Dissecting the Talbert Resolution, Part 3

6a00d834515f9b69e201310fc671c7970c-800wiThis post is part 3 of my analysis of the Talbert complaint resolution. You can read part 1 HERE and part 2 HERE. In this post, I am outlining what the implications of this agreement are for United Methodists and our denomination.

Implications

So where does the Talbert resolution leave us? I find nothing in the agreement that upholds or reinforces the church’s current position on marriage or on accountability to our covenant. Instead, this agreement represents a clear victory for those who are bound to overturn our church’s current position, if not by the legislative process, then by the process of continuing disobedience.

Bishop Talbert has experienced no negative consequences for not only advocating such, but actually violating his vows of ordination and consecration. There is no incentive in this agreement for Bishop Talbert or any other clergyperson to bring their actions into compliance with the Book of Discipline.

This agreement further weakens the accountability process for clergy. Bishops who process complaints against clergy who perform same-sex services will be working even more against the tide of opinion by leaders that there should be no more trials.

In combination with several recent Judicial Council decisions, this agreement makes plain the fact that it is no longer possible to hold bishops accountable to the Discipline. The process for handling complaints against bishops needs radical reform. We should stop having bishops be responsible for holding other bishops accountable, since we have seen that such a process does not work. We must also remove accountability from the jurisdictional or central conference level and grant it to the general church level. Proposals will come to the 2016 General Conference to institute a global committee on investigation, made up of laity and pastors from the worldwide church, to handle complaints against bishops and ensure they are accountable to the Discipline.

This agreement is a watershed moment in the life of the church because it publicly illustrates at the highest level that there is a segment of the church’s leadership who have resolved not to be bound by the requirements of our commonly arrived at standards of faith and practice. The lesson is that there is no way for the church to enforce the Discipline. There is now very little cost for disobedience, at least in some parts of the country. We cannot play by two sets of rules, one for progressives who wish to operate in a manner contrary to the sense of General Conference, and one for traditionalists who wish to honor the process of our polity as determined by General Conference. If progressives are allowed to violate the Discipline with impunity, then the same right should be given to traditionalists. Increasingly, traditionalists are also going to adopt that approach, particularly with respect to the payment of apportionments.

The resulting chaos and disdain for discipline that is growing in our church is simply the result of two churches trying to pretend they are one. The disregard for General Conference as the representative decision-making body of our church and the ineffectiveness of the leadership of many of our bishops (and the Council of Bishops) is killing our church.

There are essentially two ways for our church to become one again. First, the General Conference can make reforms to the system to ensure that all United Methodist clergy and bishops will maintain their actions within the parameters set by General Conference. This will undoubtedly cause some progressives who cannot do so to leave the UM Church. Second, if General Conference does not take action, evangelicals and traditionalists will no longer be able to support and participate in a denomination that intentionally allows its leaders to encourage or engage in what the Bible calls sinful behavior. Indeed, many evangelical laypersons and some clergy have already left the UM Church, and many more will follow. It is no longer a viable alternative for us to live together under two different sets of beliefs and their resulting rules.

Evangelicals were not under the illusion that Bishop Talbert would be defrocked over his performing a same-sex union in another bishop’s territory. But it was reasonable for us to expect some modicum of accountability, or at least an acknowledgement of violating the Discipline and a commitment not to do so again. Instead, this agreement gives us nothing. It demonstrates that “the emperor has no clothes;” the church has no power to enforce its standards. The supreme law of the church is no longer the Discipline or General Conference; it is individual conscience. Personal judgment is now the ultimate arbiter of our faith and practice. We are no longer a connectional church, nor even a congregational one, but an individualistic one. Every person is now clamoring to do “what is right in his/her own eyes.”

The outcome of this case has pounded another nail in the coffin of The United Methodist Church as a body unified in mission and ministry. The church is already divided.  All that is left is for us to acknowledge that reality.

Comments

  1. Well said.

    The trouble is that both of your “ways for our church to become one again” hinge on the May 2016 General Conference. That’s too late. The denomination will be defunct by then as congregants on both sides of the issue continue to withhold donations and leave the Church.

  2. I agree with Rick. May 2016 will be too late. In fact, my wife and I have already left the church where we were members for the last 16 years. We have been members of a United Methodist church for over thirty years and leaving was an extremely difficult decision. There are many issues that we disagree with and we now have a pastor in her second full year who seems to be in complete agreement with the progressive element of in UMC..
    We have seen a steady decline in attendance and giving the longer she is here. An already fragile situation got even worse in 2014 as we completed a several week study of the Methodist social principles. During that course, there came a time when the Book of Discipline was presented as the official word for the church and our pastor informed us that it was NOT official. That started a process where the more progressive part of our church began to wield more power.
    Because the direction of both our congregation and the United Methodist church in general is moving away from us, we found it necessary to go elsewhere.

  3. I say that a real, serious, and realistic effort should now be underway by the orthodox leaders of the UMC to negotiate a merger with the Wesleyan Church. This merged church would be a perfect generational bridging arrangement. Many orthodox Methodist congregations are aging, most growing Wesleyan congregations are young. The merging of these resources could see a church that could explode worldwide in growth and vitality. It would seem that pension and health benefits could actually be strengthened with such a merger.

    It is time for restructuring, beginning with the merger of the orthodox Methodish Church with the Wewseyan Church, and adding any other Wesleyan remnants and independent churches that wish to join thus resulting in the new for the 21st century Wesleyan Methodist Church.

    Let’s get this done.

  4. A view from the pew from one who has been Methodist from the cradle and hopes to stay one until the grave: TD has a point in merging with the Wesleyan Church; I have spent some time following them as a denomination and am impressed.

    The reality is, no organization can survive without a consensus as to why it is in existence, and in the case of a church, what unique contribution it has to make to the Christian landscape. No such consensus exists within the United Methodist Church; people are talking and peddling apples and oranges to each other. I recently read a response to an article written by Ben Witherington of Asbury Seminary in which a UMC pastor firmly stated that he flat out did not understand where traditionalists got the idea that General Conference had the final say. He went on to say that what he was taught in seminary and what was reinforced by his conference was that the authority resided in the “ongoing discussion”. Talk about apples and oranges…

    The UMC thrived when the Discipline was the statement of who we are as Methodists and this is what we believe and it was small enough that EVERYBODY had one. It kept everybody on the “same page” so to speak. I own 4 of them from the late 1800’s to 1926. Since the most recent one has my maternal great grandmother’s name in it and there are none more recent with my mother’s name–who was born in 1923–we are reaping the harvest of going way too long without clearly stating this is who we are as Christians with a Wesleyan accent and this is what we believe.

    • Amen to this. The Discipline is a huge, unwieldy thing that hardly anyone pays attention to anymore. I actually love the BOD but there is a lot of redundant language in certain parts of it that I assume were added later. Honestly, we all probably need a fresh start with a simple Discipline that clearly states our mission, method, and doctrine, This bloated mess we have right now is unsustainable and not bearing any good fruit. I don’t know what’s going to happen in the UMC in the future but I do know for certain that what’s going on right now is not going to last nor should it.

  5. Mike Tupper says:

    You list two alternatives for our church to become one. A third alternative is the two jurisdiction proposal set forth by Chris Ritter. I thought that some evangelical leaders from Good News were amenable to that ‘middle road’ solution. I thought that Rob Renfroe said that the Ritter plan is a way “to do something no other denomination has done. We have a chance to write a different narrative.”

    • Mike, I think there are many evangelicals who could endorse the two jurisdiction solution. However, we have yet to hear from leaders on the progressive side who would likewise endorse it. Without partners, we cannot dance.

  6. Tom,
    From what I have read about a “two jurisdictional solution” , I can see this resulting in nothing but open war across the entire church. The only reason that church wide war has not yet happened is that local congregations have, generally, not been forced to face and deal with this schism. Most local congregations have been shielded from this — mostly by their local pastors who have not been made to deal with this at the local church level. This war would not end until the entire church is destroyed. No one would benefit except Satan.

    I really hope and pray that orthodox Methodists, including Good News, is not in favor of this “way forward”. It is so loaded with pitfalls, problems, and eventual chaos as to render it insane.

    Orthodox Methodists need to be working with the Wesleyan Church at this moment to create a new 21st century Wesleyan Methodist Church.

    • You make some good points. However, most local churches would still not have to take any formal action under the “two jurisdiction solution,” as they would be in agreement with the direction their annual conference takes. Once a congregation made an initial decision, they would face a higher bar to change it in the future, which would discourage congregations from revisiting their choice.

      Working with the Wesleyan Church is certainly a possibility, but that would also require congregations being forced to face this issue. Congregations would need to act to withdraw from the UMC and unite with the Wesleyan Church. So I am not sure this would be any better than the jurisdictional solution. There are cultural differences between the two denominations that might make this option less attractive. It would also abandon our United Methodist brothers and sisters in Africa and the other central conferences. If only ten percent of UM members moved over to the Wesleyan Church, that number (780,000) is nearly twice the current membership of the Wesleyan Church (about 480,000). We would overwhelm them, which they might not appreciate.

      I continue to believe that amicable separation is the best option for resolving this conflict. If that is not possible, the two jurisdiction option brings us many of the same benefits (but not all). It’s something I could live with. There is no way of adequately addressing this crisis without involving local church members. Hiding our heads in the sand is no longer an option.

  7. Tom,

    You’re right. This is coming home. My church, like many others I suspect, has been shielded from this all these years — thanks to the Annual Conference and General Conference serving as buffers — not to mention the local pastors doing their dead level best to keep this outside their local congregations. It is actually extra ordinary how successful this “hiding of heads in the sand” has been in an attempt to move past this potential schism. Looks like the clock is finally running our on this 40+ year old game, though. I DO NOT want to have this discussion, debate, argument, conflict in my church. But, it looks like it could be just around the corner. It will drive many more off. It will hurt many. It will be devastating. Elderly members will be harmed the most. Liberals have placed the church in this awful schism and show no signs of easing up — as evidenced most recently by this Talbert case. Their plan is to win by disobedience, defiance, attrition, deception, passive aggressive tactics, and outright bullying and intimidation when necessary. To them the ends justify the means even if there is no church left to practice their new age prophetic religion.

    Well, General Conference 2016 is what many of us are waiting on in order to make our final decisions. It is my prayer, and that of many, many more I suspect, that the traditional/orthodox forces in our church are currently devising a plan and will work that plan with surgical precision at General Conference 2016 in order to save our church.

  8. A question on the Bishop Talbert case: Why did Bishop Wallace-Padgett sign this “just resolution”? Has she since offered any comments or commentary on this case? It would seem that she would be under rather intense pressure to explain her position on this to her conference.

  9. Ian McDonald says:

    The leadership of the UMC at the highest level is showing it’s true colors. They will take care of their own. They have broken covenant with the vows they made at their ordinations in front of God. Their authority is from human beings and not from God.

    Jeremiah 6:14 “They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace.”

    Jeremiah 8:11″They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. “Peace, peace,” they say, when there is no peace.”

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