A majority African UMC? I can’t wait

May 25, 2016

Aside from contributing my “thumbs up” to a few friends’ Facebook posts over the past couple of weeks—the lowest form of social media slacktivism—I surprised myself at how silent I remained throughout the ten days of the United Methodist Church’s General Conference in Portland.

In case you haven’t heard, no resolution related to sexuality and marriage made it to the conference floor for a vote. As it stands today, therefore, UMC doctrine remains unchanged. Meanwhile, legislation that emerged from committees indicated a theologically rightward tilt, as our denomination is on the verge of becoming majority African.

I, for one, can’t wait! I hope they send missionaries over here to teach us how to be Christians again!

The reason no legislation came to a vote is because the Council of Bishops headed it off with a  plan of their own: Sometime before 2020, a specially called General Conference, whose membership will be identical to the group that met in Portland last week, will vote on proposals made by a CoB-appointed commission. The commission’s membership will supposedly reflect the global membership of the church.

In other words, as thousands of others have already pointed out, the bishops’ plan amounts to “kicking the can down the road.”

I’m disappointed. I was rooting for one piece of legislation that passed committee known as the CUP Plan. It would have strengthened accountability (in the form of minimum sentences) for clergy who break covenant with the church by performing “gay weddings” (the “stick”). At the same time, however, it would have offered progressive congregations a gracious path to exit the denomination while retaining their church property (the “carrot”).

It stood a reasonable chance of passing from what I’ve read. Now we’ll never know.

Regardless, I hope that this soon-to-be-appointed commission will make a similar proposal—or if not, at least have the courage to propose splitting the church up. The differences between traditionalists like me and revisionists are irreconcilable. As I’ve often blogged here, there is no middle way. Methodist “centrists” are either those who haven’t thought it through or (more likely) are progressives who are willing to bide their time until, they believe, cultural pressures will force the church’s hand. Adam Hamilton, for one, wrote that within ten years—after the older generation dies off, presumably—homosexuality will no longer be an issue for us Methodists.

As I blogged at the time, what do young people know about scripture that older generations don’t know? Because as always, as always, as always, the issue that divides us comes down to the authority of scripture.

Besides, what credibility has Western culture earned such that it should dictate what the church does and believes?

Nevertheless, this professor, from the UMC-affiliated Claremont School of Theology, rightly questions whether biding one’s time is a realistic option for progressives in light of shifting demographics in our church:

By the next General Conference, since the UMC is growing only in areas with a more traditionalist viewpoint on LGBTQ inclusion, the church’s position as a whole is almost guaranteed to become more conservative, not less in the coming yearsSome progressives I talk to acknowledge that bringing about a change in the current rules will now take at least 16 years, with some predicting 30-year struggleAre we willing to live with our current divide for another generation? In light of our denominations plunging membership, does the church even have time to wait sixteen years, much less thirty or more?

In other words, if the progressives couldn’t get what they wanted this year, they’re far less likely in years to come.

To his credit, whether he agrees with “my” side or not, the author seems to understand the stakes for theological conservatives like me.

I often don’t see this same understanding of the stakes among many progressive clergy I know. For example, one of them posted a link to his blog post on social media yesterday. He was complaining about how we conservatives often (rightly) frame the issue in terms of Christian orthodoxy. He disagrees, writing, “When I hear [orthodoxy] used in this context, I find the speaker often actually means that he or she does not believe that God does new things outside of the knowledge base of those who wrote the scriptures under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.”

To which I replied:

No. What revisionists on this issue ask us to believe is that the Holy Spirit is “showing us something new,” which contradicts what the Spirit has already shown us.

Arguments about truth outside of scripture are beside the point. Quantum mechanics is beyond the scope of the Bible. Sex and marriage are not.

Again, no one has to agree with theological conservatives in order to fairly represent what we believe.

General Conference wasn’t a total wash: Conservatives won a clean sweep of five new members of the Judicial Council—our church’s Supreme Court. And, by a wide margin, they withdrew our church from a pro-abortion ecumenical organization that the UMC helped create back in the early-’70s (those were the days!). They also removed language in our Discipline that explicitly affirms Roe v. Wade.

All that to say, I hope our bishops can see the writing on the wall and do the right thing.

14 Responses to “A majority African UMC? I can’t wait”

  1. Grant Essex Says:

    Very interesting!

    I have long complained that my local church doesn’t even mention these “positions of the UMC”, much less preach on them.

    I think you are right though, a split will eventually happen over this. Irreconcilable is the right word. Also, as I understand it, the African Anglican churches are already sending missionaries to the good old USA. 🙂

    The idea that “God does new things” is contrary to the unchangeable nature of God. Perfection does not change. What that fellow wants is to change God to conform to his image of God.

    Welcome back!

  2. revwrm Says:

    Great write-up (as usual), Brent. I pray that those who desire to bring change to an unchanging God will themselves be changed.


  3. Brent, Thanks for your insights. I’m very aware that the demographics are as you describe. I fear, however, a
    coup that seeks to separate the African vote from the
    more progressive American vote. And I think nothing
    good will come out of the Commission that Conservatives
    can support.

    • brentwhite Says:

      I get your point. But if the called GC is made up of the exact same delegates as last week, then the GC won’t support it, either.

      • Paul W. Says:

        Brent, are you sure that the called GC would be made up of the same delegates? From what I’ve read, the CoB has free reign with the commission to propose anything or even nothing including the possibility of no called GC. Unless it’s in writing, you can be sure this commission will again pull out all the stops to game the system in favor of the progressive camp.

      • brentwhite Says:

        That’s my understanding. Didn’t I read that in that bishops’ statement? Not that there was much to it. Regardless, everyone that I’ve read believes there’s going to be a called GC with the same delegates. Send me the links to what you’ve read if you have time.

      • Paul W. Says:

        This is the complete Bishop’s statement that is linked from the UMC site. I’ve found this quoted verbatim on several Annual conference sites.

        http://s3.amazonaws.com/Website_Properties/general-conference/2016/documents/council-bishops-statement-offering-way-forward-may-18-gc2016.pdf

        http://www.umc.org/who-we-are/council-of-bishops-statements-and-press-releases

        http://www.pnwumc.org/news/an-offering-for-a-way-forward-umcgc/

        From what I can piece together, the statement about a GC with the same delegates came NOT from the Bishop’s statement but rather from Mike Slaughter’s statements (posted and expanded on by the pro-LGBT groups) in violation of a confidentiality agreement when the Bishops were first informally talking to the various caucus groups prior to and during GC. Many UM sites picked this up and reported it at the time and, even now, seem to still be confusing the details of the Bishop’s statement with the rumors that were originally posted.

        By the way, I watched the part of GC when the vote was taken to turn this over to the Bishops. The presiding Bishop unfortunately did a very unprofessional job at running the vote and it was very confusing — he rushed the vote and did not even repeat back a statement of what the vote was for (which is common procedure), plus he was badly stumbling over his words when saying which buttons to press to vote for or against. He did not even wait for a statement of what was being voted on to appear on the overhead screen (he even stated that he wasn’t going to wait)! I was confused while watching it on-line, and I’m convinced that many of the delegates were as confused as I was.

      • brentwhite Says:

        The end of the “Next Steps” section indicates a called GC if they complete their work prior to the next 2020 GC. That’s how I read it. I agree about the way it was handled by the bishop. Disgraceful.

      • Grant Essex Says:

        When you know you are going to lose a vote, you try and postpone it. That’s politics 101, church or otherwise.

        I afraid that the LBGT crowd is going to push us to a schism in the UMC. Might be best to simply negotiate a “no fault divorce” and divide up the assets along local preferences. This isn’t going to end in unanimity, so let’s just move forward. Delay only insures that a lot of people are going to feel hurt and embittered, with no change in the result, i.e., a split in the denomination.

      • brentwhite Says:

        Wise words, Grant. Couldn’t agree more. Read my next post—and the comments section—to get a feel for how divided we are.

  4. Grant Essex Says:

    Tucker, what do you mean by “progressive”?

    • Grant Essex Says:

      Tucker, Is this an accurate portrayal: ??

      “Progressive Christians tend to focus on issues of social justice and inclusion, rather than proselytizing efforts to convert others to their own particular way of thinking, as conservatives and mainstream Evangelicals tend to emphasize.

      Progressive Christians believe that Christ came to “save the lost and downtrodden,” and place emphasis on caring for the poor, whereas conservatives tend to preach moral principles, and stress the need for the lost and downtrodden to accept Jesus Christ as the only way to salvation in addition to caring for the poor.

      However, this does not mean that Progressive Christians do not adhere to traditional notions of Christian doctrine, such as sin, salvation, the divinity of Christ, the virgin birth, the resurrection, or the existence of a literal Heaven and Hell.”


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