Continuing to Hope When Your Heart Hurts:
A Word To Those Worried About The UMC
by Rev. Beth Ann Cook
Many United Methodists are deeply worried about the future of our Church.
In recent days I've been contacted by both clergy and laity who upset with Bishops around the US allowing LGBTQ activists to blatantly violate our Book of Discipline without meaningful consequences. Their frustration is compounded by the fact that Karen Oliveto continues to serve as a UMC Bishop in spite of the fact that she is by her own admission legally married to another woman in violation of the Book of Discipline. The Judicial Council announced that they will wait until Spring before taking up the South Central Jurisdiction request for a declaratory decision which will bear on this case. For many people this is untenable. You can read more about the Judicial Council case
I get it.
I understand your frustration.
I spend a lot of time listening to people, praying with them, and praying for them.
I've sat with lay members literally weeping over the state of the Church that they love. They tell me their faith stories. They tell me about family members who have also poured their lives in service through The UMC and its predecessor denominations. They feel like their Church has been hijacked by a small number of radicals. The worst part, they say, is that they feel like Bishops and District Superintendents don't care about them, their local congregations or their understanding of God's Word. Their hearts are breaking.
I've also heard the pain of pastors when they recount stories of those who have left. Too many strong leaders and tithers have come to them and said "This is the last straw! I'm going down the street to ________ church."
I've witnessed the fear on pastors faces when they tell me about angry local leaders on the verge of stopping all apportionment payments to the Annual Conference. "What will the Cabinet do to me if this happens?"
I've even taken flack
myself from angry evangelicals who feel like renewal leaders are not doing enough. "If you all (Good News, IRD, Confessing Movement, etc) would just get your act together," they say, "this kind of thing would stop happening." One put it this way: "When are you going to stop sitting around singing Kum Ba Yah the liberals?" [Mind you some of these people would never dream of stepping into the fray themselves but they need someone to vent to--and I'm a safe place to unload.]
I've also listened to hurting friends who describe themselves as centrists and progressives. Many centrists are angry with renewal leaders because they feel like our insistence on accountability to the Book of Discipline is divisive and damaging the church. They feel like we are tearing apart the "Big Tent" church that they love. "Surely unity should take priority over these issues", they say. More progressive friends feel like we are preventing the church from being fully inclusive, welcoming, and just.
So I get it.
I understand why so many United Methodists are tempted to anger and despair. Honestly there are days when become discouraged as well. I'm human.
But I'm not throwing in the towel; I'm praying you won't either.
Today I want to share with you why I am actually HOPEFUL, in spite of all that is happening in The UMC, about how God is going to use the people called Methodist.
First, I know the source of my HOPE.
The old hymn by William Bradbury says:
My hope is built on nothing less,
Than Jesus blood and righteousness,
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
but wholly lean on Jesus name.
On Christ the Solid rock I stand...
The source of my hope is Jesus.
He is the head of the church, He is our rock, and He has not abdicated the throne!
I find no promises in the Bible that following Jesus will be easy. I do, however, find plenty of promises that it will be rewarding and ultimately fruitful.
I believe that The UMC is finally acknowledging the depth
of our problem and being forced to deal with it openly and honestly.
For the first time in my ministry I see evangelicals and progressives respectfully acknowledging the depth of our differences. They are also admitting that behind those differences are different hermeneutics--ways of interpreting and applying Scripture. This is an important step for reaching a less dysfunctional future.
We are increasingly able to articulate one another's vision of the Kingdom of God.
We are admitting that we hold very different underandings of what Jesus would have us do. We are also increasingly able to respect one another in spite of sharp disagreement on these issues. A liberal friend with whom I radically disagree recently quoted an old Dave Mason song on one of my Facebook posts. "There ain't no good guy, there ain't no bad guy; there's only you and me and we just disagree."
Yes, some of our Bishops and self described centrists are still are trying to sweep things under the rug in the vain hope that this will prop up the institution.
But most people know that this won't work. More and more prominent leaders like former Asbury Theological Seminary President Maxie Dunnam, mega-church pastor Adam Hamilton, and Perkins School of Theology professor Ted Campbell are publicly speaking about how wide the differences truly are.
Just Peace, a center specializing in mediation and conflict transformation, was present in Portland at UMC General Conference. I had a chance to talk with one of their mediators. I agree with her assessment that this increasingly open dialogue--which is neither aimed minimizing our differences nor converting others to our view--is a hopeful sign. It is better to deal with the issue head on rather than continually trip over the bump in the rug!
The Council of Bishops is currently considering names for the Special Commission. I've talked with several Bishops involved; they appear to be genuinely committed to appointing a group that fully represents the spectrum of United Methodism. I pray that Commission members are courageous, honest, and able to genuinely respect one another in their deliberations. I am also praying for them to find a way for us to either live together with integrity and clear consciences or gracefully part ways. I'm hoping that we can demonstrate Christ's love to the world in the midst of our conflict. (John 13:35)
Finally the new Wesleyan Covenant Association, which launches on October 7th in Chicago, fills me with hope.
Orthodox, evangelical believers are coming together to support one another and make a difference in our church and world. I'm excited that many of my friends who have been reluctant to engage in renewal efforts in the past are supporting WCA and encouraging others to do so.
page, WCA writes "At this critical juncture it is important for vibrant, orthodox congregations to bear witness together to the primacy of Scripture, and the time-honored traditions of our church." I believe that this unified group of committed believers will make our hearts known to the Commission.
I also believe that we will be encouraged and built up for ministry by the amazing speakers they have selected; like Jorge Acevedo, Kimberly Reisman, and Jerry Kulah, as well as well-known worship leader Mark Swayze.
Leaders tell me they are expecting a capacity crowd in Chicago.
I will close by sharing these words from the Apostle Paul:
Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God's glory... this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.
Romans 5:2-7, NLT (emphasis mine)
Blessings and peace,
Beth Ann Cook is an ordained UMC Elder. She is blessed to serve two vibrant small membership churches in South Central Indiana, Rockford and Ogilville. She loves Jesus, chocolate, and cheering for the Indianapolis Colts. She is also confident that God is answering our prayers for revival in The UMC--even if it doesn't always look the way we expected it to.