Cal/Nev Pastors Continue Exodus from Denomination
"Second ERF President leaves denomination"
Greetings in the name of Jesus. This is a very difficult letter for me to write.
As you all know, earlier this year, all hell broke loose in the UM denomination when Jimmy Creech performed a gay "holy union" ceremony, in disobedience to his bishop. United Methodists across the nation were shocked and outraged. Little did people know that such ceremonies had been performed for years in the CA-NV Annual Conference with the apparent blessing of our bishop, Mel Talbert. When the Council of Bishops met and agreed unanimously that such ceremonies were contrary to Scripture and to our denomination's Book of Discipline, there was rejoicing across the land. Unfazed, Bishop Talbert sent a letter to the pastors in our Conference indicating that he does not consider gay "holy union" ceremonies in violation of church law. A couple of our District Superintendents, meeting with Jimmy Creech at a Metropolitan Community Church, had already indicated that it was the policy of the cabinet to allow such ceremonies. This series of events was the capstone for me of twenty years in this Annual Conference where traditional Wesleyan theology, based on the Bible, has been disregarded, defiled and despised.
In response, on April 1, seventy-five people gathered at an Evangelical Renewal Fellowship (ERF) meeting to discuss our options. At that time, I was one of twenty-two pastors who signed a document indicating that the leadership of this Annual Conference was unacceptable, and that we wanted to leave. For most of us, "leaving," meant forming or joining another Annual Conference. A round table meeting between ERF leadership and the leadership of the CA-NV Annual Conference produced nothing. We were practically encouraged to leave the denomination altogether. I worked to produce legislation that would allow evangelicals in this area to form our own Evangelical Annual Conference. This legislation was ruled "out of order" by Bishop Talbert and never reached the Conference floor.
During this time, the secular press interviewed me. At one point, a reporter from the S.F. Chronicle asked, "What is the real problem in the United Methodist Church?" My response was a statement that received wide publicity. I said, "There are two religions in the UMC, one based on Scripture, and one that feels we are in a new age with new truths." This remains my assessment of the situation. Lyle Schaller says this is the number one question facing the future of United Methodism: "Is the Christian faith a revealed religion that was disclosed by God in the Holy Scriptures for all generations to come? Or is Christianity a religion that both expects and obligates each generation to reinterpret the redefine the faith?" I affirm the former, and our Conference leadership chooses the latter of those two options. For evangelical believers, the Christian faith is not a riddle to be solved, but a revelation to be received. It's not a mystery to be discovered, but a truth that was "once for all delivered to the saints." What divides us is not a single issue, but a foundational difference on the nature of biblical authority and the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
Most recently, I attended the SEJ leadership meeting in Atlanta. Here I presented my case for an Evangelical Annual Conference in the Western Jurisdiction. Renewal group leaders and like-minded evangelicals wanted to know what they could do in order to help alleviate the intolerable situation in our Conference. The answer is to stop living in denial about the unbridgeable chasm that separates evangelicals from liberals in our denomination and to prepare for a loving separation. Divide pensions and property and general agencies and form two separate Methodist bodies (obviously the word "united" has to go!). But I know many aren't ready for that reality, and so I pled for the next best thing, a separate evangelical conference in the West. Interestingly enough, at the same time Lyle Schaller came forward with a monumental article calling the UMC to a new paradigm of ministry for the 21st Century. Included in his recommendations was a plea for non-geographical Annual Conferences based on theology or ministry needs. While many at the SEJ forum responded positively to my plea, the leaders of our renewal groups, notably Good News and the Confessing Movement, were silent or discouraging. I appreciated the honesty of one Confessing Movement leader who said we didn't have a snowball's chance in you know where to get this passed. What shocked me was the comment of one Good News Board member who said, "The grassroots are calling for a split in the denomination, and we've got to fight that!" For a minute I thought I was at a GBGM meeting! Fight the grassroots call for a split? I thought our renewal groups were supposed to be listening to the grassroots and trumpeting their concern. At this point I realized that perhaps I am the one out of step with the greater picture of renewal in our denomination.
By the way, please don't take my comments as undue criticism of either Good News or the Confessing Movement. Where would we be without them? I praise God for them and for their greater wisdom and ceaseless promotion of traditional Wesleyan theology. I humbly offer to them that there is a new wind blowing, and that renewal in the United Methodist Church may be more costly then we ever imagined. Is it possible that the only way to true renewal is a loving separation?
Therefore, because I have irreconcilable differences with the leadership of the California-Nevada Annual Conference on issues basic to the Christian faith, and because the leadership of that Annual Conference has broken trust with Scripture, the Book of Discipline, and Wesleyan heritage, and because the Bible teaches us to stand apart from unholiness and evil (Rom. 16:17-18; Eph. 5:6-16; 2 Tim 3:1-5; 2 Tim 4:1-5; 1 Pet 1:14-16), and because I am bone weary of fighting this battle, I can no longer serve in good conscience in the CA-NV Annual Conference. I am withdrawing from the Conference as of Nov.2, 1998, and resigning as president of the Evangelical Renewal Fellowship.
I only pray that my act of conscience will encourage others to continue to "contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints", but perhaps with a greater sense of urgency and a greater willingness to sacrifice.
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