Dear Renew Network,
Renew Network Team Leader
In the last Renew newsletter, I stated that conservative, orthodox churches should carefully consider their relationship with United Methodist Women who have changed their bylaws hoping not to lose any UMW units when the church separates in 2022. UMW’s National Office is known for taking controversial positions on any number of social issues. Their position on abortion is just one example.
In September 2021, the New York headquarters of United Methodist Women National (UMWN), issued a press release that came out against the Heartbeat Act, sometimes called the Texas Abortion Law. UMWN touted the position of the United Methodist Church and claimed the Texas law was, “…a danger to women and an intrusion on families.” They also stated the Texas law usurps the critical decision-making process of women and families claiming the law bands abortion before most women know they are pregnant.UMW was correct in saying that “United Methodist Women, like the United Methodist Church, believes “governmental laws and regulations do not provide all the guidance required for the informed Christian conscience. Therefore, a decision concerning abortion should be made only after thoughtful and prayerful consideration by the parties involved, with medical, family, pastoral, and other appropriate counsel.” Nevertheless, the UMW statement misrepresents the Heartbeat Law and adds to the erroneous claim that Texas is banning abortion.
When one looks into the facts concerning the Texas law, a very different story emerges than that of the UMWN press release.
On September 30, 2021 Brian Hughes, author of the Texas law wrote in the Wall Street Journal titled, The Texas Abortion Law Is Unconventional Because It Had to Be. In the article, he explained:
The law does not ban abortions after six weeks. It requires that a physician performing an abortion first check on a fetal heartbeat. If there is a heartbeat, the physician may not abort the child. When a physician performs an abortion without checking for a heartbeat, or finds a heartbeat and performs the abortion anyway, he has performed an illegal abortion.
The Texas law does not take away the option of abortion, but it does prioritize the life of the baby and protects him/her from undue suffering. Hughes explains that no governmental authority can mete out punishment, but the law does provide for the doctor to be sued; the mother cannot be sued. Additionally, Texas’ commitment to women and the unborn does not begin and end with the passage of the Heartbeat Law.
Before this law was passed, the state had already passed the Alternatives to Abortion Program which provides counseling, classes, and other necessities to women who face unwanted pregnancies. Texas has provided over $100 million dollars to fund this program. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the UMW and the entire church put as much energy and financial resources into encouraging adoption and foster care not to mention programs to offer positive alternatives to abortion?!
The Texas law was a creative attempt to put the questions of abortion back into the hands of American democracy. It is an unconventional means of regulating abortion.
The law is not without its problems. As flawed as some say it is, there is no excuse for UMWN to claim that the Texas Abortion Law prevents women from “access to medically safe reproductive health services.” Nor does the law pose a danger to women or an intrusion on families as UMW’s press release contends.
UMWN for some time has expressed their position on abortion in the language of providing women with full access to comprehensive reproductive health education and care for women. When the 2016 General Conference voted to withdraw denominational support for the pro-abortion lobby, the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC), Harriet Jane Olsen, General Secretary and CEO of UMW and Rev. Dr. Susan Henry-Crow, the General Secretary of the General Board of Church and Society (GBCS), issued an Open Letter to the RCRC. In it, they regretted that they would no longer be at the table to represent the United Methodist “theological framework and carefully nuanced position on abortion,” and the UMW commitment to reproductive health.
Both agencies complimented RCRC for providing, “important ministries in support of pastors who are counseling with women and families during the ‘tragic conflicts of life with life’ when abortion may be considered according to the Discipline of the United Methodist Church.” They failed to inform the readers of the Open Letter that neither RCRC, the UMW nor GBCS had ever lobbied for any restriction on abortion—even late-term and partial-birth abortion. They claim to respect the sacredness of life, but do they? Can this be possible when they have never found any reason for restricting an abortion?
The United States is one of 59 countries that allow abortion without restriction as to reason. The US is one of only seven countries that allow abortion without restriction in the third trimester. Restrictions on abortion are common in 139 countries. UMWN has consistently rejected all limitations on abortion even those based on the fact that a fetus as early as six weeks has a heartbeat and at 20-24 weeks is capable of suffering and feeling pain.
UMWN defines “health of the mother” in the most liberal way. This in essence means that no matter what restrictions are passed by states, abortions cannot be kept from happening. As Michael Stokes Paulsen wrote in the October 2021 edition of First Things:
The right to abortion may be exercised for essentially any reason, including social convenience, economic concerns, sex-selection, or even spite. And the right is super protected against all other interests, at all stages of pregnancy, up to and including the point of birth.
Why is this? Paulsen goes on to write, “…because abortion still must be allowed for any health reason—with health being defined, strangely, as including any ‘emotional, psychological, familial,’ or ‘age’ consideration agreed upon by the woman and abortionist as a sufficient reason for abortion.” The Texas abortion bill found a way around this health provision.
Also at the 2016 General Conference in a separate action, the church did not readopt UMW’s “Responsible Parenthood” resolution. This piece of legislation had long been used to validate the UMW support for all forms of family planning including abortion. Olson and Henry-Crow issued a joint statement claiming that, “In failing to adopt this measure, The United Methodist Church missed a great opportunity to stand with women and the girl child by supporting basic family planning.” Abortion is not “basic family planning.” As Paulsen explains, “Abortion kills a living human being …The act of abortion ends a distinct, unique human life.” We should also add, the life aborted is one that cannot defend itself.
The UMWN and GBCS say they regret tragic conflicts of life with life; but they have done little if anything to prevent abortion from happening on a massive scale. Since 1973, over 62 million babies have been aborted. That number rises every day. UMWN seems to have forgotten that women have a full range of reproductive options other than abortion.
In their statement, Olsen and Henry-Crow added, “Misinformation on this issue abounds.” By that they mean abortion can be a moral choice, because women need the option of abortion in order to make responsible decisions concerning family planning. If “misinformation on this issue abounds,” formulating their support for abortion in terms of comprehensive reproductive health is misleading and also results in misinformation.
“Misinformation abounds” is certainly an accurate description of the UMW’s New York headquarters misrepresentation of the Texas law. It has long been a concern for Renew that UMWN does not always give women an objective perspective on critical issues. Over the years, Renew has warned women that they do not always receive balanced information nor all the facts when UMWN issues Press Releases and Action Alerts such as the release titled United Methodist Women Opposes Texas Abortion Law. Women who get their information from UMWN concerning critical social issues that face the church and our society are often ill informed. That is because the UMW staff in most cases present only one-sided progressive positions based on a political conception of justice and rights. For some time UMWN has offered the church little if any biblical grounding for their position on abortion.
The issue of abortion is just one of several that have brought the UMC to the crisis that has led us to recognize that the church must separate if it is to go forward. The new Global Methodist Church has stated it will be unashamedly committed to a culture of life. We can look forward to the new church supporting and lobbying for programs like Texas’ Alternatives to Abortion Program and many other constructive measures that will offer real hope to women and families. Even more important, the GMC is committed to bring solid theology and biblical truth that reflects God’s heart both for women and the unborn into the new church’s deliberation of sensitive social issues.
Unrestricted abortion has been anything but constructive. It has been destructive to women and profoundly unjust for the babies whose lives have been aborted. The new church will have much to do if it is to present the way, the truth and the life that Jesus calls us to offer our confused and hurting world. We must do better. In the Global Methodist Church we will.
Many of you in our network have been waiting patiently and praying faithfully anticipating the passage of the Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation. As we wait, the signs of our times are evident. These signs remind us why we are separating and confirm the reality that the United Methodist Church will not go forward without separation.
There is much we can do to prepare. We begin by fully understanding what should be left behind and what should go forward. This is particularly true for women’s ministry in the new Global Methodist Church. We must leave behind institutional commitments that have compromised the church’s mission. We must go forward with a renewed Christ centered focus.
With these thoughts in mind, I encourage you to read Renew’s September Newsletter and the article titled, “UMW and the Issue of Abortion.” Also posted is a very sensitive and thought provoking Perspective written by Tom Lambrecht.
The women of Renew have a vital role to play in this time of preparation. I’m excited and I hope you are too.
Lent, which culminates in Holy Week, is such a special time for the church. It differs from Advent in that it is not accompanied by the hustle and extra activity of the Christmas season. It is a time of contemplation and fasting for some. It is an opportunity to go deeper into the love of God and what He has done for us.
The Easter story is all about Jesus. It is a story of salvation albeit one that came at a huge price. It is a story that tells us Jesus came that we might have an abundant life. This life is more than what we walk through on earth. Jesus offers us eternal life to be experienced after death.
There are many characters in the Easter story. The one detail that has stood out to me this year has been the role that women played in the story of our Savior’s passion, His death on a cross and the resurrection.
The Gospel of John tells us it was women who had the courage to stand at the foot of the cross while Jesus was crucified. And Luke reminds us, it was women who stood at a distance and went with Joseph of Arimathea and saw where Jesus was laid in the tomb. These women would leave, prepare spices and oils, and after the Sabbath, would return with other women. It was a woman who went to the site of His burial while it was still dark and discovered the boulder at the entrance had been rolled away. It was women who told the apostles that the tomb was empty. It was to a woman that an angel and the resurrected Jesus appeared. It was a woman who was the first to say, “I have seen the Lord! He lives; He lives.”
The prominent role these women played in the Easter story reminds us of the important role women play in the kingdom of God. And it reminds us of the important role we are playing in the future of the Methodist Church. It is a difficult time. It is women who uniquely understand that pain and hard work precedes new birth. The birthing of a new future for the Global Methodist Church has been delayed. It is a time that calls for patience, calm assurance and perseverance. Traits we women have in abundance. And persevere we will until we see new life – in those we love and in our beloved Methodism.
Each year we are invited to go deeper into the Easter story. It is an opportunity to experience an even fuller understanding of His love for all of Humanity and His love for the church. I hope you and your loved ones on this Resurrection Sunday will experience the thrill of proclaiming, “Christ the Lord is Risen Today, Alleluia!”
Dear Renew Network,
It is with sadness and yet joy that I remember Marilyn Anderes who went to be with the Lord on December 28, 2020. Many of you recall Marilyn who was a very special friend and resource for Renew. Her column “From the Heart” appeared on the last page of the Good News Magazine for many years. And like myself, you may have turned first to read her always poignant and inspiring words before turning into the rest of the magazine. Marilyn also penned articles for other ministries and wrote four books, the last of which, The Intentional Remnant was released just a few months before her death; it is so appropriate to the challenging times in which we find ourselves. Like all her writing, it is a Spirit inspired message that the remnant would do well to read. An excerpt from this book appeared in the November/December edition of the magazine.
In all her writing and speaking, Marilyn called her audience to a deeper intimacy with God. Like the title of her book published in 2006, Marilyn wanted others to know that regardless of where we are in our walk with the Lord, there is always More. She knew the faithfulness of the Lord goes with us through our good times as well as our most difficult circumstances and trials. One such trial in her life was the disease of diabetes which struck two of her three children, her husband and eventually a grand child. In describing her decades-long battle with the disease, Marilyn wrote that God had showed her, “…life without sugar is still sweet.”
On writing of her death, long-time friend and founder of Renew Network, Faye Short wrote: “ Marilyn was an incredible Bible scholar and teacher. The Word of God was her passion, as were the people to whom she longed to deliver God’s Word for their benefit, that the Holy Spirit might do a great work in their lives. The anointing of the Holy Spirit was upon her ministry. She was an incredible wife, mother and friend. Above all, she loved Jesus and was His faithful servant. “
As I read Faye’s words, I was reminded of Paul’s words to us in the second chapter of I Corinthians. There he speaks of that which is coming to nothing and contrasts it to knowing Jesus Christ crucified and “the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages.” Marilyn will be remembered for leading many to go deeper into that wisdom.
Several years ago, Marilyn was the speaker for a Renew Network retreat. The title of her teaching was a well-known line from the Wizard of Oz, “There’s no place like home.” Today Marilyn is home with the Lord. I see her delving even deeper into all that Jesus has prepared for her. For truly Marilyn like Paul exhorted all to discover that:
Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,
Nor have entered into the heart of man
The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.
Dear Renew Network,
In 1850 Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote a Christmas poem titled, “Ring Out, Wild Bells.” Instead of exalting the baby Jesus, it describes a year that has much in common with 2020. He writes of ringing out the year with its false pride, civic slander, party strife, foul disease, lust of gold and wars of old. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could simply ring out all that is wrong, unloving and unjust in our world? Oh that we could be done with the racial unrest of this past summer, the contentious election, and the devastating virus that took away our growing economy and brought us death in 2020. But hope is more than putting the past behind us.
Tennyson also speaks of what we should ring in. In some ways he points us to a time to come – perhaps a time when Jesus will return. He mentions ringing in the love of truth and right, the common love of good, the thousand years of peace and the Christ that is to be. But our hope is built on more than the future reign of Christ.
We will never ring out all the tribulation in this world. It is utopian and futile to think that can be done. As Tennyson alludes, tribulation is with us for now. While that is true and there is something to be said for letting go and looking to the future with hope, Jesus points us to a deeper truth. He says to us,
In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer,
I have overcome the world.
We at Renew encourage you to ring in the good news that a baby born of a virgin and conceived by the Holy Spirit has come. He is God with us. He has come and He has overcome! He has come that we might know our worth and experience the joy that is meant for all to know. And He calls us to come – come and follow Him. He has also overcome the darkness of all that is untrue, wrong and evil. Through Him, we too overcome. We have reason to be of good cheer. Jesus is the light of the world!
Let us not forget that we have seen a mighty move of God in our own denomination.
Despite strong forces that have pulled us in competing directions, officially our doctrines have held firm. With the development of the Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace, our church finally accepted the reality that some ideas are incompatible and cannot be held together. Despite the delayed General Conference and the uncertainty that came with the postponement, we are moving forward.
As we ring out 2020 and ring in 2021, let us look within and ring out that which hinders and ring in “the way, the truth and the life, that Jesus came to bring each and every one.
The Network hopes you will find hope, peace, joy and love as you celebrate the coming of the Christ Child this Christmas.
This year when you make your end-of-year giving, I hope you will include Renew Network. Visit the Renew website to download or print the Donations Form. Or you may designate a check to Renew Network and send to:
P.O. Box 132076
The Woodlands, TX 77393-2076
In His Service,
Renew Network Team Leader
This coming week we will celebrate Thanksgiving. Some of us will be with family; and some will not because of the increase threat of Covid-19. The virus is but one of the challenges of 2020 which has been full of disappointment and tragic events. I have heard many say they can’t wait until this year is over. But before this year is over, Thanksgiving comes around.
I looked up the history and found that the idea of giving thanks nationally goes back to the early days of our country. During our Revolution, days of thanks were proclaimed by the Continental Congress in honor of military victories. George Washington declared a day of thanksgiving after the Constitution was ratified. Other presidents called for similar days to give thanks until it was made a national holiday by Abraham Lincoln in 1863 in an effort to heal our nation because of the Civil War. Of course we are all too familiar with the story of the first Thanksgiving in 1621 when the Pilgrims gave thanks to God even though half of their original group had died. Our country has a rich history of giving thanks in the midst of conflict and trials.
Even more, is our faith built on praise and thanksgiving. Giving thanks is a major theme in both the Old and New Testaments. The Bible gives the command to praise the Lord and be thankful more than any other. King David was known for his songs of praise. Paul and Silas while in chains in Philippi sang songs of praise to the Lord. In fact, Paul tells us in I Thessalonians to “Give thanks in everything; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.”
Thanksgiving is a day when we come together and rise above our challenges and conflicts. We join those who have come before us and honor the Lord for who He is, for what He has done and for His faithfulness to all generations. In troubled times like ours, the Lord calls us to look beyond our present circumstances. He calls us to turn our eyes on Jesus; for when we do, in the words of an old praise song, “the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.” It is in that light that we find so much for which to be thankful.
Renew Network Team Leader
Today is Memorial Day and unofficially it begins the summer season. More importantly, it is a day to remember those who have died while serving in the U.S. military to protect our country and its values.
Recently a supporter of Renew called and shared with me the incredible story of a Methodist Pastor and his family who have been serving the Lord since the early Twentieth Century. This pastor, Rev. Bert Jones Sr. and his wife Ruth Caye Jones along with their five children were familiar faces at revivals and camp meetings for years leading up to World War II. Later they became Mom and Dad Jones of the popular radio program, “A Visit With The Jones,” a program that began in 1948 and is still running today under the leadership of their daughter Carol Jones Saint.
In 1943, seeing the causality list of America soldiers who were moving up the boot of Italy, Ruth Jones turned to God’s Word for comfort. She landed on 2 Timothy 3 where it says, “But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come.” From the inspiration of this verse and the melody of the clock that chimed on her mantle, she began to write a hymn that would become the beloved Gospel song, “In Times like These.”
The words are simple and few; they reflect not only the 2 Timothy passage, but also the comfort of Hebrews 6:19, “this hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast…” The song is also rooted in the comfort that Jesus preached at the end of the Sermon on the Mount in Luke 6. It tells us that vehement storms come in life, but they are weathered when our lives are built upon The Rock.
How true these words are today. We too live in perilous times. Our enemy is not the Axis powers of World War II. Our enemy is a deadly virus that has spread around the globe and infected more countries than those involved in all the wars of the Twentieth Century.
As we look back today and honor those who gave their lives in battle, let us remember those who are on the front lines battling this virus, and the sick fighting for their lives, and the families who have lost loved ones. Let us pray for each one who has lost a job and all of us who must make decisions on how to proceed with life during our perilous time. And above all, let us remember to share…
May you and your family have a meaningful Memorial Day and join those of us at Renew in prayer for our families, our church, our country and our world in this difficult time.
Renew Network Team Leader
Dear Renew Network,
Ongoing Aftermath of General Conference 2019
A month after the 2019 General Conference in St Louis, where the work of the Commission on a Way Forward was received and the Traditional Plan was passed, the United Methodist Women’s annual Program Advisory Group and Board of Director’s met in Nashville, TN. I attended the meetings as a press representative.
At the opening plenary of the Program Advisory Group, Bishop William McAlilly preached from his personal experience, which has given him compassion for the marginalized LGTBQ+ community. He told the women that UMW was needed more now than they ever have been, because of the injustice done by the passage of the Traditional Plan. He asked, “How would you feel if you were told you are incompatible?” I detected a strong note of incredulity in both McAlilly and Harriett Olsen. They seemed truly shocked and grieved that the Traditional Plan had prevailed in St. Louis.
I was expecting the general tenor of disappointment expressed at the UMW meetings in March. The last day of General Conference, when the One Church Plan had not passed, UMW put out a press release that affirmed the position they announced at the Fall 2018 Board of Directors Meeting: they will be staying in relationship with all women in the Global UMC even if there is schism. They announced they are in solidarity with the LGTBQ+ community, which is in pain. Even before the 2019 General Conference, the UMW staff had put out a spiritual growth study titled, The Bible and Human Sexuality, where the marriage culture was questioned and traditional morality was explained away by the rejection of laws that came out of a society dominated by men. Can the UMW National staff expect to be in relationship with traditionalists when they have made it clear that their heart is with the progressives?
Before we consider that question, we should ask, is the passage of the Traditional Plan unjust as McAlily implied? First of all, centrist/progressives are mistaken to say that those who identify as LGTBQ+ are being called incompatible by the majority of the church who supported the Traditional Plan. No one is being labeled incompatible; but certain behavior is incompatible with clear straight forward teaching in the Bible. It is behavior that has been questioned – not people.
While all persons are of sacred worth, it is clear that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. It is in the church where we are encouraged to be in a process (sanctification) whereby we overcome sin. Somehow many in the church have bought into the idea that behavior once understood as sin is now to be understood as a right, or even employed to define who we are. Even worse, once condemned behavior has come to define how some think God made them to be. If God made sinners to be thieves, murderers, and the rest of Paul’s list in I Corinthians 6, why would Paul say “ and such were some of you?” And if God made Cain to rebel, why did He warn Cain that “sin is crouching at the door waiting to devour you!” We are not our sin; we are overcomers of sin if we accept what God says in His Word and that which He has done for us. In the words of Michael W. Hannon, “I am not my sin. I am not my temptation to sin. By the blood of Jesus Christ, I have been liberated from this bondage.”
Our society has accepted the current psychological trend to categorize individuals by sexual orientation. The idea that anyone gets their identity from their feelings of attraction to the opposite or same sex is simply a fallacy for which there is no scriptural warrant. Sadly, many in the church have bought into this thinking. They champion a warped sense of justice and work to obtain rights for the LGBTQ+ among us and the acceptance of their agendas and actions. Christian identity is not rooted in sexuality but in Christ himself.
United Methodist Women have made no secret of the fact that they accept new modern interpretations of scripture. This is particularly true in the area of sexuality but not only there. Not too long ago, a UMW woman wrote to me about a UMW spiritual life study “Embracing Wholeness: An Earth Perspective for Covenantal Living.” Actually it was a study to support the UMW policy on Climate Justice. This UMW woman was disturbed by the author’s claim that the earth and creation was being equated with God Himself. Particularly disturbing to her was the author’s comparison of the death of her cow with the sacrificial death of Christ on the cross. Unfortunately there were multiple unscriptural distortions in the study.
Recently, another woman wrote to Renew wanting to connect with other traditional evangelicals women in her area. She wrote to say that:
We have become more and more disappointed in the national UMW group. We do not agree with the social liberal agenda that is promoted in the UMW. The reading program books are becoming increasingly non-biblical and promote society’s way of viewing the world.
So to answer the question, can the National UMW stay in ministry and mission with both traditionalists and progressives? The answer is probably not. Trying to be all things to all people has failed the church, because as scripture has become reinterpreted and repurposed, that which unified us was lost. When the church was asked to change the definition of marriage and its standards for ordination, it was a step too far.
Since the passage of the Traditional Plan in St. Louis, it has become clear that many centrists and progressives do not want to stay in a church that is unwilling to change its traditional beliefs on marriage and ordination. Traditionalists have been concerned for some time. For different reasons, traditional evangelical women have been leaving UMW in a steady stream for years, and at a larger rate than the loss of denominational membership. Most give reasons similar to the ones I have cited.
We are in a time of waiting. The Traditional Plan has passed, but the dividing issue still divides; and it remains to be seen how this division will play out. Yet, we do not have to wait to see the final outcome to begin to throw off that which has become ineffective and seriously troubling. The time is now to move into deeper Christ centered ministry and mission that we may see the transformational power of our Savior and the Holy Spirit. God is at work. We should be too.
Please pray for the churches like the two examples I have shared. They represent many more who are looking to disengage from ministry that cannot deliver what is so needed. Pastors and women’s leaders have written to request a copy of the Remodel series. (Read about it here) If your women’s or men’s ministry is looking for a resource to refocus and engage members in transformational ministry, contact Renew and we will send the three booklet series to you.
A heart felt thanks to all who have made Renew’s ministry possible through your prayers and gifts. Your continued support is vital to our work in the mission of Good News to lead United Methodists to a faithful future. Because of delays and angry actions in St. Louis, much work was left undone that must be addressed at the 2020 General Conference. Work has already begun. Delegates are being chosen this spring and summer in our Annual Conferences. Pray for these elections and pray for General Conference 2020. Each of you reading this newsletter can help others to understand the division that separates us and have a part in preparing this church for what is coming.
Raising funds to attend two General Conferences within a year of one another is a challenge. Team Renew appreciates each donation however large or small. If you have not made a contribution lately, please consider making one today. But most importantly, join Team Renew as we contend for the United Methodist Church by faithfully praying for our denomination.
Stand with us by going on the Renew Website and printing the Donations Form. Or you may designate a check to Renew Network and send to:
P.O. Box 132076
The Woodlands, TX 77393-2076
In His Service,
Renew Network Team Leader
2019 General Conference Stands Firm on Biblical Teaching
Dear Renew Network,
During the days just prior to the 2019 General Conference, one African woman pastor declared, “We are here to give the church back to Jesus.” And so they did. For without their strong support of orthodox, evangelical Christians, the One Church Plan would have prevailed. Instead, the church passed the Orthodox Traditional Plan.
Many were disappointed with bishops who did not move the process along, which in turn left no time to adopt petitions which would have addressed some of the unconstitutional issues cited in an earlier Judicial Council ruling. And yet much was accomplished. Important loopholes were closed and standards strengthened, including those for ordained ministry.
An explicit prohibition was passed that will limit candidates for ordained ministry to those individuals who will uphold our standards as stated in the Book of Discipline. Additionally, Bishops will not be able to dismiss complaints arbitrarily. A gracious exit plan was passed. But time ran out before it was perfected. Still the will of the body was made known.
There were important amendments that were not allowed to come before the body due to stalling. There is much work that will need to be done between now and the 2020 General Conference. But that does not diminish what can be celebrated. The One Church Plan did not have the votes to pass. It was not affirmed by the majority of delegates. This is remarkable given the time and energy the Council of Bishops and Uniting Methodists put into passing it. Their claim that it had overwhelming support was proved wrong.
We can rejoice that the Book Of Discipline will be strengthened; the definition of marriage will not change; our churches still officially cannot hold same sex weddings, and the ordination standards have been made stronger. For a more detailed account of what was passed and not passed click here and here.
What has divided the church is bigger than the issue of inclusion of LGTBQIA persons. The issue that has divided United Methodists is deeply theological and spiritual. Leading up to and during the conference, there had been much talk of ‘unity’ and ‘love’ by the centrists and progressives. They thought they had the moral high ground. But did they? It turned out that their understanding of both love and unity was built on sand and not a rock solid understanding of God or Scripture.
Dr. Luther Oconer, a Filipino who teaches at United Theological Seminary spoke at a dinner the night before the conference began. He reminded us that there is no real unity without obedience. Oconor also drew the connection between obedience and holiness. He made a powerful point when he remarked, “Promoters of the OCP argue for a diversity of practices…on human sexuality.” He went on to say that they want diversity in unity, but fail to realize that what we practice is tied to deeply held beliefs that define who we are as Methodists: beliefs that “run to the core of our understanding of sin, grace, justification, and sanctification.” The progressive position makes no sense because, “…by allowing different approaches to marriage and ordination based on context, we will have already undermined the very essence of what makes us Methodists…It is tantamount to surrendering our spiritual identity to the dictates of the world.” For Oconor’s entire address, click here.
Our Centrist and Progressive brothers and sisters seemed to have forgotten or failed to comprehend that obedience is necessary to unity and holiness. Unity cannot be achieved if we discard the beliefs that define who we are. They asked all United Methodists to accept the demands of the LGTBQIA community and get back to the Great Commission and the business of making disciples – a goal they thought all Methodists could share. But as Dr. Richard Ramos has shown, mission cannot be successful without obedience, because here too, authentic mission must abide by the words of Jesus who tells us not only to go into all the nations, not only to baptize but to teach them to observe ALL things He has taught. Again, obedience is key to mission.
Most importantly, obedience is also essential to the understanding of real love. Jesus tells us in John 14:15 “If you love me, keep my commandments.” John’s letters tell the early church that love is obedience to ALL that God has commanded. Love distinguishes Christians from the world. Throughout John’s writings, he expounds on love. John makes it very clear in his second letter the sixth verse, “This is love, that we walk according to His commandments.”
It is a shallow love that is defined by merely granting what a person wants. It is a dangerous love that misrepresents and blesses what the Word of God does not affirm. For love separated from obedience to all “that is written” is not love. It is self-centeredness in the name of a shallow love that is neither of the spirit nor of the truth. As Cara Nicklas, a delegate from Oklahoma wrote, “Proponents of the OCP argued simply that their plan promoted ‘love for one another’ implying the Traditional Plan did not. Their ‘Love’ is viewed as acceptance of any and all sexual behavior. If it feels good, do it.”
Unity, holiness, mission and love are unobtainable without obedience. Rev. Kenneth Levingston reminded delegates that Methodism is known for its faithfulness to scripture and its emphasis on the way of holiness. Levingston also admonished us not to go back to the bondage that does not honor God. He was referring to those who have taught the church to go after the flesh and not the Spirit.
The Traditional Plan was passed. Traditionalists believe LGTBQIA persons are loved by God. They are welcome in our churches. They are loved with a love that has not been severed from obedience to all that Jesus has taught.
Immediately after the close of the conference, a friend and I found ourselves in a conversation with a female bishop. She accused us and other traditionalist of wanting to throw her out of our denomination. My friend gently reminded her that she knew what the UMC stood for when she vowed to uphold and guard those beliefs. We must remember that the bishop and other like her appeared to be in shock because the OCP did not pass.
Since then, many progressive bishops and denominational leaders have made any number of accusations to the motives of traditionalists. Some have vowed in print to continue to disregard our Book of Discipline and work for full inclusion of all LGBTQIA persons.
It should be remembered that traditionalists have been faithful to the Word of God and the Book of Discipline. Progressives have put us in schism. Dr. David Watson, professor at United Theological Seminary, puts it very strongly, “For years now I have believed we are not functioning as a single denomination. Once bishops started openly to violate the decisions of the General Conference, it was essentially all over. The 2019 General Conference simply held up in dramatic fashion what has become increasingly clear to many: the divisions are so great that we cannot hold them within a single denominational container.”
If the OCP had prevailed, our church would indeed be in bondage to the demands of our culture. The church would have rejected real unity, true holiness, authentic mission and perfect love. But instead, the conference upheld what in Jesus’ words, has been true “from the beginning.” Rev. Levingston passionately reminded the delegates at a Good News breakfast that, “It is still written,” a reference to Jesus’ words in Matthew 24, “Heaven and Earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.” Peter on whom the church is built put it this way, “The Word of the Lord endures forever.”
Of all the accomplishments and disappointments of this conference, the overarching fact remains – The Word of God and the Doctrine of Holiness were not abandoned by the majority of United Methodists.
I want to thank the network for your prayers and your gifts which made it possible for Renew to be represented at the 2019 General Conference. Work is already in progress for the 2020 General Conference.
In His Service,
Renew Network Team Leader