Rev. Beth Ann Cook is pastor of two Indiana United Methodist congregations: Ogilville UMC in Columbus and Rockford UMC in Seymour, Indiana. She serves as a member of the Indiana Board of Ordained Ministry (BOOM), the Good News Board of directors, and this May will attend her third General Conference as a delegate. She is also President of the Indiana Confessing Movement, for whom she originally wrote this, in response to outrage over liberal-dominated New York Annual Conference board of ordained ministry (BOOM) adopting a policy to review openly gay ordination candidates, in apparent defiance of clear rules in our governing Book of Discipline forbidding openly homosexually active clergy.
[Recently] Heather Hahn of the United Methodist New Service published this article New York Board Welcomes Gay Clergy Candidates. The New York Annual Conference also placed this announcement on its website:
This news came on the heels of Baltimore-Washington Conference recommending Tara Morrow for commissioning as a Provisional Deacon in spite of the fact that she is legally married to another woman. You can find this article here: http://bwcumc.org/married-lesbian-recommended-as-provisional-deacon/
My phone started ringing within a couple of hours of this latest news–and didn’t stop for much of the day. Most of the calls or emails I received were from pastors. Several were blindsided when an angry lay person called them after seeing this news. Some of the things I heard yesterday are:
“This can’t really be true, can it?”
“One of my key leaders just said to me: ‘I just can’t stay in a church that allows this, Pastor.'”
“My whole church is already talking about leaving the denomination. What am I going to do?”
“I’ve been trying not to discuss General Conference politics in our local church. But I don’t see how I can avoid it now.”
“Could this happen here in Indiana? Would our Board of Ordained Ministry do this?”
“If the liberals don’t want to abide by our Discipline, why don’t they just leave? There are a lot of denominations that agree with them.”
I knew I needed to write something for this email news list. But honestly I’ve been struggling with where to start. How can I possibly explain this bizarre situation to the average person in the pews?
I spent last night praying for guidance. Bear with me–I’ll do my best!
Why are they doing this? And Why Now?
Let me begin by saying this situation honestly reminds me of an angry toddler in the midst of a temper tantrum who screams: “I will do exactly what I want and you can’t stop me!”
The first thing you need to know is that liberals (who prefer to be called progressives) in the UMC have despaired of being able to change our stance through General Conference legislation. They have counted the votes.
Adam Hamilton, who pastors one of the UMC’s largest congregations, supports a local option that would allow local churches or Annual Conferences to decide for themselves. He recently acknowledged that liberals lack the votes to pass the “Third Way” proposal that the Connectional Table submitted. You can see that proposal here: A Third Way (CT Proposal)
Amy DeLong, leader of the radical group, Love Prevails, has told her supporters that they have no chance of changing the UMC stance on human sexuality at this General Conference. She is calling for a greater level of disruption. Among some of her more incendiary comments was her suggestion to bring “gallons and gallons and gallons of piss and vinegar,” adding “just think of the trouble we can cause.”
Those who want the UMC to embrace gay marriage and ordination also recognize that the voting trend is going in the wrong direction for them. To understand this you have to know that UMC General Conference delegates are apportioned using a formula. Each Annual Conference is guaranteed at least one lay delegate and one clergy delegate. Beyond that the formula gives the largest UMC Annual Conferences more delegates. This means larger, growing annual conferences have more influence. The United Methodist church is growing rapidly in Africa. Our African brothers and sisters believe God’s word clearly teaches that homosexuality is sinful. Places like New York Annual Conference are declining in membership. Liberals are actually losing power.
Since LGBTQI advocates do not believe they can change our stance through our agreed-upon process, they are seeking ways to simply negate the decisions of the General Conference. Northern Illinois Annual Conference clergy have talked about giving one-day suspensions to anyone who performs a same-sex marriage against our Discipline. Other conferences have long had a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy when it comes to clergy ordination. The New York Conference statement is unique in that it blatantly says they will ignore the provisions of the Book of Discipline.
(Paragraph 304.3 of the Book of Discipline says, “The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church.”)
Those who are blatantly violating our Book of Discipline do not expect to be held accountable. Many Bishops who support their cause are willing to help them violate the BOD with impunity. There are also a number of loopholes that help them avoid consequences.
Evangelical leaders have submitted petitions to General Conference that would tighten accountability. The most important of these is the CUP (Covenantal Unity Plan). You can learn more about it here: Covenantal Unity Plan (CUP). I would encourage you to sign on as a supporter of this plan and advocate for it with our leaders.
The most important provision of CUP moves responsibility for holding Bishops accountable from the College of Bishops (Bishops in a Jurisdiction) to the Council of Bishops (all Bishops). Right now the Bishops in our most liberal areas have stated that they will not hold each other or clergy accountable for violating provisions of our Discipline related to homosexuality.
“Hell No We Won’t Go!”
The second thing you need to know is those who want to change our stance on human sexuality have no intention of going to another denomination that agrees with them. Dorothee Benz, a LGBTQ activist and General Conference Delegate, recently tweeted a picture of the Advance Christian Daily Advocate (books that contain the petitions for General Conference) with the words “Hell No We Won’t Go!” written across them.
Some progressives believe that this is the social justice issue of our generation. They compare this battle to racism and the civil rights movement of the 1960s and vow to stay and fight. They believe that they are witnessing to us–and are somehow trying to set us free from our oppressive mindset.
Other liberals recognize that most of the finances of the UMC come from moderate to conservative churches. These liberals don’t like the rules; they want to take their ball and go home. But they also want evangelicals to continue to pay expenses for their areas which are not self-supporting.
At least one moderate blogger this week has said that he believes that progressive groups are intentionally trying to be as outrageous as possible in the hopes that evangelicals will leave–and leave them the church’s assets.
Will This Impact My Church/Annual Conference?
I serve on the Board of Ordained Ministry (BOOM) in Indiana Annual Conference. I do not believe that my current colleagues on BOOM will disregard the Book of Discipline. Our Bishop has nominated individuals of integrity to the board who represent the entire theological spectrum. I believe this is true in many annual conferences which are either theologically diverse or more conservative.
[Paragraph 631.1 of the Book of Discipline governs how persons are elected to the Board of Ordained Ministry. They are nominated by the Bishop in consultation with the BOOM Chair. They are then officially elected as part of the report by the Nominations Committee at Annual Conference. Persons may serve up to 12 years (three 4-year terms) on BOOM.] .
Persons ordained in another Annual Conference can transfer. However, this requires the approval of both Bishops. So it can only impact your church or conference if your Bishop allows it to.
The biggest potential fallout I see from this decision is for fed-up evangelical laity, pastors, or churches to leave. I am also praying that this doesn’t happen.
So What Can Orthodox UMCs Do?
1) Expect worse as we approach the May 10th start of General Conference.
I expect UMC progressives to continue to do outrageous things (and issue press releases to garner as much media attention as possible). This is part of their strategy. They want to ramp up the pressure.
A group of liberal caucuses called the “Love Your Neighbor Coalition” has a media campaign called “It’s Time.” They are encouraging closeted gay clergy to come-out in sermons, perform gay marriages, and commit other acts of what they term “Biblical Obedience”.
Major media outlets like the New York Times will once again cover our General Conference. Portland may be like a three ring circus!
2) Pray every day for our church, General Conference delegates, and our leaders.
3) Advocate for greater accountability in our church.
If you (or your church) feels strongly about this issue I encourage you contact each of your General Conference Delegates to expressing your support for greater accountability, including the CUP proposals. The contact information for your delegation is probably on your Annual Conference website. If not you can find their addresses beginning on page 116 of the Advance Daily Christian Advocate which can be downloaded here:
You may also wish to share your thoughts with your Bishop and the chair of your Annual Conference Board of Ordained Ministry.
4) Please remain calm and compassionate with those who disagree.
It is tempting to give in to anger–especially when we are treated with less than respect. Christ calls us to love those who hate us. We need to maintain our Christian witness in the midst of this situation.
Note: Another important way faithful United Methodists can help is by generously giving today by clicking here, being sure to “designate your gifts” for “UM Action” to help our efforts restore accountability to our troubled denomination.