Two large local United Methodist congregations in the Mississippi Annual Conference recently voted to leave the United Methodist denomination. According to Walter Fenton, “Ninety six percent of the parishioners at Getwell Road UM Church in Southaven and 99 percent at The Orchard UM Church in Tupelo supported separation on Sunday, February 5.” Getwell church averages over 800 people in worship. The Orchard church on average sees an attendance of over 2,700 people to its weekend services.
The churches and their staff have been considering taking the step for some time. Church members were invited to consider the possibility of departure. Most notable is what Fenton says about how those congregations arrived in this place where thousands of members are now leaving the United Methodist church. According to Fenton,
Both pastors cited their congregations’ frustration with the denomination’s long and acrimonious debate over the church’s sexual ethics and teachings on marriage. Going forward, they said their congregations want to focus on kingdom matters so they are removing themselves from unproductive battles that distract them from their larger missions. Collier cited the Judicial Council’s (essentially the denomination’s “Supreme Court”) impending decision regarding the validity of the Western Jurisdiction’s July election of the Rev. Karen Oliveto as the denomination’s first openly gay bishop. “Either way, the Council’s decision is just going to prolong a bitter and divisive debate,” Collier said. “We don’t want to be part of the argument anymore. We have more important things we need to do in the Tupelo community and well beyond it.”
Other churches in the Mississippi Annual Conference are contemplating similar action.
The decisions at Getwell and Orchard came before the judicial Council decision regarding Western Jurisdiction-appointed lesbian bishop Karen Oliveto. In the April 28 decision, the United Methodist Church’s high court ruled 6-3 that while her lesbian status was in violation of the Church’s policies governed by the Book of Discipline, she could still retain her position as Bishop and the Church’s Western Jurisdiction would handle the matter. The Western Jurisdiction includes virtually every United Methodist church in the Western half of the United States. It issued the short video response above reacting to the April 28 decision. For more information, see Fenton’s original article at Largest Congregation in Mississippi Parts Ways with UM Church.
The UMC recently commissioned a “non-binary” person who uses “they” pronouns as deacon: Transgender person commissioned as deacon.
The consecration of practicing homosexual Gene Robinson to the office of bishop proved the final straw leading to the realignment of the Anglican Church. Now, the Western Jurisdiction (composed of Alaska, Pacific Northwest, Oregon-Idaho, Yellowstone, California-Nevada, California-Pacific, Desert Southwest, and Rocky Mountain conferences) of the United Methodist Church, has appointed ordained woman pastor Karen Oliveto, a practicing lesbian, to bishop. The office of bishop is the top leadership position that may be held in the United Methodist Church.
Oliveto, a woman, is “married” to Robin Ridenour, a woman. She was voted to be bishop on July 15, 2016 by delegates of the Western Jurisdiction. Her consecration service may be viewed here:
[The charge to Oliveto to be faithful begins about timestamp 13:15, laying on of hands and consecration 25:00, and at 28:10 her introduction as bishop.]
Oliveto wrote a song called “Pope Crush” she posted on the internet, in which she claims to be very taken by the Pope, among other things.
Response to this extraordinary development was not long in coming. Pastor Rob Renfroe responded with a stern warning and appeal, speaking of schism less than one minute into his eight minute presentation. Renfroe is a leading voice for Methodists still seeking to hold Scripture authoritative.
After describing several voted statements of non-compliance, Renfroe says, “This is now on a systemic level. This is mass rebellion within the church, and no one seems willing or able to hold them accountable.” He is probably right when he says, “This cannot be glossed over with happy words.” Pastor Renfroe urges faithful Methodists to become members of a new organization called the Wesleyan Covenant Association.
The United Methodist Church seems headed for separation. Many Methodist leaders are acting in violation of the United Methodist Book of Discipline and appear unable to muster the clarity and decision necessary to save their church from schism.
As Adventists we share much with the Methodists, and so remain alert to developments there. Will the leaders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church see the nature of the present crisis in our Church, and act with decision? Organizational disintegration is now occurring in our own ranks. Many Adventist conferences, unions, and unions of churches are acting out voted decisions of insubordination. The decision of the General Conference in San Antonio to refuse to make way for women’s ordination is being set aside for local preference. Will the leaders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church take needful action this year? Or will our own leaders fail in this moment of crisis?
Let us pray earnestly for the leadership of the Seventh-day Adventist Church as Annual Council approaches in less than two months.
By Council of Adventist Pastors
On May 18, delegates to the United Methodist Church (UMC) 2016 General Conference Session meeting in Portland, Oregon, USA, voted to create a special commission which could call a Special GC session and make epochal changes to Methodist faith and practice.
The UMC has experienced heated conflict over LGBT questions. Protests have occurred at several GC sessions. The present session has seen several protest spectacles, including LGBT persons covering their own mouths shut with rainbow tape, and even tying themselves up and positioning themselves to lay bound on the session floor.
Even before the session, Methodists had been calling for an amicable separation, and influential Methodist pastor Adam Hamilton revealed at a 7:00 a.m. meeting on May 17 that the leaders of the denomination had been quietly meeting for several days to consider possible changes. According to Hamilton,
So, the conversation began to be, what if a special commission was appointed by this general conference, that the bishops recommended this, and the general conference appointed a special commission, whose job would be to take the next two years and develop a plan for (and this will be my language and not everybody else’s language), a plan for reordering the life of people called Methodists and the United Methodist Church? That plan for reordering would create, out of one United Methodist Church, potentially three new United Methodist Churches. And one would be the conservative United Methodist Church; one would be a church for those who are progressive who only want to be in a church with people who are progressive and will allow nothing less than full inclusion on everything, for everybody, in other words, that every pastor needs to be doing same-gender weddings, every pastor, every church needs to host same-gender weddings, so, if that’s where you are and you say, that’s a justice issue and we really can’t be with other people who are not like us on this; and then a church for what I perceive to be the vast majority of United Methodists which are somewhere in the middle. . . (Time stamp 22:24-23:39).
According to Hamilton,
In two years we would have a special called general conference for probably three days, in which the plan or plans would be laid out and the general conference would vote and its entirely possible that they could vote to dissolve the United Methodist Church as we know it and the next day reopen under new management, or maybe not new management, but something new, three different something-news (Time Stamp 25:43-26:07).
The presentation in which Hamilton’s made these statements can be viewed here:
The plan described by Hamilton was nearly identical to the recommendation made by UMC bishops the next day, first defeated then in almost identical form approved, but only by 23 votes. That proposal passed by the GC reads as follows:
We recommend that the General Conference defer all votes on human sexuality and refer this entire subject to a special Commission, named by the Council of Bishops, to develop a complete examination and possible revision of every paragraph in our Book of Discipline regarding human sexuality. We continue to hear from many people on the debate over sexuality that our current Discipline contains language which is contradictory, unnecessarily hurtful, and inadequate for the variety of local, regional and global contexts.
We will name such a Commission to include persons from every region of our UMC, and that will include representation from differing perspectives on the debate. We commit to maintain an on-going dialogue with this Commission as they do their work, including clear objectives and outcomes. Should they complete their work in time for a called General Conference, then we will call a two to three day gathering before the 2020 General Conference. (We will consult with GCFA regarding cost-effective ways to hold that gathering.)
We will continue to explore options to help the church to live in grace with one another — including ways to avoid further complaints, trials, and harm while we uphold the Discipline. We will continue our conversation on this matter and report our progress to you and to the whole church.
Today, as a way of beginning to find our way forward, we suggest that in place of the allotted legislative time we spend 1–2 hours of plenary time in prayer, confession, and then exploration of a creative way forward. The bishops are prepared to provide questions to guide your conversations. Your conversations will be the first step to a way forward.
The “creative way forward,” seems to refer to what Hamilton presented in the video above linked. In fact, it was the same pastor, Hamilton, who the previous day called for the bishops to introduce some kind of plan! The denomination could be reorganized into as many as three distinct bodies.
It is important to understand that the GC session had been going well for conservative Methodists. A strong push to adopt “Rule 44” which potentially would have been used to process plenary agenda item votes and given place for the expression of stories and feelings in small groups, was defeated only after long hours of debate on different days. In smaller committees, items were being passed to keep the LGBT agenda from advancing. One ingenious plan (CUP) was also advancing through committees which would have suspended ministers who officiated at same-sex “weddings” for a year but which would also permit pro-LGBT churches to leave the denomination with their property. May 18 was scheduled to be the day when the most contentious issues involving homosexuality were to be voted on. All of that was preempted by the recommendation of church leadership of the special commission proposal.
Pastor Rob Renfroe describes the CUP plan in the video below:
The combination of the delegate’s steadfast rejection of attempts by LGBT activists to push their agenda, combined with the many initiatives which would have strengthened Methodist resolve, created an even deeper feeling of crisis. Notice what pro-LGBT Methodists say about the course of the session and the sudden introduction of the bishop’s plan:
From Love Prevails UMC:
Certainly our pressure before and during GC has prevented worse legislation for LGBTQ United Methodists and their allies from coming before the General Conference for a vote. Votes we would have lost. The collective resistance of our entire movement brought us to this moment (https://loveprevailsumc.com/2016/05/19/getting-played-for-the-okey-doke/, accessed 2016-05-20).
And from Reconciling Ministries network:
Wow. What just happened? We’re sure some of you are asking that regarding yesterday’s decisions. . . . This is a win because it prohibits any legislative action that would further harm LGBTQ people and threaten the cause of justice. . . . As the commission is doing its work, the Bishops have promised to look for ways to avoid church trials and because this comes from the FULL council of bishops, that is an unprecedented commitment. In the past, only a few bishops committed to avoiding church trials. Some people feel like this is nothing, that nothing was accomplished yesterday, that this is nothing but a delay tactic. We realize that many of our constituents are upset and angry. But the alternatives that were quickly shaping up on the floor of GC would have led to a disastrous ending. . . . It’s important to recognize that the work of LGBTQ people and their allies created this opportunity and this moment (http://www.rmnetwork.org/newrmn/no-matter-what-lies-ahead-we-remain-committed/, accessed 2016-05-20).
Pastor Rob Renfroe, a leader of the Methodists who oppose LGBT, offered this fascinating insight in a video that was released Friday morning (2016-05-20):
Many of the people who came to Portland convinced that they would change our position regarding marriage and sexuality, were the very people who promoted that we should create the commission and not vote on any issues related to sexuality. Now why would they do that? Because very early on, in this year’s General Conference, they learned that they did not have the votes to change the discipline. They learned in the committees that they were outvoted over and over again, and were certain that if these issues were brought to the plenary sessions they would loose, and embarrassingly so (https://youtu.be/rkoUnibdcC4, Time Stamp 1:11-1:47).
The point being, that after decades of strife and division over LGBT issues, conservative Methodists are finding voice to resist.
The 2016 Methodist General Conference session closes Friday, May 20. The key developments for the session have taken place. Seventh-day Adventists and Methodists share a great deal of history and organization in common and developments in the Methodist Church, can “preview” for us possible futures, good or bad, in our own church.
The Methodist Church voted to ordain women pastors 60 years ago. Today the denomination is in deep crisis over LGBT issues, and it remains to be seen whether the denomination can remain together until it holds a special GC session in 2018.
CAP has spent a few weeks sharing items that can help us understand developments in other denominations. Now we will return to address dangerous developments in our own Seventh-day Adventist Church. We will be publishing a series of items addressing our own Commissioned Minister Crisis. May God be with all as we ponder needful action to keep Seventh-day Adventist churches faithful to Scripture and focused on mission.
The United Methodist Church (UMC) will hold its next General Conference session in early May 2016 in Portland, Oregon. Among key items to be considered is a proposal called “The Third Way” which would permit individual UMC conferences to vote to permit their ministers to conduct same-sex “weddings” and to permit UMC ministers on an individual basis decide whether or not to conduct such marriages.
In the following short video UMC pastor Kennetha Bigham-Tsai, chair of the Connectional Table’s Legislative Writing Team, describes changes being considered:
Methodist pastor Rob Renfroe urges a no vote on the LGBTQ proposals and comments on the rules for process the UMC GC hopes to employ at GC 2016:
While the United Methodist Church is not the Seventh-day Adventist Church, Adventists have followed developments in that communion with considerable interest. The “Third Way” Methodist proposal seems remarkably similar to the “Third Way” women’s ordination proposal some floated in the months previous to the 2015 SDA San Antonio GC session, in that it claims to offer a neutral approach with which all in the church can live, while granting legitimacy to an unbiblical practice. Advocates of LGBTQ rights are at work within the Adventist Church as well.
The UMC faces possible schism next month over the LGBTQ proposals.
Pr. Doug Batchelor explores briefly the history of women’s ordination and kindred issues in five other particular denominations in recent time and makes an appeal to General Conference delegates. Short video.
Those interested in growing the Seventh-day Adventist Church should pay close attention to this video…
The Connectional Table, a United Methodist body of clergy and lay people gathered from around the world, have revealed their plans to propose a “third way” for that denomination. Addressing concerns about “unity” and a renewed “focus on mission,” the proposal would be voted on at General conference in 2016. For the UMC, the Connectional Table functions as a key leadership council for the denomination, guiding and coordinating that church’s mission, ministry and resources.
The article, published by the United Methodist news Service, is found here: Church body proposes more open stance on homosexuality.
In the Seventh-day Adventist Church, some have used precisely the same “third way” language for their proposals to permit women’s ordination on a piecemeal basis by individual unions and divisions as locally determined. Consider: can even one Christian denomination be named that has not chosen a “third way” on this kind of matter, that has not in the end settled on an unbiblical way?
VIDEO SPECIAL! In this video several participants from the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists Theology of Ordination Study Committee (TOSC) share their responses to current questions about women’s ordination and the future of the church. Includes interviews with Laurel Damsteegt, Don Mackintosh, Kevin D. Paulson, Eugene Prewitt, David Read, Daniel Scarone, Ingo Sorke. LENGTH: One hour, 21 minutes.
Prs. Larry Kirkpatrick and Mike Lambert discuss the theological movement of denominations which approve women’s ordination and their inevitable drift into approval of same-sex unions. They consider how one and only one denomination so far has turned back from this—by reestablishing a historical-grammatical interpretive plan at their seminary. Discussion turns, with some regret, to the current situation of the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary located in Berrien Springs, MI. The women’s ordination-favoring theological approach of the current dean is investigated, the core presupposition identified. 13 minutes.
Readers of OrdinationTruth.com know that we have a Seventh-day Adventist Church focus. Still, happenings in other churches often forecast what we will face as a body. The United Methodist Church is now in disarray over issues of same-sex marriage and church polity. Hundreds of their pastors are acting in insubordination toward their General Conference, and in several jurisdictions, leading Bishops are refusing to support their GC prohibition on conducting same-sex “wedding” ceremonies. There is now very open talk of separating an already divided church into separate bodies.
There are groups of Methodists seeking to set in order these matters, yet with little success so far. In peeking into the present battle within Methodism, we hope that are not seeing a near Adventist future. The following links will give readers a flavor: http://goodnewsmag.org/
By Many Hands
Nothing is standing still. The Council of Adventist Pastors continues to observe developments in other communities of faith. One such is the Methodist church. The United Methodist Church (UMC) is experiencing a historic meltdown right now. As you read these words a significant number of North American Methodist Conferences are in one way or another refusing to support the agreed discipline of that denomination with reference to homosexuality.
The Methodist Church states its position on human sexuality thus:
“The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching” (Book of Discipline, p. 126). This statement and three similar, have been subject to relentless attack within the UMC by their homosexual lobby. Yet at each General Conference session the Church has continued to uphold this biblical statement.
Methodism began in the mid-1700s and shares a variety of similarities with the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Ordination of women pastors has been the policy since 1956. Today—predictably—the issue in the Methodist Church is over homosexuality.
On March 10, 2014, the New York Annual Conference, Methodist Church dismissed the case of a retired Methodist minister who officiated at a “wedding” between his son and and another male (see http://www.umc.org/news-and-media/new-york-conference-court-dismisses-ogletree-case, accessed 2014-03-11). In response, UMC pastor Rob Renfroe offered the following editorial comments on the website of Good News ministry:
The truth is we may not be able to live together as one church. The truth is if our bishops do not act swiftly and decisively to uphold our process of holy conferencing and enforce our Book of Discipline, The United Methodist Church will be lost. God’s church will continue and the Gospel will go forth, but we will have squandered the beauty and the power of Wesleyan Christianity as embodied by the UM Church.
Knowing that they will not be able to change our official UM positions regarding human sexuality and marriage at the next General Conference, progressives have begun a campaign of disobedience and are now publicly performing services of holy union for homosexual couples. How our bishops respond will determine if this defiance is the end of the beginning or the beginning of the end (http://goodnewsmag.org/2014/02/editorial-methodisms-late-hour/#sthash.QyXRhbsO.dpuf).
According to Renfroe,
Since 1972, the UM Church has waited in vain for our bishops—our shepherds who are charged with defending and promoting our doctrines—to create statements, resources and teaching materials that explain and promote our balanced position that all persons possess sacred worth but not all sexual practices are compatible with Christian teaching. Perhaps if the Council had fulfilled its responsibility at some point in the past forty years, we would not be in the confused and divided place we now find ourselves (Ibid.).
There are lessons here for the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Methodists did not hold their appointed leadership accountable. They trusted without verifying. Today that church is in the throes of an amazing conflict. Adventists have opportunity to learn from Methodist mistakes. Here, our General Conference president Ted N.C. Wilson in his 2010 inaugural message offers a good plan:
Seventh-day Adventist Church members, hold your leaders, pastors, local churches, educators, institutions, and administrative organizations accountable to the highest standards of belief based on a literal understanding of Scripture.
If we unite on the authority of the Bible and the Historical-grammatical method of interpretation highlighted in the 1986 Annual Council Methods of Bible Study Document, we can find unity. Those Methodists who compose the homosexual lobby within that denomination are running far afield of the Historical-grammatical method. For example, William M. Kent, a member of the United Methodist Committee to Study Homosexuality, stated
. . . the scriptural texts in the Old and New Testaments condemning homosexual practice are neither inspired by God nor otherwise of enduring Christian value. Considered in the light of the best biblical, theological, scientific, and social knowledge, the biblical condemnation of homosexual practice is better understood as representing time and place bound cultural prejudice (William M. Kent, op. cit. by R. Albert Mohler, Jr., “Homosexuality in Theological Perspective,” part two, http://www.christianpost.com/news/homosexuality-in-theological-perspective-part-two-6458/, accessed 2014-03-12).
In Kent’s view the plain reading of Scripture is rendered non-authoritative while the group-think of current culture is determinative. “Best” is determined based not on what the Bible says but on what “we” think. This is the road to oblivion and dissolution. In a similar but more subtle manner, the pro-women’s ordination lobby in the Seventh-day Adventist Church is engaged in creative ways of discarding texts which stand in the way of their preferred approach. As one such Adventist recently wrote on another website, “Can someone explain why the opinions of Paul of Tarsus, an individual living roughly 2000 years ago in a totally different culture and social system, should be considered as authoritative concerning what a small Protestant Christian faith community functioning in the 21st Century should do or not do with regard to whether women should be ordained? Please enlighten me.”
The Methodist Church is crashing on the homosexuality issue. As a random sample, of 20 stories on the United Methodist News Service website on March 25, 2014 the headlines or summaries mentioned gays, homosexuality, same-sex, wedding (referring to homosexual unions), 10 times.
While it is amazing to see what is transpiring in Methodism’s late hour, what some are engaged in in Adventism is equally alarming. Let us hold our leaders, pastors, local churches, educators, institutions, and administrative organizations accountable. Let us reaffirm our commitment to sound biblical interpretation which will very largely prevent the problems other groups are facing and aid us in keeping focused on our mission of sharing Jesus’ third Angel’s Message with the world.