Orthodox Clergy and Theologians Seek a Way Forward in the UM Church’s Crisis
April 8, 2014 By Good News
Sixty leading orthodox United Methodist pastors and theologians joined a conference call during the first week of April to discuss the deep divisions within The United Methodist Church. The consensus was that the present reality, where a growing number of United Methodist bishops are unwilling to enforce the Book of Discipline, is unacceptable and untenable. It was agreed that a small working group would develop proposals for all the group to consider and then present them to the wider church.
“Lyle Schaller’s 2004 book, The Ice Cube Is Melting, described a problem that still confronts The United Methodist Church today: two groups are locked in diametrically opposed positions,” said the Rev. Dr. Tom Harrison, pastor of Asbury United Methodist Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma. “Since his book was published, the conflict has escalated to the point where one group is breaking the covenant which binds us together. A new path must be found.”
Though the issues that brought the group together were divergent opinions within the church regarding sexuality and multiple acts of blatant disregard and disobedience of our Book of Discipline, those who spoke on the call indicated that the deeper and more important division within the church is significantly different understandings of the inspiration and authority of the Bible. “We believe that the Bible is God’s word – inspired by the Holy Spirit in its entirety and authoritative for determining what is spiritually and morally true. Many progressives see the Scriptures very differently, so much so that they accept some parts as coming from God and dismiss other parts as being uninspired – even flat out wrong,” said the Rev. Dr. Charles Kyker, pastor of Christ United Methodist Church in Hickory, North Carolina.
For more than 40 years there have been vigorous debates within the UM Church regarding its stand on human sexuality. Those who are orthodox have engaged in and supported those debates and dialogs in order to arrive at our church’s doctrine and practice. “Our connectional covenant depends on obedience and faithfulness to the policies adopted by the General Conference of The United Methodist Church. From bishops, to clergy, to boards and agencies, it is that covenant that makes us united and binds us together. When the covenant is not maintained and protected at any level of the church, we suffer from disunity and create a diffused witness to both the church and the world in which we live,” said the Rev. Steve Wood, pastor of Mt. Pisgah United Methodist Church in Alpharetta, Georgia.
The working group is expected to consider a wide range of options to address the current situation, including proposals for local congregations that question the wisdom of funding a church that will not enforce its policies, potential legislation for the next General Conference, and continuing efforts to ensure compliance with the requirements of our existing Book of Discipline. Some pastors on the call asked the group to come back with a plan that would allow for the formation of two new denominations, one progressive and the other orthodox. “The heightened conflict within our denomination is hindering the ability of both progressive and orthodox United Methodists to pursue the mission of the church as they see it,” said the Rev. Dr. Maxie Dunnam, retired pastor, author, and seminary president. “We must resolve this conflict, so that we can focus wholeheartedly on the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”
All who joined the call believe the church is in a time of unprecedented crisis and in need of strong leadership that exercises its authority in conformity with the letter and spirit of the Book of Discipline.