Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
July 16th, 2016 by Joel Watts

Responding the Morning After

13254468_10209706104757556_5568848561874307641_nLast night, by acclamation, the Western Jurisdiction elected as bishop a person who is unqualified according to the Book of Discipline (at least how many of us read it). It is directly against the wishes of General Conference and the remaining 98% of The United Methodist Church.

Here are some responses I thought I’d share.

First, on Monday, the college of bishops in the Southeastern Jurisdiction, issued this letter:

We, the Southeastern Jurisdictional College of Bishops, grieve over the deep divisions in our beloved United Methodist Church. We recognize the pain felt both by those advocating for and those opposing change. We also view the acts of nonconformity as a violation of our covenant and as divisive and disruptive.

From our Council of Bishops issued this last night,

The Council of Bishops is monitoring this situation very closely. The Council does not have constitutional authority to intervene in the election or supervisory processes at either the annual conference, jurisdictional or central conference levels. And, we are careful to not jeopardize any clergy or lay person’s due process by ill-advised comments.

Rob Renfroe, pastor and president of Good News, says,

“It is deplorable that the Western Jurisdiction, along with many annual conferences, has ignored the Council of Bishop’s proposal, ratified by the General Conference, for a ‘pause for prayer – to step back from attempts at legislative solutions and to intentionally seek God’s will for the future,’”

The IRD weighed in as well.

This is a fundamentally schismatic action of the Western Jurisdiction declaring it no longer wants to live in unity with the rest of our denomination. Now some United Methodists in the rest of the country will likely want to stop paying the denominational apportionments which heavily subsidize the six-figure salaries of Oliveto and other bishops in the Western Jurisdiction – the only U.S. Jurisdiction rewarded with more bishops than they pay for themselves.

The IRD also has a theological biography of the improperly made bishop.

The Confessing Church has issued a statement as well:

These actions come as no surprise as the LGBTQ advocates even before General Conference indicated they intended to close down the church if their demands were not met.

In light of these actions numbers of persons and churches have asked what The Confessing Movement, as well as other renewal groups, will do now.  Many have urged that we simply declare United Methodist apostate and start a new denomination.  Others have urged that there be a withholding of apportionment money.  There is the sense that our covenantal relationships have been betrayed.

For the moment we urge patience.  We are not yet giving up on The United Methodist Church.  But we ask for some time to discern God’s will and to engage in Holy Conferencing.  With that in mind we offer these statements at the moment:

As I am in WV, I am going to focus on the statement by Bishop Steiner-Ball,

Having said that, I would request that you not become distracted from this mission by the Western Jurisdiction’s election of an openly gay bishop. The decision of the Western Jurisdiction is the decision of that particular Jurisdiction and can only impact the mission and ministry of our local congregations and the West Virginia Conference if we allow that decision to become the primary concern in our churches. I would argue that Christ would not want us to allow this incident to become the primary concern nor would Christ want this to distract us from our compassionate, loving care for all people or from our responsibility to reach all people for Christ.

Additionally, let me remind you that the action of the Western Jurisdiction does not change our polity or The Discipline. Jurisdictional Conferences and Annual Conferences do not have the authority to change The Discipline.  Only the General Conference has the ability to change disciplinary statements and positions.

Fortunately, the SCJ asked for a declaratory judgment.

Is the nomination, election, consecration, and/or assignment as a bishop of The United Methodist Church of a person who claims to be a “self-avowed practicing homosexual” or is a spouse in a same-sex marriage lawful under The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church.

The Judicial Council will rule and will have to rule against the “election.” The WJ would have 90 days or so to hold a new jurisdictional conference and elect a new bishop that would not cause an episcopal crisis. If the WJ refuses, then they may lose all status with the UMC, lose funding, and so on. As this is a schismatic act, the WJ would then have to withdraw — but only those churches that want to – and form their own denomination in order to keep their improperly made bishop.

In the meantime, what should we do until this is resolved properly?

  • Pray
  • Stop paying apportionments if you are able, or tithes and offerings if you are not. Put the money in escrow until such a time as the proper course of action is decided. Some will have an issue with this. But, what do you think will happen to those apportionments if the UMC breaks up? Are you still going to pay it elsewhere? The schismatic elements care about one thing: Money. We use money to further the Gospel and only to further the Gospel. By the way, those paying tithes and offerings and select where the money goes. That means you can explicitly decide to pay the local church, but tell them they cannot use it for apportionments.
  • Look at the Wesleyan Covenant Association and join them 7 Oct. There are a few kinks to work out, but we can do this.
  • Be patient. You have to make up your mind what to do, but for now, be patient.

For me, I will not participate in any sacramental offering in the local church. If the polity is not working, then that means the congregation is not a Church and I believe only the sacraments can be offered in a Church. I’m not recommending this action for anyone, but it is my personal conviction — and one I feel I need in order to discern my next few steps.  I’ve covered this theology before in preparation for this. But, I have to give the processes time to work itself out.

Yes, we have a process because everyone knows you will need it eventually. Now we do. So, let it work.

Separation is not inevitable, but if the WJ persists, then they will schism from the rest of The United Methodist Church. They now have a bishop. Let them form their own denomination.

Joel Watts
Watts holds a MA in Theological Studies from United Theological Seminary. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians, as well as seeking an MA in Clinical Mental Health at Adams State University. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

Comments

20 Responses to “Responding the Morning After”
  1. Basically this is a good plan. However I do not understand what you mean when you say, “I will not participate in any sacramental offering..”. Do you mean you are excommunicating yourself, and you will not receive the bread and the cup? Will you not pray for people and join in the liturgy during a baptism? Please clarify.

    • Holly, I will simply not partake of the communion table. I strongly believe in the sacramental order — and it can only take place in the Church. For me, right now, I think our status as an actual church (based in historical theological understanding) is so quasi I’m unsure.

    • ThE UMC will now be come united.

  2. I’m not sure why you’re advocating that we stop paying apportionments. If the process plays out as you suggest, then the Western jurisdiction won’t receive any of that money.

    • Thomas, that is why I am suggesting paying it into an escrow account — exactly because I do not know if it will work out.

    • I’m not quite there yet. Looks like I may be in a week or two. Already, the church cannot verify that funds are being distributed for the purposes and under the conditions for which they were collected. This is true for many of our GC boards. If there is no accountability then the only responsible action is to at least reserve General Church funds in escrow at the local church level until our AC comes up with an alternative. I give them a week or two.

    • Tom Griffith says

      Joel, I am not sure whether you are a pastor, but if you are, you might want to be careful what you suggest regarding payment of apportionments. The Judicial Council already addressed that issue in a Declaratory Decision, requested (no less) by the General Conference. It is Judicial Council Decision No. ______. The relevant part of its decision I list here—but would encourage you to pay particular attention to the last sentence:
      “The pastor of a church is just one of many individuals, lay and clergy, who has responsibility for providing leadership to a local congregation and thereby leading a local church toward full payment of apportionments. To hold the pastor of a local church personally accountable for a chargeable offense when a church under his/her pastoral leadership does not pay its apportionments in full including the requirement for proportionality in the case of the Episcopal Fund is unjust. The clear legislative intent of the list of chargeable offenses in ¶ 2702 is to hold pastors accountable for their own personal actions, not the actions of other ordained or lay persons. Thus, the unwillingness of a pastor to lead a local church toward full payment of apportionments including ¶ 823 is not a chargeable offense under the current provisions of ¶ 2702. If a pastor deliberately encourages a church not to pay its apportionments in full, when the church has the ability to do so, this action by the pastor may rise to the level of a chargeable offense under ¶ 2702.”

      • Tom Griffith says

        Sorry—I forgot the reference. It is found in Judicial Council Decision No. 986.

        • Judicial Council decisions are irrelevant in a church where personal conscience trumps discipline, but you do make a valid point. Clergy may deny the virgin birth, the bodily resurrection, and even the atoning blood of Christ. They are permitted to participate in and promote carnal lust and licentiousness as long as they know the one rule that will bring abrupt consequences to even the most privileged of their number: “Don’t touch the money!” Keep the cash flowing to the denominational Rome and you have purchased your position.
          I am not there just yet, however I am fast approaching the point of speaking in the one language our bishops, boards and agencies understand. It is not Scripture, morality, or an appeal to covenant. It is money. Make them expose their true object of worship by requiring them to bring charges against 30, 50, 100 clergy, or maybe just one—me.

  3. Christopher says

    Lord have mercy…on the hissyfitters.

  4. Chaos theory! So, a butterfly flaps its wings in San Francisco, and all the UMC members throughout the country cease to take communion? I will go on as if nothing has happened. Because, nothing has happened in my congregation. I am more concerned about the violence in Nice; the Republican and Democrat conventions the next few weeks; the coup in Turkey (an analyst on TV let it slip that the US military have tactical nukes at the Turkish air base our military uses – I was always told the location of our nukes are considered classified). So, my butterfly wings are bigger than yours!

    • Besides, we have effectively three weeks before the next communion cycle comes around. So we may all be in hell by that time – at least we will ALL be in good company – heterosexuals, gays, celibates, – the “good, bad, and ugly”. (Ugly – for me).

  5. I wouldn’t be so sure that the Judicial Council will invalidate the election. The candidate was “in good standing” in her Conference. That may speak to the character of her Conference colleagues, but she was still “in good standing” legally.

    • Scott Fritzsche says

      The actual petition to the JC does not have anything to do with her being in good standing.

  6. Good for us. I saw from the general conference that the deck was stacked(hard to fight superstition) The inclusion of the LBQT belief scares me less than progressive Christianity (without faith in miracles where faith. God must be allowed to be more than we will ever know) good for the WJUMC please honor there choice. Jesus Loves You!

    Jeff

    • Jeff, her theology is progressive.

      And the WJ can have their choice, as long as their choice is for their denomination. Bishops of the UMC are bishops of the entire Church. They have forced something upon the rest of us, against democratic votes.

    • Scott Fritzsche says

      If the Western Jurisdiction decides that the rules of the United Methodist church are not right for them, should they be called United Methodists? For that matter, how can they with any integrity claim to be?
      This is not about their choice for them, this is about their attempt to force their doctrine on the whole of the church that is in opposition to it.

  7. Rev. Matthew Jolley says

    Regarding not participating in communion, of course we must all follow our own conscience, but I would urge you to reconsider. The presence of schismatics in the body, I would argue, does not nullify the true body. Are you familiar with the donatist controversy in the early church? Perhaps it might help to give some light when thinking this through? In love to you, and may the Lord give us wisdom and peace through these difficult days.

  8. George Plasterer says

    I get your point about what constitutes church. As a pastor, I could hardly not serve communion until the issue finds resolution. I recognize you are not recommending such an action, but your action made me think about the pastoral role. I read the link to a brief biography. I share the concern that she is obviously a preacher who “nourishes” her congregation through criticism of the Bible and shallow interpretations of those who differ from her. The thinness of biblical and theological thought concern me as much as her lifestyle. In any case, I wonder about the next Council of Bishops meeting. Will they allow her to sit with them? If any decisions must be made, will she participate in making them? I have thought for about a decade that schism would happen. What I did not imagine, until 4 years ago, was the progressives would get to a point where they would act in a way contrary to our covenant. For many years, colleagues, including District Superintendents, have said that while they wanted a change regarding human sexuality, they would enforce the discipline. When I was at the GC in Tampa, I could see that mentality was changing. My hope is that we can figure out a way for the WJ and other Annual Conferences to leave in a judicious and compassionate way. The impact and weight of what they have done is only slowly dawning on me.

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