So Much for ‘Big Tent’ Methodism

julie_in_circus_tentCentrists and some progressives within The United Methodist Church are fond of talking about how we can have a “big tent” version of Methodism that embraces (or at least accommodates) a broad spectrum of theological and moral understandings.

In my experience, however, there are places in the U.S. church where evangelicals have been marginalized and excluded from the church. Over the years, we have heard first-hand testimony from evangelical candidates for ministry who have not been approved by district committees or conference boards of ordained ministry. Likewise, we have heard from evangelical pastors who have not been given appointments commensurate with their gifts and graces. In some cases, evangelical clergy and laity have not been given leadership positions in the annual conference. My previous blog told the story of one such pastor who was recently given a “punitive appointment.”

Now we are dealing with an exploding situation in North Georgia regarding a licensed local pastor (not ordained) who was summarily dismissed from her pulpit without being given a chance to defend herself. Besides the inherent unfairness in the way she was treated, it appears to observers close to this case that the source of the animosity against her is that she was outspoken in her defense of the church’s position on marriage and homosexuality.

The Rev. Dr. Carole Hulslander had a well-paid position as a scientist working for the Kimberly-Clark Corporation in the Atlanta area when she and her husband, Douglas, began a Bible study in their living room. The Bible study engaged people from various racial, ethnic, cultural, and economic backgrounds in a diverse community of Christian faith. After meeting and growing for two years, the group felt called to begin a church to reach people like them. In 1999 the church began to meet under her leadership. She was licensed in 2000 as a local pastor, and the church was chartered in 2001. Hulslander pursued theological training, with an MDiv degree from Asbury Theological Seminary and a DMin degree from Columbia Theological Seminary.

In 2004 Hulslander quit her job with Kimberly-Clark to go full-time with the church. The congregation has grown to about 120 members in a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic urban environment. When the church was ready to move into its first facility, the Hulslanders, along with a couple other families in the church, put up tens of thousands of dollars of their own money to make that move possible. The church is an active congregation with outreach programs into the community, including a homeless ministry, a Christian day care, elementary, and middle school, music and language schools, participation in the Candler Theological Seminary contextual student mentoring program, and outreaches to a retirement community and three government housing projects. Throughout her 15 years of ministry, Dr. Hulslander received positive annual reviews from her superintendents and the district committee.

According to Hulslander and congregational leaders, without warning, on March 17, 2015, less than three weeks before Easter, Dr. Hulslander was de-licensed and removed from her position as pastor of Still Waters UM Church by the Atlanta-Emory District Committee on Ordained Ministry. This followed her annual interview by the committee on March 16, which – according to Hulslander – lasted all of ten minutes. During the interview, there was no indication that her license might not be renewed, nor was she confronted with any complaints or issues that needed correcting.

Good News has reached out repeatedly to the district superintendent, bishop, and communications director of the North Georgia Annual Conference and received no response or acknowledgement. Dr. Hulslander has told her story publicly in a radio interview and has given permission for her personnel file to be accessed to prove her story.

Why was Hulslander removed from ministry? The committee gave two reasons:

1) “Failure to order the life of the local church to the 2012 Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church; in regard to laity serving on standing committees.”

This issue did not come up in her interview with the committee, and Hulslander had no idea what this charge referred to. Only AFTER she was dismissed, did the district superintendent elaborate on this charge in a letter to the chair of the pastor-parish relations committee. Apparently, there were two instances of spouses serving on the same committee and one instance of the same person serving as both financial secretary and church treasurer.

This was not a willful violation by the pastor, but born of ignorance; it was never brought to the attention of the church or Hulslander, even though the district superintendent had presided over several charge conferences that approved the committee membership; she was not given a chance to correct the situation; and she was not warned that this irregularity jeopardized her license or position as pastor.

How many ordained clergy would be dismissed from ministry for this type of error?

2) “Failure to properly report and handle an allegation of Child Abuse within your congregation/ school.”

The district superintendent made Hulslander aware on December 8, 2014, of an anonymous report of an alleged incident that might have been “child abuse” at the school. Hulslander investigated the alleged incident and reported back to the district superintendent two days later (December 10) that the incident was not child abuse, that the parents and school principal had been involved in the alleged incident, and that no further action was needed.

The superintendent responded to Hulslander, “Thank you for your research and your thoughtful approach to the possible concerns being shared via my office.” No further mention was made of the incident.

Although the superintendent claims to have reported the incident to child protective services, the agency never sent a representative to investigate the allegations. The superintendent did not investigate the incident with the parents or school. In the March 16 interview with the committee, this issue was brought up, and Hulslander described how she had handled the reported incident. In the interview, the committee did not reprimand, correct, or instruct Hulslander regarding improperly handling the allegation.

Normally, when a licensed local pastor is discontinued, the person serves out the remainder of the appointment year until a new pastor can be appointed around July 1. In Dr. Hulslander’s case, she was dismissed without warning, effective immediately. Why? The Discipline allows that, “When deemed appropriate, to protect the well-being of the person making the complaint, the congregation, annual conference, … and/or clergy, the bishop, with the recommendation of the executive committee of the Board of Ordained Ministry, may suspend the person from all clergy responsibilities, but not from an appointment, for a period not to exceed ninety days” (¶ 363.1d). Did either of Hulslander’s alleged violations merit her immediate suspension “to protect the well-being” of anyone, much less her immediate dismissal from her position? The district superintendent had not pursued either of these matters with her in the preceding three months, so he evidently did not believe them to be urgent. How then could he suddenly decide to summarily fire Dr. Hulslander from her position?

Was the Board of Ordained Ministry executive committee involved as required in the 24 hours between her interview and the letter announcing her termination? It is unlikely.

The reasons given for Carole Hulslander’s termination are chargeable offenses (“disobedience to the order and discipline of The United Methodist Church; child abuse” ¶2702.1d, g). Yet, the committee and the superintendent failed to give Hulslander the opportunity to defend herself against these charges. She did not receive the fair process that is required by ¶363 of the Discipline, which applies to local pastors, not just ordained clergy.

Paragraph 426 of the Discipline requires superintendents to engage in consultation with “the pastor and committee on pastor-parish relations” (PPRC) as “both a continuing process and a more intense involvement during the period of change in appointment.” This “process of consultation shall be mandatory in every annual conference.” Yet, neither the pastor nor the PPRC were consulted or even informed of the contemplated change in appointment at the church. Two interim pastors have been sent to the church since Dr. Hulslander’s dismissal, again without any consultation with the PPRC. According to Still Waters leaders, both of them proved unsatisfactory and unable to handle the delicate situation they were walking into.

The approach taken by the superintendent and district committee showed no pastoral concern for Dr. Hulslander or the Still Waters congregation. The abrupt removal of their pastor without legitimate cause traumatized the congregation. Hulslander’s removal allowed no kind of consultation or orderly transition. The congregation could not even prepare a way to say good-bye to their founding pastor or provide for a ritual of leave-taking.

There are so many things wrong with the way Dr. Hulslander was treated that a lawyer would have a field day in court, proving that the district did not follow the church’s own processes laid out in the Book of Discipline. Just from a moral and ethical perspective, the way she was treated is wrong. According to sources close to the case in the North Georgia Annual Conference, the underlying motivation for her dismissal on trumped up charges appears to be her vocal support for The United Methodist Church position on marriage and homosexuality, as defined by General Conference and the Book of Discipline. It appears that there is no room in the Atlanta-Emory district for an evangelical clergy woman who stands up for what the church teaches.

Here is a pastor who left a professional position with a large corporation in mid-life to pursue God’s call to ministry. She has devoted 20 years of her time, energy, and personal finances to birthing a church. Her ministry has borne fruit, yielding that most rare of animals—a multi-racial, multi-cultural thriving congregation whose members’ average age is 40 years old. When the church was formed, they asked to become a United Methodist congregation. They began paying apportionments before they were even chartered as a church, and they have consistently paid 100 percent of their apportionments as loyal United Methodists. She is the only pastor this congregation has ever known. To have her taken from them in one day without warning, less than three weeks before Easter and seemingly without cause, has devastated this congregation. As a typical smaller congregation, they depended upon her leadership for many of the ongoing ministries of their church. Without her leadership, some of those ministries have stalled or stopped functioning. How has any of this furthered the cause of Christ or strengthened The United Methodist Church? Instead, the irresponsible actions of a district committee and superintendent have alienated a loyal congregation of people and alarmed an annual conference that thought there was room there for devoted evangelical clergy.

Heavy-handed exclusionary practices like this, when added to a decades-long pattern in some areas of anti-evangelical experience, make us pessimistic that a “big tent” United Methodism has ever existed or could ever exist. It seems like the theological cleansing of United Methodism is a reality in some areas.

27 thoughts on “So Much for ‘Big Tent’ Methodism

  1. The moral to this story is, “Don’t trust the United Methodist Church”. The UMC in its forty-five year history has seldom been about the Book Of Discipline or Scripture. All we have now is Bishops, General Boards, and everyone else doing a CYA in case they agitate the homosexuals. A church joining the Reconciling Ministries Network is violating the BOD by promoting homosexuality. They should be suspended. In this ministers case, I would sue the pants off the District and the Conference. Get the local and state media involved. Then, get the congregation and church out of the UMC.

    1. Well said, they have seemingly been an effective congregation and will flourish as soon as they free themselves from the heave handed so called leadership. God speed and keep up the work of Jesus!

  2. She will appeal before the Judicial Council, right? If she gets before the Judicial Council and is afforded the same judicial reasoning and logic as was available to Frank Schaefer, for example, she must be reinstated with a full page apology add in the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Then, complaints must be filed against those who did this to her.

      1. I know mentioned this on the previous article… But as TD brought up the judicial council appeal …I thought I would mention it again … In April 2015 docket 0145-6 there was a similar case… Sadly they did not accept her appeal …though there were many violations …’she was appointed to a reconciling congregation and not told their position. her district superintendent had served that same church before and worked to get her not only removed from that church but denied for continuing ordination …even after effective pastoring in another church after moved’ …Just bringing it up for reference.

        1. To clarify the person I mention is Rev. Patrice Brewer who was removed from the church …and the discontinued because of quoting the BOD stance on Homosexualaity in a sermon …and the Reconciling congregation who says they are ‘open to all’ turned on her and got her basically kicked out of the conference. Guess ‘open to all’ means everyone who agrees with them.

      2. You mean elders (like Schafer) can appeal but LP’s cannot?

        I have served as a LLP while earning my M.Div. and going through the process. I have personally heard elders talk about LLP’s like their second class. I’ve also seen how LLP’s will be afraid in clergy meetings to speak their mind. I guess this is the why.

        I don’t think I want to be a part of this mess anymore. I’ll be at the New Room conference this fall and I’m looking forward to hearing about truly living in a Wesleyan covenant with others. This current system is an unfair caste system that gives advantage to people born with a spoon in their mouth. It’s totally anti-Wesleyan.

  3. Are there options for filing charges against the DS (and others) for willful and spiteful violation of the BoD? This would seems to be a clear case where the DS’s removal is called for “to protect the well-being of the person making the complaint”.

  4. I initially was skeptical about this report but after listening to the audio interview . . . I am just sick to my stomach. This woman stepped out in faith and sacrificed a lot to start a multi-cultural church that is doing real, incarnate ministry. She invested no telling how much of her own money in it. And man, I know how that feels as a student pastor. The two churches that I was given charge of were totally wrecked by the previous pastors and DS’s that didn’t do anything about it. This system is totally broken.

  5. Who, then, approved the removal if not the District Superintendent Everhart and Bishop Watson? Such things do not happen in church polity by accident! WHO is investigating and will determine right vs. wrong in the situation? There must be something horrendously askew to not only remove her from the church but it appears they have removed her credentials and she has evaporated from the clergy listing of the conference. May I go so far as to suggest that we—those who believe that orthodox, Wesleyans who still espouse and carry out to the best of our ability Scriptural Christianity—who are labeled intolerant, ignorant and unloving are to continue to “stay at the table” (these are the exact words Bishop James King said to me) to continue discussions over what we believe and how the church is to act? John Wesley would certainly remove a pastor in a heartbeat IF he believed this action absolutely necessary and detrimental to life of the church/community. Is this the case for Rev. Hulslander or is it another notch in the belt of progressives who would like nothing more than to silence opposition? There are more questions than answers at this point.

  6. Unfortunately, it sounds to me like the United Methodist Church now has one less vital congregation. The actions of the NGC simply created a good independent, evangelical congregation out of 120 Methodists (and lost apportionment dollars in the process).

  7. As a member of the Iowa Annual Conference I can tell you that this sort of bullying has been going on every since I entered the ministry in 1983. One of the reasons I retired early. We had a woman on the cabinet and Bishops staff for years that bullied conservative pastors and churches for years.

  8. Well, it’s hard to tell if it was about the gayz issue or not. The Methdoist Church, over the centuries, has dismissed so many ministers with the real reasons covered over. At least she wasn’t charged with “immorality,” which was a favorite in the holiness purges of the 1800’s. And it bothers me that everyone ASSUMES that she was removed over a social issue. And yes, that is an assumption. A bishop here removed so many fellow evangelicals and did not follow the Discipline. Lots of violations. Until ministers lawyer up, and demand change, well, even then, the laity can’t be depended on to step up either. Folks, the way pastors are treated in the UM church is THE definition of both heresy and legalism, no grace, no understanding, and no responsiveness or humanity in the system. To be a layperson, LOTS of grace. To be clergy, Darwinism. I know whereof I speak. Look, just split the sheets and quit trying to change minds and hearts of unregenerate D.S’s and Bishops and BOM’s.

    1. Jon,
      I too know of these things first hand. One candidate for ordination (not me) stated that the meanest people that he has ever met were in the hiarchy of the UMC — especially those on his conference Board of Ordained Ministry. The UMC is running off more candidates for ministry today than it is taking in. This is after candidates have accumulated enormous debt in earning the M.Div degree from a seminary that to often fails to tell them of the pearls ahead. This candidate, after being highly recommended by his district Board of Ordained Ministry, was cut down like a tree at his conference Board of Ordained Ministry with no coherent explanation given, just summarily deferred and dismissed. He stated that the secrecy of the process was shocking. As recent as the 2008 General Conference, attempts have been made to reform the ordination process to make it more humane. That latest effort failed. Conference Boards of Ordained Ministry seem to be one of the most guarded, entrenched, and secretative parts of the UMC. So, it seems that abuse of clergy is taking place at the beginning stage and extends into the other stages as well — with secrecy, lack of due process, and common decency practiced too often by those in power.

  9. If all of this transpired as reported in this article, this Pastor and the congregation has ample grounds for redress and remedy under the BOD. Scripturally, the Conference had better provide such an opportunity and do so in a very open manner. I am uncomfortable with the statement that an unnamed source within the Conference said it had to do with her stance on Gay Unions and Homosexuality. That is as secretive and unsubstantiated as the claims against the Pastor. If that allegation is proven true, then the COB had better step in and sanction the DS and Conference for willfully violating the BOD on such topics.

    The article starts by talking about a “Big Tent” idea on moral and scriptural interpretations and as these cases continue to surface, we see that this “inclusionary” discussion becomes more worldly than scriptural. There is no place for doctrine that directly contradicts the word of scripture. It does not honor God to ignore his word or to try to modernize its meaning. Giving credence and standing to those who would willfully violate scripture is not loving, but hateful to a congregate that yearns for the truth. Jesus never abandoned the sinner, but he never excused nor did he embrace the sin. Instead, he called the sinner to account for the sin and rebuked him/her to repent and follow his way and his truth. Start concentrating on that in seminary and in preaching from the pulpit and we won’t have enough seats for cheeks in our sanctuary.

    1. Steve, the reason the sources wish to remain anonymous is because if they don’t, they will be targeted too. I believe folks who really believe what they say they believe should trust God as their protector… but I also believe it’s sad that people in positions of authority in the UMC (Bishops, DSs) should be so intimidating that people have to fear for their livelihood (or worse) if they speak the truth.

  10. If indeed there are numerous violations of process that led to this pastor’s dismissal and consequent economic harm, then this matter should be pursued in court for damages. When the church lies by putting forth a vicious canard, the truth needs to come out, and not just in our rants.

    1. It seams filing complaints against the establishment is like blowing into the wind. Bishops set an example that the rules only apply when they want them to suit their purpose
      How sad!

  11. I am 66 I have been a Methodist my whole life. During that time I have watched the church slowly being taken over by the sleaze factor. It is time to split up the church let’s get it done sooner the better

  12. Is there anyone out there working on a way for us to move forward? These kinds of destructive actions demonstrated by superintendents and bishops have been going on for a long time and we have wasted so much of God’s resources fighting over an issue that I fear is already settled. The fact that no African bishop’s have been elected to the Council of Bishops in their recent meeting says volumes. Where will the voice be for conservative evangelicals standing on biblical truth in the Wesleyan tradition upon which our ordination vows are grounded? We are not a house divided. We are not even in the same neighborhood much less same house. I know the process is complicated but we need to move forward as a covenental community who will not bow to those who only gather around them those people who will “say what their itching ears want to hear.” II Timothy

  13. The UMC is in big trouble. It has chased true believers out and now you have progressive ideology instead of God’s perfect word. I know a lot of UMC pastors that do not even believe that the bible is God’s word and the absolute authority for our lives. I read that the didn’t even appoint any Africans to leadership roles in the council at the 2016 General Conference. That is because of their stance on homosexuality. The church leaders will stand before God in His perfect judgment.

  14. I my candidacy process/interview for deacon I was given a very had time because of my position on the homosexual issue. If it wasn’t for a well spoken, well liked cabinet member, who spoke on my defense I would have never passed. marty retired elder

  15. Tom,
    I don’t see the connection between her ideological leanings and her treatment – at most this is based on hearsay, since no one’s name other than the person in question is attached to that allegation. From what is here it does seem as if this was egregiously and unusually handled, but that it was handled so badly because of the pastor’s position on sexuality is not at all clear to me.

    We are a big tent. The sad thing is life is not always easy for progressives in the SEJ and for evangelicals the Northeast and Northwest, and other places. We all need to work on being better to one another.

    I do hope some answers are forthcoming, however, and if it turns out that the “sources” are correct about the motivation for her dismissal, that will need to be dealt with.

    Drew McIntyre

  16. Things have do not seem to have changed since Orange Scott and his fellow anti-slavery pastors were driven from the Church for asking that Bishop Andrews live in obedience to the Book of Discipline back in the 1840’s. It seems that the rules and regulations again are being used to advance anti-Disciplinary practices rather than to hold us all to the standards to which we agreed when we took our membership vows and ordination vows. I wish that this situation surprised me. It only makes me very sad. I will continue to pray for our leadership, though it gets harder every time this type of thing happens happens.

    1. After reading about Rev. Orange Scott I can’t see where he was driven out of the Methodist Episcopal Church. He chose to retire because of his health, and two years later began the Wesleyan Connection. He was given a choice earlier to quit preaching abolitionism or return to a local church instead of being DS. He chose the local pastorate.
      While it may well have been uncomfortable and impossible for him to remain in the MEC because of conscience’ sake, he was not “run out.”

      I wish some of the people who have trouble accepting the UM stance on homosexuality would have the same degree of integrity he exhibited, and leave .

  17. After dealing with a DS that refused to listen when I tried to talk to her about the problems we were having with our newly appointed pastor I have basically lost my faith in the leadership of the Methodist church. They only care about their agenda, the BOD is not important to them.

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