A Methodist matter of faith
After reading Josh Cotton’s piece on the meeting at First United Methodist Church (Sept. 3), I feel that I must comment. The article notes that the “issue at the heart of the divide is human sexuality.”
I beg to differ. As the son of a Methodist clergy and a retired Methodist clergyperson myself, most of my denomination’s concerns are with how the church deals with “Scripture, the foundational statements of the United Methodist Church, the hierarchy, and the local church.”
John Wesley said this about Scripture: “Every part thereof is worthy of God; all together are one entire body.” He is saying that we have to take all the parts of the Bible that we don’t like along with those we do like. So, we have to take those Scripture passages about same-sex marriages as well as those that say to love one another.
As ordained members of the clergy, we must adhere to Scripture and to our polity, both of which deal explicitly with marriage and the standards of ministry. The United Methodist Church has many places that affirm that the Bible is “the basic criterion by which the truth and fidelity of any interpretation of faith is measured.” One reason many are opting to leave the United Methodist Church is because Scripture has ceased to be the bedrock of the faith, being replaced by reason and experience, or how we think or feel. When this comes from the clergy, the laity needs to respond.
The United Methodist Church has a bedrock of foundation statements including Doctrinal Standards and General Rules, which all clergy vow to uphold. These are foundational statements: the virgin birth, the crucifixion, the resurrection, the ascension, and Pentecost. Prior and present members of the hierarchy will state that they uphold the Doctrinal Standards and the polity and discipline of the United Methodist Church while their practices clearly indicate that they are violating what they vowed to uphold, which leads to abuse of the Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church, theological pluralism (believing, practicing and preaching that, in the words of Bishop Jack Tuell, “United Methodists can do anything they want to.”), and ecclesiastical overreach, as clearly seen by the actions of the church hierarchy in recent years when in 2016 the Council of Bishops was asked to “do something” about the crisis that was growing over accountability to church teachings, restructuring the church, and human sexuality — same-sex marriages and ordination of “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals.
The Bishops formed a commission named “The Commission on the Way Forward” and called for a special General Conference in 2019, a which time two proposals were presented. A third plan, The Traditional Plan, was included by the commission only after strong objections by African Bishops caused the Council of Bishops to vote its development and inclusion as an addendum.
At the 2019 Special General Conference, the Bishop’s favorite, The One Church Plan, was voted down and the Traditional Plan was passed causing extreme distress among some progressive delegates and disruption of the General Conference. Seeing that jurisdictions within the United States were beyond reconciliation, plans were drawn up for separation. What was to be presented to General Conference in 2020 was “A Protocol for Grace and Reconciliation through Separation” which would empower the formation of one or more new traditionalist denominations blessed by the church.
Then came COVID which postponed General Conference until 2021 and then 2022. On March 3, the Commission on General Conference voted, 14 to 9, to postpone General Conference until 2024 with the reasons being that there were not enough non-American delegates vaccinated and no available visas.
These reasons were fabrications designed to forestall the implementation of the “Protocol” through the election of new delegates and bishops and through propaganda used to discredit conservative and moderate United Methodists.
Since March, the Council of Bishops and progressives within the hierarchy have used various tactics to keep the “Protocol” from passing and local congregations from disaffiliating. Shortly after March 3, many of the progressive signers of the “Protocol” reneged on their pledge to support this document, bishops began attempting to have their one church plan adopted by annual conferences, and annual conferences boards began to make disaffiliation costly to the point that many local churches could not afford to disaffiliate.
And, to the disgust of many conservative and moderate United Methodists, the primary tactic being used is the “human sexuality” angle. Simply put, the hierarchy does not want to deal with their own malfeasance in matters of church polity ecclesiastical overreach and foundational statements.
I don’t know every ploy that the Council of Bishops and the General Boards of the United Methodist Church are using to keep local churches from leaving, but I do know that annual conferences are often making it too costly to leave to the point of an eastern Pennsylvania conference charging $10,000 to even begin to disaffiliate and of our bishopric forcing local churches to use only one isolated paragraph in the Book of Discipline (P. 2553 “Disaffiliation of a Local Church Over Issues Related to Human Sexuality” voted on in 2019 and set to expire on Dec. 31, 2023) as the avenue of egress, so they can point to the departing laity as homophobic, bigoted pseudo Christians.
So much for Christian love being demonstrated by some bishops and hierarchy.
The Rev. Larry R. Neal is a Warren resident.