Tuesday, November 19, 2019

A Reminder for Rob Renfroe

Rob Renfroe's latest editorial is a mess. I don't have any other word for it. His overall point is made clear and well in his very last words. "We have traveled the same path for many years, really decades. It has led to acrimony, disobedience, dysfunction, and decline. It's time to choose a path that will make all the difference." True enough. The problem is the editorial is more than those final three sentences. So here's a reminder of some truths that matter.

The editorial is titled, "Who Will Prevail in Minneapolis?" Then the entire editorial pretends that traditionalist leadership has always wanted a peaceful, respectful solution where everyone wins. As the title itself suggests, that simply is not fair or true. Here's why:

1. The entire editorial puts the word "centrist" in quotes. You know that putting something in quotes is a literary way to discount it. It means; "They call themselves centrists but we know they really aren't." Let me make this personal. In one of my last two appointments, the knock on me before I arrived was that I was too conservative. In another appointment the knock was that I was too liberal. I think that qualifies as centrist. Rev. Renfroe has boiled all theology down to one question. Do you approve of same-sex marriage and ordination? My answer is yes. And I also can say the creeds of the church without crossing my fingers behind my back. And I know many pastors and laity who can say that exact same thing. Renfroe must make this about progressives and traditionalists. In the real world there are many variations in-between.

2. Renfroe claims he and other traditionalist leaders want "a solution that has no winners or losers." I don't believe him. In fact, as I and others have previously shared, in 2004 Good News published a document that explicitly says a disadvantage to traditionalists leaving the denomination intact is that " It also leaves the United Methodist denomination somewhat intact". I want to state that again.

Good News, which Renfroe claims wants no losers, published a strategy document that explicitly says progressives must lose. And, in fact, when you listen to traditionalist rhetoric it is easy to understand why. If those who favor full inclusion (progressives and many, many centrists) are truly distorting God's word and will then one can understand why they would want us to lose. We have previously been called false teachers by traditionalist leaders. Forgive me for finding it difficult to trust an organization that has called me and those who I agree with false teachers and our continuing existence as a denomination a disadvantage.

3. Renfroe asserts that centrists and progressives want "an abrasive and harmful fight they believe they can win." I can assure you that this is not the case. Most of us believed there were already appropriate ways for churches to withdraw from the denomination. Now it is clear that there must be a way for larger blocks of churches to form something new. No serious observer of our denomination will argue that there is a way forward where the entire denomination stays intact. It is not possible. The issue that remains is how we can best facilitate separation of those who must separate. The reason centrists and progressives believe that traditionalists are the ones who should separate is that they are the only group that has said they are willing to leave. This is why the centrist and progressive group UMC Next has a proposal that "provides a method for groups of churches to form new expression of Methodism." The door is open. We are willing to open it wider. And we will not call you false teacher or put your descriptors in quotes on the way out.

The Bottom Line

At the end of General Conference 2020 we will set the terms for the divorce. The traditionalist caucuses have consistently vilified centrists and progressives. We have consistently said that we really truly want to work together. They have refused. Because traditionalists have refused, the divorce must happen. A marriage cannot last if one party wants out. The remaining questions are 1) How many churches will choose to be United Methodist and how many will choose otherwise and 2) How will we divide the assets. UMC Next, the Indianapolis Plan, and other proposals all have different models to answer these questions. Don't let Renfroe or anyone else distract you from the reality.


  1. Please provide a reference url for the article "Who Will Prevail in Minneapolis?". Thanks.

    1. It is from the latest issue of Good News magazine. When I last looked it was not available online, but the website is goodnewsmag.com.

    2. I see that Rob Renfroe's article is now available online.

  2. I am a traditionalist because I was born into, baptized in, and grew up in The Methodist/United Methodist Church. I have been monitoring the development of this situation since GC2012. I have spent a lot of time cruising the internet listening to every voice I could find within the United Methodist Church. I am heartbroken to discover that it is such a theological mess.This is not the fault of traditionalists. It took missteps, miscalculations and misunderstandings on the part of everybody--including Bishops-- to create the mess that is headed into GC2020. Absolutely nobody is on the same page about anything--including you! And for this person in the pew, I do not see that as a strength but as a fatal weakness. I am tired of loyalty to the United Methodist Church being a one way street. Denominational leadership no longer cares who is in the pew as long as somebody is in the pew being a head count, money in the plate, and actively supporting the designated ministries and programs of the church. It is no wonder that I never understood what it meant for me to be a Christian 24/7; for the United Methodist Church the Christian life goes no further than "doing church". Furthermore, I have delved into the history of the denomination and the seeds of this mess were already sprouting when the United Methodist Church was formed under the premise that what we do trumps what we believe. We are currently learning just how erroneous that assumption was! We are all the product of a broken church: Good people in a broken system produce broken products.

    O that we may all receive of Christ’s fullness,
    grace upon grace;
    grace to pardon our sins, and subdue our iniquities;
    to justify our persons and to sanctify our souls;
    and to complete that holy change, that renewal of our hearts,
    whereby we may be transformed
    into that blessed image wherein thou didst create us. John Wesley

  3. …the UMC currently has a crisis of ignorance. When people in a denomination or church fail to understand their own history, they are liable to confusion and misunderstanding. https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2019/october/one-on-one-with-jeffrey-barbeau-on-methodism.html

  4. David, you say "We have consistently said that we really truly want to work together. They have refused. Because traditionalists have refused, the divorce must happen. A marriage cannot last if one party wants out." This is comparable to a husband having an affair with another woman, then saying he wants to keep his marriage intact and will talk through differences, so long as his wife is okay with his continuing to sleep with his mistress. When she then wants a divorce, he does NOT have the right to say, "well, I want to work it out, but we have to divorce because she won't talk about our differences." When a covenant is broken (infidelity in marriage, refusing to uphold and obey the discipline our Church has agreed to in the case of the UMC), the one responsible for breaking it does NOT get to set the terms of divorce.

    1. An analogy that many may agree with. I've heard others say the present liberal activism 'is like a 'hostile takeover'.

    2. "When a covenant is broken..."
      Randy, please note the chronic habit many traditionalist churches have of not paying apportionments (including The Woodlands, home church of Good News), creating essentially rival organizations (such as the ReNew Women's Network), and the reality that the large majority of us advocating to change the BOD have NOT violated the parts of the BOD that you are most concerned about. I hear your argument. It is not without merit. It is also not nearly as simple as you suggest.