No Methodist pastor was fired for agreeing with Rob Bell

March 25, 2011

My Facebook homepage was in a twitter (Ha! Notice what I did there?) this morning because of an online report about a pastor who was, according to the article, fired because he spoke up on Facebook in support of Rob Bell’s not-even-universalist-but-what-if-it-were new book Love Wins.

Here’s the lede:

DURHAM, N.C. — When Chad Holtz lost his old belief in hell, he also lost his job.

The pastor of a rural United Methodist church in North Carolina wrote a note on his Facebook page supporting a new book by Rob Bell, a prominent young evangelical pastor and critic of the traditional view of hell as a place of eternal torment for billions of damned souls.

Two days later, Holtz was told complaints from church members prompted his dismissal from Marrow’s Chapel in Henderson.

This is nonsense. I’m not surprised that the reporter got it wrong. Reporters usually get religion- and church-related stories wrong. But shame on my fellow Methodist clergy who believe it. At the very least, it means they didn’t pay attention (at all) in United Methodist polity class in seminary.

Granted, I slept through much of the class myself, but let’s be very, very clear: A local church cannot fire a United Methodist pastor. This is so fundamental to Methodist polity it almost can’t be emphasized enough. It’s one of the great strengths of our church, because in theory it gives pastors great freedom and security to proclaim the gospel with boldness.

If Rev. Holtz preached or taught something that his local congregation couldn’t abide, the local church, by means of the SPR, could recommend that the bishop send them a new pastor. If the bishop agrees, Holtz would be appointed somewhere else. He wouldn’t and couldn’t lose his job unless he were brought up on charges before the conference, tried, and found guilty of some serious violation of our Book of Discipline. The Executive Session (the clergy) of the Annual Conference would then have to approve the dismissal.

There’s probably more to the process than that, but to find out I would have to actually get out of my chair, walk over to my bookshelf, get my Book of Discipline out, and look it up.

The point is this: What Rev. Holtz says that he said is not a fireable offense by any stretch—but even if it were, he couldn’t be fired in the manner reported. This is a non-story. Who knows what actually happened, but he’s not being martyred by the church for boldly standing up for his convictions—even if he wants to portray it that way. Say what you will about us Methodists, we are sticklers for following the rules, and the rules come from our Discipline.

This part of the story is obviously true:

Gray Southern, United Methodist district superintendent for the part of North Carolina that includes Henderson, declined to discuss Holtz’s departure in detail, but said there was more to it than the online post about Rob Bell’s book.

4 Responses to “No Methodist pastor was fired for agreeing with Rob Bell”

  1. Jeremy Says:

    BTW, have you read Bell’s book yet? I still haven’t read/talked to someone who has read it. I suppose I could stop being lazy and read it myself…

    • brentwhite Says:

      I haven’t read it. I’ve read people who’ve read it. I’ve read Bell talking about his beliefs on the subject. If it reaches a state of critical mass in my congregation, and people are talking about it, I might have to break down and read it. Otherwise, I have a stack of other books to read.

      Of course, I say that, but I never read “The Shack” or “Blue Like Jazz” or “Crazy Love” or any of the Left Behind books. So who am I kidding? This is why I went to seminary, right? To study something once in order to avoid having to study it again. 😉


  2. I saw that news report yesterday and it ticked me off. Either because 1) if it is true then they are following the system or 2) if it isn’t true then the reporter needs to get some fact checking straight.

    I’m thinking about writing a book now. “Love Loses” Perhaps it’ll stir up just as much controversy. I’ll write it after I read “Love Wins”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s