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Layman Calls for "Tough Love" with Accountability
--An Open Letter


July 6, 1998

R.O. Biggerstaff
5000 Prieto Dr
Pensacola, FL 32506

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

This is an open letter to all members of the United Methodist Church (UMC). I am a UMC layman, in good location. I care a lot for the church, and object to a focused and powerful minority forcing issues, by refusing to play by the rules, that the majority of the lay people object to, and have objected to. The majority have spoken numerous times, through majority votes in General Conference. Their voice is recorded in the Book of Discipline.

I hope you will agree with my message, and help give it the widest dissemination possible. Help me make sure that as many lay people as possible read it. I also hope you will act in ways I recommend herein.

The United Methodist Church is on the precipice of not being a united church. We are perilously close to spinning out of control, and heading for a split, or schism. It is my hope that thoughtful and prayerful action on things I say will help all of us avoid that.

I want to start off by analyzing what is wrong, and identify some of the reasons why. I also want to go on record, up front, by describing myself as aligned with what is labeled as an Evangelical stance.

There are several interwoven parts to the crisis we are facing today. Let's look at them one by one. The first is caused by a small, vocal, and focused minority. These are the Bishops, District Superintendents (DSs), clergy, and salaried staff who are publicly espousing liberal babble and cant. They are dangerous, in that they are vocal, and oftentimes work in unison, and because they have positional credibility. Because of who they are, and positions they hold, there is an imputed credibility to what they espouse. The Bishops, DSs, and clergy in this group are ordained ministers who are sworn and paid to uphold the Book of Discipline, Methodism's set of laws and beliefs, stated therein.

For those who don't like the rules and provisions in the Book of Discipline, there is a structure and due process for orderly change. This due process is available to all individuals and groups within the Church. Those who don't like the rules, are, nonetheless, responsible to play by the rules. If they cannot in good conscience do so, let them resign.

The second part of the problem concerns the numerically large body of Bishops, DSs, clergy, salaried workers, and lay members who have failed to speak out concerning the wrong preachings and statements of the vocal minority. Many of the lay members and clergy in this group are unaware of what is going on. They need to be informed of the true magnitude of what is happening. This is one of the objects of this letter. Ignorance of what is happening is no defense, but it is a factor. Still and all, there are enough in this body who are aware of what is happening to put a stop to the errant behavior of the minority, if they just would.

What has happened to bring us to the point we are at today is a process I call "incrementalism" The gay activists within the UMC have constantly pushed their agenda. They have gained a little here, and a little there. The same with the re-imaginers, and idolaters who are trying to twist Christ and the Gospel into something entirely alien. The slumbering lay people open one eye, at each gain, but think"Well, it's not right, but it could be worse," and roll over and go back to sleep. Today, the totality of the situation definitely is worse. The good Bishops, DSs, and clergy see the lay people fail to protest incremental gains, and think "Well, if it doesn't bother the flock, why should I stir things up." And, here we are, right up against schism.

I am appalled at the total lack of leadership of the Bishops and DSs (I am not going to let the clergy off this hook, but more on this later). A Methodist Bishop is a general superintendent of the Church. Among other things, he is sworn to uphold the purity of the doctrine, as expressed in our Book of Discipline, and the Holy Bible and defend UMC doctrine as expressed in the Book of Discipline. He is also paid an impressive salary to do this. In short, this is his duty and obligation. Leadership also means being pro-active in initiating action to head off problems, such as defiant deviation from the Book of Discipline and the Holy bible. It may entail disciplining of people who openly defy these rules. These are things Bishops, more so than any other group within the UMC should be doing at all times. They should be the ultimate defenders of the Faith, not the undoers of it.

We are faced today with a few renegade Bishops, and total leadership failure from the rest. The Bishops should be the last line of defense of church rules and teachings. Instead, we have silence in the face of apostasy from some in the Bishops ranks, and from those who work for Bishops. This is a travesty, and must be turned around. Before I go into how we can do this, I want to speak on accountability.

We are at the edge of schism, not because of all the above, but because of lack of accountability. This thought is not originally mine. It was voiced somewhere on an internet web-site discussion board. We have plenty of adequate laws today to compel proper behavior. We are not using them.

I believe we have numerically enough laity today who are aware of and object to what is happening to prevail in the exercise of bringing errant voices to account. To do so, we must establish credibility by making our voices and action count. To date, we've only partially done this. More is needed.

How can I say that we have adequate laws, when there is an overwhelming doubting and handwringing because some have said that the Social Principles are not law? The way the reasoning goes, because the Social Principles are not law (even though they are an integral part of the Book of Discipline), no one is really bound by them. They are just guidelines. If you conscience tells you different, why you just go ahead and espouse whatever you would like to be known as truth.

Folks, this is "THE BIG LIE". The Creech court "five" bought it and swallowed it hook, line, and sinker. Since then, many others have rushed to judgement and agreed. This has caused a general feeling of helplessness and frustration. UMC people are paralyzed into inaction because of the supposed validity of this. Again, I will tell you, it is "A BIG LIE!" Back in June of 1953, the Judicial Council wrote Decision #96. Decision #96 says that the Book of Discipline is clearly and unequivocally UMC law, and that it is binding. Everyone is holding their breath awaiting the August 98 Judicial Council to rule on an issue that has been church policy for years! I firmly believe that the August Judicial Council will reverse the Creech trial verdict, and re-affirm that the Book of Discipline is law, and is binding on all Methodists. I prepared and submitted a brief to this effect to the August Judicial Council. Numerous other UMC and related groups are doing this, also. The problem is that I'm not sure this is going to change anything. We've got some renegades running around willy-nilly breaking UMC law right now, and are not being held accountable. Do we really think another Judicial Council Decision affirming that what has long been law will stay law is going to change the behavior of those renegades? I think not.

This is exactly what I mean when I say that, collectively, we are not powerless. What we are seeing is lack of will to act to hold the errant group accountable. We are marked today by what we will tolerate--not by lack of adequate rules. And, that's exactly what we are doing. We are tolerating altogether too much. It is time to stop. Prayer is great, but, at this point, it is not enough. You and I have to get involved, and do something.

What can you do to effectively stop what is happening? The first thing I want to focus on is the accountability issue. Start bringing charges against everyone who you can document as espousing something against one of the list of charges in the Book of Discipline. It is not easy. You have to make specific, explicit charges, and support each with written accounts of the charged party making statements clearly espousing something in direct conflict with the content of the Book of Discipline. Your evidence should not be second or third hand hearsay, or loaded with emotions and opinions. The Book of Discipline gives guidance as to how to bring charges. I have brought formal charges against Bishop Talbert and the 190 or so ministers who have signed the Affirmation statement on the Cornet web-site. It's early days yet, and I have no idea what will happen in that regard. I do know that, if the charges eventually get a fair hearing, we'll see lot's of convictions. Do not wait for the Judicial Council to rule. You have all the ammo you need to come out firing now.

The whole point of this type action should be to buy us time. If we can get the errant group back to obeying the rules they are sworn to uphold, it will truly be a major victory, and may be the one thing that will bring us back a little bit from the precipice. If we can extract accountability, I have no doubt that the Gay activists, apostates, and idolaters will not be able to push their desired policies through the General Conference. Let's put the discipline back in the picture that the Book of Discipline provides for.

At this point, I want to discuss the apportionment withholding/re-direction initiatives. This is one of those things which gives the lay people a feeling of empowerment. We think that by doing this, we will really be "sticking it to those Bishops." I would advise caution in this approach, for several reasons. One is, that by withholding or re-directing apportionments, you instantly put your pastor at risk, possibly even your local church. Like it or not, the Bishops hold all the cards in this game. There are several ways they can retaliate, such as un-appointing your minister (don't believe it? What happened to Jimmy Creech, at long last?). The thing I would have you consider here is the welfare of your pastor. Another thing the Bishops can do, through some arm twisting, is reduce your minister's salary (there is a tie-in there to apportionments). I readily admit I'm not thoroughly knowledgeable about all the ways a Bishop might retaliate, but I feel that when people start "voting with their wallets", and it starts smarting a little, the Bishops are going to growl and show teeth. Another point to consider is that withholding apportionments victimizes many of the good causes our apportionments support, and the majority of your apportionments go to good causes. If you feel you can re-direct or withhold, and you can make it work for you without unacceptable consequences, then God bless you in your endeavor. Voting with your wallet does send a powerful message.

The good news is, that if we all act in unison, there is a way to defeat and bring down this facet of the Bishop power structure. The beauty of it is, it is a simple thing. Before I get into the solution, I want to tell you that most congregational petitions which go against the interests of the Bishops will never see the light of day in Annual Conference. There is a committee which reviews all petitions before they are accepted to be voted on at Annual Conference. That committee is inevitably headed up by a Bishop loyalist. The committee chairman reads the petitions to the Conference, and then makes recommendations to accept, reject, or modify, to the Bishop. The Bishop then holds a vote. Most of the time, anything adversarial or confrontational gets watered down or tabled. We see this time after time. Petitions to Annual Conference do not seem to be an effective vehicle for addressing the issue of accountability.

OK, where does that leave us? How do we break the logjam we're in? Any Methodist lay person can petition the General Conference. I want your help in getting every lay person you know or can reach to sign a petition saying words to the effect " I petition the General Conference to amend the Book of Discipline to read : "The Bishop, local congregation, and the minister act as a partnership in removing, transferring, or un-appointing a minister. In the case of a Bishop wanting to remove/transfer/un-appoint a serving minister, each party has one vote. Two concurring votes prevails. The same principle applies to District Superintendents. If a Bishop wants to remove a District Superintendent, and he doesn't want to be removed, and all the UMC congregations in the District don't want the District Superintendent to be removed, he can not be removed". This is a profound and crucial concept we must work to put into the Discipline to break the stranglehold the Bishops have over ministers, DSs, and congregations today. This solution will provide a clear means of removing pastors and/or District Superintendents who need to be removed for cause, but will block Bishops from removing, either arbitrarily or in retaliation, a minister or DS "standing up" to something right which the Bishop opposes. If the General Conference gets petitions to this effect with names of lots of lay people on them, they will almost certainly be compelled to provide amendment to the Book of Discipline in accordance with those wishes. It will be a crescendo of voices from the bottom up. If those opposing read this and also send in petitions, I think the pro numbers will be overwhelmingly greater, and will prevail. One petition can have as many names on it as practical to the circumstances. Each name should also show which church the signer is a member of. Use your initiative and creativity in crafting your or your groups' actual petition.

In all that has happened, where has the crescendo of ministerial voices been concerning the apostasy that is occurring? The same thing about the DSs. OK, the Bishops have let us down and failed in their duties, but where is the DS and ministerial outcry? Remember that these men, for the most part, are not yet retirement eligible. They are caught between opposing forces, and are vulnerable. DSs especially so, because the Bishops expect them to be "company men", and loyally supportive. Imagine yourself at 40-50 years of age, with a wife and kids, and about to be put on the street if you speak out against company policy, and knowing that you have little chance to find another career at anywhere near what you were making. It's easy for we lay people to be critical in this regard, but unrealistic. Just how brave could you or would you be under the above circumstances?

The hour is late. I say to you that the battle is not over until you have formally charged those who are not playing by the rules. The battle is not over until the UMC lay body petitions the General Conference to amend the Discipline in regard to ministerial and DS appointments. We may still lose, but at least we will have tried with everything we have at our disposal. If these actions and initiatives fail, then I fear we are lost indeed. If we can extract accountability, and break the Bishop stranglehold over the local ministry and DSs, I think everything else in the future will take care of itself. Just imagine what we can do by freeing up the ministers and DSs, and letting their voices join ours in telling the Bishops what they are doing wrong. It will literally be a Godsend.

Spread the word, and get those petitions in to the General Conference, and start filing charges. Don't be squeamish about this. Accountability isn't something to be scared of. The Book of Discipline provides an adequate structure for this. It's time for "tough love". It is time to act.

Sincerely,

R.O. BIGGERSTAFF


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