Expelled from The United Methodist Church?

By Rev. Thomas Lambrecht

DOORWAY 10Recently, progressive blogger Jeremy Smith made the claim that “Conservative activists in the United Methodist Church are pushing out the perceived source of all things bad: Progressive Methodists.” Not only does Rev. Smith perceive an effort to “expel” progressives from our church, he also detects a trajectory changing who should leave the church. “Over the past 10 years, for folks seeking to divide the UMC, the rhetoric of ‘who leaves’ has shifted from ‘the Conservatives want to leave’ to ‘let’s make the Progressives leave.’”

In response to the narrative that Smith is positing, I wish to correct the historical record about this supposed shift from conservatives leaving to progressives leaving the church. I also want to dispute the notion that anyone is trying to “expel” others from the church.

Smith believes that the Rev. Dr. Bill Hinson’s speech raising the possibility of separation at the 2004 General Conference was “asking for the conservative churches to part ways with the wayward denomination.”

As one who also attended that conference and was present when Hinson gave his speech, that was not what he said or what he meant. This is what he said: “Our friends who have broken our covenant [namely progressives] feel that they themselves are broken… They are seeking autonomy from the larger body. They garnered more than 300 votes in an attempt to do things their way with regard to ordination in the Western Jurisdiction. Let’s set them and ourselves free to pursue our highest aspirations.” He concluded, “I believe the time has come when we must begin to explore an amicable and just separation that will free both sides from our cycle of pain and conflict. Such a just separation will protect the property rights of churches and the pension rights of clergy. It will also free us to reclaim our high calling and to fulfill our mission in the world. Therefore, let us, like Paul and Barnabas, agree to go our separate ways.”

What Hinson proposed was mutual, amicable separation as a way of releasing progressives to follow their consciences and pursue ministry in the way they feel God calling them. There was no talk of “conservatives leaving” or “expelling” anyone. At most, the raising of the question was a way of allowing progressives to leave, if they desired. Dr. Hinson’s heart was that the church should be released from fighting itself in order to carry on a more effective mission in the world. “We cannot fight both church and culture,” Hinson said. “Our culture alone confronts us with more challenges than we can humanly speaking confront and challenge. That struggle, combined with the continuous struggle in the church, is more than we can bear.”

Dr. Hinson acknowledged his own sadness with regard to the dividedness of the church and the ongoing pain suffered by both sides (and those in the middle). “No sincere person can rejoice in another person’s pain. No one enjoys stepping on another person’s dream… I believe it is time for us to end this cycle of pain we are inflicting on each other,” he said. “The thought of hurting another makes us sick. They hurt us by defying the covenant, and we hurt them with our votes to uphold the Discipline every four years.”

It is in that spirit of wanting to stop the cycle of pain that Drs. Bill Arnold and David Watson have proposed allowing any local church to withdraw from The United Methodist Church based on a declaration “that it is in irreconcilable conflict for reasons of conscience with the provisions of The United Methodist Church Book of Discipline on the practice of homosexuality and the blessing of homosexual unions.” There is no expulsion here. Only a desire to treat others as we ourselves would want to be treated, and a desire to respect the sincere consciences of others in our church body. It is also a concession to the idea that full-blown amicable separation may not be legislatively possible at the 2016 General Conference.

It is in that same spirit that Good News, understanding that the local church in Cassopolis, Michigan, was considering leaving the UM Church, stated that the congregation should be permitted to leave the denomination with its property and assets, if they so desired. “We believe the exercise of the trust clause to hold congregations within the church is a poor foundation upon which to build church unity,” Good News stated. We do not believe covenant ought to be coerced by financial considerations or the trust clause. Those who cannot abide by the covenant they made with The United Methodist Church ought to be allowed to leave without penalizing them. There is nothing new in this. We have maintained this position for many years. And we would hope that, if the language in the Book of Discipline were to be changed, we who could no longer live with that covenant would be similarly treated.

There is no “trajectory” moving from evangelicals leaving the UM Church to expelling progressives. In case the Rev. Smith has not noticed, it is evangelical congregations who are now leaving the denomination (such as Wesley UM Church in Quarryville, Pennsylvania and others).

Dr. Hinson’s question still stands, however. Is it time to consider the possibility of amicable separation? Can we continue to live together in the same church, while hurting each other through our deep disagreements?

I have no desire to expel anyone, nor any desire to leave the church in which I have faithfully served for over 30 years. I pray that I do not face that choice in the future.

(The full text of Dr. Hinson’s speech can be found in the May/June 2004 issue of Good News.)

Comments

  1. Carlton Blaylock says:

    It is a confusing view at first as what to do about people who are committing abominal sins. We ask ourselves do we only set the gays aside to give council to, do we decide whether or not to allow them into our church and on what basis?

    It is this writer’s heart felt view and understanding from God’s inspired and inerrant bible that Gays should be treated no different than any other known sinner of abominal sins. Why abominal sins and not those of lesser status? Because God has singled out and named the abdominal sins (1 Cor. 6:9-10) and those who commit them as never being able to enter His heaven. He has not said that about lesser sins although all sins have to be repented or covered by Jesus before entering God’s heaven. Abominal sinners within the church when they are known, should all be counseled by the church (James 5:19-20). If we don’t, here is what this writer sees the church getting itself into. As it is and was forever meant to be, the church is a safe santuary for all God’s children who want to be a holy child of his and to have fellowship and continue in the will of God. Therefore the church should follow God’s wishes to council these abominal sinners and help them repent of their sins and help them get to heaven but certainly not allow them to continue in their sin in God’s house. Therefore the church is obligated to speak to and/or educate any known abominal sinner who will accept help. For as long as they continue to commit the same abominal sin they will never be found in Jesus’ Book of Life or get into God’s heaven.

    Therefore if we the church do not council these sinners we are allowing them to continue to dishonor God in His house without repenting. I am not attempting to say that it is the popular thing to do or the men pleasing thing to do, it is the righteous thing to do in the eyes of God. It is just what God through His inerrant and inspired bible is directing to be done. Remember, God will not change His mind. If we want to enter God’s heaven we must follow His rules.

    Bring Back the Erring One
    James 5:19-20 19 Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, 20 let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.

    In the end Jesus will judge you for your choices and He will either include you in His Book of Life or exclude you. It’s your choice first then it is His choice later.

    Fear God, love God and honor God with all your heart, mind and soul and you will get to experience God’s heaven in His time.

    Prayer: I pray for all of the abdominal sinners that they will accept and understand God’s rules.
    I pray in Jesus sweet name and to His glory
    Amen.

    These thoughts come from an older servant of God.
    Carlton Blaylock

    • Christopher says:

      Do you treat Methodists who use incense the same as LGBTQ Methodists? Does not scripture call the burning of incense an abomination? (Isaiah 1:13) Or have you cherry picked scriptures?

  2. Thank you for this most helpful post. Your first hand knowledge of the events as they transpired serve to illuminate the context of what was said then and how it has been recently reported.

  3. There is not a Scriptural basis for maintaining unity when teachings are too difficult to follow.
    John 6 (around verse 66) Jesus tells his followers that he is the bread of life and they must eat his body and drink his blood. Many found this to be a hard teaching (like Nicodemus, they couldn’t see the spiritual side of things) so many left Jesus. The 12 could not see themselves doing anything but following Jesus. We have no record that Jesus tried to change his teaching or try to convince the many to stay. Unity just for the sake of unity is foolish. We are killing ourselves from within and the world looks on with dismay and we (some anyway) wonder why we are in decline.

  4. Bill Moorer says:

    I had to reach for another box of kleenex to get through the unbelievable narrative about Dr.. Bill Hinson’s suggestion of “an amicable separation”. Some folks want to revise what really happened at the 2004 General Conference — and afterwards — to sweeten their reputation in retrospect. If you would read the Good News and IRD coverage for those days, you would understand how how gung ho the conservatives were to detach.

    And the gentleman who is obsessed with “abominal” sins — or is it “abdominal”? may need a little work with the dictionary.

  5. Of course we are trying to expel the progressives. All this talk about amicable separation is a smoke screen. The progressives will not leave of their own accord even if offered all the real estate and some of the pension funds. They consider the UMC to be their church. To maintain unity and resolve the current struggle some folks have to depart. Since no one is willing to leave on a voluntary basis then forced expulsion is necessary. Initiatives to strengthen the BoD or hold bishops more accountable are simply steps to force compliance. These steps will result in expulsion. Similarly, loosening the BoD will compel traditionalists to make a choice and many will exit. Either way one side or the other can say with a straight face “We didn’t force them to leave. All are welcomed here. ” but we all know what is really meant. Adhere to our doctrine and discipline or get out. Why can’t we be honest with ourselves and actually say this?

    • The problem with “loosening the discipline” is that there is a part of the discipline that says, “This part of who we are is who we are. To stop being this is to stop being Methodist.” That part is The Restrictive Rules. Oh, it can be changed, but all attempts to do so have fallen so short it seems likely to all observers that this just ain’t gonna happen. So, those who want to be different than that find windmills to tilt at and rant about how unloving those who disagree with them are. But Wesley was adamant. Sin is sin, and to equivocate on what you call sin, just so someone’s feelings aren’t hurt, was to incur the wrath of God. In other words, to do so was the most unloving thing a person could do. (Standard Sermon 25, 5th Discourse on the Sermon on the Mount)

  6. #1. The United Methodist Church is not a creedal church, nor a confessional church. It isn’t even a “Bible-believing” church. I’m happy to debate that, but there it is. A person doesn’t have to believe much of anything to be a Methodist. Just ask most of them.
    #2. However, we are a doctrinal church. That is, United Methodist preaching and teaching are supposed to fall within the bounds of the doctrine explicitly and implicitly designated in ¶17 of The Book Of Discipline.
    #3. We are also a church whose membership thinks that they actually get to decide, through a political process, what it is we believe. Although this is wrapped up in such terms as “holy conferencing”, any time 50% + 1 gets to say they won, it’s just politics. Nothing holy about it. But, no matter how the votes come out, God has still preserved ¶17 as a seemingly immutable part of who we are, even if many act like it isn’t there. And I find it fascinating that even though I never hear of conversations that include, “This is as far as our doctrines can go in that direction because of the limitations put on us by ¶17,” it certainly seems to be a very real line that we don’t seem to be able to cross. Unfortunately, there seems to be a lot of unnecessary polemics every four years, and the fact that most Methodists don’t think there is a restraining line means that, on the one hand, there is a fear that we will “go too far,” and on the other hand, an anger that we “haven’t gone far enough.” Obviously, these are both based on a premise that we could become whatever we can convince 50%+1 to vote for. I believe that we need to be raising up for consideration that we are a doctrinal church, and are primarily defined by those six paragraphs in the Restrictive Rules, with the freedom to become whatever God leads us to be within those limits.

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