Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.Ephesians chapter 4, verses 31 & 32; from the New Living Translation (NLT)
Saturday was–well–a day of mixed emotions as I attended my last session of the North Alabama Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. At the end of the session, I surrendered my credentials as a United Methodist Pastor. Over the past decades, I have had friends and colleagues who left with great joy. Not me. Even though my decision has been saturated with prayer and God has very clearly led me to that point, still there is heartbreak. The Tribe that I have lived in for over 66 years has made it clear that there is no room for someone like me. And I admit that I was concerned with how The Conference would handle the disaffiliation of 198 congregations, and what looked like even more pastors.
I must say that I was impressed with the way our Bishop, Debra Wallace-Padgett designed and led the Conference in this unfortunate moment in time. Bishop Debbie has been a shining example of how to lead and respond in times like these. We opened with Holy Communion–that Great Reminder of our utter dependence on God’s Grace. As we entered we were given a lava rock, a sign of the abrasiveness that has been happening. When we came forward to receive those sacred signs, we were asked to drop that abrasive stone in a basket as a sign we were letting go of our painful emotions and harmful words. Then the vote took place, with only about 4 or 5 voting to not allow this to happen. And as we exited, we were given a smooth stone to remind us of God’s healing power that overcomes our differences. (You can see that entire session here)
But it seems to me that some of those who took that smooth stone as the reminder of God’s Healing Grace–well they just didn’t get it. By this I mean they got the smooth stone but not the message. At 1:19 p.m., barely 2 hours after those 198 congregations left the North Alabama Annual Conference, a group calling themselves StayUMC that has been encouraging and promoting folks and churches to stay United Methodist, put up a post in response to this event on their Facebook Page. I invite you to see their entire post HERE. I do have a good friend who is active in this group. And this prepared response has some troubling points that I need to speak into. These will be the bulleted statements:
- We sincerely want the best for those who wish to leave the UMC. In order for all of us to find healing, however, it is important to be honest, speaking the truth in love.
So, StayUMC, you want the best for those who leave, then you put in that however. Now, since you are speaking to those who want to stay UMC, your statement “In order for all of us to find healing” means your only concern is those who want to stay UMC. OK, you can’t experience healing until you have that however. Really? And then you dare say you want to be honest and speak the truth in love. Well, when us Traditionalists spoke the truth with love you accused us of being misogynists, homophobic, angry, and mean spirited. You want your views listened to and respected. But you are unwilling to listen to and respect views that are different from yours. If you are hurt, it’s not the fault of those who are leaving. STAYUMC, if it makes you feel better about yourselves to blame us for what is happening, then blame us. Yet, there isn’t much love nor truth in your words.
- We rise to speak frankly about this schism and the costs exacted upon us all.
As aforementioned, your phrase “costs exacted upon us all” refers only to those who stay UMC. And what did it cost you for people to follow their hearts and convictions? No, really, what did it cost you? Not a cent. The financial costs of disaffiliation has been borne solely by congregations who left. Why does StayUMC think that it cost them anything for congregations to follow a path different than yours? Well, I’m waiting: Tell me, how much did it cost you? And what if they had stayed instead of leaving? What about the cost to them of abandoning their spiritual discernment and compromising their convictions?
- We lament some local churches were made the site of bitter fights rather than being shepherded through conversations that deepen understanding. We lament that at times, instead of relying on common values to do the work of discernment, cues were taken from a polarized society, and outrage was stoked to pave the way for disaffiliation.
Evidence, please. I keep hearing those on the StayUMC caucus saying this over and over. I admit I haven’t talked to every congregation. But, I have heard from several congregations. The scene you described has never been described to me by those I know. Besides, didn’t you hear Bishop Debbie say that the time for healing has come? It sounds like you don’t want healing. You appear to be bitter, and are happy to be bitter.
- We lament that the UMC was maligned by some as being unorthodox and accommodating to culture, and misinformation was spread freely about the future of the United Methodist Church’s essential doctrines.
You keep saying nothing else is going to change. Did you forget that the Council of Bishops promised that the 2019 Called General Conference Special Session would be the United Methodist view and stance from that moment forward. They did not keep their word then. So why should be believe them now? You want us to trust the leadership of the UMC, a leadership that does not keep their word. Just because you say essential doctrines won’t change doesn’t mean they won’t change. That’s a proven fact in the UMC.
- We lament the reports of some of our laity who experienced bullying, fear-mongering, and half-truths that lead congregation members astray.
Again, cite your sources and present the evidence of alleged bullying. Now, if you want to talk about fear-mongering, bullying, and half-truths, here are some comments from your page:
- Who knew we had so many closet Baptists among us!
- Don’t let the door hit your derriere on the way out, bigots.
- Very charitably put. I find it exceedingly hard to be so charitable.
- 198 new avowed “Traditional Incompatibalist” congregations in our midst…
- I still can’t believe these folks have left our beloved UMC! The church we transferred our membership to after moving to be close to son and family (8 years there)voted to leave! My family could not leave that place fast enough! With help from former Pastors of ANNISTON FUMC where we were members for over 45 years before moving to the Huntsville area guided us to where we needed to be and PTL we are at our new UMC home!
These are not new words directed at us Traditionalists. We have been hearing them for a long time. And since 2019, the frequency of these bullying remarks have only increased. So, who’s the bully here?
- We lament because we are not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God.
OK, you’re not ashamed of the gospel. Neither are we Traditionalists. What’s you point? Is there a point? If you are making a point, it would seem you are saying that Traditionalists are ashamed of the Gospel.
- We do not believe that those who are leaving the denomination are in a season of standing and contending for the historic faith that has been professed for 2,000 years, as they claim.
Excuse me. How do you know that we are not standing and contending for the historic faith that has been professed for 2,000 years? Do you know what’s in my heart? Have you been listening to my conversations with The Spirit? Who are you to tell me that I haven’t listened to God? If you think I haven’t listened to God, I’ll tell you what you are. You are the new sanctimonious Pharisees of the Twenty-First Century! YOU telling me I haven’t been discerning and listening is the epitome of spiritual arrogance. And last but not least
- Nevertheless, we yearn for those seceding from the United Methodist Church to return one day and live into this vision with the main body of the church. In the meantime, we send you with love and hope for the very best for you.
Really? You want us back? I’m sure you do, if we will compromise our faith and values and kiss your ring. You hope the best for us? Based on the comments on your “prepared statement”, the best would be for us to just die and go away. You’re still holding onto those coarse stones when you should have followed the example of your Bishop. You are still being abrasive. Did you not take that smooth stone as a sign of God’s healing? After Holy Communion, THE Sign of Grace, this is your response???????