Looking for just the right gift for a preacher? Consider Warren Lathem and Dan Dunn’s 2008 book, Preaching for a Response: Leading New Believers into Spiritual Maturity, published by Bristol House.
The authors (Lathem has served as a pastor, district superintendent, and seminary president; Dunn has been a pastor, associate pastor, and missionary) know how to declare biblical truths in ways that elicit a clear response from listeners — a skill neither learned in seminary.
From the book:
These authors have a collective 17 years of formal theological education.
Yet never in those years did anyone attempt to instruct either of us in how to preach for a response, how to give the invitation for a response, or even why we ought to find a way to invite and encourage a response….
[But r]esponse is inherent in the gospel and the gospel preacher who does night invite response is not being completely faithful to the gospel.
How many sermons are preached, how many worship services are conducted in church all across America without any thought being given to a response by the hearer? How often do preachers and worship leaders prepare a great banquet, set it before the people, entice them to this gospel feast with beautiful words and music, yet never say, “Come and get it”?…
We may delude ourselves into thinking that just because the listener recognizes the need to respond, that he or she will know how to make a proper response to the gospel.
More likely, without direction, guidance and invitation from the preacher, most will simply make no overt, conscious, intentional response, and by failing to do so will in fact reject the message they just heard….
Why do most mainline preachers fail to issue an invitation or give an opportunity for response? There are several possible reasons….
We do not really believe people are lost…
We do not believe the power of the gospel…
We do not know how to invite a response…
We would not know what do if they did respond…
Our order of worship does not accommodate a response…
We are fearful of the opinion of others…
We do not take preaching seriously enough….
Preaching for a Response includes advice about “what to say” and “how to say it.” The chapter “Twelve Keys to Effective Preaching” emphasizes the basic building blocks of effective speaking — such as maintaining strong eye contact, using varied pacing, employing short sentences, and ending strong.
The book also includes detailed suggestions on how to plan worship services, week after week, aimed at eliciting responses that move people toward maturity in Christ.
You can order Preaching for a Response here (Amazon) or here (Bristol House).
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.
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
— 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.
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.
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)
He is a past member of the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society.
A few weeks ago, I spoke to members of the Southwest Texas Conference, encouraging SWTX evangelicals to be faithful to the the Gospel and to continue in the work of renewing their Conference. I mentioned this year’s General Conference and the issue of homosexuality only briefly.
Afterward, I received a Facebook message about my talk from the pastor of a “reconciling” congregation in Austin, Texas.
For non-Texans, let me explain that Austin is Texas’ most liberal large city. Its adopted motto, seen on bumper stickers everywhere, is “Keep Austin Weird.” The University of Texas is one of the most “progressive” universities in the state, if not in the country.
The pastor who contacted me serves a church just off the UT campus. In his note, he reiterated an assertion I had heard many times at the General Conference in Tampa: If we don’t change our stance on homosexual practice, “we’re going to lose the young people and the church will have no future.”
In my response to him, I related a true story:
Ten years ago we had a young man on our staff at The Woodlands UMC. He was one of our youth workers and we all loved him.
But we know he wouldn’t be with us long. He had a Baptist background and felt God wanted him to start a new Southern Baptist congregation. He is from a small East Texas town, he is more conservative than any of the pastors on our staff, and he is a proud graduate of Texas A&M University.
A contextual note for non-Texans: A&M is as conservative as UT is liberal. And they are fierce rivals! I continued:
Would you believe that Matt felt called by God to start his new Southern Baptist church in Austin to reach University of Texas students? Makes no sense, right? But he followed what he believed God called him to do.
Now, 10 years later, Matt’s church — Austin Stone — has 3,500 persons in attendance each weekend. I did some checking and it turns out that this one conservative church has half as many people worshiping with it every Sunday as all of the UM churches in Austin put together.
If a liberal, progressive Gospel was going to be effective anywhere, you’d think it would be in one of our most liberal cities with one of our most progressive universities. But [liberal Christianity simply is] not reaching great numbers of people, young or old, where you would expect it to thrive.
So, no, I am not afraid that if we preach the truth with love that we will lose the young people or doom the future of the church. I think God honors churches that are faithful to his word and I believe the Gospel still has the power to convert and save the lost, no matter their age.
If God can use a conservative Baptist Aggie to reach liberal UT students, we don’t have to worry about the Gospel. It can take care of itself.
Our hope is built on…?
What is the UMC’s hope for the future? Our hope is not a progressive gospel that denies the cross or the authority of God’s Word. Our hope is not liberal pastors who adopt current cultural values because they don’t want to offend the beliefs of 18-year-olds.
Rather, the hope of the United Methodist Church, and of the world, is Jesus Christ — his life, death, and resurrection. What is needed is UM pastors who will be faithful to proclaim the truths of God’s Word — to the young, to the old, to all.
Religion and the bad news bearers (“[A] study by the Barna Research Group [erroneously] claimed that young people under 30 are deserting the church in droves.”) | Rodney Stark and Byron Johnson, The Wall Street Journal (Aug. 26, 2011)
On flocking (An essay refuting the notion that “young people will flock to the churches [if] churches [forsake] the original objects of their existence.”) | G.K. Chesterton, All is Grist (1934)
You can listen to the 10-minute conversation below. (If the audio player doesn’t work, use this mp3 file.)
Mark Tooley is the president of the president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, founded in 1981 by United Methodists Ed Robb and David Jessup.
IRD describes itself as “an ecumenical alliance of U.S. Christians working to reform their churches’ social witness, in accord with biblical and historic Christian teachings, thereby contributing to the renewal of democratic society at home and abroad.”
Tooley was named president of the organization in 2009.
Mark Tooley’s writings have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, Frontpage, The American Spectator, The Weekly Standard, Touchstone, and The Washington Times.
Whatever benefits a restructuring The United Methodist Church may bring, it will not result in the UMC becoming more effective in its stated mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ, according to Rob Renfroe, the president of Good News, the oldest and largest renewal ministry within United Methodism.
The Rev. Rob Renfroe
In a radio interview that aired April 21, Renfroe said that to increase effectiveness, the UMC needs more “spiritually impassioned, Christ-centered…leaders [who will] speak to us about a lost world and a gospel that saves people.”
On the topic of repeated legislative attempts to alter The United Methodist Church’s doctrine on human sexuality, Renfroe said the church’s ministry to people suffering “sexual brokenness” would be undermined if the General Conference opts to affirm sexual relations between people of the same sex.
“Once we decide that homosexuality…is a good gift of God that deserves to be blessed, we have in that moment abdicated the healing ministry of the church,” he said.
Use the audio player below to listen to the six-minute conversation with Rob Renfroe. If the audio player doesn’t work, use this mp3 file.
(NOTE: The interview with Rob Renfroe follows a brief segment on the the recent legal settlement between the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia and Truro Anglican Church. Truro broke from The Episcopal Church in early 2007 over concerns related to biblical fidelity.)
Rob Renfroe has served as the president of Good News — and the publisher of Good News magazine — since 2009. He is also the pastor of adult discipleship at The Woodlands United Methodist Church in The Woodlands, Texas.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
With a goal of fostering “flourishing churches that make disciples of Jesus Christ,” the Fellowship of Presbyterians, a group of more than 500 theologically conservative congregations of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), has unveiled a new “denominational entity”: the Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians (ECO). The official unveiling occurred at a Jan. 18-20 Covenanting Conference in Orlando, Fla.
The new entity will work with like-minded congregations that decide to remain part of the PC(USA) or choose to cut ties with the older denomination.
“The Fellowship offers three different options for affiliation so congregations can pursue what best honors their ministry context,” according to a news release (PDF) from the Fellowship of Presbyterians.
“The options are: affiliate with the Fellowship as a ministry association (involves no change in status with the PC(USA)); pursue a union membership with the PC(USA) and ECO; and join ECO as full members (requiring dismissal from the PC(USA)),” the release said.
In an address introducing ECO, the Rev. John Ortberg, senior pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in California, said the new denomination was created to help local churches become more effective in making disciples.
You all know what has been going on in mainline denominations, including our own — shrinking memberships and fading churches and aging clergy and lessening evangelism and a preoccupation with survival and internal strife and external irrelevance.
And it is not just theological drift….
[But w]hat if God were to raise up a movement? What if [the] torch for a thoughtful, reflective, urgent, egalitarian, globally active, culturally engaged, Jesus-centered, evangelical faith [were to be] wed with courageous, innovative, bold, risk-taking, bold entrepreneurial ministry leadership? And the torch of this faith were to burn more brightly in this generation than in the last one?
We’re not talking about a safe, easy, reassuring step from one denomination to another as a way of expressing denominational displeasure….
Purity by separation has been tried before. If the new entity that we talking about is only that, it will just deteriorate a little more slowly….
[But i]magine God were to launch a movement of Spirit-led, Jesus-centered churches where pastors and leaders took seriously the biblical injunction to become teachers of the nations, so that our world and culture could hear in Him that there is such a thing as moral and spiritual knowledge that can guide human lives….
Imagine that the claims of Jesus were to receive a fresh hearing our day because they were being expressed in thoughtful, winsome, non-churchy, literate ways by Jesus followers who had wrestled and studied and prayed, and sought to follow Jesus with all of their hearts….
Imagine a movement where church meetings and denominational meetings never waste anybody’s time…. Imagine a movement that when leaders gather together, it is to learn and to receive vision and to mentor…and to be accountable and to encourage one another….
Imagine that when leaders get together they talk about things like: How do you reach people who don’t know Jesus so they can get to know Jesus? How can you worship better? How can you help the under-resourced people more effectively? How do you make disciples? How do you do justice?….
Can God not do that? Has the Holy Spirit lost His power?
As we…have talked and prayed about a new denominational entity, the idea, the prayer was that it be not just a denominational alternative — [but] that there might be a structure that could be a vehicle and a servant of a movement….
The job of a denomination is the serve the local church, not the other way around…. And the idea is…real simple: to build flourishing churches that make disciples of Jesus Christ.
Because the church really has one job — to make disciples, followers, of Jesus.
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.
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.
This is exactly the opposite of what needs to be done. Our episcopal leaders should be devoted almost exclusively to their respective annual conferences.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Not surprisingly, most articles in the secular press have given wrong impressions.
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.
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.
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.
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?
- 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.
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)
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Mark Tooley, a native of Arlington, Va., is a graduate of Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.. After college, Tooley went to work as an analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency.
In 1994, he joined Institute on Religion and Democracy and led the organization’s United Methodist committee (UMAction). IRD, founded in 1981 by United Methodists Ed Robb and David Jessup, describes itself as “an ecumenical alliance of U.S. Christians working to reform their churches’ social witness, in accord with biblical and historic Christian teachings, thereby contributing to the renewal of democratic society at home and abroad.” Tooley was named president of IRD in 2009.
A prolific writer, Tooley’s work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, The American Spectator, The Weekly Standard, Touchstone, and The Washington Times.
His second book, Methodism and Politics in the 20th Century (Bristol House), is scheduled for release later this year.