Some context is important for understanding the new divisive decree of Iowa’s aggressively liberal United Methodist bishop. In the United Methodist Church, the international General Conference delegates, meeting in session, are the only people with authority to take such dramatic actions as enacting a comprehensive separation plan or changing the denomination’s definition of marriage to include same-sex couples.
But many (predominantly white) liberal Americans have made clear that while they are happy to be part of an international church in which they are in charge, they are vehemently unwilling to submit to General Conference decisions driven largely by African and Filipino delegates.
Now Iowa Bishop Laurie Haller has chosen to dramatically promote greater church conflict by arrogantly claiming to institute her own vision, effectively replacing the globally decided Book of Discipline, to govern her annual conference, which is over 98 percent White.
Core elements of the Haller Discipline are (1) replacing the United Methodist Discipline’s longstanding, globally supported prohibition on any “ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions” with explicit permission for clergy to officiate any weddings they want, “as long as it is two consenting adults who have been counseled” and (2) to effectively redefine the “gracious exits” provision adopted by the last General Conference as focused on offering an exit ramp to congregations who dissent from the Iowa United Methodist bishop’s unbiblical, anti-internationalist vision rather than to those who dissent from the global United Methodist Discipline. Haller’s dictatorial announcement indicates that she intends to order her district superintendents (who are all unilaterally appointed by and dependent on her) to implement this policy.
The questionable timing has made it challenging for pastors actually doing the work of ministry to respond. The Iowa United Methodist bishop’s decree was only emailed out the afternoon of the Tuesday before Thanksgiving (and later posted online). And Haller declared her intent to impose this disruptive, church-harming policy on January 1, immediately after the business of the Christmas season.
While she is rudely ignoring the voices of non-American United Methodists, the Iowa United Methodist bishop’s explanation says that the Haller Discipline she seeks to impose as the new rules for her conference was “informed by” the far-left, “progressive incompatibilist” covenant recently adopted by the majority of the (U.S.-only) North Central Jurisdiction.
Haller claims to have developed her Haller Discipline “in consultation, conversation, and collaboration with” a range of Iowa United Methodists.
But the theologically traditionalist leadership in the conference (i.e., those who respect the global church and support the UMC’s historic, official doctrinal and moral standards) has emphatically rejected Haller’s proposed decree, and responded with this forceful challenge:
A Faithful Response to “Leading Now and Into the Future – Our Vision”
The leadership of the Iowa Wesleyan Covenant Association Regional Chapter has received and reviewed the Iowa Annual Conference Appointive Cabinet’s and Bishop Laurie Haller’s “Leading Now and Into the Future – Our Vision” (hereafter “Leading Now”). We are shocked and brokenhearted that Bishop Haller and the Cabinet believe their insights are superior to the discernments of The United Methodist Church’s General Conference and its Book of Discipline. This attempt to circumvent the Discipline and enact new policy and procedures is an egregious abuse of power and privilege by the Bishop and the Cabinet.
As we all know, our church’s teaching is that a Christian marriage is between one man and one woman. At numerous General Conferences the UM Church, through the work of its global delegates, has prayerfully, faithfully, and repeatedly reaffirmed this understanding of marriage, and most recently did so at the special 2019 General Conference in St. Louis, Missouri. Bishop Haller and the Cabinet do not have the authority to supersede the UM Church’s teachings with their own opinions. Such an approach is an invitation to confusion, chaos, and anarchy. According to “Leading Now,” as of January 1, 2022, the Bishop and the Cabinet will permit Iowa Annual Conference clergy and local churches to preside at, and host, same-sex weddings, contrary to the explicit provisions of the Discipline.
Therefore, we respectfully call on Bishop Haller and the Cabinet to rescind “Leading Now.” We also urge episcopal colleagues in the North Central Jurisdiction and among the Council of Bishops to strongly encourage Bishop Haller and the Cabinet to withdraw “Leading Now.”
If the document is not rescinded, we are confident faithful local UM churches (traditionalist, centrist, and progressive) in the Iowa Annual Conference will decide they can no longer submit to the authority of leaders who legitimize acts in defiance of our church’s teachings and its time-honored way of discerning God’s will for the whole.
Ironically, Bishop Haller and the Cabinet demand that congregations who can no longer be part of a Conference that disregards the Discipline follow the terms* of the Discipline in exiting. “Leading Now” claims the terms constitute a “gracious exit,” but they are neither gracious nor sincere given the context. They are not the terms proposed in the Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation. Essentially, the Bishop and the Cabinet lean into the legislation proposed in the Protocol to justify their defiance of the Discipline regarding Human Sexuality. They then ignore the Protocol and return to the Discipline to hold churches accountable who feel they can no longer be a part of a Conference where the Bishop and the Cabinet have chosen to disregard and defy the Discipline.
We are all disappointed the UM Church has not been able to convene a General Conference and so adopt the Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation, an amicable and orderly plan of separation widely endorsed by leading Bishops, theologically diverse advocacy groups, and annual conferences. However, disappointment does not entitle Bishop Haller and the Cabinet to make-up their own rules in the interim. Again, we call on the Bishop and the Cabinet to rescind “Leading Now.”
* “Local congregations who desire to leave the Iowa Annual Conference, will need to 1) present a written statement outlining their desire to leave as their faithful response to this vision of ministry and human sexuality to the Bishop and the Appointive Cabinet, 2) schedule a charge conference with their local District Superintendent, with a two-thirds majority vote in favor of disaffiliation, and 3) must satisfy any remaining apportionment payments and pension liability calculations.”