The Consent of the Governed
It is a concept entrenched in modern Western culture that governments “derive their just powers from the consent of the governed” (Declaration of Independence, United States). To be governed without our consent is the definition of what the Declaration calls tyranny, or in modern terms we would call dictatorship (by either an individual or a powerful group).
While the church is a completely unique entity compared to a national government, this understanding applies to our denomination, as well. Clergy voluntarily assent to submit to the government of the church by taking vows of ordination. Laity voluntarily submit to the government of the church by affirming the vows of baptism and church membership.
It has become strikingly evident over the past several months that a significant part of The United Methodist Church no longer gives its consent to be governed by the church, despite those vows. German and Scandinavian church leaders have declared they will investigate becoming autonomous churches rather than submit to the decisions of the St. Louis General Conference. Several bishops in the U.S. have announced that they will ignore what the General Conference enacted and operate their annual conferences as if the One Church Plan had passed. Up to a half-dozen practicing homosexuals have been ordained or commissioned in U.S. annual conferences in defiance of the longstanding prohibition in our Book of Discipline. Over a dozen U.S. annual conferences have passed resolutions rejecting the decisions made by the St. Louis General Conference.
Influential mega-church pastor, the Rev. Adam Hamilton, has stated, “We are going to live and be the kind of church we want to be, regardless what the denominational rules says [sic].” How exactly does that play out when thousands of local United Methodist congregations say the exact same thing, withholding apportionments and resisting pastoral appointments?
How can The United Methodist Church continue without the consent of its bishops, annual conferences, clergy, and members?
In the colonial era, the writers of the Declaration of Independence stated that, when a form of government no longer has the consent of the governed or becomes destructive to the purposes for which that government was established, “it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.” That was the justification for the American Revolution.
This spring, in response to the General Conference decisions, the moderate and progressive wings of the church in the U.S. and parts of Europe have decided to revolt against the government of the church and to establish a different foundation on principles amenable to the majority of church members in those parts of the church. We see this in the examples of disobedience cited above and calls to “resist.” In addition, those favoring same-sex marriage and the ordination of practicing LGBT persons are determined to reverse the outcome of St. Louis through the perfectly acceptable means of electing more progressive General Conference delegates in some annual conferences.
Yet were the progressive/moderate coalition able to undo what General Conference decided, either explicitly or implicitly allowing same-sex marriage and LGBT ordination, the traditional wing of the church in the U.S., Africa, the Philippines, and parts of Europe would no longer be able to grant the church their consent to be governed by a policy that they see as a direct contradiction of Scripture. The current situation would simply be reversed, with a different group withholding consent.
Even if the 2020 General Conference continues to affirm the traditional definition of marriage and sexual ethics, progressives have stated they will refuse to abide by the church’s policies. Based on apparent success in electing progressive and moderate delegates to the Jurisdictional Conferences, they believe they will have the votes to elect at least a dozen bishops who will refuse to enforce the church’s standards and will carry on the revolution.
Our church is now unquestionably in a constitutional crisis, where our ecclesiastical framework appears to be unable to resolve the conflict. We have two irreconcilable positions, and one faction is willfully choosing to violate the constitutionally established processes of the church. “Resist” is the mantra of the moment, but this will lead to long-term ecclesiastical paralysis, loss of legitimacy, and eventual collapse.
We have one part of the church government (some bishops and annual conferences) choosing to willfully violate church law established by another part of the church government (General Conference) operating under its constitutional authority. This after the law was affirmed by a third part of church government (Judicial Council). So we have different parts of church government operating against each other. What makes this a crisis is that there appears to be no mechanism for resolving the dispute, since some no longer accept the authority of General Conference and see it as “illegitimate.”
There is a safety valve for the church to deal with irreconcilable conflict, in that the church is a voluntary association of like-minded people. When people are no longer of like mind, they can choose not to associate (or can disassociate). Many tens of thousands of United Methodist lay members have chosen over the past 25 years to disassociate from a church they no longer agree with. Many have left because the church has become too progressive, while others have left because the church has remained committed to a traditional reading of Scripture.
Since the current church government has lost the consent of a large group in the church, it cannot continue the way it is. One group will not consent to a church government that does not allow same-sex marriage and LGBT ordination. Another group will not consent to a church government that does allow those things. So that means at least two new church governments will need to be established – one for progressives and one for conservatives. Whether either group will need to split into more factions is yet to be determined.
It is difficult for many to accept that we have reached this point. However, by their actions and statements, many progressives and moderates have established that they can no longer bear with the traditional position that has been consistently affirmed by our General Conference for 47 years. They are unwilling to allow the church to insist that its bishops and clergy function according to the General Conference’s reading of Scripture and under the General Conference’s authority.
There is no way to force people to accept a church government that they cannot in good conscience support. Nor would it be at all desirable to do so. Therefore, we must accept the fact that a separation must occur in our church. That separation can be done amicably or it can be done contentiously. One way or another, however, it must happen. We can no longer think that unity under a single church government is possible.
3 thoughts on “The Consent of the Governed”
I like your use of the Declaration of Independence. As you note, the UMC is an entirely voluntary organization – so an interesting question is, why do those who do not consent to be governed choose to remain? Resisting a state or federal government is one thing since moving to another country is far more challenging for most people. Changing to another church is very simple, so why remain if you cannot abide the vows? There are plenty of other denominations that already have the rules the moderates and progressives would accept, so it’s not like they would even have to start a completely new denomination, though that option is also available. Either their plan is to seek to cause enough harm so that the ones they are harming finally leave, resulting in their complete victory over a greatly diminished church, or they will see that separation is the best alternative for everyone. In a full separation, everyone leaves, it’s not like anyone is the ‘victor’ and another group is the ‘defeated’. Has there been any indication from any moderates or progressives that they agree that separation in May 2020 is the only way to resolve the struggle?
Well said, Bryan. Tom has a much better vantage point than I do, but From what I’ve read, there’s little indication that the Left has much interest in genuinely negotiating a separation. Here’s the problem: The Left is on one playing field playing their own sport. Traditionalists are on a different playing field trying to play another sport of a different set of rules. For further explanation, check out the article entitled “Seminary Confidential” at theamericanconservative.com. It’s an amazing and revealing expose. Essentially, our UM bureaucracy and leadership are primarily activists of the “oppressed vs. oppressor” theology and ethos first; Jesus-followers second (or further down the list). Jesus and Bible and Christianity only work for them provided they fit in the context of their “oppressed vs. oppressor” theology and ethos. If you think that sounds crazy, do your own research. This ideology (many call it Neo-Marxism) has already swallowed up western higher education, both public and private, in many cases. And we traditionalists who respect the Gospel and authority of Scripture as primary: We are the problem. We and our white, hetero, patriarchal Christian culture are the oppressors. Never mind the hundreds of millions who have found life-transforming redemption and healing from any and various life oppressions through Christ and Christianity. That doesn’t matter for those of Marxist theology and ethos (like most of our bishops). From their deranged and ill-conceived perspective, we Christians are the problem. Does that make sense? Do you see why we are tuned in to two different radio frequencies? Jesus only works for about 90% of our current UM establishment as a thin vernier over their “oppressed vs. the oppressors” ideological construct. Hence, the LGBT have fit beautifully within the Marxist ethos as “victims” of oppressive Christians.
Now here’s my question for you and Tom: Say the Gen Conference gives in fully to every demand of the Democrat party gay lobby and we do, in fact, approve the imputing of sacred and sacramental legitimacy to same-sex marriage, as THEIR human right against us “oppressors.” Then what happens when the next guy comes along and he is sincerely and profoundly convinced of his own deep-seated sexual orientation toward multiple partners, and this gentleman is demanding the church grant him sacred approval to polygamy, marriage to multiple partners (gay, straight, whatever). Furthermore, this gentleman (give him whatever name you wish) argues that he has a human right for the church to grant him a “sacred stamp of approval” for polygamy, because the Bible talks about social justice, and Jesus supports full inclusion, non-discrimination, and free love. Let’s go a little further. Hear me out, because I seriously am searching for the answer to my question. A woman shows up at the doorstep of the church wanting to marry Molly, her French poodle. Why? Of course, she loves Molly and feels a sincere, profound, deep-seated sexual orientation toward Molly. She then argues that it’s her human right for the church to grant sacred approval and legitimacy to a marriage to her French Poodle. She further argues that the Bible talks about social justice and that she’s a victim of discrimination if the church refuses to grant sacred sanction to her homo sapien/canine marriage. After all, didn’t Jesus teach full inclusion, free love, and non-discrimination? Of course, I’m challenging absurdity with absurdity here. Or am I? I hope all this is over-blown hyperbole. But wait a second… Now let’s consider the fellow who shows up on the church doorstep who feels a sincere, profound, sexual orientation toward his three daughters. And while we’re at it, let’s also consider the woman who shows up on the church doorstep with her paternal grandfather and great uncle? Use your imagination and create your own scenarios. My question is: Are there any boundaries? If so, where? Are there any boundaries for our Marxist theologian [sic.] UM bishops and leaders? Considering the theme of my (hopefully) hyperbolic illustration, I honestly would love to know the answer to that question.
Great article. If Traditionalists truly will have majority vote at Gen Conf 2020, then along with reaffirmation of the traditional plan, ensuring constitutionality across the board, and tighter accountability measures for those who flout our covenant, I would also hope for a sweeter disaffiliation deal. Along the lines of disaffiliation, I would love to see a resolution passed requiring THE LEFT to pay two years apportionments to fund start up of a new renewal Methodist denomination. It’s the least they could do after almost 50 years subjecting all of us to their left-wing socialist utopian propaganda and forcing all the rest of us to fully embrace the Democrat party gay lobby—all the while distracting EVERYONE from our mission to make disciples of Jesus. I’m sorry if that comes across as unkind, but enough already. As the saying goes, “people do not change until the pain of staying the same truly becomes greater than the pain of changing.” So make it as a painful as possible for the leftists/socialists to remain in rebellious relationship to the UM covenant. How about this resolution to pass at GenConf 2020: A resolution requiring denominational funding for the WCA Central Conference Ministry fund? Why not double-down in mission where God is clearly at work transforming lives in the grace of Jesus?
Bottom line: Those who worship at the altar of the leftist-socialist utopian agenda (and their powerful and ruthless gay lobby) will remain ensconced in the church until the pain of remaining is greater than the pain of changing. Sad but true. I pray traditionalists everywhere will stay tough and resolute about our Jesus-centered mission.