My hero

There is a Licensed Local Pastor in the New England Annual Conference by the name of Reverend  Skip Smith. He served at Berwick UMC in Beref31487b-6f26-4b6d-9c82-b357528627d8wick, Main. I do not know him, and I doubt that I will ever have the privilege of meeting him, much to my detriment. He is also my hero and one of a very few people who has ever moved me to tears. Let me tell you the story of what happened.

At the New England Annual Conference, a resolution was proposed, discussed, voted on and passed. It was amended from it’s original form to better reflect the opinions and desires of the conference, but the intent of it remained the same. (More on that in the coming days when I have the amended copy in full.) What this resolution is formed on is the idea that the Annual Conference will not follow the rules set forth by the General Conference in regards to it’s policies on marriage and human sexuality. This is text of the resolution before the amendments. The section on apportionment was changed and some other categories (isms if you will) were added. The main thrust of the resolution remained the same however.

So, some background here. First, those who voted for this legislation were informed that it violates the rules of the church in many ways, not just in their refusal to follow the BoD about the two above mentioned issues. They knew and went forward. They knew that this would result in a ruling of law that would have the Bishop strike it down, or absent that, the Judicial Council strike it down. Such a motion was made and the Bishop informed the body that he had 30 days to make a ruling and that he would do so. Why he did not do so immediately is beyond me as he knew that this legislation is indeed illegal according to our church laws. Though tempted to speculate on why, I will not take away from Rev. Smith by doing so here. So, after some contentious debate, with the few traditionalists who spoke being shouted down despite the presiding Bishop’s continual remarks about “Christian Conferencing” (his words, not mine). Having watched, I heard no such actions from the traditionalists when those who spoke in favor had the floor. In fact, again despite the Bishop advising against it, cheers and clapping continued whenever those in favor of the resolution spoke, and even when the resolution had passed.

So it passes, a motion for a rule of law was made, the Bishop responded to it, and then to the microphone comes Rev. Skip Smith. He spoke about the historic questions asked of those to be ordained in the United Methodist Church. He spoke about the vow to preach and uphold the doctrine of the church. He spoke respectfully (more so than I would have to be sure). He spoke about believing that the doctrines are in line with the holy scriptures. He spoke about not mending the rules, but upholding them. He spoke about a time of prayer and how he did not want to make the decision that he was about to make. Then he took off his credentials, hung them silently on the microphone, and then he left. While he was speaking, it became evident what he was going to do. I cried. In a world where integrity of belief means nothing, vows only matter when they are convenient, and darkness abounds, he was a silent and willing beacon of light. That beacon of light left the building. We all should be moved to tears by such dedication and devotion. We won’t be. One of the first reactions in fact came from one of our supposed brothers in the UCC. You can read it here. Take notice of his blurb under his profile picture which reads “United Church of Christ member who believes we work best as a big tent denomination. It just happens to be that the left side of the tent is more equal!” He formerly was a field organizer for Reconciling Ministries and held music directing positions in the UMC. It appears he is still grinding his ax. One can not help but wonder if this is the sentiment from this particular segment of the church.

As Rev. Smith tried to quietly leave, a woman stood up asking him not to, then telling him not to leave yet. She began well enough with saying that no one wanted him to leave….then she proceeded to tell him all about how he was wrong, in numerous disrespectful ways. The Bishop allowed this to go on for no discernible reason other than to humiliate a man who had the integrity to do what those who spread chaos and discord, including now the presiding Bishop of NEAC, will not. The man just made what was undoubtedly one of the most difficult decisions of his life, and a Bishop let someone dress him down for it and insult him on the way out. That is shameful. The Bishop got a standing ovation for allowing all of this to happen but the man who deserved the accolades left not in the humble silence that he intended, but rather to the jeers of an onlooker. The goats were praised while the sheep left the room. Yes it is harsh. Yes I meant it.

Let’s call this sort of behavior what it actually is. It is evil. Deep, spiritual evil. When a man (or woman for that matter, but in this case a man) of conviction and integrity voluntarily leaves the church he made a vow to God through because he can no longer serve there in good conscience, he deserves our praise, not jeers. When we look at those who act with integrity to uphold their vows, and when rendered unable to do so by the authority set above them leave, for the sake of the body and themselves, we should cheer them and reflect on what they have shown us. When we jeer at them we are not the sheep eagerly trying to follow the Good Shepherd, we are the goats consuming all in our path. Inevitably, we will forget Rev. Smith’s name. We will forget the names of all involved I imagine. What we can not do is forget the example of integrity and dignity that we were shown. What we can not forget is how it was reacted to.

Rev. Smith is my hero. He made the only choice that a person of integrity could make in the circumstances. He did so explaining why simply and without flourish. No harsh words or biting tone. He did so with respect and dignity and was treated, and allowed to be treated, like a villain by those around instead of like the hero he is. Even if you agree with what the resolution says, if you can not see this as an act of integrity and honesty, then you are a part of the problem. At the end of this nothing has really changed, the evil is still there and no one will remember his name…no one but me. He’s my hero after all. God bless you wherever the road takes you Rev. Smith. Thank you.

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20 Replies to “My hero”

  1. Thank you for this account, Joel. When I first read about Pastor Smith’s action on Twitter, I presumed he was an elder. I read that as he walked out he spoke and prayed with the two bishops who were present, and I hoped that they were discussing the possibility of finding a new position for him in another conference. Now that I know he was a liscensed local pastor, I realize that THAT is probably not the case. I’m hoping that he has other employment beyond the church that will meet his financial needs.

    You are right. He is a hero, and a champion of Christian orthodoxy. I hope others in similar situations will demonstrate comparable faithfulness, for the glory of God. If we don’t Wesleyan Christianity will cease to exist. I promised to be loyal to the United Methodist Church, but I am unable to do so when I see sin redefined, and Wesleyan holiness cast by the wayside.

  2. I am an ordained Nazarene Chaplain not Methodist but we are brothers and sisters and my heart ache s for my many Methodist friends. Is there any way we can support him?

    1. I do not know. I have never met him personally. Should I hear anything however, I will put it in a comment to this blog. OF course we can pray for what comes next for him.

  3. Integrity and accountability. They are getting as out of focus as statesman becoming politicians being guided by lobbyists.

  4. Assuming you were watching the proceedings via the live feed, I’m wondering if the live feed gave you a distorted impression of the atmosphere in the session you are reporting on. But as one who was there, I can say that little of the ill will you seemed to think was thick in the air was present. No one who spoke against this motion was “shouted down,” if by that you mean that they were not allowed to continue. Verbal displeasure was expressed at the comments by one person, but that was the only response that would come even close to someone being “shouted down.” Further, there were absolutely no jeers from the gathered body in response to Pastor Smith’s announcement. I might not have said what the sister who spoke after Pastor Smith’s announcement said, but I certainly did not hear her words as “dressing him down,” or being “disrespectful.” Rather, she shared a witness from her own experience of coming to understand the pain and struggle of LGBTQI folks experience in their lives. In my view, she was not strident or scolding, but simply testifying. Again, it might not have been the time or place, but your imputation of evil intent is, in my view, overstated. Obviously, you disagree with the action taken by our conference, and you are certainly entitled to do so. But to paint the actions of those who are in the overwhelming majority voting in favor of the resolution in such an uncharitable way is neither accurate or helpful.

    1. Really! Majority voting has repeatedly upheld scripture and shot down Hersey. An entire annual conference just broke Covenant and in so doing has chosen to split from the global church. An exaggeration? Well the majority has spoken clearly.

    2. The language used when one gentleman tried to speak came through quite clear on the live feed. It included such flattering things as liar, homophobe, bigot, and hater. After such he simply went and sat down. No sure what else to call that. Perhaps verbal intimidation or something similarly less flattering.
      The gentlewoman who rose to speak began by addressing the pastor entreating him to stay and such, then made a direct comparison (I used to think like you but) and finished with if you only would get to know people, etc. Without even commenting on the content of what she said and the logical fallacies it contained, it see,s very clear that the comments were directed at him and not simple a testimony. When I am delivering a testimony, it is about me, not me compared to someone else whom I disagree with to show my superiority over them.

  5. Someone please educate me because I really don’t understand. How can MEF provide funding for students who are not in a United Methodist candidacy process? NEAC and NYAC by their own admission do not offer a UM candidacy process but have developed their own. Funding students in those conferences seems no different than misappropriating funds to support Southern Baptist candidates. Or do we do that?

  6. Great piece Scott, thank you for sharing.
    Yes, Pastor is a hero. Perhaps when all the heroes leave and there is nothing but a shell left, the eyes will be opened.

  7. Scott,

    To answer the question about the 30 day rule for declarations of law:

    These are written legal briefs that must take into account the actions of the annual conference and the entirety of both the BoD and relevant Judicial Council decisions. It is then published to the conference and sent for Judicial Council review.

    These things take time to write, especially in years like this when bishops are also dealing with preparation for Jurisdictional Conferences (less than 30 days from now).

    In effect when something is put under this kind of review, its implementation is put on hold pending the bishop’s written ruling. While it is possible to implement a reviewed action the bishop declares legal, if there is any question about that finding, it is generally deemed unwise to do so until Judicial Council has acted, as it may do in October if this makes its docket, or next April if it does not.

    So, in our polity, any actions taken in response to actions whose episcopal disposition will ultimately be reviewed by Judicial Council review are probably premature.

    I do not know whether the local pastor who resigned at the annual conference session was aware of how our polity works on these matters.

    1. Thank you. I do not pretend to know his motives or understandings of course. If it were me, I would have (hopefully) done the same, not out of ignorance of the process, but rather out of the understanding that in a very real way my AC had decided that me living out my vow was not desirable there, and if the AC continues in it’s succession that living out my vow would become impossible.

  8. 2 cents worth.
    Hyperbole to make a point. Good argument. But hyperbole.

    Webster’s definition:
    a : a mythological or legendary figure often of divine descent endowed with great strength or ability
    b : an illustrious warrior
    c : a man admired for his achievements and noble qualities
    d : one who shows great courage
    a : the principal male character in a literary or dramatic work
    b : the central figure in an event, period, or movement

    I would say, an individual who made a decision about a career change. You switch jobs because you:
    1. Don’t get along with your organization.
    2. Don’t get along with your supervisor.
    3. You don’t get along with the people you work with.
    4. You are offered a better job elsewhere.
    5. You need to re-locate for personal reasons.
    6. You REALLY get ticked-off at something at work, make a rash decision, and quit. But you make your choice. You live with it. And, you end up getting another job somewhere else.

    “Hero”, does not fit the description of quitting current job, and moving on, and getting another job someplace else, regardless of the motivation to quit.

    1. If you only think of bring a pastor as a job, then not only can you not understand the post, but you are at odds with how the church, and Jesus, see what being a Pastor actually is.
      Ҧ 143. Employment Status of Clergy
      Ministry in the Christian church is derived from the ministry of Christ (¶ 301). Jesus makes it clear to us that he is a shepherd and not a hireling (John 10:11-15). Similarly, United Methodist clergy appointed to local churches are not employees of the local church, the district, or the annual conference. It is recognized that for certain limited purposes such as taxation, benefits, and insurance, governments and other entities may classify clergy as employees. Such classifications are not to be construed as affecting or defining United Methodist polity, including the historic covenants that bind annual conferences, clergy, and congregations, episcopal appointive powers and procedures, or other principles set forth in the Constitution or the Book of Discipline (see e.g., ¶¶ 301; 328-329; 333-334; 338; 340). In addition, any such classifications should be accepted, if at all, only for limited purposes, as set forth above, and with the full recognition and acknowledgment that it is the responsibility of the clergy to be God’s servants.”

      1. You are right. I do look at being a pastor as a job. Not to minimize it. Being a doctor is also a job. But doctors save lives. Pastors, I assume, also can save lives. But they all still get a salary, health care, pensions. Doctors change jobs. Pastors change jobs. If the pastor was fired, I’d have a major complaint. He voluntarily quit. For whatever reason. So, for me, he made a life career decision. We all do the same thing throughout our lives. No more a hero than a doctor going from an HMO to private practice.

  9. A terrific story of someone who followed his convictions. It’s nearly impossible to criticize someone for making a principled decision.

  10. There may be hyperbole in this piece, but it in no way exceeds that of the folks who are driving the voting of the NEAC. Further, Jesus never said not to respond to hyperbole with hyperbole. 🙂 Thanks, Scott.

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