Tag Archives: General Conference

New UMC Separation Plan: “Winning” the Church?

News broke late last week that an agreement had been reached to divide the United Methodist Church. Some news outlets wrongly reported that this was an “official” decision to divide the denomination over conflicts about LGBTQIA+ issues. The agreement reached through the help of a world class mediator was an agreement among United Methodist leaders representing people from a very wide swath across the ideological spectrum. This was an agreement among these diverse leaders to support this particular plan of separation together at the General Conference in May this year, giving it wider overall support than plans previously submitted. The General Conference will have to consider, debate, and vote on the plan of separation once presented. Amendments and modifications to the plan are also a possibility. The General Conference vote in May alone will determine whether the plan becomes official.

The new proposal incorporated elements from some of the other plans previously with modifications and additions representing a broader compromise between the differing factions: traditionalist and progressive. Some of the significant compromises that were negotiated involve the voting thresholds needed for annual conferences and local churches to reaffiliate with the traditionalist denomination that would be formed without having to relinquish property and other assets.

Generally speaking traditionalists have asked for simple majorities (50% +1) for annual conferences and local churches to make those decisions. Progressives, on the other hand, have fought for higher thresholds. In fact, up until last year’s special General Conference, they made it clear that they did not want a consistent plan of disaffiliation for local churches to be able to separate from the denomination and keep their local church property at all. Progressives desire as much leverage as possible. When they reluctantly came to provide for disaffiliation plans for conservative churches that do not desire to be affiliated with the increasingly radical progressive movement, they set the threshold for disaffiliation much higher. Their disaffiliation plans required a two-thirds vote threshold as well as other high cost hurdles for local churches.

Conservatives have generally wanted to make the process as painless as possible, but progressives want the decision for local churches to be more difficult. Again, as late as last February, they insisted upon being able to force congregations to have to choose between remaining faithful to their convictions or possibly walking away from their property altogether. Progressives used many noble sounding reasons about the importance of unity to justify the coercive tactics to be sure; but a coerced unity is not really unity at all. And their preferred “One Church Plan” with no disaffiliation option was defeated.

Nevertheless, the newest proposal reaches some middle ground between the simple majorities that traditionalists prefer and the higher thresholds that progressives prefer. By a vote of 57%, annual conferences (Methodism’s version of dioceses) may vote to affiliate with conservatives. Conferences that fail to meet that threshold, or that choose not to vote at all, will remain with the UMC as it now is (but if this separation plan is adopted will quickly allow for same-sex marriage and ordination of LGBTQ+ clergy without the current constraints of traditional marriage and probably even celibacy in singleness).

Local churches will have to officially call for a churchwide vote to affiliate with the conservative side. There will be an incentive for progressives to try to avoid having churches vote. Conservatives in local churches will need to be aware of the options and push for a discussion and vote in the local church. No vote means no chance of affiliating with the new conservative denomination where there will not be a trust clause, which means local churches will own the local church property.

Conservatives want a fellowship of the committed rather than a coalition of the coerced where the denomination can hold local churches hostage by threating to seize church property. Conservatives want churches free to focus on the mission of making disciples without the current confusion about what a disciple is really supposed to be. And conservatives want to be free to voluntarily work together to sow for a great awakening and see another mighty move of God in our day.

Nonetheless, for a local church not to vote will leave it by default with the progressive denomination, which will retain the United Methodist name and the trust clause (I seriously doubt the progressive denomination will give up the trust clause). If a vote is called, the church council, however, would have the power to set the threshold at a simple majority or at a two-thirds majority. This means a church council that is disproportionately progressive relative to the congregation as a whole could require a higher threshold and vice versa.

Again generally speaking conservatives want the decision threshold to be easier to achieve, and progressives want a higher threshold. Progressives seek as much leverage as they can get. They want to use property as leverage to put individuals and congregations in a position of having to choose between their traditional Christian convictions and remaining in a local church, that in many cases, they and their families have been a part of and helped build for generations. That is a horrible position to put individuals and local churches in, but that’s very well a position in which many local churches may find themselves.

In some cases a mere 34% of a congregation will be able to force a local church into remaining in the progressive affiliation where there will be more going on than many have really considered. Not only will the progressive UMC have same-sex marriage and practicing LGBTQIA+ clergy, there will also be progressive churches having drag queen children’s sermons promoting the early sexualization of children and potentially encouraging children as young as seven years old to begin gender transition treatments. These are real things and real debates happening in progressive circles already, including in progressive churches. There’s a lot more in that acronym than an L and a G! Progressive Mainliners have made it clear that they see an endless spectrum of sexual orientations and gender identities, virtually all of which should be celebrated and affirmed. People in the pews and local congregations should not be fooled by those who will employ the terms “centrist” and “moderate” to lure people into remaining affiliated with the progressive radicalism.

The real tragedy here is that many people and conservative leaning congregations will be forced to choose between church property and what is right according to the Bible. In some cases people very well may have to decide between walking away from a local church property and remaining in fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness (Ephesians 5:1-11). It’s a terrible position to be in.

We know Jesus talked about how horrible it would be for someone to gain the whole world but lose his or her soul, but we may never have imagined that local church property might be included in the admonition. We need to pray that local churches will have discernment and courage. If it comes down to it, church property is not worth losing one’s soul over. This doesn’t mean that people should rashly walk away, but we must count the cost. Some are going to gain church property and denominational assets by almost any means necessary, but at what ultimate cost? That’s the worst tragedy with this whole mess. Too many have walked away too early, but some will hold on far too long. May God give wisdom.

The other confusing thing in this new proposal for a lot of people is why it seems the traditionalist side has to “leave” the denomination when the traditional position is still the official position of the United Methodist Church. That position was actually strengthened at last year’s special General Conference! It is strange. But the reality is that progressives are in control of the mother ship so to speak. Although the progressive position is not official, most of the leadership of the denominational institutions and boards and agencies in the United States is progressive. Progressives have created an overall  denominational leadership culture in the United States that operates under the assumption of theological pluralism. There’s really no serious commitment to the historic doctrinal standards of Methodism. Liberals and progressives have played fast and lose with the historic doctrines for a long time. Most of the time they use the traditional vocabulary but with liberal/progressive definitions.

Sometimes they use the term “generous orthodoxy” but really mean a license for heterodoxy and heresy. There is little will or desire among leadership in the United States to enforce commitment to our doctrinal standards despite the very serious vows we all take at ordination about teaching and defending them. In fact, the opposite often happens. Heterodoxy is given a pass or even celebrated, while a serious commitment to orthodoxy is punished as being too narrow or inflexible. In my own case, the board of ordained ministry expressed concerns about my conservative views. One person insisted that I should understand that all religions really lead to the same place. The board also officially required me to read a book that promotes the idea that genuine Christianity is radically diverse in terms of doctrine and that orthodoxy, including that found in the historic creeds and even in the teachings of John Wesley, was a corruption of the Christian faith. True story; I have it in writing.

Just a few months ago I was at a conference, sponsored by Duke Divinity School and the Duke Endowment with two bishops and several district superintendents present, where one of the main speakers not only denied the doctrine of original sin, but denied that Adam and Eve sinned at all in the garden of Eden. Many in attendance were concerned, but not enough among the leadership of two annual conferences and Duke Divinity School. They were indifferent at best, if not openly praising the false teaching. If this is true for two conferences in the Bible Belt, what do you think it’s like across the United States as a whole? Bishops and pastors can not only deny the virgin birth and bodily resurrection and get away with it, they can also deny the divinity of Jesus and the Trinity without any serious concern. For that matter, some can bring monotheism or possibly even theism altogether in question without any serious concern of accountability to our doctrinal standards. If anything they might receive a tap on the hand and a wink and a nod to be more subtle.

So, as strange as it seems, even though the official position of the denomination is the traditional position, most of the leadership of the denomination in the United States will not enforce accountability to that position. For many decades now, the operating assumption in the United States has been a commitment to theological pluralism and doctrinal indifferentism, which ironically involves a hostility to a serious commitment to orthodoxy and traditional morality.

That’s why we have the strange phenomena of it looking like the “winners” at all of the General Conferences since the 1970’s have to “leave” the denomination. The new proposal, however, is actually an agreement to divide the denomination into two separate denominations. One of the concessions though is the progressive side gets to keep the United Methodist name and almost all the denominational assets with the exception of local church properties and annual conference properties that vote to align with the conservative side, which will also get $25 million. At any rate, it will be hard to avoid the perception that Traditionalists were just allowed (forced?) to “leave” with the short end of the stick. If this new proposal in some from passes, denominational property and assets will be gained and lost by both sides, even if some will gain more than others. Everyone involved should pray not to lose their soul in the process.

We all need to count the cost. As strange as it may seem, Jesus just might say, “what good is it to gain a church and lose your soul. God, grant us wisdom and courage!

There are major decisions ahead for local churches. Local churches must call for a vote if they will have a chance to choose which side to align with. Not voting at all is a vote to align with the progressive movement. The potential decisions ahead are quite stark, a broad way of being a church or the narrow way (Matthew 7:13-14). Choose wisely.Broad Path Narrow Path

God be with you!

(Listen to Billy Abraham describe the clear choice that will have to be made)

See News Release from Council of Bishops Here.

No Other gods or goddesses? #UMCGC2019

“We never talked about belief, we just shared our lives and spoke of the divine feminine in ourselves and in the world. The goddess we spoke of never felt to me like a substitute for God, but simply another aspect of the divine. Just like God’s aunt.

When I tell other Christians of my time with the goddess, I think they expect me to characterize it as a period in my life when I was misguided, and that I have now thankfully come back to both Jesus and my senses. But it’s not like that. I can’t imagine that the God of the universe is limited to our ideas of God. I can’t imagine that God doesn’t reveal God’s self in countless ways outside of the symbol system of Christianity.
In a way, I need a God who is bigger and more nimble and mysterious than what I could understand and contrive. Otherwise it can feel like I am worshiping nothing more than my own ability to understand the divine.

In fact, I felt guided by God the whole time I sojourned outside of the church. The divine source of my life and my identity perhaps knew that I needed to bask in a female face of God for a good long while outside the church before I ever could return to it whole and be able see the divine feminine in my own tradition. If feminist scholar Mary Daly was right, that “If God is male, then male is God,” then there was some undoing to be done inside of myself after a childhood of being told that God is male and I am not (but sixth grade Jimmy over there is!).” ~ (From the book Pastrix by Nadia Bolz-Weber writing about the goddess of Wicca)

A couple days ago I received the following quote on a Facebook post of my last article from a United Methodist, who considers himself a centrist. He sent the quote above to me, thinking it should alleviate any concerns about heresy!  Here’s what he said:

“A bit unexpected and shocking but not really heretical. God has been described in a multitude of images over the years.”

Many United Methodists are not very discerning. In fact discernment has fallen on very hard times, along with biblical literacy and trust in the reliability and veracity of the Bible. Thus, it’s no surprise that Nadia also believes the Bible is vague and ambiguous; as she would put it, “It’s not clear about sh&#.” But let’s just do a little thought experiment here.

Imagine part of the above as a conversation between Jezebel and Elijah (1 Kings 18ff).

Jezebel: “Baal never felt to me like a substitute for God, but simply another aspect of the divine. Just like Yahweh’s uncle.”

“Why can’t Israel worship Yahweh AND Baal?”

Elijah: “Yahweh has revealed to us that he is the one, true God, and all other gods are pretenders and deceivers!”

Jezebel: “But it’s not like that. I can’t imagine that the God of the universe is limited to our ideas of God. I can’t imagine that God doesn’t reveal God’s self in countless ways outside of the symbol system of [Israel].”

Elijah: “God has revealed the truth in his written word. We must be faithful to what God has revealed. We are to worship no other gods and make idols to bow down to them.”

Jezebel: “How can we really be sure that the your covenant with Yahweh is really from God? And even if it is, how can we know what it really means? It’s so vague and confusing. There are countless gods and goddesses worshiped among the nations. Who are you to say they and their ways of life are wrong? You are so narrow-minded Elijah!”

“Israel can worship Yahweh without disparaging the beliefs of other people!”

Elijah: “God has revealed himself and his will. I believe it is clear and true. I trust the word of Yahweh!”


So the issue is not whether the One true God has feminine characteristics. One of my favorite passages of Scripture is in Isaiah 49:14-16, where the Lord, Yahweh, promises Israel that he will not forget them and abandon in spite of their rebellion. There Yahweh  compares himself to a nursing mother and the compassion she has for her child. Yet in Isaiah 46:5-9 (ESV) Yahweh also says:

“To whom will you liken me and make me equal, and compare me, that we may be alike? Those who lavish gold from the purse, and weigh out silver in the scales, hire a goldsmith, and he makes it into a god; then they fall down and worship! They lift it to their shoulders, they carry it, they set it in its place, and it stands there; it cannot move from its place. If one cries to it, it does not answer or save him from his trouble. “Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me”

It’s one thing to speak of the feminine aspects of God’s nature; its quite another to say

Nadia BW Gloria Steinem
NBW, Gloria Steinem, and vagina statue.

other gods/goddesses, whose followers engage in practices such as ancient rituals of sorcery and sexual practices specifically forbidden in the Bible, are also legitimate expressions of the same God. This is just a pagan way of thinking. And this is the end result of refusing to believe that the Creator has revealed his nature, character, and will in a reasonably clear way in Scripture and in his Son, Jesus. Dare I say, it is the end result of being more committed to the idea of “theological diversity” than the biblically defined Lordship of Jesus Christ!

The Son, by the way, did say he was the only way to the Father (John 14:6). Biblically speaking, this should not be a great surprise as it is a direct corollary of the First Commandment. Generally speaking the pagan worldview begins with experience; the Judeo-Christian worldview begins with revelation (for more on this listen to RC Bishop Robert Barron discuss “The Return of Paganism HERE; I also recommend John Oswalt’s book, The Bible Among the Myths, for more depth).

When a person doubts the possibility of a clear revelation from God the Father in Scripture and in the Son, and when they exalt their own experience and reason above that revelation, the result will be idolatry. Idolatry and the licentious practices that go along with it are the end result of this kind of confusion of the divine. That’s why it is not far-fetched to compare Nadia Bolz-Weber’s melting down purity rings to turn them into a statue of a golden vagina to the Israelites’ making a golden calf (Ex 32). It’s also not surprising that this stature is directly associated with unfettered sexuality and the child sacrifice that takes place in abortion.

Golden Calf Painting
The Adoration of the Golden Calf – 1633-4, Nicolas Poussin

Despite those that have tried to dismiss all this because Nadia Bolz-Weber is a Lutheran and not a Methodist, the fact is she remains incredibly popular among progressive United Methodists. She is a frequent and very popular speaker in progressive United Methodist circles. I shared my experience in the previous article. The following messages were shared by other United Methodists in response to my article and objections to it.

One person in another conference, whom I do not know, sent the following private message:

“Thanks for the follow back. I’m embarrassed to say I doubted the seriousness of your article and Nadia Bolz-Weber. I did what I always encourage people to do and did my own research. She is scheduled to speak at several UMC churches (and strongly embraced and promoted) in my area. Churches that are lobbying hard for One Church Plan. I have been more blind than I believed. We have a lot of praying to do. Thanks for your strength and courage. I’m still in shock that the denomination I’ve known since my UMYF days has let this unspeakable debauchery into our churches. Peace and God bless.”

You certainly can’t say she’s running around rogue promoting her false doctrine without the sanction of leaders in our denomination or her own. Her own Bishop praised her profusely, compares her sexual reformation to Martin Luther’s, and says her teaching is much needed in the Church!

A UM pastor in another conference wrote the following in reply to someone trying the downplay and dismiss any concerns by saying Bolz-Weber is not Methodist.

FYI, Nadia was the lead speaker at a preaching workshop in the NCCUMC last year and I had to watch a video of her thoughts assigned subject in RIOM (residency in ordained ministry). They also had us read some of her writings. She seems to be a Rock star for many in leadership in my conference. Just sayin… ~ Rev. Dusty Sprouse

Our problems run much, much deeper than differences over sexuality. In spite of all those who will continue to try to downplay the seriousness of all this, I would highly recommend we heed the grave warning of Jesus.

… I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. ~ Rev 2:20

There is a limit to what Jesus will tolerate!

May God be merciful, and grant wisdom and discernment.


The Place of the Written Word of God?

The debate over sexual morality in the church today is about more than sex. It is also about more than simply Biblical interpretation. The debate is really about the nature and authority of the Bible. Is it really the infallible word of God, revealed from God to God’s people? Or is it just the product of humans’ fallible attempt to interpret their experiences of ultimate reality?

Of course, I know there are some who sincerely believe the Bible is the revealed word of God, but the church has misinterpreted it with regards to sexuality. Yet, I think those folks are much more scarce than the growing number of others who just believe the Bible is simply wrong on the issue. These types of folks try to argue that they still value the authority of Scripture, but the reality is they mean something very different from what conservatives mean. As with many traditional terms, they qualify the meaning in such a way as to greatly diminish the actual authority of Scripture. They may be happy to say God can speak through the Bible, but not that God has clearly spoken in the Bible.

For people like Adam Hamilton, the Bible is a record of some people’s best, but limited and confused interpretation of the character and will of God. It is not, to them, the clearly revealed word of God. I have noted that progressives seem to be as committed to the notion of Scripture as a vague, diverse, and contradictory witness to people’s experience of God as the most ardent fundamentalist is to the notion of Scripture as a clear, reliable, and unified one. Both camps seem to also value wooden, literal interpretation; one to defend to the authority of Scripture and the other to undermine it. For similar reasons, both seem to be prone to prooftexting too.

In a discussion on the authority of Scripture with David Watson at United Theological Seminary, Mike Slaughter, for example, quoted a passage from Numbers that he described as “Taliban theology.”  But the passage he quoted, which to modern ears sounds incredibly harsh, is not really just a random and isolated text in the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible). Those kinds of passages are quite pervasive and even integral to the overall narrative of the Bible. For example, the so-called Genocide that really wasn’t of the book of Joshua (see book Did God Really Command Genocide? by Paul Copan and Matthew Flannagan), was clearly foreshadowed as early as Gen 15. It is also alluded to throughout the Pentateuch. These seemingly harsh passages that progressives evoke are not isolated and random. The Bible is not written in a string of isolated verses; there is a pervasive and unifying underlying narrative in which each verse and passage must be interpreted.

To modern readers, who, ironically, in many cases are perfectly fine with something like partial birth abortion, it sounds crazy to execute someone for breaking the sabbath in the Old Testament. It also probably sounds crazy to them that God would strike dead Ananias and Sapphira for lying about their offering in Acts 5. There is a lot of harsh judgment in the Bible, Old and New Testaments, from Yahweh in Gen 19 and from Jesus in Matt 5 and Revelation. God in the Old Testament does not take human sin and rebellion lightly; neither does Jesus in the New Testament. But the God described in those seemingly, overly harsh passages in the Old Testament is the same God revealed in Jesus Christ, who will come again to judge the living and the dead, in the New Testament. And whether we are talking about the Old or New Testaments, we are talking about a God who says “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live” (Ezk 33:11 ESV). Either way we are still talking about the God who “did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17).

I know there are many things about the Bible that are hard to understand. Moreover, I understand that not every verse and passage applies to us in the same way. But progressives like Adam Hamilton and Mike Slaughter may say they value the authority of Scripture, but it’s quite obvious to me that they don’t prooftext what they might call “Taliban theology” passages to bolster the authority of Scripture in the ears of their listeners!

So the debate in the church today, is really one about the place of the written word in the church. For some the written word is the revealed word and will of God that serves as the primary source and ultimate criterion for Christian faith and practice. For others it may be a conversation partner that holds some possibly helpful opinions that for all practical purposes is just other people’s opinions among many. What else could it really be for those who describe the Bible as a flawed book written by flawed people? What else could it be for someone who says the Bible is inspired in the same way as books by other Christian authors like C.S. Lewis? Should the Bible just take a seat in the pews as just another opinion in the crowd?

When it came to the tablets of stone on which God wrote his word and will, he had Moses place them in a much more prominent place among the people of God. God had them place the written word in the Ark of the Covenant in the inner sanctuary of the Holiest part of the tabernacle (Ex 25:10-22), and later in the temple. The Ark was also called the ark of the testimony; the tabernacle itself was called “the tent of the testimony.” The Lord said,

And you shall put the mercy seat on the top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the testimony that I shall give you. There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel. ~ Ex 25:21-22

We don’t have the ark or the tablets of stone, but God has not left us without a tabernaclerelaible testimony; God has not left us without a witness—a sure, reliable, and trustworthy word. God has also not left us without a temple. The people of God are the temple of God under the new covenant. And the written word, the Scriptures are our testimony to the word and will of God, most clearly revealed in Jesus Christ. The written word of God still deserves to be in the most holy place among the people of God.

The real question for the people called United Methodist is what place will Scripture have among us? Will we trust the testimony of those who see Scripture as the fallible musings of men? Or will we trust the testimony of the apostles like Peter?

For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.  For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. ~ 2 Pet 1:16-21

How Can We Be One? #UMC General Conference 2019

On January 5th and 6th I participated in two General Conference listening sessions in my Annual Conference. We heard various and diverse opinions on people’s hopes for the upcoming special General Conference of the United Methodist church, which is slated for February 23-26 in St. Louis. I was one of about a couple dozen people over the course of two sessions to give 3 minutes speeches to the entire body after a time of small-group round-table discussions with various delegates.

Throughout both sessions some expressed their desire to see the church change to be more inclusive of the LGBTQ community. More than once the denomination’s current official position in the Book of Discipline, which in a nut shell is that sex is for marriage and marriage is only between one man and one woman, was condemned as being discriminatory and hurtful to the LGBTQ community. More than one person speaking for progressive change insisted that since being gay is not a choice then it is wrong to not bless same-sex unions. There were several implicit comparisons—one very explicit—between sexual orientation and race. At least one speaker spoke of a scientific consensus along those lines with regards to sexual orientation.

More than one speaker on behalf of the progressive view also condemned the traditional view as harmful and even deadly. That is, that the traditional Christian view is actually causing people to kill themselves. A mother of a gay son, who took his own life, actually spoke to that point. It is incredibly heart-wrenching to even think about. I can imagine how emotionally devastating it would be to lose a child like that.

Other progressive speakers used the issues of the church’s evolution on the issue of slavery and ordaining women as analogies for how we should also think differently about the Biblical passages that prohibit homosexual behavior. More than one progressive speaker admitted that Bible is clear on the issue, but they just don’t think those verses apply anymore in light of modern knowledge and experience. One woman said: “We know what Leviticus and Paul said, but we should interpret those passages as we interpret the passages on slavery” (i.e. as no longer relevant today). One basically said, the Bible is a flawed book written by flawed men who gave their opinions about the will of God at the time, but they were wrong. Another gentleman used the argument that since Jesus didn’t explicitly say anything about it then it must be okay, and it doesn’t really matter what Leviticus or Paul say.

There really wasn’t  anything in these arguments that I haven’t heard before. All of these comparisons and assertions are dubious at best, and one assertion is pretty insidious and sinister really. The race comparison is just false, as is the idea that there is a scientific consensus behind such an analogy. Consider the American Psychological Association on the cause of sexual orientation:

There is no consensus among scientists about the exact reasons that an individual develops a heterosexual, bisexual, gay or lesbian orientation. Although much research has examined the possible genetic, hormonal, developmental, social and cultural influences on sexual orientation, no findings have emerged that permit scientists to conclude that sexual orientation is determined by any particular factor or factors. Many think that nature and nurture both play complex roles; most people experience little or no sense of choice about their sexual orientation.


That is a far cry from being just like race or eye color, which is another comparison I’ve heard quite frequently. I’m not saying that the APA supports the traditional Christian view; they certainly don’t. The APA, as with almost all of secular society, believes that all consensual sex between adults married or not is perfectly normal and healthy, and most of the APA, based on the ideology of their predecessors like Alfred Kinsey, would likely believe that it is sexual repression, not expression, that is unnatural and unhealthy. Their conclusions and advice are based on a particular set of philosophical presuppositions and a worldview that is quite different from the traditional Christian worldview. And these secular philosophical presuppositions are too often asserted as scientific fact. The truth is some just believe that people should be able to have consensual sex with whomever and however they want without any negative judgment. It’s no secret that people with this ideology often have tremendous contempt and disdain for the traditional Christian view, which they see as backwards and repressive. This is the dominant view we encounter almost exclusively in pop culture and secular media and entertainment.

Nonetheless, as the LGBTQ+ acronym itself suggests other types of sexual attraction/desire and orientation are more appropriate analogies. For example, a few weeks ago a United Methodist shared a video from a site called “Queer Theology” promoting the acceptance of polyamorous people (people who desire to be in multiple sexual relationships simultaneously) like him. In the video a young man talks about his polyamorous (possibly bi-sexual?) orientation and how he thinks the Biblical metaphor of the Church being the bride of Christ justifies those types of relationships (i.e. because, he said, Jesus is in intimate relationships with multiple people at the same time). Other progressives have also followed the logic to these other expressions of sexual desire to condone and bless any expression of consensual sex with marriage only being optional. As a matter of fact, one plan being put forward to the special General Conference called “The Simple Plan,” would remove restrictions regarding sex outside of marriage altogether from what I understand.

From the traditional Christian worldview, however, we believe that sin corrupts and distorts our God-given desires and enslaves us apart from God’s grace to those desires. Think about the way Paul describes a person enslaved to sin in the flesh apart from the power of the Spirit in Romans 7. The person thus bound, even when he knows better, cannot not sin. A person in the flesh, apart from grace, has no choice, but is left asking, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom 7:24). Of course the answer comes in the next verse and the next chapter: “God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (7:25). In chapter eight Paul describes the new life and freedom we have through Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. Whereas in the flesh bound by sin, we cannot submit to God’s law because we will not; in the Spirit we are freed from the power of our corrupted desires for joyful obedience to the will of God! (Rom 8:1-17). This is true for all of us no matter how our corrupted desires manifest themselves in our lives sexually or otherwise.

And of course this does not mean our desires will be completely transformed on this side of the resurrection and the second coming of Christ. In this life we will still have to deny the fulfillment of our sinful desires and put them to death by the power of the Spirit (Rom 8:12-13; also Col 3:5ff). As Jesus said, we have to deny ourselves and take up our cross daily to follow him (Luke 9:23). And, of course, we will need to be plenteous in mercy and forbearance with one another in the struggle together.

As far as the slavery comparison goes, that is also a bad analogy. Even some of the best liberal scholars admit that the Bible is clear and unequivocal in it’s unconditional prohibition of homosexual practice. The regulations even under the old covenant for Israel were designed to be a system of mercy for the destitute, as hard as that might be for us to imagine. And even within the old covenant regulations of slavery there was already a quick trajectory toward freedom every seven years and in the year of Jubilee. It was not a system based on race and lifelong chattel slavery as developed in colonial and Antebellum America. And there is nothing to suggest that the Biblical model of slavery was to be required to continue to exist in every time and place. Again this is not a good analogy, and it would be better to look at the trajectory of sexual morality in the Bible with regards to …. sexual ethics. As the Sermon on the Mount makes clear, the trajectory was not toward a more liberal sexual ethic. A similar argument can be made for women in ministry as there is already precedent for woman exercising prophetic ministry and leadership even in the Old Testament, as well as the New Testament. At least these two issues are not straightforward and unequivocal in the same way that the prohibitions against homosexual behavior are.

As for the charge that the conservative Christian view is actually causing harm and even death, I can say that the disproportionate rates of depression, substance abuse, and suicidal tendencies, among other problems, in the LGBTQ community is concerning and heart-wrenching. Any time someone takes his or her own life it is incredibly alarming and sad. A teenage boy in my kid’s high school took his own life last week. He left a note saying in part at least it was because his girlfriend broke up with him. I’m sure he was troubled in many ways. It is heartbreaking, and I can’t imagine what his former girlfriend is going through as a result.

There’s a movie called “Prayers for Bobby,” starring Sigourney Weaver, who plays a conservative Christian mother who became an LGBTQ advocate after her gay son, Bobby, took his own life. The movie portrays Bobby’s depression and suicidal tendencies as resulting from the rejection he experienced from his conservative Christian mother and his church. But even in the movie it shows that Bobby finally took his own life after being distressed by seeing his boyfriend flirting with another man. To try to lay the blame primarily at the feet of the conservative Christian community is incredibly manipulative and really quite insidious. It is a lot more complicated than that.

Is the message to traditional Christians that you must give up your convictions and accept the progressive view or you are responsible for people’s deaths? This will only lead to more anti-Christian sentiment and more legal maneuvering to suppress the expression of traditional Christian views in society. But will this really lessen the disproportionate rates of depression, substance abuse, and suicidal tendencies in the LGBTQ community? There is evidence to suggest it will not.

This is not, however, to suggest that it is okay for parents or churches to completely reject and disown their children for any reason, whether they come out as bi-sexual, polyamorous, gay, or as just refusing to be celibate outside of marriage as a strict heterosexual. My children may disown me, but, by the grace of God, I’ll never disown them, but that does not mean I’ll agree with everything they believe and do.

At our listening sessions, nevertheless, every progressive speaker who expressed condemnation of the traditional view in the terms described above, also expressed support for the “One Church” Plan, which purports to make room for both progressive and traditionalist views in the same denomination. It’s really hard to understand how people who believe the traditional view is so harmful would be content with being affiliated with people who still promote it. The One Church Plan does actually liberalize the definition of marriage and only allows for slender exemptions for the traditionalist conscience. It will also quickly bring about the ordination of practicing homosexuals in the United States by delegating that decision to the Annual Conference clergy sessions, where only ordained elders and deacons will have a say (with the exception of a few lay people and local pastors who happen to be on the Board of Ordained Ministry).broken rope

The part of conscience that the One Church Plan does not protect is conscience in terms of affiliation. Progressives show they understand the importance of this when they make motions to divest clergy pension funds from companies that do business with the state of Israel, for example. And by not allowing for a gracious exit, the One Church Plan allows local church property and assets to be used as leverage to create a fellowship of the coerced rather than the committed, as some have put it.  I think it is clear that most progressives support the One Church Plan because it gives them the upper hand to maintain control of the denomination in the U.S. The exemptions they give traditionalists now can be taken away later (consider how the Episcopal Church has recently revoked exemptions originally given to conservatives when they first officially liberalized their polity; the Presiding Bishop has recently brought sanctions against the Bishop of Albany).  Progressive United Methodists will not be content to allow space for what they see as grave injustice for long. Is the One Church Plan really a recipe for “unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph 4:3)?

When it was my turn to speak at the listening sessions in my Annual Conference this is what I said:

 I speak today on behalf of the modified traditional plan; I believe it is the only plan that will allow for unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. In John 17 Jesus prays that his disciples may be one (vv. 11 &22); he also prays that they will be sanctified or made holy according to the truth of God’s word (v. 17). We do not have unity because we do not have a shared vision of holiness and truth.

The argument is really not about whether Scripture identifies all forms of homosexual practice as sin. Liberal Bible scholar Luke Timothy Johnson says, progressives should be honest that they are in fact “rejecting the straightforward commands of Scripture” in light of the authority of modern experience.[1] Walter Brueggemann argues that the revelation of Jesus shows that the prohibitions against homosexual behavior were just wrong.[2] Our own Adam Hamilton makes a similar argument by saying that some Scripture was never inspired of God. Yet according to Matthew 5 Jesus said:

17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (NRSV)

I pray for unity, but not a unity based on what is at least a partial rejection of the authority of the moral law in Scripture. This is not in harmony with the teaching of Jesus or our own doctrinal standards that express the sufficiency of Scripture (Article 5) and the ongoing authority of the moral law (Article 6), which was an essential for John Wesley. Jesus, in John 14:15, says, “if you love me you will keep my commandments.”

Without a shared vision of holiness and truth we cannot have unity. The “One Church” plan will not bring peace; it will prolong infighting and intensify it by localizing it to the Annual Conference and local church. The traditional plan allows for the possibility of unity around a shared vision of holiness and truth; it also allows for amicable separation for those who have contradictory and competing visions.

The call to maintain the unity of the Spirit in Ephesians 4:3 must be understood in light of what Paul says a few verses later about the goal of building up of the body of Christ. The goal is to work

until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. 14 We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. 15 But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,.. (Eph 4:13-15 NRSV).

[1] Luke Timothy Johnson, “Homosexuality and the Church: Scripture and Experience,” Commonweal Magazine, 6/11/2007,  https://www.commonwealmagazine.org/homosexuality-church-0. accessed 1/3/2019.

[2] Marlena Graves, “It’s Not a Matter of Obeying the Bible: 8 Questions for Walter Brueggemann,” On Faith, https://www.onfaith.co/onfaith/2015/01/09/walter-brueggemann-church-gospel-bible/35739. accessed 1/3/2019.

Below you’ll also find a link to a video where I recently discussed the plans that the special General Conference will be presented and explain why I disagree with some of the most common reasons given for changing the official position of the UMC. It may be useful in having conversations in churches from a conservative perspective.

Augustine and Wesley on the “One Church” Plan

Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking around. ~ G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

When considering major decisions for the Church, Christians can’t merely look to the opinions of those who live in only one geographic area. Neither should a body of Christians only consider what those who are presently alive have to say on any major issue. The Church is a communion of saints (holy people set apart by faith) throughout space and time. The Church consists of Christians around the globe and throughout history. The importance of tradition, as Chesterton noted, is that it enables us to listen to the voice of those who though dead still speak.

Progressives in the United Methodist Church are advocating that we change the definition of marriage and loosen the standards for sexual ethics. One major rationale given is that morality is “contextual.” This is what proponents of the so-called One Church Plan have insisted. Apparently the UM judicial council concurs. At least they say there is nothing in our doctrinal standards that would require uniformity of moral standards when it comes to marriage and sexual morality. Make note, however, that the One Church Plan doesn’t assume that there would be wide distance in terms of contextual standards for morality.

The assumption is not that moral standards may vary between continents or countries, or other large geographical areas. The assumption is that moral standards regarding marriage and sexual ethics may vary within local communities from local church to local church. The assumption is that different UM churches within the very same community, perhaps just on opposite sides of the street, can operate with contradictory definitions of marriage and different teaching regarding sexual morality, one of the most controversial issues of our time religiously and politically, and still somehow maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. I wouldn’t bank on it!

The assumption that morality can easily be considered separately from theological doctrines is seriously flawed. One of the most essential distinguishing features of the Judeo-Christian worldview from a pagan worldview is the connection between religion and morality in the former. Nevertheless, proponents of the ironically named One Church Plan insist that separation should be made, at least with regards to sex and marriage. There also seems to be the assumption that modern times necessitate doctrinal and moral relativism because of competing interpretations of the content, nature and authority of Scripture. The idea seems to be that at our current place in history we now know that doctrinal and moral relativism is an obvious necessity, something of which our ancestors were unaware. Sometimes progressives simply refer to the current year to seal the deal. “Hey it’s 2018! Get with it! And leave that outdated morality in the past where it belongs!”

That being said, I’m not really sure that proponents of the One Church Plan are as committed to their own idea of contextuality as they say. I think they really believe in the universal rightness of their vision of human sexuality for all people every where. They are just willing to make exceptions for traditionalists as a stepping stone. That’s what Bishop Palmer said at the Uniting Methodist conference in Dallas a few months ago as he compared the views of traditionalists regarding marriage to apologists for slavery in the past. Nevertheless, for now they are using their idea of contextuality to make space for different, and competing and contradictory, standards of marriage and sexual ethics within the same denomination to gain ground.

But there is really nothing new under the sun! I think we should and we can consult our ancestors to get their opinion on the underlying premises of the One Church Plan.

I’m in a DMin focus group at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio called “Living the Historic Faith: Christian Wisdom for Today’s Church.” We seek to study Scripture and mine the great tradition of the faith to apply ancient wisdom in the modern Church. This semester we read and discussed Saint Augustine’s book called Teaching Christianity. Augustine’s basic method of teaching the faith was to help church leaders in understanding the Scriptures correctly and to communicate their meaning clearly and effectively. For Augustine to teach Christianity is to teach the Bible. I know there are those who say the Church had faith before it had a Bible. But they are usually only thinking of the New Testament canon. From the beginning the church had Scripture as a standard of the faith proclaimed, the Old Testament (see Acts 17:11). Augustine well knew that there is an inseparable interrelationship between the Old and New Testaments. He said, The new is in the old concealed; the old is in the new revealed.”


Although Augustine’s method of finding symbolic meaning in seemingly mundane passages of Scripture is odd for most of us, he did not take liberties at the expense of the literal and plain meaning of Scripture. He didn’t just interpret the Old Testament figuratively. He also gave very practical instruction in terms of understanding the plain meaning of Scripture. For one thing he recommended that people begin by reading through the entirety of the Bible to get as familiar with its contents as possible. He also assumed that Scripture as a whole was clear (perspicuous) enough that one could understand God’s general will revealed therein. He believed there was enough clarity to prevent an honest person with the help of the Holy Spirit and the Church from being led astray by misinterpreting obscure and difficult passages in a heterodox way. He believed the clear passages of Scripture revealed the rule of faith by which all else was to be interpreted. For Augustine the intent of Scripture is to lead people to the love of God and neighbor, which also serves as a primary guide for interpreting Scripture. But to be sure, for Augustine the meaning of love should be derived from the plethora of plain passages from Scripture.

Augustine did warn about the danger of interpreting things literally that should be interpreted figuratively in accordance with the rule faith; but he also warned about the danger of interpreting things figuratively as a cloak for rebellion and self-will. In one such warning I believe Saint Augustine, though dead, yet speaks directly to the folly inherent in the One Church Plan.

The human race, however, is inclined to judge sins, not according to the gravity of the evil desire involved, but rather with the importance attached to their own customs. So people frequently reckon that only those acts are to be blamed which in their own part of the world and in their own time have been customarily treated as vicious and condemned, and only those acts to be approved of and praised which are acceptable to those among whom they live. Thus it can happen that if scripture either commands something that does not accord with the customs of the hearers, or censures something which does not fit in with them, they assume they are dealing with a figurative mode of speech—if that is, their minds are bound by the authority of God’s word. Scripture, though, commands nothing but charity, or love, and censures nothing but cupidity, or greed, and that is the way it gives shape and form to human morals.

Again, if people’s minds are already in thrall to some erroneous opinion, whatever scripture may assert that differs from it will be reckoned by them to be said in a figurative way. The only thing, though, it ever asserts is catholic faith, with reference to things in the past and in the future and in the present. It tells the story of things past, foretells things future, points out things present; but all of these things are of value for nourishing and fortifying charity or love, and overcoming and extinguishing cupidity or greed. ~ Teaching Christianity, Book III:10.15

It seems pretty clear to me that Saint Augustine would be against the “One Church” Plan and the moral relativism—however selective it may be—on which it is based. Wooden literalism can certainly be harmful, but so can unwarranted figurative interpretation. As Augustine suggests, those whose minds are still bound by the authority of Scripture, will sometimes appeal to alternative interpretations to justify what Scripture actually calls sin. It’s important to note that Augustine defines charity or love as “the urge of the spirit to find joy in God for his own sake, and in oneself and one’s neighbor for God’s sake.” He defined cupidity or greed as “any impulse of the spirit to find joy in oneself and one’s neighbor, and in any kind of bodily thing at all, not for God’s sake.” In other words, Biblical love is to do all to please God; cupidity is to live to please self. One of these motivations can help us interpret Scripture faithfully, the other will lead us to distort Scripture in a self-serving and culturally accommodating way.

Augustine’s warning here resonates with John Wesley’s warning about speculative latitudinarianism (i.e. doctrinal indifference).

This unsettledness of thought, this being “driven to and fro, and tossed about with every wind of doctrine,” is a great curse, not a blessing, an irreconcilable enemy, not a friend, to true catholicism. A man of a truly catholic spirit has not now his religion to seek. He is fixed as the sun in his judgement concerning the main branches of Christian doctrine. It is true, he is always ready to hear and weigh whatsoever can be offered against his principles; but as this does not show any wavering in his own mind, so neither does it occasion any. He does not halt between two opinions, nor vainly endeavour to blend them into one. Observe this, you who know not what spirit ye are of: who call yourselves men of a catholic spirit, only because you are of a muddy understanding; because your mind is all in a mist; because you have no settled, consistent principles, but are for jumbling all opinions together. Be convinced, that you have quite missed your way; you know not where you are. You think you are got into the very spirit of Christ; when, in truth, you are nearer the spirit of Antichrist. Go, first, and learn the first elements of the gospel of Christ, and then shall you learn to be of a truly catholic spirit. ~ Sermon 39 “Catholic Spirit” 3.1

For Wesley morality was not an indifferent matter. Earlier in the same sermon he speaks of the moral law as one the essentials of the faith. Neither did Augustine see morality as an indifferent matter subject to revision according to place and time. Augustine would certainly agree that we have to adjust language from place to place and from time to time in order to communicate the truth of the gospel more effectively. But he would certainly not go along with the idea that we also have to change the truth to which language and symbols refer from place to place and from time to time as well.

Will we be swayed by the prevailing winds of the customs and sinful sensibilities of the modern western world, “the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking around” in a particular time and place? Or will we listen faithfully to Scripture with the help of tradition, the voice of the saints from the past? Augustine and Wesley have spoken. Are we listening? Will the United Methodist General Conference heed their warnings? Let’s pray it does!

The UMC: Talking about the Future With Your Church

The future(s) of the Untied Methodist Church hangs in the balance awaiting a special called session of the General Conference scheduled to meet February 23-26, 2019 in St. Louis, Missouri. The hope is this General Conference will be able to approve a solution to the current impasse the denomination faces over the presenting issue of sexual morality. If a solution is reached or not—many including me are doubtful that the UMC is functional enough to reach a consensus on any proposed solution—each  local church faces the reality of an uncertain future for which they need to be prepared. The time to start the conversation has long past, but if your church has yet to talk about it wait no more.

In my conference (Western NC) a delegation has been assigned the task of leading “Healthy Conversations” regarding the current state of the church and the possible future(s) of the UMC. I attended the session in my district on April 22nd.

The moderators of the discussion were two progressive women, one a lay delegate to the 2019 General Conference, the other a deacon and clergy delegate to the General Conference, who also works in our Conference office. The lay delegate shared the history of the additions to the Book of Discipline regarding the practice of homosexuality since 1972, and the more recent open declarations and acts of “ecclesial disobedience” among progressives, such as the Western Jurisdictions election of an openly lesbian Bishop shortly after the 2016 General Conference. She just stated the facts without adding her own commentary. Likewise, the clergy delegate explained the development and the stated goals of The Commission on a Way Forward (COWF), which consists of representatives from across the theological spectrum and from around the global connection.

The COWF was tasked by the Council of Bishops to propose possible solutions to the current impasse in the UMC over issues regarding sexual morality. She explained the three possible sketches given by the Council of Bishops last fall:

  1. Affirm the current Book of Discipline language and place a high value on accountability. The church policy book says the practice of homosexuality “is incompatible with Christian teaching” and lists officiating at a same-gender union or being a “self-avowed practicing” gay clergy member as chargeable offenses under church law.                                                                                              **(Presently it seems the COB will not propose this model, but it could still possibly be proposed from the floor of the General Conference.)**
  2. Remove restrictive language and place a high value on contextualization. This sketch also specifically protects the rights of those whose conscience will not allow them to perform same-gender weddings or ordain LGBTQ persons.
  3. Create multiple branches that have clearly defined values such as accountability, contextualization and justice. This model would maintain shared doctrine and services and one Council of Bishops.

*Each possibility includes a way to exit for those church entities that feel called to leave the denomination.*                                                              http://www.umc.org/news-and-media/bishops-consider-3-models-for-church-future

The gathered group at this district meeting, clergy and one lay representative from each church, were also shown a video of Rev. Tom Berlin explaining the current factions in SugarPacket_Blogthe denomination as he sees it using sugar packets. Rev. Berlin, who is in favor of the full inclusion of LGBTQ+ people, describes four factions. From left to right they are:

1. Progressive Non-Compatibilists, who see anything less than full inclusion (i.e. full acceptance including LGBTQ+ beliefs and behavior) as a intolerable injustice.

2. Progressive Compatibilists are those who prefer full inclusion without exception, but are willing to live with the second sketch above, sometimes called “the local option,” where pastors and churches would not be forced to participate in same sex weddings, for example.

3. Traditional Compatibilists are those who hold the traditional view regarding Christian sexual morality, but again would be willing to remain in the denomination that allowed for “the local option.”

4. Finally, there are the Traditional Non-Compatibilists, who could not in good conscience remain in a denomination that allowed for the acceptance and promotion of what they see as sin according to Scripture.

While somewhat helpful in terms of general descriptions, Rev. Berlin’s presentation is misleading in a number of ways. (see Rev. Berlin’s Video Presentation HERE)

  1. It is too America-centric. The United Methodist Church is a global denomination. General Conference representation is made up of people from around the world. Representation from very conservative areas of the world continues to increase while representation from the United States is on the decline. Membership in Africa has grown significantly since 1968, while membership in the United States decreased from about 11 million to around 7 million today. Rev. Berlin, himself, says in his presentation that on the current trajectory membership in the United States is expected to drop below 1 million over about the next thirty years. Barring a miraculous reversal (and a miracle is exactly what it would take) General Conference representation will eventually be predominantly African. In Rev. Berlin’s presentation he literally marginalizes the African voice and talks about it only as an afterthought. That is a mistake and seriously misleading.
  2. It is also too centrist-centric. That is, Rev. Berlin’s presentation makes it seem like the “compatiabilist” camp is the overwhelming majority. In fact, the clergy moderator of our district conversation sent out a social media message several months ago promoting the centrist “Uniting Methodist” movement essentially saying that 90 percent of the church agreed with them. If that really is the case then why did our own annual conference in 2015 vote down a petition to call for the removal of the restrictions against homosexual practice in the Book of Discipline? The lay delegates from my own church were appalled that so many clergy voted in favor of it, but because of the lay representation the measure failed. I have no doubt that if it was up to the American representatives alone across the United States a measure like that would pass, but it is not up to the United States alone! Moreover, Rev. Berlin’s presentation has the effect of painting those in the non-compatibilist camps om either end as extremist. Being on the end of a spectrum on a particular issue doesn’t make one an extremist. As someone else said, no one wants to be identified with the lunatic fringe, so a presentation like this has the tendency to make people want to to identify themselves somewhere in the middle even though it may not accurately reflect their true views.
  3. Another problem with Rev. Berlin’s presentation is the lack of specificity. His model is based on conjecture and anecdotal evidence not hard data. And each faction should be defined much more specifically, especially, I think, the so-called traditional compatibilists category. What is it that these folks actually believe? Are these people who believe the practice of homosexuality is sin, along with other sexual activity outside of the marriage covenant between a man and a woman, which if engaged in unrepentantly would exclude one from the kingdom of God as in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10? If so it’s hard to see how they could be comfortable treating it as an indifferent matter anymore than they would treat any of the other sins listed there in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 that way. In fact, Rev. Dr. Chris Ritter, in his assessment of Rev. Berlin’s model, believes traditional compatibilists are a rare breed indeed. In his view the centrist category is populated almost entirely by progressive compatibilists. (Read more about that HERE).
  4. The way Rev. Berlin describes progressives’ and traditionalists’ views of the authority of Scripture is also problematic. He implies that both value the authority of Scripture equally, but just emphasize different portions of the Bible. He does this by implying a greater tension between the law and the prophets and and the Gospels and the letters of Paul than actually exists. Rev. Berlin says traditionalists emphasize the laws regarding personal holiness found in the Pentateuch whereas progressives emphasize the message of the prophets and concern for the marginalized in society. I assume, like many progressives, Rev. Berlin also believes Paul wrote some things in his letters like the aforementioned passage from 1 Corinthians that the Jesus of the Gospels would not necessarily have condoned. While I do understand that different passages in Scripture present us with tensions and paradoxes, I do not believe it does so to such an extent that the prophets, for example, give messages that are blatantly contradictory to the law. The ministry of the prophets was to call God’s people back to faithfulness to the law not to progress past it. Jesus certainly substantiates this in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:17-20 (see also Luke 16:16-17). In Jesus’ parable of the rich man and the marginalized poor beggar, Lazarus, Abraham from paradise tells the rich man in hell that the law and the prophets are enough to keep his brothers from ending up in hell too (see Luke 16:19-31). Jesus certainly didn’t see any major contradiction between the law and the prophets, and there is none between Jesus or Paul either. In fact two of the great prophets, Jeremiah (31:31ff) and Ezekiel (36:25ff) foretold the promise of the New Covenant that Jesus came to fulfill wherein God would write the law on his people’s hearts. Rev. Berlin unnecessarily and unjustifiably pits Scripture against Scripture to confuse. The historical position of the Church has been, following the analogy of faith, that Scripture is mutually illuminating not hopelessly contradictory. Moreover, when progressives like Rev. Adam Hamilton are arguing that not all of the Bible is inspired by God contrary to 2 Timothy 3-4 (see context) and to the teaching of John Wesley (see his Preface to his notes on the NT, section 10), it is more than a stretch to argue that progressives value the authority of Scripture just as much as traditionalists.

During the second half of the district conversation we were also given some questions to discuss with those sitting at our round tables. It seems Rev. Berlin’s video presentation and the discussion questions were designed to promote, subtly at least, “the local option.” One of the questions was on whether we thought of diversity as a strength or weakness. At my table there were six people, including me, and the views spanned the full spectrum. One person was very progressive, one leaned progressive, one said she was right in the middle and three of us were traditional non-compatibilists, or at least leaning heavily in that direction. Concerning the question about whether diversity is a strength or weakness, we all seemed to agree that it depends on exactly what one means by diversity. If the diversity is complementary and directed toward the same common goal then it is a strength; if it is contradictory and competing with people whose ultimate goals are contradictory then it is a weakness.

A related discussion question was whether our common mission outweighs our differences. At our table, there seemed to be agreement that our common mission was to make disciples for the transformation of the world. Yet we also agreed that when it comes to specifics we probably have very different visions of what makes a Christian disciple a disciple. We also agreed that we may very well have contradictory and competing visions of who Jesus is and what he really desires of us.

Another question was about what we think the church needs to do to reach the non-religious and those who have stopped attending church. The very progressive person at our table said the church should truly have “open hearts, open minds, and open doors” and accept all people for who they are.  I asked, “Do you think the church in any way should expect and call for transformation, a change of heart and lifestyle, for people who become members of the church?” She said she wasn’t sure. I said, “well let me give you a specific scenario.”

“Let’s say I have a married couple, a man and a woman, attending my church. After several weeks they decide they would like to become members. When I as the pastor talk with them about faith in Christ and what it means to be church members, they inform me that they have an open marriage. They say they have thought a lot about it and do not see anything wrong with it. They believe their desires to be with other people sexually are a good gift of God and perfectly natural. And as a matter of fact they would like to have their swingers club meeting in the fellowship hall of the church and invite other church members to participate.” Then I asked, “what should I tell them as the pastor?” Again, my progressive conversation partner wouldn’t commit one way or the other.

Think about that in light of the progressive “Denver Statement” made in response to the conservative “Nashville Statement” last summer regarding sexuality.

 WE AFFIRM that God created us as sexual beings in endless variety.
WE DENY that the only type of sexual expression that can be considered holy is between a cis-gendered, heterosexual, married couple who waited to have sex until they were married. But if you fit in that group, good for you, we have no problem with your lifestyle choices. (emphasis mine)


The kind of diversity that some are so eager to sanctify and ratify is not a strength. We we have contradictory and competing visions of who Jesus is and what he expects of us. We have been operating with these contradictory and competing visions in America for quite some time, even though the progressive vision has never gained official General Conference approval. The results prove that John Wesley was right that doctrinal indifference is “a great curse, not a blessing” (Sermon 39:3.1 “Catholic Spirit”). More doctrinal indifference (i.e. contextuality) is not really the blessing that some would have us believe.

Walter Fenton and Rob Renfroe ask in their new book regarding the current state of the United Methodist Church, Are We Really Better Together?   As do they, I think the overall results in America already show that the answer is clearly no. I highly recommend Rev. Fenton and Rev. Renfroes very succinct book to get an inside view of how we got to the point we are at today.

The “local option,” also called “the one church contextual model,” (sketch 2 above) will not bring a truce. It will only prolong the battle and intensify it by localizing it. It will bring the heat of the battle from the General Conference level down to each annual conference and each local church. You can’t bring unity through attempting to sanctify division!

Regardless of what happens at the special General Conference next year, each local church needs to be prepared one way or another. The leaders of our district’s “Healthy Conversation” emphasized this too. Each church needs to decide where it stands. As a church who are you? What do you value and why? You need to be specific. This is not the time for vague platitudes. Some fallout is unavoidable no matter what. Avoidance hasn’t helped us avoid fallout either, has it? Every church I have served has already lost people on all sides. The church I serve now was on the verge of losing dozens of people just a couple of years ago. Over several months we had discussions about the current state of the denomination, and the possible future(s) given in those three sketches above. We talked about the presenting issue and the deeper divide. We also opened the conversation up to the whole church. After much consideration our church council decided that we stand with the Wesleyan Covenant Association. The conversation has not been easy, but it has been absolutely necessary. Where does your church stand? Have the conversation to find out. It needs to happen and soon. May God give you wisdom and courage.

(Here are some of my thoughts about how to go about it from a traditional perspective).


Have United Methodists Lost It?

My prayer for this year’s General Conference of the United Methodist Church has been that Methodists will rediscover something that I believe has been lost, at least in the American and some other contexts. While some are admirably encouraging the United Methodist Church to explicitly and officially acknowledge the doctrinal authority of the Nicene Creed, I believe we also need to recover and reclaim an authority even more basic than that, namely the New Covenant.

Like the book of the covenant given to Israel was lost under a mound of Idolatry and forgotten, only to be ‘accidentally’ rediscovered and reclaimed in the days of king Josiah (1 Kings 22-23), I believe United Methodism, again, at least in some quarters, has lost and forgotten the New Covenant. Far too many just simply don’t understand what it is; others simply refuse to accept it.

This becomes painfully obvious when love is pitted against law, and when grace is redefined as forgiveness and/or acceptance without transformation. Then you have those who believe the two great laws to love God and your neighbor as yourself set aside the remainder of the law rather than fulfill it, negate it rather than activate it. It’s obvious that they just don’t understand the New Covenant, which I didn’t either for many, many years, and I realize I still have much to learn. It’s also sadly obvious when ceremonial and civil laws that only pertained to the ancient near eastern nation of Israel is used to negate the ongoing sexual prohibitions, which are clearly restated in the New Testament. When warnings about the dangers of sin to unrepentant sinners and calls to repentance and self-denial are labeled as hatred and bigotry, and despicable judgmentalism, or when any mention of obedience and good works is quickly dismissed as Pharisaic legalism, there is a serious misunderstanding of the New Covenant. And it’s not just liberals I’m talking about here; many evangelical traditions are run amuck with these types of misunderstandings as well.

With regards to the current crisis facing the United Methodist Church over how to be in ministry to the LGBTQ community and in response to the same-sex ceremony performed in a UM Church in Charlotte, NC, which the ministers involved called an act of ‘biblical obedience’, a couple of weeks ago I posted on social media a link to the book “Unchanging Witness: The Consistent Christian Teaching on Homosexuality in Scripture and Tradition” with the following statement:

Was the recent ceremony at First UMC in Charlotte really an act of “biblical obedience”? Bible Scholar Luke Timothy Johnson (at Emory), who is LGBT affirming says the following: “The task demands intellectual honesty. I have little patience with efforts to make Scripture say something other than what it says, through appeals to linguistic or cultural subtleties. The exegetical situation is straightforward: we know what the text says.” Later he goes on to say: “I think it important to state clearly that we do, in fact, reject the straightforward commands of Scripture, and appeal instead to another authority when we declare that same-sex unions can be holy and good.”

I also heard ultra liberal Phyllis Tickle say that it’s a fool’s game to try to prove from the Bible that same-sex relationships are not sinful. There are many other liberal scholars who would say the same, but like Johnson they just simply reject the Biblical commandments. As a matter of fact, this is what Adam Hamilton’s bucket # 3 is for. Donald Fortson and Rollin Graham in their book, “Unchanging Witness”, present an abundance of evidence from the ancient primary sources that reveals why liberal scholars in the church and outside the church would say something like what Johnson and Tickle have said. The Bible really is clear on this issue despite all the efforts to muddy the clear waters.

Professor Johnson, nonetheless, argues (article “Homosexuality and the Church: Scripture and Experience”) for the authority of experience over Scripture in a way that he still somehow believes is being liberal in the name of the gospel. It’s hard to see how that can be when the gospel is the fulfillment of the promise of the New Covenant in which the laws of God are written on His people’s hearts by the Spirit so they will obey. In Romans 8 Paul indicates that it is the mind of the flesh, being hostile to God, opposed to the Spirit, which refuses to submit to God’s law thereby pleasing God. The promise of the new covenant ratified by the blood of Christ is a healed heart and the gift of God’s Spirit so we can and will obey God’s commands not reject them (Deut 30; Jer 31; Ezk 36).

In spite of this, in response, some progressive clergy still tried to play the game of muddying the waters. One asked why I only referenced Old Testament scripture, apparently missing my reference to Romans 8, and asked me to tell her what Jesus said about it under the New Covenant. In addition to the reference to Romans 8, also lost on my colleague was the fact that the OT references I gave in parenthesis were in fact promises of the New Covenant, the new thing that God promised to do for His people after exile. Predictably, my colleague also made the fallacious argument from silence that since Jesus didn’t explicitly say anything about same-sex relationships it must be okay.

At any rate, so many of our arguments center around a failure to understand, or a disingenuous refusal to acknowledge the differences between the Old Covenant with Israel mediated through Moses, and the New Covenant mediated and ratified by Jesus and activated by the Holy Spirit. The Old Covenant foretold the New Covenant and indicated that there would be differences, although it didn’t spell out all of those differences exactly.

Heart on Fire

So we shouldn’t be surprised that the New Covenant is not exactly the same as the Old Covenant, especially since Jeremiah specifically tells us that it would not be (Jeremiah 31:31-34). The promise of the circumcised heart in Deuteronomy 30, for instance, is one of those differences, the result of which would be wholehearted love for God evidenced by obedience to God’s commandments. Jeremiah specifies that this would involve God’s laws being written on the hearts of His people and the forgiveness of sins to be remembered no more. Ezekiel also indicated that this would include the renewal of the heart and the transformation of the human spirit to be accompanied by the gift of God’s very own Spirit, again the end result being obedience to God’s commandments.

Yesterday was Pentecost, the time when the Church commemorates and celebrates the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, which Peter proclaimed to be a fulfillment of that which God had spoken through the prophet Joel, that he would pour out his Spirit on all flesh, male and female, young and old, slave and free (Joel 2:28-29). But we must understand the extraordinarily generous outpouring of the Spirit within the context of the promise of the New Covenant, which Jesus inaugurated.

The purpose of this outpouring of the Spirit of God wasn’t simply to give us warm and fuzzy feelings in our hearts and cold chills on our skin, but to transform us from the inside out to be an obedient people who gladly submit to God’s moral law from the heart, not just outwardly as arrogant legalists, but also not to use God’s grace as an excuse for lawlessness (i.e. antinomianism). The Bible has nothing good to say about legalism; neither has it anything good to say about lawlessness.

Of course the New Covenant is not a simple prescription of prohibitions; it is a promise with power. The Old Covenant could only reveal sin; the New Covenant deals with it once and for all and empowers God’s people to overcome it by the power of God’s Spirit to be gladly and joyfully obedient to God’s law, which is evidence of love for God and love of neighbor.

The Holy Spirit would certainly never lead God’s people to reject the straightforward commands of scripture, which are clearly stated and warned about in both the Old and New Testament. Instead, the Holy Spirit would enable us to submit to God’s law, which is an impossibility in the flesh, our corrupt sinful nature, as Paul says in Romans 8. This is the promise with power; this is the authority of the New Covenant.

Yet these truths have been buried under a mountain of misunderstanding, misinformation, misdirection, poor interpretation, reimagining, rethinking, and human traditions conformed to the reasoning of idolatrous minds and the sinful desires of a fallen world. The past few days of General Conference it seems there has been a full-court press to pile on to this mountain.

Countless have been the calls to love, but not love as it is defined in scripture. Love is keeping the straightforward commandments of scripture, the commandments of the living God, not rejecting them. Countless have been the calls to follow the Holy Spirit, but not as that is defined in scripture. The Holy Spirit would not lead us to fulfill the desires of the flesh and of the mind to please ourselves (Eph 2), but to fulfill the just requirements of the law and to submit to God’s law in order to please Him (Romans 8). The Spirit would inspire us to welcome all people from everywhere no matter what sins they have committed and how they may be uniquely tempted, as the Gospel is the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham that in his seed all the peoples of the earth would find blessing, but not to try to sanctify any particular sinful desire and behavior.

Those cannot be calls inspired by the Holy Spirit. We need to be truthful. The New Covenant has been buried under a mountain of distorted reasoning and human tradition built thereon. Last Friday morning one of our bishops during a sermon misrepresented the position of our church as stated in our Book of Discipline. No person created in the image of God, who is of sacred worth, is deemed to be incompatible with Christian teaching, although certain behavior is. This same bishop, Bishop Sally Dyck, also implied that the church does not deem other sins, specifically in her sermon murder and racism, to be incompatible with Christian teaching. Of course we do, even though the term “incompatible” may not be used. With regards to murder we acknowledge the binding authority of the 6th commandment, which clearly indicates that we find murder to be incompatible with Christian teaching and racism is a chargeable offense for UM pastors, not to mention contrary to the vows in the baptismal covenant in our own hymnal. And in that context, apparently in a desperate attempt to justify homosexuality, she went on to say that she didn’t really want to add anything to the list. She said,“I want us to go learn mercy and not have anything declared incompatible with Christian teaching in our Church.” Early, however, she said that it was incompatible with Christian teaching to declare anyone incompatible with Christian teaching. What does this really mean? Although it really is a disingenuous, dishonest, and an incoherent straw man argument, I think it is quite revealing in another way.

The bishop’s rant actually reveals a competing covenant. It’s a covenant built around the liberal notion of love, which is defined by the liberal notion of tolerance and permissiveness, do what thou wilt as long as it’s consensual. It appears to be a virtually lawless love, save one, “Thou shalt not judge!” And the mercy offered seems to be defined as making people more comfortable with who they are as sinners rather than helping them to be set free from sin and its death-dealing consequences to become saints. I really wanted to believe that she simply misspoke when she said she did not want “anything to be declared incompatible with Christian teaching”, but in the context of her message it seems that is what she meant. That’s a lawless love, which is not really love at all according to scripture. It’s a covenant where sin is forgiven without repentance and sinners being transformed and empowered to resist temptation and to live holy lives it seems.

Bishop Harvey did much better this morning when she preached on the parable of the invitation to the wedding banquet from Matthew’s Gospel. She rightly said that we are invited to come as we are, but we are not welcome to enjoy the party by remaining that way. By accepting the invitation to the party we must also accept the proper attire, the robe, provided compliments of the host. Allowing God to clothe us in righteousness and holiness on His terms is required. Unfortunately Bishop Harvey mistakenly offered an exemption for the LGBT community by comparing sexual orientation with things like race and biological gender rather than other sexual temptations like consensual adultery (i.e. swinging), which, by the way, the founding father of the sexual revolution, Alfred Kinsey, deemed to be acceptable because he believed it was “natural” as he believed homosexuality and a lot of other things to be as well. Nonetheless, this is an exemption that is not authorized by either the Old or the New Covenants.

To truly be in New Covenant ministry for the salvation of sinners for the kingdom of God we must stay within the parameters of the New Covenant itself and remember that it’s not just a prescription of prohibitions; it’s a promise of God the Father with power because of the she blood of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit.

Of course the gospel is not change so you can be saved. Sinners can’t change, any more than a leopard could change its spots (Jeremiah 13:23). It is impossible for any sinner to change themselves. The good news is that with God all things are possible and sinners can be changed, all sinners can become saints by the transforming grace and power of God. This is the promise of the New Covenant, often buried and forgotten, but a treasure nonetheless.

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! The sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, passive homosexual partners, practicing homosexuals, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, the verbally abusive, and swindlers will not inherit the kingdom of God. Some of you once lived this way. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11 NET)