Why United Methodist Tolerance of Conservatives Will Be Impossible

John Lomperis on January 17, 2023

As our denomination’s slow-motion separation accelerates, we hear all kinds of nice-sounding, extraordinarily vague rhetoric from various United Methodist leaders that, even as the United Methodist Church liberalizes on marriage, it will still tolerate and even welcome conservatives and liberals who choose the post-separation United Methodist Church (psUMC). Such rhetoric usually lacks anything binding or specific, and is often accompanied by dismissing concerns as “fear-mongering” or “misinformation.”

However, such promised United Methodist tolerance is impossible, for three basic reasons:

  1. United Methodist promises of tolerance are logically and pragmatically unsustainable.
  2. Leaders of the new United Methodist Church already refuse to extend basic tolerance to conservative believers.
  3. Liberal United Methodist leaders have already made clear their extreme “alienation of affection” from traditionalists.

Whatever changes on other issues, it is widely agreed that the denomination is on track to liberalize its official standards on sexual morality. So before too long, the United Methodist Church will be a denomination that officially affirms same-sex weddings and non-celibate gay clergy. In American United Methodism, this is now already the officially supported ethos of the leadership of every region and the de facto reality in all but a shrinking number of annual conferences.

In this context, these three factors make the end of tolerance for United Methodist traditionalists not just likely, but inevitable.

1.         United Methodist promises of tolerance for conservatives are logically and pragmatically unsustainable.

Others have broadly explained the logical necessity and observed reality of Neuhaus’s Law: “Where orthodoxy is optional, orthodoxy will sooner or later be proscribed.”

There are particular rubber-meets-the-road realities that United Methodists cannot avoid.

Proponents of United Methodism changing to affirm same-sex unions have repeatedly said that they see this shift as morally similar to earlier church moves to reject racism and sexism (e.g., see the last General Conference’s main liberalization plan on page 15).

To be a denomination that is truly anti-racist and fully affirming of women in ministry, United Methodists cannot tolerate any bishop or district superintendent who would not, as a matter of principle, appoint any female or non-white pastors. Because of our denomination’s stances on racial and gender equality, it is unthinkable there could be even one such bishop or district superintendent in any obscure corner of the UMC.

Similarly, no one who opposes ordaining women or clergy of different races should ever serve as a member of a UMC district committee on ministry or conference board of ordained ministry, the main groups charged with screening ordination candidates.

When ordination standards are changed to officially welcome a new category of persons previously barred from ordination, non-celibate homosexuals, under the rationale that this change is essentially the same as welcoming female or non-white ministers, then the same logic necessarily applies.

Thus, because of these practical realities, the coming liberalization of United Methodist marriage standards will necessitate an intolerant purge from key denominational leadership positions of any individual who holds a theologically traditionalist view of marriage.

The so-called “One Church Plan,” the main plan to liberalize the UMC’s marriage standards at the 2019 General Conference, at least included some policies paying lip service to tolerance for United Methodist traditionalists. But these conscience protections were strongly critiqued as woefully inadequate “window dressing,” presented constitutional problems, and were abandoned within less than a year by leading “One Church Plan” proponents.

What about theologically traditionalist congregations and pastors hoping to receive United Methodist tolerance in exchange for their accepting second-class-citizen status and exclusion from regional denominational leadership? What if they even agreed to never complain about funding leaders and agendas they saw as unfaithful, and even agreed to fully submit to the spiritual authority of any non-celibate homosexual bishops or superintendents assigned over then?

Even such remaining United Methodist traditionalists would face further rubber-meets-the-road problems.

For congregations, there is no firm basis to trust that they would never have a non-celibate gay pastor appointed over them. The UMC Judicial Council has definitively ruled that, while bishops must consult with their own subordinates and possibly others, ultimately “[t]he power to make appointments is lodged solely in the office of bishop” and not even General Conference may restrict bishops’ “final authority” to appoint clergy.

Again, the UMC’s newly dominant liberal faction has repeatedly made clear that they view congregations not accepting the spiritual authority of women, non-whites, and non-celibate homosexuals as all similarly unacceptable bigotry. So on what basis should anyone trust that bishops and district superintendents would never, ever “stand in the gap for queer clergy” by pressuring a traditionalist congregation to submit to them, just as they have done “for African-American and women clergy”? Consider the newly observed pressure for bishops to do precisely that.

At the last regular General Conference, liberals actually supported a petition that would have required that all United Methodist congregations’ policies “shall” broadly prohibit discrimination for lay employees based on “gender identity” (separate from gender), “sexual orientation,” or “marital status.” Since that did not pass then, Laura Young, a staffer of the LGBTQ+ activist Reconciling Ministries Network, submitted an identical petition to the next General Conference (see page 360/944). This would formally abolish tolerance for any United Methodist congregation that fires or refuses to hire a church employee who engages in consensual homosexual activity. And while it focuses initially on lay staff, this petition’s logic would provide a foundation for eventually abolishing any unenforceable, wink-and-handshake agreements traditionalist congregations may have been offered that if they stay UMC, they will never be appointed a non-celibate gay pastor. Liberals will keep pushing such petitions until they become binding denomination-wide policy.

The basic logic of liberalizing sexuality standards will also necessarily result in an eventual purging of traditionalist clergy. Remaining traditionalist pastors will all eventually leave or retire, and can expect dwindling numbers of like-minded replacements. As noted, once official UMC “polity” (governance) affirms same-sex marriages, then the longstanding, mandatory practice of asking all ordination candidates, “Do you approve our Church government and polity?,” will cause many traditionalists to feel obligated to avoid pursuing United Methodist ordination. Even if some believed that they could answer “yes” with integrity, what basis would they have for trusting that those voting on their ordination candidacy would judge such ministry candidates’ commitment to not officiate same-sex weddings to be more acceptable than disapproval of inter-racial weddings, after these same leaders have repeatedly characterized both as equally bigoted?

In the widespread assurances of United Methodist tolerance for traditionalists, I have seen no serious disputes of the above practical considerations.

2.         Leaders of the new United Methodist Church already refuse to extend basic tolerance to conservative believers.

Rather than try to refute the logic of #1 above, the new United Methodism’s leaders have recently enthusiastically embraced it.

Yes, some remaining United Methodist bishops are relatively more tolerant. But after the recent wave of early retirements, no remaining active U.S. bishops have consistently treated      theological traditionalists fairly. I am not aware of a single exception.

Even one of the most relatively fair-minded bishops has demonstrated a surprising level of hostility to traditionalists at the congregational level, in a groveling apology for his conference having supported a church plant whose young, ethnic-minority female pastor personally believed in a theologically traditionalist view of marriage. This shows that when theologically traditionalist United Methodist congregations or pastors face external bullying or harassment, they cannot count on any leader from their own denomination having their back. It also suggests a future in which a theologically traditionalist constituency is allowed to remain for a time, but treated as second-class citizens, sometimes forcibly prevented from growing, and increasingly depleted by attrition.   

This was not exceptional.

In November all five U.S. jurisdictions pointedly rejected “big tent” United Methodist tolerance, instead seeking to purge non-liberals from leadership and marginalize non-Americans, with some jurisdictions going even further.

The North Central Jurisdiction forcibly subjected all delegates present to a lengthy, extraordinarily heavy-handed LGBTQ+ liberationist re-education exercise, with assembled leaders actually applauding an official speaker’s declaration, “It is not possible for the church to not be of one mind on a matter of justice.” This same speaker also called on the delegates and bishops to intolerantly “rid faith communities” in the UMC of policies and cultures that fail to fully affirm secular LGBTQ liberationist ideology, and broadly demonized traditionalist dissenters as “abusers.”

Liberal United Methodist leaders have repeatedly protested minimal tolerance for theologically traditionalist Christians in American society, fiercely lobbying against basic, commonsense freedom-of-conscience protections. A case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court will decide if the government’s inherently violent power should force a creative professional to promote same-sex marriages. The leadership of the UMC’s entire Western Jurisdiction went out of its way to file a “friend of the court” brief, lobbying the U.S. Supreme Court to essentially destroy the livelihood of Christian small business owner Lorie Smith and make other Christian small business owners throughout the nation similarly vulnerable.

What about traditionalist congregations hoping to be left alone if they quietly pay all apportionments and accept second-class citizen status? Even for such congregations, there are new threats. Some are noted in #1 above. Additionally, a very concrete example is a resolution in the Indiana Conference. It would have committed “to renounce and reject” disapproval of homosexual practice as an “evil power” like racism or sexism. This resolution would also bindingly requireall conference and district boards, committees, and ministry teams” as well as “all churches” to report their compliance (emphases added).

The resolution failed by the narrowest of margins, with over 49-percent support. Since then, enough traditionalists have disaffiliated that it is all but guaranteed to pass this year.

Note that Indiana is the most conservative conference in Midwestern United Methodism. Other places may see even less United Methodist tolerance.

All of these abandonments of United Methodist tolerance have one very important thing in common: I have not observed a single liberal bishop or leader in any of the main progressive or supposedly “centrist” caucuses willing to publicly say “This goes too far.” This in turn suggests two uncomfortable realities: (1) such intolerance actually enjoys much broader support among current denominational leaders than we would like to believe, and (2) while there may be a few liberal United Methodist leaders who quietly prefer greater tolerance, they calculate that these anti-traditionalist actions are popular enough among other denominational leaders that any fair-minded liberal who publicly spoke out against such bullying would themselves become marginalized, and so they stay silent.

3.         Liberal United Methodist leaders have already made clear their extreme “alienation of affection” from traditionalists.

In his sermon, “On Schism,” John Wesley speaks of the heart of schism being a matter of a lack of biblically required “tender care for each other,” “an alienation of affection,” and “a division of heart, and parties springing therefrom, though they were still outwardly united together.”

Why should anyone expect liberal United Methodist leaders to extend tolerance to those from whom they have already made clear their foundational “alienation of affection”? Consider what we have seen in recent years:

  • Leading bishops Latrelle Easterling and Karen Oliveto’s declaring that traditionalist United Methodists’ faith “eventually gives rise to violence and death.”
  • High-profile bullying of theologically traditionalist congregations by Bishops Sue Haupert-Johnson, John Schol, and Grant Hagiya.
  • Liberal leaders repeatedly breaking their promises to traditionalists, from the bishops and other clergy breaking vows to uphold the UMC’s rules to the promise-breaking of the liberal Protocol Mediation Team members.
  • How widely respected liberal leaders have spoken of fellow United Methodists who work together through UMAction to promote traditionalist values, calling them “Satanic” (LGBTQ activist, ordination candidate, and Upper New York General Conference delegate J. J. Warren) or “evil” like “the Nazi Party” (former Secretary of General Conference Gere Reist).
  • In West Ohio, a prominently liberal clergywoman loudly disrupted an in-progress worship service while the pastor, a prominent traditionalist leader, was preaching (see “Worship Interrupted at Reynoldsburg UMC”).
  • In the Iowa Conference, after three traditionalist pastors went through the proper channels to challenge lesbian activist clergywomen Anna Blaedel’s publicly admitted violation of UMC sexual-morality standards, she faced no observed accountability for her retaliation of encouraging disruption of their worship services and apparently instigating enough harassment to drive these traditionalist pastors out of United Methodist parish ministry. Then numerous leaders across the Indiana Conference, including several of Bishop Julius Trimble’s cabinet representatives, publicly responded. Despite her record of bullying, their statement insisted that Blaedel had “served faithfully,” characterized disapproval of her non-celibate lifestyle as necessarily “hateful,” and suggested it suggested that it was unacceptably embarrassing to tolerate a single lay member of a United Methodist congregation in their conference defending traditionalist sexual ethics.

Again, I have not observed a single bishop or leader in any progressive or “centrist” caucus say that any of the above goes too far. The only public liberal reactions I have seen were silence or support. Once again, this indicates that liberal United Methodist intolerance is much more widespread among UMC leaders than we would like to believe.

Such a profoundly demonstrated alienation of affections from traditionalist United Methodists destroys motivations for tolerance.

I spent three years at one of the most liberal UMC-approved seminaries. I have attended numerous board meetings of different denominational agencies. I have served as a member of my conference’s delegation since 2015. I have met most of the American bishops.

I have yet to meet a single liberal bishop or a single loyalist of any of the progressive or “centrist” caucuses who views traditionalist United Methodists like me as beloved brothers and sisters in Christ in any meaningful way.

Any traditionalist considering invitations to “stay UMC” should go with their eyes open, and consider these three reasons why nice-sounding promises of United Methodist tolerance are unlikely to be kept.

  1. Comment by David S. on January 17, 2023 at 9:39 pm

    As I and several others in the other mainline denominations that have already liberalized, look at what has happened to traditionalists and conservatives. While aspects of polity may vary, each one has ensured that we are told we are not welcome. Yes, the PC(USA) may have a polity of diversity of thought, but the denominational leadership at most levels give lip-service when necessary, such as the constant refrsin of “Let all voices be heard” at this past year’s General Assembly. But this same General Assembly included a commissioner drafted overture, which stated in its rationale that prolifers do not engage in good faith discussions and tgree months prior, the current Stated Clerk and Moderator of Presbyterian Women accused anyone objecting to the medicalization and sexualization of children (through treatment for gender dysphoria and school curricula, respectively,) of being anti-LGBT, despite the diverse group of individuals holding such positions.

  2. Comment by David S. on January 17, 2023 at 10:00 pm

    My apologies for a second post and typos in the last one, due to the distractions of family bedtime routines, but I must also note that I believe a Presbyterian on this page has noted in the past, also look at the makeup of denominational leadership at various levels. Among national leadership, conservatives and moderates have been purged as is true at the synod and presbyery level in positions of consequence. Yes, there were some among the commisioners at this year’s General Assembly, but these were more than likely representative of the more conservative presbyteries and were very much outnumbered, based on vote talleys of the various items of business that are more contentious social issues.

  3. Comment by John Smith on January 18, 2023 at 7:27 am

    Give up on the psUMC label, as this article lays out, all the errors and perils of the liberal/progressive victory over orthodoxy are already in place. This is what the UMC is now, not in the future.

    While I appreciate the reasoning for the sudden, pounding refrain of “Get out NOW!”, in multiple articles at IRD and Good News, it is probably too late. The recent action of the former Bishop in GA will become the defacto response of each AC. Orthodox members and congregations must pay the price for hoping that, against all evidence, these progressives would be different from all other progressives. The Orthodox are now, essentially, refugees who can only take what they carry as they flee leaving behind homes, buildings, funds that will now be used to fund the progressives next campaign.

    IF you want a bit of schadenfreude you can watch the progressives, after their victory is complete, turn on each other in a frenzy of enforcing ideological purity.

  4. Comment by Gary Bebop on January 18, 2023 at 5:07 pm

    Similar to Chris Ritter’s strategy of laying out the evidence nakedly (in his Compendium), John Lomperis is compiling names and actions that warrant investigation by any congregation considering disaffiliation (or staying UMC). The grunt work has been done. The effort will not end with a mere record pile. The record testifies to the transformation of United Methodism from welcoming to hostile space for Traditionalists. The purge is on the record.

  5. Comment by John J Smith on January 19, 2023 at 7:58 am

    To me this reads like a preview of what’s coming for my Roman Catholic Church, spearheaded by the German assault, guided by the powers that be in Rome.

  6. Comment by Dan on January 19, 2023 at 9:18 am

    Look to The Episcopal Church for the future of the UMC. The Episcopalians had a well organized and utterly determined minority that mouthed all the tolerance platitudes and co-opted any traditionalist objections by calling them intolerant, unloving and un-Christian. The phrase “gracious conversation” was used incessantly, just like the UMC uses “holy conferencing,” to justify relentless propaganda and vocal denunciation of all who opposed them.

    The result is a denomination where priestesses declare abortion a blessing and where clergy have be defrocked and kicked out for declining to perform a same sex marriage. The new canons require performance of same sex marriage in churches. Do not be fooled. It is not about tolerance. It is about the naked exercise of power.

  7. Comment by Carl Murphy on January 19, 2023 at 6:09 pm

    My small church on the St. John’s River near Saint Augustine has been debating disaffiliation since early last year. One woman that wished to stay with the UMC interrupted a worship service not once but twice standing in the aisle yelling heretic at me when I stated there is but one way to heaven and that is through the blood of Christ, you can love, do no harm all you want but if you are not washed in the blood you are hell bound. She was reported to the District Superintendent who immediately called on me to make the charges go away. I did and the woman did not return to church until January 15, 2023 when she returned for the vote on disaffiliation. Before she came back the DS told me I had to read an apology from the pulpit written by him with the woman’s approval, to her and if not I would be terminated by the bishop. The reason for the termination was that I was a guest speaker at a Baptist church where I had asked for prayer for my church and dared told the truth about UMC’s beliefs. Nothing to do with the woman. Well the apology was not made, I stood on the Word and my integrity. We were to vote that day on disaffiliation. The woman stood and without calling me name but called me a liar all the same, which was not challenged by the DS. The vote was taken, the vote to disaffiliate was 39 for, 10 against. 5 of those voting to stay I have not seen in a service in months if not years. The DS turned white when he had to announce the results. Then 3 hours later he calls me and says I am terminated at the Bishop’s request. I’ll be back as soon as the paperwork is signed. But this is what happens when you allow someone to pray to “Her Queer Almighty”. Pray for these folks, there is a dark day coming for them.

  8. Comment by Jeff on January 20, 2023 at 1:12 pm

    God bless you, Pastor Carl, for putting on the whole armor of GOD and standing firm in His strength. Your testimony is encouraging!

  9. Comment by Tom on January 24, 2023 at 4:49 pm

    Leftists are quick to bring up the “paradox of tolerance,” so I fully expect their promises will be nothing but lip service.

  10. Comment by Charles S. Oaxpatu on January 26, 2023 at 4:48 am

    You said: “I have yet to meet a single liberal bishop or a single loyalist of any of the progressive or “centrist” caucuses who views traditionalist United Methodists like me as beloved brothers and sisters in Christ in any meaningful way.”

    That is because you ARE NOT beloved brothers and sisters in Christ. You hate liberal United Methodists and have made that hate abundantly clear on the “Juicy Ecumenism” website for decades. Then you turn around and expect us to “love you”—-in Christ of course. Figuratively speaking, you whipped out a 2-inch diameter lead pipe, beat us nearly to death with it, left us lying on the ground, bleeding profusely, and then walked away snickering under your breath “but we love you—in Christ.”

    Personally, I was glad—wholeheartedly glad—to see the split-off of the Global Methodist Church from the mainline United Methodist Church. I am just pleased as punch to see every last one of you gone, gone, gone.

    Furthermore, I am deeply and forever pleased that you utterly and totally failed in your original mission of taking full control of the entire United Methodist Church and turning it into a haven for Christian Fundamentalist and Conservative Evangelical types—-just like you are. You failed. Got that? You failed utterly and completely in that. I applaud your failure with both of my hands.

    We in the United Methodist Church will be just fine without you, and just like your hatred of African-American people in another place and time, your current hatreds toward other people will be wiped away by the passage of time and culture change, As a professional anthropologist, I can assure you of this. About 100 years from now, you will be part of a new denomination called the United and Global Methodist Church, along with an historical apology for all of the people you persecuted and otherwise harmed (of course—“in the name of love for Jesus”), just the way your like-minded ancestors did for the African-American slavery they were so willing to die for—-clothed in gray on the Civil War battlefields of the American South.

    Shame on your ancestors then and shame on all of you now. You do not recognize your folly now, but your descendants will, and they will most assuredly erase your folly from your Global Methodist Church.

  11. Comment by George on January 27, 2023 at 7:41 am

    Mr. Charles S Oaxpatu, I was so taken back with what you wrote that I found your blog and read all about your history and your beliefs. After reading about you, I felt compelled to take a bath and use a disinfectant. I’ve never heard any far out liberals who have gone as far left as you. You condemned just about everyone who may have conservative thoughts and beliefs. I’ll even go as far as to say you need a psychiatrist to help you deal with your visceral hatred for those who may have only cultural differences but do love their neighbors. Get some help.

  12. Comment by John Smith on January 27, 2023 at 3:01 pm

    Charles,

    Thank you for your honesty and putting a face to the truth that was being expressed by John. Unfortunately most people generally travel in their own groups and are thus unaware of the hate directed towards them. You have done a great service this day.

  13. Comment by Lee Cary on January 30, 2023 at 12:08 pm

    BREAKING NEWS: The largest and fasting growing Protestant denomination in America isn’t a denomination. It’s the totality of the independent congregations popping up all across America.

    The IRD either isn’t aware of what’s happening or is and chooses not to acknowledge it, examine it, nor understand it.

    It’s time to take “Ecumenism” out of the institutes title since that word means “the principle or aim of promoting unity among the world’s Christian Churches.” And the non-denominational churches are patently ignored.

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