Because of my
heretical unorthodox heretical views, for over a decade I’ve found myself most comfortable as a Methodist. After all, anyone who hates John Calvin and Augustine can’t be all bad, right? But the events of the past year in the United Methodist Church have me worried. Did I say past year? How about four decades?
Okay, let’s just stick to the past year. I attend a UMC church in Virginia, which puts me in the Virginia Conference. Last year, for the first time ever, the Virginia Annual Conference voted to petition the General Conference (quadrennial world-wide UMC gathering) to change the Book of Discipline (the UMC book of faith and practice) to eliminate statements saying that homosexuality is antithetical to the Christian faith.
For over four decades, liberal churchmen have been lobbying and pressuring the UMC to accept homosexuality as normal. Although the denomination has voted over and over again to the contrary, they have never accepted it and have been making converts to try to change the denomination. And they have succeeded, as several of the northern and western UMC conferences in the USA have basically decided to ignore the Book of Discipline.
At this year’s General Conference, over 1000 church leaders announced that they would not fill any pulpit in which a minister was removed for either being homosexual or for performing same-sex marriages (another forbidden practice in the Book of Discipline.) As well, 100 ministers and ministerial candidates came out of the closet, again in defiance of Church law.
This year’s quadrennial General Conference was held in Portland, OR, this month, and again, all these petitions for acceptance of homosexuality were denied, albeit by small margins. This year, the difference was in the response. In essence, the LGBTQi faction (I have no idea what the little “i” stands for, nor do I care) threw a temper tantrum, protesting (one report says that some of the protesters were beating on the communion table) and wailing “We’re in pain, O Bishops, our denomination is in pain”, and pleading for the Council of Bishops to lead the church through this horrible, trying time. And the Bishops responded by saying that they would do that very thing and would appoint a commission to look at re-writing the, oh so hurtful, portions of the Book of Discipline.
And not only that, they would also call for a special General Conference to be held in 2-3 years to vote on the commission’s recommendations and re-writes.
Why is this special called General Conference of such import? Well, to put it bluntly, because the balance of influence is shifting in the UMC. In the past, the American branch of the UMC has been in the leadership role for the denomination, but for the past couple of decades, the UMC has been following in the footsteps of other mainline denominations in the USA. The American conferences of the UMC have been hemorrhaging memberships, while the South American and African UMC conferences have been growing by leaps and bounds.
To give you an idea of the import of this, the next two regular General Conferences will, for the first time, be held outside the US. As well, Africa is going to be gaining five new bishops in 2020, giving them more sway on the Council of Bishops and in the leadership of the church. In fact, they should have been awarded these offices this year, but this was postponed until 2020.
The reason why the pro-homosexual petitions from the American conferences were turned away in Portland was due to the non-American delegates to the conference. Last September, dismayed at the doctrinal and biblical drift they were witnessing in the American UMC, the African bishops issued an open letter calling for the UMC to uphold biblical standards and practices. You can just bet that all those petitions being voted down by foreign delegates stung the American pro-homosexual delegations.
And this is why I am leery of the move by the Council of Bishops. The CoB appointing a commission to examine and re-write all the sections Book of Discipline that deal with human sexuality is suspect. The CoB calling for a special General Conference to vote on amending the Book of Discipline before the American influence moves off-shore is suspect. And to top it all off, the General Conference votes to deny Africa the bishops that their populations require until AFTER the 2020 General Conference, meaning that African influence will be hampered at both the special called conference and the regular General Conference in 2020.
You can see why I might be just a bit cynical, can’t you?
(I am going to write another post about the biblical and doctrinal drift of the UMC in a bit. Stay tuned.)