The Commission, Round 2

By Rev. Thomas Lambrecht

The Commission on a Way Forward for the Church was established in order to examine the current United Methodist position on marriage and sexuality and explore all options that would promote unity while respecting the theological integrity of our denomination and its members. To that end, the two meetings we have experienced have been positive and productive. Commission members are appreciative of the well-organized and responsive leadership from our three moderators, Bishops Sandra Steiner-Ball, Ken Carter, and David Yemba.

As a commission, we have covenanted to certain boundaries around our behavior toward one another and what we can share publicly. While it is understandable that the proceedings of the commission not be public, this covenant has helped us built trust and relationship.

At our recent meeting, Bishop Woodie White shared about his experience with the Central Jurisdiction, which was a segregated (all-Black) jurisdiction that was dismantled in the 1968 merger. While not equating homosexuality with racism, White hoped that we could learn from the commitment to unity that overcame differences at the 1968 General Conference.

We also heard from church historian Russell Richey, who described for us the history of separation and disunity in the Methodist Church from its founding. According to Richey, in every decade from 1780 to 1890 the church experienced a structural separation or division of some kind. Each one led to increased growth and vitality in the separate bodies (for the most part), rather than leading to decline. From 1890 on, however, the emphasis shifted to church unity, with two major mergers. Division within the church did not end during those years, but was expressed through the formation of caucuses and other interest groups advocating for a point of view within the church, rather than some form of structural separation. The inward focus of mergers and in-fighting, however, has led to continual decline since the 1960s.

From my perspective, it seems as though sometimes we are better off separating, so that the separate groups can pursue ministry free of the baggage of conflict, and that historically separation has led to growth, rather than decline.

The Commission has been divided into work teams. For example, my team delved into the way other mainline denominations handled the conflict over the role of LGBTQ persons in the church. Most of them handled the conflict badly, resulting in ugly court battles and hostile separation that left both the denominations and the separating entities weakened. Our prayer is that United Methodism’s destiny be different from that of our sister denominations. We can learn from their mistakes and handle the conflict in a more Christ-honoring and constructive way. I believe that is the shared goal of the entire Commission.

It has been important and informative for the Commission to learn of the different contexts of culture and ministry in the various central conferences—Europe, The Philippines, and Africa. Each of these is not monolithic, but we have gained insight from our central conference members regarding their experience and their culture’s viewpoint on human sexuality and homosexuality. Any proposal from our Commission will need to factor in the viewpoints of the central conferences and how the proposal might affect their ability to do ministry.

Although we come from drastically differing perspectives, we have been able to be open and honest with each other. Evangelicals and progressives on the Commission have been able to express what we can live with and what we cannot live with in terms of a resolution to this crisis in our church.

In addition to issues related to LGBTQ persons, commissioners have also noted the even greater demographic crisis that is leading to a more precipitous decline in the U.S. church than projected by the General Council on Finance and Administration. The energy and resources absorbed by the conflict are energy and resources that are not channeled into revitalizing our church.

We seek the renewal of the church and God’s mission, not simply the lesser goal of solving the present impasse. Our focus is on the fruitfulness, vitality, and mission of the church. The Commission desires that a solution that resolves the impasse over homosexuality should also set the framework for a way to revitalize the church and lead us back to growth once again. This will take much prayer and a divine move from God.

The work of the Commission is embedded in prayer, worship, and Bible study. We were blessed to participate in Ash Wednesday services during our recent meeting. Commission members are leading us in Bible study around the book of Galatians. We acknowledge and are very grateful for the prayer and support that we are receiving from the church. Each week, different annual conferences are lifting up the work and members of the Commission in concentrated prayer. I have repeatedly heard from friends and colleagues that they are praying for us and for our meeting.

In order to go forward, we need to depend upon the grace of God through the Holy Spirit to lead us. The Lord will need to work not only in the hearts and minds of Commissioners, but across the church, as we choose a new way forward in the months ahead. Thank you for your input and prayer support!

11 thoughts on “The Commission, Round 2

  1. Dear Tom,
    You are doing something I could never do because my temperament causes me to shut down in such settings. God bless you and all who have taken on this task. In another setting i posted my criticism of the Commission, in which I criticize what appears to me to be chasing rabbits through fact-finding projects. I stated there that surely most on the Commission are knowledgeable enough of the issues to set about their work of finding a “way forward.” I also expressed skepticism that such a way–short of amicable separation–is possible. In spite of my criticism, I just spent some time in prayer for you and all the Commission. Thank you for putting your time and energy into this.

  2. Just wondering if there is going to be any discussion re what is really creating the divide over sexuality: differences in theology and the role the Bible plays in our understanding of who God is and who we are. After four long disheartening years monitoring as many voices as I could from within the UMC, I find the array of beliefs populating the UMC more disturbing than the sexuality question.. I have encounter people who use Jesus, the Bible and John Wesley to substantiate conflicting beliefs that, in some cases actually cancel each other out. It was also not unusual for a UMC pastor or theologian to express a theological viewpoint that was promptly challenged by another UMC pastor or theologian. Just yesterday I received an e-mail from Cokesbury promoting books written by Marcus Bor. Several months ago a UMC pastor friend of mine said Borg has been discredited. So what’s a pew person supposed to do in the midst of all this conflicting information? When thinking about restoring church vitality, is there any discussion as to how this morass of theological thought might be contributing to the current sexuality dilemma as well as the uninterrupted numerical decline of almost 50 years? My relationship with the local church where I am a long time member is in question because I do not want to expose myself to what I now know without a doubt is theological mishmash. I have sat in a Disciple Bible Study where the leader and a retired UMC pastor both declared that they “finally felt better about Paul’s theology”. The current pastor has declared Jesus was a liberation theologian, declared that Psalm 1 is too judgmental and that the Beatitude dealing with Christians being persecuted did not really mean what it said.

    1. Betsy, you are right on target. For many years, Good News has said that the issues around LGBT persons are just the presenting issue for a much deeper conflict over the authority of Scripture and other core beliefs of the UMC. The Wesleyan Covenant Association was formed to reclaim and reemphasize orthodox Wesleyan beliefs. We believe that the abandonment of those beliefs has contributed mightily to the decline in vitality and membership of our churches.

      1. Tom,

        Thank you for what you shared about the work of the commission. I agree that the core problem is a conflict over the authority of Scripture. Too many who have been given responsibility for teaching the bible, rather than trying to explain the bible, are trying to explain it away.

      2. I am just a “Dumb Country Boy” who was an EUB and knew the merger with the Methodist Church was a mistake’At 86 years old, I don’t want to leave my church, but it wants to leave me. In all of the discussion I have seen and heard, not one word has been said about what I see as the root of the problem, INTEGRITY. Why would someone who ostensibly is dedicating their life to serve God as a pastor choose a denomination that teaches that their lifestyle is “incompatible with Christian teaching?
        There are several denominations that affirm their lifestyle. Why the UMC?
        To be ordained, did they not give assent to supporting the Book Of Discipline? If that is true and they knew they did not support the Discipline, then we have a problem with a lack of integrity..YES, i KNOW WE ARE SUPPOSED TO”pLAY nICE’ BUT WE ALSO NEED TO FACE THE TRUTH.

  3. I believe that going forward, the Discipline should go back to the point before the devisive gender identities were added. No prohibitions. Since we have totally ignored the widespread “living together without marriage” of heterosexuals, the current conflicts are at best hypocritical. Let God judge us all. Let any separation talk be strictly over bible based doctrines applying equally to all .

    Unfortunately, I realize the “fight: and the “”winning” aspect seem of most importance to both sides, and the hypocrisy of silence on the living together issue makes it very hard for me to support either side.

    My church with membership of 50+ and attendance of 20+ would be destroyed by separation. Neither could support a building. While there is something to be said for small home church ministries, we are more geographically diverse than would easily manage home churching.

    We follow the prevailing mindset everywhere of about half on one side, half on the other. We easily work together to help those in our communities and the world wholeheartedly. Because we are yoked with three other churches and refused to require our elder to preach in all four churches each week, we have a variety of certified 0f lay speakers every other week, with a variety of doctrinal viewpoints. I suppose some attend according to their beliefs, but many attend and work together, regardless. I will continue to pray for your leadership and forthe unity of loving God and neighbor.

  4. I so agree with Betsy. I have left the UMC after 60 some years, beginning with the election of the recent unqualified bishop in our conference. Because of her election I began to research all that is going on in the UMC. About 6 years ago Yellowstone Conference was promoting the theology of Marcus Borg, I ignored how it would effect the church. In my search I have also discovered the progressive Chiristianity influence and Reconciling Ministries Network. These groups have been infiltrating the church slowly but most “surely”. As Scott Kisker wrote in his book, “Mainline or Methodist”, “when we became ‘mainline’ we stopped actually being Methodist in all but name”.

  5. How will you feel about the process Tom if you come to the end of it and they sucker punch you as they have so many others in the past? I’m not guaranteeing that they will but I think there’s a very high likelihood that they will. This will have turned out in that case to have been just one more, ” please can’t we all just get along” obfuscation. What will the cost be if that happens? More lost years on top of the lost decades? More faithful members who left after waiting for decades to see these issues dealt with and who gave up? How will you respond if this is just another kabuki dance? We’ve seen it every time previous to this one.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *