by Bob Phillips
“Oh well, allow me to retort.” Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction
This is an exercise in ‘rounding up the usual suspects,’ dealing with recurring, predictable and legitimate questions surrounding disaffiliation in the United Methodist Church. Reflect. Enjoy!
Why do things happening in UM churches in Colorado or Massachusetts or California that you dislike require you to leave this conference that is obeying the Book of Discipline?
The question implies that our Wesleyan connectional covenant of accountability and obedience is selective, governed by zip code rather than conviction. If we obey what we want in our covenant and disobey what we want, it is not the covenant we are obeying but our own whims. No healthy or unified church can come from such practices.
Official church teaching on the virgin birth, atonement and resurrection of Christ and the inspiration and authority of scripture are totally orthodox, so what’s the problem?
For decades official church practice has allowed one to “interpret” core teachings in ways that interpret the clearly intended meaning away. Stalin’s Soviet Union had a constitution affirming freedom of religion even as 90% of Orthodox priests were executed or imprisoned and 90% of Orthodox parishes shut. The 2003 NCJ College of Bishops unanimously affirmed one could take the virgin birth, miracles, atoning death and resurrection of Jesus seriously but not literally. Many to most clergy do believe the resurrection happened but ever since the turn of the 20th century a significant number of clergy and seminary professors did not and do not… “interpreting” the meaning of Jesus in a ‘demythologized” manner.
Why leave the UMC over gay marriage, since the denomination refuses to do gay weddings or have sexually active gay or lesbian clergy?
The UM division is not primarily about sex, regardless of how secular media spins the issues. That said, several regions within the US church openly defy church teaching, with no accountability from the Council of Bishops, and the election of US delegates to General Conferences are being weaponized to exclude delegates with traditional view of marriage as only the union of man and woman.
If you wish to disaffiliate, why are you complaining about having to pay up to half of your assets to the conference, since that is common practice whenever there is a divorce?
Every organization is perfectly aligned to the results it gets. The 54 years of the existing UMC has been sustained and accelerating decline, aging members/clergy, theological schizophrenia and dysfunctional systems, with trust deficits and world-class denial of problems by senior leadership all playing a role. This re-boot will force everyone, whether they go or stay, to retool, revive, reform and face reality with fresh confidence. The assets of an individual church were created by the contributing members of that church for the purpose of furthering the witness and ministry of Christ in that local area. Deciding to continue that ministry in another Wesleyan expression of the church does not mean the church ceases to exist. Its continuing witness requires that the assets be preserved by that congregation as it moves forward. Sending those assets to a denomination outside the community does not enhance the cause of Christ in the community, but only preserves the organizational structure that it is leaving.
The 2020 NCJ delegates passed a “Be-Loved” document calling for the church to renounce heterosexism, colonialism, classism, homophobia, transphobia and racism. Why would any true Christian find such calls to justice disturbing? Who rightly could object to the following call to action by the delegates for local churches: “A racial analysis of: local church’s total budgets, clergy salaries, new church starts/revitalizations, church closures, Conference staff, board, task force and committee members, and delegates to GC/JC.”
The document, however well-intended, could be subtitled, “When woke goes to church.” Heterosexism is the ‘sin’ of believing male-female relationships and marriage is the norm for humanity? Classism? The election of delegates for General Conference guarantees the .04% of clergy get 50% of the delegates…abolish that! Do we really want to apply racial and ethnic profiling to church budgets, lay leadership and conference ministries? How about following the Assemblies of God, with membership far more diverse than the UMC, results achieved through their theology and reliance on the power of the Spirit and worship. Beats our quotas…
If too many churches leave the clergy pension and outreach ministries of the conference will be compromised. What is worth inflicting this harm?
This happily is not true. Departing churches are required to pay into the pension fund to offset any issue. No rule in the GMC forbids ongoing support for effective ministries, although dead or ineffective or bloated programs coated with the barnacles of tradition will not find support.
Are not many who are aligning with the GMC also friendly to white Christian nationalism, opponents of the ordination of women, and political right-wing extremists at prayer?
It is highly likely that within 3 years of its founding the Global Methodist Church will find most of its members as non-white and non-American. Women serve in all positions of leadership, and that will not change. Yes, both left and right wings have a handful of off-the-rails types but the GMC will not be a ‘welcoming or inclusive’ place for rigid, angry or hateful types.
If you leave the UMC, where will you find a pastor?
Over 90% of US churches function without the UM system and find pastors. The GMC offers an alternative approach with several clergy possibilities identified and local churches having much more of a say in the final choice. There probably will be some initial bumps as the process ramps up, but in short order the rebooted system will flow well. And churches that transfer can keep their pastor!
How can any Bible-believing Christian stay in the UMC?
Many such will choose to remain, honorably and faithfully. When folks on left or right demonize brothers and sisters in Christ in nasty ways, the glory and the grace depart. This process is a win-win toward a re-energized Wesleyan movement that benefits all.
Are we not better together and won’t a separation be a bad witness?
If we are nasty toward one another, that would be a bad witness but it need be no such thing. We have been together for 54 years. Despite points of light and witness, the refusal to undergo necessary change to stop and reverse 54 years of routine and increasing decline in numbers among aging members has not delivered the goods. A division will force profound change, which can be a good thing for a church that has rejected profound change for decades. The Wesleyan movement is not ready to join the ranks of Sears and Blockbuster. is time for Wesleyan Methodist Christianity to divide…and conquer for Christ.
Chair WCA, Illinois Great Rivers Conference
Degrees from University of Illinois, Asbury and Princeton Seminaries, University of St. Andrews
Graduate of Senior Executive Seminar on Morality, Ethics and Public Policy, Brookings Institution
Captain, Chaplain Corps, US Navy (ret)
See Bob’s work on Methodist Mitosis in Methodist Review.