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Archive for July, 2014

Amicable Separation?

Andy Langford

June 21, 2014

 

Who am I?

I am Wesleyan.  I love John Wesley, our Wesleyan history and theology.

I am Orthodox.  I believe in the Trinity and the Holy Scriptures contain all that is needed for salvation.

I am Inclusive.  My congregation in Concord welcomes gays, lesbians, African-Americans, Whites, southerners and northerners into membership and leadership.

I know our general church.  For thirty years I have been a church bureaucrat, participated in eight general conferences, been elected by this annual conference five times, now serve for the fourth time on the general church connectional table (previously General Council on Ministries).

I believe that our denomination is only an autonomous entity but part of the global Wesleyan movement and a part of the Church universal (see ¶ 6).

I even own a copy of the 2012 United Methodist Book of Discipline.

In other words, I am United Methodist.

 

Is amicable separation possible?  Of course.  It has happened in our past.

In the early 1800s, the African Methodist Episcopal Church withdrew with the blessing of our denomination.

The Methodist Protestant Church congregations withdrew over slavery.

In the 1800s, the Methodist Episcopal Church South withdrew, along with all its property and institutions.

The holiness movement created separation.

Just a decade ago, the Puerto Rico Annual Conference, a full member of the UMC, created an autonomous, independent denomination.

Amicable separation is possible.

 

Will amicable separation happen over homosexuality?  I doubt it.

General Conference, with the increased participation by Central Conference delegates, especially from Africa, is growing more global and more conservative.

The general conference will not vote in 2016 allow clergy to conduct same sex unions.  Clergy will be expected to remain celibate in singleness and faithful in marriage.  Marriage will only be allowed between a man and a woman.

The Judicial Council, an unaccountable power unto itself, will not consider amicable separation possible under our current Discipline, but will not announce this until the final day of general conference.  

Follow the money.  The Central Conferences and the general church agencies want the continual financial support of all the United States churches, especially the large contributions from the South East and South Central Jurisdictions.  We have the money and they want us to stay.

The forces for union are stronger than the powers to separate.

 

Let us be honest.  Almost every pastor and congregation violates our common practices in ways minor and major without consequences.  That will continue.

Some churches hold raffles!  Raffles are not allowed by our Social Principles.

Some pastors conduct same sex weddings.  A clear violation of the Discipline (¶ 341.6) as “unauthorized conduct.”

Some pastors re-baptize persons baptized as infants and call them professions of faith.  By Discipline (¶ 341.7) actions that are “unauthorized conduct.”

Some bishops clearly have violated their consecration to uphold the Discipline of our denomination by honoring clergy who have violated our Discipline (¶ 401 & 414).

Are these acts of schism?  I do not think so.  These people are faithful to their conscience (which they consider higher than their vows of obedience to the denomination.

Therefore, trials are not the answer.

 

So what do I see in the near future?  My personal perspective.

Persons who want full inclusion of all persons will accept only full inclusion without any limits.  They celebrate diversity without limits.  We should follow the cultural changes happening among us.  They understand their position to be an act of biblical justice.  They cite the Jerusalem Conference (Acts 15) as opening the church to all persons.  “Love” is the heart of the Gospel.  This is the direction of the Connectional Table.

Persons who want to conserve the traditional language will not allow any deviation from the Articles of Religion and other core doctrines.  We should resist all accommodation to secular culture.  They cite biblical authority and church history.  If God at created us male and female for each other, and Jesus blesses marriages, and the Church is the bride of Christ, our denomination cannot challenge the Word of God.  See the Group of 80 proposal to separate and the Timothy Tennant proposal to separate and multiply.

Most United Methodists are somewhere in the middle.

 

Because everyone on both sides is absolutely convinced that they have the moral high ground, no one will compromise.  Many compromises will be offered.  All comprises will fail.

 Everybody — left, right, and middle — will be unhappy, even angry and hostile toward one another.

 

The 2012 General Conference was ugly.  The 2016 General Conference will be even more ugly.

 

What is lost?  We have lost our focus on making disciples.

We talk primarily about human sexuality not the salvation of individuals and reformation of society.  Holiness of self and community are secondary.

Every congregation is full of sinners in need of transformation and our culture increasingly wanders far from the kingdom of God.  Yet, so much of our time focuses only on one topic that calls to battle political forces on both the left and the right.

 

This lost of focus is especially true at the general church level.  At the last Connectional Table meeting, we spent over half of our time debating inclusion of gays, lesbians, bi-sexuals, trans-sexuals, and queers.  That issue is not part of the primary task of the Connectional Table.

We spent almost no time talking about making disciples.  At the general church level we have lost our way.

 

What is my way forward?

Change will never come from general conference.  Top down never has worked nor ever will work.

We began as a grass-roots movement from below.  We must become a grass roots movement again.

The essential connectional body of our denomination is not the general church but the annual conference, such as our wonderful Western North Carolina Annual Conference (¶ 33).  Clergy are not members of the general church but members of an annual conference.

 

Annual conferences such as ours must take charge and lead the way.  Bishop Michael Coyner has proposed such an alternative in “Is the Answer in Our Polity” at the website “Ministry Matters.”

 

Our WNC annual conference has exceptional episcopal and conference leadership.  We have great pastors, some on the left, others on the right, and many, many in the middle.  We have almost 300,000 wonderful laity.  We all want to remain in dialogue and communion with one another.

The property of local congregations are held in trust for whom?  Not the general church but the annual conference. (¶ 7 and ¶2503).  The UMC does not have a legal presence.

 

Pensions are not the property of the general church but are held in trust by the General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits for annual conferences and the clergy who hold their membership within the annual conference.  Watch what happens when one of our conferences is unable to pay its pensions and GBPHB tries to take money from other conferences to  make up the difference; then we will truly see how well the global connection works or does not.

 

Now is the time for local congregations to distance themselves from the general church and general agencies and the loss of focus on making disciples.

The proposal to allow annual conference autonomy on some subjects (such as around the issue of sexual ethics) opens the door, but it should also include autonomy around finances, social principles, and all other issues.

Will we then be United Methodists?  Yes.

But we will be united in name only.

 

We must focus on our Western North Carolina Annual Conference and its focus on making disciples here.

In 2015, our WNC conference has been asked to contribute almost $6 million in its budget to support a dysfunctional general church and its agencies.  Why are we giving $6 million to institutions that only want to fight over an issue that has no solution?

Instead, the United Methodist Discipline does not prohibit and our conference rules allow congregations to reallocate that $6 million.  We can give those monies to our own annual conference for congregational vitality, new church starts, missions regional and global, and more.

 

We can begin this new future within the Western North Carolina Conference.

If you want to be United Methodist, I encourage you to join my congregation and reallocate your monies away from a general church that will get uglier and more divided.

 

Will we divide?  No.  What then shall we do?  Focus our attention and money on this annual conference and be faithful to our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ.  

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