California Evangelicals Painfully Consider Charges Against Disobedient Clergy
Sunday, November 8, 1998
To the Editor:
My heart is breaking. It is breaking because of the actions of men and women who I thought were my colleagues. I thought I was a part of a church that was committed to honor one another. I thought I was a part of a church whose core values were grounded in Wesley's commitment to scripture and holiness, as well as involvement in the world. I thought I was a part of a church did its best to say no to sin. I thought there was hope when I heard some of our clergy say, "You know, you're right. There is a significant group of you evangelical clergy in our Annual Conference whose positions of faith have been marginalized, and demeaned, and rejected - and we need to do something about that." I thought there was hope when two outstanding pastors, persons of whom we clergy said, "You are called of God to do the work of an Elder in the United Methodist Church, -- persons of deep faith who took a radical stand and said, "We can no longer be in covenant with those clergy who call themselves 'United Methodist' ", and surrendered their "Orders." I thought and hoped there would be honest dialogue about why they took this radical action. Instead, another one of our outstanding colleagues has surrendered his Orders because honest and open dialogue about the issues that concern us is not taking place, and the issues continue in open violation of our covenant.
On October 27, 1998, as a result of the meeting of the Order of Elders, I thought there was a glimmer of hope that we clergy of the California-Nevada Annual Conference might be able to dialogue together over the issues that are causing us so much pain. We made a start, but then that start was sabotaged by the actions of some of our clergy who do not believe God meant what God inspired the writers of the Book we call Holy, the Bible, to write what they wrote. I have told my congregation, "Yes, there are differences amongst us. Yes, there is a process for the resolution of different understandings. Stand firm in your faith, trust the Lord that God's Will will prevail. Pray for those who hold different understandings. We are United Methodist's together."
But now I wonder - can our process really work? In our Ordination as Elders we were asked: "Are you persuaded that the scriptures of the Old and new Testaments contain all things necessary for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, and are the unique and authoritative standard for the Church's faith and life?" Our response was: "I am so persuaded, by God's grace." We were also asked: "In covenant with other elders, will you be loyal to The United Methodist Church, accepting its order, liturgy, doctrine, and discipline, defending it against all doctrines contrary to God's Holy Word, and accepting the authority of those who are appointed to supervise your ministry?" Our response was: "I will, with the help of God." The recently proposed action on the part of the Rev. Donald H. Fado, appointed pastor of St. Mark's United Methodist Church in Sacramento, and what appears to be some 80 other United Methodist Elders, seems to me to be a clear violation of our vows of Ordination. His proposal to hold a "Concelebrated same-sex union" seems to me to be not only a clear violation of his vows of ordination, but also a clear violation of the 1996 Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church, as well as a deliberate slap in the face to all evangelicals - laity and clergy- who have desired to be in dialogue and to listen. To that end, i.e., dialogue and listening, until the most recent and blatant announcement by Rev. Fado to "Concelebrate a same-sex union", there were no known plans - past or present or even hinted - on the part of any evangelical elder to seek out or identify any other clergyperson who has, or might be preparing, to perform a "same-sex union" in order to charge them with a chargeable offense. Yet that has been an unwritten charge against evangelical pastors! But now we are clear, if we are present - clergy or lay, and witness clergy participating in such an event we feel required by our Book of Discipline to hold the offending clergy accountable. [emphasis added by editor]
It was never the desire of evangelicals to go on some kind of witch hunt - and note, we are not engaging in that process even now. Rather, the desire of evangelicals has been to be in dialogue to discuss our differences and to discover a way that we could still be in ministry as United Methodists, but quite frankly, we have been told, "We will listen, but we will not discuss." Yet it is we evangelicals who are labeled as rigid, uncooperative, and fundamentalist. Still, we evangelicals have continued trying to be clear in sharing our viewpoint, but quite frankly it's something akin to talking to a cement post. Please don't tell me, "I hear your pain." If you really heard me you would be doing something to help resolve our differences. You have "heard" me so much, and nothing has been accomplished that I am on the precipice of saying, "I don't want to talk any more!" Even worse, I don't even know that we can pray together any more. More often than I care to count I have had members of my congregation, as well as members from other United Methodist Churches, seek me out to ask: "Why must we be labeled as intolerant and divisive?" "We believe and trust that God meant it when he inspired the writers of the Bible to write his Word." "Why are we being accused of not accepting into our midst persons who claim they are gay when that is simply not true?!" Another layperson put it this way: "As sinners we are all in this together, and transformation can come for every sinner when they accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, and accept his forgiveness for all their sin."
The charge has also been leveled at some evangelical clergy that they are openly supporting the policy to no longer pay their apportionments. I can truthfully say that I have never heard an Elder in Full Connection and in good standing in this Annual Conference say or encourage their congregations to follow that policy. However, I have heard good United Methodist lay people, in my church and in other churches, ask why we are still paying our apportionments when things that are so clearly not a part of the United Methodist Church are continually being flaunted in our faces by other United Methodist clergy and by our leadership. It is a question that is becoming increasingly difficult to answer with a clear conscience.
Some weeks ago I shared with some of my clergy colleagues that I wanted to be a part of the process to help write legislation for the General Conference in 2000 that would allow evangelical pastors and churches to become a part of an Evangelical Provisional Annual Conference. Just the mention of that idea sends shivers up the spines of many. Some say that it's divisive. What's divisive about it? We wish to remain United Methodist! We are saying to those with a political-spiritual agenda, "Go ahead, do your thing. We wish the same freedom, and that is to do what we believe John Wesley, and the Church called United Methodist is calling us to do. We are not convinced that in this Annual Conference we can move forward together any longer." We believe the evidence bears out the fact that liberal pastors in this Annual Conference have already caused the division, and in obedience to our faith in Jesus, and in integrity with our vows of ordination, we have been forced to call attention to their actions. We believe they have done this by not being faithful to our vows of ordination, that they have not honored our commitment to be in covenant together, and that they have and are holding doctrines contrary to God's Holy Word. In response to these actions several evangelical laypersons have said to me, "Why should we have to consider establishing a Provisional Annual Conference, they are the ones who should leave?! They do not represent United Methodism nor the Gospel of Jesus Christ!" Dear friends, it is my firm conviction that the California-Nevada Annual Conference is on the verge of becoming a non-entity! We already have too many clergy to laity - and if current trends continue we will continue to decline in membership, thus further increasing this disparity; and if this disregard of our doctrine and order continues, if this disregard of God's Word continues, I believe our Annual Conference will become so negatively affected that it will become financially incapable of continuing - let alone losing it's spiritual mandate to minister to God's people. Already there are pastors and churches in our Annual Conference, representing some 10,000 United Methodist members, who have informally said, "We are willing to consider leaving this Annual Conference."
I love my church, I love being a United Methodist, I want to see healing take place, and I am still committed to it, but at the present time I don't see much hope for evangelicals - clergy or lay-in this Annual Conference, and I am deeply concerned about the future of our Conference. Somebody prove me wrong - please.
In Christ's Love,
Loran G. Berck, Pastor
Cc: Bishop Melvin G. Talbert Rev. John M. Foster, D.S., Nevada-Sierra District Rev. Bruce McSpadden, D.S., Bay View District Rev. David Bennett, D.S., Delta District Rev. Richard Plain, D.S., Fresno District Rev. Thomas Kimball, D.S., Golden Gate District Rev. Ardith Allread, D.S., San Jose District Rev. Hankyu Park, D.S., Shasta District Rev. Vickie Healy, Ch. Board of Ordained Ministry Rev. Donald J. Cunningham, Ch. Order of Elders The United Methodist Review The California-Nevada United Methodist Review Good News
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