Thursday, September 22, 2022

GMC Misrepresentation Continues


The same pattern has emerged through many parts of the country. Global Methodist Church advocates misrepresent what the United Methodist Church is and will be. This means people and churches are leaving the denomination under false pretenses. Today I'm sharing one specific example from Texas.

A church in Texas that is discussing disaffiliation has distributed a document that allegedly compares the "Two Future Methodist Denominations" with 18 different distinctions made. Some are clearly accurate (like the name of the church and how pensions will be handled). Some have a clear bias but aren't outright false (like the UMC having the same board and agency structure with "all their staff/overhead" when it is likely there will need to be reductions vs. the GMC "New, leaner structure" which is true initially but could easily begin to bloat). If I was writing from the perspective of a GMC supporter, I might say the same thing. I have no major concerns with either of these categories of statements.

Of the 18 statements on this particular document, I would categorize seven as clearly accurate. Five others are not entirely accurate but are understandable approximations (among these, are statements like both denominations will be "welcome of LGBTQ+." I understand that we have very different ideas of what "welcome" means. The other six are, at best deceptive. Briefly, using the categories on the original document:

Theology
The Post-Separation UMC will be "Pluralistic: Jesus is one of many ways to be saved." My next planned blog post will specifically address the question of the future theology of the UMC. For the moment, it will suffice to say I don't know of any pastor who preaches that Jesus is one of many ways to be saved. I know pastors who have various understandings of atonement and I know pastors who believe in universalism, that somehow God ultimately saves all people (a belief which, incidentally, you can find in some Church Fathers all the way back to Origen in the second century). I really appreciate this piece from Rev. Jeremy Smith, for example. Jeremy is one of traditionalists favorite people to demean because he comes from a very different theological perspective and moved from the Bible Belt to the West Coast, yet this post would be a great jumping off point for teaching on atonement in any Methodist setting.

Clergy Deployment
The document correctly notes that there will not be guaranteed appointments in the GMC, but it then distinguishes between a UMC where the Bishop, "has the power to move and appoint pastors regardless of church input" and a GMC where "Local churches can select their pastors or request one be appointed. Bishops sign off on choices." This is the most persistent and categorically false description that I still hear.  Keith Boyette himself has clarified how the GMC will deploy clergy. "Paragraph 509.2 of the TBD&D says, 'To strengthen and empower the local church to effectively carry out its mission for Christ in the world, clergy shall be appointed by the bishop, who is empowered to make and fix all appointments in the episcopal area of which the annual conference is a part.'” Functionally, there is no difference in the method the denominations will use to deploy clergy. The differences are entirely semantic. 

Clergy Appointment Length
There is literally no difference in the denominations. The document says UM clergy are appointed one year at a time and GM clergy have "open-ended" appointments. Paragraph 513 in the GMC's Book of Doctrines and Discipline was lifted directly from paragraph 429 of the 2016 Book of Discipline.

Non-celibate gay and transgendered pastors serving in local churches.
This is a simple yes/no question, right? Well, no, for at least two reasons. First, when I'm asked today if a change in the Book of Discipline means, "now we will have pastors who are gay." I always respond, "No, it means that now you are more likely to know that your pastor is gay." Every church I have served has had at least one pastor on its staff at some point in its history who was LGBT. The congregation just didn't know it. Second, the GMC Book of Doctrines and Discipline is silent on people who are transgender. A person who once identified as female and now identifies as male could marry a person who identifies as female and serve as a GMC pastor.

Position on Abortion and Primary church focus
Allegedly, the UMC will now be pro-choice, and its primary focus will be social justice. Regarding abortion, the UMC has always taken a position that this is not a simple "pro-life" or "pro-choice" matter. Similarly, we have always held that social justice and saving souls are two sides of the same coin. They go together. What these two points share in common, and why I grouped them together here, is that they are representative of the either/or thinking that dominates our culture and politics today. 

Monday, September 12, 2022

A Centrist Replies to Rob Renfroe

 Rob Renfroe recently posed "A few hard questions" to centrists that plan to stay in the United Methodist Church. Since I am one of those, I thought I would answer his questions.


"Do centrists actually believe that truth is 'contextual'?"

Renfroe states, "Missiologists stress the importance of using words and images that present the gospel in a way that is understandable in a given culture/context. But they never argue we should change the message of the Bible to be acceptable to a particular culture. But that’s what centrists are championing – the church may proclaim two contradictory truths at the same time – one affirming same-sex behavior, the other condemning it."

This is the crux of the issue. What is the message of the Bible, or more specifically for Christians, what is the message of Jesus the Christ? I have a picture of a person in front of a former Methodist Church protesting desegregation because the Bible does not affirm it. I trust all readers disagree with that statement. I trust virtually all readers agree that the message of the Bible is not that women should not be pastors. Globally, more than 2/3 of Christians today disagree with us (based on denominational membership). Centrists like me believe that for a person to feel compelled to leave a denomination, the issue at hand must truly rise to the level of a central tenet of the faith. Even many traditionalists would agree that banning loving same-sex relationships do not strike at the core of the Gospel. 

Renfroe then notes that we are not to conform to the world, using as an example the apostles preaching the same sexual ethic to the Jews (who could accept it easily) and to the Romans (who could not). Yet we actually have Biblical examples of the apostles "conforming." In 1 Corinthians 14 Paul clearly teaches that women are to be silent in worship. Elsewhere, like in Romans 16, he lists women as leaders of the Church. Likewise, in the famous Jerusalem Council in Acts 15:19, James concludes that because God's grace is available to all, "It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God." Specifically in reference to first century sexual practice, there is an open debate about what the apostles were telling the Romans to refrain from. It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to find early examples of the equivalent of today's same-sex marriages. The practices we are certain they referred to, ritual prostitution and pederasty, for example, progressives, centrists, and traditionalists would all reject.

Is truth contextual? It is true that the Gospel is true beyond all contexts. It is also true that the way we live out and transmit the Gospel does sometimes change based on the context. 


"How can centrists state they are staying within the UM Church because UM theology will be uniquely positioned to reach our current culture after the traditionalists leave?"

We don't. I don't recall anybody stating this as their motive for staying in the UMC.

Renfroe quotes statistics that we have all heard about the decline of mainline denominations. I won't deny any of the stats. Christianity is in numerical decline in virtually all denominations throughout the country. Anybody who believes that there is a simple solution to this, whether progressive or traditionalist, is in denial.


"How can centrists promise the post-separation UM Church will not become predominantly progressive in its teachings?"

I'll answer this question with a question for Rob. How can you promise those leaving the UMC will not become increasingly fundamentalist in their teachings? 

The first pastor in the conference I serve who I know left because of our position on LGBT+ inclusion had, at the moment of his departure, a guest speaker at his church on the evils of evolution. The Northwest Texas Conference will likely be the conference with the largest percentage of churches leaving the denomination. A former lay leader of that conference told me 90% of their churches will not take a woman as a pastor. Backing that up, in 2020 only 15% of ordained elders serving local churches in that conference were women. In Renfroe's own Texas Annual Conference, with a bishop who recently said there is no violation of the Book of Discipline in the conference, the recently departed Faithbridge taught (and continues to teach) that children can be dedicated instead of baptized, baptizes in private homes instead of in public worship, and implies that adults can be rebaptized - all in violation of our basic baptismal doctrine. 

The centrists I know wish our denomination was not splitting because we believe we are at our best when we hold together the tension of different beliefs. Just like the Church has affirmed in canonizing four Gospels that it is good for the story of Jesus to be told in different ways; it is good for us to have different emphases in our telling the story still today.

I hope you will also note Renfroe's inflammatory use of the word "woke." I don't know anybody who would be considered "woke" that actually uses that term. It is a politically pejorative word used to demean a variety of positions. Once something is called "woke" it can be deemed wrong and irrelevant with one massively broad brush. Since its inception, Good News has raised money and popularity through fear. This is a textbook example that is consistent with their stated interest for at least 18 years to damage the denomination if there is a traditionalist exodus. 

As to predicting the future, Renfroe and I can be equally certain of the future of the groups that we are part of. 


Would centrists rather be in a denomination that requires its pastors and bishops to be orthodox but would not marry gay persons? Or would they rather be in a denomination that marries and ordains gay persons but allows its bishops and pastors to deny critical Christian beliefs?

Another trademark of Good News is to use extreme examples from the fringe without context. It's a great rhetorical strategy and a horrible logical approach. That's what Renfroe does in the examples he gives defending this point. I do agree with Renfroe that there are theological questions we will need to resolve in the future UMC - just as there has been for every other denomination in the history of Christianity and just as there will be in the new Global Methodist Church as evidenced by the examples I've shared above. But the first mistake Renfroe makes is assuming this must be an either/or issue. The starting point for most centrists was that our denomination need not divide. I reject the false dichotomy that Renfroe presents, and I will not be compelled to leave our denomination simply because others have chosen to leave. 


You may not agree with or even understand the answers I've given. My hope is that you can at least understand that the perspective I and many others come from has a rationale, both logical and scriptural, behind it. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

The Last Word on the "Gracious Exit"

TLDR - skip to point 4 under "Some History." 

Much has been written about the adoption and implementation of paragraph 2553, the Book of Discipline (BOD) paragraph allowing for disaffiliation of local churches from the United Methodist Church (UMC). As I've shared before both privately and publicly, I believe every conference should allow churches to leave if they follow the minimum requirements of this paragraph. There may be some extraordinary circumstances that necessitate more requirements (the Florida Conference may be one of these), but those should be exceedingly rare. We've gone over the history of how 2553 was put in place before, but there is one more part of the conversation that has not been covered. This is especially important when we learn that some local Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA) chapters are suing conferences like the Western North Carolina Conference, that are following the absolute minimum requirements.


Financial Terms

Recall that 2553 requires payment of three pieces:

1. "...any unpaid apportionments for the 12 months prior to disaffiliation...." These are apportionments that are already owed by every local church. It is literally requiring the church to pay what they are already required to pay, only it is now enforced.

2. "...as well as an additional 12 months of apportionments." This is a new amount since it is looking forward in time. 

3. "...its pro rata share of any aggregate unfunded pension obligations...." 

I don't recall anybody arguing against #1, only a small handful argue against # 3, and only a slightly larger handful argue against #2. When we hear people argue that even the minimum disaffiliation terms listed in paragraph 2553 are unfair, they typically point to one other clause: "Payment shall occur prior to the effective date of disaffiliation."


Some History

So how did that clause find its way into 2553? If you read my blog regularly you know some of the answer: A petition submitted by Texas' Leah Taylor (generally regarded as a centrist) proposed a form of disaffiliation, which you can read on page 205 here. Through a regularly used process called a minority report, traditionalists amended the Taylor petition and it passed without further change. Each amendment to the original was made for one of two purposes. Either the amendment was a fix for a constitutional issue raised by the Judicial Council, or it changed something traditionalists wanted that the original petition did not include. 

Here's the new history. What, specifically, was changed from Taylor's original proposal, and why?

1. Eliminate the "Initial Inquiry" process. Taylor included a study to determine whether a church was "viable" outside of the UMC. An unviable church could not disaffiliate. A reasonable argument could be made for either including or excluding this. Excluding it broadens the number of churches who could disaffiliate, including it helps assure that a church will survive rather than quickly close.

2. "Process Following Decision to Disaffiliate..." Taylor placed the responsibility for developing the disaffiliation process with the resident bishop. This fixes a constitutional issue and had to be changed.

3. Payment of grants. Taylor required repayment of all grants from an annual conference to a local church from the last five years. This was removed, making disaffiliation less expensive for some churches.

4. Payment Terms. This is the important one. It is also the most controversial. We've been told that the part of disaffiliation that is not gracious and is truly a burden is that all of these funds must be paid upfront. The traditionalists' amendment to 2553, which is now in effect, reads, "Payment shall occur prior to the effective date of departure." Here is the original from Leah Taylor in full: "The agreement shall specify the terms and conditions of the payment to the annual conference for any sums related to ¶ 2553.5. b, c, and e. The term of payment shall not exceed ten (10) years."


Conclusion

Traditionalists could have changed almost anything they wanted from the original disaffiliation plan. With that wide latitude they perfected their proposal for a plan that traditionalist presenter and WCA leader Rev. Beth Ann Cook called, "literally how I would want to be treated if I were the one hurting..." One of the changes fixed a constitutional problem. Two changes made it easier to disaffiliate. The final change moves from a very manageable 10-year financial arrangement to an upfront payment, which is the single biggest complaint traditionalists have about the entire disaffiliation process.

I can't say enough that I believe it is important for conferences to follow the minimum standards in 2553 and not add additional requirements. At the same time, I can't say enough that in every other conference, which is the majority, the problem of disaffiliation is one of traditionalist leaders' own making. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Baltimore-Washington WCA Misrepresentation

 The Baltimore-Washington chapter of the WCA has published eight statements that they believe are important to remember. Facts need to be checked. As always, please read the original and let me know if you see an error in my response. I've responded to items 1-4 even though I'm not sure any of the inaccuracies there are relevant, so if you want to skip to what is most important begin with the second half of point 5.


 1. GC2016 narrowly and controversially approved the Commission on the Way Forward. This is true.

2. Immediately following, the Western Jurisdiction elected Karen Oliveto to be a bishop and, "She is still illegally a bishop." The timeline is basically correct (it was in July so one could argue the word "immediately" as a technicality. It is not entirely accurate that she was elected and still serves "illegally." What constitutes (using our current, hopelessly outdated language in the Book of Discipline) a "self-avowed, practicing homosexual" has always been a source of contention. Bishop Oliveto did not clearly meet the standard until a Judicial Council ruling in April, 2017. Their decision goes on to read, "Self-avowal does not nullify the consecration and cause removal from episcopal office but is a sufficient declaration to subject the bishop’s ministerial office to review." In other words, Bishop Oliveto could be charged and stand trial, but it is not "illegal" for her to remain a bishop in the meantime. Having said all that, I understand why the WCA would see Bishop Oliveto's election as ecclesial disobedience.

3. The Commission on the Way Forward (CWF) developed three plans but the bishops rejected the Traditional Plan and an ad hoc group had to finish developing it. The CWF did not develop the Traditional Plan at all and had no obligation to do so. The WCA says the Traditional Plan was "restored" only with "much difficulty" by an ad-hoc group. That could be true. We don't know. Because what is definitely true is that the Traditional Plan is the only legislation to find its way to General Conference with completely unknown authors (unofficially we know which bishops were involved in the writing, but none of them have had the courage to come forward).

4. "Convinced that the One Church Plan was a slam dunk to pass, the Council of Bishops threw all their effort, time and energy into selling it..." The second half of this sentence is partially true. Not all bishops supported the One Church Plan, but the majority did and some spent time on it. Those of us leading the charge on the ground were disappointed that there wasn't greater, public support by the bishops. The first half of the sentence is not true. Those of us leading the charge, and I think the bishops as well, believed we had enough votes, but just barely, and there were nervous conversations all the way up to the start of General Conference. The amount of support for the Traditional Plan was a surprise. Evidence that the first half of the sentence is wrong comes from the existence of the second half - leaders don't waste any of their political capital on something that is a slam dunk.

5. "After an extremely ugly debate that awakened the One Church Plan supporters that their plan had no possible way of passing, the Traditional Plan passed. Those who couldn't live with it had the ability to exit via ¶2553, after that narrowly passed.  ¶2553 was not the desired outcome of the Traditional Plan supporters..." The writing was on the wall after the first vote at GC19 before almost any debate had taken place. Regarding 2553, my single most emotional response on the floor of any General Conference came after I spoke in favor of it when a traditionalist told me they were passing it for people like me. Here's the thing - don't give someone a gift they didn't ask for. The idea is that 2553 was passed for progressives when progressives were the ones who were not supportive of it. I truly did support it, and still do, for those churches who feel they can't stay in the denomination. I was in the minority of progressives/centrists at GC19 on that vote. Finally, as I've shared before, 2553 was brought to the floor as a minority report (think substitute motion) by traditionalists. In our rules, a minority report can be vastly different from the resolution it is replacing. It is true that the original resolution was not written by a traditionalist. It is also true that traditionalists could have made the final resolution nearly identical to whatever they would have preferred. 

6. "Instead of abiding by the will of the General Conference, progressive United Methodists (including Bishops) began a massive campaign of disobedience and purposeful spurning of the Discipline." This is blatantly false. It is true that there was a grassroots uprising against what was perceived as a mean-spirited plan passed by General Conference. Lay members of churches who had never been active beyond the local church reached out about how they could help right the wrongs. I remember receiving a text message from a friend while I was on vacation - "XX Conference just elected a full slate of progressive/centrist lay delegates." I literally replied, "You must have misheard. That wouldn't happen." Organizing happened among the moderate middle that had never happened before - and the WCA and friends didn't like it. In no way was there a massive campaign of disobedience.

7. "Traditionalists decided that it was no longer worth fighting the battle to reform the UMC, and accepted the idea that they could leave. In good faith, they negotiated the Protocol for Reconciliation and Grace..." I will assume that traditionalists negotiated the Protocol in good faith. Note that traditionalist leaders like Rob Renfroe* have since said that progressives and centrists did not negotiate in good faith. From multiple conversations with nearly all the progressive/centrist signers, I can promise you he is wrong. *I am not able to find a quote from Renfroe specifically saying this. He has implied it in videos like this. 

8. "When it was obvious that the new denomination, the Global Methodist Church, would take a large portion of churches from the UMC (if they were allowed to go freely), progressives and institutionalists who negotiated the Protocol had buyers’ remorse and did everything in their power to either sink the Protocol or postpone General Conference..." There is not even a shred of truth here. First, note that traditionalists who are leaving the denomination gloat when they find a conference with even 15-20% of churches leaving. The vast majority of United Methodist Churches will still be United Methodist Churches in 2024. Second, many, possibly even a majority, of churches that leave are choosing to be independent rather than part of the GMC. We can't say for sure because the GMC has not released any information about churches or pastors who have joined. Third, I was in conversation with the progressive and centrist signers before they pulled their support. What they said in public is exactly what they said in private. The Protocol was no longer a viable path forward. What they did not say (but I wish they had) is that traditionalist leadership had already rejected the Protocol, just not by name.

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

GMC Misrepresentations Continue to Grow

The truth will set you free. 
I believe in the authority of Scripture, so I believe these words from Jesus are true. I do not wish ill on those who leave the UMC. I do believe it is important for them to be truthful. And I continue to be amazed at the ways some national and global traditionalist leadership twist the truth about the UMC. The latest is this article by John Lomperis. There's so much here that I'm just going to number them as I work through the article. As always, I encourage you to read the article so you know the context and feel free to let me know if I make any factual mistakes.

First, a couple of clear opinion pieces that I need to share. The title - Lawsuit Time: Florida UMC Fight Goes to Court! strikes me as a feeling of excitement, not sorrow. I think we should all be in sackcloth right now. Second, Lomperis' readers need to always be aware of how he demonizes those he disagrees with. For example, Bishop Carter is "aggressively liberal" - whatever that means - and later is simply "Mr. Carter." His protagonists, meanwhile, are the "underdogs" even though traditionalists at the General Conference level have gloated for years about winning every vote, etc. 

Now the factual misrepresentations. Get a snack. This will take a while.

1. "The Protocol preamble makes clear that the [UMC] will liberalize." The preamble does imagine a church (which I hope comes to pass) where discriminatory language against LGBT+ people is removed. In that limited way Lomperis is correct. That is NOT a doctrinal change, despite Lomperis citing his own argument to the contrary. Importantly, the Protocol's preamble also says, "We envision the Post-Separation United Methodist Church will strive to be a place where traditional United Methodists can continue to serve." If one wants to pretend that the progressive-traditionalist theological spectrum is entirely based on approval-disapproval of LGBT+ people then Lomperis may be right. That is not world we actually live in, as I can personally attest to with both my own theology and many laypeople that I have served over 20+ years as a pastor.

2. "For United Methodists who do not want their denomination to keep bishops who openly deny the UMC’s own core doctrine about Jesus Christ, and who want a clear majority of their denomination’s American constituency to not believe that “Jesus committed sins like other people...” I assume this is referring to Bishop Sprague, and Bishop Oliveto. The quote refers to a sermon by Oliveto that is taken out of context and the reference to Sprague is, as best as I can determine, the only instance in the history of our denomination of a bishop denying the bodily resurrection of Jesus. Taken very literally, Lomperis is correct. It is a clear misrepresentation of what 99% of UM bishops have taught. 

3. "The Florida UMC congregations in this lawsuit...are seeking to simply continue serving God and their community..." No, literally nothing is preventing them from doing that. They are seeking to take millions of dollars of property and avoid payments that they, through their General Conference delegates, agreed to.

4. "Now Carter and his appointees have done so much to “cause pain” that over 100 Florida congregations in this lawsuit have found it necessary to separate from the UMC, so that they can remain faithful to the historic doctrinal and moral standards..." First, no bishop can make a church leave. They are making that choice - as they have the right to do. Second, despite so much misinformation, there is absolutely nothing in proposed changes to the Book of Discipline that would prevent a traditional church or pastor from being both traditional and United Methodist. Nobody will force a pastor to perform a same-sex marriage; nobody will force the people in the pews from recognizing a same-sex marriage. 

5. "[Those who leave] should be people like Carter who do not believe in the UMC’s historic, official historic standards." This is another common misrepresentation that I'll be posting on soon. Lomperis, and the GMC generally, is cherry-picking "historic standards" I have repeatedly offered to share blatant evidence of traditionalist churches who openly violate our doctrinal standards on baptism. Nobody, including Lomperis, has taken me up on it. Note that our statements on baptism actually are doctrinal. 

6. Using "Paragraph 2553 is not nearly as “fair” or “gracious” as Carter suggests." As you have likely heard me say before, paragraph 2553 was brought to the floor of General Conference by a traditionalist leader who literally said, "This is the way I would want to be treated if I were the one leaving." Lomperis then identifies two ways in which 2553 are unfair.

7. "A traditionalist congregation can become permanently taken over for liberalism, and blocked from remaining connected with more orthodox Methodists, by a mere 34-percent minority." It's fair to argue about the best threshold needed for a church to leave. But Lomperis is still objectively wrong. Hypothetically, if a congregation voted to leave with only a 65% majority and thus failed to get to the required 2/3 under paragraph 2553 in no way would that be a "permanent" decision. If that were the case, he should also be outraged that under his preferred 50%+1 rules, a 49% liberal minority could be "permanently" blocked from being United Methodist. These are important decisions, but they aren't permanent decisions. 

8. "Secondly, ¶2553, in the name of supposedly covering unfunded pension liabilities for retired clergy and their spouses, requires massive, immediate exit fees." First, note again Lomperis' extreme bias. I know of nobody who doubts there is indeed an unfunded pension liability. It is not "supposed," it is real. But Lomperis is factually incorrect in two regards here. First, as of 2019, there is no process in the Book of Discipline for a church to leave without paying for their portion of the unfunded liability. A separate petition from Wespath applies regardless of the method of disaffiliation. Second, Lomperis again cites his own work to demonstrate the excessive cost. In this case it's a 2020 article. In 2020 he may have had a point, but every conference treasurer I know has told me the costs have gone down considerably due to general economic conditions. I checked with our conference treasurer on the cost for the church I serve. According to his numbers, our cost would be less than 1/4 of the cost in 2020. It would be less than 5% of the commitments we received for a capital campaign we conducted during the pandemic. 

9. "This Florida UMC lawsuit only comes after several years of his boxing traditionalists into a corner." Lomperis gives several reasons for this, dating back to March 2019. First, he cites the case of Rev. Andy Oliver. A complaint was filed against Oliver in 2019, before the abeyance language in the Protocol had come about, and says nothing was done. Lomperis has been personally involved in complaints, as have I, and I'm sure he knows that even fast-tracked complaints can take months if the accused uses all the tools available to them. The case I was involved with was under a very traditionalist bishop and it still took over a year before the accused agreed to a "just resolution." Because the abeyance is against charges that have already been brought, it would have applied to Oliver's case well before there had been resolution. Lomperis talks extensively about Rev. Jay Therrell's treatment in Florida, which I'm not informed enough to speak to, and then moves to the debacle of the Florida Annual Conference's decision to not ordain their full slate of candidates. First, note that approval of ordination requires a 75% vote. Rephrasing Lomperis' earlier point on churches separating from the denomination, does it seem right that a group of only; 26% could prevent someone from being ordained? Second, the abeyance should have applied in this case. Instead, a group of clergy, most of whom plan on leaving the denomination, chose to cause pain.

10. " the Florida UMC congregations in this lawsuit “tried to settle this matter with the Florida Annual Conference..." This statement comes from an article in the Lehigh Acres Gazette that makes no attempt to share the Conference's point of view and reads like an editorial. I can't say whether this is a factual error; I can say that the Florida Annual Conference tells a very different story.

11. The Florida Conference is demanding, "...an arbitrary, onerous, and often prohibitive sum of money determined in the sole discretion” of annual conference officials." It is not arbitrary - it is based on the decision of GC2019 and the unfunded liability portion is uniformly applied across literally every church in the denomination that chooses to leave for any reason. It is not onerous or prohibitive - the pension amount is 1/4 of what it was two years ago. And it was not made at the "sole discretion" of the conference. Florida is among the large majority of conferences that are requiring the absolute minimum requirements found in paragraph 2553. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Who Inherits the Methodist Movement?

 One of the primary goals of my blogs over the last several months has been to debunk false claims from Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA) and Global Methodist Church (GMC) leadership. There are clear reasons why a person may choose to leave the United Methodist Church for the GMC. If a person or church makes that choice based on a prayerful, thoughtful, informed decision, so be it. But those people and churches do need to have correct information.

One of the false claims you may have seen is that the GMC are the rightful inheritors of the Methodist Movement. You'll see this in questions like, "Why are we the ones leaving the denomination when we have been faithful to the Book of Discipline?" I'll have a direct response soon to the question of faithfulness to the Book of Discipline. Today I want to address only the underlying issue - which group is the "rightful" inheritors of Methodism?

It's a trick question. While those of us who are progressive on LGBT+ inclusion have repeatedly been called "false teachers," you won't hear us pushing that rhetoric on traditionalists. The GMC will be one of many Methodist denominations in the greater Methodist tradition that encompasses dozens of denominations across the world.

I contend that those remaining in the UMC are at least equal inheritors of our tradition. 


First, note that the continuing United Methodist Church is not changing any of our doctrine. Is it true that some United Methodists don't follow that doctrine? Yes. You'll see that in comments like this one that remind us of the prominent case of Bishop Sprague (note that if you have to go back 20 years for your best example of a problem it may not actually be that big of a problem). It is also true that there are churches who refuse women as pastors, pastors that rebaptize and/or do not baptize infants, and churches that teach a strict seven-day creation. Being selective in following our doctrine is not a problem for only one side of our divide. 

The GMC is being formed at least in part so that they can attain doctrinal purity. That is a task that is bound to fail. They will be forced, just as the UMC is, with making decisions about whether to take action based on the inevitable deviation from their stated doctrine. 


Second, while the UMC is not changing our doctrine, the GMC actually is. The official doctrine of the UMC is contained in the Articles of Religion, the Confession of Faith, the Standard Sermons of Wesley, Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament (written by Wesley), and the General Rules of the Methodist Church. The GMC adds the Apostles' Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Definition of Chalcedon. Theologically, I have no issue with any of these. It's important to note that, while reason is not clear, Wesley explicitly chose not to include the first two in our doctrine - our Articles of Religion come from the Church of England and Wesley chose not to include Article VIII on the creeds. 

What is of ultimate importance here is not the content of the change, but the precedent the GMC is setting. While those of us remaining in the UMC are allegedly changing our official doctrine (which has never been changed), the GMC actually is changing our doctrine at the outset. 


Again, I'm not suggesting that the GMC should not be considered part of the Methodist family. I simply reject the contention that we in the continuing UMC are somehow rejecting our own tradition.

Monday, June 13, 2022

The Protocol: How We Got Here and Where We are Going

 First, take a deep breath.

Emotions are high. Memories are fragile. So let's take a step back.

When progressive and centrist negotiators stepped away from the Protocol last week the response from traditionalist leaders was as swift as it was predictable. I want to talk about that, but first it's important to go all the way back to December 17, 2019. That was the day 16 people signed on to the original protocol language.

I've likened the Protocol to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution in U.S. politics. The Declaration came in 1776. The Constitution came eleven years later. The Declaration stated important agreed-upon principles but never had the force of law. The Constitution does have the force of law. Both are foundational. Those of us in the U.S. deeply respect, cite, and hope to abide by both. If the country had scripture, these would be our "sacred texts."

The Protocol is actually two documents. The first, equivalent to the Declaration of Independence, is the agreement signed in 2019. The second, equivalent to the Constitution, is the proposed legislation  These documents are not identical even though we use the word Protocol to mean both. The differences are crucial.


The Agreement

The Protocol agreement of December 17, 2019 has seven articles. Briefly:

Article 1 states that the signatories agree with the protocol, will work together on legislation to enact the provisions, and will work to garner further support from their various organizations and caucuses.

Article 2 defines four terms, all of which you likely are familiar with.

Article 3 names the timeline and process for implementation. Remembering that we anticipated a 2020 General Conference, this article allows for the formation of a new denomination by May 15, 2021, central conference disaffiliations by December 31, 2021, Annual Conference disaffiliations by July 1, 2021, and local church disaffiliations (if they choose differently from their annual conference) by December 31, 2024. 

Article 4 states the financial terms: disaffiliating local churches get to keep their property, conferences retain any of their property, $25 million is paid to what is now the GMC, $2 million is paid to a departing progressive group (at this point, such a group does not exist), and $39 million is designated for "communities historically marginalized by the sin of racism." It also notes support for legislation regarding pensions and the possibility of ecumenical relations between the UMC and now GMC.

Article 5 give us the much-discussed abeyance and an agreement to delay closing churches until after General Conference.

Article 6 names six steps in a process to enable the transition from where we are now through the end of the then anticipated 2020 General Conference and first session of a post-separation United Methodist Church.

Article 7 is simply the signatures.

All signers agreed to all of these terms.


The Legislation

However, only articles 3 and 4 made it into legislation for consideration. There are good reasons for this. Legislation for articles 1, 2 and 7 are obviously unnecessary. Article 5 posits two steps that happen before General Conference, so legislation can't enable those (by the time General Conference happens, these steps will already be complete). Article 6 names the process enabling the agreement, which is inherently not itself legislation.

If the legislation, once enacted, is like the Constitution then you can see that there is a significant difference between the principles guiding our work (Articles 1-7) and what is actually enforceable (Articles 3-4)

But remember the commitment of the signers is to the full agreement - all 7 articles


Why This Matters

Focusing in on articles 3-6, we can see why our conflict is still so heated.

Article 3 allows for disaffiliations. The primary beneficiaries are those wanting to leave - traditionalists. This is written in legislation to be considered by General Conference and, until last week, nobody objected to it.

Article 4 allows for payment of fees. There is no group to receive the $2 million, the $39 million is divided roughly proportionally, and the $25 million is given to the GMC. This is all written in legislation and, on the whole, significantly benefits the traditionalists. Again, there was no resistance to this article prior to last week.

Article 5 is the key pre-General Conference provision. It prevents churches from being closed and the abeyance. Remember that this is not legislative. There are currently charges against multiple clergy in conferences where the bishop has chosen not to follow this guidance. It has also been broken multiple times. First, by those who have brought and pressed charges against clergy. Second, by the entire WCA on May 7th when they changed their mission to include upholding the Book of Discipline, Third, last Thursday when the Florida Annual Conference refused to commission candidates for ministry because they allegedly were "self-avowed homosexuals" (I'm using our official language here and the word allegedly indicates I don't know personally, nor do I know if the Florida clergy know personally is this label applies). These all took place prior to the announcement of progressive and centrist signers last week except for the third, which was organized prior to the announcement. The primary beneficiaries of this are progressives and it has been violated.

Article 6 includes four steps to take prior to General Conference to ensure that legislation can be proposed and is constitutional. This benefits everyone. Then there are two final steps: calling for the first post-separation UMC general conference to "consider matters pertaining to the Regional Conference plan" and calling the same conference to "consider legislation related to changes ...including the repeal of [the] Traditional Plan legislation and all other portions related to LGBTQ persons." This obviously benefits progressives. The article itself is non-legislative. And traditionalist leaders have promised not to abide by it. Instead, they have promised to continue voting at General Conference, even after the Protocol has passed. 


What Are You Supporting?

In response to the progressive and centrist leadership abandoning the Protocol, traditionalist leadership has maintained that they have always supported it and it is still viable in 2024. That's only half true. It is true of the Protocol legislation - legislation, as you see above, that primarily has their interests in mind. It is not true of the non-legislative components - which are still part of the agreement - that primarily benefit progressives and centrists.

For me, this is the issue. As a progressive (on human sexuality and pretty darn traditional on just about everything else), the initial agreement - the one that does not have the force of legislation behind it - is what matters. If we need to agree to the legislative items in order to get the full agreement so be it. I would still sign on to that today. But that ship has already sailed. WCA and GMC national and global leadership has already violated those parts of the agreement repeatedly. 

If you are a traditionalist, I plead that you understand this. Our non-support of the Protocol legislation (at least my non-support) is not because we want anyone held hostage. It is not a denial of our irreparable rift. It is not because of any kind of personal or corporate animosity. It is because, as evidenced again in Florida last week and most importantly in the WCA's global gathering last month, your highest leadership does not support the portion of the Protocol that is non-legislative. 


What's Next?

With the abandonment of the non-legislative portions of the Protocol by the WCA/GMC and the legislative portions by the progressives/centrists, one possible path forward has now been closed. There is another. It has already started.

- Conferences and bishops must not put unnecessary barriers in the way of churches and pastors wanting to depart. The minimum fees in paragraph 2553 should be the only fees required. That would truly be a sign of good faith.

- Those churches and pastors that feel compelled to leave must can do so as soon as possible, following the existing language. Importantly, if you plan to disaffiliate and become an independent church you still would need to pay the terms of 2553 (see petition 12, sections g and i) so the cost to leave now will be no different than in 2024 - actually more because you would need to pay apportionments between now and then anyway. Departing sooner is truly what is best for you so that you can get on with your mission as you see fit.

Please, let's work together to end this nightmare for the sake of the Gospel.