Archives for April 2013

Will Our Church Go Over the Cliff?

Politicians and economists are warning of the approaching “fiscal cliff” that could strike the U.S. on January 1. On that date, a combination of automatic tax increases and spending cuts totaling over half a trillion dollars is scheduled to go into effect. If it does, economists are predicting that we will lose 2 million jobs and suffer a 4 percentage point decline in economic output, driving the country into recession. One hopes that Congress will find a way to keep us from going off the cliff.

The United Methodist Church faces a crisis that is similar to the “fiscal cliff,” but happening in slow motion. Dr. Lovett H. Weems, Jr. coined the term “death tsunami” to describe this “cliff” facing our church. Because the average age of our members is rising rapidly (due to our failure to attract and hold younger people into the church), a significant percentage of our membership will be lost through death in the coming twenty years. This loss will in turn dramatically shrink our denominational membership, lead to the closing of numerous local congregations, and sharply reduce the money that is available for ministry and mission at the local, annual conference, and global levels.

We can and must find a way for our church to meet this challenge. Good News applauds the work that has been done, but we believe it does not go far enough.

The UM Church is already starting to go off the cliff. In 2010, we saw the largest U.S. membership decline in the history of our church, losing 108,000 members (a 1.4 percent decline). For decades, giving increased even as U.S. membership declined, but in 2009, for the first time in our church’s 40-year history, giving dropped. For the first time ever, the 2012 General Conference adopted a general church budget that was less than the one adopted in 2008.

Membership losses have continued in 2011, with at least 18 annual conferences reporting losses in excess of 2 percent. At that rate, the church would disappear in the U.S. in 50 years.

What to do?

What do United Methodists do when facing a serious problem or crisis? We appoint a study committee!

In 2008, the Council of Bishops finally gathered the will to address this looming “cliff” in our church. They issued a Call to Action, which resulted in a $500,000 study of the church by two respected secular business consulting services.

The studies found that only 15 percent of our 38,000 U.S. congregations are “highly vital.” The Call to Action Committee, using the results of the studies, identified several common characteristics (“drivers”) found in highly vital congregations and recommended that we focus on developing these characteristics in all of our congregations. (The full reports of the studies are available at www.umccalltoaction.org.)

The Call to Action Committee then created another committee, called the Interim Operations Team (IOT), to oversee the implementation of its recommendations leading up to the 2012 General Conference. In the wake of General Conference, the IOT has issued their final report and concluded their work.

What has been accomplished?

The primary result of the Call to Action process was to gain nearly universal agreement that the main focus of The United Methodist Church over the next ten years should be to create and sustain more vital congregations. Our Book of Discipline notes, “The local church provides the most significant arena through which disciple-making occurs” (¶201). Since “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world” is our mission statement, it seems likely that we will finally devote significantly more attention and energy toward becoming more effective at making disciples in the local church.

To help the church become more effective, numerous “metrics” (numerical measurements) have been identified that indicate the effectiveness of local church disciple-making. These metrics include such things as membership, worship and Sunday school attendance, baptisms, number of small groups, number of mission volunteers, and the amount of money given to various aspects of the church’s ministry.

As the IOT report observes, many annual conferences are implementing a measurement system to track both congregational and clergy
effectiveness. Clergy in particular will be held accountable to be effective in ministry by leading their congregations in growing vitality. Clergy deemed ineffective may no longer be guaranteed an appointment and may be encouraged to exit from ministry with annual conference support. The Council of Bishops and episcopacy committees have promised to hold individual bishops accountable for improving vital indicators in their annual conferences.

The denomination will make the recruiting and training of younger clergy (under age 35) a priority. Over the next four years, $7 million of apportionment money has been allocated for this priority. Planning groups have already begun meeting to identify ways to improve in this area.

The UMC Vital Congregations Project is helping to build networks for support and shared learning among local church and annual conference leaders. As these leaders work to achieve observable results in growing vital congregations, they will identify strategies that can be shared and implemented more broadly across the church.

The Council of Bishops has adopted an organizational plan that allows active bishops to concentrate more effectively on the work of increasing the number of vital congregations in their areas.

Over the last several years, many of the general church agencies have begun working more cooperatively to coordinate their efforts and focus their resources on priority areas. Most of them have reduced and streamlined their administrative structure in order to become more effective and accountable.

What has not been accomplished?

The IOT recommendations that got the most attention involved restructuring the general church. IOT proposed unifying ten existing
agencies into a new UM Center for Connectional Mission and Ministry. It also joined the Council of Bishops in proposing a new “set-aside” bishop position to lead the Council and help move toward greater effectiveness in creating and sustaining vital congregations.

The “set-aside” bishop (which required a constitutional amendment) was not approved by the General Conference. The restructuring proposal was dramatically altered in committee, approved by the General Conference, but then ruled unconstitutional by the Judicial Council.

Proposals to redirect up to $50 million of apportionments over the next four years toward starting new faith communities and revitalizing existing ones did not pass. Nor was $5 million set aside for developing young laity as UM leaders.

Efforts to streamline and simplify the process of moving toward ordained ministry were not approved.

What has been ignored?

In the midst of all this work toward making more vital congregations, several important parts of the picture have been ignored.

There is no clear definition of what a “disciple” of Jesus Christ is. Is it a person who attends or participates in a certain number of activities or worship services? Is it a person who recites the vows of church membership? Is it a person who gives a certain percentage of their income to the church? Is it a person who engages in a certain number of mission projects? What about people who are doing mission that is unrelated to their local church? How do we measure the inward transformation that then changes the way we think and act to be more like Jesus Christ?

Not having a clear definition of a disciple means that we have no commonly agreed upon way of “making” disciples. Does a person need to participate in a small group in order to grow in discipleship? Does a person even need to be a member of a local church in order to grow in discipleship?

The criteria for being a “vital congregation” have not been publicized. What constitutes a vital congregation? What measures were used to identify the 15 percent of congregations that were “highly vital?” How can I know whether my local congregation is vital or not?

Yet to be determined (apparently by each annual conference) is what constitutes an effective pastor? How will a pastor’s effectiveness be measured? Will such a definition of effectiveness take into account difficult ministry situations (conflicted congregations, neighborhoods in transition, etc.)?

The elephant in the room

There is one big problem that Good News believes stands in the way of all work toward growing vital congregations. The problem is that we do not have basic agreement in our church on the essentials of theology. Our message is not focused and our mission is built on an unsecure foundation.

Our United Methodist theology is supposedly defined by the Articles of Religion, the Confession of Faith, the General Rules, and John Wesley’s standard sermons and notes. However, surveys over the years have shown that a significant number of UM bishops, clergy, and lay leaders do not agree with UM doctrines like the virgin birth, the bodily resurrection of Christ, the deity of Christ as the Son of God, the inspiration and authority of Scripture, the sacrificial death of Christ as necessary for securing our forgiveness, and faith in Christ as necessary for salvation.

How can we work together to build vital congregations when we do not share a common Gospel message? How can God bless a local church’s ministry when that church does not proclaim or live out orthodox Christianity?

We believe that one of the primary reasons for our church’s decline has been our widespread abandonment (in thought, if not also in word and deed) of “Scriptural Christianity,” the orthodox Christian teachings outlined in our UM doctrine. Yet, this theological pluralism is not even considered in the studies or reports.

We believe that one of the essential factors for having a vital congregation is faithfulness to orthodox Christian theology. Yet, the consultants were forbidden from even considering our beliefs when identifying and studying vital congregations. How could a congregation be considered vital when its leaders do not believe that Jesus Christ is Lord (for example)? Is a congregation likely to grow when its leaders do not believe that persons are eternally lost outside of Jesus Christ?

Furthermore, the studies and reports do not take any account of the tremendous drag on church vitality imposed by conflict over social issues, particularly human sexuality. What if all the time, energy, and resources devoted to trying to change the church’s understanding about marriage and homosexuality, for example, were instead devoted to building vital congregations?

How many members have left The United Methodist Church over the years because they disagree with the doctrines being preached and taught by their pastor? How many United Methodists are reluctant to invite friends to attend church with them because they do not trust the message their friends will hear in their local congregation? How many members have left the UM Church over the years because they are tired of the constant fighting over social issues? The studies and reports did not even address such questions.

Where do we go from here?

The IOT report states, “Business as usual is unsustainable. Dramatically different and new behaviors, not incremental changes, are required. We have not yet seen the degree of shared sense of urgency or commitment to systemic adaptations with the redirection of leadership expectations and sufficient resources that our situation requires” (emphasis in original).

The report rightly notes that a change of “mindset” or church culture is required to bring about different results. That is the biblical definition of “repentance (metanoia),” literally “a change of mind.”

Until our church repents of our doctrinal unfaithfulness, ends perpetual conflict over social issues, and develops an urgency to reach a lost world with the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ (and not just an urgency to save a declining institution), all the good things we might do to become more effective in mission and ministry will come to naught.

Thomas A. Lambrecht is the vice president of Good News.

Jurisdictional Divides

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me!

Most of us remember learning this saying and using it as a defense against the taunting and mocking (what we now call “bullying”) that was all too common on our elementary school playground. We have recently begun to acknowledge that words do hurt, because words have the power to convey ideas, thoughts, and feelings that impact others.

The power of words became evident during the Jurisdictional Conference meetings in July. These once-every-four-years gatherings of representatives from annual conferences meet in geographical regions to elect and assign bishops to the annual conferences in that region (among other things). Two of those Jurisdictional Conferences (Western and Northeastern) took the opportunity to pass resolutions on the issue of homosexuality and same-sex unions. These resolutions were an attempt to give hope to those who were discouraged by the failure of the 2012 General Conference to allow same-sex unions or marriages or to end the denomination’s prohibition on the ordination of self-avowed practicing homosexuals.

In one of several actions to promote the acceptance of homosexuality, the Western Jurisdiction passed a resolution entitled, “A Statement of Gospel Obedience.” The statement reads:“In response to our common belief that God’s grace and love is [sic] available to all persons, the Western Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church states our belief that the United Methodist Church is in error on the subject of ‘homosexuality’s incompatibility with Christian teaching.’”“We commend to our bishops, clergy, local churches and ministry settings, the challenge to operate as if the statement in Para. 161F does not exist, creating a church where all people are truly welcome.”This resolution on “Gospel Obedience” is to be forwarded to jurisdictional bishops, each annual conference, and the chairperson of each annual conference Board of Ordained Ministry for discussion and implementation.

The Western Jurisdiction took a second action to begin implementing the promotion of homosexuality by resolving to write letters to the editor of major newspapers in each annual conference “apologiz[ing] for the actions of the 2012 General Conference of the United Methodist Church which perpetuated marginalization of LGBTQIA persons and continues to both dehumanize and demonize our LGBTQIA sisters and brothers.” It is sad that the Western Jurisdiction feels compelled to apologize for Biblical truth.

Retired Bishop Melvin Talbert was asked to oversee a task force that would seek to make churches and annual conferences in the Western Jurisdiction more welcoming to LGBTQIA persons. As reported in UM News Service, the jurisdiction “also suggested the penalty of a suspension for 24 consecutive hours from the exercise of episcopal office for any bishop charged, tried and convicted of ordaining or appointing a ‘self-avowed practicing homosexual.’” This last action is clearly illegal under church law, given that the Judicial Council in fall 2011 declared a similar action by the Northern Illinois Annual Conference “null, void, and of no effect.”

“The clear meaning of the Discipline is that only a trial court has the power to set a penalty in a Church trial which results in a conviction and that the full legislated range of options must be available to a trial court in its penalty phase” (Judicial Council decision 1201). The bishop presiding over this session of the Western Jurisdictional Conference was remiss in not declaring this petition out of order.

Living into Rebellion?

Taken together, these actions of the Western Jurisdiction constitute the stated intention of disobeying the Discipline of The United Methodist Church. If carried forward, these actions would constitute an active rebellion against the church by the Western Jurisdiction. As such, these words are hurtful to the unity and Biblical integrity of the entire United Methodist Church.

In light of that fact, however, it is important to take a closer look at these statements.

1. The statements are based on false premises. The “Statement of Gospel Obedience” refers to “our common belief that God’s grace and love is available to all persons” as the basis for declaring that the UM Church is “in error” about homosexuality. Orthodox United Methodists also believe that God’s grace and love are available to all, despite how we are often portrayed by those who disagree with us. Where we differ with the Western Jurisdiction, however, is that we do not see God’s grace and love for homosexual persons as an endorsement of same-sex behavior. God loves all of us and extends grace to every person on earth, but God does not approve of our sinful behavior.

The “Statement of Gospel Obedience” goes on to say that the church is in error “on the subject of ‘homosexuality’s incompatibility with Christian teaching.’” The UM Church does not say that. We say that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” (Para. 161F) Having same-sex attractions does not make a person incompatible with Christian teaching. In fact, persons are not incompatible with Christian teaching, only actions. Having attractions toward something sinful (aka temptation) is not sinful. It is only when we act on such attractions that we have committed an act that is incompatible with Christian teaching. The Western Jurisdiction’s words are a misrepresentation of the United Methodist position on human sexuality. They are therefore inadequate to form the basis for rejecting that position. And they do a disservice to the church by polarizing the debate and deepening the division.

2. The statement is meaningless in terms of its practical application. Para. 161F is found in the Social Principles portion of our Book of Discipline. But there are other paragraphs in the Discipline that specifically regulate the church’s actions regarding the practice of homosexuality. Para. 304.3, 311.2d, 324.9o, 330.5a6, 335a6, and 2702.1a and 2701.1b all prohibit the candidacy, ordination, or appointment of selfavowed practicing homosexuals to ordained ministry. Para. 341.6 and 2702.1b prohibit same-sex unions or marriages. Para. 613.20 and 806.9 prohibit the spending of apportionment money to promote the acceptance of homosexuality. In order for the “Statement of Gospel Obedience” to be practically applicable, it would have to instruct the Western Jurisdiction’s churches and leaders to function as if all of these paragraphs do not exist. Disagreeing with Para. 161F is not unusual; United Methodists disagree with statements in the Social Principles all the time (they are usually not binding as church law). But the “Statement” does not say that the Western Jurisdiction is going to ignore all these other paragraphs regarding the practice of homosexuality.

While the words of the Western Jurisdiction’s statements are hurtful to church unity, what really matters is the actions that individuals in the Western Jurisdiction will take. Will pastors begin freely performing samesex unions in violation of the Discipline? Will boards of ordained ministry, clergy sessions, and bishops begin ordaining and appointing self-avowed practicing homosexuals in violation of the Discipline? Will church trial courts fail to meaningfully discipline clergy or bishops for violating the Discipline? Will annual conferences begin funneling apportionment money to programs and activities that promote the acceptance of homosexuality in violation of the Discipline? One might argue that sending letters of apology using jurisdictional funds crosses that line.

Any or all of these actions will create a situation of schism in The United Methodist Church. When one part of the church declines to abide by the church’s polity and membership covenant, it has separated itself from the church. At that point, the marriage is broken. All that remains is the formality of divorce to recognize that fact.

The Northeastern Statement

The Northeastern Jurisdiction, meeting at the same time in July, passed its own “Statement of Principle” regarding the issue of homosexuality. The Northeast “declares its passionate opposition to continued distinctions of church law that restrict the rights and privileges of LGBT people in The United Methodist Church.” Such “passionate opposition” is acceptable in the church, as we struggle together to discern the will of God in contemporary circumstances.

However, the Northeastern statement (like the West’s) distorts the church’s position by seeing a “grave pastoral crisis facing the church at all levels” occasioned by “institutional discrimination that inhibits equal access to the means of grace for all persons.” The statement resolves that the Northeastern Jurisdiction “may feel bound by conscience to offer the ministries and sacraments of the church to all persons on an equal basis.” Most orthodox United Methodists would agree that the sacraments (baptism and Holy Communion) and the ministries of the church ought to be available to all persons on an equal basis. When persons are able to conscientiously undertake the vows required, all the ministries of the church are available to all equally.

The only “ministry” that the church does not recognize or offer to anyone is same-sex marriage or union. If the inability to offer this particular ministry is the “grave pastoral crisis” perceived by the Northeast, then its statement should have said so explicitly, without making an overbroad generalization that makes it sound like the whole church is preventing LGBT persons from receiving baptism or communion or participating in worship or Bible studies.

The Northeastern statement also calls the church’s position on homosexuality “unjust laws, policies and procedures.” The statement allows for the possibility that annual conference leaders, “while bound to the Book of Discipline, are also bound to exercise their consciences and are bound by Jesus’ commandment to stand with the marginalized and the oppressed in our midst.” In veiled language, the statement is saying that one’s own conscience and interpretation of Jesus’ commandments trumps the church’s interpretation. Such a highly individualistic understanding of Christianity is a recipe for anarchy in the church and ultimately the disintegration of the Body of Christ. Normally, when one has a conscientious objection that will not allow them to comply with the will of the body, the person leaves that body and finds another with which they can agree. To simply stay in the body while refusing to abide by that body’s policies is disingenuous and destructive.

Finally, the Northeastern statement warns “individuals who take punitive actions against others for offering the sacraments and rituals of the church” (read: same-sex unions or marriages) that they “do so contrary to the highest ideals of the United Methodist Church” and that they are “at risk of causing grave harm to LGBT persons, their loved ones, their sisters and brothers in Christ, faithful clergy and the United Methodist Church itself.” (It seems like in the Northeastern view, everyone is being harmed by the church’s faithfulness to Scripture.)

This is a blatant attempt to discourage persons from upholding the Book of Discipline by filing complaints against those who disobey or by finding the disobedient guilty in a church trial if necessary. The Northeast is saying it no longer wants to hold persons accountable to the covenants of membership or ordination in The United Methodist Church.

A Northeastern Rebellion?

Again, while these words are destructive and eat away at the unity and integrity of The United Methodist Church, what counts is the actions that result from these words. Will pastors begin freely performing same-sex unions in violation of the Discipline? Will those loyal to The United Methodist Church be punished or otherwise intimidated from filing complaints against such pastors? Will bishops and committees on investigation refuse to process complaints in such a way as to enforce the Discipline? Will church trial courts (juries) refuse to find persons guilty of violating the Discipline or levy only symbolic punishments for such violations?

Any or all of these actions will tear at what is left of the fragile fabric of our church’s unity. Our church will devolve into chaos and a situation where everyone does what is right in their own eyes (Judges 21:25). Such actions will themselves harm “their sisters and brothers in Christ, faithful clergy and the United Methodist Church itself.”

It is important to note that the views reflected in the statements by the Western and Northeastern Jurisdictions were not unanimous. There are strong, faithful, committed orthodox United Methodists in both those regions. In the West, orthodox UM’s make up probably ten percent of the membership and are overwhelmingly outvoted. In the Northeast, the vote for the “Statement of Principle” carried by 61–39 percent. In both these jurisdictions, as in the North Central Jurisdiction, there are many traditional United Methodists who support the current position of the church and want to see it maintained. However, they are consistently outvoted at denominational gatherings in these regions by those pushing to change the church’s position.

Our church appears to be at another turning point. Those pushing for the acceptance of homosexuality by The United Methodist Church seem determined to lead the church into irreparable harm, deeper conflict, and, ultimately, separation. Yet there is still time to pull back from the precipice. As hurtful as the words from the West and Northeast are, they have not yet been implemented by actions that create schism. During this 150th anniversary of the Civil War, I am struck by the parallels. In 1861, it was the passionate “hotheads” that led the Southern states to follow incendiary words with incendiary actions, tearing apart our country and causing unimagined death and destruction. None of those who precipitated the crisis thought that it would end up the way it did. There is always the law of unintended consequences.

There is still time for us to avoid precipitating a crisis within the church.

It is time to back down from the rhetoric of rebellion and allow the Holy Spirit to lead us forward as a body, rather than as disparate groups. The future of The United Methodist Church depends upon it.

Thomas A. Lambrecht is the vice president of Good News.

Time to move beyond church protests

Another General Conference, another protest by pro-gay groups. Since the 1992 General Conference in Louisville, Kentucky, every General Conference session has been disrupted by some form of protest activity. On one occasion, protesters pounded their feet on the bleachers to prevent the conference from carrying on business. In each of the last four General Conferences, protesters invaded the floor where the delegates were seated in order to stop the business of the conference from continuing. In 2000, a number of the protesters were arrested and fined. In the years since then, some form of accommodation with the protesters al- lowed the protest to happen without arrests being made.

This year in Tampa, the protesters did not desecrate the worship space or altar, as they have in past years. However, they prevented the conference from doing business by singing hymns within the delegate seating area of the conference. About 90 minutes of plenary time was preempted by the demonstration. At $1,500 per minute, that cost the General Church about $135,000 in lost time.That lost time came back to haunt the conference on Friday night, when numerous calendar items were not able to be acted upon for lack of time.

I believe the time has come to say that it is wrong to use protest tactics to disrupt the functioning of General Conference or to circumvent the rules and policies of the church. Such tactics are not in keeping with the gospel, nor are they in keeping with the way our church is governed. People within the church are entitled to disagree with one another and with the policies of our church. We are invited to express that disagreement verbally and in print as a part of the “holy conferencing” that leads up to decision-making in our General Conference. However, going beyond persuasion to disruptive protest crosses a line that threatens not only the unity of the church, but the integrity of the church’s decision-making process.

These disruptive protest tactics are not meant to persuade; they are meant to intimidate the delegates into agreeing with the protesters and to force the church to adopt the protesters’ position.

One blogger stated that when protest is the only voice you have, you use it. But those advocating for the acceptance of homosexuality in the church have had a very loud and effective voice for their position. Two churchwide studies and countless hours of holy conferencing in annual conferences and local churches have given voice to the pro-gay position. In this General Conference, more than half the worship services and sermons advocated for “full  inclusion” and sometimes overtly advocated on behalf of the acceptance of homosexuality. We devoted an unprecedented three time periods to holy conferencing during this General Conference, one of which was specifically oriented around homosexuality. Several of the legislative committees devoted substantial amounts of time to holy conferencing on this issue.

Delegate Mark Miller shared his frustration over shortcomings in the process, leading to a beautiful prayer for all by Bishop Hayes. In addition,
there were the daily eight-page newspapers put out by the “Love Your Neighbor Coalition,” the daily rallies and speakers in their “Tabernacle,”
and the dozens of rainbow stoles worn by advocates, as well as delegates and even bishops.

The advocates for the acceptance of homosexuality definitely have a voice, and that voice was heard loud and clear. However, the delegates have chosen for 40 years not to agree with that voice. When advocates say they haven’t been heard, what they really mean is that the church has not agreed with them. In frustration, they then turn to intimidation and coercion through protest tactics.

The attempt at intimidation was felt by the delegates in the demands of the protesters, who negotiated their departure from the floor of General
Conference only after certain demands were met. The intimidation was felt when dozens of protesters lined the edge of the plenary floor and stared at the delegates during the debate on petitions related to homosexuality. Some central conference delegates shared with us that they were literally afraid during that debate because they did not know what would be considered acceptable behavior in the U.S., or whether the protesters
would attempt to cause injury to the delegates. That intimidation was felt through threats from protesters that there would be further disruption if the General Conference agenda was not changed to postpone consideration of petitions that they considered hurtful.

Intimidation and force have no place in the deliberations of the church. They violate the provisions of the holy conferencing process, bringing conversation to a halt. They make a mockery of our claim to be listening for the voice of the Holy Spirit to guide us in our decisions. Protest tactics are simply an attempt to impose a minority viewpoint on the church despite the will of the majority. What we witnessed at General Conference was in part a tyranny of the minority. Holding the bishops and the General Conference hostage to the demands of a small group of demonstrators was a manifestation of tyranny. It exhibited a spirit of “do things my way or else.” That is not how we resolve disagreements in the Church of Jesus Christ.

We can go back to the very first major controversy in the church, settled by the Council of Jerusalem as reported in Acts 15. The decision- making
body gathered (“the apostles and elders,” vs. 6). There was “much discussion” (vs. 7). There was personal testimony (Barnabas and Paul, vs. 12). The leaders spoke (Peter, vs. 7; James, vs. 13). There was appeal to Scripture (vs. 15). A decision was made that could be summarized by the phrase,“It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us” (vs. 28). The decision was conveyed by letter and by word of mouth from those who went to
encourage and build up the church.

Where in this process is there room for intimidation or for protest? The monumental decision to include Gentiles in the church by faith in Jesus
Christ without requiring them to be circumcised was made in one day. And the leadership of the church never revisited that issue again! There were
still “Judaizers” who disagreed with the decision and attempted to promote their teaching in opposition to the apostolic faith, but they were not
accepted by the church. The leaders of the church had defined the church’s position on that fundamental issue, and the decision was never changed.

If The United Methodist Church were to change its position on the acceptance of homosexuality, we could not say that “it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us.” We would have to say, “It seemed good to a minority group within our church, and after more than 40 years of pushing, the rest of us have decided to go along to promote peace and unity and stop the conflict.”

The proponents of protest tactics in the church are making a mistake of categories. They are treating the church as if it were a secular government. But the reason that civil disobedience and other pressure tactics are accepted as valid in dealing with a secular government is that the average person has no alternative but to live under that particular government’s authority. The only way to change the perceived unjust circumstance is to change the government’s policy.

A church denomination, on the other hand, is a voluntary association. It is made up of people who have gathered together voluntarily because they
agree with the beliefs and goals and polity of that denomination. If one does not agree with a particular denomination’s beliefs, goals, and polity, one has other alternatives. This is even more true today with regard to homosexuality, as most of the other mainline denominations welcome
practicing homosexuals in membership and ministry. There are other alternatives to The United Methodist Church.

I find it deeply offensive that a group within the UM Church is dedicating itself to remaking the church in their image, regardless of the consequences or the wishes of the majority. Those promoting the acceptance of homosexuality have made their best case for 40 years, and the majority of our church has not agreed. So not only are they continuing to disrupt and penalize the General Conference for not agreeing with them,
they have promised to disobey the rules and policies of the church that they voluntarily joined and remain members in. There is even a bishop now on public record calling upon clergy to violate the Book of Discipline.

Another revealing conflict in the early church, recorded in Acts 15:36-41 just after the Council of Jerusalem, can shed light on a way forward. Paul and Barnabas had a “sharp disagreement” over methodology. Should Mark come along on their next missionary journey? Paul said no, and Barnabas
said yes. Rather than force Paul to accept Mark as a missionary companion, Barnabas “parted company” with Paul and pursued God’s mission in the way that he felt led to do.

After the vote on homosexual practice at General Conference, one of the leaders of the Renewal and Reform Coalition overheard some progressive
delegates talking. One said she felt certain that many who share her views would now leave and join another denomination with a more progressive
stance. It is always sad to hear of persons leaving our congregations. But one wonders whether it isn’t time to admit that we have two very different positions regarding homosexuality and to recognize the wisdom of those who think it may be time to “part company” with a church that does not agree with them and probably will not for the foreseeable future.

Is it not time to stop trying to force The United Methodist Church to accept what it will not accept? Is it not time for each group to be free to
passionately pursue the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world in the way each feels led by God? Is it not time to take all the energy, time, and money that is being spent on this controversy and channel it into the mission of the church?

Protest and intimidation are not appropriate tactics for resolving disagreement in the church. May all on both sides of this controversy renounce violent or coercive words and actions. And may the Holy Spirit give us wisdom and focus us on the mission of leading the world to Christ.

>strong>Thomas A. Lambrecht is the vice president of Good News.