Time to go

Let-GoNOTE: I made a mistake in the body of this. I combined a sitting Bishop and the statements made from the General Conference and a newly elected Bishop who shares those views into one person. I am sorry for that mistake. This is what you get for writing without sufficient coffee. Rather than rewriting the piece, I will make that note here.
After a little over a year of discernment, Mary and I have decided that it is best for our family if we leave the UMC. I mention the time frame because I want anyone who is bothering to read this to understand that is was not a snap decision, nor a decision based on one singular event. In short, this is not a reactionary move, it is a thought out and prayed over move. I am going to go over a few of the reasons here so that anyone who cares knows why, but also as my final attempt to demonstrate what I have often said about how the situation in the UMC affects the laity who happen to think as I and my family do.

The first reason is mine alone and it has to do with online interactions. Now let’s be honest about a couple of things from the start. Pretty much all of us have made a comment online that we regret. Pretty much all of us have gotten heated and spoken out of turn. While not a good thing, it is a very human thing. I am not talking about those times when a person gets heated in a passionate debate. I am talking about consistent combative behavior that is rude, uncalled for, and quite honestly mean spirited. I am also talking about pastors in the UMC. When I went and looked through my block list, which is not terribly extensive mind you, what I found were pastors. All of them, save one. When I started looking back at those who had treated me the worst I found pastors were the vast majority. Now I want to be clear here as well, I have been treated kindly by many pastors as well, in truth by the majority that I have interacted with, but the minority is sizable enough that I really want no part of it. It is a poor reflection of the state of the church when one can not enter into a Methodist conversation without the expectation of being called names by a Methodist pastor. It is a poor reflection of the state of the church when one can not enter into a Methodist conversation without the expectation of being told by a pastor to go to the SBC, not because that would be a better theological fit for you mind you, but because they find it to be a hate filled and bigoted organization and you belong there. It is a poor reflection when you are told that the hope is that no one who holds your theological views stays in the church…especially when your theological views are in line with the church. Pastors telling you to go because you agree with the church. The amount of dysfunction that exists in that is staggering. How long before that ends up spilling over to Mary or to the boy? I won’t wait for that.

The second reason has to do with our family. The UMC can not decide what it believes. I understand that there is one voice, the General Conference. I understand that voice has spoken. I understand that voice has been killed by the cancer of hyper individualism that says what I believe is the primary concern and to hell with what the church teaches. I am tired of ridiculous taglines and mottos. It’s time, just because it is the majority does not make it right (for the record, just because it is the minority does not make it right either), love wins, unity does not mean uniformity, etc. They serve no purpose. For the love of all that is holy, we are supposed to be a church with a deep theological tradition, not some political rally where the only things of substance can fit on a piece of poster board as a protest sign. For that matter, I am tired of the protests. I am not categorically opposed to change. I am not opposed to protest as a vehicle for change in civil society, in fact I embrace and welcome it. We are not civil society but we sure look like it. At various times our General Conference looked more like a protest in town square than a meeting of the church to determine it’s future. It’s a sign of rot that the best we can do is look like the rest of the world. I refuse to try and raise a family in that sort of environment within the church.

The third reason has to do with the lies. There are lots of them. A bishop was just elected who, from the pulpit while preaching at the General Conference, under what was claimed to be the guidance of the Holy Spirit, told a bold faced lie about church teaching. Bishops are elected for the whole church. That means this is my bishop. That means that one (and if truth be told more than one as several have made the same claims) of my Bishops has claimed the Holy Spirit has told them to lie. I refuse to believe that the Holy Spirit will ever call on a person to slander the Bride of Christ with lies. I also refuse to be a part of a denomination that not only allows it, but in many places celebrates it as prophetic and holy. If you happened to be an outsider from a different denomination, and I told you that the Holy Spirit had instructed several of the UMC Bishops to lie and slander the Bride of Christ, I doubt that you would believe it. In fact, I hope that you would (gently or not) set me straight on how absolutely ludicrous that claim is. When one is charged with defending the doctrine of the church and chooses to lie about the doctrine of the church to do so, it is not only a poor reflection of the church, it is not only slandering the Bride of Christ, it is a sign of an internal rot that will only spread unless cut away. There is no indication that we will do that and in fact, we have allowed it to continue.

The final reason is the theology. We don’t have one. Not really. The guardians of our doctrine don’t even believe it, so how can we? We don’t agree on what scripture even is half of the time. We allow pastors to deny the historic truth and understanding of the Trinity, we allow pastors to reject Articles of Religion, we allow pastors to preach contrary to our standards of faith and we do it all in the name of theological diversity. We have degraded ourselves to the point that we now need reform. How Wesley would be pained if he knew that his reform movement was now that in need of reform. We need to be about fulfilling the great commission. We can not do that. How can we teach what Christ has taught when there is constant and vitriolic disagreement over just what that is and just what that means? How can I, in good conscience, be a part of the church where that is the case?

There you have it. There are more reasons of course, some of them personal, some of them larger than that. We will not leave the church catholic, but we will leave the UMC. Most likely we will not leave the Wesleyan tradition as I still believe it is the best expression of Christianity that there is. I just don’t think that the UMC can continue in that tradition with what we have allowed for. Individuals in certainly can, as can churches within it, but the denomination can not. The connection is not broken. What is broken can be fixed, the connection is demolished. It has been a slow destruction, but it has finally happened. We have not reached a tipping point, we have passed it. At best we are grasping for branches on our way down the cliff face. It pains me that this is the last time I will get to use “we” in a posting, as one of the great comforts of my life has been the ability to do that in reference to the UMC. The connection let me do that. Since the connection is destroyed, there is no more we. I don’t expect much in the way of comment, there really is not much to comment on. I hope that in reading this, you do reflect and realize what it is doing to others however. While I am pained that I can no longer be apart of the solution, I do pray that you all find one that is faithful to the scripture. We will still be brothers and sisters in Christ, we just won’t live in the same house any longer. That seems to be the best thing. Peace.

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31 Replies to “Time to go”

  1. I’m sorry that this is where your discernment process has led you. I pray for God’s best as you and your family seek to write a new chapter with Christ about what it means to live out your faith.

  2. I regret the loss for the church and hope you will continue to post on your journey. Would rather if you could wait a month. Perhaps you have concluded that the WCA will be as toothless as I fear it may be. I know how hard and hurtful this decision is because I am not far behind you, and I am a pastor. The date of decision for me appears to be October 7. I will be in Chicago at great sacrifice for me, my family, and my church. If I find that after spending a thousand dollars and traveling a thousand miles all we are offered is another one of 25 years worth of erudite position statements–if all we hear is the incessant echo of forty years worth of “wait and see…give the bishops room…let the process work…” then you are right: This is not fixable. If the gathering happens to be courageous enough to accept that there will be a cost to reform and establish at least a time line for particular corrective action, then I will risk another year or two for implementation.
    God bless you and your family. Keep in touch.

    1. I have some hope that the WCA can perhaps do something. I do have issues with them, just not theological ones. Primarily, I have little interest in being involved with a group I can not afford. I simply can not afford a trip to Chicago. Second, and related, I have serious issues with a group claiming to be in the Wesleyan tradition charging membership dues to belong to. The homeless guy down the road would be welcomed at a class meeting so long as he was faithful. He is not welcome to be a member of the WCA because he can not afford it. If he isn’t welcomed, then neither am I. The WCA may well be able to preserve the right teaching of Wesleyan theology in the UMC, but I am very concerned it will do so with the movers and shakers instead of the little folk like me. I hope I am wrong and fear that I am correct.

  3. I’m sorry for your leaving, but understand completely. I experience the same frustrations, the same online vitriol from liberal pastors, the same issues regarding doctrine. I’ve thought of leaving, but sense God’s call to stay and fight for Truth with a capital T (for now). In a month I’ll be in Chicago, hoping, praying and working for the WCA to be and do something more than another group with doctrinal statements, published laments, and “wait and see.” Please continue to pray for the UMC.

    1. States my case quite capably. We left the UMC recently after a name calling episode with a pastor (a one way conversation, having chosen not to disrupt an otherwise wonderful congregation). We found a home in a church that is Wesleyan and are moving on with our faith journey. The best to you in yours.

  4. Scott,
    I do not know you, and so I have very little room to speak into your life. I have read UnsettledChristianity for a while now through meeting Joel online only. I have always appreciated your measured words on this blog, and so I highly respect your discernment process as just that. Let me share a bit of what is going on with me that might be of value.
    I am an ordained elder in the UMC. I am ordained in the Central Texas Conference, and have been under appointment there for 15 years. For the past 9 years, I was appointed as the lead (only ordained) pastor of a church that worships about 250-300. I heard God calling me back to school, and so just earlier this month I moved my family (wife and 3 kids) to the Chicagoland area to attend a PhD program here. One of the major concerns and prayers I have had during this time is what my family and I would do as far as finding a local congregation to worship in. I am sad and disappointed to say that no UMC made the list of even a church we wanted to visit after doing preliminary research online. We have visited a few churches, and most likely will end up in an Anglican worshiping community here. I am sure this will raise some eyebrows, both within the larger UMC, and even within my conference.
    I have wrestled with similar issues that you have. But I remain Methodist. I remain committed to being faithful to the ordination (and before that membership) vows that I have taken. I am not leaving nor giving up on the UMC, or upon the doctrines I hold so dear. I am saying that in my geographic area there is no worshiping community of the UMC that I will willfully subject my family to (yes, I mean what I say in that sentence). I have jokingly thought to myself that if the Anglican Church was good enough for John Wesley, it should be good enough for me!
    I say this to offer empathy. I also say this to add a slightly different perspective. For me, I am not leaving the UMC. Far from it! It is the church I love and plan to be in until the day God calls me home. But, for these moments in time, part of my faithfulness to the UMC means worshiping with my family in a different local community. It doesn’t mean leaving. Perhaps it just means sojourning.

    1. Thank you for your words. Not being a pastor, I have no idea what that struggle is and won’t pretend to. It has to be difficult I imagine.
      I take the membership vows seriously. I believe them to be a covenant between my family and the church. Like any covenant relationship, it takes two (or more) parties to uphold it. The UMC has not upheld it’s end of the covenant. Most likely, we will find another church that is within the Wesleyan tradition to attend. Currently we are pondering Free Methodist and Wesleyan Methodist. As I said, I believe that Wesleyan theology is the best expression of Christianity, I intend to remain within that tradition. What I have seen in the UMC is not terribly Wesleyan however. Some, like yourself I assume, are indeed faithful to the doctrine and rule of the church. Others are not. This will always be the case I imagine. The difference is that those who are disobedient are now celebrated.

  5. My suggestion is remain officially in the UMC for awhile. But go attend a Salvation Army Corps church for a few weeks. I think you will find that it is Wesleyan, although they don’t do communion and baptisms. But other than that, Wesleyan and more evangelical. But headed by a General, so no local jurisdictions and bishops with differing opinions (officially – though every individual will be different, obviously). Although the U.S. Branch is even more conservative than the British branch. But still only one general.
    I found it was not for me (too conservative). You might find it OK for you and family. One advantage – they are all over the place, so should be easy to locate and commute to.

    If you don’t like it, you don’t lose anything other than a few weeks in attendance elsewhere. Actually, if you try it, you might want to blog about it. I’d be interested in you opinion of TSA.

    1. The corp does a lot of good in the world. It is precisely because they do not do baptism and communion that I will not attend however. There are two sacrament, baptism and communion. While I think that the corp does a lot of good, if you do not offer the sacraments, you are not a church.
      That said, the differing opinions of Bishops is not the problem. How the Bishops act in those differing opinions and the lies that some have told are the problem. When you lie about what the church says, it is not a different opinion, it is a lie. A falsehood. That is not about an opinion, but it is about blatantly unethical behavior. When you lie claiming you have done so because the Holy Spirit has told you too, it is blasphemy.

      1. The Salvation Army has a thing called going to the mercy seat, not really the same as communion, but maybe an individual replacement. As I remember, they do offer baptism in some special instances if a person really wants it. Not that they are against it. But maybe my memory isn’t what it use to be. They also do the small group bible study on weekdays at individual’s homes, that I think was a Wesley thing. But anyway, I hope you keep blogging to relate what alternatives you might find.

  6. I sympathize and in many ways I am wrestling with that same decision. And as an ordained elder of the UMC church, who has a long history of parents and grandparents in the UMC it is not an easy decision. Your words express even better than I can say, the main concern over what has happened to the UMC. Currently God has not yet stated definitively that I am to leave, but I have started to sense that may be the case and I know of other pastors who are also prayerfully seeking God’s direction in this. The Free Methodist and Wesleyan churches in my opinion are also the churches I would be looking into if I did depart, as I value their theology and church practice.

  7. Scott, thanks for posting. So many people just leave and one never knows why. I appreciate that you have articulated your thoughts for the rest of us. Before GC2016 I actually contacted another Wesleyan denomination to see what would be required of me if I were to seek to transfer from the UMC into it and serve there. I was warmly received, but have elected to honor the holding pattern I feel was asked of us at GC 2016. That is my choice; I can understand why you might feel a need to act differently. In your shoes I might choose as you have.

    1. I agree that the connection is irreparably destroyed. Waiting to see what the bishops’ process does.

      God bless you and your family.

  8. Thank you for your honesty and sharing your views here. Prayers for you and yours. Saddened by the online abuse you suffered at the hands of UMC Pastors. I will be curious to see what the commission comes up with as we look to a new and possibly separate future for the UMC. God bless you and I hope you find a place that feels like home.

    Peace, Jeremy

    1. No Chicago. I can not afford the trip and I have enough concerns about how things are structured there that I am not personally comfortable with being a part of it.

  9. Scott,

    Writing as one pastor who is on your “blocked” list, I am sorry to hear that you have come to this decision, and that online interactions played any part in it. I am new to the online communities of which you are a part, only becoming aware of them in July, and so I don’t know what kinds of interactions you had over the previous year. I can tell you two things, though, based on my limited observations.

    One, it is rare that we readily identify each other online as clergy or laity. I think most of us, in conversation, are unaware of each person’s credentials…as a result, we generally speak to each other as we would anyone else we might encounter on the street. I know that I tend to treat every comment as though it is coming from a peer, and speak to everyone freely as such (for good or ill).

    Two, and please hear this with all gentleness, in my short time on the boards before you decided to block me, I experienced you as mocking, derisive, rude, and unkind. I don’t believe that is who you are; frustrating online interactions can sometimes bring out the worst in us. But in every conversation, I watched you belittle others and behave in ways that made constructive conversation nearly impossible. This isn’t to say that some people did treat you terribly; they certainly may have, outside my own experiences with you. What I witnessed, though, was people reacting negatively to your own behavior. Sometimes those negative reactions are an appropriate pastoral response when we witness someone (in this case, albeit unintentionally, yourself) mistreating others or behaving rudely.

    I am sorry that you found all of it hurtful and discouraging. And I don’t mean to minimize that hurt and discouragement, or to say that there weren’t pastors who did indeed treat you terribly. That may certainly be the case; it does happen. In my own very limited experience, I saw something different.

    Many, many blessings as you continue your journey of faith, in whatever form that may take.

    Much love,
    Dawn

    1. I have yet to see Scott as “mocking, derisive, rude, and unkind.” In fact, while Scott and I are different sides of issues at times, he has – before he knew me, even – treated me respectfully. My experience is that the progressives who can’t handle discussion, correction, or sound doctrine find those who offer what Christ told us to as exactly what you describe.

      But, they thought Jesus was an ass too.

    2. I am very rarely rude. I value politeness a great deal. What I have done, or attempted to do, is to voice the position of the church using the standards of faith the UMC recognizes supported by the teachings of the early fathers. If that is negative behavior so be it. Standing firm in belief is not a barrier to constructive conversation, but it is what we are all called to do in scripture.
      As for pastors identifying themselves, you actually did in our interactions. You personally as well as others were quite clear in explaining that you were pastors and much better educated than I am and therefor are correct. While you are indeed much better educated than I am, that does not make you correct. It does mean that I often need to rely more heavily on the knowledge of actual scholars in areas. I am ok with that. What you see as a negative reaction was, most often, a response to a valid, even if disagreed with, point of faith that could be, and was, backed up with UMC standards of faith. So again, if that is poor behavior, so be it. I am content with that. If writing in a polemic fashion is rude and negative behavior, then again, I am perfectly fine with that. I am in a lot of good company and am flattered. If pointing out beliefs that are heretical (in the classical sense meaning those things labeled anathema by the church catholic via the ecumenical councils) is rude and negative behavior, I am again ok with that.
      As a suggestion, when you say things like I don’t want to minimize the hurt, but…it pretty much means you want to minimize the hurt. I say this because you were one of those who kindly explained to me that when you say you love someone but actions they choose to perform are sinful, it negates the love. I am simple holding you to the standard that you set for me.
      I have yet to mistreat someone online. I am often sarcastic admittedly, and I am generally rather firm and blunt. That is not mistreatment. Saying that a person has a heretical belief is not poor treatment, it is the use of a word that has a definition. It is not a pleasant word to be sure, but it is an accurate one. To say someone has a heterodox belief is the same.
      All in all, what really amuses me is that you could have, if you felt the need, simply posted the final sentence in your response “Many, many blessings as you continue your journey of faith, in whatever form that may take.” but instead apparently had to take the opportunity for one last jab explaining that it is all my fault because I dared to stand firm and present and defend the doctrine of the church. How very appropriately pastoral of you.

      1. This exchange is an excellent real life illustration of the collapse of the connection you mentioned. There are clergy with whom I cannot have a conversation beyond the weather because my very beliefs, thoughts, and identity are offensive to them. I do not mean to offend them, but there is no language to use that would make the discusdion inoffensive. The situation is reciprocal.
        The COB admitted the failure of its proposed commission when it’s first step was to hire an outside babysitter (facilitator) with experience in multicultural arbitration. The bishops have no hope of finding 25 United Methodists who can have a civil conversation without insulting each other. This ought to inform us of the absurdity of compelling incompatible ideologies to live unde a common administration.

      2. 🙂 OK. I see that you never intended to be as difficult to talk with as you were. Please know that expressing a differing belief is not rude, mocking, derisive, or anything else. The behaviors I was referring to were not about expressing belief, criticizing other beliefs, or anything else…those kinds of things are exactly what we are about here, they are the whole reason that the forum exists. When I say that you mocked others and I observed it, it is because you mocked others and I observed it. My calling you on it a few times, in defense of whomever was the target at the time, is what appears to have triggered you to block me. I bring it up now not as a jab, but as a consideration that perhaps all that is currently driving you away from the UMC is not as it seems…perhaps it can be seen and solved another way. And to defend my fellow pastors and laity, so maligned…at least, the ones I experienced in my short conversational time with you. There is kindness throughout, and sincerity in the last line especially, because truth is best spoken in love, especially when it is bound to sting.

        I cannot imagine that I ever mentioned my own education or credentials, unless asked. Maybe I did, but I don’t remember it, and it would be very out of character for me to do so. We did bat around a lot of Bible stuff, I’m sure, where we traded bits of information and exegesis…but honestly, I doubt that I am in any way better educated than you are. All I have is a master’s degree, and I read a whole lot, as you do. As far as education, experience, intelligence, and faithfulness go, we appear to be about equal, from my perspective.

        Anyway. Good luck, Scott, and many blessings. Really.

        d

        1. Read through this thread.
          Take my word if you will that no fewer than seven pastors whom I do not know sent me private messages as well telling me they had experienced the same thing. That goes along with over a dozen other laity sending private messages as well. Those are folks not even on the forums offering support and understanding. At some point when you refuse to admit it is a problem and them try and turn it back on someone who actually speaks up about it, you become a part of the problem and not the solution.
          As for education, you have more than me. Your masters is a bit more than my High School diploma. You mentioned that as well. Out of character or not it was done.
          As to why it is that I chose to block you, it was due to the repeated jabs at how I lack love, the repeated accusations being exactly like the pharisees that Jesus spoke out against, including at one point suggesting I might be a part of the brood of vipers, and other such niceties.

          1. 🙂 OK. I think you may have me confused with someone else (or several someones) but who knows. Most of that sounds nothing like me — especially the touting of education and the brood of vipers thing — but I believe that someone certainly said and did those things to you. I may have mentioned certain belief systems being pharisaic, because they are…just as you call many belief systems heretical. Anyway, God knows that there certainly can be a lot of bitterness on the boards, and we all get frustrated with each other. It’s all good, I wish you all the best.
            d

          2. Sorry, quick question…if folks who are messaging you are not on the boards to see your interactions with people, then what are they offering support for?

  10. I, too, struggle with what to do. I realize that at times God tells different people to take different routes. My answer was, “No, not yet. Let’s see what happens next.” As a Wesleyan, I will continue to be counted on in this fight. As you follow God, it will be OK, wherever you land.

  11. Scott , I hate to hear this, but I do understand , especially when you consider you wife and son. I too have experienced the name calling and vitriol of clergy and laity for my traditional stand on marriage and sexuality. I am an Elder in the WV conference and I will stay in for at least another three and a half years at which time I can retire. Locally my congregation is solidly Biblical & Wesleyan. Locally I have no issues over the gay agenda. I am tired of putting out fires I didn’t start. Blessings on you and may God guide you into your new place of service and worship.

  12. I agree with all you have said as far as your reasons for leaving the church. Sadly I don’t see too many other main line churches I would want to affiliate with. It seems as if Liberal Protestantism as a whole is going down the tubes. It’s like jumping off the Titanic and onto the Lusitania.

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