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Coverage of Reaction to Evangelical Renewal Fellowship Statement

by Chuck Myers-California Nevada United Methodist Review, May 15, 1998


"We regard our living together not as an unfortunate mishap warranting endless competition among us, but as a deliberate act of God to make us a community of brothers and sisters jointly involved in the quest for a composite answer to the varied problems of life." -Steven Biko

Mixed reactions to the April 1 Evangelical Renewal Fellowship (ERF) statement continue to ripple and reverberate through local churches and caucuses of the California-Nevada Conference and the denomination as a whole. The ERF statement, now gaining national attention, asked for "a just way in which we might allow evangelical pastors and congregations the choice to separate from the Annual Conference."

The secular press is monitoring and reporting on the issue. Articles with local angles on the ERF statement have appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, the San Jose Mercury News, the Sacramento Bee, the Modesto Bee, and the Marysville Appeal-Democrat, as well as many other religious and secular wire services.

At the Conference level, a preliminary dialogue has been set up for the May 20 meeting of the Conference Ministry Staff. Nevada-Sierra District Superintendent John Foster is organizing the agenda for that meeting. He is meeting May 15 with ERF representatives and with Associate Council directors Paul Extrum-Fernandez and Linda Wiberg to set the agenda for the May 20 meeting.

The May 20 meeting is likely to be only the first of many meetings designed to tackle the complex subject and identify alternative solutions. According to statements from the Bishop's office, pastors and laypersons who wish to leave the denomination are always free to do so, but church law currently offers no way for them to take church property, pensions or other privileges with them.

Among individual signers of the ERF statement, opinions are widely mixed regarding the best organizational solution or even the next step towards solving the problem. Some California-Nevada evangelicals seek complete separation from the existing denomination, while others feel that it is those who are unable to support restrictions on homosexuality currently in the Book of Discipline who should leave and form their own denomination. The latter alternative emanates from the April 1998 National Conference of the Confessing Movement in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The Tulsa Resolution asserts that the Confessing Movement "is within the United Methodist Church and intends to stay there". ERF President Kevin Clancey and Kingsburg UMC pastor Ed Ezaki, who wish to separate from the denomination, spoke at the Tulsa conference.

Still other evangelical pastors, including Rev. Bob Kuyper of Bakersfield: Trinity UMC, would prefer to work within the framework of the existing church. Kuyper and others have proposed a new evangelical district, missionary conference, or a sub-denomination (such as an "Evangelical United Methodist Church").

"A lot of the evangelicals in our conference see The United Methodist Church through the lens of the conference leadership," says Kuyper. "They [the other ERF leaders] are rejecting the church, not realizing that our theological perspective is a minority in the conference, but a majority in our denomination."

Regarding the differences between different courses of action being advocated by evangelicals, Ed Ezaki told a Good News Magazine on-line discussion group that "there is an interesting difference generationally between those [ERF supporters] who tend to support remaining in the UMC to continue to try to change the system from within and those who are ready to leave the UMC behind. It appears that those who are younger tend to have less stomach to stay and fight on. They tend to feel that serving Jesus in another denomination or as independents is still serving Jesus. Those who are older seem to value more the legacy of our Wesleyan heritage and are more reluctant to let go. Might it not be a case of each one being convinced in his/her own mind? The ERF request allows each to follow the dictates of each one's own conscience."

Some of the mechanics of the April 1 meeting have been questioned by those present and not present. Some in attendance are now unsure exactly what they voted for on April 1. Some felt the declaration was in support of finding a way to separate from the church, while others say they only signed in order to distribute the document for discussion purposes.

Further confusion has resulted from the vote tally. At least one of the original 18 clergy signatures was from a person not in attendance, and other signatures were added later. In response to the question of why there were only 43 signatures when the vote was 74-1, the ERF website answers, "We're not sure. Some report that they did not sign because they did not see the papers in the narthex after the meeting. Others may have been pastors in the middle of appointment changes who felt the need for caution out of respect for former and future congregations. Some were probably just afraid. For us, the miracle is that such unanimity could be achieved on the vote in the first place."

But several people claim to have voted against the resolution. Rev. Scott Allred of St. Mark's, Bakersfield says that he must have been the lone dissenting vote at the ERF meeting April 1.

"Liberals and conservatives do not see eye to eye, and don't even speak the same language," says Allred. "We kid ourselves by trying to believe otherwise. But to call for a split over an issue that happened in Nebraska, which has not even been fully addressed by the General Church, is wrong thinking."

Gaye Benson says she was present at the April 1 meeting, spoke against the motion and voted against it. She saw a invitation and had thought it was an open meeting for all concerned UMs. Benson is pastor of Stockton's St. Mark's UMC, which is a reconciling congregation.

"My basic understanding is that loving, committed relationships are to be celebrated," Benson said, though she understands the group's opposition to same-sex unions is an issue of conscience and deeply held beliefs. She said the group's debate was careful and considered, and that ground rules for mutual respect were set at the beginning of the meeting.

The 1992 ERF episcopal candidate, Rev. Harry Wood of Visalia UMC, told his congregation in an April 19 newsletter that he did not favor separation from the denomination. Though he said he had "felt the full onslaught of the liberal establishment" in 1992, Wood stated that if he had attended the April 1 caucus, he would have voted against the ERF declaration.

The ERF action was triggered by the lack of punishment of Rev. Jimmy Creech, the Nebraska pastor who performed a covenant ceremony for two women in his congregation in September. ERF leaders were further angered by the support Creech has received from members of our Conference, including comments from one District Superintendent offering Creech a place in our Conference if he were asked to leave the Nebraska Conference. Those comments were made prior to the May 6 release of Creech's statement that he would not be reappointed to First UMC, Omaha.

That support for Creech and the affirmation of gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgendered persons continues to grow as divisions intensify. The national Affirmation movement's "Statement of Commitment" (printed in the May 1 issue of C/N UMR) now has 178 clergy signers, with twelve more from California-Nevada as of May 7, bringing the total to 27. The statement includes these words, "We publicly state that we will celebrate rites of union with all couples, regardless of gender, as part of the pastoral responsibilities consistent with the gospel and spirit of Jesus Christ, entrusted to us by The United Methodist Church." Additional California-Nevada clergy signers are: Robert W. Blaney, Rolfe J. Conrad, Jan Everhart, Glenn Fuller, Elbert D. Hoffman, Sam Leonard, Susan Meikle, Kathleen Pope, M. Andrew Robinson-Garthen, Christine E. Shiber, Margo Tenold, and Lloyd K. Wake.

Cecil Williams, minister of Involvement and Celebration at Glide UMC in San Francisco for 34 years, told the San Francisco Chronicle that he has lost count of the number of same-sex ceremonies he has performed. "I am shocked they [the evangelicals] would want to leave," Williams told the Chronicle. "It may split the church, but so be it. We have to be on the cutting edge."

The C/N UMR will report on the progress of the dialogue between the Conference and the ERF, and the implications of that dialogue on the agenda of the Annual Conference Session June 17-21.

LOCAL CHURCH REACTION:

Most local UMCs are taking a "watch and wait" approach to the controversy stirred by the April 1 ERF statement.

"Our church is in a holding pattern, watching developments," says Tehachapi UMC pastor Kyle Phillips, one of the signers of the ERF declaration. "I am trying to keep my leadership as fully informed as possible as things develop." Many pastors have set up evening study groups to discuss the issue, which has several levels of complexity involving the denomination's Discipline, Social Principles, land ownership procedures and polity formation.

At Oakdale UMC, site of the ERF caucus meeting and home of ERF President Kevin Clancey, 150 church members met after services on May 3 to receive information and share a variety of points of view on the issue. Clancey and Delta District Superintendent David Bennett were there to answer questions. Bennett has sent letters to Delta district churches calling for prayer and unity, and has written articles for the UMR clarifying the Bishop's and the Cabinet's positions on same-sex unions and enforcement of the Social Principles.

A few local churches have already held or will hold charge conferences or council meetings to discuss and/or act on the ERF statement. In Santa Clara, the Mission City UMC church council met in a private home May 2 to draft a response to the ERF statement. On a 9-0 vote (3.6% of church membership), the church council endorsed petitions to the Annual Conference to ask General Conference to consider creating a new denomination or missionary conference. The council's first, preferred alternative is the creation of a new denomination to be called the "Reconciling United Methodist Church" which would "provide relief for those who are unwilling to live under the doctrinal and ethical standards of The Book of Discipline." Such clergy/congregations would be offered an "amicable exit". This proposal differs markedly from earlier discussions of evangelical clergy/congregations being offered an "amicable exit" from the current denomination. The second alternative petition was for ACS to request that General Conference 2000 create a new "Evangelical Missionary Conference" within the Western Jurisdiction of the UMC. Mission City UMC pastor John Christie, a signer of the ERF statement, said the wording for both of the Santa Clara alternatives was based on the Tulsa Resolution from the April 1998 conference of the Confessing Movement (see lead article).

In San Francisco, the Administrative Board of St. Francis UMC has requested a charge conference to discuss and vote on separation from the California-Nevada Conference. The resolution, adopted by a 4-1 vote, recommends "that our church endorse, and participate in, that mediated withdrawal from the California-Nevada Annual Conference, as advocated by the ERF in its April 1, 1998, Oakdale declaration." St. Francis lay leader Evelyn Fernandez-Jones and PPR chair Allan Cobb were original signers of the Oakdale declaration.

Somewhat ironically, St. Francis UMC was the church that fought hard to remain within the Conference in 1996 after the previous superintendent of the Golden Gate District recommended dissolution of the small church. St. Francis appears to be the only church in the Conference to support the ERF statement over the objections of its current pastor, Rev. Charley Lerrigo, who, according to the church's resolution, imposes "dominant values of tolerance and inclusion" on the congregation. Lerrigo, pointing out the alternatives were "intolerance and exclusion", conducted an informal survey of the worshipping congregation (generally about 15) on the question, "What do you do when you do not agree with your (local or denominational) church?" The survey found that 36% had strong disagreements "most of the time" with the United Methodist Church, but that no one felt the answer was to withdraw from the church. The preferences expressed in the survey, according to Lerrigo, were for individual expression of beliefs and group discussion. He plans a forum to address those points.

At Visalia UMC, the Friday Morning Men's Bible Study reacted to statements by cabinet members by passing their own resolution. It requested "that the Bishop and Cabinet support the letter and spirit of the Bible and denominational polity in public statements and in the day to day appointment and leadership of pastors under their charge."

The Visalia UMC Administrative Board later adopted the men's resolution, presented by Eddy Acurso, to be forwarded to the Conference office. The Board then took the unusual step of placing an ad in the local newspaper, the Visalia Times Delta, to educate and even warn the community regarding the current "confusion" within the denomination. The ad, written by pastor Harry Wood, began by reaffirming Visalia UMC's trust in the Bible, one man/one woman marriage, and "the Transforming Power of Jesus Christ in our lives". The ad concluded by saying, "We believe that our brothers and sisters in other denominations need to pray for us and encourage members to stay and fight. We believe that any effort to take advantage of the confusion that we may be experiencing to "steal our sheep" and "fatten their own herd" is nothing less than "spiritual rustling," and is disrespectful to the universal body of Christ."


Submitted by Janz I. Mynderup http://www.newpathways.com vision@newpathways.com  or  janz@psnw.com 209.447.3652  or  209.432.9294   24HR Faxes Jer. 33.3 so Eph. 3:14 hence Col. 3:2 therefore Col. 3:23-24 "Leadership is Followership"  Whom you follow determines to a large extent how you lead...The choice is yours"...anon

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