In the aftermath of the General Conference, many people are still wondering about the way forward. As a WCA Council member and traditionalist pastor in the overwhelmingly progressive Mountain Sky Annual Conference and Western Jurisdiction, I was hoping that there would be an opportunity for us to finally break the denominational impasse and, perhaps, launch a new Methodist movement.
The results of General Conference were a mixed bag, however. While I’m grateful that the church reaffirmed its commitment to a traditional and biblical ethic on marriage and sexuality, the Conference did not pass a clear and accessible exit path for churches who feel they can no longer stay in the United Methodist Church. I’ve heard some WCA members express disappointment that we did not choose to announce a convening conference for a new Methodist movement after General Conference concluded. While I was hoping for that myself and, indeed, put in a lot of work and effort to that effect, I fully agree with the WCA Council’s decision to refrain from doing so for several reasons:
- It’s consistent with what the WCA said we would do. From the beginning, the WCA has declared that we wanted to bring renewal and revitalization to the United Methodist Church. That has been our primary goal but, if the denomination moved in a direction we could not support, we would certainly be ready to launch a new Methodist movement. With the defeat of the One Church Plan and the passing of the Traditional Plan, nothing has changed in the church’s position on human sexuality and the authority of Scripture. Preparing to leave at this point in time would be disingenuous and call our integrity into question. No, we didn’t get everything we wanted in St. Louis, such as enhanced accountability measures for bishops and a clear and gracious exit path, but neither were we forced to compromise our beliefs.
- It allows us to bring the movement into the future with as many pastors and churches together as possible. I fault no pastor or church for being frustrated and for feeling that they need to leave the UMC now. Frustration is a powerful feeling, and many have felt extreme frustration at our denomination’s situation for quite some time. I have felt that way myself as it is not easy being part of the “remnant” of traditional pastors in a progressive region. But I don’t want to just move away from something, I want to move toward something. Those who leave now will be part of a trickle of United Methodist Churches in search of a new home. I want to be part of a dynamic movement that brings sweeping change and that “spreads Scriptural holiness throughout the land.” Whatever we do as a movement—whether we stay in the UMC or start something new—we will be much better, stronger, and have more impact if we do it together.
- It buys us time to work for more favorable conditions in the future. The current exit path is unwieldy and likely out of the reach financially and practically for most congregations who want to keep their property and assets. A two-thirds vote of the local church and a two-thirds vote of the annual conference are required, and significant financial obligations will be assessed on local churches seeking to depart. We need time to craft and pass more equitable and fair exit provisions, which we will have the opportunity to present at the 2020 General Conference. Should we need to exercise those provisions, more churches will be able to join us than under the current legislation.
- For many of us, it’s an opportunity to be salt and light in the midst of a foreign and even hostile culture. Throughout the Scripture, we see stories people who were called to proclaim truth and live faithfully in exile. Think of Daniel, for example, and his friends Shadrach, Meshach, and Abdenego. Consider Esther, Ruth, and others who were strangers in a strange land and yet were examples of faithfulness. Perhaps God has prepared you “for such a time as this.” One day the exile will be over, but for now we are called to give our best for God and his kingdom no matter what setting in which we find ourselves. Who knows? When God’s Spirit is at work, miracles can happen and situations can change. Perhaps we can be the catalyst God uses to change things right where we are!
So, I urge you to channel your frustration into a renewed focus on ministry in your current context. With another General Conference soon on the horizon, we will know much more about the future and where God is leading the United Methodist Church. Good things tend to come to those who wait!
By Bob Kaylor
March 1, 2019
The Rev. Bob Kaylor is the lead pastor at Tri-Lakes United Methodist Church in Monument, Colorado. He is also a council member of the Wesleyan Covenant Association.