As was mentioned on Sunday, there were multiple news outlets last week that broke some news about the United Methodist Church that has a piece of truth to it but was exaggerated a bit (I know that shocks you that the media can exaggerate through a headline.) 😉
Here’s what happened:
A group of leaders representing different theological streams of the UMC met with a mediator (the same mediator that worked through the settlements of the September 11 World Trade Center event) and agreed to terms that could be presented to May’s General Conference about separating the United Methodist Church. At the bottom of this article, we will place some reliable links to allow you to form your own thoughts and reflections about what happened.
A few observations:
Nothing has really happened. This is a plan that is being submitted to the delegates of the worldwide UMC Gathering this spring and that conference will consider it, adopt it, amend it, or reject it.
This proposal, if adopted, would most likely lead to a splinter in the Methodist family to include at least two main branches: 1) a new, more evangelical and orthodox Methodist denomination (spearheaded by the Wesley Covenant Association) with a new Book of Doctrines and Disciplines etc. that is sure to retain current language about marriage and sexuality and certain to keep a large majority of the current international members of the UMC, 2) It is also likely that if this group splintered, the existing UMC would change its position on marriage to break from the global church’s existing teachings about marriage being defined as between a man and a woman (there could also be changes to ordination requirements). This is just what “could” be coming down the road, but again, until May of 2020 nobody really knows the direction the General Church will take. Out of this, mostly likely churches, Annual Conferences and Methodist-owned entities would get to decide what their future would hold (including the possibility of UM Churches becoming more independent and not affiliating with either of these groups). The agreement, as it exists today, does release individual churches from the “trust clause” which currently means that church property and assets are owned by the United Methodist denomination and NOT by the local church. This is commonly thought to change with any agreement to give churches more say in the ownership of their own assets.
It also provides a moratorium on complaints against churches and pastors that choose not to follow the current Book of Disciple restrictions on marriage until terms of a potential separation can be agreed upon.
Read the links below for more information if you’re interested.
How do things change at Long’s Chapel in the interim?
They don’t! Except remember that God is always doing a new thing among us and we are a church Under Construction in every way.
Jesus is still on the throne. The same mission we had last week we have today. To make disciples for Jesus Christ - to worship and serve God and grow together as passionate followers of Jesus, because ALL people matter to God. All people still matter to God and matter to us; that isn’t part of the debate but that’s settled Gospel according to Jesus (Jesus even found a way to love the Pharisees of the Jewish Church for which He reserved His strongest language.) Neither our marriage nor ordination ethic has changed as we are still aligned with the Global Church, and at the same time hoping to be a place of solace and spiritual inquiry for everyone.
Yes, we will structure some congregational conversation that will be scripturally-informed and theologically-engaging that will help us ask some important questions about God’s will, God’s idea of marriage, the priesthood of all believers, the role and credentials of ordinated pastors etc. These are things we should be talking about - in addition to how to apply our faith to other social issues of the day like immigration, alleviating poverty and inequity, just war, how to engage with people of other faiths or of no declared faith at all. We are still going to talk about all these things because all these things matter to Jesus. We will have some sense of where Long’s Chapel is on such issues and understand that we will ALWAYS be a church that honors different perspectives on such controversial topics. Your pastors and leadership represent you well in a diversity of thought but with a full-fledged commitment to Jesus, His will and following the Scriptures. The fact that Long’s Chapel isn’t just a homogenous group of thinkers and believers is a huge strength. We serve different generations, people from different religious and geographical backgrounds, different political affiliations, people that do different things for a living. I believe in “absolute truth” but I also believe that often, we are espousing our own opinions that are more likely to be informed by cable news than the story of Scripture and the person of Jesus. That’s part of the work of discipleship - to hear and act on Jesus’ voice empowered by the Holy Spirit and the Scriptures above all else.
As your pastors (and your Church Leadership Team), we are here for YOU. If you need to talk about how the conversations are affecting you - please feel free to reach out to us directly.
I know times like these can be full of anxiety - but may I invite you to grab hold of Jesus and be fully committed to Him through the life of His messy, broken and yet redeemed Church. Please be in prayer for Long’s Chapel, the UMC, Jesus’ church, and, of course, this world that we are charged with reaching in His name. We promise to keep you informed of things that you need to know but PLEASE don’t take your eye off the mission of Long’s Chapel. 2020 is set up to be the most amazing year in church life in some time at Long’s Chapel. Distractions about things we can’t have direct influence in are far less likely to grow God’s kingdom than sharing His love in the here and now. Get involved. Double down on your commitment to this part of God’s church. We are gaining strength and momentum every day to live into the charge before us. Thanks for your commitment and trust as we walk together in faith, growing and longing to be motivated by God’s love always.
Links that may interest you - (please remember that Sunday we challenged every member of our church that for every minute spent reading about denomination politics, another minute would be committed to prayer and another minute to serving Jesus in some tangible way.)
Statement Released Last Week of Agreement between Various UMC leaders https://www.unitedmethodistbishops.org/files/websites/www/pdfs/signed+umc+mediation+protocoal+statement+-2020.pdf
Feinberg kept church negotiators at the Table - https://www.umnews.org/en/news/feinberg-kept-church-negotiators-at-table
Bishop Leeland’s Thoughts (Your Bishop) - https://www.wnccumc.org/newsdetail/13134946
Another helpful Perspective from another Bishop - https://arumc.org/2020/01/its-still-about-your-church/
UMC Communications - http://www.umcom.org/
UMNews - https://www.umnews.org/
Timothy Tennent, President of Asbury Seminary - https://timothytennent.com/blog/
Voice of other Seminaries - https://www.gbhem.org/
Wesleyan Covenant Association - https://wesleyancovenant.org/ (More orthodox perspective
Uniting Methodist - https://unitingmethodists.com (More progressive perspective)
If you want to understand more of how this debate is one that the church has wrestled with for years - you might appreciate a one-hour video by professors at Candler School of Theology in Atlanta - Dr. Kevin Watson and the Rev. Dr. KEndall Soulen. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=XkNCmsatTlE