In a remarkably quick turn from the recent “unity, unity” rhetoric, a notable group of liberal United Methodists leaders, from Alaska to Florida to Germany, has declared in no uncertain terms that they “cannot” remain in the same church with Christians who support the traditional standards of the United Methodist Church’s Book of Discipline.
And they are apparently not sure whether or not they can continue to tolerate the presence of Methodists who have not yet settled what they believe about matters related to homosexuality and transgenderism.
In the last year, “Mainstream UMC” emerged as the major factional caucus (other than the Council of Bishops) pushing the so-called “One Church Plan” to liberalize church standards on marriage and ordination.
Rev. Dr. Mark Holland of the Great Plains Conference, Mainstream UMC’s executive director, has distinguished himself with numerous blatant misrepresentations of the facts. I have earlier rebutted his repeated claims that two-thirds of American United Methodists want to liberalize the church’s definition of marriage and that the so-called One Church Plan to liberalize our denomination would have “no effect on central conferences outside the United States.” Holland’s strident characterizations of the Traditional Plan as allegedly evicting people from our church simply for having dissenting beliefs are not only demonstrably false, but appear to be a case of projection, when we compare the details and implications of the Traditional Plan vs. the plan Holland’s group promoted at the 2019 General Conference.
But it is remarkable that this latest statement, disavowing any interest in continued affiliation with traditionalist United Methodists, was not sent in Holland’s name alone, but rather in the name of the whole Advisory Board of this caucus group.
In an email sent May 15 by Mainstream UMC to its supporters as well as to 2019 General Conference delegates across the spectrum, the Advisory Board asked for feedback on what they would want in “a new Methodism.” In its second question, the Board made clear that from now on, “we cannot affiliate with those who espouse the mean-spirited views … that are embodied in the Traditional Plan.”
And what about people who are not fully traditionalist in their beliefs about homosexuality, but who are, at this point, not sure if they fully embrace Mainstream UMC’s liberal perspective? Could such people have a place in the church Mainstream UMC envisions? The caucus does not yet know, and is asking for feedback.
Here is their own wording:
What does “full inclusion” of LGBTQ persons mean to you? Is the inclusion “mandated” or “allowed?” Is there room in the New Methodism for those who are unsure? This gets to the heart of whether a New Methodism will have progressives and centrists together or in separate expressions. (Let us be clear, we cannot affiliate with those who espouse the mean-spirited views of certifying, punishing, and evicting that are embodied in the Traditional Plan.) [emphasis added]
(Obviously, no Traditional Plan supporter would accept this harsh characterization of these new church laws, the majority of which make no explicit mention of sexuality, as fair or accurate.)
While as a delegate, I received this Mainstream UMC email, I have not seen it posted online. But Mainstream UMC posted the same question quoted above on its Facebook page.
This striking declaration from Mainstream UMC was an early entry in a recent series of public statements and meetings by liberal U.S. United Methodists.
A meeting of liberal caucus leaders in Minneapolis last weekend seemed set on creating a new liberal spin-off denomination. From that meeting came a manifesto entitled “Loved and Liberated” which establishes a vision for a new church in which it would be “non-negotiable” to have absolutely no pockets of protected disagreement from their liberal vision of intersectional LGBTQ liberation. An article on the website of “UM Forward,” who sponsors that event, expressed the verdict, “The United Methodist denomination is, for all intents and purposes, dead” and “rotted to its core.”
Another recent manifesto of United Methodists opposing the UMC Discipline’s biblical standards is called “Creating a Future with Hope.” That statement includes a commitment to “seek nothing less than the full repeal of the Traditional Plan.” This would even including repealing the reforms of the just-resolution process that in 2016 were endorsed by the liberal “Love Your Neighbor Coalition” (see “Complainant as Party to Just Resolution” on page 2) and repealing provisions of the Traditional Plan that protect victims of abuse in matters not necessarily related to homosexuality. While the previous rhetoric of these supporters of the so-called “One Church Plan” was to profess wanting to include centrists, progressives, and traditionalists, this statement now shifts to saying “We are open to exploring new forms of Methodism that incorporate centrists, progressives, and all other United Methodists who embrace the principles contained in this statement” (notice who’s missing?). “Creating a Future with Hope” lists several groups as Principal Signatories, including Mainstream UMC, Adam Hamilton’s “Uniting Methodists” caucus, the Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA), the Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN), and United Methodists for Kairos Response.
Hamilton’s recent gathering near Kansas City and a recent statement from RMN both displayed some divided sentiment between staying and fighting vs. starting a new liberal denomination (while both being evidently uninterested in listening to the global majority of United Methodists). But RMN’s statement did say of the UMC: “we cannot with integrity continue to partner with an institution explicitly set on harming the most marginalized among us.”
On social media, the Rev. Matt Miofsky, a St. Louis large-church pastor and prominent “One Church Plan” supporter, openly admitted, in the course of two comments, that “really the aim of” proposals for liberals to stay and fight is “that traditionalists leave,” feeling driven out by liberals’ tactics. “One Church,” indeed.
It is tempting to say that such recent divisive statements – especially the Mainstream UMC declaration of “Let us be clear, we cannot affiliate” with orthodox believers any longer – represent a dramatic reversal for such groups. And perhaps Mainstream UMC should refund money it got back when it was explicitly soliciting donations “for Unity in the church.”
But we cannot forget the behavior we saw from many of these same liberal leaders before the conclusion of the 2019 General Conference: the patterns of name-calling, false-witness-bearing, and anti-Golden Rule parliamentary tactics against theologically traditionalist United Methodists, and the consistent refusal to listen to our deep concerns about the so-called One Church Plan. Who could forget Mark Holland’s vowing at the 2019 General Conference to filibuster until the monster trucks rolled in or Mainstream UMC Advisory Board member David Livingstone talking about using African delegates’ confusion over process as a parliamentary weapon?)I really do not see how else to interpret this pattern other than that it displays an unwillingness to see theologically traditionalist United Methodists as beloved brothers and sisters in Christ, at least not in any meaningful way, despite all the rhetoric of “unity.”
As far as I can tell, the statements and reactions in recent months by liberal caucus leaders do not represent any fundamental change in their core values. Rather, what we are seeing is the unmasking of what was already there all along. But before February, this was perhaps a bit more obscured by the political sloganeering used to try to sell proposals to liberalize United Methodist standards at all costs.
The Mainstream UMC statement that “we cannot affiliate” with traditionalist United Methodists was simply signed “Advisory Board / Mainstream UMC” without listing individual names.
But beyond Mark Holland, the Advisory Board in whose name this effective call for divorce is issued reflects a geographically wide range of U.S. liberal leaders:
Jay Brim (the Rio Texas Conference chancellor)
Lonnie D. Brooks (from Alaska)
Rev. Dr. Stephen Cady (Upper New York)
Rev. Dr. Emanuel Cleaver, III (Missouri)
Tim Crouch (North Texas)
Rev. Barry Dundas
Robert Fuquay (Indiana)
Tom Harkrider (Central Texas)
Rev. Juan Huertas (Louisiana)
Rev. Lee Johnson (Great Plains Conference)
Rev. David Livingston (Great Plains)
Pat Luna (Alabama-West Florida)
Molly McEntire (Florida)
Rev. Werner Philipp (Germany)
Rev. Cynthia Weems (dean of the cabinet of Bishop Ken Carter’s Florida Conference)
Don Wiley (North Texas)
Nanette Roberts, co-founder (Great Plains)