The Methodist Middle or the Global Center?

On any given Sunday, United Methodist churches gather to worship God in nearly 60 nations around the globe. Across multiple time zones, languages and cultures, our tribe attempts to be a witness to Christ in a hurting world. The one entity – and the only entity — that speaks for that international witness is the General Conference, a global body. It is smack dab in the center of what it means to be United Methodist.

Regrettably, that body — and our United Methodist Church — is in a season of crisis. The Greek word krisis means “to separate, distinguish, judge,” and can apply to both positive and negative experiences. A crisis can be an opportunity to shake loose the needless and redeem the needful. I am convinced that all of us in the UM Church, no matter what theological position we take, are hoping for a positive end to a crisis-heavy season.

A group of clergy within our denomination have recently organized themselves under the banner of the Methodist Middle. For those of us supportive of the global Methodist center, we welcome these voices. This is a big denomination and everyone should have an opportunity to be heard.

It is charitably fair to assume that the Methodist Middle was not looking for a crisis. Who would? While they’ve been more hopeful, progressives and conservatives (or traditionalists or orthodox believers), have felt the pressure of a growing tension. Truth be told, those in the Middle have felt it, too, though in a different way. They’ve struggled to hold the tensions together in one hand and may even consider themselves the voice of tempered reason in a world of extremes. It must be frustrating to find themselves now — after years of asking us not to take sides — creating a “side.” As the Middle organizes and communicates with the average layperson, allow me to make a few observations and one appeal.

Unity can’t be the goal. 

First, it seems as if the Middle is asking the people in the pews to make theology less important than unity. To those who pay attention, it sounds as if the Middle wants the entire global denomination to adopt and/or accept a liberal position on human sexuality. In exchange, it seems, United Methodism would keep much of the rest of our theology in tact. By suggesting this path, the Middle seems to be reducing the crisis down to one issue — a mistake that would take us backward by several decades.

This kind of proposal turns a blind eye to the widening and pervasive theological gap that has been developing over decades. To say that orthodox believers only want to “win” on this one issue is to vastly over-simplify a long history of the erosion of our values. Likewise, to say that progressives are defined by this one issue alone is to ignore the depth and breadth of progressive theology — a worldview that influences how one views the Bible, humanity and even Divinity Itself, especially the divinity of Jesus as it pertains to his birth, death, resurrection and ascension.

For theologians — and all pastors are theologians — these distinctions matter, and not just to conservatives. They matter to anyone who has given their life and vocation to the work of caring for souls. It is damaging to everyone and to the work we take so seriously if we minimize all the theological differences and decide instead that for the sake of unity, we should reduce ourselves to a few simplistic and practical ideas.

Whether you are progressive, middle or conservative, what you believe matters. What you teach matters. Those things should not be minimized. This is the essence of our faith.

Whose Bible is it?

Second, my friends in the Middle are missing the opportunity to challenge the average layperson to really think about how they read the Bible. For instance, the Upper New York Annual Conference floated a resolution this year* condemning the work of the Wesleyan Covenant Association (of which I’m a member). Whatever their motivation, the statement they produced was actually very helpful in drawing the distinctions that exist among us. In their document they noted: “progressives/ liberals/ reconciling United Methodists use a faith paradigm that utilizes historical-critical biblical analysis, recognizes the Bible and the gospels as human products that are the result of historical processes, views much of the Bible as metaphorical with a more than literal meaning (a surplus of meaning) and looks to the Bible for what it can tell us about Jesus and God and the character of God that we are to emulate … ” Many progressives would go further to say that God’s revelation is not fixed but “progressive” — still unfolding and not bound by the tenets of scripture.

Upper New York had a point to make in their disapproval of the WCA, but let’s be clear: their take on the Bible does not speak for United Methodists worshipping in 60 nations around the globe. Their voice should not be dismissed; to the contrary, it needs to be placed in context. The Upper New York clergy who signed that statement have invested themselves into a fundamentally different perspective from an orthodox understanding of Scripture which views all of Scripture as true, using a variety of literary styles to convey that truth. We believe the Bible includes an historic account of God’s work in the world (conservatives use “faithful” to characterize our reading, rather than “literal”), and that it is Living Word and contains all that is needed for faith and life. The current crisis in the UM Church is an opportunity to deeply examine how we read the Bible, how we understand what it calls us toward, the power it has to guide us.

And central to that reading is what we do with Jesus.

Which Jesus do we follow?

“All intersections point to Jesus. We don’t know about His personal life – I believe that Jesus was Queer, Black and Poor.” That was the declaration of a United Methodist youth pastor at a “Gather at the River” conference hosted by a progressive group within the UM Church.

Although my Methodist Middle friends would cringe at the use of such an extreme example, please hear me out. This statement exposes the gravity of difference between two world views. To minimize these differences or to assume we can duct-tape them together with polity is to miss the mark and disrespect those who give their lives for precisely these kinds of beliefs.

The man who made this statement calls himself Methodist. So do I. But our understanding of Jesus (and Methodism, I’m guessing) couldn’t be further apart if we tried. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find a New Testament scholar anywhere on the spectrum who would define Jesus as Queer, Black and Poor. Actually, Jesus was a middle-eastern Jewish man, born into a specific context at a specific time in history. Orthodox believers assert that he came in order to do battle with the spiritual forces that created our fallenness. He is not a metaphor for all the good in the world. He was and is flesh-and-blood, mysteriously fully God and fully man. The resurrected and ascended Jesus — Son of the Living God — sits at the right hand of God the Father. He died and rose for the sake of breaking the power of sin and death. Sinless himself, he is on the side of the sinner – queer, straight, black, white, poor, rich. He has compassion for the one who is oppressed. He has a preference for the poor, but he is not some nebulous idea or Transformer toy who becomes who we need him to be, even when those needs are contradictory from person to person.

If we refuse to acknowledge these vast differences in belief, we are actually refusing to hear each other. We are the like the co-dependent mother who refuses to believe any of her children might do anything wrong. It simply isn’t healthy. The Middle may mean well, but good lay people in congregations around the country deserve to understand that this crisis is more than just a struggle to agree on one issue or get along like children in the back seat of a car. They deserve a clear explanation of the deep theological differences so they can claim an educated spot on the spectrum and not just an emotional one.

To offer them anything less would be, in my estimation, irresponsible discipleship.

Whose fault is it? 

There is a misconception that the conservative wing is fixated on preserving the past but nothing could be further from the truth. The fact is that the past has been institutionalized and even petrified. Conservatives and progressives alike are hungry to move forward. It is which direction forward we’re debating. As we have come to realize, there is a tremendously important distinction between the global center of Methodism and the progressive-leaning Methodist Middle found regionally in the U.S.

So … do we change to accommodate a world no longer in step with many American United Methodists or with the American culture at large? Or do we commit to holding a theological line at our global center, refusing to cross over into territory not in keeping with historic Christianity, the theological principles of the Book of Discipline as they stand, or global, orthodox Christianity?

These questions shape our current crisis and are forcing us out of stagnation. It makes me wonder if God himself is the author of this crisis; if so, we ought not to avoid it.

But it seems so simple … 

Many will hear the voice of the Methodist Middle with a sigh of relief. It seems to make the issue so clear and simple. “Yes! Can’t we just agree to disagree on this one issue and still live together?” Those with that hope will gather in the Middle and wait for the storm to pass.

What those hopeful souls are missing is that their choice to place their confidence in this group will eventually lump them together with the vast majority of progressives in the United States who will also embrace the ethos of the Middle. The average Methodist who just wants their church to stay the same won’t see how their choice may send them over the edge into a progressive world they didn’t sign on for.

And this is my appeal to my friends in the Methodist Middle. It is a plea for full disclosure. In your conversations with local congregations, please don’t hold back from telling the whole story. Please don’t reduce our current crisis to something akin to a paper cut needing a bandaid when it is more like a canyon-sized gap. By minimizing the differences, we may stifle a crisis that is actually our opportunity — if we’re bold enough to accept change as a good thing — to give clearly unique theological positions a chance to live with more integrity and to prove themselves by their fruit.

According to the Scripture, after the ascension of Jesus, the disciples began to preach boldly this good news about the Messiah and it enraged the Pharisees. They decided they would stifle it by killing Jesus’ followers. They might have succeeded early on, but Gamaliel appealed to their higher nature. He reminded them of others who had popped up with innovative ideas, only to see them eventually fizzle out. Given those experiences, Gamaliel urged his colleagues to let the theology do its work. “If their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail,” he said. “But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God” (Acts 5:38b-39).

My friends in the Methodist Middle, let the theology do its work. Let’s be honest about the diverse collection of differences we now share and consider the way forward that best preserves both the integrity of United Methodism and the freedom of those who no longer fit comfortably within this tradition.

Again I say, let the Holy Spirit do His work.

 

*An earlier version of this post stated that this resolution passed. That is my error. I understand it was narrowly defeated, replaced by a revised resolution denouncing schism. The point stands: there is a segment of United Methodist leaders who believe in the statement mentioned enough to promote it to their conference. Their resolve further illuminates the theological diversity.

Carolyn Moore

I follow Jesus within the communities of Mosaic Church, Asbury Seminary and the Moore household.

41 thoughts on “The Methodist Middle or the Global Center?

  1. Thank you, Carolyn. I grew up in the autonomous Southern Baptist Church and sat through countless hours with fellow deacons debating our church’s policies on everything from alcohol consumption to homosexuality, and from the behavior expected from deacons to preachers. (Our family didn’t cancel our planned trip to Disney World the year the SBC voted to boycott Disney.) Our rules were created by the loudest and most persistent voices in the room.

    I was not born into a Methodist family. My family and I made a decision to identify ourselves as Methodist because there is a Middle.

    In any discussion or point of view I take, I like to remind myself that I am a sinner saved by grace. …Makes it difficult to assign value to one sin over another. I spent most of my life doing just that.

  2. Carolyn,

    When this conversation, controversy, call it what you will, finally hits the mainline laity in the form of decisions to be made, I think that you will see an exodus of members (and their money) to the new evangelical churches the likes of which North America has never seen. I have always felt as though we should stay and battle for Truth. But, I will not give my tithe to further something that I feel that God has been very clearly against. Just to be clear. I am talking about openly gay ordained clergy. My nephew is gay and I love him. But, I would never support his move to the ministry. I am not saying anything profound here. Just what I think (and many others). Others disagree. Thats ok. But there are consequences for defying God. We miss you and think of you often. Mark

  3. Carolyn, a colleague referred to this article on Facebook. As a member of the Upper New York Annual Conference, I know the person who made this motion. You make a pretty strong claim about the maker of this petition, who is a lay person. Have you contacted that person to be in dialogue? I should also state that this motion was brought by this lay person on behalf of a church committee and was not submitted by any clergy, so I’m a bit confused and concerned about that as well.

  4. Rubbish,middle road?? global center??? are we at the temple bargaining with the money changers & vendors?? Those that JESUS so rightully called out. This reminds me of Rev 3:16 ( So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.) To suggest An existence of a “MIDDLE ROAD” is I feel denial of the truth,,either GODS word is GODS word or its not,this also questions his divinity. (“All intersections point to Jesus. We don’t know about His personal life – I believe that Jesus was Queer, Black and Poor.” That was the declaration of a United Methodist youth pastor at a “Gather at the River” conference hosted by a progressive group within the UM Church.) I don’t even know how to respond to such excrement as the last statement.If one knows God & his word then you know about JESUS personal life. As documented many in the last day’s will twist the word & tell us what our tickling ears want to hear & many false doctrines,,,all this I feel taught & pushed upon us in the form of tolerance,exception & understanding. No wonder I left the UMC.

  5. Carolyn: I enjoyed reading your post and have been thinking like this for a couple years now.

    While I have only been United Methodist for a few years, so I can not speak definitively about the church, but the idea of “just can’t we all agree” certainly founds it origins in the ecumenical movement of the 20th century that, for United Methodists, culminated in the merger that made the United Methodist church. While well-intended, earlier ecumenical movements so emphasized what is shared at the exclusion of what distinguished others. It contributed in part to the idea that I heard express frequently amongst lay people through many years of my life in the church: “it doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you love Jesus.” It produced a conciliatory attitude, but it also did something else: it didn’t simply say that your faith and love in Jesus was most important; it evolved into the notion that that is all that was important at all. It morphed even more-so into a more generic, unity of psychological experience that we all experience this broad notion we call love, faith, community, connectedness, etc. At its more extremes points, the “can’t we all get along” trope leads us to value as the grounds of unity a basic commonality of our own human nature that we just happen to, in some unspecified way, connect to Jesus. We are united by, to put in Pauline terms, our flesh or in later philosophical terminology, our own, common, universal human nature.

    The net effect is that institutions that continued to use this conciliatory approach, as in the mainline, overlooked the importance the specific content of our faith actually has for people and missed the impact the NT assigns to doctrines beyond the beginnings of Gospel of the cross (1 Corinthians is an example of that). Furthermore, such rhetoric leads us to try to be united based upon our universal humanness and not necessarily any common Spiritual formation. Conciliatory attitudes are great for keep a wide swath of people together and so they have a lot of rhetorical and institutional power, but it disconnects us from the reality of the impacts specific points of faith have on us personally AND direct our attention away from the evidence of God’s work to simply a common psychological experience.

    But to bring forth a pattern of honesty amongst our Methodist tribe will entail leaders who will model the honesty with as close to the fullness of grace and truth that they can, even in the face of relenting pressue and accusatory rhetoric. To engage in the thoughtful yet respectful conversation on our differences and to bring to light the deeper realities of our heart with all genuineness, kindness, and integrity is a threat because of fear of what others might do. Some of it is a fear of rejection, but for others, it is a deeper, more pervasive fear of the loss of control of people, and in perhaps more suspect cases, their resources. By bringing to truth our differences of hearts and mind and not letting those differences be minimized as unimportant, it does risk the foundations of what has been built on the foundation of the conciliatory attitude.

    Plus, as an aside, if we want the laity to own the ministry and mission of the Church, they should not be treated as a bank account that we encourage to give for some cause or as glorified free labor to volunteer in the causes we as clergy want them to, but we need to let them truly engage in the theological functions of the Church and to hear these ideas fully and know about them (albeit, not with the sometimes esoteric language of our seminary-trained lexicon). But in so far as we make theological education in more conciliatory contexts as some secondary, unimportant notion compared to our *experience* of faith (whereas theology is the understanding of our faith), we cut them out. Beyond simply dealing with the tensions latent within the leadership of the United Methodist church, a thoughtful, honest declaration of our theological foundations can bring the laity involved into the whole life of faith. But in so far as we treat it as something to avoid speaking too much on for fear of tension, conflict, rejection, or loss of control, we take away from their ownership alongside cheapen the meaning and importance of faith and the specific things we believe in.

    1. Amen. The UMC has largely conditioned it’s laity to be monetary contributors instead of Spirit-filled disciples and it’s clergy to be fund raisers instead of true pastors who care for God’s flock. The UMC is going to reap what it has sown for many years. But faithful pastors, churches, and Christians who have kept the main thing the main thing will do just fine and flourish.

      We need leadership . . . period. We have people leading who have no idea what they are doing. Personally, I would do and do now all that I can do to help people do real Christian ministry in the real world. But some of our leaders are just too proud to be taught or too stiff-knecked to change. But thank God, change is coming.

      1. When you say that our leaders “have no idea what they’re doing,” do you have specific people in mind or are you reacting to a general narrative about incompetent bishops? When you go off on “incompetent leadership,” it sounds about as charitable and sympathetic as I’m being when I talk about The White Male.

  6. Carolyn, this is a thoughtful contribution to the conversation that is the lead up to General Conference 2019 from which we’ll hopefully arrive at a way forward. If God has God’s way, it will be at least partly attributable to the work of the Commission on a Way Forward. But, in my judgment, this kind of conversation will contribute at least as much to our effort as the work of the Commission.

    I support the formative Methodist Middle movement, whatever it ends up calling itself, and whereas I don’t see organic unity as the ultimate value for a Christian, I don’t think any Christian is any more at liberty to ignore the Gospel call for unity than she is the Love Commandment. They have the same source.

    I don’t think it is true that all of us who are supportive of the Methodist Middle are closet Progressives. In fact, it seems to me that such labels as applied to individuals are only useful piecemeal. I support full inclusion of LGBTQ people in the life and ministry of the UMC, but I also oppose abortion on demand, oppose banning private ownership of handguns and other firearms, support free enterprise, oppose collective solutions to economic problems, support Just War Theory as opposed to Pacifism, do not support a single payer health care system for the USA, support responsible development of all energy resources–including coal, oil, and natural gas, and I don’t believe that government is the answer to all economic and social problems. I can only be labeled as a Progressive if ones view of the Progressive-Traditionalist divide is dichotomous based solely on a view on the inclusion of LGBTQ people in the UMC. And I am not alone! A church that looks like the Methodist Federation for Social Action would NOT be a church where I could find a home.

  7. I am almost 70 years old and am not (REV). Roman16:17-20 “I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching that you have learned. Keep away from them, for such persons are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talking and flattery they deceive the minds of naïve people……I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil. ”
    I have one book that all my life depends upon, The Bible. Interesting we need to brand where people stand- yet the ones who point me to Christ and help me take Him out to others is what I and many others need. Some many not like this, but if (United) Methodists from all the other countries point me to Christ alone- I shall call them to come and preach the Word to me and any one else that wants to come is welcome. I am a lay person, I come to learn about the real Christ and how to serve Him in the mess we call life. But I also want a Christ that is applicable to all people. Sorry, just one of the persons sitting in a pew; trying to grab hold of Christ; and yet see many who are wanting to find Him ( adding a denomination is optional and sometimes works better if not pushed).

  8. Carolyn,
    I invite you to compare and contrast the radical left AND the radical right within the UMC. One can find statements from both extremes that distract us from the conversation that needs to happen with the 90% in between. Morgan (who posted above) has a blog post somewhere that does a great job explaining how someone who clearly identifies as progressive also holds any number of orthodox beliefs.

    I would counter your plea for the middle to abandon the progressives with the exact same argument in the exact opposite direction. I do not want to be in a denomination that denies the divinity of Christ. Nor do I want to be in a denomination that insists on a fundamentalist reading of Scripture. One can find voices that espouse both of those beliefs. And in fact, much like American politics, the middle is needed to hold extremes in check.

    1. Thanks David, I agree. I am not a “member” of Methodist Middle, But I identify. For years I have described my feelings concerning the ongoing theological divide as “being the rope in a tug-o-war.” Those of us in the middle are NOT in danger of falling in the abyss of the progressive movement. But we are tired – exhausted!!

  9. Thanks Carolyn for your thoughtful blog. If the way forward proposal provides ecclesial space for moderates I would surmise this new body would move quickly to constitutionally guarantee freedom of conscience on this question of human sexuality for individual members and congregations. The typical UM will have no need to fear being pushed beyond their convictions. One of the aims of a middle Methodist church would be to offer a counter witness to this wider cultural marked by deep polarization. That witness being our unity in Jesus Christ is far deeper than our opinions on this one question of human sexuality. Such a branch of the new Methodism would make amply space for any Methodist (progressive, traditionalist, or centrist) who is interested in offering this counter witness to a fractured world.

  10. Great article, Carolyn. A few years after I graduated from ATS, I wrote a paper for a theological discussion group titled, “The War of World Views in the UMC.” Leaning on Francis Schaeffer, John Oswalt, Jerry Walls, David Thompson, Catherine Stonehouse, Ben Witherington & others, I could clearly see this divide. My bishop even used this very line of reasoning with me: Can’t we all just get along? I fired back, “So now our greatest value is unity? Above Scripture, theology & our Discipline?” It’s been going on for many years. So glad to see others embracing the War. God bless you, Carolyn!

  11. Carolyn, I really appreciate your post, but I don’t understand how your conclusion that:

    “What those hopeful souls are missing is that their choice to place their confidence in this group will eventually lump them together with the vast majority of progressives in the United States who will also embrace the ethos of the Middle. The average Methodist who just wants their church to stay the same won’t see how their choice may send them over the edge into a progressive world they didn’t sign on for.”

    Isn’t ironic given the context of your following admonition from Gamaliel. To disparage by casting fearful predictions of a leftist decline into nihilism the hope of those who would through faith would seek to hold the church together while simultaneously maintaining that you hold a faith that the middle should ultimately fail if not from God seems irreconcilable.

    It seems to me reconciliation either through a split or unity will only come through faith, hope and love. I do appreciate the quote from Acts, if we lose our love for one another to where we can’t consider the hope other positions because of a fear of what we might lose, then we have already lost.

  12. You know that you and I share many instincts and have far more in common than the one issue on which we disagree. When a queer youth says Jesus is poor, black, and queer, they’re not saying he wasn’t a historical figure in a particular context with a particular mission. They’re saying he’s not the Renaissance-era Italian aristocrat they see in all of the paintings that hang in our churches. They’re speaking metaphorically about the solidarity they experience from Jesus. While I could make a case for each adjective they used, I would not speak that way myself and I think that if that’s the totality of someone’s gospel, they have a lot more to learn.

    My role in the progressive wing of the church is to say all the things you’ve rightly attributed to orthodox Christian teaching while separating them from the moralization of normality. It is indeed true that too many progressives make the celebration of difference the whole game, which is why I’m trying to speak out about the real holiness that isn’t a culture war slogan but the means of becoming a vessel of God’s mercy. When “orthodox” is perceived to be a code-word for white middle-class self-validation, orthodoxy is blasphemed and the progressives cannot hear anything about the gospel you’re preaching other than your rejection of those who are different and your caricature of their views as outside the bounds of anyone you want to share a church with. You say many beautiful things that people in my camp will never hear because there are others in your camp who speak almost exclusively in scorn.

    Instead of trying to scare moderates with quotes from crazy progressives, what if you engaged those quotes from a posture of curiosity and tried to figure out where Christ can be found in the people who said them? Where are people coming from who speak in such a way? What is right about their hearts? What can be lovingly said to nudge them into a richer understanding of the gospel? I’m trying to do the converse of that by reading through Joel Heidinger’s Theological Liberalism and the Decline of American Methodism. I’m going to start blogging through it soon with the hope of practicing better conversation rather than playing theological gotcha.

    As for the condemnation of WCA by the Upper NY annual conference, I wholeheartedly disagree and I’m very glad that you are part of their leadership because God has made it obvious to me that you are listening to the Spirit. Whatever happens, we need to ask God to show us what ecclesial structure will enable us to most effectively reach all the various mission fields to which the Spirit has called us rather than letting fear and spite be the foundation of our church’s decisions. Jesus has taken the blame for every sin we’ve committed against each other so that we can think pragmatically rather than punitively about how to move forward in a way that most effectively builds his kingdom in very different contexts. Chris Ritter’s ideas give me hope that there might be openness on your side to some kind of middle ground between an outright split and continued dysfunctional fake unity.

    1. Morgan,

      Though there are clear differences, I think you and Carolyn are arguing, in some ways, for the same thing but from different angles. You both want a better conversation.

      Carolyn wants a more *honest* conversation where differences are fully out in the open and not swept under the rug. You want a more *generous* conversation where we don’t talk past one another or impugn one another but rather talk in trust and grace.

      I wonder, in this time of fracture and division, if we could think of talking faithfully to one another as a means of grace? In that way, we may even see our involvement in this conversation as a spiritual discipline where we grow together.

      1. I think you’ve written the most helpful comment here. It is a spiritual discipline to talk graciously. Even a vitriolic curmudgeon like me can be won over by simple gestures like showing me that you’re actually reading what I’m writing and expressing sympathy for what you can sympathize with.

        1. Amen to that. I wonder why it is that we focus so little on how to talk graciously to one another… it seems like such a central biblical practice but one that we rarely ever wrestle with what it means today.

    2. Morgan,
      You may genuinely believe yourself to be trying to bridge differences but the rhetoric on your blog is anything but. If that is changing, then we are all better for it.

      It is actions by those who share a revisionist perspective and have decided that open disobedience is their preferred path that has led us to this point. The problem with the self-proclaimed “Middle” is that they truly believe themselves to be representative of some mythical centrist majority in the USA or across the globe. The reason why revisionist proposals have consistently failed at General Conference is that the majority in General Conference, the majority in the USA and certainly the global majority oppose them. Instead of taking one of two admittedly undesirable choices (acceptance of that reality or some sort of amicable separation that allows us to stay connected while some are free to see if their preferences are sustainable but does not ask the rest of us to subsidize them), they are choosing to try to force the rest of us to subsidize their unsustainable disruptive behavior.

      It is more than a coincidence that the Yellowstone Annual Conference has gone from difficult times to free fall after Dr. Oliveto occupied their episcopal office.

      I used to be one of the “middle” people because I believed that discussing human sexuality was counter-productive at annual conference. We weren’t going to decide anything and would create a lot of heat but no light. Personally, I believe that we are all persons of sacred worth and should have our rights respected in secular society. I proudly voted for Hillary Clinton in November. I have been in the delegation to two Democratic National Conventions. But, I also know that The United Methodist Church is not the Democratic Party at prayer. It would make my spiritual life easier for my political beliefs and my perception of the realities in The UMC (as well as Jesus) to be completely congruent. But, if I am going to be someone who tries to act on reality as it is then it is crystal clear that following the “examples” of the UCC, Episcopalians and Presbyterians is simply denominational suicide. The open disobedience by the Western Jurisdiction while demanding that the rest of us pay for Dr. Oliveto is simply unsustainable.

      1. It is disgusting to use the financial struggles of the Yellowstone conference as a talking point to win an argument. I’m thankful for traditionalists like Carolyn whose hearts are pure even if we don’t agree on everything. The difference between you and Carolyn is that she writes with such humility and grace that she evangelizes me.

        1. Man, don’t get all holier-than-thou . . . c’mon. Creed Pogue is totally right. You are incredibly vitriolic on your blog. Maybe you have mellowed out a bit. Who knows? We all change as we go through life. But Creed is totally right about how your rhetoric on your blog and how you communicate to traditionalists are two different things.

          And Creed is also right in keeping the main thing the main thing. This whole fighting over who’s in the “middle” is childish and pathetic. It’s just an attempt to paint others as “extreme” . . . that’s all it is.

          Let’s talk about the issue at hand – not some stupid conversation about “who’s in the middle.” Vows are being broken, the connectional way of doing things is being superseded and ignored, and it is being revealed that this has been going on for a long time.

          I have personally committed to having very little online communication about it (because that’s the worst kind of communication/conversation – in fact, I hate that I’m even writing this post) and am committed to keeping the main thing the main thing and calling out BS when I hear it.

          1. The difference between what I’m doing and what you’re doing is I’m engaging the conversation at hand and you’re trying to dismiss me by making ad hominem accusations that are external to this conversation. Bottom line is I appreciate Carolyn’s voice very much. But I’m frustrated by the bogeymaning of the “scary” progressives. And I’m not going to stand for this schadenfraude about the financial decline of a Methodist annual conference because it somehow punishes the lesbian bishop. Anyway I don’t want Creed’s outburst and my response to it to hijack the comment section so I’ll just say peace be with you.

          2. My “outburst”??? Sadly, coming from Morgan that is rather rich. Much of his stuff is outbursts on one subject or another. Again, if he is truly working on moderating his tone when he is talking to his friends then we are all truly better for it.

            I am certainly not going to pretend that my own tone is always the best.

            Pointing out the realities of our situation may be an inconvenient truth to some. Characterizing it as an “outburst” so you don’t have to reply is simply intellectual dishonesty.

          3. The problem is that I did reply. I’m sure you’re a kind and generous person in real life. I’d prefer you not use the financial troubles of the Yellowstone annual conference to discredit Oliveto’s competence as a leader. I should have given my feedback more politely but God is teaching me. Be blessed.

          4. No, it’s actually NOT external to the conversation and I am not trying to attack you ad hominem. You write your blog and you put it out there for everybody to see. Anyone can go to your blog and see how you have some pretty extreme rants at times. And whatever . . . if that’s what you want to do, then do it.

            But this is how many of us have experienced the progressive/liberal group. We get into clergy or church meetings and all we hear is some one-sided rant and, when we try to actually have a conversation about some matter . . . we get talked at instead of being talked with. And now, when things are getting serious (and believe me, they ARE), all we hear is “let’s sit down and talk . . . don’t be so extreme – c’mon, let’s meet in the middle.” But we know what means. We’re going to sit down and here the same ol’ stuff and when we give our side . . . we are not heard or, worse, we are ignored. I’m personally weary of the whole thing and a lot of other people are as well.

            Personally, I am mad as hell. I’m mad that I have lost time leading my church into ministry because I have to devote way too much time to talking to my people about what’s going on in the UMC. I’m tired of so-called leaders not leading. I’m tired of people not dealing with theologically issues and instead, treating everything in a pragmatic matter . . . . usually talking about money.

            I’m like Creed. I am not some right-wing nut. I am a Southerner who was raised in a Democrat supporting family. I worked in a factory and was a member of a union. I’m a blue collar type fellow who roots for the little guy. But I also hold to the authority of Scripture and immensely respect the historical creeds and doctrines of the church, including the historical sexual ethics of the church (which IS doctrine). I know that there are a whole lot of people like me in the UMC and I want my voice heard. I want people to keep their vows. I want people to be honest and use plain words. I’m tired of all the BS.

            At the last GC, Hamilton and other “superstars” discovered that not everybody believed that they should fall in line with them. And at the next GC, our bishops and clergy are going to hear the voice of the people who pay their wages. Things are going to change. I don’t know much, but I know that things are going to change in a radical way.

          5. Morgan,

            I am not using the situation in Yellowstone as a reason to attack Dr. Oliveto’s leadership. My point is that even in the Western Jurisdiction there are steps that are too far for us to be able to sustain ourselves. I am not getting into a discussion of whether it is “right” or “wrong.” Instead, it should be looked upon as yet another warning against choices that will only destroy the denomination. I know that there are those who either believe that the denomination should be destroyed if they do not get what they want or that the Lord will ensure that we do not even stub our toe if we jump off the temple roof, but we are warned not to put the Lord our God to the test.

  13. Dear Carolyn,
    I am a member of the Upper New York Conference. You are incorrect. The resolution cited in your post (UNY2017.12 – A Rejection of Schism) was not supported. Your post paints an inaccurate picture of our conference. Many of us are working to build trust and listen to one another through the power of the Holy Spirit in order to be authentic Christ followers and build up the Body of Christ. Please check your facts before publishing.

  14. I support the general content of this analysis. As an Elder and pastor, I have lost all confidence in the Bishops and General Church Agencies leadership to accomplish anything but prolong their own theocratic castles at any cost – even the very mission of the church ! So I return and focus on grass roots Methodism in the fields the Lord has assigned to my care. My own personal experience in Holston Conference is the “many” ( not all) of those projecting to be ” in the middle” are closet liberal progressives riding the middle for book marketing, appointment manipulation and political safety more than theological commitment. I trust the Holy Spirit will sort this out, but this includes using personal discernment to look through skin deep charisma of many projecting a false ” higher ground”.

    1. As a former pastor in the UMC, I agree with you. I have absolutely zero confidence in the bishops and especially Holston’s bishop as well as those who call themselves denominational leaders. As a church we pick and choose what we will tolerate and what we will not. I am still a member of the UMC but other denominations are looking better all the time. The problems within the UMC far exceed that of human sexuality. The Scripture is the authority and I would suppose that John Wesley would be so very disheartened by what our church is trying to accept today. Wesley once said and I paraphrase, ‘what we tolerate today, we will embrace tomorrow.’ God help us be faithful to sacred Scripture.

  15. Carolyn – As an elder in the Upper New York Conference and the leader of the Renewal and Evangelism team in our Conference, I had the same response to the petition from my progressive colleagues regarding the WCA. Even though it was filled with many inaccuracies, misinterpretations, and falsehoods about the WCA, they clearly defined the chasm across which we shout at each other, at times. The self-identification they gave in the petition, which you highlighted, I thought, was the most helpful part of the petition. The petition’s title was changed to “Rebuke and Repudiate Schism” but the content of the petition did not change. The petition passed, but the impact was much less meaningful to those at the conference. We continue to serve faithfully, in the minority as far a theology goes. Thanks for your well-done reflection on the root of the mess.

  16. I was So Elated to see the last sentence in this piece
    “Again I say, let the Holy Spirit do His Work !”

    Two Facts Remain:
    1- Only the Flesh gets Frustrated and we All tend to get Caught Up in this False Narrative from time to time. Remember we are All Called to Die to the Flesh and NOT WALK AFTER IT. Flesh is Temporary and is passing away.

    2- On the other side is the Real You & Me, which is our spirit man and he alone is made in the image of GOD AND WILL LIVE SOMEWHERE FOREVER (which is left up to us.)
    Our Spirit Man has NEVER BEEN MIXED UP OR FRUSTRATED FOR EVEN ONE SECOND OF OUR LIVES.
    HERE IN LIES THE PROBLEM !
    Letting The Holy Spirit FILL US WITH HIS SPIRIT AND WALK AFTER HIM AS THE DECIPLES DID AFTER JESUS RESURRECTION !
    Now, To Put The Holy Spirit in Total Control of our lives means, We are No Longer In Control, which is what Flesh wants to do.
    That is the Very Difference in Peter who coward down before The Leaders who was going to put JESUS to death and not only denied him 3 time but cursed that he even knew him.
    But After The Resurrection when they were ALL FILLED WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT, in Acts 2:4, and Died to The FLESH, They Were All Bold As Lions !
    WALK AFTER THE SPIRIT AND YOU WILL NOT FUFILL THE DESIRES OF THE FLESH.
    Something to Think About, for those who don’t mind thinking.

  17. Hi Carolyn, I am a United Methodist elder serving in Texas and a graduate of Asbury Theological Seminary. I attended the gathering in Nashville in May about finding a center in the UMC. I would welcome the chance to talk with you about your representation of the Methodist Middle in this article. From my participation in the group, the views above conflate opinions and do not represent the group. I’d welcome the chance to share the views not represented in the above summary.
    Blessings
    Rev. Melissa Maher

    1. Melissa, I appreciate your perspective. My appeal is to anyone who wants to plead a case for unity, to make sure the whole story is told of the Methodist theological divide. It will be good to hear your views and those of others who are entering the conversation.

      1. Thanks for the opportunity to add some thoughts. I can speak from my experience of the gathering but not as someone who officially speaks for the group. Why? There’s not an official membership (not sure if there will be) and each person represents their own local context.

        I joined a group in Nashville, TN in early May 2017 to talk about the “dynamic center” of the Methodist Church. What would a “centrist position” look like in the current-day denominational disagreements? Of the 40+ in attendance (mostly all pastors but some laity), we didn’t all view the disagreements around same-gender marriage and ordination the same way. We did, however, agree on our unity in the sacraments and our covenant to our Wesleyan heritage and every aspect outlined in our Book of Discipline: The Nature of Our Theological Task. I’ll save room and won’t list the full statement here, but go check it out! To summarize our theological task is critical and constructive, incarnational and contextual, and essentially practical. (http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/the-nature-of-our-theological-task)

        Since we met, there is a sub-group working on a “statement” of beliefs and ways of being in connection. We did not tackle church structure as that is the work of the Commission on a Way Forward. We agreed that the purpose of the group was to gather pastors who were looking for creative ways to hold the tension in love and honest dialogue. The 24 hours we spent together were encouraging and hopeful. At times, the tension in the room was palpable…but then we would sing a hymn or take communion–basically try to practice the essentials.

        The three reasons I am standing in the middle:
        1. I might be wrong. Wrong about many things, including my interpretation of scripture. Even when I try to faithfully understand scripture, I find that my reading is clouded by my experience, reason and tradition. I love the Wesleyan tradition of having room, I would call it elasticity, in the interpretation of scripture. We need tradition. We need reason. We need experience. Most of all, I count on the never-changing promise of the Spirit’s role to remind us of all that Jesus taught us and to lead us in the way of truth. The church has a history of interpreting scripture that doesn’t change (Jesus is Lord, the God as Triune, Salvation by faith and works as a sign of joyful obedience–ok the debate on faith and works has always been interesting!) We’ve also changed our position on some things as well (ordination of women, slavery, what garments we can wear and what we can/cannot eat)
        2. I serve a congregation and a city that has differing view points on sexuality, marriage. I take seriously the vows of elder ordination to do the following for all:
        • Share in the ministry of Christ and of the whole church
        • Preach and teach the Word of God
        • Faithfully administer the sacraments of baptism and communion
        • Lead in worship and prayer and commitments to Christ
        • Order the life of the congregation and connection
        3. I remain in the center because of our shared sacraments of communion and baptism.

        Lastly, I don’t have my head in the sand. I mourn the hurt that we all feel for this deep tension and divide. I believe there is an intention from all to serve and love the Bride of Christ. I’m holding on to the promise that resurrection is coming. This dark day of uncertainty or death of the way things are won’t be the final word.

        And I’m praying regularly for the Commission on a Way Forward, our local congregations and our bishops. Determining what unity and connection looks like going forward is quite a challenge. I join you all in praying for God’s wisdom and guidance.
        Thanks again for the opportunity to offer thoughts. I’d gladly grab a cup of coffee with any of you to learn from you and talk.
        Shalom,
        Melissa

        1. Melissa, I appreciate your perspective. Thanks for taking time to share it here so folks can have a contrasting view of what is at work among those int the centrist movement. I’m praying iwth you for the Commission, our congregations and bishops. We definitely share that in common.

          1. Amen. We pray together and the Spirit intercedes with sighs and groans. As we face catastrophic flooding here in houston, seeing the Body of Christ and love of neighbor shine in the midst of dark times.

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