May 7, 2018

Five Cheers for Conservative Victories on United Methodist Constitutional Amendments!

After imposing an unusual degree of secrecy, the United Methodist Church’s Council of Bishops today finally released the results of votes on the five proposed amendments to the denomination’s constitution. The results on all five show how our denomination is moving in an increasingly orthodox, faithful direction overall, whether our bishops like it or not.

Every four years, amendments are proposed to the UMC’s foundational Constitution. Unlike changes to other parts of our governing Book of Discipline, which can be made by a simple-majority vote at our denomination’s governing General Conference, constitutional amendments can only be adopted after a difficult process of first being supported by two-thirds of General Conference delegates and then, the next year, being voted on at each of the UMC’s dozens of geographically limited annual conferences around the world, and receiving the support of two thirds of these more locally cast votes.

Last year, United Methodist pastors and laypeople around the world met in their respective annual conference sessions and voted on five proposed constitutional amendments. At that point in the process, there was no opportunity to amend any amendment—each one had to be voted either up or down in its entirety.

Proposed Amendment #1 would have added a new paragraph on “Gender Justice.” For both principled and personal reasons, this was difficult for me to criticize, as I strongly affirmed most of its language and the general intent.

But there were good-governance concerns about adding an entire new paragraph to our limited Constitution anytime anyone has a well-intentioned idea, especially when much of the wording is redundant.

More importantly, there were serious theological concerns about a single sentence: “The United Methodist Church recognizes it is contrary to Scripture and to logic to say that God is male or female, as maleness and femaleness are characteristics of human bodies and cultures, not characteristics of the divine.”

Were it not for that one sentence, I expect Amendment #1 would have passed overwhelmingly, with no significant opposition. I strongly affirm every other sentence, without hesitation. And I earlier noted how there is some truth to this one contested sentence. But given how some radical United Methodists have undermined belief in Jesus Christ being fully God while He also remains (in both the past and present) a human male, or refused to say “Father God” in worship, I raised questions last year about how this new sentence may be used to advance such agendas, if it were made part of our denomination’s foundational constitution.

Among older generations of seminary radicals in our denomination, there was once a strong movement to avoid using any “masculine words” in reference to God – such as “He,” “Him,” “His,” “Father,” “King,” or “Kingdom” – no matter how awkward this could make some sentences sound. The defeat of Amendment #1 would seem to indicate that this movement has crested, and is now mercifully fading within the United Methodist Church. Thanks be to God!

Proposed Amendment #2, which was heavily pushed by some powerful denominational agency leaders, just barely received the minimum required number of votes at the 2016 General Conference, after little plenary discussions of its serious implications, before being rejected at last year’s annual conference sessions. It would have committed our denomination to absolute non-discrimination for ALL levels of leadership (“in the life, worship, and governance of the Church”) on the basis of “gender,” “marital status,” “age,” or “ability.” Again, while we affirm the good intentions of many who supported this amendment, a careful examination shows many practical problems this could have caused, which many probably did not realize.

It is important to remember that what is in the UMC Constitution basically trumps any other part of church law. And any time you amend the Constitution, it is crucial to think carefully about the practical, legal, long-term consequences of particular words—regardless of the original intent.

So the main question to ask with any proposed constitutional amendment is not “Do I like the sound of this?” but rather, “How might certain denominational officials, especially bishops, use this?”

Outlawing any discrimination over “age” would have ended UMC’s longstanding requirements for bishops and other leaders to retire before reaching a certain age. Thus, this provision would have effectively served as a power grab for bishops seeking to consolidate and hold onto their power for far longer than what would be healthy for the church.

Inserting into the UMC constitution a commitment to fully include all “genders” and “marital statuses” at all levels of denominational leadership, without clearly defining what we mean by these terms, would have almost certainly been used in liberal attempts to try to force UMC leaders to accept clergy with the “marital status” of being in same-sex partnerships, adhere to transgenderist ideology, and to insist on any absolute “right to ordination” in every region of the UMC by individuals who reject their God-given sexual identity and claim a “gender” of being something other than male or female.

At one point, some prominent supporters of Amendment #2 apparently resorted to “dog-whistle politics” in subtly signaling to certain voters that this amendment may have somehow advanced the LGBTQ cause within the UMC.

The defeat of Amendment #2 shows that not only have liberals been losing ground in their efforts to get our General Conference to submit to LGBTQ ideology, but that liberals lack the strength to sneakily achieve their goals even through such a roundabout way as this innocent-sounding, hard-to-oppose proposal, which was effectively a Trojan horse.

The Renewal and Reform Coalition, of which IRD/UMAction is a part, took no official position on these first two amendments, but instead publicly noted pros and cons of each. However, given the balance of the concerns noted above, especially with Amendment #2, and given how supporters of these proposals presented no reasons for why it was urgent to pass them now, we at UMAction believed that it would be ideal for the church to vote these two down now (since they could no longer be amended), and then come back next time with a single, simple, more carefully worded amendment to affirm women’s equality, against the very real problems of discrimination and mistreatment targeting women and girls, without bringing in any other complications.

In a couple of statements released today, our liberal-dominated Council of Bishops uses strong language to say they are “dismayed,” and “deeply grieved” by the defeat of the amendments and accuse opponents of these proposals of somehow imposing some sort of unspecified “harm” on “women and girls.”

One of these statements acknowledges how the UMC already has strong statements and policies “[t]hroughout our Book of Discipline” affirming the equality and full inclusion of women in church and society. Our bishops specifically highlight official UMC statements affirming the equality of men and women in God’s eyes, rejecting false teachings about the superiority of any gender, affirming the equality of men and women in common life, and welcoming both men and women into ordained ministry.

We at UMAction strongly affirm these UMC teachings and policies. But ironically, by stressing all that we already have in our Discipline, our bishops have raised the question of what adding on either of these amendments would have actually achieved for women—apart from the unrelated agendas of rejecting biblical and creedal language about God, ending mandatory retirements, and advancing LGBTQ causes. Neither our bishops nor any supporter of either amendment appears to have offered an answer, in my observation.

What is especially tone-deaf, or perhaps just plain cynical, is how our bishops sanctimoniously frame these results as largely being related to female equality, with no honest acknowledgement of how Amendment #2 would have served to extend the power of the very bishops now claiming less self-serving reasons for bemoaning its defeat.

The Council of Bishops emphasize, accurately, the relatively close margins by which these two amendments were defeated. But we must keep in mind that the number of votes supporting both defeated amendments were rather unfairly inflated by a number of U.S. bishops stooping to such heavy-handed tactics as preventing people from speaking against any proposed amendment at some annual conference sessions and even by some annual conference voters being given official ballots that blatantly misrepresented the truth about what the first two proposed amendments would actually do. (I noted some of these irregularities back in June.)

But even when some bishops and other officials chose to avoid playing fair, they still could not get either of these amendments passed!

Another factor likely inflating the reported support for Amendments #1 and #2 was that, for some unexplained reason, the official results exclude those from the Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) Annual Conference. But this is the largest annual conference in its central conference, reporting almost as many members as every other West African annual conference combined. Given how every other West African annual conference voted overwhelmingly against these two amendments, one would expect that including the Côte d’Ivoire’s results would shift the overall percentages to even less support for these two amendments.

All of this indicates that the official results paint a misleading picture of suggesting that these two rejected proposals had a much greater level of informed support than they actually did.

At this point, we at UMAction would like to extend our hands out to any sisters or brothers who are disappointed by the defeat of these proposals, and offer to work together in good faith to find wording for a constitutional amendment to the next regular General Conference session that could affirm our shared support for women’s equality—but without tacking on the problems and unrelated controversies that led to the defeat of these latest attempts.

The Renewal and Reform Coalition endorsed Proposed Amendments #3 and #4, which will ensure greater fairness, openness, and democracy in elections for General Conference delegates and bishops outside of the USA. Both passed with over 90 percent support.

We especially strongly supported Proposed Amendment #5, which could eventually bring a sea change of greater accountability for our bishops.

For decades, United Methodist bishops around the world could only be held firmly accountable by their fellow leaders in their respective regions (five “jurisdictions” within the USA and seven “central conferences” overseas). This led to a growing system of “church anarchy” in the UMC’s numerically tiny, geographically huge U.S. Western Jurisdiction, whose bishops protected each other in blatantly disregarding church laws against same-sex union ceremonies and openly homosexually active ministers. This disobedience reached its height in 2016 when the Western Jurisdiction’s disobedient bishops illegitimately consecrated openly partnered lesbian activist Karen Oliveto to the office of UMC bishop.

But under our longstanding system of regionally divided accountability, there was little that could be done about such disobedience in one region by United Methodists in other regions.

Until now.

With the passage of Amendment #5, our church law has now been changed to let the global UMC Council of Bishops – which includes every bishop from Europe, Africa, and the Philippines as well as every part of the USA – have significant new powers to examine and discipline any wayward bishop anywhere in the world.

No wonder that this was very strongly opposed by Western Jurisdiction leaders, as well as by supporters of Dr. Oliveto elsewhere.

On this amendment, supporters of keeping Oliveto in the office of bishop chose to pick a fight—and lost overwhelmingly, with over 81 percent of the church voting for this proposal!

Bishops across the spectrum have complained that our church laws have not given them enough authority to provide the leadership the UMC needs to meet our present challenges. With this change, much of that excuse has been taken away.

Now that they have been given this tool, it is time for our bishops to stop complaining about people not trusting them or not giving them enough power, but rather finally step up and lead.

Now all United Methodists who have been hurt and disappointed by the unfaithfulness and lack of Christian leadership in much of our denominational hierarchy should understand that the amount of blatant unfaithfulness we see on the part of any bishop is limited by how much all active bishops as a group, including your own bishop, is willing to either enable or correct.

Interestingly, the Council of Bishops chose to take the highly unusual step of not releasing these results until today, three days after the conclusion of their business meeting, despite the release having been originally scheduled for Thursday. The publicly stated reasons were that our bishops wanted to release the results in conjunction with their statements responding to the defeat of the first two amendments, and to begin this week in conversation about both the results and their response statements. But since the adopted amendments only become effective upon their public release today, when the Council of Bishops is no longer meeting, this may serve to delay some of the implementation of the new system of global accountability until the Council’s next meeting in November.

How convenient.

In any case, with these results, the people of the UMC have spoken. We overwhelmingly want greater accountability, especially for our bishops, as well as more openness and democratic fairness in denominational governance. The people of the UMC also made clear that we strongly support welcoming all people into our churches and the equality of women, but we will NOT let these noble sentiments be twisted or hijacked into advancing secular LGBTQ activist ideologies or otherwise shifting our church away from biblical teaching.


37 Responses to Five Cheers for Conservative Victories on United Methodist Constitutional Amendments!

  1. senecagriggs says:

    As the Southern Baptist resurgent leaders believed; the people in the pews were more conservative then the professors in the seminaries. It looks like that has been equally true of the U.M.C.

  2. Pudentiana says:

    Anyone who has had to deal with a sociopath recognizes the dodging and gas lighting being used by those in the hierarchy to bend the sheep to their will. Jesus is the Good Shepherd. His sheep know his voice; not the tinny hollow voice of the overlords who pose in purple attire.

  3. Ken Dean says:

    Good to see this

  4. Jim Wright says:

    Whew! The biblical tide seems to be turning some.

  5. Bob Land says:

    Praise God from Whom all blessings flow!!

  6. I am thanking God for Methodists who have held the line on orthodoxy. What a long, long trek. Could I send you my letter to the bishop in Raleigh, NC?

  7. April 29, 2018

    Dear Bishop Ward,

    I recently attended the gathering at Edenton Street focused on potential changes to Methodist order as regards human sexuality. I would like to offer a few thoughts on what I heard.

    I grew up Methodist (many generations) and I am currently serving as an elder in a PCUSA church. I’ve been a therapist (LCSW) in Raleigh for over 20 years, seeing people mostly within the Christian community. I’ve spoken and written on sexuality for 15 years. Sex and the Soul of a Woman is the Zondervan book I wrote, with over 50,000 copies sold.

    Edenton Street Methodist Church is a bell weather congregation for the state of North Carolina. Thus, other Christians, like myself, are watching closely, and praying. Methodists have an enormous footprint in North Carolina, a rich history of faithfulness to the gospel of Jesus Christ. On a cold, forbidding day, I often think of the old saying, “Well, there’s nothing out today but crows and Methodist preachers.” My father’s family came to Christ through faithful Methodists preachers in Virginia.

    So we are watching and waiting to see what approach Methodist congregations take. And we long to hear a clear call to orthodoxy in faith and practice as regards sexuality and gender. Both are central to the reality of being created a man or a woman in the image of God, coming together in holiness and bearing the fruit of children.

    My concern—and the concern of many others—is that the Methodists’ effort to be the progressive, “welcoming” church is producing a deafening silence on matters of sexuality. And it’s not just Methodists. Many church and para-church ministries are going silent. The temptation is to quietly abdicate the responsibility to build a positive Christian sexual ethic in minds and hearts of parishioners, one based on the parameters of Scripture. Less and less is actively taught on marriage as the union of a man and woman, or how God creates and orders our sexual desires, or why discipleship requires the submission of our bodies to God’s good truth.

    To teach these things clearly all but guarantees that some will feel uncomfortable. We could sound intolerant, indeed. And that might threaten the goal of bringing as many people as possible under the tent.

    But the consequences of this silence are dire. The culture is shaping us in the church—not the other way around. This younger generation now lives in the grey mush of cultural relativity under the illusion that sexuality and gender are primarily their choice. When it comes to sexual expression, kids growing up in churches and para-church ministries here have a painfully shallow understanding of why boundaries exist at all.

    So what does one see in an office like mine now—which one wasn’t seeing so blatantly even five years ago? I see girls who have grown up in the church, daughters of faithful Christians, who have learned to hook-up with guys since about 16 until they tire of the disappointment.

    Or I see guys who grew up in Sunday School, dabbling in sex with girls as well as guys—who then, have no idea how to treat a wife or form a family. I see guys stumbling into gay porn and rent-a-guy encounters, looking for a distilled dose of masculine validation. Church kids. It’s chaos out there. And that’s why we stand in such great need of straight, unashamed truth-teaching inside the church.

    The progressive idea that some new truth permits us to write the sexual script as we deem best—this is not neutral stuff. It shreds people’s souls. You can only work to provide safety and welcoming to people struggling with their sexual or gender identity if you unashamedly teach the truth after they come through the door.

    We are all called to a chaste life and we must make a choice: do we intend to follow Jesus Christ or not?

    What I heard at your meeting was the thrice-repeated phrase, “the love of God while listening to the Spirit.” By this simple criterion, no one has to work hard to permit or endorse whatever seems right in their own eyes. Love—without solid truth—is simply more warm, grey mush.

    Let me bring to mind Paul’s teaching in Romans. After 11 chapters of exquisite doctrine he moves into his first words about the practical expression of following Christ.

    I urge you by the mercies of God to present your bodies as a living
    sacrifice holy acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. (12:1)

    Christianity is an incarnational religion. Following Christ is a body-and-soul matter and to teach anything less is to offer the old heresy of Gnosticism in new modern garb.

    Those of us out here in the community are desperate for the church of Jesus Christ to provide the solid mast in the storm—to be the literal sanctuary where people are grounded and stabilized in the liberating truth of the gospel. We are praying that the Methodist church will have the courage to hold true, leading the way for others.

    Paula Rinehart, LCSW
    Raleigh, NC

    “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” Hebrews 12: 14

    • theenemyhatesclarity says:

      One of the best things I have seen in a long time. And it’s true.

      In Christ,

      The enemy hates clarity

      • Mary says:

        “One of the best things I have seen in a long time. And it’s true.

        In Christ,

        The enemy hates clarity”

        Hello, sibling in Christ,

        Please clarify what is meant by your choice of the word enemy.
        I’m blessed to praise God in a fellowship that affirms my sacred worth (though I am a woman.) If living the gospel of love has made me your enemy in your eyes, we are truly through the looking glass. I hold you in prayer with a God who loves all of his children. May you receive mercy on your journey home to Christ. I hold also in prayer those on the margins of our world who are hurt by your sins of bigotry, oppression, wickedness, and ignorance. At least do no harm, friends, I implore you. May my lgbtq siblings find peace in a church that lashes out in counterfeit discernment becoming idols of bigotry, power, and war. God loves you. We are kingdom building, people! Please do the work to drive out your own darkness so that we might ALL shine together and sing His praise.
        What are you serving in this way? What are you building?

        May justice mercy grace and peace find a home in your heart for the living of these days.

        Love Truly,
        Your Sister in Christ

    • Leslie Marsh says:

      This is very encouraging! I want that solid mast. I’m sending my son to college in North Carolina and I hope his church experiences there will be better than here in Tampa. Even in speaking his beliefs in a student conversation at school, a teacher called him out and threatened disciplinary action for expressing his conservative viewpoint. It’s hard to stand up for what is right, especially when so young, and he needs to know we’ve “got his back.”

    • Pablo says:

      Oh Paula, where to start!

      You clearly didn’t experience the loss of a 16 year old boy at your Methodist church who tried several times to be the straight heterosexual like his friends 🙁

      Nor did you pastor to me (thankfully!) as I fought to pretend to be like my straight pals. I didn’t fall to the terrible fate that being gay could lead to. Thankfully I also did not lie and pretend to be interested in females for very long either. And praise God, I met a guy like me, who did not choose to be homosexual.

      Choice? What a load of rubbish. Seriously, where people get that from, and spout it in 2018 is just astonishing. I was 10 years of age when I was reading a book for 10 to 11 year olds on the birds and bees… even then, there was no interest in the story about the girl growing up. I didn’t know WHY but I was only interested in the young man. I wasn’t abused as a child, and my parents are superb Christian people who have married and been faithful for nearly 50 years.

      My parents, friends, relatives and my Methodist church friends have been amazing and supportive of me. They showed that by being with me and my partner of 13 years when we married.

      Paul wrote Romans when? Around 35AD? I may not be exact, but you visit Pompeii and see how openly sex was literally traded until 79AD when it was frozen in time. The covenant relationship I have with my lifetime partner, loving, committed, consensual in nature is not what Paul wrote about. It is not what he saw going on in Roman times.

      I know there are strong, deeply held feelings, conctions and beliefs that are not easily changed, especially in the audience for s blog like this one. Time will change things though.

  8. Bill Payne says:

    Excellent commentary!

  9. Bill Payne says:

    By the way, millions of people have died and come back to life. Over 49% of those have encountered God. They all describe God in very similar ways. Never has anyone encountered a female God in heaven. I love woman preachers but the Bible and eyewitnesses do not confirm that God is genderless or that God is a female.

  10. Robert R Ferguson says:

    It is more clear now that the prayers for maintaining of biblical authority are being heard. Evil always tries to win but realizes too late that Jesus took the keys of the kingdom from Lucifer when our victorious Lord exited hades and the tomb and ascended to the right hand of God the Father.

  11. Isaac says:

    this shows openly that God Is still in control of our lovely church. therefore God remains faithful to his promises.
    we love you all but let the WORD OF GOD REMAIN TRUE.

  12. Lanny Garner says:

    Thank You, Jesus!

  13. Judy Hall says:

    I am not conservative but I appreciate your clarification of conservative thinking about these two amendments and your affirmation of male/female equality in the eyes of God and of the UMC. I do affirm my own biblical understanding that God is neither male nor female and I believe that the fact that God chose to become incarnate as a male made sense in view of the cultural and political nature of the time.

    • senecagriggs says:

      Your suggestion is, that Scripture, like Microsoft Windows, has to be updated on occasion. Sovereign God couldn’t get it right the first time?
      I don’t believe God needs to do version two. He’s not Bill Gates, he created Bill Gates.

    • Thadius Sales says:

      I agree with you, Judy!

    • John Lomperis says:

      Thanks for the respectful engagement, Judy. I am glad to have provided some insight into why some viewed things differently.

    • Charles H. Walkup, Jr. says:

      Just remember, Jesus never referred to God as female. It was always “My father …”.

  14. Ted Finlayson-Schueler says:

    Is this a satire site?

    • Sara Shaver says:

      I find your arguments weak at best and grabbing for straws to keep the “status quo” or as we call it in the south the Good Ole Boy network alive and well.

  15. Jim Hopwood says:

    There has been a hijacking here but it is not by “liberals.”

  16. Thadius Sales says:

    I enjoyed your writing and clarification. I think there has been an overreaction by many to the outcome of the voting. I’ve heard many say “I guess the UMC is against women after all.” I only wish those who saw this move in that manner really understood that it isn’t the case.

  17. Thomas says:

    Not being a Methodist, I`m glad that the United Methodist Church seems to be escaping the destructive forces of theological liberalism.

  18. Lynn A. Lewis McClure says:

    I am very saddened by the title and some of the responses of this article. I don’t know what goes on in other annual conferences but we are instructed in the Arkansas to neither cheer nor Boo outcome of any vote or speech upon the conference floor. It is uncomely of a body of Christ. I understand debate but not gloating over the results. May we please learn to be kind to those with whom we disagree.

    • John Lomperis says:

      I can see great value to the sort of approach you describe in the Arkansas Conference. But for better or for worse, that is not the system we have in the UMC. Remember how a few years ago the Council of Bishops officially “celebrated” when results of some US elections were according to their partisan likings, or how they have now very loudly booed some of these amendments results? And where is any kindness to those with whom we disagree in bishops misrepresenting the truth of Amendments #1 and #2 by recklessly impugning the character of those who voted “No,” suggesting that this was somehow voting against women? (and if that does not count as inflammatory rhetoric, I am not sure what does).
      For my part, I remain committed to trying to at least extend the Golden-Rule kindness of accurately representing the facts about those with whom I disagree. If a lowly layman like me can do this, why should this be too much to ask of our bishops?

  19. Justjn says:

    These things signal the death knell of the
    UMC, as they have in other denominations. Your “orthodoxy” is an idol and a millstone you’ve placed upon the necks of those trying to make the UMC reflective of the Gospel of Christ.

    And that is tragic.

  20. Deborah says:

    Justin, I agree.

  21. Rex D. Matthews says:

    As of tonight (5/10/18) we know that the sentence in Amendment 1 about which y’all had “serious theological concerns”—the sentence saying that “The United Methodist Church recognizes it is contrary to Scripture and to logic to say that God is male or female, as maleness and femaleness are characteristics of human bodies and cultures, not characteristics of the divine”—had been removed from the amendment by General Conference, by a vote of 746-56, and was included in the text sent to the annual conferences due to “human error.” Will Good News now support ratification of the amendment minus the offending sentence? If not, why not?

  22. David T says:

    There’s been a MAJOR development regarding Amendment #1 today, as announced in a press release by the Commission on General Conference titled “Constitutional amendment to be revisited.” The sentence that you found problematic was in the text of the amendment by MISTAKE, and so effective immediately, Annual Conferences are now re-voting on Amendment #1. For example, a report from the Liberia Annual Conference called out that sentence as the reason they voted 956-0 against Amendment #1. Unfortunately, some Annual Conferences won’t meet again until 2019, so the assured ratification of the corrected Amendment won’t be final until then.

  23. John says:

    I now read a mistake was made and Amendment 1 will be resubmitted for consideration without that one sentence which was problematic. I think most all of us agree God created both men and women in His image and our Church should make all opportunities available for women. Perhaps with the deletion of the offending sentence, members of UMC can affirm the value of women without having to be shamed for affirming a belief in God the Father and His only Son, Jesus Christ. There can be no doubt Jesus is both a human male and Divine God.

    • Judy Bailey says:

      I agree John. The male was the head of the family. The Son is the Head of the Church family. Father God (male) is above all creation and The Holy Spirit brought the Son into the world through the Virgin Mary (female). The way our triune God brought His Son to earth clothed in flesh. In child like faith I believe the Word of God. I don’t always understand all of it but I believe it to be infallible. Praise be to God!

  24. Melissa L Logan says:

    Let’s talk subversive tactics for a minute. Malcolm Gladwell has quote “Sometimes proof is just another word for letting people suffer”. That is the spirit of what is going on here. Those who would applaud the defeat of Amendment 1 hide behind “if not for that one sentence”. That belongs right up their with “it’s for your own good” and “separate but equal”. What you are saying is simple. You are telling every woman in the UMC and in the world for that matter (your wives, sisters, daughters, friends) you are telling them, yes ladies, your are important and of course we don’t want you to be abused or mistreated, we are not monsters, we are Christians! But ladies please understand, at the end of the day, God is a Man. The most powerful being, the One who created you, the One who created the earth, the one who will save you and all of MANkind is a MAN. Just remember that when you are asking for equal pay or trying to run a company or a congregation or trying to have control of your own body. Just remember that God is a man when some man is calling you ‘hon’ or abusing you or telling you that you run like a girl. Just remember ladies, GOD IS A MAN. The bible tells me so.

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