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One of the key teachings of the Wesleyan understanding of the Christian faith is the doctrine of prevenient grace — the grace of God that goes before us, making preparations and acting on our behalf, so that later we can we can experience the blessings that flow from that grace.

In a brief video presentation at the 2007 South Georgia Confirmation Retreat at Epworth by the Sea, Bishop Mike Watson — now bishop of the North Georgia Conference — talked about the doctrine of prevenient grace.

Bishop Mike Watson

[Being sent] to South Georgia [as a bishop after many years as a pastor in Alabama], I didn’t know exactly how that would pan out, how that would unfold.

But I found out that God was already here.

And God is with me everywhere I go — just like God is with you. God always prepares the way for us in everything that we do, everywhere we go…. [W]e never can get outside of God’s grace….

He even prepares a home for us in what we call the “afterlife.” But there is no afterlife. It’s just life — in God, in Christ, in love!

Listen to Bishop Watson’s presentation to the confirmands below (2 min.)

Mike Watson will be officially “installed” as the bishop of the North Georgia Conference this Sunday in a service at Dunwoody United Methodist Church.

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Former North Georgia Conference Lay Leader Joe Whittemore has sent a strongly worded letter to the Wesleyan Christian Advocate, decrying actions of United Methodist clergy who have disobeyed official church teaching by conducting homosexual “weddings.”

(See “Pastors Defy United Methodist Officials to Conduct Gay Weddings” from the July 17 the Los Angeles Times, and the UMNS story, “Northeastern Jurisdiction Affirms California Clergy on Same-Gender [sic] Marriages.”)

The UM Book of Discipline explicitly prohibits United Methodist clergy from “conducting ceremonies which celebrate homosexual unions; or performing same-sex wedding ceremonies.”

Mr. Whittemore, who served as a delegate to the 2008 General Conference, also criticizes official UM news organs for giving relatively little attention to the very public acts of disobedience.

His letter appears in the Advocate’s Sept. 5 issue.

Dear Editor:

Joe Whittemore

Joe Whittemore

Many United Methodists have been watching the latest attempts by clergy in the Western and Northeastern Jurisdiction to continue their long-standing campaign of defiance of church law in matters dealing with sexuality.

Why has the church media been so silent about this matter? This is the most compelling current threat to the unity of the United Methodist Church. This is not just the 800-pound gorilla in the room, it is the Titanic in motion.

It is heartbreaking for many of us in the church to see such contempt for the mutual covenants we United Methodists have made with one another through the duly constituted provisions of the Book of Discipline.

We spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to bring 992 delegates from around the world to a table for debate, discussion and decision. After “holy conferencing” we leave General Conference with legislation supported by the majority. In parts of the church some clergy begin immediately scheming on how to break our polity.

In order to be accepted into the ordained ministry, all clergy have pledged and promised to uphold the Book of Discipline. In my view it is morally corrupt and intellectually dishonest for any clergy person to promise to uphold the law of the church in order to secure salary, compensation and benefits, and then purposefully disobey the polity of that church.

There is no ambiguity here. The situation is crystal clear. This is not about honest attempt to change the polity. We have ordained clergy who are purposefully disregarding and actively defying the decisions of our Church after the debate and vote.

It is time for us to stand up to say, “Enough is enough — either live by your promises and commitments to the church or find another source of income.”

Is there any wonder why conferences cannot retain and attract new and growing membership with this type personal dishonesty in leadership? Who among us would desire to be led by folks who do not keep their word? Truly prophetic voices do not take church money under false pretenses and abuse church finances.

Thinking more about this: There are two pieces of General Conference 2008 legislation to which Mr. Whittemore refers — the first retaining the Book of Discipline’s prohibition against UM clergy conducting homosexual-union ceremonies (¶341.6), and the second retaining Discipline language that makes conducting such a ceremony a chargeable offense (¶2702.1).

The first piece of legislation was approved by the Ministry and Higher Education Committee (59%-41%), and then was approved 568-312 (65%-35%) on the Conference floor — without debate — on April 30, 2008. (Audio of floor passage is below.)

The second piece of legislation was approved 38-9 (81%-19%) in the General Conference’s Judicial Administration Committee. On the Conference floor, this legislation was not voted on as a stand-alone item, but was approved as part of a group of 10 legislative items that had all emerged from committee with lopsided votes.

Some delegates made motions to “lift” certain items from the group so that those items would be debated separately. However, no attempt was made to lift the homosexual-marriage item. Together, the 10 items passed on May 2, 2008 by a vote of 508-323 (61%-39%). (Audio of floor passage is below.)

The UM Judicial Council, the denomination’s highest “court,” will rule on recent challenges to the Discipline’s ban on homosexual marriage when it meets next month.

Joe Whittemore served as the North Georgia Conference lay leader from 2000-2004, and as chair of the Southeastern Jurisdiction’s Committee on the Episcopacy from 2004-2008.

[UPDATE: Lyn Powell, North Georgia’s lay leader from 2004-2008, has observed that Mr. Whittemore’s “strong feelings [are] born of detailed involvement in these issues.” In a letter published in the Oct. 3, 2008 Wesleyan Christian Advocate, she noted that Mr. Whittemore “has volunteered uncountable hours to the work of the General Church and has influenced [UM] church law arguably as much as any lay person in recent church history.”]

Timeline:

  • 1972— The General Conference amends the Social Principles in the UM Book of Discipline to include the following: “We do not recommend marriage between two persons of the same sex.”
  • 1976 — The General Conference strengthens its opposition to homosexual marriage, again in the Social Principles, with this language: “We do not recognize a relationship between two persons of the same sex as constituting marriage.”
  • 1980 — The General Conference alters the Social Principles statement to read: “We affirm the sanctity of the marriage covenant, which is expressed in love, mutual support, personal commitment, and shared fidelity between a man and a woman.”
  • 1996 — The General Conference adopts a statement prohibiting UM clergy participation in homosexual-union ceremonies: “Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches.”
  • 1998 — The UM Judicial Council rules that clergy who conduct homosexual-union ceremonies can be brought to church trial.
  • 2000 — In the California-Nevada Conference, a conference Committee on Investigation for Clergy Members decides that a group of 67 clergy members will not be brought to trial for their role in celebrating a same-sex union service.
  • 2000 — Delegates to the General Conference vote overwhelmingly (69%-31%) to move the sentence prohibiting UM clergy from conducting homosexual unions from the Social Principles section of the Discipline to a section on the Ministry of the Ordained (¶341).
  • 2004 — The General Conference amends ¶2702 in the Book of Discipline to clarify the language related to chargeable clergy offenses, adding that “conducting ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions” and “performing same-sex wedding ceremonies” are both chargeable offenses.
  • 2008 — The General Conference votes to retain the ¶2702 language adopted in 2004.

Listen below to floor passage of the two pieces of legislation mentioned in Mr. Whittemore’s letter.

First, the vote retain the language of ¶341.6. This legislation is presented to the delegates by Kathleen Baskin-Ball, chair of the Legislative Committee on Ministry and Higher Education. Also speaking is committee member Amy Gearhart Sage. The presiding bishop is Bishop Peter Weaver of the New England Conference.

The audio runs 3 minutes and has been edited to shorten long pauses.

Next, the vote to retain language in ¶2702. The presiding bishop is Bishop Charlene Kammerer of the Virginia Conference.

The audio runs 6 minutes. It has been edited to eliminate about 25 minutes of debate and discussion unrelated to the main motion. Several long pauses have been shortened.

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Bishop B. Michael (Mike) Watson is now the episcopal leader of the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church. The former South Georgia bishop began his four-year term yesterday, and will be “installed” at a service on Sunday, Sept. 7.

Bishop Mike Watson

Bishop Mike Watson

In recent months, the focus of Bishop Watson’s teaching and preaching has been “The Methodist Way,” based on the General Rules of the United Methodist Church, originally set forth by John Wesley in 1743.

(Bishop Rueben Job, former World Editor of The Upper Room devotional magazine, has written a short book on the same topic: Three Simple Rules: A Wesleyan Way of Living — Abingdon Press, 2007.)

In a sermon on Pentecost Sunday (May 11, 2008), Bishop Watson challenged his listeners to learn and apply the three rules. He spoke at the Dauphin Way United Methodist Church in Mobile, Ala., a congregation he served as senior pastor before being elected bishop in 2000.

Streaming audio of that Pentecost Sunday sermon, “The Methodist Christian Way,” is below (23 min.) — or you can download an mp3 (5.4MB).

MethodistThinker.com will post more from Bishop Watson later this week.

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