Is the Tupper Just Resolution Overreach?

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By Rev. Thomas Lambrecht

My colleague Walter Fenton recently reported on the “just resolution” that was reached in September over a complaint filed against the Rev. Michael Tupper of the West Michigan Annual Conference. Tupper had performed a second same-sex marriage after having agreed to a just resolution for performing a prior same-sex marriage. (In other words, this was his second offense.) A just resolution is an agreement on how a complaint over a violation of the Discipline is to be resolved, which then means that no church trial is necessary. It is essentially a plea bargain that is accepted by both sides.

A quote in Walter’s article caught my attention. “This just resolution is a rejection of the authority of General Conference,” said the Rev. John Grenfell, Jr., a former Detroit Annual Conference district superintendent and a long time advocate for clergy and laity in church disputes. “It grants permission to two elders to redefine the life and mission of the church, when only General Conference can do that.”

Does this just resolution overstep the bounds of what an annual conference can do? Does it usurp the role of General Conference, and if so, what might this portend for the future of Methodism?

First, it is important to be aware that this “just resolution” is another in a long line of unsatisfactory responses to violations of our covenant life together. There are no meaningful consequences for violating the Discipline. Instead, the violator is put in charge of a process of “educating” clergy and laity about how to live together in a new way. This approach was first used in the Amy DeLong case in Wisconsin, where a trial court (jury) sentenced the Rev. DeLong to write a paper on how to preserve the unity of the church and set up a process that allowed DeLong to guide the annual conference into a new way of doing ministry with LGBTQ people. Since then, this approach has been implemented in “just resolutions” from New York to Oregon and places in between. It is an abuse of the just resolution process that essentially uses a violation of the Discipline as a means of trying to change the church’s teaching and practice. It turns the idea of covenant accountability on its head.

Often, these “just resolutions” are entered into by representatives of the church who themselves do not support the teachings of the church. That was true in the Tupper case as well, as the Counsel for the Church (who agreed to the resolution) and new Michigan Bishop David Bard both favor changing the church’s stance on same-sex marriage.

But the recent Tupper case in Michigan goes far beyond the approach of earlier “just resolutions.” It seeks to “initiate a plan for the Michigan Area to become a model for our denomination of what the ‘Big Tent’ option would be like if it was [sic] implemented by the General Conference.” In other words, the Michigan area is going to implement a solution to the impasse over marriage and sexuality that only the General Conference has the power to implement.

Lest there be any confusion about what a “Big Tent model” might mean, the “just resolution” states “the ‘Big Tent’ option includes proposals for revisions to The Book of Discipline … that would allow local churches the freedom to discern whether to receive an openly gay clergyperson and allow pastors the freedom to discern whether to officiate at same sex weddings.” The “Big Tent model” would ignore or nullify the standards for ordained ministry (¶ 304.3), stating that self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be ordained or appointed as clergy. It would ignore or nullify the prohibition of performing same-sex marriages by United Methodist clergy or in United Methodist churches (¶ 341.6). And it would ignore or nullify the fact that all of these actions are listed as chargeable offenses in ¶ 2702.1b.

The “just resolution” goes on to set up “Training Sessions for all Michigan SPRC chairpersons … in helping them to set up a process of discernment in every local church … regarding their readiness to accept the appointment of a gay clergyperson.” In addition, it sets up a “Training Session for all Michigan clergy … to offer pastoral care for LGBTQI individuals who are considering marriage or ordained ministry.”

In other words, these are not just proposals for changing the Discipline at the next General Conference. These are plans to live as if the Discipline has already been changed. It usurps the power of General Conference, which is the only body that can speak for the church and the only body that can change the Discipline. This “just resolution” is patently illegal under church law and should be challenged before the Judicial Council.

But what does this “resolution” portend for the future of Methodism?

The Michigan plan is just another step down the road of annual conferences acting autonomously and independently of each other and of the General Conference. It is a sign that the church is already in schism.

More and more, the church is becoming a federation of annual conferences, each with different standards for ministry, different understandings of the church’s mission, and different applications (or ignoring) of church law. The United Methodist Church is no longer one body with unified beliefs and practices. If the Discipline becomes a set of optional guidelines instead of a unifying covenant, I can imagine annual conferences changing the standards for approving persons for ordination. Some conferences may accept candidates for ministry who earned their education at seminaries not on the approved seminary list. Safeguards in the appointment process for clergy to churches could be ignored. This is where the “Big Tent” or “local option” approaches will take us.

The problem with this setup is that our annual conferences are geographical, while our differences are theological and not easily demarcated along geographical lines. There are strong evangelical congregations and clergy in predominantly liberal annual conferences, and there are strong progressive congregations and clergy in predominantly conservative annual conferences. These theologically minority congregations have fundamental disagreements with the direction of their respective annual conferences. Those disagreements make it difficult, if not impossible, for the minority congregations to carry out ministry with integrity within a setting with which they profoundly disagree. And being in such a setting severely hampers those congregations’ ability to thrive and grow.

A second problem with this setup is that a “Big Tent” or “local option” approach is only a way station on the way toward the mandatory acceptance of same-sex marriage and ordained practicing gay clergy. Pro-LGBT activists will not rest until every church is required to perform same-sex marriages and accept practicing gay clergy as their pastors. The societal momentum within the U.S. supports this kind of shift. And the “local option” allows annual conferences in Africa and elsewhere in the world to maintain their current practices, while enabling the U.S. to shift over completely to a gay-affirming posture.

From my conversations with African leaders, I do not believe African delegates to General Conference will accept the “local option.” Even if they were allowed to maintain their faithfulness to Scripture on these issues, they would not be willing to allow the rest of the church to turn away from the church’s traditional teachings. Without African and U.S. evangelical support, the “local option” or “Big Tent” would probably be defeated at General Conference, as it was in Portland this year.

But because our system of church government relies upon voluntary compliance, annual conferences that refuse to comply with the Discipline will be able to continue to do so. At least ten of the 55 U.S. annual conferences have gone on record as saying they will ignore the Discipline on the issues that divide us. It would require draconian accountability measures to bring those annual conferences back into conformity with the Discipline. Such measures would probably precipitate separation on the part of progressive annual conferences.

As long as church leaders and annual conferences are willing to ignore or disobey the Discipline, the unity of The United Methodist Church will be threatened. It is such a willingness to act independently of, and contrary to, the will of the body that is tearing the body apart. That is the situation facing the Bishops’ Commission on the Way Forward, as it begins its meetings in the coming months.

Comments

  1. Carla and Bob Skidmore says:

    Greetings, Tom,
    The Big Tent or Local Option is the way our church is moving. It is the kinder, gentler and more compassion Way Forward that I believe the UMC must consider following.
    No church or annual conference, here or abroad, will be forced to accept our LBGTQAI sisters and brothers into full inclusion with the right of ordination or church sanctioned marriage.
    No church or annual conference will be “forced” to accept a cleric who is LBGTQAI, but if a church believes that a person is a qualified, and compassionate Christian, and follower of Christ they can accept that person as their minister irrespective of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
    I know that the Big Tent or Local Option is against the “Rule of Law” in the BoD. There are some bishops who will follow this “Rule of Law” even though in their hearts they disagree, and support their annual conference’s decision to be in Non Conformity. However, they work under the constraints of the this “Rule of Law” and the Judicial Council that could put their positions in jeopardy, should they defy that “Rule of Law.”
    I remember when laws have been changed when they were discriminatory. Cases in point, were slavery and the Jim Crow Laws of yesteryear. Granted, racism has not vanished, nor will the subtle or not so subtle discrimination of our LBGTQAI sisters and brothers vanish.
    I, fully, realize that you, sincerely, believe that this Open Tent or the Local Option is tantamount to schism, however, maybe if we, the laity and clergy, in the UMC, travel this road together we will find that it is a workable solution, until the Rule of Law is changed, as it too is discriminatory.
    Grace and blessings,
    Carla

  2. Ellswoth Johnson says:

    Methodists no longer follow the word of God as given in the Bible. That is why you have lost another member. I recommend one to read “The Great Controversy” by Ellen white. It describes how Rome fell away from Christian teaching to bring power to the Pope. Our leadership very much parallels this road. No longer for me.

  3. Gene Buccelli says:

    These are challenging times for our/my United Methodist Church. I remember why I joined in 1968 just as it was merging, I had been an active baptist but found it to be too narrow and closed minded. I found John Wesley to be a dedicated Christian preacher, minister, and disciple of Christ. I urge us to remember Wesley and not misinterpret his belief in scripture, reason, and experience. I urge us to remember Plato’s CAVE, and review this interesting philosophical words of wisdom, and be careful of getting concretized or basically stuck in viewing the Sun and light by being captured by the darkness of the CAVE and the unwillingness to be more excited about the light of expanded views of the world. I remind us of the “Nones” and the millennials, who are growing in numbers because of their views of the outdated Christian views on life, science, religion, suffering, homosexuality, other religions, and so much more…24% and growing, not coming to church…it’s not because we are not evangelical, its because we are lost in literalism and I believe we have forgotten looking through the lens of Jesus and his two great commandments. Your article left out Jesus, your article left out the views of the other side, why are others viewing things differetnly, even from The Discipline! We’ve forgotten the wonderful message of the book and movie, “Inherit the Wind.”…what a message of good folks fighting change or being afraid of change. There are no easy answers, but certainly there is a calling for change, more openness to how the scripture applies to LGBTG lives and issues. I don’t have an easy solution, but battling through narrow lenses of faith that doesn’t confront our fears, uncertainties and unwillingness to wonder why is this fight taking place? What are our fears? What’s wrong with having gay marriages? Gay ministers? Etc. Everything is neither right or wrong on either side, there is so much to discuss and take out of the CAVE into the light. Maybe we need a new National “spiritual foot washing,” with each of us listening to Jesus remind us that we will experience “makarios” as we become his servants to others. Learning how to acept others no matter how different. That’s to simple I know, but there is a missing element of deep spiritual awareness and a deafness to the Holy Spirit. I know you know about Adam Hamiltion, we have been studying his excellent book, “making Sense of the Bible’ and “Why Christians Get it Wrong.” great open-minded sprritual material. I also believe that there is great need for a national UMC dialogue and discussion on ways we “come together” about our Christian and Discipline views…We are battling too much against one another and not for one another. We need more Jesus conferences and less Pharisaic battles. I ask that we try moving out of the CAVE take Jesus seriously, for what he said and says in Luke 10:18: “I saw Satan Fall Like Lightning from the sky.” He has been crippled, the adversary ain’t in charge anymore, Christ has brought in his Kingdom, and as the disciples were reminded in the same verses 16-21, people were listening and changes were taking place, OMG, the Kingdom was here! While the African Church can be so influential, we may need to look at ways to seek more modern ways to make international decisions….Anyway, I just had my second cup of coffee, I ask more use of including Jesus in your articles, more seeking .sunlight for a new path in a new world, and we all need to give a lot more praise to our living Lord and savior for his kingdom and his salvation for all! Grace & Peace, Let’s not Inherit the wind! Gene,a reluctant disiciple

  4. Bill Fitzgerrel says:

    Thank you, Tom, for your insightful article. If I am reading the list correctly, you will be on the Bishop’s Commission. I pray for you and all those who will serve in that difficult setting. I do not want to be labeled as an advocate for schism. However, I do think our present situation is untenable. That is true for the reasons you have explained. It is also a situation that makes it difficult to create compassionate ministry to people who are enmeshed in destructive sexual behaviors (both homosexual and heterosexual). One writer mockingly stated something like the following: “Well, once the conservatives finally get their way and have a denomination that excludes gays and lesbians, then two weeks later some of their own sons and daughters will come out and then what will they do?” I hope that what we will do is minister to them the love of Jesus who ate and drank with sinners but also said the sick need a physician. I hope that we will compassionately develop ministries that are guided by Scriptural principles of holiness, Spirit-empowerment, faith-community support, hope, and love. Perhaps the Transforming Congregations movement will lead the denomination in wise ways to set people free from the traps they are in. (I don’t hear much about Transforming Congregations these days.) In our present situation, it seems like, in some cases, congregations and pastors have to minister with one hand and fight church political battles with the other. (Sort of like those who carried swords while the built the wall in Nehemiah’s day.)

  5. Rev. Phyllis Hankins says:

    Everyone should read Dr. Bill Arnold’s book “Seeing Black and White in a Gray World.” He graciously and with compassion explains the two positions, yet urges UMs to be faithful to God, the Scriptures and our “Discipline.” Very excellent book.

  6. I cannot continue to attend and/or support this UnitedMethodist Church when they ignore the DISCIPLINE of the church. I have asked our church Treasurer to withhold my church contributions that goes to support our districts and bishops. I have no other way to show my displeasure with their actions. It is obvious they do not listen to the majority.

  7. Jay Westfall says:

    Rev. Lambrecht,

    Do you think more of these “resolutions” will find their way to the Judicial Council for review during this time of the Commission’s work?

    If there is overreach, the current composition of the Judicial Council should be able to quash it.

  8. Edwin. McGrew says:

    I can not wrap my head around the idea that the UMC that my family has been a part of for nearly a century is an apparently has been ruled by a book called the discipline. Yet this book truly has an cannot profess any real power or real discipline upon those who choose to break that which it contains as rules for conduct breaking said rules.
    As in any organization if members choose to break rules dismissal or penalties or fines are levied. Or that person or persons are found in breach of what they added to an removed from said organization.
    They then would have to change the name of what ever organization they form with THEIR altered rules an move forward drawing upon those that choose to join. Yet this Grand Belief we call the UMC has apperantly not the power nor the WANT TO GIVE UP THAT MONEY to move in this direction. Yes possibly one of the TOP FIVE SINS OF THE ADMINISTRATION FROM BISHOP TO CLERGY GREED!!!!
    I prayed on this point an THIS position the TRUE LEADER OF ANY CHURCH to GOD THE FATHER,JESUS CHRIST OUR SAVIOR AND THE HOLY SPIRIT. I received a prophetic message to take to close friends an the ADMINISTRATIVE COUNCIL. I was personnely told to LEAVE an instruct all who didn’t want to be punished by God’s consequences to do the same.
    My wife an my son followed the words given me by the Holy Spirit an did LEAVE in the THIRTY DAYS we were given to try an help others understand through the scriptures given in the BIBLE. From Old Testament to the New Testament. I gained a first hand expiereance of what God’s prophets must have felt except Thiers was on a much larger scale. Yes others we’re trying to bring forward the horrific insult an blasphemy that was being done to God HIMSELF. Actually the complete Holy TRINITY but we were all looked at as alarmist ,trouble makers an lost friendships or what we thought were friendships over this.
    So I am glad to be done with the UMC an those that don’t like or want to be seen with or carry on with the day today normal relationships we shared. I pray for them an wish them well an happy healthy lives an don’t hold anger or misgivings for them.
    Yet for the UMC God handle the church as he sees fit. Sadly the Prophetic word give me was strong an unforgiving to those who continue to financially support satans work inside the organization. Severe consequences will fall from the top to the bottom meaning G those who sit in the pews. That saddens me because some of those families go back a century in that church. DUMC was my wife an my church for 21+ years an it was hard to leave. Long ago when I gave my life over to Jesus Christ I promised him I would never even at the cost of my and my families life ever forsake Him , Abba an the Holy Spirit so I followed the word I was given an haven’t looked back to question it.
    God bless all that still are inside the fight at UMC. I only pray your staying to bring the UMC back to God not support whatever it is now becoming in as the bishops say in the idea of unity we rewrite God’s word to fit today’s changing an exceptance of our changing world. God’s word AN meaning has not changed in OVER THREE
    THOUSAND YEARS. ITS NOT GOING TO CHANGE NOW FOR ANYONE NOR FOR ANY NEW PRESSURE FROM SINFUL MEN AN WOMEN.
    GOD’s blessings be upon you.

    A servant to AN for Jesus Christ
    Edwin McGrew.

    • thank you so much, I’m just a new born in christ and I know enough about truth, there is just one GOD AND HIS WORD IS TRUE……HOW CAN MAN CHANGE GOD’S WORD…

  9. Rev. Loronda Schuler says:

    I believe it is time for the United Methodist Church to become two churches. Those of us who believe in holding to the Book of Discipline that we as clergy vowed to uphold and those we serve trust is the theology and beliefs of the UMC are greatly separated from those who feel that they can do what ever they want without respect to the Discipline and General conference. The gap is just growing greater every day. I don’t see any way to resolve this conflict other than going our separate ways as a church.

  10. Mary E. Cole says:

    Right is right and wrong is wrong. Praying for ALL officials responsible for making decisions, will follow God’s guidance and make the RIGHT DECISION!

  11. Tom,
    What are the REAL options that you see us moving towards? Actions like that of Trimble and past so-called “just resolutions” are acts of guile and manipulation, which according to the Bible are sin. We are witnessing “bishops,” leaders of the church willfully and publically sin. This is terrible. I don’t have any other words for it.

    I can’t imagine what I would do if I was living in these conferences. I truly pity those who are. I am thankful for the WCA as it bringing people together and giving them a voice and hope.

    Personally, I hate to see this drag on. We are dividing right now, whether the UMC bureaucracy wants to acknowledge it or not. Maybe this is for the best . . . that we join together and form a common vision before the official division.

  12. JOHN W MCALISTER says:

    Is not the discipline a repeat of what the bible says? These people are suggesting we change the discipline Bible, to meet the personal desires of some or our clergy. By who’s authority do they have to even consider such an action. I believe the Bible says. no additions can be made. Lets man up to this thing and put it where it needs to be. IF YOU CANNOT LIVE BY THE WRITTEN WORD OF THE BIBLE MOVE ON/

  13. FRED ALONZO PRINCE says:

    The Methodist Church seems to be on it’s way down and out.

    More and more, the a large number of Pastors are merely an individual whose teaching
    is merely about money and NOTHING ABOUT CHRISTANITY

    WE HAVE ONE WHO TOTALLY IGNORES THE CONGREGATION.

  14. The local option seems to imply that at a lower level we get to ignore the parts of the BoD we do not like. Kind of like a states rights argument that overrules GC. That looks like congregationalism to me. I am OK with that but let’s call it what it is. And don’t come after any church that does not want to comply with other parts of the BoD.

  15. Ian McDonald says:

    We are being led down the road to perdition by those who claim to be leader’s in our denomination. This is a sad commentary on the integrity of our Bishops. The counsel for the church in this case Rev. Dulworth has stated that church trials cost about, $125,000.00 to conduct and this “just resolution” was reached in order to save the conference $125,000.00. So the Detroit Annual Conference has now adopted the world’s view of resolving disputes for nuisance sake, “Let’s save the money and be done with it.”

    There are very few defenders of the faith left in the Council of Bishops, seems that the approval of the world matters more to these “leaders” than the approval of God.

  16. Mike Tupper says:

    I pray that the Evangelicals and Africans will see the “Big Tent” local option as a viable compromise. Otherwise I pray we can part ways amicably at the 2019 GC. In the meantime, I will continue to try to do my part in living out my calling to the Gospel of Jesus Christ as best and as most radically as I can. I know you are trying to do that as well.

    • I do not understand why, if local churches and conferences are given the option to do whatever they want, why even bother to stay together? All connections will have been severed anyway. Also, I live in an area where the theological mix is more or less equal–neither perspective has a significant majority in the conference or in many of the local churches–the “Big Tent” option will basically destroy the local churches and this conference. Might as well cut everybody loose than try to act like we can continue to function under a Big Tent where anything goes. Anybody that thinks that the Big Tent is a solution is not familiar with the situation in other parts of the country.

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