In October, I reported that “at least eleven liberal United Methodist congregations in five different states, from the Deep South to the far North, have publicly announced that they are taking at least initial steps towards leaving the United Methodist Church.”
Since then, at least two additional liberal congregations, in two additional states, have publicly announced that they are taking steps towards leaving the UMC.
In all 13 cases, these moves are being taken in explicit protest of our denomination’s traditional biblical sexual-morality standards, which no one seriously disputes are consistent with the UMC’s official, constitutionally protected Doctrinal Standards and which the 2019 General Conference re-affirmed last year.
The Church in Ocean Park UMC, a not-huge but growing congregation in Santa Monica, California, unanimously adopted a resolution at its November charge conference declaring “The position of the United Methodist Church regarding human sexuality is in direct conflict with the faith and understandings of the members of the Church in Ocean Park United Methodist Church” and announcing that it was beginning the process to seek disaffiliation from our denomination under the “gracious exits” legislation adopted at the February 2019 General Conference.
The congregation’s pastor, the Rev. Janet McKeithen, reportedly claimed, in reference to the settlement of my complaint against Tarot-practicing lesbian activist minister Anna Blaedel in Iowa, that “This harmful S..t is one reason why we passed this” statement referenced above. But I note that this congregation issued its statement a couple days before the Iowa resolution was announced.
McKeithen has her own public statement thanking the charge conference for passing its statement, declaring for her part that “There is no ‘way back’ at this point, but there is a ‘way forward.’” At another point, McKeithen says:
“The United Methodist Church is no more.
No matter what happens in 2020.
No matter what happens in 2075.
No matter what happens in 4791.
The United Methodist Church is no more.*
This grieves my heart, but it’s a fact.
The church that I know and love is gone.
It is fractured and what happens next is unknown.”
The asterix directs to a footnote clarifying: “Note: The Church in Ocean Park is interfaith, but is hosted by the UMC. So what happens with the UMC directly impacts the Church in Ocean Park.” Indeed, the congregation’s main website repeatedly describes itself as an “interfaith congregation” rather than an exclusively Christian one, in which Buddhists can appreciate Ash Wednesday rituals while Christians “might love the solstice ritual.” Pastor McKeithen, while an elder in good standing in the California-Pacific Conference, describes herself as “a Christian who resonates with Native American spirituality, and a sprinkling of Buddhist teachings.”
Even many not-terribly conservative traditionalists have recently been shocked to learn of the blatantly non-Christian and interfaith elements of Glide Memorial UMC in San Francisco. Evidently, Glide is not the only “interfaith” congregation within the theologically radicalized world of California United Methodism. And after all, the leadership of the Western Jurisdiction made clear in 2016 their overwhelming belief that Dr. Karen Oliveto’s leading Glide outside of what even many liberals would call a Christian identity made her supremely qualified to be bishop.
In Oklahoma City, Mosaic UMC, which is a bit larger than the Church in Ocean Park, later adopted its own public statement decrying our denomination’s failure to secularize our values on marriage and sexual morality. Most of that statement is a lot of the angry pledges of “resistance” of which we have seen much lately. But notably, this statement says that while its endorsers hope to see the 2020 General Conference liberalize the denomination on sexuality, “If no positive changes are voted in at the 2020 General Conference, we will exit the United Methodist Church.”
Both of these two congregations are already formally affiliated with the LGBTQ liberationist Reconciling Ministries Network.
In addition to these 13 liberal congregations moving towards the exit door, I have no idea how many others may have taken or may be in the process of contemplating such actions. The liberal “UM Forward” caucus is currently seeking to pull such people together with its “Exilic Community Survey,” but there is no comprehensive public list.
For some years, we have seen some conservative congregations talking about (and sometimes actually) leaving the denomination in frustration over the heavy-handed liberal leadership of much of the UMC hierarchy.
Since February, our denomination has been increasingly on a path in which we can expect to now see liberal congregations leaving.
Many may wonder why a liberal congregation in California would feel the need to leave our denomination on its own, given the clear liberal sympathies of its bishop and the dominant faction of its annual conference. Similar questions have been raised about why conservative congregations in Texas or Mississippi would want to leave on their own.
There are obviously complex factors in any such local decisions. But in the big picture, these recent moves towards departure underscore that our denomination’s connectionalism matters. Despite the rhetoric of many liberal leaders implying that we are a Confederate Methodist Church or a Congregationalist Methodist Church, so that the spiritual practices of those in other regions in our denomination are none of our dang business, at the local level, church folk across the theological spectrum see through such spin. We are the United Methodist Church. Major-publicity events in any one part of the denomination directly impact the reputation, trust, and spiritual health of every other part.
The longer our denomination continues to waver between two drastically opposed spiritual paths, and the longer the internal warfare drags on, the more we can expect to see more and more congregations and individuals across the spectrum opt out of the dysfunction and go their own way.