In an earlier post, I published remarks by Dr. Bill Bouknight — a leader among United Methodist evangelicals — discussing “five causes for celebration” coming out of this year’s UM General Conference in Fort Worth, Texas.
Unfortunately, much of the news from GC08 wasn’t encouraging. In this post, Dr. Bouknight summarizes “five actions of General Conference that spell trouble for evangelicals and orthodox believers.”
His remarks are from an address to the Methodist Laity Reform Movement, a renewal group in the Iowa Conference.
First, we elected a new Judicial Council that looks quite liberal. This new Council includes just two known evangelicals.
The Council of Bishops played a key role in this drastic change. The list of liberal nominees that they submitted was the same one supported by the liberal Methodist Federation for Social Action (PDF).
The Bishops were obviously unhappy over Ruling 1032 in Virginia. You will remember that this ruling in 2005 allowed a pastor to withhold membership from a non-repentant, practicing homosexual.
The Bishops did not like that ruling. Therefore, in Fort Worth they lent their considerable influence toward electing a very different Judicial Council.
For example, the Bishops did not recommend the re-election of a wonderful African-American attorney from Houston, Mary Daffin. Instead, they recommended the election of a person who was one of the organizers of the infamous Re-imagining Conference of 1993, and she was elected!
This new Judicial Council is almost guaranteed to overturn Ruling 1032 if it gets a chance. [MethodistThinker note: See this post for information on the Judicial Council members.]
A second unfortunate action of this General Conference was to take the preliminary steps toward establishing a separate Regional Conference for United Methodists in the USA. The final decision was postponed until 2012, but the enabling legislation will go to all the Annual Conferences next year for a vote.
Many of us evangelicals believe this is an attempt to separate American evangelicals from the vast number of African and Asian evangelicals. Arguments are already being made that homosexuality, for example, is a regional issue. What the African culture believes to be sin is not necessarily sin in the USA.
But aren’t we all guided by the same Bible? Don’t we call claim to have one faith, one baptism, one Lord and Master of us all?
This proposal looks like re-segregation to me. How sad it will be if we forsake Mr. Wesley’s conviction that “the world is my parish.”
A third negative result from General Conference was its failure to separate us completely from the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC). RCRC opposes any and all restrictions on abortion; therefore, it is out of step with our United Methodist position.
Nevertheless, General Conference refused to mandate that the two General Agencies of our Church that are members of RCRC [the General Board of Church and Society and the Women’s Division] cancel their membership.
On the “good news” side, the vote was close (52 percent to 48 percent) and the decision might be reversed in four years. [MethodistThinker note: For a transcript of the General Conference debate on participation in RCRC, see the PDF file here, starting on page 2698.]
A fourth bit of bad news is that General Conference eliminated a provision in the Book of Discipline that requires all General Agency program staff to be Christians.
Can you imagine that? Can you imagine any good reason why we should hire a non-Christian as part of our program staff? It would be like hiring an Army Ranger to work for the Quakers! Yet, the removal of Paragraph 714.9 means that a Muslim or a Buddhist can be hired by one of our General Agencies.
Here is a fifth and final bit of bad news. The historic right of the local pastor to discern whether or not a person is prepared to take the vows of church membership was seriously eroded.
A constitutional amendment relating to Article IV of the UM Constitution deleted certain key words, leaving this important statement to read as follows: “In the United Methodist Church no conference or other organizational unit of the Church shall be structured so as to exclude any member or any constituent body.”
The General Conference was so eager to ensure that an unrepentant, practicing homosexual could join the church that it took the first step in removing all standards for church membership. Since this is a constitutional change, it will require a two-thirds aggregate vote of all the annual conferences.
Now in view of all this bad news from the General Conference, it may surprise you to know that I am optimistic, even bullish, on the United Methodist Church.
Why is that? For one thing, the numbers favor us. In 2012, many more Africans will be voting members of the General Conference. Almost all of them are conservative or orthodox. It is estimated that at the General Conference of 2012, international delegates, mainly Africans, will comprise about 40 percent of the total Conference….
But my confidence is based on more than that. I know that the Church is still the Body of Christ. He has promised to build His Church and that the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.
I trust the Lord Jesus Christ to take care of His Church….
I believe that during the first half of the 21st Century, we are going to see a new United Methodist Church emerge. No longer will be just an institution; it’s going to become a movement again — and to God be the glory!
Bill Bouknight retired from the pastorate last year, after more than 40 years of serving churches in South Carolina and Tennessee. He is the author of The Authoritative Word: Preaching Truth in a Skeptical Age (Abingdon, 2001), and If Disciples Grew Like Kudzu (Bristol House, 2007).
Dr. Bouknight was educated at Duke University, the University of Edinburgh, and Yale Divinity School. He is a member of the board of directors of The Confessing Movement within The United Methodist Church.
|•||Bill Bouknight: The good news from General Conference ’08|