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Separate Evangelical Conference within UMC is Unwise

by Ed Ezaki

Two or three Evangelical Renewal Fellowship pastors have made inquiry regarding the meeting with ministry staff on May 20th. The asked whether we will address the issue of forming a "Western Jurisdictional Missionary Conference" under Par 558 of the Discipline. I have not wanted to address this issue publicly, because I've felt that bringing it up too soon might have a chilling effect on ERF unity. However, after prayer, I think now is an appropriate time to publish some of my thoughts. Let me say up front that I am not in support of such an idea, and I think that May 20th is too soon to place the idea on the agenda in talks with the ministry staff. The idea of a separate, non-geographical evangelical Annual Conference in the Western Jurisdiction is, I feel, not a good idea for the following reasons:

  1. Timing
    It takes a General Conference to establish such a Conference. The soonest this could happen is the 2000 General Conference. By then, a number of gifted younger evangelical pastors will already have left the UMC. A number of congregations will have also left. Far from impatience, this exodus reflects that these sisters and brothers have reached the breaking point where to continue within the UMC represents such a violation of their Christian conscience as to make continuation impossible. We must have rapid action. Even delay means that many will leave. Although the 2000 General Conference is the soonest a new conference could be established, most probably, a study group would be established with action delayed at least until 2004 or beyond. Again, we can't wait that long.

  2. Chances for success are slim
    Just yesterday, the Council of Bishops said no to a request for a special session of General Conference to deal with the Creech issue. This despite calls by at least two of their fellow bishops, a number of Cabinets, the Confessing Movement, Good News, and countless local churches. The Bishops hid behind the excuse that they're too busy feeding the poor children to spend money on such a session. Interesting argument when agencies have over millions in stock portfolios and employee loans. I think the Bishops' action is more evidence that evangelicals don't have any influence in the General Conference beyond retaining the restrictive language. It is too much a long shot to think the General Conference would establish an evangelical Annual Conference.

  3. We'd still be controlled by the system
    It is foolish to think that the Western Jurisdiction will choose an evangelical bishop to lead the new Conference even if it could be established. No, we will have Bishop Dew or Sano or Swenson. All have signed the letter stating their opposition to the Discipline's stand on homosexuality. If there's one thing we learned in Tulsa, it's that, though the South agrees with us theologically, they also have a very "top down" culture of control and power. I think we've seen first hand that such power ultimately is misused. Additionally, we would still be paying apportionments to support the Boards and agencies of the UMC, so many evangelical churches would begin their new Conference relationship by withholding apportionments. We would be leaving one battle and jumping into another. With the impending split in the UMC, we would only be delaying the eventual step out.

  4. Finally, and most importantly, by changing our focus this early in the process, we risk the slim chance of getting anything
    One pastor who is interested in joining an evangelical Conference recognizes that, for him, it's important that we do succeed in constructing the process we asked for in the Oakdale resolution. That way, there is a way to exit in place just in case it goes from bad to worse. We all need to join our energies to establish such a process; then we all have a chance to get what we want.

Thanks for reading such a long post. May God bless you all.

Ed Ezaki, ERF

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