His comments below about homosexual activists and Chick-fil-A first appeared in a slightly different form in the August 2012 Confessing Movement newsletter.

Bill Bouknight is the author of The Authoritative Word: Preaching Trust in a Skeptical Age (Abingdon, 2001) and If Disciples Grew Like Kudzu (Bristol House, 2007).

Links below have been added by MethodistThinker.com. — Ed.

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Chick-fil-A was started in 1967 by a prominent Baptist layman S. Truett Cathy. The restaurant chain is now led by his like-minded son, Dan Cathy. Most of the company’s 1,600 restaurants are located in the Bible Belt, with headquarters near Atlanta.

Recently, Dan Cathy told the Biblical Recorder (the newspaper of the North Carolina Baptist Convention) that he was “guilty as charged” for backing the “biblical definition of the family unit.”

“We are a family-owned business, a family-led business,” he said. “We want to do anything we possibly can to strengthen families.”

From the UM
Book of Discipline

¶161B Marriage

— We affirm the sanctity of the marriage covenant that is expressed in love, mutual support, personal commitment, and shared fidelity between a man and a woman…. We support laws in civil society that define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

¶161F Human Sexuality

…Although all persons are sexual beings whether or not they are married, sexual relations are affirmed only within the covenant of monogamous, heterosexual marriage….

The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider[s] this practice incompatible with Christian teaching. We affirm that God’s grace is available to all….

In a separate radio interview, Cathy said: “I think we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at him and say, ‘We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage.'”

What could be more traditional or non-sensational than that? The United Methodist Church has a much stronger position on sexuality and marriage than Mr. Cathy expressed. (Language from the UMC’s Book of Discipline is excerpted at right; the full text of ¶161B is here; ¶161F is here.)

But the homosexual lobby exploded in outrage, and some politicians joined in.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said, “Chick-fil-A’s values are not Chicago values.” Boston Mayor Thomas Menino accused Chick-fil-A of practicing discrimination, though the restaurant chain has no apparent record of practicing any kind of discrimination.

What if the mayors of Chicago and Boston get hold of a United Methodist Book of Discipline? They might declare that no new UM churches are welcome in their cities!

What is at the heart of this controversy? The homosexual lobby is trying to intimidate Christians into silence.

If activist homosexuals can persuade clergy (especially) that speaking out on biblical values related to sexuality and marriage is “political” —rather than moral and spiritual — and therefore should be avoided lest it give offense, the homosexual lobby will have won a major battle.

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Against the grain

The outrage over Dan Cathy’s comments is a stark reminder that biblical values will always be in conflict with those of the secular culture. If we dare take biblical positions on controversial issues, sparks will fly.

But we must take courage. It is for this difficult hour that we have been called.

God’s plan for marriage as a lifetime covenant between one man and one woman must be declared and defended publicly, without demonizing those who disagree.

Chick-fil-A founder Truett Cathy in 2003

In this world where an estimated 270 Christians are martyred every single day because of their stand for Christ, our only risk in America is that we might be criticized!

Is there a single United Methodist bishop who will follow Billy Graham’s courageous example and publicly defend Dan Cathy and the biblical definition of marriage? Is there one who will publicly stand by our United Methodist teaching on marriage and human sexuality?

If bishops are silent when an important moral/spiritual standard is under attack, surely that sends a message to all preachers to do likewise.


Related posts
Chasing away young people by being faithful to the gospel?
What is at stake in the battle over marriage
Should United Methodists agree to disagree on homosexuality?
Bishop Mack Stokes: Holiness in human sexuality
A word from Mr. Wesley: Holiness in singleness
Renewal & Reform Coalition responds to retired bishops’ call to alter UMC’s sexuality standards
Renewal & Reform Coalition releases letter to Council of Bishops
Why the United Methodist Church cannot condone homosexuality
In embracing homosexual marriage, Foundry UMC rejects UM boundaries, breaks with 2 millennia of church teaching
Judicial Council says no to same-sex marriage

Related articles and information
United Methodists uphold policy that calls homosexuality ‘incompatible with Christian teaching’ | Daniel Burke, Religion News Service (May 3, 2012)
The church addresses marriage and sexuality | Thomas A. Lambrecht, Good News (January/February 2012)
Book Review: Forgetting How To Blush: United Methodism’s Compromise with the Sexual Revolution by Karen Booth | James V. Heidinger II, Good News (March/April 2012)
UM clergy vow to wed homosexual couples | Sam Hodges, UM Reporter (July 15, 2011)
Eros defended or eros defiled — What do Wesley and the Bible say? | Ben Witherington, The Bible and Culture (Patheos.com) (Feb. 14, 2011)
Christianity elevates sexual morality (a historical overview of the Christian church’s teaching on sexual morality) — Chapter 3 of How Christianity Changed the World | Alvin Schmidt (Zondervan, 2004 — via Google Books)
Book: Staying the Course: Supporting the Church’s Position on Homosexuality (ordering details) | Maxie Dunnam and H. Newton Malony, ed. (Abingdon Press, 2003)
United Methodist churches perform same-sex weddings with one foot in the closet | Amanda Hess, TBD.com (Sept. 30, 2010)
What the evidence really says about Scripture and homosexual practice: Five issues (PDF) | Robert A. J. Gagnon (March 2009)
How churches can refine message on homosexuality | Robin Russell, United Methodist Reporter (May 19, 2008)
Truett Cathy tosses cows, mesmerizes North Georgia UMs (PDF) | Alice M. Smith, Wesleyan Christian Advocate (North and South Ga. Conferences) (July 4, 2003)
Homosexuality and the Great Commandment (an address to the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh) | Peter C. Moore (November 2002)
‘Good News’ says push to accept homosexual practice threatens to split United Methodist Church | United Methodist News Service (May 6, 1997)

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Ray Nothstine

The following review is by Ray Nothstine, managing editor of Religion & Liberty, a publication of the Acton Institute.

He holds a Master of Divinity degree from Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky., and a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Mississippi in Oxford.

He also served on the staff of former Rep. Gene Taylor (D-Miss).

This review was originally published in a slightly longer form on the Acton Institute Power Blog.

Some links below have been added by MethodistThinker.com. — Ed.

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Methodism was once the largest denomination in America. The faith grew rapidly from America’s beginning and has traditionally been characterized by aggressive evangelism and revival.

It has carried a vibrant social witness, too. Methodist Church pronouncements once garnered front page headlines in The New York Times.

Its high water mark undoubtedly came during prohibition, the greatest modern political cause of the denomination. Methodists even built and staffed a lobbying building next to Capitol Hill believing a dry country could remake society.

In Methodism and Politics in the Twentieth Century (Bristol House, 2012), Mark Tooley has chronicled Methodism’s denominational political pronouncements from William McKinley, America’s first Methodist president, to 9-11. Tooley has unearthed a staggering amount of official and unofficial Methodist declarations and musings on everything from economics, war, civil rights, the Cold War, abortion, marriage, and politics.

Tooley, who is also the author of Taking Back the United Methodist Church (Bristol House, 2009), offers little of his own commentary on the issues in Methodism and Politics, instead allowing Methodism’s voice for over a century to speak for itself.

What emerges is a denomination that begins to recede in significance, perhaps because of the sheer saturation of its witness in the public square. But its leadership often trades in a prophetic voice for a partisan political one, and sadly at times, even a treasonous voice.

Methodists not only led on prohibition, but were out in front on issues such as women’s suffrage, the New Deal, and the Civil Rights Movement. While they did not always carry a unified voice on these issues, even many Southern annual conferences and bishops broke with the popular political position (in their home states) of defending segregation.

While support for the New Deal and greater federal intervention in the economy was not rubber stamped by all Methodists, an emerging and often biting anti-free market voice would dominate official pronouncements.

This continues to this day with declarations calling to support greater government regulations, single payer health care, and a host of measures calling for government wage and price controls.

Way back in 1936, one Oklahoma Methodist pastor offered his own advice to some of his brethren:

Why do [these Methodist Reds] not get passports, emigrate to Russia where they can prostrate themselves daily before the sacred mummy of Lenin and submit themselves to the commands of Joseph Stalin?

Soft on totalitarianism

Tooley chronicles the pacifist sentiment that began to overtake the denomination the 1920s. By the 1980s, a denomination that once was harsh in its critique of communism became one in which a committee of bishops would pronounce that “actions which are seen as ‘Marxist-Leninist’ by one group are seen as the core of the Christian message by others.”

President Eisenhower with Methodist bishops in 1959

Perhaps most shameful was the action of several bishops during the American hostage crisis in Tehran, Iran, from 1979-1981.

United Methodist Bishop Dale White said of the new Islamic fundamentalist regime, “I know there are individuals in the Iranian power structure who do trust The United Methodist Church.” White offered assessments of the new regime being “democratic.”

The United Methodist General Conference sent a message to Ayatollah Khomeni declaring that the UMC hears the “cries of freedom from foreign domination, from cultural imperialism, from economic exploitation.” Methodist officials even participated in pro-Khomeni student demonstrations in Washington D.C. and met with (and offered praise for) officials in the new Iranian government.

One former hostage recalled:

Some of the people who came over especially the clergy were hypocrites because they came to aid and comfort the hostages but ended up giving aid and comfort to the Iranians and actually making it worse for us.

Leftward on

The election of President Ronald Reagan naturally sent many United Methodist Church officials into a tizzy. “People voted their self interest instead of the Social Principles of the church,” Bishop James Armstrong concluded. “It looks like United Methodists with everybody else forsook their Christian idealism at the ballot box.”

Some United Methodist Bishops had already declared their denomination much more aligned with the Democratic Party. It was downhill from there for many Methodist leaders, as they coddled the Sandanistas and “Brother Ortega” in Nicaragua and dove head first into the nuclear freeze movement.

President Johnson addresses Methodists in 1966

In the 1990s, one official of the UMC’s General Board of Global Ministries bewailed the Republican Congress by saying, “White, male supremacists now wear suits. They talk states rights and anti-taxes. The climate of hate and violence is a challenge to us.”

Not to be outdone, General Board of Church and Society official Robert McLean declared that the GOP Contract with America effectively “cancels” the Sermon on the Mount. Most recently, some UM officials have joined forces with the left-leaning “What Would Jesus Cut?” campaign.

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Waning influence

Because The United Methodist Church is a connectional denomination, today the growing influence of theologically conservative African is counter balancing what Methodist progressives and political liberals can accomplish. Indeed, the liberal influence has been shrinking for decades. And because progressives have made so many predictable pronouncements, they no longer speak with the weighty spiritual authority The Methodist Church once held.

Dedication of the Francis Asbury statue in D.C. in 1924

American Methodism in 1900 was growing, confident, largely unified, and politically formidable.

One hundred years later, it looks back over decades of steep membership decline and political marginalization, as church officials were no longer presumed to speak for most church members.

In the 1920s, President Calvin Coolidge said of Francis Asbury, one of the first two Methodist Bishops in early America, that “he did not come [to America] for political motives,” but came to bear “the testimony of truth.”

One wishes Methodist denominational officials would not only follow more of Asbury’s doctrine, but his praxis as well.


Related posts
MLK’s address to the Methodist Student Movement
Podcast: Mark Tooley, author of ‘Taking Back the United Methodist Church’
UMW leaders, UM bishops disparage Arizona immigration law, rally for ‘comprehensive immigration reform’
United Methodist Church facing health bill fallout
House Speaker thanks UMC for help in passing health bill
Mark Tooley profiled in WORLD magazine

Related articles and information
The rise and fall of American Methodism | Thomas S. Kidd, Patheos.com (Feb. 22, 2012)
Methodists and politics: A conversation with author Mark Tooley | The World and Everything in It (radio – interview is in second half of the segment) (Jan. 28, 2012)
Same-sex marriage for United Methodists? | Mark Tooley, The American Spectator (June 27, 2011)
Mere-O Interview: Mark Tooley | Mere Orthodoxy (March 14, 2011)
Religious Left despised Ronald Reagan | Mark Tooley, The American Spectator (Feb. 4, 2011)
Wesleyan surge: A review of Taking Back the United Methodist Church | William Murchison, Touchstone (May/June, 2010)
A conversation with Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy | The King’s College (New York City) Distinguished Visitor Series (Sept. 9, 2009)
Review: Taking Back The United Methodist Church (2008 ed.) | Ray Nothstine, Acton Institute Power Blog (April 10, 2008)
Public Pulpits: Methodists and Mainline Churches in the Moral Argument of Public Life by Steven M. Tipton (University of Chicago Press, 2008 — via Google Books)
Turning Around the Mainline: How Renewal Movements Are Changing the Church (ordering info) | Thomas C. Oden, Baker Books (2006)

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The following commentary is by Riley B. Case, associate executive director of the Confessing Movement Within the United Methodist Church.

Dr. Riley B. Case

Dr. Case served for many years as a pastor and district superintendent in the UMC’s North Indiana Conference (now the Indiana Conference), and he has been a delegate to five UM General Conferences.

He is the author of Evangelical and Methodist: A Popular History (Abingdon Press).

This opinion piece was originally published in a slightly different form in the Confessing Movement’s e-publication, “Happenings Around the Church.”

Links below have been added by MethodistThinker.com. — Ed.

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Every four years the General Conference of The United Methodist Church meets to set programs and visions for the next quadrennium (the coming four years), approve legislation that will revise the church’s Book of Discipline, accept a four-year budget for the general church, and consider the church’s position on various issues. The next General Conference will occur in less than three months — April 24-May 4 in Tampa, Fla.

Two proposals “hover near the top of the controversy list” for the conference, according to a recent article by United Methodist News Service (UMNS). One proposal (PDF) calls for restructuring the denomination by, among other things, consolidating nine of the church’s 13 general agencies into a Center for Connectional Mission and Ministry under a 15-member board. The other (PDF) would end job guarantees for ordained elders.

(The UMNS story failed to mention the elephant in the room: homosexuality. Issues related to homosexual relationships, including the church’s general view of moral standards and its understanding of family, have the potential to fracture the denomination. But that is another discussion.)

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Restructuring is sorely needed

Evangelicals have been calling for restructuring for 40 years! The 1972 restructuring of the UMC, which came about in the wake of the 1968 merger of The Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren, institutionalized the radical social agenda of the day.

Just four years after its founding, the UMC adopted doctrinal pluralism, depreciated evangelism at the expense of social action, mandated social engineering by way of quota systems (PDF), created independent superboards, and created impossibly huge and expensive boards of directors for the agencies (the General Board of Global Ministries originally had 160 directors).

The underlying assumption of the 1972 structure seemed to be that the “real” United Methodist Church was to be found in its boards and agencies and the local church existed to support those agencies.

Under the 1972 structure, The United Methodist Church in the United States has lost 3.3 million members.

As has been pointed out, if the church were a corporation run by a competent board of directors, the leadership of the church would have been fired and the corporation re-organized long before now.

Finally, within the past few years, the church is facing up to its problems. Even without restructuring, the agencies are facing a 6.5% cut in funding. Staff has already been reduced from 3,139 in 1971 to 1,384 in 2010. The average age of a United Methodist Church member is now 57.

Faced with these facts, the Connectional Table and the Council of Bishops ordered independent studies (here and here—both in PDF) to assess why our present way of doing things is not serving us well. The studies came back with several conclusions. Among them: the agencies are out of touch with local churches; the boards of directors are too big (and costly); and there is much duplication of efforts.

Out of the studies came a “Call to Action” report (PDF), laying out principles and a process. Out of the Call to Action process has come an Interim Operations Team that has prepared the legislation for General Conference 2012.

The proposed legislation (PDF) calls for combining nine of the program agencies into four “ministry centers” (a new word for a general agency). Over the ministry centers would be a group — the Center for Connectional Mission and Ministry — that would be directed by a 15-member board. (This body would replace the present Connectional Table which coordinates the work of the agencies.)

The four ministry centers would operate with reduced-sized boards of directors, and, presumably, with less money and probably fewer staff than they presently have. Meanwhile, the overseer body, the Center for Connectional Ministry, would be able to align and reallocate funds in order to focus on increased local church vitality. All of this will be done in consultation with the Council of Bishops.

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Battling over turf

The church seems to be dividing up sides on the restructuring proposal.

  • There is a group that thinks that something (anything!) should be done, and that this proposal is as good as can be hoped for.
  • The general agencies themselves are critical of the IOT legislation; a number of agencies are preparing alternative legislation. The agencies believe that their interests will receive less money and some present staff would lose their jobs. The heads of the agencies have made a public statement (PDF) saying that vital services to the church will suffer.
  • The Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA) believes the church’s social witness would be compromised.

In other words, turf battles abound. There will be winners and losers. There will be smaller boards, less money to work with, and a different accountability process.

Especially troubling for some is the proposal that the Center for Connectional Mission and Ministry with its 15-member board will be able to reallocate up to $60 million in program funds during the quadrennium. For some, this concentrates too much power in the hands of too few people.

If there are winners it would appear to be the Council of Bishops. The bishops believe the church is suffering from lack of strong executive management, and that the (controversial) 15-member committee can provide that management voice.

But lurking in the background would be the bishops. The plan calls for the 15-member committee to be “in consultation with the Council of Bishops.” That troubles many people. It has been pointed out that bishops do not do “in consultation with” well. Plus the bishops will have a strong hand in deciding the makeup the 15-member board.

Would a new structure be good for the church — or does it have the potential to make things even worse? The answer to that question appears to be based on a prior question: How much do we trust our bishops?

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An evangelical view

No place in the current official structure of The United Methodist Church is particularly receptive to evangelical influence, so evangelicals are in some ways disinterested observers in this process. Because they have no real turf to protect, nothing much can be lost. But cutting the power of the boards and agencies and allowing more funds to be used by local churches for mission and ministry would be a positive outcome.

Of course, many UM evangelicals believe the foundational problem in the UMC isn’t structure, but rather theological and moral integrity. None of the restructuring proposals address the underlying issue of United Methodist doctrine.


Related posts
Mission-minded conservative leaders in Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) launch new denomination
Should we turn control of UMC over to the Council of Bishops?
United Methodists are well-liked, but to what end?
Call to Action member: We must foster vital congregations or ‘we do not have a future with hope’
Podcast — George Hunter: Can the once-great Methodist movement become a movement again?
Podcast — Bishop Lindsey Davis: Will the UMC have the courage to do what needs to be done?
‘Assessment’ report: United Methodism faces compound crisis
Riley Case: ‘Operational Assessment’ shows UMC has lost its way
Renewal & Reform Coalition releases letter to Council of Bishops

Related articles and information
2012 General Conference Visitors’ Guide (PDF)
General Conference to weigh merits of adopting a New Method | Ed Tomlinson, North Georgia Advocate (Feb. 3, 2012)
2 big disputes ahead at General Conference | Heather Hahn, United Methodist News Service (Jan. 9, 2012)
Connectional Table proposes legislation to implement the Call to Action recommendations | news release (Sept. 2, 2011)
Interim Operations Team Report, as amended by the Connectional Table (PDF) | (Aug. 2, 2011)
UMC renewal demands vital local congregations | Andrew C. Thompson, UM Reporter (June 7, 2011)
Bishops seek change in presidency | Heather Hahn, United Methodist News Service (May 5, 2011)
Call to Action: Reordering the Life of the Church | Website of the UMC’s Call to Action Steering Team
The complete “Operational Assessment” report (PDF) and Appendices (PDF) | Call to Action Steering Team (June 29, 2010)
Tone deafness and the Call to Action | Rob Renfroe, Good News (September/October 2010)
United Methodist ‘Call to Action’ finds 15% of UM churches highly ‘vital’ | Mark Tooley, UMAction—IRD (July 17, 2010)
Call to Action offers signs of crisis and hope | Heather Hahn, United Methodist News Service (July 13, 2010)
Momentum builds for major church change | Bishop John L. Hopkins, United Methodist News Service (April 12, 2010)
Call to Action seeks to increase church vitality | J. Richard Peck, United Methodist News Service (April 9, 2010)
Church leaders seek consensus on plans for change | Kathy L. Gilbert, United Methodist News Service (Nov. 12, 2009)
Connectional Table OKs new plan to study church | J. Richard Peck, United Methodist News Service (Nov. 9, 2009)
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)
Committee assesses life of church | Linda Green, United Methodist News Service (July 22, 2009)
Bishop Palmer says church is in ‘sweet spot’ for change | Kathy L. Gilbert, United Methodist News Service (May 14, 2009)
Methodism’s coming death spiral | Donald Sensing, WindsOfChange.net (Nov. 15, 2007)
40 years of vision for United Methodist Renewal (PDF) | James V. Heidinger II, Good News (November/December 2007)
Statement in opposition to the 1972 Structure Study Commission Report (PDF) | Albert C. Outler, from the Journal of the 1972 General Conference (April 17, 1972)
UMC realities (video–see below) | Lovett H. Weems, Jr., Lewis Center for Church Leadership (March 2011)

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Jan. 22 marked the 39th anniversary of the United States Supreme Court’s decisions in the cases of Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton. Taken together, the two rulings (authored by Justice Harry Blackmun, a United Methodist) effectively voided dozens of state laws aimed at protecting unborn children from abortion.

Sign outside a UM Church in North Georgia

Since then, abortion doctors have performed more than 50 million abortions in the U.S. — primarily for purposes of birth control rather than for medical reasons. On average, more than 3,000 abortions occur in America every day.

In 2005, on the 32nd anniversary of the Supreme Court’s 1973 abortion decisions, United Methodist Bishop Timothy Whitaker of the Florida Conference addressed the topic of how faithfulness to the gospel and to the Wesleyan tradition demands a pro-life position on abortion.

Speaking to the annual gathering of Lifewatch, the UM pro-life caucus, he called on United Methodists to stand against “the violence of abortion in the name of the God of peace.”

Below are excerpts from Bishop Whitaker’s address, followed by audio of his remarks.

When John Wesley gave the General Rules to the people called Methodists the first thing he told them was, “Do no harm.” In order to show evidence that we are a people who are being saved by God, we should do no harm.

The rule to do no harm directs those of us who are Christians to practice non-violence. A Christian is someone who is horrified by violence, refrains from violence in her or his life, and seeks to restrain violence in the world insofar as possible….

When Jesus was born, all of the angels in heaven praised God and promised peace on earth.

When he grew up he inaugurated his ministry by being baptized by John in the Jordan River, and the Spirit of God confirmed that he was the Son of God by descending upon him not as an eagle but as a dove, the bird of peace.

Bishop Timothy Whitaker

Bishop Timothy Whitaker

He taught the people, saying, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called the children of God.”

As one would expect in a world of violence the Prince of Peace suffered a violent death…. By his violent death he overcame violence. Then God vindicated him by raising him from the dead; and when he appeared to his disciples he announced, “Peace be with you.”

On the Day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit descended upon his disciples, and the church was born. The church is a community from all of the nations called to be a peaceable people who follow Jesus until he comes again at the end of history and establishes that kingdom where “death will be no more: mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4 NRSV).

We who are the church are called to be a peaceable people. In our practices and in our public witness we are called to make peace in the world. We acknowledge that the ultimate kingdom of peace has not yet been established by God.

We ourselves cannot build the kingdom, but we can build for the kingdom. We can live and witness in ways that can lead to a more tangible peace here and now that points to the coming kingdom of God….

Pope John Paul II made a powerful Christian witness to God’s peaceable purposes in his 1995 encyclical called The Gospel of Life. He warned the world about creating “a culture of death” that is rebellion against “the Gospel of life.”

He showed us that a culture of death is one that endorses abortion, euthanasia, and capital punishment.* He asserted that the commandment, “You shall not kill,” is integral to the revelation of God….

In the United Methodist Church we ought to apply our theological reflection, our pastoral guidance and our public witness against the violence of abortion in the name of the God of peace…

I think that our silence and passivity about abortion comes from the difficulty of being a Christian in America.

The logo of Lifewatch,
the pro-life UM caucus

I used to think that being a Christian in America is easy. I thought it would be hard to be a Christian in a country dominated by other religions, or in a Communist country where atheism was avowed by the state, but I thought it was easy to be a Christian here.

Now I realize that practicing the Christian life in America has its own difficulties. The seductions of American life may seem more subtle, but they are real and dangerous.

In America both the culture and the state view persons as autonomous individuals who have private rights to live as they choose.

But we who are Christians have a different anthropology: we view persons as members of a community who are made in the image of the Triune God and who have both rights and responsibilities.

Therefore, we cannot endorse a woman’s right to abort an unborn child as a morally neutral decision because we understand that the child also has a right to live and the community has a responsibility to care for this child if the mother is unable to rear it….

Can there be any doubt that there is silence and passivity about abortion in our Church?

How often is a sermon about abortion or an educational forum on abortion offered in our congregations? How many congregations are involved in supporting crisis pregnancy centers in their communities or offering tangible support to women with unwanted pregnancies? What kind of pastoral counsel is being offered behind the closed doors of the pastor’s office?….

(UMNS photo)

We who are United Methodist Christians should continue to seek to embody in our teaching, pastoral guidance, congregational care and public witness the preservation of human life, and a protest against the killing of human life, in the name of the God of peace….

It is often said that there is no clear prescription against abortion in the Bible. That is because such a horror is unthinkable and unspeakable to the people of Israel and to the people called the church….

From the very beginning Christians everywhere have felt this revulsion against the killing of human life. As Christians moved into the wider world where abortion was not unthinkable or unspeakable they had to apply the divine commandment against murder to the horrible practice of abortion….

In our time and place, in our own Christian communion, we who are United Methodists also have a responsibility to live according to our first rule, which is to do no harm. Do no harm to the unborn! Do no harm to the witness of the Church as a peaceable people! Do no harm to the Gospel of peace!

Use the audio player below to listen to a portion of Bishop Whitaker’s 2005 address, Do No Harm!, delivered in the Simpson Chapel at the United Methodist Building in Washington, D.C. (8.5 minutes).

The full text of Bishop Whitaker’s 2005 address is included in the March 2005 Lifewatch newsletter (PDF).

The speaker at this year’s Lifewatch service is the Rev. Jim Heidinger, former president of the UM renewal ministry Good News. The service will be held today (Monday) at the United Methodist Building (PDF) on Capitol Hill.

Use of the facility is not donated by the UMC’s General Board of Church and Society, which is a member of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC) a group that supports legalized abortion. Rather, Lifewatch rents space in the UM Building for its annual service and board meeting.

In a recent press release, RCRC accused pro-life “zealots” of waging a “war on women.”

In conjunction with MoveOn.org, RCRC is currently sponsoring a “Virtual March for Women’s Lives” as part of a promotion called “Trust Women Week.”

Other groups co-sponsoring the “Virtual March” include the Center for Reproductive Rights, NARAL Pro-Choice America, the National Organization for Women, the Feminist Majority Foundation, Fund Abortion Now, and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

In addition the annual Lifewatch service, the March for Life to the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to take place Monday, preceded by a rally on the National Mall. The rally and march draw tens of thousands of pro-lifers each year.

The March of Life events (i.e., pre-rally activity, the rally, and the march itself) will air live on EWTN, the Roman Catholic cable/satellite channel, beginning at 11 a.m. ET. Live online audio and video will be available here.

The March for Life rally will also air live on C-SPAN 2 (live online video here starting at Noon ET).

EWTN will re-broadcast the March for Life events tonight (Monday) at 11 o’clock ET and again on Saturday, Jan. 28, at 2 p.m. ET.

The March for Life has been held annually since 1974.

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*Editor’s note: In The Gospel of Life (Evangelium Vitae), Pope John Paul wrote that punishment of a murderer “ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessity: in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society. Today however, as a result of steady improvements in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practically non-existent.”

This blog post is adapted from a post first published in 2009.


Related posts
The Manhattan Declaration: In defense of human life
United Methodists praying, speaking, and marching for life
Why aren’t UM leaders supporting the Manhattan Declaration?
Party platforms and the UMC
UM pro-life group urges Sen. Ben Nelson: ‘Do no harm’
UM Board of Church and Society withdraws support for Freedom of Choice Act
Bill Bouknight: The good news from General Conference ’08

Related articles
How a pastor might first broach the abortion issue with his congregation | Paul T. Stallsworth, Remarks at the 2010 Convention of National Right to Life, Pittsburgh, Pa. (June 2010)
NOTE: The Rev. Mr. Stallsworth is president of the Taskforce of United Methodists on Abortion and Sexuality and editor of the Lifewatch newsletter.
United Methodist Bishop Scott Jones addresses pro-life event | Connor Ewing, IRD (Jan. 22, 2010)
Presentation to the Study Committee on the Worldwide Nature of The United Methodist Church | Paul Stallsworth, Lifewatch (November 2009)
United Methodists and abortion today | Bishop Timothy Whitaker (Feb. 9, 2009)
United Methodism on abortion | Paul T. Stallsworth, On the Square—First Things (May 29, 2008)
The pro-life pulpit | Lynne M. Thompson, At The Center (Winter 2005)
Roe ruling: More than its author intended | David G. Savage, Los Angeles Times—via HispanicPundit.com (Sept. 14, 2005)
Diversity of life: Opposition to abortion spans ideologies and ethnic groups | Gene Edward Veith, WORLD—via National Pro-Life Religious Council (Nov. 6, 2004)
The sanctification of human life (a historical overview of the Christian church’s position on abortion and other issues related to the sanctity of human life) — Chapter 2 of How Christianity Changed the World | Alvin Schmidt (Zondervan, 2004 — via Google Books)
Why is the New Testament silent about abortion? | Michael J. Gorman, Good News (May/June 1993)
‘Durham Declaration’ asks for ‘Scriptural approach’ to abortion in the UMC; Signatories include Bishops Ole E. Borgen and William R. Cannon | United Methodist News Service (March 12, 1991)
Text of the Durham Declaration (January 1991)

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The following commentary is by Joe M. Whittemore, a member of the United Methodist Church’s Connectional Table.

Joe M. Whittemore

Mr. Whittemore, a delegate to the 2012 UM General Conference, has chaired Committee on Episcopacy for the Southeastern Jurisdiction and has served as the Lay Leader of North Georgia Annual Conference.

This opinion piece was originally published in a different form in the United Methodist Reporter.

Links below have been added by MethodistThinker.com. — Ed.

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The United Methodist Church has never been willing to give the Council of Bishops authority to run the church. The job of the Council is to support the Book of Discipline and to carry out the polity and mandates established by the General Conference.

And yet the Connectional Table/Interim Operations Team legislation scheduled to be brought before the 2012 General Conference in April amounts to turning the general church over to the bishops.

This is exactly the opposite of what needs to be done. Our episcopal leaders should be devoted almost exclusively to their respective annual conferences.

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A bad idea resurfaces

Several years ago, the Council of Bishops (COB) proposed that one bishop not be assigned to an episcopal area, but rather be set aside to handle the affairs of the Council, including the evaluation and accountability of individual bishops. The idea did not gain traction before or during the 2008 General Conference.

Now, a similar idea has come forward. Affirmation #2 of the Aug. 2, 2011, Interim Operations Team report (PDF) called for the adoption of performance standards for bishops. Jurisdictional committees on episcopacy would implement annual assessments.

To support this request, the report then called for a bishop without residential assignment to guide the UMC, support and assist residential bishops, and chair the body that could hire and fire a new 15-member board of directors for the church that would control the vast majority of all net assets other than pension funds.

This idea runs counter to the UMC’s long-standing unwillingness to “turn things over to the bishops.”

Our UM culture is well acknowledged in the operational assessment project done by Apex (PDF), which states that “the church has the opportunity to strengthen its existing leadership structures without altering power or authority (emphasis added)…. This strengthening could be achieved through renewal of purpose, goals and role clarity, better accountability, courageous leadership and better capabilities to support leadership.”

Note that the Apex research called for strengthening “without altering power or authority.” However, the final Interim Operations Team recommendations place power in the hands of a 15-member group (the board of the Center for Connectional Missions and Ministry) subject to considerable influence by the set-side bishop and the Council of Bishops generally.

Further, the Interim Operations Team has called for the Council of Bishops to institute and maintain an effective executive management operating function that strategically and practically aligns the resources of the general church.

In other words, let the COB take over and operate the church, agencies, budgets, everything!

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A better approach

A lay executive of the Council of Bishops to facilitate the accountability of individual bishops may be to the benefit of the denomination. An experienced, strong executive who is not clergy may bring a fresh and reasonable approach.

Envision the changes we could quickly experience if that lay executive had the authority to recommend to the College of Bishops and the Jurisdictional Committee on Episcopacy the removal (or placing on leave) of the ineffective or non-responsive episcopal leader as currently provided in paragraphs 16.5, 408.3 (PDF) and 410.1 (PDF) of the Book of Discipline.

But to adopt the recommendations of the Interim Operations Team would interpret the Apex research to indicate that the Council of Bishops should have huge political, financial, and organizational power and authority. Such an approach would significantly alter our polity.

Many believe the Council of Bishops already does not function well. Why put more authority there?

With few exceptions our U.S. annual conferences are dying. Perhaps if our bishops were fully focused on their annual conferences, the likelihood of turnaround would be increased. Diluting each bishop’s time with additional operational responsibilities for the entire church is folly.

Yes, we desperately require restructure and reorganization of our general church to focus on the development of vital congregations and leadership. The starting place is in devoting all our bishops to the ministry and mission of their own annual conferences, and evaluating in transparent ways the fruits of their ministries.

Let’s “set aside” all our United Methodist bishops for their most important ministry, namely, leading their annual conferences and developing vital congregations.


Related posts
Call to Action member: We must foster vital congregations or ‘we do not have a future with hope’
Podcast — George Hunter: Can the once-great Methodist movement become a movement again?
‘Assessment’ report: United Methodism faces compound crisis
Riley Case: ‘Operational Assessment’ shows UMC has lost its way
Renewal & Reform Coalition releases letter to Council of Bishops

Related articles and information
Connectional Table Proposes Legislation to Implement the Call to Action Recommendations | news release (Sept. 2, 2011)
Interim Operations Team Report, as amended by the Connectional Table (PDF) | (Aug. 2, 2011)
UMC renewal demands vital local congregations | Andrew C. Thompson, UM Reporter (June 7, 2011)
Bishops seek change in presidency | Heather Hahn, United Methodist News Service (May 5, 2011)
Call to Action: Reordering the Life of the Church | Website of the UMC’s Call to Action Steering Team
The complete “Operational Assessment” report (PDF) and Appendices (PDF) | Call to Action Steering Team (June 29, 2010)
Tone deafness and the Call to Action | Rob Renfroe, Good News (September/October 2010)
United Methodist ‘Call to Action’ finds 15% of UM churches highly ‘vital’ | Mark Tooley, UMAction—IRD (July 17, 2010)
Call to Action offers signs of crisis and hope | Heather Hahn, United Methodist News Service (July 13, 2010)
Momentum builds for major church change | Bishop John L. Hopkins, United Methodist News Service (April 12, 2010)
Call to Action seeks to increase church vitality | J. Richard Peck, United Methodist News Service (April 9, 2010)
Church leaders seek consensus on plans for change | Kathy L. Gilbert, United Methodist News Service (Nov. 12, 2009)
Connectional Table OKs new plan to study church | J. Richard Peck, United Methodist News Service (Nov. 9, 2009)
Committee assesses life of church | Linda Green, United Methodist News Service (July 22, 2009)
Bishop Palmer says church is in ‘sweet spot’ for change | Kathy L. Gilbert, United Methodist News Service (May 14, 2009)
Methodism’s coming death spiral | Donald Sensing, WindsOfChange.net (Nov. 15, 2007)
40 years of vision for United Methodist Renewal (PDF) | James V. Heidinger II, Good News (November/December 2007)

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In December 1964, Southern Christian Leadership Conference president Martin Luther King Jr. addressed a gathering of the Methodist Student Movement in Lincoln, Neb.

Speaking about the “Christian responsibility” to affirm that racial segregation “is morally wrong and sinful,” King described nonviolence as “the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom and human dignity.”

The SCLC president also declared that the “God that we worship is not some Aristotelian ‘unmoved mover’ [but] an other-loving God working through history for the salvation of his children.”

Excerpts from King’s address are below, followed by a portion of the audio.

It is always a rich and rewarding experience for me to take a brief break from the day-to-day demands of our struggle for freedom and human dignity and discuss the issues involved in that struggle with college and university students and concerned people of goodwill….

Martin Luther King Jr. ini 1964

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1964

And by and through the grace of God and continued work we will be able, I’m sure, to solve this great problem which is the chief moral dilemma of our nation….

[W]e have a Christian responsibility — in this racial crisis, in this revolution — to reaffirm the essential immorality of racial segregation….

[W]e, as Christians, must come to see not only the unconstitutionality of segregation, but we must reaffirm over and over again that racial segregation is sinful and immoral, whether it’s in the public schools, whether it’s in housing, whether it is in the Christian church, or any other area of life. Segregation is morally wrong and sinful….

Christian responsibility means that it is necessary to engage in creative and massive action programs to get rid of segregation and discrimination in our nation, and racial injustice wherever it exists in the world…..

[C]ertainly some strides have been made that make us all very happy — you’ve done things in the Methodist church that are most significant in this area, and we’re all inspired by it.

I just talked with my good friend Bishop [James] Thomas, who has just been appointed to serve in an area where a Negro Bishop has never served, and most of the congregations that fall under his jurisdiction happen to be white congregations. This happens to be a marvelous step forward, and it is always great to see the Church moving on to remove the shackles of segregation from its own body….

[I]t is my hope that we will move on to get rid of segregation in all of its dimensions within the Church. That not only means the Church itself, but church institutions such as hospitals, such as colleges and universities….

♦ ♦ ♦

I would like to say just a few words about the philosophy and the method of nonviolence, since it has been so basic in our struggle across these years….

I’m still convinced that nonviolence is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom and human dignity…. This way of nonviolence has a way of disarming the opponent. It exposes his moral defenses. It weakens his morale and at the same time it works on his conscience and he does not know how to handle it….

[I]f he puts you in jail, you go in that jail and transform it from a dungeon of shame to a haven of freedom and human dignity. Even if he tries to kill you, you develop the inner conviction that there are some things so dear, some things so precious, some things so eternally true, that they’re worth dying for; and if a man has not discovered something that he would die for, he isn’t fit to live. And this is what the nonviolent movement does.

So, there is power in this way because it has a way of disarming the opponent. But not only this: It gives individuals engaged in a struggle a way of seeking to secure moral ends through moral means….

mlk_smileAnother thing about this philosophy is that it insists that it is possible to struggle against an unjust and evil system and yet maintain an attitude of active goodwill for the perpetrators of that unjust system.

In points, this is the most misunderstood aspect of nonviolence when one seeks to live it as a creed and not merely use it as a strategy. It says that you somehow place the love ethic at the center of your struggle.

People begin to say what do you mean? How can you love those who are oppressing you? How can you love those who are using violence to destroy ever move you make?…

Fortunately, the Greek language comes to our aid in trying to determine the meaning of love at this point…. [It speaks of agape love.] Agape is understanding, creative, redemptive goodwill for all men. It is an overflowing love which seeks nothing in return.

Theologians would say that it is the love of God operating in the human heart. And so when one rises to love on this level, he loves every man, not because he likes him, not because his ways appeal to him, but he loves every man because God loves him, and he rises to the level of loving the person who does an evil deed while hating the deed that the person does….

And I believe that it is this kind of love that can take us through this period of transition and we can come to that brighter day….

The thing that must always console us is that as we struggle, we do not struggle alone. And there is something in our Christian faith to remind us of this: The God that we worship is not some Aristotelian “unmoved mover” who merely contemplates upon Himself. He’s not merely a self-knowing God, but He’s an other-loving God working through history for the salvation of His children.

And there is an event at the center of our faith which reminds us that Good Friday may occupy the throne for a day, but ultimately it must give way to the triumphant beat of the drums of Easter. There is something in our faith which reminds us that evil may so shape events that Caesar will occupy the palace and Christ the cross, but one day that same Christ will rise up and split history into A.D. and B.C., so that even the life of Caesar must be dated by His name.

There is something in this universe which justifies [Thomas] Carlyle in saying, “no lie can live forever.” There is something in this universe which justifies William Cullen Bryant in saying, “Truth, crushed to earth, [will] rise again.”

There is something in the very structure of the cosmos which justifies James Russell Lowell in saying,

Truth forever on the scaffold,
Wrong forever on the throne,—
Yet that scaffold sways the future,
and, behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow,
keeping watch above his own.

This is our faith, and this is what will carry us through.

Use the audio player below (or click here) to listen to excerpts from Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1964 address to the Methodist Student Movement (9 minutes).


umsm

The entire text and full audio of King’s address can be found at AmericanRhetoric.com.

According to an article in the Fall 1995 Journal of Ecumenical Studies, the Methodist Student Movement was organized in 1937 and continued until 1965.

The organization was reconstituted — as the United Methodist Student Movement — in 1996.

This post was first published in January 2009.

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The following commentary is by Riley B. Case, associate executive director of the Confessing Movement Within the United Methodist Church.

Dr. Riley B. Case

Dr. Case served for many years as a pastor and district superintendent in the UMC’s North Indiana Conference (now the Indiana Conference).

He is the author of Evangelical and Methodist: A Popular History (Abingdon Press) and has served as a delegate to five UM General Conferences.

This opinion pieced was originally published in a slightly longer form in the Confessing Movement’s e-publication, “Happenings Around the Church.”

Links below have been added by MethodistThinker.com. — Ed.

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United Methodists are in the news again — not because of what UMs are doing in flood-ravaged areas, or for the numbers of mission teams serving in various places, or for spectacular evangelistic efforts, but for internal conflicts over issues related to marriage and homosexuality.

Major articles have appeared in TIME magazine, the Boston Globe, and USA Today. This is because of the Amy DeLong church trial in the Wisconsin Annual Conference, and because hundreds of United Methodist clergy have pledged to defy church law and perform homosexual unions.

Not surprisingly, most articles in the secular press have given wrong impressions.

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A vocal minority

The secular media makes it sound as though there is strong support for changing the church’s historic stand that supports celibacy in singleness and faithfulness in marriage. According to several reports, there is “growing pressure” for the United Methodist Church to join other mainline churches in ordaining sexually active homosexuals; clergy are willing to defy church law; a major battle is looming at the 2012 General Conference, etc.

The truth is quite different. Despite the publicity, despite the equivocating on the part of the bishops, despite manipulated trials, despite statements from retired bishops and seminary faculty and boards and agencies, The United Methodist Church is not about to change its biblical stance. Overwhelming numbers of church members would oppose it. We need to assure our troubled church members that this is so.

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Nearly 40 years of fighting

In speaking of General Conference 2012, the secular media suggest that the General Conference (the only body in the UMC that can change the Book of Discipline) will “settle” the issue of homosexuality for United Methodists. This is the same mantra touted in 1976, 1980, 1984, 1988, 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004, and 2008.

Let’s face reality: whatever happens on this issue at next year’s General Conference, there will not be peace in the denomination. There will be talk about civility, but civility will not take place. There will be talk about a compromise that will make everyone happy, but no conceivable compromise will make everyone happy. There will be talk about unity around “core values,” but we seem not to agree what those core values might be.

UM bishops stand in support of homosexual protesters
at the 2000 General Conference (UMNS photo)

Does anyone see a hopeful future for United Methodism over this issue?

It needs to be pointed out — and written boldly — that it is not evangelicals who are creating controversy, disunity, and lack of civility in the church. It is not evangelicals who are talking about demonstrations, undermining the Discipline, pledging themselves to ecclesiastical disobedience, and going to extraordinary lengths to obstruct justice. It is not evangelicals who are breaking covenant and making a mockery of church law.

Nor is it evangelicals at the General Conference who break chalices and cover the altar with black and disrupt the conference with demonstrations and rants from bishops.

What are evangelicals seeking? Simply this: Since the United Methodist Church has officially approved and (supposedly) operates with written doctrines, social principles, and covenant relationships, we want those in the church to honor and submit to these doctrines and principles and relationships.

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A challenge to the connection

Some secular news accounts have given a wrong impression when they speak of those pledging to perform same-sex unions as primarily defying “church authorities” — as if it is the “authorities” (whoever they are) who are the block to loosening standards in regard to sexuality.

From the UM
Book of Discipline

¶161F Human Sexuality — We affirm that sexuality is God’s good gift to all persons. We call everyone to responsible stewardship of this sacred gift.

Although all persons are sexual beings whether or not they are married, sexual relations are affirmed only within the covenant of monogamous, heterosexual marriage.

We deplore all forms of the commercialization, abuse, and exploitation of sex. We call for strict global enforcement of laws prohibiting the sexual exploitation of children and for adequate protection, guidance, and counseling for abused children.

All persons, regardless of age, gender, marital status, or sexual orientation, are entitled to have their human and civil rights ensured and to be protected against violence. The Church should support the family in providing age-appropriate education regarding sexuality to children, youth, and adults.

We affirm that all persons are individuals of sacred worth, created in the image of God. All persons need the ministry of the Church in their struggles for human fulfillment, as well as the spiritual and emotional care of a fellowship that enables reconciling relationships with God, with others, and with self.

The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice incompatible with Christian teaching. We affirm that God’s grace is available to all. We will seek to live together in Christian community, welcoming, forgiving, and loving one another, as Christ has loved and accepted us. We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends. We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons.

¶304.3 Regarding Clergy — While persons set apart by the Church for ordained ministry are subject to all the frailties of the human condition and the pressures of society, they are required to maintain the highest standards of holy living in the world.

Since the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching, self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be accepted as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church.

The defiance is more serious that simply “defying authorities.” What is being defied and undermined is the United Methodist connection itself, including covenant relationships, ordination vows, and our commitment to one another as United Methodists.

The progressive strategy, at least on the part of some, is to wage civil war. This war is not against some outside imposed authority being foisted upon them, but against the very church to which these persons vowed faithfulness.

In other words, some in our connection desire to overturn the understandings, the promises, the ordination vows, and the Discipline that have made us who we are as United Methodists and replace them with something different — all in the name of some higher good. The higher good is variously stated: conscience, justice, inclusivity — all of which are defined not by Scripture, tradition, and reason, or by our vows, doctrine, and heritage, but by progressive preferences.

At the trial of Jimmy Creech some years ago, the defendant didn’t offer a defense, or even a plea of innocent or guilty. Rather, he urged the jury to make a prophetic judgment — namely that it is not the practice of homosexuality that is incompatible with Christian teaching (as Methodist doctrine states), but the prohibition against the practice of homosexuality that is incompatible with Christian teaching. In other words, bring the whole system down by judicial decree.

Or by any means. Obfuscate. Overload the system to make it inoperative (if 900 UM clergy perform same-sex unions, the system will blow all circuits and simply cease to function). Challenge all language so that words such as “practicing,” “self-avowed,” “heresy,” “status,” “celibacy,” “faithfulness” must be defined in such a legalistic way that they are inoperative.

Our covenant relationships were never meant to be business contracts that need 10 pages of legal language to make them operative. Our covenant together is based on relationships and relationship language is based on trust. At the present time, trust is in short supply.

So there is a problem — a serious problem. Numbers of United Methodists, both clergy and lay, feel like aliens in their own denomination. How can we exist in a denomination when some seek to undermine the core values that make us United Methodists and when the covenant relationships we speak of seem to mean nothing?

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Where are the bishops?

In our system of church government, we have an executive branch (the bishops). We need to hear from that executive branch — and it needs to be something more than “Let’s stay at the table” or “We feel your pain” or “Let’s wait until the next General Conference.”

Even bishops who do not support the teachings of the Book of Discipline in regard to human sexuality (which itself raises questions about how sincere they were when they took their vows*) must realize that if the present strategy of ecclesiastical disobedience and intentional obfuscation continues, the whole system could come crashing down. To continue down the present road without intervention cannot be good for United Methodism.

The bishops seem quite capable of strong action when they want to act. They were effective in blocking the election of judicial council members in 2008 who voted in favor of Judicial Council Decision 1032. There have been numbers of instances where bishops (and cabinets and conferences) have taken care of moral problems and loyalty problems without having to hold trials and without public fanfare.

In 1844 the Methodist Episcopal Church — one of our predecessor denominations — was being rent apart by attitudes toward slavery. The bishops at the time could not work through their own conflicting attitudes about slavery, or, perhaps more accurately, what the church should be doing about a stated position of the Discipline which was being undermined and defied by a part of the church.

In what must be considered as one of the greatest historical “cop-outs” in the history of the church, the bishops encouraged the General Conference to “table” any action for four more years.

But the church had been tabling the issue far too long. In 1845, the denomination divided.

Let’s pray that history will not repeat itself.

    *Each newly elected United Methodist bishop is asked, “Will you guard the faith, order, liturgy, doctrine, and discipline of the Church against all that is contrary to God’s Word?”
Related posts
Outcome of DeLong trial likely to exacerbate disunity of UMC
Bishop Mack Stokes: Holiness in human sexuality
A word from Mr. Wesley: Holiness in singleness
Why the United Methodist Church cannot condone homosexuality
Pro-homosexuality foundation pours millions into Catholic and mainline Protestant dissident groups
Breaking the covenant: Why aren’t ‘Reconciling’ churches being held to account?
Renewal & Reform Coalition responds to retired bishops’ call to alter UMC’s sexuality standards
In embracing homosexual marriage, Foundry UMC rejects UM boundaries, breaks with 2 millennia of church teaching
Board of Church and Society sex-ed writer: Sex outside of marriage can be ‘moral, ethical’
In Mississippi Conference, testimony from lesbian couple stirs controversy
Judicial Council says no to same-sex marriage
Billy Abraham on United Methodism: ‘There is no common faith among us’

Related information
UM clergy vow to wed homosexual couples | Sam Hodges, UM Reporter (July 15, 2011)
Lesbian elder’s penalty takes different path | Heather Hahn, United Methodist News Service (June 24, 2011)
Eros defended or eros defiled — What do Wesley and the Bible say? | Ben Witherington, The Bible and Culture (Patheos.com) (Feb. 14, 2011)
Christianity elevates sexual morality (a historical overview of the Christian church’s teaching on sexual morality) — Chapter 3 of How Christianity Changed the World | Alvin Schmidt (Zondervan, 2004 — via Google Books)
Book: Staying the Course: Supporting the Church’s Position on Homosexuality (ordering details) | Maxie Dunnam and H. Newton Malony, ed. (Abingdon Press, 2003)
Anyone who works under the authority or auspices of the Church must be held to the highest standards of behavior, free of misconduct in any form | UMSexualEthics.org
United Methodist churches perform same-sex weddings with one foot in the closet | Amanda Hess, TBD.com (Sept. 30, 2010)
UM Judicial Council backs clergy dismissal over affair | Linda Bloom, UMNS (April 27, 2010)
What the evidence really says about Scripture and homosexual practice: Five issues (PDF) | Robert A. J. Gagnon (March 2009)
Slavery, homosexuality, and not being of one mind | Riley B. Case, via The Sundry Times (July 1, 2008)
How churches can refine message on homosexuality | Robin Russell, United Methodist Reporter (May 19, 2008)
United Methodists uphold homosexuality stance | Robin Russell, United Methodist News Service (April 30, 2008)
Methodists strengthen stand against homosexual practice | Christianity Today (May 5, 2004)
Homosexuality and the Great Commandment (an address to the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh) | Peter C. Moore (November 2002)
‘Good News’ says push to accept homosexual practice threatens to split United Methodist Church | United Methodist News Service (May 6, 1997)

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The following post is by blogger and church planter David Fischler. He writes frequently on topics related to mainline Protestantism at his blog, The Reformed Pastor.

David S. Fischler

A New Jersey native, David was born of Jewish parents and became a Christian in college after reading the Bible for the first time. He served as a United Methodist pastor for nine years (North Carolina Conference) and is now a pastor in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.

David holds degrees from Rutgers University and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (Wake Forest, N.C.). He is currently a Doctor of Ministry student at Trinity School for Ministry near Pittsburgh.

This opinion piece first appeared in a different form at The Reformed Pastor. Links below have been added by MethodistThinker.com — Ed.

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The Wisconsin Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, via the trial and “punishment” of lesbian minister and same-sex union blesser Amy DeLong, has declared that the denomination’s Book of Discipline is merely a Book of Suggestions — and, by extension, that the views of the worldwide church that passes that Discipline every four years can be effectively ignored.

DeLong received only a slap on the wrist — a light 20-day jury-imposed suspension — though found guilty by a unanimous vote of presiding over a 2009 union ceremony at which a woman married another woman. Ceremonies celebrating homosexual unions are expressly prohibited in the UMC (¶341.6).

By a 12-1 vote, DeLong was acquitted on a second charge — being “a self-avowed practicing homosexual” — even though had she informed Wisconsin Conference officials two years ago that she was in a lesbian relationship. The Book of Discipline says self-avowed practicing homosexuals are disqualified from serving as clergy (¶304.3).

From the penalty argument by the Rev. Thomas Lambrecht, counsel for the UMC

By a unanimous verdict, you have found that Rev. Amy DeLong is guilty of conducting a ceremony which celebrated a homosexual union in violation of ¶2702.1b of the Book of Discipline…. [This] is not [an] insignificant violation…. [All who are] part of the Order of Elders of The United Methodist Church are bound together by the covenant that we have joined, as it is expressed in the Book of Discipline…. [W]e have agreed to uphold the Discipline and abide by its provisions….

Neither this annual conference, nor this Trial Court, has the authority to establish or alter official rites and rituals. No individual pastor has the authority to establish or alter official rites and rituals. The General Conference, 15 years ago, unequivocally declared that “ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers.” This provision is binding on every United Methodist pastor. When any of us violates a provision such as this, we are setting ourselves over against the Church that has ordained us, declaring that we will not submit to the authority of the Church. This we are not permitted to do….

The Church’s main interest in terms of penalty is that the requirements of our Book of Discipline are honored and complied with. We want to ensure that Rev. DeLong will conform her future behavior to the requirements of the Book of Discipline, so that we are not back here again in the future to do this all over again. In addition, we want to ensure that others in our church will know that we all have an obligation to conform our behavior to the requirements of the Book of Discipline. Otherwise, here and elsewhere, we will be facing the scenario of repeated disobedience to the Order and Discipline of The United Methodist Church. No church or denomination can long survive such rending of its covenant….

I invite you, the Trial Court, to consider [the] types of harm that are likely to be done by an inadequate penalty…. [S]ome United Methodists will become discouraged, feeling that there is a lack of accountability to our Church’s rules. Some may even leave local congregations because of it…. More broadly, harm will be done to the Church’s covenant by an inadequate penalty, since it would appear that the terms of the covenant are optional, and each clergy member will feel free to interpret that covenant in their own terms and adjust their behavior accordingly, leading to disunity and widespread conflict. Most broadly, we need to consider our brothers and sisters in Africa, Latin America, and other parts of the world…. [T]here is no disputing that becoming a more gay-affirming church would severely harm our Church’s witness in… countries…where our brothers and sisters are confronted with life and death circumstances in their conflict with radical Islam….

[T]he fundamental purpose of the penalty…is not retribution, but restoration — not only restoration for the individual, but restoration for the Church body. The penalty of suspension until such time as Rev. DeLong commits herself to live by the terms of the covenant to which she agreed has the virtue of enhancing the unity of the Church around our common covenant. It is proportional to the offense, in that it withdraws the right to perform ordained ministerial functions from one who has abused that right by performing an ordained ministerial function contrary to the Book of Discipline. It gives maximum power to Rev. DeLong herself, who has the ability to choose the length of her penalty by choosing to return to live within the covenant and comply with the terms of the Discipline.

During the trial, that moral standard for UM clergy got lost in technicalities that may provide a road to chaos.

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

DeLong’s counsel, the Rev. Scott Campbell, had argued during the trial that church investigators never asked the lesbian minister whether she engages in prohibited sexual activity, the church’s accepted definition for “practicing.” And DeLong declined to answer that question when church counsel the Rev. Tom Lambrecht posed it during her testimony….

“I don’t know if you’re being voyeuristic or just plain indecent, but there is no way, when you are trying to do me harm, that I’m going to answer and share the intimate, sacred details of our lives,” DeLong said.

What this comes down to is that, in acquitting DeLong, the jury of Wisconsin Conference clergy members decided to adopt the approach that has been used in other mainline churches for years to get around “fidelity in marriage/celibacy in singleness” standards.

The jury would not convict DeLong of being a practicing homosexual unless it had some kind of independent evidence of sexual conduct that is, under normal circumstances, impossible to obtain.

Make no mistake: Widespread adoption of this evidentiary standard will vitiate the  UMC’s prohibition on sexually active homosexual clergy. It will be the means that liberals will use to frustrate the will of the church as a whole — unless a way can be found to stop them.

Indeed, the pro-homosexuality Reconciling Ministries Network in the UMC crows that the DeLong approach is the key, for now, that will enable any practicing homosexual clergy member to avoid conviction at a church trial.

The outcome on this charge appears to signal that it’s possible for gay and lesbian clergy to be out about their sexual orientation, as DeLong is, and not be prosecutable under the Incompatibility Clause as long as neither they nor anyone else documents the details of their sex lives.

As for presiding at union ceremonies for two people of the same sex, DeLong said she has every intention of continuing to do so, as the United Methodist News Service reported:

The Rev. Amy DeLong testified that she would not abide by The United Methodist Church’s ban against clergy officiating at same-sex unions.

“I can’t imagine doing that,” she said in testimony…during the penalty phase of the trial.

To put it plainly, Amy DeLong announced that she considers the Discipline’s strictures to be optional in her case — and the jury, by issuing a toothless suspension, effectively agreed.

DeLong (left) celebrates outcome with supporter (UMNS photo)

“I feel good about what the church has done,” DeLong later said, as quoted in the Journal Sentinel.

“I think we’ve sent a message that the United Methodist Church will not throw out its gay and lesbian people, and that it has opened the doors for a more inclusive church,” she said.

Oh, in addition to her 20-day suspension (the counsel for the UMC had asked that she be suspended indefinitely, pending her willingness to submit to the Discipline — see sidebar), the court imposed another wrist slap: DeLong must “initiate a written document outlining procedures for clergy in order to help resolve issues that harm the clergy covenant, create an adversarial spirit or lead to future clergy trials.”

If Amy DeLong were willing to submit the church’s boundaries, that could a short paper indeed. All it would need to say is: “To avoid harming the clergy covenant, creating an adversarial spirit, or precipitating church trials, United Methodist clergy should by abide by the will of the church as expressed in the Book of Discipline.”

But that is just what DeLong has made clear she will not do — and, based on recent  reports in the denominational press (see here and here–PDF), DeLong apparently has the support of hundreds of clergy across the United Methodist Church.

Further, it would seem that performing homosexual unions is widespread in the Wisconsin Annual Conference. In trial testimony, the Rev. Richard Strait, chair of the conference’s Board of Ordained Ministry, said that if performing same-sex unions “were a heinous crime, there would be a whole lot of us in deep trouble.”

“A whole lot of us” is a telling phrase, suggesting that disobedience to the Discipline among Wisconsin Conference clergy and leaders is common.

What was really going on in the Amy DeLong trial was this: the Wisconsin Annual Conference (which in the person of the bishop appointed DeLong to her current position as director of Kairos CoMotion, an advocacy group that among other things seeks — surprise! — to repeal the prohibitions on sexually active homosexual clergy and the blessing of same-sex unions) is telling the rest of the denomination that it will not enforce the parts of the Discipline it doesn’t like. Expect other conferences to follow.

If this is not stopped, the collapse of the United Methodist Church as an even vaguely unified body cannot be far off.


Related posts
Bishop Mack Stokes: Holiness in human sexuality
A word from Mr. Wesley: Holiness in singleness
Why the United Methodist Church cannot condone homosexuality
Pro-homosexuality foundation pours millions into Catholic and mainline Protestant dissident groups
Breaking the covenant: Why aren’t ‘Reconciling’ churches being held to account?
Renewal & Reform Coalition responds to retired bishops’ call to alter UMC’s sexuality standards
In embracing homosexual marriage, Foundry UMC rejects UM boundaries, breaks with 2 millennia of church teaching
Board of Church and Society sex-ed writer: Sex outside of marriage can be ‘moral, ethical’
In Mississippi Conference, testimony from lesbian couple stirs controversy
Judicial Council says no to same-sex marriage
Billy Abraham on United Methodism: ‘There is no common faith among us’

Related information
Lesbian elder’s penalty takes different path | Heather Hahn, United Methodist News Service (June 24, 2011)
Eros defended or eros defiled — What do Wesley and the Bible say? | Ben Witherington, The Bible and Culture (Patheos.com) (Feb. 14, 2011)
Audio: Does the growing affirmation of homosexuality in the Western church further endanger Christians in Muslim lands? — A conversation with Dr. Uwe Siemon-Netto | Issues Etc., Lutheran Public Radio (March 15, 2011)
Christianity elevates sexual morality (a historical overview of the Christian church’s teaching on sexual morality) — Chapter 3 of How Christianity Changed the World | Alvin Schmidt (Zondervan, 2004 — via Google Books)
Book: Staying the Course: Supporting the Church’s Position on Homosexuality (ordering details) | Maxie Dunnam and H. Newton Malony, ed. (Abingdon Press, 2003)
Anyone who works under the authority or auspices of the Church must be held to the highest standards of behavior, free of misconduct in any form | UMSexualEthics.org
United Methodist churches perform same-sex weddings with one foot in the closet | Amanda Hess, TBD.com (Sept. 30, 2010)
UM Judicial Council backs clergy dismissal over affair | Linda Bloom, UMNS (April 27, 2010)
What the evidence really says about Scripture and homosexual practice: Five issues (PDF) | Robert A. J. Gagnon (March 2009)
Slavery, homosexuality, and not being of one mind | Riley B. Case, via The Sundry Times (July 1, 2008)
How churches can refine message on homosexuality | Robin Russell, United Methodist Reporter (May 19, 2008)
United Methodists uphold homosexuality stance | Robin Russell, United Methodist News Service (April 30, 2008)
Methodists strengthen stand against homosexual practice | Christianity Today (May 5, 2004)
Homosexuality and the Great Commandment (an address to the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh) | Peter C. Moore (November 2002)
‘Good News’ says push to accept homosexual practice threatens to split United Methodist Church | United Methodist News Service (May 6, 1997)

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