A group of diverse #UMC bishops, clergy and laity recently met to cast a vision for a future expression of Methodism. If and when the General Conference adopts the “Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation,” we intend to form a new Methodist denomination that:
Is passionate about Jesus and His gospel,
Is characterized by Joy,
Is truly GLOBAL in our mission, membership and
Trusts the Bible, in which the living core of our faith
Loves everybody and welcomes all who respond to God’s
Upholds core, historic, Methodist doctrines, ethics and
Works to eradicate racism, sexism, poverty and addiction,
Values Wesleyan connectional community and
Empowers women and people of color to lead the Church
at every level,
Takes deep discipleship and leadership formation
Emphasizes the work of the Holy Spirit and
Minimizes bureaucracy to maximize impact.
If you’re excited by this, then do three things: 1) sign up
for updates at http://NewWesleyanDenomination.com,
2) share this post and 3) pray with us as we work toward achieving this
By H. O. Tom Thomas, President, Evangelical Fellowship of Virginia
Bishop John Yambasus’ mediation team released January 3, 2020 the widely publicized ‘Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation’. The result of long negotiations of traditionalists, centrists, and progressives, it calls for “restructuring the Church through respectful and dignified separation’ (Article I: 2).
Reflect with me on six significant reasons this agreement is so historic. The settlement foresees an epochal moment not seen in the history of Methodism since the nineteenth century. We have not seen a fresh reinvigoration of Methodism since the nineteenth century break-offs of Free Methodists, Wesleyans, Nazarenes, Salvation Army or even the split between the Methodist Episcopal Church, South and Methodist Episcopal Church.
We do not want to miss the forest for the trees. Since the concord is a compromise, there are downsides which will adversely affect our people and churches both here and in Africa. We must resist the temptation to pick it apart. Celebrate it for its broad strokes. Let me share why this agreement ought to be supported.
1) At General Conference 2019, the Traditionalist Plan prevailed. Tightened policies of accountability were set to kick in January 2020. Is not this an indication traditionalists are in the driver’s seat to exercise positive, accountable governance over the church? We rejoice in another re-assertion of the last eleven General Conferences. However, as I have been arguing for the last five years, is it reasonable and realistic to expect the same bad actors that spurn Scripture’s final authority and have defied the law of The Book of Discipline for years to submit respectfully now to the umpteenth decision of General Conference? No. In fact, their resistance has only become more open, more determined, more calculating and more vehement.
Consider the following: forty percent of our Annual Conferences are on record stating they will not abide by General Conference’s 2019 decision. How many more are quietly inclined the same way? A number of annual conferences openly ordained practicing homosexuals last spring after General Conference 2019 with little real consequences. Sixty five to seventy percent of the US 2020 General Conference delegates are not traditionalists. All but one general church agency was for the One Church Plan. The National Association of Schools and Colleges of the United Methodist Church advocated for the One Church Plan. In a survey done, the majority of the Council of Bishops affirms homosexual practice ought to be allowed in our church. Let us face it, no matter what General Conference passes, United Methodism’s United States corporate leadership is in lockstep and they hold the cards. The Traditionalist Plan is the law de jure, the law written on paper in our book. You would never know it. The One Church Plan is the de facto lawwhich is the law really in effect across the United States Connection. The One Church Plan is the law in force and is the one which in fact governs the Connection.
If our Church’s leadership will not conform itself to millennia of the unanimous witness of God’s Holy Word, and will not give credence to the consensus of thousands of years of Jewish and Christian commentary, then will it submit to the human voice of The Book of Discipline? Can leopards change their spots? The hope of doubling down on accountability and completing the work on the Traditional Plan this General Conference 2020 is a pipe-dream. Strong, effective accountability across the denomination has not happened in eleven General Conferences. It will not happen after General Conference 2020. The will of the United States corporate leadership is not there to enforce accountability, now or in the foreseeable future. The Protocol is historic because it will break this anarchy!
2) Perhaps the most monumental reason for supporting the Protocol is that Bible believing Christians can be set free from the oppression and reign of sin. Many may not know, but John Wesley used the following principle to determine when persons should separate from the church. John Wesley said when one is asked to do what Scripture forbids, or forbidden to do what Scripture positively commands, one has a ‘bounden’ duty to separate. Specifically, if you cannot ‘continue without sin’, you must separate ‘without delay’. I, for one, cannot continue in the United Methodist Church without continuing in sin! There must be resolution or else! With the Protocol, Biblical Christians can now be free of the complicity of accommodating themselves to a church advocating that pastors and people live in sin. The Protocol will allow the formation of a new church where believers may worship the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in spirit and truth and in good conscience. This makes the Protocol historic!
3) The Protocol agreement is to date the best way to leave the sin and still have a place to go! It is the best way out for a way in. It is an Exit Plan with an intentional designation! Explicitly, the Protocol offers local churches an opportunity without harassment to choose to be a part of a new traditionalist denomination and take with them all their property and assets free and clear. There is no apportionment payment expectation and no fees. Of course, each new denomination will have to fund its share of retired pastors’ pensions. Evangelical pastors and churches have been longing for years for a plan that allows their churches to be in a church where Scripture is truly honored! This is what the historic Protocol agreement allows!
4) Centrists and Progressives by the Protocol have moved to a position of acceptance of “separation”. This is striking! Even after General Conference 2019, centrist leader Tom Berlin was not interested in working with the Evangelical Fellowship and Wesleyan Covenant Association here in Virginia on a joint Annual Conference resolution for General Conference for ‘amicable separation’. Centrists consistently over the years assume the vast majority of United Methodists are ‘centrists’. Centrists’ working assumption is Traditionalists and Progressives are fringe groups. Annual Conference delegation votes reported last summer only confirmed them in the view. Centrist and Progressives, which traditionalist leaders confirm, report sixty five to seventy five percent of United States delegates going to General Conference in 2020 are pro-homosexual practice.
The traditionalist coalition, the Renewal and Reform Coalition, has also done the math. In spite of those figures, Traditionalists have the votes – by a whisker – if everything goes right – to vote in our legislation. It is too close for confidence. In the past leading Centrists and Progressives, bishops included, have premised that a plan of separation would concede too much – assets, agencies, infrastructure, and local churches – to minority interests (conservatives). The fact that those who have been entrenched in the views of theological diversity in unity above all are conceding ‘separation’ cannot be underestimated! They are legitimizing a term which is loath to them. By entering into a pact with traditionalists they are implicitly recognizing the Wesleyan Covenant Association movement which for them is illegitimate and schismatic. The Protocol is truly historic!
5) Since 1972, the vast majority of United Methodist clergy today have ministered in a United Methodist church conceived in the construct of ‘doctrinal pluralism’. ‘Doctrinal pluralism’ (not to be confused with racial or ethnic pluralism) affirms that diverse theologies should live in Christian unity. ‘Doctrinal pluralism’ is a false construct wrongly attributed to John Wesley which was introduced in 1972 into the newly founded United Methodist Church to make it a theological ‘big tent’ smorgasbord. Our Church turned away from its long connection to historic Methodism to become a church of many diverse, contradictory theologies. Doctrinal pluralism now forty eight years later has become a way to justify ‘any belief goes’, e.g. even ‘queer theology’.
Regent University professor Dale M. Coulter observes the Protocol represents the death of doctrinal pluralism. He calls doctrinal pluralism a ‘failed experiment in Methodist unity’. The Protocol now offers Traditionalists, often the victims of pluralism for almost two generations, a way to be a part of a church where a clear consensus on vital Gospel truths promotes heartfelt preaching of Jesus Christ as the Savior of sinners! Evangelical UMC pastors have never known such in their ministerial careers! The Protocol offers a truly historic new beginning!
6) One of the most common responses to the Protocol by Traditionalists is ‘The United Methodist Church is our church, why should we leave?’ As one put it, the Protocol feels like an ‘eviction’ notice to Traditionalists. We are having to give up our name, our Discipline, our assets, et cetera. Because of the ‘optics’ of the Centrists and Progressives keeping the UMC name and the structures, many persons view the agreement as Traditionalists leaving the church. Let me speak to this in two parts, A and B. (A) Let’s keep in mind the Protocol’s text: ‘the undersigned propose restricting the United Methodist Church by separation as the best means to resolve our differences, allowing each part of the church to remain true to its theological understanding, while recognizing the dignity, equality, integrity, and respect of every person’.
Giving up the name ‘United Methodist’ and its logo of ‘cross and flame’ is a sticking point for Methodists. Especially in Africa and in the Central Conferences the name is revered and respected. Here in the United States, not so much for a significant section of Traditionalist clergy. In polls of Traditionalist clergy leaders over the years, the great majority feel the name has become a liability. Furthermore, our boards, agencies, and seminaries have become such entrenched strongholds of progressivism they would do better in the hands of the Centrist and Progressive ‘post-UMC’ church. Quite honestly, many Traditionalists feel our brand is almost beyond redemption. It has become sullied with its association with the affirmation of homosexual practice and other liberal views. Traditionalists believe we need to re-brand ourselves for future effective evangelism and church growth. Moreover, Traditionalists envision a new church with a much leaner and much less expensive structure. The Protocol gives us this chance to start afresh! This is an historic opportunity!
(B) Many Traditionalists are lamenting that it is we who are having to leave ‘our’ church. What do people mean ‘our’ church? Do Centrists and Progressives have less claim to the church? Have they put in less time, effort, sacrifice and financial support? Do they not consider the United Methodist Church ‘our’ church too? Even though since 1972 our church has maintained the same position regarding the practice of homosexuality, ‘doctrinal pluralism’ has otherwise allowed persons with crazy, heretical doctrines to call United Methodism ‘our’ church too! We have co-existed with mutually exclusive, pluralistic theologies and are all calling the same church ‘our’ church! Since the 1972 reception of theological pluralism an argument can be made Traditionalists do not have the exclusive right to call the UM church ‘our’ church. We have been sharing it with many people of disparate theologies.
There is another reason to hold the possessive ‘our’ lightly. Ask yourself: whose Church is it? Is it mine, or yours, or ‘ours’? It is Jesus Christ’s Church. He is the Head of the Church for whom He shed His blood. As you think about buildings, assets and the like, think about how Jesus dealt with the first century Jewish Temple and the Jewish institution of his day. As he entered the Temple, he attempted to cleanse it and reclaim it as the One with the rightful authority. ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer…’ Jesus said (Matthew 21:13). It was His house and He the One for whom it was founded. If it could only have been. Jesus’s battle line was not in fighting over a building or temple structure or institutional infrastructure. Though rightfully His, Jesus was content to leave it all to the scribes and Pharisees. “See, your house is left to you, desolate” he said. One could argue that for the idolatrous love of the structure and institution the Jewish Establishment missed Jesus! Jesus let them turn ‘his’ house into their house. Letting it go, Jesus did a new thing in Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
Both of my great grandfathers, George R. Stuart and John P. Pettyjohn, had significant roles in establishing Lake Junaluska. Lake Junaluska may very well be a casualty in the separation and no longer in ‘my’ church. Nevertheless, the price one pays to be God’s own people, a holy nation, and a chosen race to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ is worth it. We say with Moses, Jesus is worth more than the treasuries of Egypt! The Protocol agreement is an entrée to renewal and revival. In fact, it may even be the final fruit and realization of the heartfelt prayers for renewal and reform begun in the 1960’s.
For these reasons, the Protocol agreement is truly historic! Though disruptions are coming and friends will be victims, the Protocol proposal is an epochal moment in Methodism the likes of which we have not seen in one hundred and fifty years! Support it!
The recent Global Legislative Assembly held by the Wesleyan Covenant Association authorized the creation of six ministry task forces to identify best practices, discern God’s call, and connect and resource local churches in ministry as we move into a new season of outreach to our neighbors globally. These task forces are now being formed. We invite you to nominate yourself or others as possible members of such task forces. To learn more, visit the WCA website at https://wesleyancovenant.org/2019/11/18/ministry-task-forces-forming/
As you may be aware, a short time ago we changed the name of this organization to the Wesleyan Covenant Association of Virginia. Now, in order to better reflect that title, we have also obtained a new domain and email addresses as well. The new domain is wcaofva.org and the new email addresses are firstname.lastname@example.org for the webmaster or general information and email@example.com to reach Gayle Thornberry, our President. If you have any questions, please contact us. Thank you!
by Jim Noland, D.Min. Jim is an Elder in the Virginia Annual Conference. Jim retired from Reveille UMC in Richmond, VA in 2014. Jim served six appointments over the course of 30 years. Jim holds degrees from the University of Virginia, Perkins School of Theology, and Wesley Theological Seminary. For several years, Jim taught Methodist History and Doctrine at Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, and for over 20 years he has taught in the Course of Study at Wesley. Jim has served on the Board of Ministry and for twelve years he chaired the Conference Committee on Investigation.
In the recent and ongoing controversy within The United Methodist Church concerning how the church should relate to homosexual persons, there has been remarkably little examination of scripture. Instead of a serious theological conversation we have experienced a great deal of talk about process, and this within a highly politicized environment.
This is puzzling for a number of
reasons. True, we United Methodists are
not committed to sola scriptura and
few of us are literalists with regard to Biblical interpretation. But we are committed to a theology that views
scripture asprimary, so one would have expected a more nuanced and deeper
Recently I attended a UMC worship
service in which the burden of the sermon was that since we ignore the great
bulk of the holiness code in Leviticus (such things as not eating pork and
shrimp), then we should also disregard its prohibitions with regard to sexual
affairs. And by implication any such
prohibitions in the New Testament as well.
This sermon presented a shockingly
shallow view of an issue which was in fact addressed in the first century as
recorded in the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Acts. When Paul and Barnabas
met with the apostles and elders to consider how to deal with gentile converts
in what is called “The Council of Jerusalem,” it was decided that the holiness
code was not binding on non-Jewish Christians, but that they should “abstain
from things polluted by idols and from
fornication and from whatever has been strangled and from blood”(Acts
Advocates for deleting the
restrictive language from The Discipline often point out, correctly,
that there are few verses regarding homosexuality in the Bible. To this I would say that there none that view
it favorably and that, in addition, an argument from silence is
unconvincing. For example, the fact that
the Bible is silent on the issue of climate change does not mean that it should
not be an issue for Christians. It is
also worth noting that the term “homosexual” did not even exist until it was
coined in the late nineteenth century.
A more telling objection is that we
no longer abide by the Pauline restrictions on women in the church. However, a strong case can be made that these
were particular to the context of specific congregations and that the overall
tenor of Paul’s ministry expressed a counter-cultural acceptance of women (see
for example his comments on Prisca and Phoebe).
He also explicitly articulated that in Christ there is “neither male nor
female.” So, in accepting women in ministry we have not simply disregarded
scripture; rather we have explored its deeper meaning.
Can we do the same with
homosexuality? That is the question. One
of the clearest discussions of this issue can be found in Victor Paul Furnish’s
The Moral Teaching of Paul.
Furnish is clear that Paul condemns homosexual practices, but he argues that
we can no longer accept many of Paul’s assumptions about the issue, primarily
that homosexual acts are “freely chosen.” This is because, according to
Furnish, Paul had no understanding of sexual orientation as an inherent,
involuntary condition. Given this
analysis, which is widely shared, a loving church should relax its restrictive
stance, much as it did earlier with regard to race. On this view it is a matter of justice for a
The problem is that Furnish’s view
is also dated. The concept of sexual
orientation as an innate condition is increasingly giving way to a much more
fluid view of human sexuality in which all gender roles are simply social
constructs that unduly inhibit the free expression of one’s chosen sexual
identity. You will note the addition of
“sexual expression” to the more recent pronouncements of the progressive wing
of the church.
The truth is that the United
Methodist conversation on changing The Discipline has not taken into
consideration the changing theories of sexuality being advanced in
academia. The current landscape is
beginning to look more like the one Paul inhabited, wherein the human will
plays a strong role. The issue is
returning to one of behavior rather than fixed orientation. Thus, The Discipline was perhaps wise
beyond its understanding to view homosexuals as persons of sacred worth while
rejecting certain sexual practices.
The most profound scriptural
analysis of this issue occurs in the first chapter of Romans. Here, I would argue, Paul does not so much
define what we call homosexuality as a sin as he views it, along with many
other items, as a consequence of the fundamental sin of idolatry. And the primary idolatry is the idolatry of the
self as the final authority with regard to good and evil, right and wrong. That
is to say, that the essence of sin is the elevation of the human will over the
will of God as revealed first in nature and then more fully in the Christ we
meet in scripture.
United Methodists are a compassionate people, but to alter The Discipline by simply removing the restrictive language without so much as substituting anything that might resemble an affirmative or even a limiting principle would be to capitulate to an increasingly pagan culture.
Earlier in the month, Rev. Keith Boyette, president of the Wesleyan Covenant Association, held a conference call for leaders of WCA regional chapters. During that call, he shared details of the ongoing conversations, discussions, & “negations’ among leaders from the traditional and progressive sides of the church, and he also asked the regional WCA leaders to take a survey to help shape future discussions and conversations.
Following that conference call, Keith sent out an email update that can be shared publicly so we share it here with you. It gives important updates about the ongoing situation that will have great impact on the future of the UMC.
As always, continue to pray for the UMC!
The email follows:
“Thank you to each of you who participated in the recent survey concerning potential paths forward in resolving the irreconcilable conflict in The United Methodist Church. I want to provide you with an update on the dialogue in which I am participating and comment on a recent article you may have seen.
As I shared with you in our last set of conference calls, a dialogue is underway involving recognized leaders associated with the One Church Plan (OCP) and the Traditional Plan (TP). Ten persons have been involved in the dialogue – five from each group. The group has agreed that the specific identity of its participants is to be confidential at this time. I am obviously one of the participants and I have chosen to disclose my participation. The group has further agreed not to attribute statements made to specific individuals.
Participants in the dialogue have agreed there is a desire to avoid repeating the experience of St. Louis in Minneapolis, but what this means is unclear.
Both camps are preparing for another confrontation in Minneapolis, focusing on the election of delegates for GC 2020 and the preparation of legislation to implement their positions. TP proponents are focused on adopting those portions of the TP that were either not enacted at GC 2019 or which were declared unconstitutional. OCP proponents are focused on enacting some version of the OCP or perhaps even enacting the Simple Plan.
Thus far, both groups are trying to ascertain each other’s plans and what are their non-negotiables. Both groups acknowledged some form of separation (or multiplication of Methodist expressions) might be needed to resolve the conflict. Both groups have made efforts to discern how much separation their constituencies would regard as necessary, and where any amount of ongoing connection would be possible.
The TP group relied upon surveys conducted by the WCA and Good News. In terms of preference, those surveys revealed our constituency favors a complete separation creating two or three successor denominations to the UM Church. Some or all of the existing UM boards and agencies would be spun off as independent 501(c)(3) entities. Successor denominations would have the option of contracting with those entities for services, but would not be required to do so. There was less support for grouping the existing UM boards and agencies in something like an UM association, preserving the UM name, and permitting the successor denominations to contract for such services as they desired from the UM association. And a distant third option was to push forward for the TP’s full adoption and implementation. It calls for supporters of the full inclusion agenda to voluntarily exit the UM Church, or face disciplinary actions and trials that could result in their forced removal if they remain and violate the Discipline.
The OCP group primarily relied upon two meetings (held in Dallas and Atlanta) to take the pulse of its constituency. A recent article by Adam Hamilton essentially summarizes where the OCP group understands its constituency to be. The OCP constituency has moved a considerable distance since GC 2019. Prior to GC 2019, they were almost universally opposed to providing a gracious exit for any churches and to any division of the UM Church. Now they report about 50 percent of their constituency favors a strategy of “stay, resist and work to provide WCA congregations with a gracious exit,” and 50 percent favors the adoption of legislation to multiply Methodist expressions into two or three new denominations.
The deadline for submitting legislation for GC 2020 is September 12.
Here are the options that could be considered by the TP Group:
Enact the rest of the TP and encourage pastors, churches, annual conferences and bishops who cannot commit to abide by the Discipline to graciously exit the UM Church. Implementation of this strategy will ensure that St. Louis will be repeated in Minneapolis, and likewise will prolong the conflict in the Church for some time if successful as the TP is implemented likely involving resistance and obstruction by those who disagree with the TP. Our survey showed that pursuing this strategy was the last of the strategies in terms of preference although absent a mutual agreement, it is the most likely strategy to be pursued as we approach GC 2020.
Work with OCP proponents to enact a gracious exit provision and encourage those who cannot abide by the Discipline to exit the UM Church.
Work with OCP proponents to enact a gracious exit provision and have WCA/TP pastors and churches exit the UM Church and launch a new Methodist expression/denomination.
Work with OCP proponents to enact legislation to multiply Methodist expressions out of the UM Church (which would cease to exist) thus creating two or three new denominations.
Based on Adam Hamilton’s article referenced above, here are the options being considered by the OCP group:
Stay in the UM Church, resist the TP, and give TP proponents a gracious exit in the hope they will leave.
Leave the UM Church to start a new denomination.
Adam Hamilton’s article states that OCP leaders who gathered in Dallas and Atlanta were equally divided between these two options. Those who favored the OCP plan to have a meeting at Church of the Resurrection from May 20-22 during which they will have further conversation about these options.
Hopefully this gives you context to interpret Adam Hamilton’s article and to see how what he is sharing in the article fits into the dialogue between TP leaders and OCP leaders. Further dialogue between TP proponents and OCP proponents is planned.”
Effective March 30, 2019, Rev. Gayle Thornberry is the President of the Wesleyan Covenant Association of Virginia We wanted to take this opportunity to have her introduce herself and tell you a little more about her as well.
A Note From Gayle:
What an honor to be the newly elected President of the regional chapter of the Wesleyan Covenant Association here in Virginia as of March 30, 2019. It is my honor and privilege to help lead the way into a bright future. Seasons of great change require faithful prayer and I appreciate you joining with me in focused prayer each morning at 8:30am, from wherever you are. Please feel free to email meif you have questions or concerns.
Gayle Thornberry came to the Virginia Annual Conference by
way of the Northwest Texas Annual Conference in 2004 where she was the 2003
Denman Award for Evangelism recipient for clergy. While in Texas, she served on the NWTX Annual
Conference Insurance Commission. After
moving to Virginia, she was the President for the Associate Member & Local
Pastor Fellowship, served on the Board of Ordained Ministry for 5 years, served
on the Small Church Taskforce, and participated in the New Church Leadership
Academy, served on the Church Development and Revitalization Committee, among
others. On the District level she has
served as the District Chaplain, Chair of the Spiritual Formation Committee,
was the Missions Chair; heading up District mission trips, was a mentor to
several entering the clergy process, served on the DCOM, among serving in other
ways on the District.
She has a B.S. degree in education and art from McMurry
University in Abilene, Texas and a Masters of Divinity from the Samuel DeWitt
Proctor School of Theology at Virginia Union in Richmond, VA. In 2017, she was
ordained Elder in the VA Conference.
Prior to receiving her Masters of Divinity, she completed 6 years of
Course of Study as a local pastor from Duke Divinity School in Durham, N.C.
She is the Vice President of the Evangelical Fellowship in
the Virginia Annual Conference. She has
been the keynote speaker at many women’s events in several states and was the
founder and President of Hepzibah Word and Worship, Inc.
She married her sweetheart, Wes Thornberry, in 2004. They
share 4 children, 7 grandchildren and 6 great-grandchildren. They reside in Grottoes, VA where she pastors
the Annex-Crimora Charge in the Harrisonburg District. They enjoy “glamping” in their Motorhome and
seeing all the states in the Union.
During this morning’s live stream about the recent General Conference, Bishop Lewis shared the news that she is having to take a six months medical leave. She is facing at least two more surgeries, including one this Thursday. This will all be here in Virginia this time. An interim Bishop will be appointed to the VA Conference while she is on Medical Leave.
We are in prayer for Bishop Lewis and ask you to also hold her in prayer for healing and strength over the next several months.
Also, be in prayer for the selection of our interim Bishop, and begin now to ask God to anoint whoever is selected with wisdom to guide and lead our Virginia Conference while Bishop Lewis is on Leave.