Tomato Throwing Methodists and Enabling Bishops

John Lomperis on August 20, 2021

It’s no secret that there are tense, irreconcilable, and often emotional differences between United Methodists. But surely our divisions would never escalate to the point of literally throwing tomatoes, right?


Last week Jay Therell and Col. Russ Graves, the president and council chair of the Florida Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA) chapter, were invited to give a presentation at a local church before a divided audience that included some vocal liberals. As the two evangelical leaders returned to their cars, they noticed something on Therell’s that was not there before the presentation. Within the short period that Therell had parked there, someone pelted his car with tomatoes! He had to scrape off the seeds the next day.

I am told that his car was parked in such an out-of-the-way spot that whoever did this must have been someone who had been at the church for his presentation. 

Such tomato-throwing hatred against a conservative Methodist leader did not happen out of nowhere. It reflects the culture that Bishop Ken Carter has chosen to foster within the Florida Conference.

Therell has shown a deep, self-sacrificial commitment to our church. He walked away from a career as a lawyer to become a United Methodist pastor. Then he left the perks and prominence of being a district superintendent, took a leave of absence, and devoted himself full-time to the Florida WCA (here is a more detailed account of that).

But over the past year, the Florida Annual Conference leadership, of which Bishop Carter is the head, has chosen to single Therell out for an unprecedented level of bullying and harassment. This escalated to a notorious letter from the Revs. Magrey de Vega and Debbie Allen, the chair and vice-chair of the Florida conference board of ordained ministry (BOOM) demanding, in a rather “Big Brother” fashion, that he comprehensively provide details and even comprehensive video recordings of any and every meeting with United Methodist clergy and laity. They further demanded that he stop meeting United Methodist clergy and laity, even when invited, without first obtaining the permission of the district superintendent for that area (permission which he could reasonably suspect would be denied). These requirements imposed on Therell went far beyond anything in the UMC’s governing Discipline and would greatly limit the chances for congregations to receive accurate information about their options under the coming separation.

Therell explains:

All along I have refused to share the names of clergy and churches. There is a real fear on their part that they will be victims of retaliation for holding traditionalist views. Local pastors in particular are concerned as they might have their licenses discontinued. Churches have been afraid that their traditionalist pastor would be moved and a progressive one put in their place. Recent events in the North Georgia, Greater New Jersey, and Cal-Pac Annual Conferences have only served to deepen those concerns.

So while Bishop Carter and his BOOM have taken a rather permissive approach to liberal clergy who blatantly violate the UMC Discipline, Therell was effectively bullied into surrendering his ordination credentials and becoming a layman once again, as punishment for his commitment to the UMC’s own official, biblical doctrinal and moral values. You can read more details here.  

One of the few things that American United Methodist bishops do very effectively is pass the buck of responsibility.

But let’s be clear: the current Discipline gives bishops an incredible amount of power. In the Florida Conference, the buck stops with Ken Carter. Bishop Carter nominated the members of the Florida BOOM, and hand-picked each district superintendent. And how bishops choose to use, or not use, their “bully pulpit” has tremendous influence in a conference’s culture.

Anticipating that others would report on Therell’s effective defrocking, I tried a different approach of offering Bishop Carter an olive-branch opportunity to at least partially put to rest some of the fears of pastors in the Florida Conference, as well as in Western North Carolina, which he will also lead on September 1.

I tried inviting Bishop Carter to make clear, in very general terms, without arguing about the specifics of Therell’s case, his commitment to a culture in his conference in which everyone’s right to freedom of speech and freedom of choice as we prepare for the future could be respected, without being mistreated.

Specifically, I asked Bishop Carter:

  1. Recently, the Wesleyan Covenant Association’s Legislative Assembly adopted a resolution endorsing the Protocol that included these words: “In any case, we call on [United Methodist] Church bishops, district superintendents, and others to respect the right of self-determination for conferences, campus ministries, congregations, and clergy around the world. Conferences, campus ministries, congregations, and clergy must be allowed to make their own fair, free, and informed choices of which denomination to continue their ministries within, without facing any bullying, harassment, or mistreatment to punish or manipulate their actual or expected choices.”

What statement of affirmation, agreement, disagreement, or comment of any sort are you willing to offer on the call of these two sentences? 

  1. What are you willing to say to offer some calming re-assurance that you do *not* intend to bully or punitively change the appointment situation of any Florida Conference elders, deacons, or licensed local pastors SOLELY because of their being affiliated with the WCA or supportive of the Global Methodist Church, and that you do not want Florida’s district superintendents, board of ordained ministry, or district committees on ministry to do so either?
  1. As a general principle, what are you willing to say about whether or not United Methodist clergy and laity should have some right to freedom of speech to discuss accurate information about the Protocol and the options they would have after its adoption? 

For each of these three questions, it would have been very easy for Bishop Carter to simply say, “I agree.”

But he would not.

Initially, he only asked me to include in any reporting on Therell’s case the following statement that he sent Therell:

The Florida Conference has received your letter of withdrawal with respect.  The clergy relationship is with one’s peers, and that body will act upon your request. We disagree with your interpretation of events over the past two years, and with your characterization of the mission of the conference, our faith, our beliefs and our adherence to scripture. Yet we do so in a ‘catholic spirit.’ We consider you our brother in Christ, and wish you the best in your life and activities.

(Despite disagreeing with Therell’s “interpretation of events,” in correspondence with me, Bishop Carter notably did not dispute the accuracy of the infamous bullying letter from his BOOM leaders, which Therell posted online.)

After repeated back-and-forth correspondence (which I made clear was for the record), Bishop Carter consistently declined to directly answer of my three questions above, finally only telling me “I remain committed to the protocol, which is now in legislative form and is the work of the delegations, and the values of the protocol and how we characterize one another with grace and reconciliation in this interim season.”

Bishop Carter’s re-affirmation of support for the Protocol and its values is not nothing.

But it is hardly sufficient.

If Bishop Carter supports the right of everyone to make their own choice in the coming separation, and truly does not want to see anyone in our denomination (even those outside of his own liberal faction), bullied, harassed, or otherwise mistreated along the way, then why would he repeatedly refuse to explicitly, clearly affirm this when asked directly? 

If Bishop Carter, along with his district superintendents, has a firm, reliable commitment to not bully theologically orthodox pastors, and/or if Bishop Carter does not want his board of ordained ministry and districts committee on ministry to abuse their power by bullying orthodox pastors, then why would he repeatedly refuse to simply say so?

If Bishop Carter wants United Methodists to have freedom of speech to share and discuss accurate information about the Protocol and the future of Methodism, even if he and his deputies are not in control of every one of these conversations, then why would he repeatedly decline to simply say so?

When I privately expressed my disappointment in Carter’s response (and lack thereof), one knowledgeable observer asked me what would be in it for Ken Carter, personally, to answer my questions more directly or affirmatively.

A dramatically disgraced past governor of my former state was notoriously known for making “what’s in it for me?” the driving question of his politics.

I would have liked to have expected better from leaders of my denomination.

But the sad reality is that the Council of Bishops as a whole, and a great many individual bishops, seem to be primarily driven by a narrow focus on their own self-interest, particularly their zeal to amass and hoard power, wealth, and property for themselves. Other concerns about the health, faithfulness, and mission of the church are treated as distant seconds to this priority. Among the American bishops, good luck finding much willingness to sacrifice a fraction as much as Therell has for the sake of the gospel. I say all of this advisedly, as a long-time observer of the Council of Bishops who has had at least some direct interaction with most of them.

Plenty of other supposedly moderate bishops or supposedly centrist caucus leaders have shown a similar lack of interest in “calling off their attack dogs” or raising a finger to help stop even rather extreme hateful and abusive treatment of theologically orthodox United Methodists. The indirect complicity of Bishop Julius Trimble (who is now in Indiana) in the vicious bullying of three evangelical Iowa pastors out of United Methodist congregational ministry is one especially notable case.

Hate overflowing to the point of liberal Methodists throwing tomatoes, along with other recent examples of sub-Christian mean-spiritedness in the UMC, is a natural result of such failures of leadership. 

To be fair, I know there are a minority of faithful bishops who are actually committed to the UMC’s historic and still-official doctrinal and moral standards. 

I should also mention that Bishops Bruce Ough (at the end of his tenure in the Dakotas), Laurie Haller (Iowa), and Cynthia Moore-Koikoi (Western Pennsylvania) have done some excellent work in helping people across the theological spectrum in their conferences prepare for the future, and shown some willingness to sacrifice. This is particularly remarkable given how all three of these bishops are rather liberal, with track records of which I have been rather critical. So not all liberal bishops are the same.

That said, we cannot ignore the long, widespread pattern of many, and perhaps the majority, of bishops’ shortsightedly prioritizing their own self-interest.   

Relatedly, liberal bishops and others are now energetically seeking to woo theological traditionalists into choosing the liberalized post-separation United Methodist Church (psUMC) rather than the Global Methodist Church (which will continue our denomination’s current doctrinal and moral standards). And some of this marketing has been misleading. 

After the separation, the dynamics within the psUMC will shift dramatically, especially after it elects new bishops. PsUMC bishops can be expected to feel much less incentive than liberal UMC bishops do now to be nice to conservative members.

When Bishop Carter is so reluctant to make even the tiniest gesture to defend evangelical pastors from bullying and Orwellian crackdowns on free speech now, why should any evangelical in Florida, Western North Carolina, or elsewhere expect better treatment after the separation? Even after the psUMC officially liberalizes its sexual-morality standards (as the Protocol Preamble explicitly envisions). Even after they get a newly elected bishop who is so far left that s/he makes Ken Carter look like John McArthur by comparison. 

Remember, the BOOM and district committees on ministry are the main gatekeepers for deciding who can and cannot become United Methodist pastors, and the latter can very easily discontinue pastors in the technical sub-category of licensed local pastor. When we are already seeing this much blatantly anti-evangelical discrimination from these bodies, and such lack of interest by Bishop Carter in restraining their anti-conservative biases, then how many theologically conservative, Bible-believing new pastors can we expect them to approve after the separation? How will traditionalist congregations who choose the psUMC find a like-minded pastor after their current one retires? 

The reality is that the Protocol offers a relatively narrow window of opportunity for conferences and congregations to continue with the Global Methodist Church.

The time is now for our congregations to get the facts and prepare for the future.

  1. Comment by Pat on August 20, 2021 at 4:07 pm

    Carter is one of many false prophets in the USA UMC and he cares not for what the Bible says and is only interested in power, money and control. God will deal with him as Carter faces the same judgement we all face. The USA UMC is now a disgrace as satan has destroyed John Wesley’s Methodist church. Unless the new Global Methodist Church changes the management style and leadership with local churches having control of their local church and property, the new Global Methodist Church will be no better. No person in a leadership position should have this kind of power. Are their any leaders in the Florida Methodist Church who will confront Carter. Carter is a coward, knowing he is a liar and has long ago lost his way with Christ, His own personal relationship with Christ and knows in a public settingin a conservative Methodist church cannot stand up to God’s word regarding his leadership, his distortion of scripture and his failure to lead the Florida UMC in a Godly manner.

  2. Comment by Hank Beckel on August 20, 2021 at 5:21 pm

    We the members actually have more power that the bishops. We can withhold our contributions and bring them begging. Or we can just walk away and join a different denomination. I am tired of waiting. Have the separation vote this year.

  3. Comment by Reynolds on August 20, 2021 at 7:38 pm

    Well at least you realize the other side wants to burn it all down. They don’t care if the UMC survives or not. I don’t understand why the rest of the WCA doesn’t get this. WCA believes there will be a vote next year. There won’t be because that allows you to leave with property. If that happened, they will lose so it won’t. They have prepared for war and you prepared for peace. Look at Afghanistan. Those who prepare for war tend to win. So he’s looking at defeat next year.

  4. Comment by James on August 21, 2021 at 9:17 am

    Would appreciate clarification on Carter’s status:
    1. Will Carter be leaving his Florida bishop position September 1 to be Western NC bishop?
    2. Who will be the new Florida bishop on September 1?

  5. Comment by Anthony on August 21, 2021 at 9:21 am

    John, you say — “The time is now for our congregations to get the facts and prepare for the future.”

    Suppression and/or elimination of free expression is the historic hallmark of tyranny. Much of the hierarchy of the UMC is in lock step with this approach.

    How will the Global Methodist Church gain access into Annual Conferences and/or local congregations to present this church — or to present the fact that this church is actually the continuation of the historic Wesleyan Methodist movement?

    In my North GA Conference, where our infamous liberal bishop who trained under Ken Carter, and in addition to her hostile action against orthodox Mt Bethel, there is already an obvious “gag order” on her district superintendents, key pastors, and conference staff to not engage lay people in any dialogue regarding the Protocol and the emerging GMC.

  6. Comment by Gary on August 21, 2021 at 12:11 pm

    God bless the future Global Methodist church. I pray for all of the conservative, orthodox churches and pastors. It may seem like an eternity until next August, but God still wins in the end. I am blessed that I have not been silenced or coerced because of my beliefs. It saddens me to hear of abuse of power by our leaders. Their day will come. Keep the faith.

  7. Comment by David S. on August 21, 2021 at 9:59 pm

    One only needs to look to both TEC and PC(USA). Bishop Love is the best example at TEC. In the PC(USA), there has been a marked shift in the positions of the denomination on matters, which are at times contrary to the previously adopted, unchanged positions, i.e. not superceded/rescinded, of past General Assemblies, towards an unabashedly far-left positioning, and despite an official polity of diversity of opinion, the actions of the false teachers, preachers, and prophets leading the denomination has been to acknowledge on the one hand, and then slyly and falsely imply racism, bigotry, etc. on the other. To make matters worse, the current Stated Clerk and the current Executive Director demonstrate themselves to be cowards with milquetoast comments of all whatever is wrong, even as their subordinates focus solely on denouncing traditionalists.

    So, be forewarned by a now former member of the false Presbyterian denomination.

  8. Comment by Veronica on August 22, 2021 at 2:36 pm

    After the vote which was won by traditionalists, I witnessed my pastor, who had loudly proclaimed he was taking no side up to this point during innumerable meetings and discussions in worship, behave as if his mother had just suddenly died. His downcast mood and wringing of hands verged on the melodramatic. He was utterly devastated by the vote results. Then a lay person who was a delegate to the annual conference which came later (or whatever it is) got up in front of the congregation and basically assured us this vote would not stand. This mild mannered MD was really angry and behaved as though there could not be anyone in the congregation who disagreed with his stance. He seemed to indicate there was no one at the conference who disagreed. The vote meant nothing to him, it was full speed ahead. This was not my first clue this church was not for me (after 30+ years), but it was the deciding clue.

  9. Comment by Gary Bebop on August 22, 2021 at 3:36 pm

    John Lomperis would readily agree that ranting about abuse in North George or Florida may excite the comment box orators but hardly gets us down the road to a new denomination. It’s a false tact. Satisfying to the flesh but not to the spirit. What’s needed is a road to travel. Even Jody Ray counsels strength in the meekness of Jesus, not in weapons of the flesh. Mt. Bethel must exercise guileless determination to follow Christ through the ordeal, and so must the rest of us.

  10. Comment by This is nothing new on August 22, 2021 at 5:42 pm

    I simply and kindly ask the question; “What did we expect?” I’ve visited several General Conferences over the years and rude, boorish behavior from the left has been quite common for years. I have also been to Annual conferences when the same thing happened.

    While this behavior is awful, its a lot less of a problem than what a lot of our brothers and sisters are facing in other parts of the world. Yes, the Florida bishop has much to answer for it seems, and he will. But the price this man is paying for his actions is worth paying, and the losers in the end of this process will not be people who agree with him.

  11. Comment by floyd lee on August 22, 2021 at 11:40 pm

    The current corrosive liberal mess, and the ABUSE that is shamelessly taking place in association with that mess, is fully deserving of “comment box oration”, whether such oration is offered (or omitted) on a given occasion. Just saying.

    Tomatoes? Seriously?
    Bishop Ken Carter’s tactics? Seriously?
    Mm-mmm, folks.

  12. Comment by Wayne on August 23, 2021 at 1:03 am

    Tomato throwing? Sounds more like something an immature middle school kid might do, not grown adults. Christian? I think not! With Carter and any other liberal bishop that abuses their power, “absolute power corrupts absolutely”. I have heard of shady practices going on in almost all the mainline denominations by now.

  13. Comment by Brian Evers on August 23, 2021 at 12:11 pm

    Bishop Laurie Haller has been a little more squishy about her actions as a liberal. Three things have kept her in check. 1) There are some significant threats to withhold funds from the conference if she made certain moves. 2) There is an open rejection of Bishop mandates by well-funded congregations 3) There are many clandestine actions by small congregations against Bishop Haller.

    I do know that Bishop Laurie has made poorly veiled threats to the immigration status of traditionalist pastors.

  14. Comment by John Lomperis on August 24, 2021 at 7:36 pm

    Thanks for the question, James. On September 1, Bishop Carter will remain bishop of Florida, but will also at the same time be bishop of Western North Carolina.

  15. Comment by Gary on August 25, 2021 at 10:45 am

    Typical display of immaturity by liberals becoming what they accuse their accuse their opponents of.

  16. Comment by Paul Cooper on August 26, 2021 at 10:13 am

    This article states “Therell has shown a deep, self-sacrificial commitment to our church. He walked away from a career as a lawyer to become a United Methodist pastor. Then he left the perks and prominence of being a district superintendent, took a leave of absence, and devoted himself full-time to the Florida WCA (here is a more detailed account of that).”
    How soon we forget that this self-sacrificial man, before assuming his current role in the WCA, filed papers of incorporation to start a new denomination.

  17. Comment by Indy Jones on August 26, 2021 at 12:55 pm

    What amazes me most is how after 2000+ years, so many of us STILL don’t get it! 2000 years AND a printed manual!

    At this point, I believe I will quit calling myself Methodist. It chills my soul to be associated with such … people. They surely are not Christians and have no love for the Lord. I have enough sins of my own, I sure don’t need any “guilt by association”.

  18. Comment by same on August 27, 2021 at 7:09 pm

    Sorry that Bishop Carter is giving the extended family a bad name – The Alabama and Virginia Carters would never advocate tossing tomatoes (LOL) – Let’s try to be civil, folks…Bo (not related) Carter, Carrollton, Texas

  19. Comment by John Smith on August 28, 2021 at 11:05 am

    And if the follow on denomination also fails to put in real, immediate (they will “only” serve 15 years),independent i.e. not answering to each other, accountability for the bishops expect to see history repeat itself. This: “the current Discipline gives bishops an incredible amount of power. ” needs to end.

  20. Comment by Joan Sibbald on August 28, 2021 at 2:48 pm

    Two groups decades ago took control of the culture: feminists and LGBTQ…..
    Incrementally, feminists and LGBTQ… gained control of public education.
    Incrementally, feminists and LGBTQ… are gaining control of Christian churches.
    Next on feminists and LGBTQ… agenda: the military.

  21. Comment by Tim P Wohlford on August 30, 2021 at 12:31 pm

    Older folks will remember Bishop James Armstrong, the uber-liberal of his day (president of the National Council of Churches, advisor to McGovern, etc). He had no problem sentencing dissenters to a 4-point parish 100 miles from nowhere. It was in this era and place that the Good News movement gained traction. I’m happy to say that, as a child, I was member of a “Good News Club.” But yeah, this is nothing new, been going on for 45 or more years.

  22. Comment by Lee Cary on September 2, 2021 at 11:34 am

    The gradual demise of the UMC, led by its Bishops, is an example of the wisdom in the statement that – “a fish dies from the head.” Although that’s not anatomically accurate, the variants are even better: ‘a fish stinks from the head down,’ to ‘a fish rots from the head down’.

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