UM Voices

by Sara Anderson

Guest Writer

Uniting Methodists

November 29, 2017

Sara in Wonderland

Sara Anderson offers her first-hand observations from the initial launch event for the new “Uniting Methodists” group. For further analysis and factual overview of this caucus within the UMC by UMAction Director John Lomperis is available here

Sara serves as board member if IRD. She is United Methodist living in Fort Valley, Georgia. She has served as Chief Operating Officer of Bristol House Publishing and on the board of the National Association of Evangelicals.

In reflecting on the Uniting Methodists gathering I attended two weeks ago, I suspect it was a bit like falling into a rabbit hole and emerging in a world not of substance but of wishful thinking. The conference, billed as an attempt to bring together United Methodists of differing views on the church’s disciplinary stand on sexuality, instead posed arguments for why the UM discipline is wrong.

Annoyed that the UMC’s General Conference (the final word for theology and polity) has fended off assaults on traditional morality by an increasing majority vote every four years for forty years, organizers insist our differences exist in scriptural interpretation. Having dissected the “clobber passages” in Scripture (Old Testament and Pauline arguments against the practice of homosexuality), they have not chosen to deal with the order of creation passages in the first two chapters of Genesis.

Instead, Uniting Methodist leadership has chosen to reinterpret Jesus’ words in John 16:13-14. Mike Slaughter, former pastor of Ginghamsburg (Ohio) UMC and satellite churches in Dayton, Ohio, insisted that Christians do no have to take the written word (the Greek word Graphes) in the Bible as seriously, because “Jesus (Logos, living word) did not leave us a book, he sent us a Counselor” to interpret Jesus to us. Evidently the canon has been broken open and revised.

Additionally, author David Field, member of the Commission on a Way Forward, delivered two extensive lectures from Wesley’s sermons, reducing holiness to loving God and neighbor. That loved appeared to allow people to follow impulses contrary to Scripture and affirm those in their behavior. No mention was made of the Holy Spirit gently convicting us of sin or Jesus’ words, “if you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

We were reminded on video by Rev. Justin Coleman that laws on marriage have changed in the United States. However, many things are legal in parts of this country, but not biblical.  Laws on prostitution, recreational marijuana use and age of consent vary in different states, not to mention abortion on demand, are legal, but not necessarily moral or biblical.

The calls for “love” rang hollow to me. Loving us, Christ was tortured and crucified for our sins, not to give us permission to sin boldly (apologies to Mr. Luther). Several speakers called the group to be “counter cultural.” To paraphrase The Princess Bride’s Inigo Montoya, “I do not think they know what that word means.” In today’s culture, supporting traditional marriage and proclaiming the transformative power of Christ to heal our sinful thoughts and practices from envy to sexual behavior is counter cultural.

I identified myself by my church membership in Georgia, but not as a former evangelical publisher. Most people were gracious. No one asked me what I thought, assuming I agreed with the program. At one point the group was divided up by jurisdiction. I sat at a table with lay people and pastors from the Southeastern Jurisdiction. One pastor was sympathetic. He’d grown up in a conservative church in Georgia. “I still love those people,” he generously commented, even though he disagreed with them. Another pastor was more hostile, calling the Wesleyan Covenant Association “organized hate.” The group complained about how organized evangelicals were in their annual conferences.

“We’re too nice,” a progressive woman complained. I almost laughed out loud, wanting to say, “The conservatives learned how to organize from the progressives.” “We’re too nice” was a common complaint from conservatives thirty years ago.

I could say much more, but I have been ruminating on the admonition to be “counter-cultural,” which Uniting movement organizers stress. I can identify with fighting racism and helping the hungry and homeless, but is it really counter cultural in light of the Harvey Weinstein-Charley Rose-Roy Moore-Al Franken-Kevin Spacey, etc, etc., etc., controversies to support cultural licentious patterns (I have heard that some progressives would like to eliminate all restrictions on all clergy sexual behavior—including pre-marital sex and adultery)? I began to wonder, is this really all about sexual license? Is the Creature defying and laughing at the Creator? Has the UMC become so secularized and disconnected from the Scripture and John Wesley that we chose to cherry-pick and misinterpret the words of both? Are churches so determined to parade their acceptance of behavior contrary to the Scriptures that they put on affirming pedestals persons in desperate need of love, hope, grace, and transformation? Christians are called to change the world, not to conform to it.

14 Responses to Sara in Wonderland

  1. Dan says:

    It’s not about the church of Jesus anymore, it’s about the church of nice, and nice is interpreted as anything they say it is while anything else is bigoted, exclusive, etc. 3 bucket Adam Hamilton and Mike Slaughter will have a lot to answer for when they stand before their creator, IMHO.

    Say it loud and say it proud, “love and compassion does not equal affirmation and approval.”

    BTW the full Luther quote is from a letter to Melanchthon and relates to preaching the Gospel –
    “If you are a preacher of mercy, do not preach an imaginary but the true mercy. If the mercy is true, you must therefore bear the true, not an imaginary sin. God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners. Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong (sin boldly), but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world. We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides. We, however, says Peter (2 Peter 3:13) are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth where justice will reign. It suffices that through God’s glory we have recognized the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. No sin can separate us from Him, even if we were to kill or commit adultery thousands of times each day. Do you think such an exalted Lamb paid merely a small price with a meager sacrifice for our sins? Pray hard for you are quite a sinner.”

    Not something that probably appeals to entire sanctification Wesleyans 🙂 .

  2. William says:

    Since progressives CANNOT present a single piece of Scripture to undergird their position affirming the practice of homosexuality and supporting same-sex marriage, they are forced to discredit those Scriptures that do condemn the practice of homosexuality and describe God’s created order for marriage as that of man and woman. They obviously do not believe in Justifying Grace anymore, but instead search endlessly for loopholes around the very essence of it — salvation from sin and a transformed life in Jesus Christ. It looks as if they are trying to invent a new religion by using subterfuge, ambiguity, confusion, pseudo intellectualism, and deception in an attempt to fool the masses.

  3. Dwight A Moody says:

    I wish to remind United Methodists that just as there are NO texts affirming homosexual behavior there are NO text condemn abortion. Folks on both side are forced to extrapolate from other texts

  4. David N, Field says:

    Having read this report and the one by John Lomperis I wish we had had an opportunity to talk at the conference. I would have been very happy to discuss some of these issues with you and may have been able to clarify some of things which you seem to have misunderstood in my presentations. I work with people who disagree with my perspective on the unity of the Church and the inclusion of LGBTQ people in the life of the church. Many of these brothers and sisters in Christ embody a Christlike self-sacrificial love for God and others that is an example and challenge to me. I have learnt and continue to learn much from people with whom I disagree. I am convinced that genuine dialogue carried out in an atmosphere of mutual respect and love would make a major contribution to a way forward for the UMC.

    One point needs to be noted, you are correct I did not quote Jesus’ words, “if you love me, you will keep my commandments.” But I did state that loving God entails the following:
    Giving God the primary loyalty in all areas of our lives
    Making God’s agenda our agenda
    Obeying God’s commandments
    Living in constant fellowship with God
    Sharing your lives in all their complexity with God

    • John Lomperis says:

      Thanks for stopping by here, David. FWIW, I am aware of others who have directly sought dialogue with leaders of your caucus but have not received responses. And in my own recent article series, I tried to highlight several specific points on which the invitation for substantial, spin-free dialogue remains. But so far, the sorts of responses I’ve received from folk apparently aligning themselves with your caucus (not from you) has largely been a bunch of snarky trolling and “I have no need of you” sort of rhetoric. I continue to welcome anything more substantial:

  5. Charlayne Schultz says:

    Thank you for writing this. I have felt marginalized and I have watched my own church be shepherded by a liberal, progressive feminist pastor. To challenge is not helpful, so I have chosen to leave after 41 years. The strategy is calculated and minds are already made up. There is no unifying way forward at this point in my opinion.

  6. seneca griggs says:

    Exodus 21: 22-23
    22 “When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman’s husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine. 23 But if there is harm,[d] then you shall pay life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

  7. Richard Bell says:

    To the extent that we honor God, our differences about same-sex marriage and homoerotic behavior do exist in scriptural interpretation, and not, e.g., in ignorance or in emotion.
    Now, I prove, using traditional methods of interpretation, that opponents of same-sex marriage have misinterpreted not only “the ‘clobber passages’ in Scripture (Old Testament and Pauline arguments against the practice of homosexuality)” but also “the order of creation passages in the first two chapters of Genesis.” And my proof that God wills the Church celebrate homosexual marriages just as it celebrates heterosexual marriages does not us any dubious tricks like reinterpreting Jesus’ words in John 16:13-14.
    Many learned and mature conservative Christians, including seminary professors, have critiqued my proof. They have acquainted me with counter-arguments that I knew not and have shown me where my reasoning was unclear or incomplete. But, in the end, my proof has only been strengthened.
    As a conservative evangelical Christian, I am an unhappy proponent of same-sex marriage because I have become somewhat alienated me from my fellows. I would welcome refutation of my proof. Please, request a copy of my essay by email to Give me your severest criticism, and I will thank God and you for showing me the truth about His moral will.

  8. John Smith says:

    How often do you hear about sin in the UMC? When you do, how often is it about something other than the LBGTQ agenda? Having given up on sin and sanctification decades (or longer-the temperance and anti-gambling drives count) ago for the task of reshaping society (instead of themselves) for the better there is little left to fight with at the final barricade of homosexual sin. Maybe instead of trying to save the soul of the UMC its time to bring back the “oysterman” to save the souls of the people.

  9. The progressives want to make the church secularized and call it the ‘Church of What’s Happinin’ Now’.

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