This comes from a friend I’ve met online, with a shared love of Christian Tradition, Theology, and the traditional United Methodist Church’s polity. I caught him tweeting something on Sunday and thought I would ask for an interview. So granted, what follows is that interview.
Tell us about what happened:
My UMC church was recently visited by Mr. Walter Fenton, an employee of the magazine known as “Good News”. He came to share with any in the congregation who wished to attend, his vision of the future of The United Methodist Church. What it really boiled down to was the reasoning behind my current churches decision to withhold apportionments while also calling all members of the congregation to encourage similar action from fellow UMC churches.
I note this was not a mandatory meeting. How many people attended this meeting?
There were approximately 300 people who attended his information session. 99% were already on-board with his (aka the conservative) position, so he didn’t have to try very hard to earn the hearts and minds of the attendees.
Was there opportunity to ask questions?
Any attempt or chance for dialogue was quickly squelched when the very first person up to ask a question was an aggressive affirming gentlemen who appealed to nothing other than emotion. Like I stated previously, the room that day was 99% of the same anti-SSM mindset. The one thing you don’t do when 300 non-affirming folks (not to mention the headliner who has been trained specifically how to handle the “emotional” / Jesus loved everyone card) is lead with an aggressive, ranting diatribe. Needless to say, it fell on deaf ears and any chance of a civil question and answer session died on the table.
Mr. Fenton quickly responded. His response left me with chills, and still does. With an air of calmness, he referenced 1 Corinthians and Peter to tell how these accounts contradicted Jesus’s command to “Judge not”. He seemed to be encouraging judgement from not only this group, but all groups of Christians like “us”. I was shocked.
(Dear reader, note Felton’s remark.)
Were there any other questions asked that challenged Mr. Felton’s position?
There was one last question that seemed to challenge Mr. Felton. It was something like, “Is it true that the BoD states that any UMC church who withholds apportionments shall also not pay their clergy? And if that is true, how are you going to convince more churches to do the same?” When asked about the BoD reference to withholding churches and the salary of clergy, he seemed to deflect and instead focused his response on the bishops. If the bishops openly encouraged such behavior, THEY would be the ones to suffer the consequences, not the clergy or ministers in the disobedient church. He trailed off towards the end with something about the possibilities where churches might be reprimanded in some way. But by that point,the time was almost up.
This, of course, is not what the Book of Discipline actually says. Rather, the BoD says the churches failing to pay will have their clergy salaries cut by how much they failed to pay. Further, the Bishops, Superintendents, etc… who fail to uphold this could be charged for failing to uphold the Order and Discipline of the United Methodist Church. Thus far, I have not see this enforced. It is worrisome that conservatives, the ones who control the voice of the Book of Discipline and the ones working to make sure it is enforced, care little for it when it comes to something they desire to break.
Mr. Walter Fenton was well composed and ready to present his case for a traditionalist view through his extremely well-prepared speech. While he stayed respectful to opposing viewpoints throughout, he used what some might consider scare tactics of a “shrinking church” and an “imminent progressive threat” that needed to be addressed by the conservative branch of the UMC.
How would he address this threat?
He encouraged schism with no sense of regret. He shared that the only way to prevent the dwindling of the UMC to oblivion is through a separation like that between Paul and Barnabas. Apparently, the unyielding position of Mr. Fenton and what I can only assume is that of his employer, Good News, is that compromise is not an option and the UMC has no option but to split. I find that incredibly unfortunate.
Why are you bringing this to light?
The point of this post is not to argue the tenets of an affirming vs non affirming point of view. My point is to help shed light on the hypocrisy of the conservative side of the UMC who might choose to withhold apportionments in the future without also following the BoD, while also promoting, with no sense of remorse, the necessity of schism within the Body of Christ.
There is a certain degree of anonymity needed and granted. I would hate to see Fenton contradict Jesus’s commands on loving brothers and enemies.
I almost hate to write something like this, as I am sure the progressives will pick up on this and rush to attack. The problem is, both extremes are complicit in pushing for schism. One, the extreme right, is actively using the word. The other, the progressives, are speaking of winnowing the conservatives and orthodox out while doing their best to make sure the atmosphere of the UMC is unhealthy. They aren’t saying schism, but their actions are thundering schism across the jurisdictions. Both sides are congregationalist. Both sides are working towards the same goal. And here I am, stuck in the middle with you.
There are good things these caucus groups can do, but their goals seem to be nothing short of a fractured UMC.
And why, if the BoD is not likely to be changed any time in the future, do the conservatives insist on running away? The one thing the progs have that the conservatives don’t is a backbone. If the orthodox, evangelical, and conservative wings (independent but not mutually exclusive groups) had the backbone the progs have, we might actually see what the real issue here is.
In my opinion, we are disconnected because of doctrine and polity. In this, both the progs and the conservatives are aligned. They are Congregationalists. Doctrine is limited. The traditionalists and the orthodox are episcopal and creedal.
Anyway, I digress. Look at this interview. Why do we allow caucus groups to force schism?