Tearing Down Trust

Part of the fallout from the ongoing conflict within The United Methodist Church over the church’s ministry with gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered persons is the damage to people’s trust in the church.  The erosion of trust in the institution of the church and in the leadership of the church was pinpointed by the Towers Watson study for the Call to Action report in 2010.  Since then, the erosion of trust has only accelerated.

Those promoting the acceptance of homosexuality by the church have adopted an “ends justifies the means” approach.  That is why there have been disruptive demonstrations at General Conference every time since 1992.  Since 2011, however, the “means” used to force the church to abandon its biblical stance have intensified.

  • Hundreds of United Methodist clergy (active and retired) have promised to violate the Discipline by performing same-sex unions or “weddings”
  • Dozens of such services have been performed, many quietly and others publicly
  • Pro-gay advocates have begun publishing the stories of clergy who have performed same-sex services, some from more than six years ago (and thus exempt from the filing of complaints due to the statute of limitations) and others from a more recent time

How has the institutional church and its leadership responded to this escalation of tactics?

  • Bishops (both active and retired) have spoken out against the church’s biblical stance on human sexuality, even though they are called to “guard, transmit, teach, and proclaim, corporately and individually, the apostolic faith as it is expressed in Scripture and tradition,” and to “teach and uphold the theological traditions of The United Methodist Church” (Discipline, ¶414.3, .5)
  • Most bishops have refused to warn the clergy in their annual conferences not to violate the Discipline (Bishop Jones and Bishop Hayes are notable exceptions)
  • Most bishops who know of violations committed by clergy in their annual conferences have refused to file complaints against them, insisting instead that any complaints filed come from other clergy or laity, rather than initiating the accountability process themselves
  • Some bishops have appointed known pro-gay advocates to serve as counsel for the church, charged with enforcing the Discipline’s prohibition against same-sex “marriages” or against the ordination of self-avowed practicing homosexuals, tainting the process from the very beginning
  • One bishop (along with several district superintendents) publicly attended a same-sex “wedding” performed in his annual conference in support of the persons being “married”
  • One complaint against two pastors for performing same-sex “weddings” was “resolved” by the counsel for the church without a trial by simply accepting a 24-hour suspension of the two pastors involved, ignoring the expressed desires of those who filed the complaints (how can there be “resolution” when there is not agreement of the parties involved?)
  • The Council of Bishops promised to uphold the Discipline, yet is not sharing publicly what, if any, actions they are taking to hold Bishop Melvin Talbert accountable for his violations of the Discipline in performing a same-sex union in Northern Alabama last October (lack of transparency fosters mistrust—just ask the NSA and the Obama administration!)
  • The General Council on Finance and Administration voted to unilaterally offer benefits to same-sex partners and unmarried heterosexual partners, contrary  to the teachings of our church

The bottom line of all these actions is that the institutional church cannot be trusted to implement the provisions decided upon by the duly elected representatives of the worldwide United Methodist Church.  It doesn’t appear to matter what the Book of Discipline says.  Bishops and clergy will do what they want to do.  Why do we pay $10 million for a General Conference to meet when its actions can be so cavalierly disregarded?

These actions and responses are like a corrosive acid, burning away the “connection” in our connectional church.  All systems need trust in order to function in a healthy and effective way.  When that trust is lost, it takes a long time and lots of effort to rebuild (just ask any married couple that has survived an affair).  The “any means” approach of pro-gay activists and the failure of our leadership to respond (or in many cases their collaboration with the pro-gay tactics) is severely damaging the trust relationship that our church needs in order to function.  Regardless of which way the church goes in the future, that damaged trust will hinder the church’s ministry for years to come.

What do you think?

11 thoughts on “Tearing Down Trust

  1. Well put, Tom. Trust is a major casualty in this conflict, and I don’t think the bishops and clergy who are advocating for disobedience to the Book of Discipline realize how much damage they are doing to the church they say they love. One wonders if they are willing and ready to ride the church into oblivion just to make their point. That’s not love.

    1. They are quite willing to ride the Church into oblivion just to make their point. Their foremost desire is not to present others as “righteous” before God which is the desire of a loving heart but to present themselves as “righteous” which is the desire of a self- absorbed heart. It is the Progressive Christian version of, “to save the village we have to destroy the village.”

  2. Amen! Thank you, Tom, for putting the truth in print. I understand why some orthodox Christians choose to leave the UMC just to get away from the constant rebellion and fighting. But I wish they’d stay. We need them badly to fight alongside the rest of us. I understand why some churches might willfully withhold apportionment dollars, since “the connection” seems so disconnected from orthodoxy and even the Discipline. We pay ours in full, but I’ve read and thought seriously about some of the ways we could withhold certain specific apportionments. I understand why morale might be low among some church members and clergy, since it seems like we’re always fighting an uphill battle against those who use the levers of institutional power for their own desires rather than the will of the whole Church (and, I’d say, the will of God!). I stay and fight for biblical truth because in my own local congregation I see fruit growing for the kingdom… and because I’ve been given the spiritual gift of stubbornness. (Yes, I’ll try to blame that on the Holy Spirit.)

    1. I attended my first church discussion group regarding these issues on Monday and was a minority of one with a pastor who tried to remain neutral. If a majority of the congregants here in my local church ever takes an official position to advocate for disobedience I will have to pray long and hard about where God would have stand. I have already been labled unteachable and closed minded about these issues when I view myself as uncompromising when it comes to the standard of Biblical Truth.

  3. Everything you write above makes sense to me. As a lay person who lives in a city with many alternatives for Christian worship and serving God, the more the Discipline is violated and the more the Bishops and Judicial Council fail to act or to uphold the Discipline and the Bible, the more I think about leaving the UMC. I had never thought about these actions being related to trust, but your blog post now has me thinking.

  4. The Greatest of All the Commandments
    Biblical Obedience is a call for us to claim our identity as it relates to the Bible, to speak truth to power, and decide that laws that discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer persons and allies in the life of the Church are immoral and unjust and are no longer deserving of our loyalty and support. It is a call to declare our beliefs and start doing the right thing.

    Jesus was asked by a scribe, “Which is the greatest of all the commandments?” Jesus simply said, “There is only one God. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.” It is time for us as people of faith to live into those commandments. It is time to see ALL human beings as our neighbors.

    That is Biblical Obedience.

    – Bishop Melvin Talbert

    1. Isn’t keeping Gods commandments part of loving Him? Do we truly love God when we choose to interpret him and his word only thru our own understanding, desires, and wishes? Does it not occur to us that God gives us commandments for our good and that we should consider hie desires for us instead of our desires for ourselves?

  5. I was talking last night with a respected mentor and he reminded me of the importance of Prayer, something I struggle with.

    However, being the open ended and Godly man he is, he also understood and he too has seen where prayer can be an excuse not to act in a Godly manner.

    Here locally, we had a round of “Revival Services”, District-wide. Prior to the meetings, the organizers individually identified issues today with our UMC that are out of accordance with the Bible. However, during the services, the prayers and calls were generic and general???

    We are to always be in a spirit of love but we also need to be God’s will of today’s world. Thank God for the boldness of of non-violent Abolitionists and civil rights proponents in the 50s and 60s. Can we not look back and see it was God’s will in action now?

    We need to ensure that the UMC honors Jesus’ First and GREATEST commandment; To Love God with all of our heart, soul and mind. In this, we need to continually show the Biblical logic to supporting the scripture, even when it’s tough and makes others mad with you and makes them say hurtful things. If you cannot stand on that, how does one rightly stand on ANYTHING else in the Bible?

    THANKS for ALL you do Rev. Lambrecht!

  6. We have failed to be an obedient church. We need to confess that and repent. The United Methodist Church has done a great deal of good in the last 40+ years, and we should celebrate that; but it is time to admit that this experiment in American-style Christianity has failed miserably at spreading Wesley’s scriptural holiness throughout the land.

    Fortunately, one of the great successes of the UMC is the growth of the church OUTSIDE the United States, and one of the few things GC2012 actually did accomplish was recognizing the need for a new, global Book of Discipline. The Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters has begun working on such a book.

    My thinking is that we need to disband the UMC, repent, and start over completely so that Wesleyan Christianity may thrive again. May God help us all.

  7. The Bishops and those supporters of SSM are neither disenfranchised or powerless. They have had for decades complete access to the levers of democratic change within the UMC, namely the General Conference. They have simply failed to persuade enough intelligent, and Godly men & women of the rightness of their policies.

    Having failed through democratic means they now seek to have their way through undemocratic means, through willful rebellion and disrespect for the rule of democratic consensus, the undermining of the very democratic institutions they have sworn to uphold United Methodists are “nice” people so the attempt here is a “nice” coup, But a “nice” coup is in the end, a coup none-the-less.

    Have no doubt about the self-righteous hypocrisy here for if at anytime this group had prevailed at General Conference and their opponents sought to be disobedient to the new policy they would be calling down the wrath of God upon those who disagreed.

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