Theologically liberal Methodist clergy, laity, and caucus groups continue to evaluate their next steps within the denomination after the special 2019 General Conference vote to maintain and strengthen enforcement of traditional sexual ethics on February 26. One especially rattled caucus group is the relatively new “Mainstream UMC,” led by the Rev. Dr. Mark Holland, whose primary mission was to campaign for the progressive One Church Plan and against any sort of “gracious exit” provisions to allow congregations to leave the denomination and keep their property if they could not in good conscience honor its sexuality standards after 2019.
During a recent public radio interview on KCUR, Holland, who was himself a delegate, expressed frustration with delegates from outside of the United States and confessed that “essentially, I think where we are going to be moving is to a U.S. expression of Methodism.” Presumably, the we refers to theologically liberal Methodists dissatisfied with the General Conference vote.
Holland is a United Methodist minister who served as both the Democratic mayor of Kansas City, Kansas and pastor of Trinity Community Church before losing his re-election and taking time off from the church to advocate full-time for the One Church Plan. Alongside the Rev. Nanette Roberts, Holland co-founded “Mainstream UMC” in 2018 to heavily campaign for the One Church Plan. So the downfall of the One Church Plan at the special session of General Conference has placed Holland’s caucus group in a precarious position.
“If this had been a U.S.-only vote, this would have passed 12 years ago,” professed Holland on public radio, “But because of the growing influence of the international church—and they said very clearly, the delegates from the international church—said very clearly ‘we cannot be in a church that allows inclusion, even if it’s not us.’”
In trying to sell the One Church Plan, Holland had repeatedly made the blatantly false claim that this liberalizing plan “has no impact on the Central Conferences outside of the U.S.” UMAction Director John Lomperis outlined here seven ways in which this plan would actually have a major impact on non-American United Methodists.
In this recent interview, Holland noted that the number of international delegates to General Conference has risen significantly since the five percent of international delegates before 1980. “Today that number is 42 percent. And so there’s been a dramatic change in our practice of including international delegates in voting of the General Conference,” he stated.
He’s right on that much. The United Methodist Church (UMC) is growing in international presence and significant influence, especially in the so-called Global South. This lends to the increased number in delegates from outside of the U.S. The next UMC General Conference, in 2020, will have even fewer delegates from the USA and even more from Africa and the Philippines. But isn’t this a good thing for a notably global church?
Funny enough, the KCUR radio host—who disclosed that he is a Presbyterian (USA) clergyman who affirms same-sex behavior—pointed out the awkwardness in Holland’s complaint of international delegates when the UMC is a proudly global church.
“I hope you didn’t hear me complaining about it,” Holland backtracked. “I think the issue is the delegates from outside of the United States said they will not be a part of a U.S. church that has inclusion.”
He continued: “The U.S. church was very willing and voted overwhelmingly—two-thirds of the U.S. delegates voted overwhelmingly—to be in a church where there were regional differences, including allowing the international churches to continue with no same-sex weddings or ordination of gay and lesbian persons.”
While Holland has repeatedly claimed that fully two-thirds of U.S. delegates supported the One Church Plan, he has no firm basis on which to make such precise claims, given how votes were cast via secret ballot. And such “overwhelming” support for a divisive liberal plan, which despite the name was even more dramatic than the liberal policies that split other mainline denominations, certainly is not reflective of rank-and-file United Methodists in the pews.
In any case, the UMC is not a national church nor merely a “U.S. church” that allows its international congregants to practice Biblical sexual standards. As a third-generation Methodist minister, Holland understands this. But unfortunately for him, the significant Methodist presence outside of the United States limits his liberal agenda in opposing the UMC’s orthodox teaching on homosexuality.
“The U.S. church has extended an invitation to a diversity that was soundly rejected by the international delegates,” explained Holland. “And so the U.S. has wanted this diversity and a willingness to have a theological diversity in a way that the international delegates are not.”
Contrary to such rhetoric, Lomperis has outlined how it was actually the Traditional Plan that would foster far greater diversity within the denomination, both in terms of differences of opinion and in terms of global and ethnic diversity, while the One Church Plan would dramatically reduce diversity by these measures.
Perhaps Holland should seriously consider the words of Dr. Jerry Kulah, Dean of Gbarnga School of Theology, United Methodist University in Liberia,” who has said:
Friends, please hear me, we Africans are not afraid of our sisters and brothers who identify as lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgendered, questioning, or queer. We love them and we hope the best for them. But we know of no compelling arguments for forsaking our church’s understanding of Scripture and the teachings of the church universal.
And then please hear me when I say as graciously as I can: we Africans are not children in need of western enlightenment when it comes to the church’s sexual ethics. We do not need to hear a progressive U.S. bishop lecture us about our need to “grow up.”
Let me assure you, we Africans, whether we have liked it or not, have had to engage in this debate for many years now. We stand with the global church, not a culturally liberal, church elite, in the U.S.
(You can read Dr. Kulah’s remarks in their entirety here.)
So what is next for Holland and his liberal caucus “Mainstream UMC” now that the One Church Plan is defeated?
According to Holland, a board meeting is scheduled to evaluate the caucus’s future. But Holland remains hopeful. “It looks like we may be headed to a new denominational structure now,” he said, “and the role for Mainstream, Uniting Methodists, and other organizations and other groups, probably is more important than ever to navigate this for the next year.”
A blog post written by Holland further indicates the agenda for “Mainstream UMC” is its focus on General Conference 2020 by recruiting delegates in-step with unorthodox sexual ethics.
“We need to recruit delegates who are tolerant of difference,” Holland wrote. “We need to challenge the vote at General Conference that wants to certify, punish, and evict everyone who does not share a particular view of scripture.”
Sadly, even after his misrepresentations of the facts were rejected by the 2019 General Conference, Holland is insisting on continuing the same blatant misrepresentations of the facts about the Traditional Plan (again, you can read Lomperis’s setting the record straight here) as he embarks on his new project of trying to elect more theologically liberal and fewer theologically orthodox delegates to the 2020 General Conference.
*John Lomperis, IRD’s UMAction director, contributed to this article.