It’s been a wild and wacky season since 2019. If case you forgot, that was the year that our Council of Bishops called for a special session of General Conference to address the issue of human sexuality. They promised this would be the session that settled this issue once and for all. The Plan that would be approved would be The Plan that would determine the issue of human sexuality. And the Plan that passed was The Traditional Plan. Now, remember, the Plan that passed would be the Plan that would be the final and definitive word for United Methodists.
Guess what? They didn’t keep their word! All that session accomplished was to show how irreparable this thing called the UMC has become. Centrists talk a lot about this purported Big Tent where Traditionalists and Progressives can live together as United Methodists. But in this recent cycle of elections of new Bishops, it seems that Traditionalists are welcome in the UMC, just not in leadership.
In my home Jurisdiction, the Southeastern Jurisdiction has concluded it’s special session with the election of 3 new Bishops. In order of election they are: Rev. Tom Berlin, Rev. Connie Shelton, and Rev. Robin Dease. All three of these support changing our Book of Discipline to affirm that other expressions of human sexuality are given by God and should be allowed full access to ordination as clergy persons.
First, let’s look at Rev. Berlin. In his Q&A for becoming a Bishop, he states: “I affirm that the sexuality of gay and lesbian persons is an orientation that is an expression of the image of God in their lives. I have worked to change The Book of Discipline so that local churches and their pastors will be given the ability, but not the requirement, to offer Christian marriage to gay couples.” And his view of us Traditionalists? In 2019, this is what Rev. Berlin said about The Traditional Plan (which passed): The Traditional plan is akin to “Putting a virus into the American church that will make it very sick.” Sounds to me like he doesn’t think much of Traditionalists. Still think there’s room for Traditionalists?
Then, there’s the Rev. Connie Shelton. In her Q&A for becoming a Bishop, here’s what she said: “Human sexuality is a gift from God. Covenant relationship grounds human sexuality and relationships. I am committed to uphold the discipline of the United Methodist Church, and I dream of a church embracing full inclusion of all people: conservatives, progressives, centrists, LGBTQ and heterosexual orientations, gender identities, celibacy in singleness, fidelity in covenant marriage. With the removal of language in the Book of Discipline regarding homosexuality and same gender weddings and ordination, I believe we can live faithfully as clergy and laity allowing one another to live into our convictions without demonization or characterization.” Her words sounds like those of a politician, “I support…but…” Obviously she wants to change the definition of Christian marriage. And she wants people to be free to live out their convictions without interference. This can easily been seen as a peace offering to Traditionalists–that there is still room in the UMC for Traditionalists. But can there really be room for Traditionalists when the current language of our Discipline is removed?
And last, but by no means least, is Rev. Robin Dease. She wasn’t nominated by an annual conference, but became a write-in candidate. Here’s what one article had to say: She shared she wanted to be transparent and shared that she does not believe homosexuality is a sin and that LGBTQ individuals can be called by God, ordained and serve UMC churches well. And without an endorsement from any annual conference, she was elected.
So, 3 for 3 for the side of changing the Discipline, and thus changing the long standing teaching from The Bible. So, exactly where is there room for Traditionalists in the UMC? They are calling for another “Christmas Conference” so that they will be able to change The Standard for the U.S. only. It was that “Conference” which formed the Wesleyan Movement in America as a church. It seems farcical to use that term for their intentions. Indications are that the “Big Tent” is shrinking and shrinking fast. If you ask me–there’s no room left for Traditionalists in the UMC in the United States. Elsewhere, maybe. But here in the U.S.? Look at what’s happening–and you tell me what you see. I can’t see it. I just can’t see it. And that breaks my heart!