2019 UMC General Conference


Beth Ann Cook

March 6, 2019

Of Millstones and Misunderstandings

Beth Ann Cook is Pastor at Logansport First United Methodist Church and president of the Indiana Confessing Movement. She has been a clergy delegate to the 2008, 2012, 2016, and 2019 General Conferences. She loves travel, painting in acrylics and watercolor, and cheering for the Indianapolis Colts.

UM Voices is a forum for different voices within the United Methodist Church on pressing issues of denominational concern. UM Voices contributors represent only themselves and not IRD/UMAction. This post was originally published on Pastor Cook’s Facebook page and shared by email. It is reprinted with her permission and edited lightly. 

General Conference 2019 is over. I’m still exhausted. I’m also reflecting on what a mess it was and how we got here.

I’m convinced that one of the problems is that progressives and centrists do not understand what motivates those who voted for the Traditional Plan at GC. Indiana Delegation members have had lengthy, difficult and even painful conversations about our positions and why we can or cannot support certain things. The Commission on a Way Forward did this well. I wish that people throughout the church had done the same.

Case in point: Dorothee Benz of New York went to the microphone and said that a delegate from Pennsylvania had said gay people should be drowned. That is not what she said–although I’m sure it is what she heard. The delegate from Pennsylvania quoted Scripture:

But if you cause one of these little ones who trusts in me to fall into sin, it would be better for you to have a large millstone tied around your neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea. Matthew 18:6, NLT

The Pennsylvania delegate was saying it would be better for us to be drowned in the sea than vote for the One Church Plan (OCP). We are setting the official teaching of the denomination. One day we have to stand in front of God one day and be held accountable for our actions.

United Methodists who support the church’s historic position on marriage believe that changing the definition of marriage would be wrong. They believe God would hold them accountable for such actions because if we endorse the OCP we are teaching people false teaching.

Conservative delegates were begged, cajoled, threatened and allegedly offered bribes to change their vote between the Legislative Session and the final vote. Tom Berlin told us that passing the Traditional Plan was the equivalent of giving the church a fatal virus.

But conservative delegates did not budge. Why? The answer is fear of the Lord. We simply could not do so. We believe that we will be held responsible for this and that the OCP is something that goes against the will of our Lord and Savior. We know we will stand before him some day.

These actions were not remotely understood by the Council of Bishops (COB), Adam Hamilton, or progressive leaders. Part of the problem is that we live in silos. Those in places like the Western Jurisdiction rarely have real conversation with people who believe what I believe. Even in places like Indiana and West Ohio where we are theologically diverse we tend to talk mostly with people who agree with us.

Progressive leaders were convinced that based on their influence, charisma, or positions of power they could force the passage of the OCP. At one point during a meeting in Indiana Annual Conference I said I felt like a goose being fattened for foie gras–force fed something I couldn’t swallow.

In the run up to GC2019 the Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA), Good News, Confessing Movement, and Africa Initiative leaders reached out to the Council of Bishops (COB) and progressive leaders. Chris Ritter did everything he could to talk people into supporting the Connectional Conference Plan even though it required constitutional amendments. There was zero interest.

The effort to pass a gracious exit even stalled when Uniting Methodists and Mainstream UMC leaders like Jim Harnish and Mark Holland doubled down on the idea that no exit provisions should be passed.

No matter how much the voices like mine said “you are heading us over a cliff,” we were ignored. Bishop Scott Jones who leads the Texas Annual Conference spoke loudly about this and was not just ignored but vilified for it.

Those who believe what I believe went into St. Louis knowing that we likely had enough votes to block the One Church Plan and pass the Traditional Plan.

I talked with Kent Millard after the prioritization votes. He asked if I was surprised. I told him that we were about 1-2% stronger than I expected. But the vote was pretty close to my expectation. He told me the centrists and progressives were stunned.

Honestly I was stunned that they were stunned.

They kept citing this statistic that two-thirds of U.S. United Methodists supported the One Church Plan. I never believed this is an accurate statement, and I think their poll numbers were skewed. The United Methodist New Service published a recent poll that shows that more United Methodists in the U.S. identify as theologically conservative than progressive.

Yet the Council of Bishops is much, much more progressive than the average UMC church. They were so sure that everyone would line up behind their leadership.

I wonder if the Council of Bishops and progressive or centrist leaders are willing to listen now that we’ve inflicted so much pain on each other in St. Louis.

Can we now try to understand each other?

Can we now try to find an actual way forward we can vote for without violating our deeply held convictions?

Can we seek some sort of affiliated, autonomous church arrangement?

I pray this is the case. I’m willing to work for this behind the scenes, and if anyone from the more progressive side of the house wants to talk I’m willing to do that. (Although I would like a few weeks off.)

I’m also crazy enough to pray that I get elected to go to General Conference in 18 months in Minnesota. I know progressives in our annual conference are very unhappy with me. I’ve seen a lot of posts about progressives and centrists organizing for elections taking place at Annual Conference, so I have no idea if I can get elected again. But I feel called to it–even if I’m weary of the whole mess. (And as a member of the Commission on General Conference and Ethics Committee I have to go to GC2020 no matter what.)

May the Lord help us overcome our misunderstandings.

I continue to pray Luke 6:31. Lord, help us treat one another as we want to be treated. Help us be known as people who love.

Blessings and peace,

Beth Ann

40 Responses to Of Millstones and Misunderstandings

  1. Dan W says:

    Thank you for you r wise words Pastor Beth Ann.
    I know pastors in the Western Jurisdiction who went to seminary and served congregations in the Southeastern U.S. They know plenty of Southern United Methodists. They just think all of those loving, faithful Christians are wrong. A lifetime of walking in faith with our Lord apparently means nothing to them (!?)

  2. Lee D. Cary says:

    “Yet the Council of Bishops is much, much more progressive than the average UMC church. They were so sure that everyone would line up behind their leadership.” And what, pray tell, is behind that self-assurance of commanding leadership?

    Its birth, in America, hit full stride in the late 1800’s when about 8,000+ of the best and brightest students, newly graduated from east coast universities, visited Bismarck’s (Hegel’s) Germany for their advanced (Doctorate) degrees because U.S. universities were not fully developed, and a world-class, higher-education was to be found only in Germany.

    When they came home, many became professors in their former, and in newly emerging, universities where they trained others to think progressively. The eventual outcome surfaces today in debates between “progressives” and “conservatives.”

    Progressives are imbued with the self-righteous arrogance of intellectual tyrants who perceive themselves as the true, thought-leaders of a culture (or, for that matter, an organization, be it religious, governmental, or secular.). Today they dominate nearly all the major, non-scientific disciplines. And they would rather wreck the train than share the cab with those not like-minded.

    In short, they traffic in soft tyranny. (That, occasionally, historically, in other countries has become hard.)

    Meanwhile, professional church people tend to think otherwise, promoting love, kindness, compromise, inclusiveness, contextual flexibility, in wanting to be “known as people who love.” Soft love, not tough love, that is. Which is why progressives prevail over time, and will do so in the United Methodist Church debate re. “human sexuality.” Progressives never quit.

  3. David says:

    According to the survey cited, 9% of “conservative-traditionalist” members feel Jesus was just a person and not the Son of God. Do these labels have any real meaning?

    There are many who have not liked the culture of the Bigot Belt from the time of slavery. The animus against Blacks, Jews, Catholics, immigrants, unionized workers, and the dreaded Yankees is still with us. Another recent survey has shown that 70% of Americans now favor same sex marriage. By its actions, the UMC has placed itself with the “deplorables.”

    • Mike says:

      “Bigot Belt”? ” UMC has placed itself with the “deplorables””? Where do you come up with this stuff?

    • Kathy says:

      Jesus accepted all into his flock, after telling them to sin no more. Please study the Bible again and I believe God can open your eyes to this.

      • Wayne says:

        Actually this scripture is misunderstood by many. You have to know the Jewish culture at this time. The woman caught in adultery was brought forward for judgement. In Jewish culture, you had to have 2 or 3 witnesses to a sin in order to condemn, AND you could not have ever committed that sin yourself. So when the accusers “slipped away one by one” they were admitting that had committed that sin. Also, Yeshua said go and sin no more. We don’t know if she repented and was saved or not. This story tells us that Jesus’s primary concern is neither to punish the wrong-doer nor to let her off but to put her right. That’s the message.

    • Dan W says:

      David, you should visit the South. I think you would be very surprised at how welcoming it is, especially our churches. You would be offered a lot of sweet tea, maybe invited to breakfast at the Waffle House and offered Coke or Mountain Dew more often than Pepsi. If you get the chance to attend a covered dish (potluck) at a Methodist Church you know you have been accepted. I have worked in 45-46 of the lower 48 states, and am pretty sure the bigot belt extends between the Canadian border and Mexico, from the Pacific to the Atlantic oceans. The good folks far out number the bad folks (and that includes U.M. bishops.)

    • Coach says:

      Comments like this show a total lack of respect from the progressives towards the conservatives. A total lack of Christian love. It is time for this denomination to divide, so that the work and will of the Lord can become manifest.

    • Jim says:

      David do these same 70% favor the rapid embrace of infanticide that was/is the next logical step from abortion on demand?

    • Kathy says:

      So the church should be swayed by people’s opinions instead of what is written in the Bible?

  4. Dan Frank says:

    One problem with this article is that it doesn’t explain that the one church plan allowed every church to have the freedom to form it’s own opinion of this debate. It was not forcing any church to conform to a set idea. Jesus did not and would not exclude anyone from his flock and accepted all to follow him. Working in the Musical field I have many Gay friends that are the best Christians you would ever know. To force them out of the church as you have done is reprehensible, they are your organists, pianists, choir directors etc. and now have no place in your church. All are accepted by Jesus into his flock but not your church.

    • Kent says:

      The idea that under the OCP each church would get to chose their stance is a dog faced lie. After seeing the progressive Bishops various responses to the vote, if anyone believes they would not have put enormous pressure on bible believing churches to change their ways, they are either being dishonest or very ignorant.

    • td says:

      No, the one church plan would have changed the church’s teaching on marriage and sexual sins. UMC congregations are not autonomous- and they definitely are not autonomous when it comes to church doctrine and teachings.

      If the UMC officially recognizes same sex marriage in one place, it would have to be recognized everywhere- no matter what individual pastors or congregations personally believed. And eventually each pastor and each congregation would have had to permit same sex marriage because the UMC no longer would have a teaching that it is wrong. The same goes for deciding that sexual sins are no longer sins.

      And, of course, the practical problem of the one church plan is that the vitriol experienced at the special general conference would have been replicated in every single congregation- dividing life-long friends and family members.

    • Reynolds says:

      That argument was used in the Episcopal church and look at them now. Also a Bishop can force a preacher on s church. Just let everyone go their separate ways without the lawsuits like the PCUSA and Episcopal Church

      • Carol says:

        Umm….. The Episcopal Church still has several lawsuits pending… including one against my own diocese (The Diocese of South Carolina). TEC has *never* allowed a parish or diocese to walk away AND with their property. You are expected to hand over the keys (and title) to your property. ONLY individuals can leave TEC without consequences!

        • Jeffrey Walton says:

          That’s not completely true: there were several negotiated departures, including Christ Church Plano in the Diocese of Dallas. Most of these were prior to 2006 and the election of Katharine Jefferts Schori as Presiding Bishop. Even after that time, a handful of parishes, including St. George’s Church in Helmetta, New Jersey, and Church of the Word in Gainesville, VA were able to remain in their buildings. In all of these cases, a diocesan bishop decided that a negotiated departure was a better use of resources.

          • Mike says:

            These ‘negotiated departures’ included such restrictions as: the departing church could not join the Anglican group for at least five years; the church had to pay for its property; if the church could not make a go of it, the property could not be sold to an Anglican group.

    • Mike says:

      Dan Frank: “Working in the Musical field I have many Gay friends that are the best Christians you would ever know.” I believe that, if you read the Bible correctly, you will find out that God Himself disagrees with you, as He makes clear in several places in the Bible. After all two different terms are used for these people in the list of those whose practices will keep them from going to heaven. I Cor. 6:9-10

  5. Andrew Hughes says:

    Thanks for your burden and vision Beth.

  6. Bruce Davis says:

    I appreciate this common sense analysis. Whatever one’s position on the Great Issue, the lack of foresight by the denominational leaders is really pretty astonishing.

  7. Matthew Gotthardt says:

    Thank you , Pastor Cook. You expressed my same Feelings. Istarted attending a different churchfrom the one I grew up in a rural area. The new church is in a bedroomcommunity. The lay leader is also our district lay leader. the lay leader spoketo our sunday school class briefly . He wasvery condescending and typefied most of the support for the traditional plan as “rural”. I found this offensive as my family are seventh generation ranchers . we also are sixth generation Methodists. He didleave hisemail for “clarification”. He refused any discussion after two exchanges. He ischosen/ elected torepresent his congregation.
    Frankly ,Dan Frank as a Methodist ,who has committed quite a few sins, I repent and recommit my heart and soul to the God these other sinners do. Hommosexuals belong in church just like drunks , dope peddlers , prostitutes, thieves etc. BEFORE they shouldbe ordained theyneed torepent just like anyother sinner. The council of bishops are arrogant ,overpaid , and disconnected from their congregations . Who in the blueblazes gave themthe authority to reinterpret scripture? They are surrounded by sycophants and associate with progressive professors in our seminaries. There is a saying here in Texas “ Dance with who brung ‘ya”. We are telling the bishops, we don’t even want on the floor with you.

    • td says:

      Yes, this is right on. And I am not sure what the solution is. Personally, I would just like to have a minister again that believes that God is in control, that God touches our lives, trusts the bible, encourages us to surrender our lives to Christ, and believes that Jesus was primarily concerned with transforming hearts and minds instead of being a political activist.

  8. Dan Eischen says:

    Progressives equate denial of gay marriage as kicking these people of the church as Dan Frank has said. Not true. They are welcome in our churches but we draw the line on gay marriage and ordination. Here’s a true illustration that makes the same point. Several year ago a young man in my church said he wanted to enter the ministry. Knowing that he had an IQ of below 50 and had been diagnosed with a mental condition that equated him to ten-year-old, I told him kindly that it would not be possible for him to enter the ministry. He insisted so the church recommended him. He went before the Board of Ordained Ministry and was denied the process. Did we kick him out of the church? No. He remained a faithful and active member. Progressives will probably take this illustration and say that I am equating gays and lesbians as being mentally deficient and miss the point entirely.

    • Amanda says:

      Dan… YES exactly! You are so spot on. thank you..
      Progressives equate denial of gay marriage as kicking these people of the church as Dan Frank has said. Not true. They are welcome in our churches but we draw the line on gay marriage and ordination.

  9. Kevin says:

    Very good and balanced perspective. Thank you for your faithfulness.

  10. Judging by the amount of vitriol posted by the so-called “progressives “, I doubt that it is possible to reconcile with them. If the article posted by former Methodist bishop Willimon is any indication of the “progressive” mindset, their arrogant elitism will prevent their acceptance of any position other than their own.

  11. Amanda says:

    I can’t tell you how REFRESHING it is to hear a UM pastor talk about “standing in front of God one day and being held accountable for our actions” and having “the FEAR of the LORD”. You will never ever hear those words from my liberal UM pastor.. I think I can count the times the word “sin” has been said from the pulpit in three years on one hand. It’s all about fuzzy love.. THANK YOU for having the resolve to stand firm upon the scripture and not caving into pressure from all around you.

  12. Tim says:

    Divorce is coming. I hope at the 2020 Conference they work on an easy to use exit plan first before anything else, that works for everyone. We are no longer The United Church and that is okay. The Methodist Church has split many times in the past and it is time it happens again. I just pray that we don’t end up in lawsuits trying to hold on to buildings after the congregation votes to leave the denomination. We don’t want to be like the other denominations that have spent millions punishing churches in Jesus name.

    • An Arkansas Traditionalist says:

      I hope you are right and there is an easy path to separation. My fear is that Progressives will not let go that easily because what they really want is validation; and think they can eventually wear down the stand-outs to gain such.

      • William says:

        And, they need cash $$, and guess who has it? Not them in sufficient amounts that cover real bills. Liberals always expect someone else to pay for their social engineering projects. Same mentality with UMC liberals.

      • MikeS says:

        Progressives want validation, the thrill of victory, and control of the buildings. Orthodox Methodists should view this as the first major skirmish but not the last. The progressives will regroup and be back again and again. I’ve seen in happen in the PCUSA. Eventually the conservatives get fed up and depart to focus on Religion instead of Politicking, the progressives own the denomination and the buildings, and congratulate themselves on their unique virtue, even as their churches shrink and die.

        • Kristy says:

          While I agree that some progressives do seem to exhibit enough animus against the church that this may be their goal, I want to caution grouping all of the “other” side together in one unbecoming stereotype. Isn’t this exactly what Beth Ann is showing not to be the case for traditionalists in her notes above? We need to be careful that we don’t fall into the same trap that we ask others to avoid- the trap of demonizing a whole group based on perceived stereotypes or the actions of some. How can we ask them to avoid doing this to us if we do the same to them?

    • Pat says:

      Tim, your thoughts are right on. Thank you

  13. Tim says:

    Question: “Does the Greek word arsenokoitai in 1 Corinthians 6:9 really mean ‘homosexuals’ or something else?”
    Very direct answer in the link below.

  14. Kristy says:

    Thank you Beth Ann for so accurately portraying the position of so many in the traditionalist portion of the church. I pray that some that need to hear this message will read and understand that there was no personal vendetta or campaign of hate being conducted, but a sincere devotion to the word of the Lord and strong belief that the traditional stance best reflects Scriptures.

  15. Dave says:

    Thanks for your insight. As UMC pastor who is Evangelical Orthodox, nothing surprises me anymore from Progressives. They are beginning to see the UMC is divided. Rebellious disobedience is dangerous to learning the humility of Christ.

  16. Paul Thompson says:

    Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. 36 I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, 37 for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

  17. Cynthia says:

    Pastor Cook, I have read your interesting letter to your congregation and this post. Though I doubt this comment will be added, I would encourage you to read all the comments posted here and on other Juicy Ecumenism posts. You mentioned hope for reconciliation, as do most members of our church. But unfortunately all I see is name calling here. Maybe this went on at GC2019, but it’s NOT the prevailing mood among moderates and progressives now.

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