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Commentary


"A Fractured United Methodist Church"

by Rev. Lin Goodyear


Pandora's Box has been opened and the denomination called the United Methodist Church will never be the same. The door is now open for any clergy member to act in defiance of the rules of the church as a matter of conscience. On February 11, 2000 Bishop Melvin Talbert, who presides over the No. California/Nevada United Methodist Church, announced that a committee had declared that the charges against 67 clergy for violating the rules of the church were not reasonable for trial. These clergy, led by the Rev. Don Fado of Sacramento, Calif., performed a "holy union", as it is called, for Jeanne Barnett and Ellie Charlton on January 16, 1999 that was in direct opposition to the explicit rules of the denomination. Those rules, as stated on page 87 paragraph C in the United Methodist Book of Discipline are unambiguous, "Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches."

At ordination every clergy member is asked important questions about their willingness to support the doctrine and rules of the denomination. They are, in part, "Do you know the General Rules of the our Church? Will you keep them? Have you studied the doctrines of the United Methodist Church? After full examination, do you believe that our doctrines are in harmony with the Holy Scriptures? Will you preach and maintain them?" To be ordained in the denomination a clergy person must be able, with full integrity, to answer these questions in the affirmative.

It is my assumption then, that these 67 clergy wish to recant what they pledged at their ordination and it is clear that they do not support the traditionally held authority and interpretation of the Scriptures. These individuals and many others are hoping to reform the United Methodist Church into something more to their liking in both a theological and practical sense. They do not represent the vast majority of United Methodists in the denomination as a whole. The Methodist Reformers are a loud and intense minority denominationally speaking but are a majority in California and other Western states. As a pastor of a United Methodist Church in California who believes in the traditional authority and interpretation of the Scriptures and who supports the doctrines of our denomination, I see the conflict between the liberal reformers and the traditional conservatives first hand and it is becoming intense.

The areas of conflict are striking and our respective points of view in those areas are immovable. Our differences in Biblical interpretation and practical application are extreme yet Bishop Talbert insists in his statement to the press on Feb. 11 that "agreement is not a requirement for people of faith to be in covenant as sisters and brothers. Our unity is not in agreement on issues; our unity is in Jesus Christ." Church history does not support that statement. If that were truly the case we would not have the many different Protestant denominations that exist today. The Baptists, Lutherans and Assembly of God are united in their common faith in Jesus Christ but are divided by issues of faith and practice. As it stands at the moment Methodists are more fractured than united.

The question is this. Can United Methodists who disagree on fundamental issues of faith and practice do ministry together effectively? Can the theological right (conservatives) and left (liberals) who have substantial disagreements work together well in the same "stadium" of ministry? We don't agree on many issues of theology, doctrine and its application or even on the collection and administration of money.

The game of football as played by the Canadians and the Americans is quite similar. But there are significant differences. If teams from each were to play a game together by their own rules chaos would be the result. I believe something akin to that fictitious football game is a living reality within the ministry of the United Methodist Church.

Will the United Methodist Church survive for another century with one side preaching one thing with all its heart, soul and mind and the other side the opposite view? Didn't Jesus say, "a house divided against itself will soon fall?"

We are not practicing ministry by the same rules and the result is growing confusion and frustration within our denomination. Are the Book of Discipline (Denominational rules) and the Holy Scriptures in danger of becoming mere suggestions to the United Methodist Church? Can clergy in the United Methodist Church just claim an act of conscience or "ecclesiastical disobedience" whenever the book of rules conflict with their personal understanding of Biblical truth? Evidently in California they can.

Many United Methodist clergy and the churches they serve are weary of the call to accept what is unacceptable according to the clear testimony of the Bible and the rules of the denomination. While tolerance is the cry of the Methodist Reformers, Scriptural integrity is the urgent reply of those who cling to the non-negotiable doctrines that form the root of Christianity.

The cost to the United Methodist Church over this conflict will be felt well into this century. It is my belief that, in the eyes of many, our denomination is not only suffering from a lack of credibility but it is also languishing from a loss of integrity as the rules of the church are ignored and as the authority of Scripture is trashed. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church, was concerned that Methodism might some day have the form of religion but lose its heart. Methodist reformers have plunged a knife deep into that vibrant muscle. Eventually their attempts to subvert the teaching of the Bible and the rules of the denomination will touch every United Methodist Church. The heart that once throbbed with energy and decisiveness proclaiming with each beat the good news about Jesus and God's teaching in the Scriptures is under attack. The United Methodist Church is in need of emergency surgery if it is going to survive this assault on non-negotiable doctrines of traditional faith and practice. May God direct us as we wrestle with what that surgery is going to be.

Rev. Lin Goodyear
115 West K Street
Los Banos, Calif. 93635
(209) 826-5796
lin@cell2000.net

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