by Bob Phillips
The creation of a new Wesleyan Christian expression will include some profound changes for congregations. Bluntly, any local church that sees the main changes for aligning with the GMC as the end of the trust clause, the reduction of apportionments and a change in the church sign, in the words of Westley (not John but Westley from Princess Bride) had best “get used to disappointment.” Emphasis on gospel basics, a call to serious evangelistic outreach for conversions and discipleship, accountability and mission passion reflected at every level of the church will not be easy. The end of ‘strap-hangers’ and ‘free rider’ and ‘no-load’ categories of membership will elicit much grumping from the previously inert and invisible crowd. The temptation to undertake such changes in ways where legalism trumps love also will be real. Cheap grace dies hard and with much squealing, but it must go.
That said, relatively little has been said about several simple, low-key but symbolically rich changes and re-sets envisioned in the GMC. I offer the following examples:
God’s preferred pronouns, reflected in the grammar of scripture and the ways Jesus spoke of and to God, are clear: he, him, his. Inclusive language speaking of all humankind is one thing, and a proper modification from, “All men” this or that. Modern theology, in seeking to sponge away use of the masculine pronoun for God, is presenting us with an infinite-impersonal deity that is more like the Force of Obi Wan, Luke and Leia. The infinite-personal God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ will be preached and taught in the GMC, and yes, folks are not thereby suggesting God has male parts. “The Lord is God. It is He who has made us.” (Psalm 100:3).
My jurisdiction declared in a special document in 2021 and in the grid through which 3 bishops recently were elected that what really matters in fulfilling our baptismal vows is for local churches to renounce classism, colonialism, heterosexism, racism, Christian Nationalism and (in case I have omitted something) ism-ism. Nearly every clergy and layperson at that Jurisdictional gathering, and every annual conference represented, came from settings of sustained decline. Are these ‘isms’ the reasons we aren’t effective in reaching people for Jesus Christ? The GMC says priorities need to be elsewhere, a shift that does not make the GMC bigots or indifferent to justice. The rousing last-day speech at our Jurisdictional by a biological male who identifies as a female to, “Queer the church” (with no speaker selected to offer another vision) won’t be an issue in the GMC because ‘queering the church’ is not a priority of the GMC.
Speaking of “unfit for the Kingdom” stated above, in the GMC the word really is ‘Kingdom,” as in Kingdom of God, Kingdom of Heaven…’who is the King of Glory’ (Psalm 24). “Kin-dom’ and other such terms is a dog that won’t hunt in the GMC. Listening to folks speak of “them” or “they” and later realizing the reference is to an individual shifts my thought to concerns of a dissociative personality disorder or, worse, Jesus’ interrogation of the Gerasene demoniac. “What is your name?” ‘My name is Legion, for our pronouns are “we” and “us.’” GMC leaders and churches will not be pushing this on congregations, and that does not mean the GMC denies the real existence of gender dysphoria and related psychosexual illness.
I reviewed postings in the previous seven days on certain Facebook sites and blogs. The GMC position on marriage reflects hate, rejection, bigotry, a desire to see a whole class of people burn and assorted other merry thoughts. Such hissers seem unaware that the GMC position on sexuality and the nature of Christian marriage reflect teachings aligned fully with roughly 95% of the world’s professing Christians. GMC and WCA folks are awash with accusations that they are “purveyors of misinformation,” a polite 9 syllable term for “Liars!” The GMC is filled with disgruntled malcontents, advocates of Christian nationalism, in bed with racists, misogynists, secretly opposed to women or minorities in ministry, eager to impose fundamentalism on the unsuspecting children of Wesley, so ‘they’ say. Worst of all, the GMC calls names. It is for the GMC to embrace Ephesians 4:15, speak the truth in love, and not reply in kind, or in unkind. Let’s be real. Allies of the WCA and GMC have shot unfair and nasty words at brothers and sisters in Christ that also grieve the Holy Spirit. If we see it from our camp, it is our responsibility to intervene graciously but firmly. The name-calling will only recede when it is clear to the larger world that nasty innuendoes are coming from one side only. Remember the large number who are not ‘traditionalist’ Christians but are gracious. Christians in the big picture of the Kingdom. “Think about these things” (Philippians 4:8).
Global is Local
A toast to “Bottom up,” rather than the top-down style of leadership and direction currently employed in the status quo. Rather than treating local churches as the bottom of the pecking order, the GMC shifts the organization to a bottom-up vision in which Christ, living in risen glory through the local church, creates the larger collective vision. Our current system at Annual Conference has clergy with 50% of the vote, while representing .05% of the membership, the most obvious example of “colonialism and classism” in our denomination. Recall, as organization theory makes clear, “Every organization is perfectly aligned to the results it gets.” Acts reflects how the organization at that time and place enabled powerful, Spirit-led growth. The Holy Spirit does not run an organization into bankruptcy, but we have offered 55 years of decline. Apostolic leadership, yes; layers of bureaucracy, paperwork and directed official priorities and programs from a top-down system, no? Even motivated and sincere Christians will fail if placed in a dysfunctional and ineffective system. A toast (root beer) to a “Bottom-Up” approach.
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.
You typically have a pretty even hand in our ongoing debate. Respetfully, please consider:
1. Right about your paragraph on “zingers” and the need for grace, you equated using they/them pronouns to the Gerasene demonic. I’d invite you to consider if that is an example of what you hope to avoid.
2. “Purveyors of misinformation” is not necessarily the same thing as “liars!” I recently pointed out significant misinformation about apportionments in the GMC that a prominent GMC leader wrote in a post. He graciously replied, thanking me, and corrected the article. Sometimes misinformation comes from misunderstanding or false assumptions. Having said that, I can’t believe I was the first person to read that person’s piece who noticed the incorrect information. That others would read it and NOT offer correction is lying by omission. To be generous, there is no doubt that some GMC leaders are happily allowing people to be misinformed. That is deceitful, and it is right for them to be to account for it.
Misinformation is defined by Oxford Languages as “false or inaccurate information, especially that which is deliberately intended to deceive.”
“Deliberately intended to deceive” sounds an awful lot like lying.
It seems like the inaccurate information that you called attention was more along the lines of an honest mistake, and/or not doing one’s due diligence. Misinformation isn’t the same as incorrect information.
If this person was intending to “purvey misinformation” it seems that they wouldn’t have responded graciously and issued a correction – that or they don’t have much of a backbone in pursuing dishonest gains.
Yes, fair comments. Not much leeway for irony or humor in gender fluidity issues. I posted a praise for Bishop Peggy Johnson’s handling of the reality and process of her husband transitioning to a female and complaints on the UM Clergy site led Jeremy to remove the post because I used the word “husband” to describe her marriage during a time biological children were birthed. Also yes to the distinction between honest misstatement and deliberate distortion. Recently a church of some size voted to align with the GMC. It was publicly framed by leadership as a vote for those who disagreed to get out and find another church, statements that appalled the local church leaders hoping for grace and healing all around. It’d been the same if a disaffiliate vote was defeated and folks immediately were goaded by their leaders to immediately match out and start forming a new church that night. Has no one heard of post traumatic stress? So thanks to David for helpful words
While I wouldn’t go as far as to call my feelings PTSD, I’ve gone through this same dynamic back in the 80s with the Southern Baptists. And from what’s happened in the SBC since then, it appeared that the hard feelings (even from the “winners”) never went away. They turned their attention from the departed liberals to non-Calvinists and now to never-Trumpers.
I can’t do this again. After the shenanigans I’ve seen in the last year, I simply have no stomach for it. My former church went independent with the senior pastor and a few of his fellow megachurch superfriends to form their own “network”, to which no small congregations need apply.
It’s deja vu all over again.
I see that David Livingston continues his quixotic mission of trying to re-order traditionalists through the comment box. Is he actually “called” to such a mission? I think he’s raddled by something. Could it be he’s blaming “traditionalists” for the historic consequences of the many wanton acts of Scriptural and Disciplinary disobedience embraced by progressives?