Welcome to the Pastor’s Corner! Dr. Steve Pulliam and I plan to publish a 12-week series of communications that will provide information as well as personal and theological reflections regarding the deep denominational divide in the United Methodist Church.
The UMC denomination has been in a period of escalating tension and disagreement over the past several years. The presenting issue is related to the church’s teaching on marriage and on the qualifications for the ordination of pastors, however, the philosophical and theological divide runs much deeper. At the core are differences regarding Christology and the primacy and authority of Scripture.
We teach that God’s desire for marriage is between one man and one woman and we only affirm sexual relationship within the covenant of holy marriage. Even though same-sex marriage was legalized by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2015, same-sex marriage ceremonies are not performed by UMC pastors nor are they celebrated in our churches. According to the UMC Book of Discipline “self-avowed, practicing” gay and lesbian persons are not ordained as pastors in the UMC.
Social attitudes in American culture have changed over the years and there is growing pressure by progressive Methodists to change church law on both points. A specially called General Conference was held in February 2019 to address the church’s stance on marriage and ordination. General Conference is a representative meeting of 800 UMC lay and clergy delegates from across the globe. General Conference is the only body capable of changing our Book of Discipline and speaking for the UMC denomination.
The result of the 2019 General Conference was to reaffirm the UMC’s existing teaching. Many people were surprised by GC’s 2019 vote. Conferences, clergy and Bishops chose to ignore the ruling and the denomination entered a state of schism. The divide between progressive/centrists and conservative United Methodists increased rapidly and hostility raised to an all-time high.
The UMC has reached an impasse. The next General Conference will be held May 5-15, 2020. A Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation was developed by major leaders from progressive and conservative wings of the church. This protocol calls for an amicable separation into two denominations – a post-separation UMC and a new traditional denomination. The protocol process was arbitrated by a professional mediator, Kenneth Feinberg, who donated his time to help our denomination resolve differences in a healthy manner. The Protocol Plan has a promise of passing at GC in May because the leaders of all opposing parties have signed on in agreement. However, until General Conference 2020 meets and votes, uncertainty remains.
Central’s leadership will keep the members of our congregation informed as we move forward. Our Lay Leaders, Church Council Chair, and Executive Team will monitor the situation closely. It is possible Central will hold a church-wide vote sometime in late 2020 to decide which denomination to affiliate.
Central UMC will hold two identical Family Conversations on March 10 (6:30-8:00 p.m.) and March 15 (3:00-4:30 p.m.) hosted by our lay leaders. These conversations will provide our members' information and an opportunity for discussion in facilitated small groups.
The purpose of the Pastor’s Corner is for you to know what your pastoral leadership’s views and opinions are. You are free to agree or disagree with what we share. For me, these are deeply held theological beliefs based on decades of study of scripture, church tradition, and deep theological reflection.
I believe God loves every person, that every man, woman, and child has a soul of inestimable worth. I believe Jesus Christ died for all people – regardless of their race, background, gender, national origin, or sexual orientation. God loves you and Jesus died for you. The UMC Book of Discipline says that “our primary identity is as children of God” and that “all persons are individuals of sacred worth” (Par. 161). The Discipline goes on to say, “All persons need the ministry of the church” and “we affirm that God’s grace is available to all.” All persons are welcome to participate in our church, receive the sacraments and become members. All people are welcome and that welcome warmly extends to LGBTQ persons.
I also believe the Bible teaches that marriage is designed by God to be between one man and one woman. That teaching is a part of God’s plan for family, procreation, and society and is consistent throughout scripture from Genesis to Revelation. I believe that the historic teaching of Judeo-Christianity for 5,000+ years should not be changed regarding the covenant of marriage. God’s Word in the Holy Bible is the primary authority for the Church and her people. The primacy of scripture is a foundational doctrine of the Church and should be faithfully upheld in every generation.
Dr. Pulliam and I will share more of what we believe, why we consider it to be so important and what this means for our church family as we move into the future.
Dr. Jan Davis
(I want to thank my colleague, Dr. Andrew Thompson of First UMC Springdale, whose articulate communication in his congregational letter I adapted in some of my comments.)