UM Bishop Ken Carter: Local Option “A Step Forward”

on August 23, 2014

In a recent interview conducted by Ministry Matters’ Shane Raynor, United Methodist Bishop Ken Carter gave his opinion on many of the crucial problems facing the church, such as the growing polarization and regionalism, the debate over sexuality, and the prospect of schism. In particular, the Florida bishop gave his opinion that local churches should be given more “flexibility,” and called the Adam Hamilton proposal to allow local churches to dissent from the Book of Discipline “a step forward.”

Bishop Carter stated his belief that the United Methodist Church cannot maintain the status quo given the current polarization. “Much of our energy… seems to be going to the polarities of the far left and far right, if you want to use political categories, and that there does not seem to be a coherent energy that is moving us in a direction of what we profess to be our mission, which is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”

“One of the strengths of American Methodism, United Methodism, is that we’ve always been adaptive,” Bishop Carter argued. He noted that while Lutherans, Congregationalists and Baptists tended to flourish in the Midwest, New England, and the South respectively, United Methodists have been able to spread across America. But what was once a strength became problematic with the rise in polarization. “In our current political climate, it’s difficult to stay together in a country that has red states and blue states and where everything has been so polarized… we can become more devoted to the region than to the whole.”

Bishop Carter argued that regionalism has contributed to many of the theological differences within the United Methodism. “It is not accidental that the Board of Church and Society is in Washington, D.C. and the Board of Global Ministries in New York,” the bishop said, contrasting them with the General Board of Discipleship in Nashville. He also noted that many of the United Methodist seminaries seemed to reflect the area around them. The way to overcome these regional differences, he said, was to be in real conversation with each other.

Drawing on his speech at Lifewatch earlier this year, Bishop Carter bemoaned the lack of a coherent United Methodist ethic of life. Because United Methodists lack a unified social teaching, incoherence “comes from our mirroring the different political parties and different political action groups…. We become very issue-oriented.” In particular, the bishop faulted those who were “so passionate about being hospitable to the unborn, [but] at the same time not recognize the need to be hospitable to our gay and lesbian brother and sisters. And vice versa.”

Raynor brought up the conversations within the UMC about schism, and asked the bishop if there were advantages to staying together. Bishop Carter claimed that there were, including what he called a “missional advantage… [T]here are a number of relationships that I fear would be lost missionally, the work we’ve done in Africa and African universities, I could name them all…”

He rejected the notion that a schism might lead to more effective mission work as a result of having settled the homosexuality debate. He quoted a leader from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) who noted that even when they made a decision on sexuality, the denomination just started butting heads over Israel and Palestine instead. “I really believe the deeper issue is how we love each other, how we are in covenant, and do we really desire unity in the Body of Christ. Is sexuality only the presenting issue?”

In his final question, Raynor asked Bishop Carter about his opinion of the so-called “local option,” in which churches or conferences could decide for themselves whether or not to perform gay wedding ceremonies. “I hope we can give more freedom and flexibility to different regions of our church,” he bishop said. He once again claimed that there were “missional reasons” to empowering local churches. “When you’re a missionary on a mission field, we need to be flexible in our ministry, in our mission…”

Bishop Carter said that he had been reflecting on an essay that Tom Langford– his former professor at Duke Divinity– sent to the Council of Bishops in 1999. “He was making a point that we have learned before to have diversity of thought on matters like divorce, capital punishment, war. We’ve learned as a church to allow for diversity of thought. He was making a point… that it may be time to allow diversity of thought around this issue, on the lives of gay and lesbian persons.”

“Life and ministry is just very different in San Francisco than in Montgomery, Alabama or Monrovia, Liberia,” he said, “Yet we have one polity for the entire world.”

While acknowledging that Adam Hamilton’s “A Way Forward”  wasn’t perfect, Bishop Carter said he had great respect for those who crafted it, some of whom are from the Florida Annual Conference. “I think the germ of truth in that document is that local churches sometimes have resources and strength and ways of living together that are healthier than the General Conference.” The bishop also said he respects those who have chosen to take part in the Good News amicable separation statement.

“My hope and prayer is that homosexuality is not a church-dividing issue,” Bishop Carter said, “It may be, it may not be. God’s Providence will be a part of all this. But I believe that conversation about the local option is a step forward.”

UPDATE: This article originally read that Bishop Carter had respect for “those who have chosen to not take part in the Good News amicable separation statement.” After publication, I was contacted by the bishop, who clarified that he intended to say that he respects those who did sign the Good News statement. The article has been edited accordingly.

  1. Comment by the_enemy_hates_clarity on August 24, 2014 at 12:19 am

    Bishop Carter said “life and ministry is just very different in San Francisco, than in Montgomery, Alabama or Monrovia, Liberia.” But God’s Word is the same in all 3 locations.

    In Christ,

    The enemy hates clarity

  2. Comment by Walker Brault on August 24, 2014 at 10:28 pm

    Yet if you look at them, the books of the bible are different. The letters were written to towns and cities in completely different situations and therefore differed on focus and content. The prophets came at different times into very different Israels and, therefore, focus on different things. The words may be the same, but the message coming from them can change drastically.

  3. Comment by jerseycitysteve on August 25, 2014 at 10:54 am

    In other words, we may do whatever seems right and loving in our own eyes without regard for tradition.

  4. Comment by Walker Brault on August 25, 2014 at 11:07 am

    No. Tradition is important, but we shouldn’t stick to tradition just because that’s what we’ve always done. Some of the things that we do we just do them because that’s the way that it’s always been done. Other things we stick to on tradition because there is still a recognized purpose to them. Wesleyan quadrilateral (still widely used in the UMC) – scripture, reason, experience, and tradition.

  5. Comment by Dusty Herring on August 25, 2014 at 12:47 pm

    Albert C Outler who first coined the phrase “Wesleyan Quadrilateral”, in 1964, later regretted his use of it:

    “There is one phrase I wish I had never used: the
    Wesleyan Quadrilateral. It has created the wrong image in the
    minds of so many people and, I am sure, will lead to all kinds of
    controversy.” -AC Outler

    The problems he anticipated come when the Quadrilateral is seen as
    “equilateral,” and all four “sources” for authority and
    decision-making are seen as equally weighted. This was not Outler’s
    intent nor Wesley’s method. Rather, Scripture is to be viewed as
    the centerpiece from which the other sources are suspended.

    Here we are 50 years later and the “progressives” have twisted the Quadrilateral upside-down, having human reason and human experience supersede the infallible nature of scripture and two thousand years of sound moral teaching.

  6. Comment by John S. on September 3, 2014 at 8:26 am

    We should do whatever is right, without regard to tradition nor should we fall into the “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” trap. Amazing the relevance the OT has.

  7. Comment by Namyriah on August 24, 2014 at 12:58 pm

    How about “local option” for accepting thieves? Pedophiles?

    Diversity in small matters is cool, but sexual morality ought to be a non-negotiable, especially regarding a sin that is clearly condemned in the New Testament.

    With all due respect to the bishop (meaning, NO respect), compromise is a live option only for people who don’t care one way or the other.

  8. Comment by Walker Brault on August 24, 2014 at 10:21 pm

    Who is to say what are and aren’t small matters? Why is even the thought of discussion so bad? Shouldn’t discussion of the subject lead us all to a deeper understanding?

    Everyone is deserving of respect, whether you agree with them or not.

  9. Comment by Nick Porter on August 25, 2014 at 12:54 pm

    Respect is earned not given. That’s the problem with the world, Some people feel as if they are “owed” something when no one owes you anything you didn’t earn.

  10. Comment by Walker Brault on August 25, 2014 at 1:17 pm

    I’m not saying that we are owed anything, but that doesn’t mean that we aren’t deserving of respect. When you are respectful or disrespectful of someone it’s far more reflective of who you are than who they are. We are called to be patient and loving with each other and when we don’t respect each other enough to even enter into dialogue about something then we are doing neither.

  11. Comment by Nick Porter on August 25, 2014 at 1:22 pm

    Just as Dusty said, there is no dialogue to be had about this matter. You either believe scripture or you don’t. Look at what happened to the Episcopal Church and ELCA when the LGBT activists called for “dialogue”. I don’t, or will EVER have respect for those hellbent on destroying the church. We don’t deserve anything that we have NOT earned. Do you deserve payment for work you haven’t completed?

  12. Comment by Walker Brault on August 25, 2014 at 1:27 pm

    Do we deserve grace? Do we deserve the forgiveness that we are given by God or others?

  13. Comment by Dusty Herring on August 25, 2014 at 1:30 pm

    Repent of your sins, and go and sin no more.

  14. Comment by Nick Porter on August 25, 2014 at 1:30 pm

    Absolutely not. Grace can’t be earned. There is no way that we could EVER earn grace. That’s why it’s called “grace”. Respect from other people CAN and SHOULD be earned. Two different things.

  15. Comment by Walker Brault on August 25, 2014 at 3:43 pm

    Why is respect something that “can and should be earned”?

  16. Comment by Nick Porter on August 25, 2014 at 4:43 pm

    Let’s look at the definition of respect shall we? Respect-” A feeling of admiring someone or something that is good, valuable, important, etc.”

    Do you honestly think you are entitled to this? You don’t think you would have to earn this?

  17. Comment by Walker Brault on August 25, 2014 at 6:54 pm

    So you’re saying that, based off the original comment, simply because the bishop is trying to reduce the toxicity of the situation caused by the polarization of both ‘sides’ that he deserves no respect, no thought about any of the things that he has accomplished in his life, the least of which being selected as bishop.

    Similarly, just because someone’s opinion on this single issue means that, no matter what they have done in their life, they aren’t deserving of respect? Just because of this one issue, there is nothing admirable, good, valuable, or important about that person?

  18. Comment by Nick Porter on August 25, 2014 at 10:40 pm

    The bishop isn’t standing for God’s Word and is just trying to appease people. No, it isn’t deserving of respect. Lying so people can feel better about their behavior isn’t love nor worthy of respect. How dare he even call himself a bishop. If he and others who want to follow society would RESIGN, then I would respect them. But to remain in their position of power, no, they are lower than the dust on the bottom of my shoe.

  19. Comment by Dusty Herring on August 25, 2014 at 1:00 pm

    In the matter of homosexuality, no discussion is necessary, nor do I want any deeper understanding of it. Scripture is abundantly clear that it is sinful behavior.

  20. Comment by Dan on August 25, 2014 at 3:04 pm

    How about this: we allow for local option on all things gay, but we also allow local congregations to select the option to leave the UMC and take the church property with them. You will quickly see that it’s not about “options,” it’s about power, money, and property and forcing the pew potato sheeple to keep paying 100% of those apportionments so the socialist justice advocates in the clergy can keep trumpeting their positions while getting paid for it.

  21. Comment by Nick Porter on August 25, 2014 at 4:36 pm

    Exactly right.

  22. Comment by Scott on August 25, 2014 at 4:33 pm

    The interesting thing in all of this is the endless clatter of bickering between one person and another within a Protestant denomination, as well as one denomination versus another. What is missing is painfully obvious, yet no one will ever agree that it is what is needed. And that missing factor is a final authority. Oh, each side may try to use the Bible as the “final authority,” but we still have the same problem — whose interpretation?
    Every time these types of discussions come up where fundamental truths of nature are in contention, where issues of millennially held morality are to be stood on their head in the name of “inclusiveness,” where the dignity of life — and, yes, that includes unborn life and end-of-life — is compromised in the name of the convenience of another, I become more and more disillusioned as a Christian and wonder if, indeed, the Catholic Church might, surprisingly, be the Church that is needed.
    Having been born into a Methodist family, committed myself to Christ in a Methodist church, and continuing — for now — to worship in and support a Methodist church, I would have never previously imagined even thinking along these lines. But the more the United Methodist Church veers toward the brink, and having already seen other Protestant standard bearers fall over the cliff, I can’t help but look at the constancy of the Catholic Church, of its clear teachings on morality and life, and wonder: am I where I should be?

  23. Comment by Nick Porter on August 25, 2014 at 4:46 pm

    The LCMS Lutherans also hold to strong teachings. There are churches out there that do. I still believe that going over to Catholics for me personally would be a bridge too far. I’d sooner stay home before I convert to Catholicism.

  24. Comment by halehawk on August 25, 2014 at 10:44 pm

    I agree with you for the most part, Scott. The American-style church government we have chosen to adopt is NOT a good way to preserve the Gospel, and that is at the heart of this issue. Determining church doctrine by voting is not Biblical. As Bishop Carter pointed out in his interview, as soon as the Presbyterians resolved their view of this controversial issue, ANOTHER divisive issue (Palestine) took its place. Polarity and partisan behavior is built into our polity.

    As The United Methodist Church begins work on a new GLOBAL Book of Discipline, I hope we will prayerfully consider some radical, new ways of operating. Perhaps we could LEARN from our Orthodox/Catholic brothers and sisters as we restructure our work. I hope we will abolish VOTING, and adopt alternative decision making methods.

    Personally, I could not belong to a church that would not recognize my ordination, or a church that relegates women to a subordinate role to men. Despite my admiration of much of Orthodoxy and Catholicism, I cannot find a place within either tradition.

    At any rate, Scott, you are right on target with your insight.

  25. Comment by John S. on September 3, 2014 at 8:29 am

    Allow the right thinking Bishops to set doctrine. Did you really need that many paragraphs to get to the point?

  26. Comment by Robert Wolfarth on August 25, 2014 at 9:28 pm

    The word of GOD is very clear on this issue. Act like a bishop and not a politician.

  27. Comment by Dusty H on August 26, 2014 at 4:28 pm

    The “Local Option” won’t be workable for anyone. The theologically orthodox camp will object to apportionment dollars going to a hierarchy that condones and supports homosexuality. The theologically liberal camp will object to apportionment dollars going to a hierarchy that condones and supports perceived homophobia. That would be after every local Church would have to vote on the local policy that would split many urban congregations. At best, the dust would settle with a kind of “circulation of the saints” as members would move to other local UMC congregations that fits their moral stance, but I think many would leave the UMC entirely.

    Personally, I wouldn’t in all moral conscience be able to remain with a Church that officially condones homosexual practice and/or homosexual clergy in any of it’s parishes. I would tender my resignation of membership and offices the very day the General Conference approved of this local option.

    I’ve taken a wait and see attitude, so far. I doubt there will be any change made to the Discipline in 2016 but a dialogue of “amicable separation with property” needs to be on the table for 2020.

  28. Comment by FW Ken on August 26, 2014 at 10:38 pm

    Someone really should talk to the Episcopalians about “local option”. In the 70s, they began ordaining women, but put in place a conscience clause, essentially allowing local option for a bishop to not ordain women. No bishops are left who won’t ordain women, and most bishops won’t ordain a man who doesn’t accept women’s
    ordination. Whether you approve of that or not is beside the point: local option just kicks the can down the road. Eventually things drift one way or another.

    I’m not a Methodist, so it’s none of my business what you folks do, but don’t kid yourselves that “local option” is a solution.

  29. Comment by SoJourner on October 31, 2014 at 10:10 am

    Each Clergy says they will accept for their rule for life the Holy Scriptures as contained in the Old and New Testament. The PRIMARY issue is about the authority of scripture and our Clergy’s willingness to honor their vows at ordination. This discussion is NOT about one particular sin. Nor is not a political issue at all. The issues are Spiritual: Will we keep our vows to God? Will we apply the practical theology predicated upon Scripture, Tradition, Experience and Reason. Will we, once we have made covenants via our General Conference, abide by those covenants. Will we keep to the miraculous gospel that truly forgives, but also transforms life so that NO sin can enslave a person.
    Me thinks that Covenant/Vow breakers will continue to do so; therefore It’s time for serious consideration –that those who abide by scripture, tradition, experience and reason– simply respectfully decide we can no longer be in covenant with those who violate vows and covenants… as have millions who have voted with their feet and gone elsewhere.

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