In Defense of the Discipline

In Defense of the Discipline

by Jim Noland, D.Min. 

In the recent and ongoing controversy within The United Methodist Church concerning how the church should relate to homosexual persons, there has been remarkably little examination of scripture.  Instead of a serious theological conversation we have experienced a great deal of talk about process, and this within a highly politicized environment. 

This is puzzling for a number of reasons.  True, we United Methodists are not committed to sola scriptura and few of us are literalists with regard to Biblical interpretation.  But we are committed to a theology that views scripture as primary, so one would have expected a more nuanced and deeper debate. 

Recently I attended a UMC worship service in which the burden of the sermon was that since we ignore the great bulk of the holiness code in Leviticus (such things as not eating pork and shrimp), then we should also disregard its prohibitions with regard to sexual affairs.  And by implication any such prohibitions in the New Testament as well.  

This sermon presented a shockingly shallow view of an issue which was in fact addressed in the first century as recorded in the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Acts. When Paul and Barnabas met with the apostles and elders to consider how to deal with gentile converts in what is called “The Council of Jerusalem,” it was decided that the holiness code was not binding on non-Jewish Christians, but that they should “abstain from things polluted by idols and from fornication and from whatever has been strangled and from blood”(Acts 15:19). 

Advocates for deleting the restrictive language from The Discipline often point out, correctly, that there are few verses regarding homosexuality in the Bible.  To this I would say that there none that view it favorably and that, in addition, an argument from silence is unconvincing.  For example, the fact that the Bible is silent on the issue of climate change does not mean that it should not be an issue for Christians.  It is also worth noting that the term “homosexual” did not even exist until it was coined in the late nineteenth century. 

A more telling objection is that we no longer abide by the Pauline restrictions on women in the church.  However, a strong case can be made that these were particular to the context of specific congregations and that the overall tenor of Paul’s ministry expressed a counter-cultural acceptance of women (see for example his comments on Prisca and Phoebe).  He also explicitly articulated that in Christ there is “neither male nor female.” So, in accepting women in ministry we have not simply disregarded scripture; rather we have explored its deeper meaning. 

Can we do the same with homosexuality? That is the question.  One of the clearest discussions of this issue can be found in Victor Paul Furnish’s The Moral Teaching of Paul.  Furnish is clear that Paul condemns homosexual practices, but he argues that we can no longer accept many of Paul’s assumptions about the issue, primarily that homosexual acts are “freely chosen.” This is because, according to Furnish, Paul had no understanding of sexual orientation as an inherent, involuntary condition.  Given this analysis, which is widely shared, a loving church should relax its restrictive stance, much as it did earlier with regard to race.  On this view it is a matter of justice for a minority. 

The problem is that Furnish’s view is also dated.  The concept of sexual orientation as an innate condition is increasingly giving way to a much more fluid view of human sexuality in which all gender roles are simply social constructs that unduly inhibit the free expression of one’s chosen sexual identity.  You will note the addition of “sexual expression” to the more recent pronouncements of the progressive wing of the church. 

The truth is that the United Methodist conversation on changing The Discipline has not taken into consideration the changing theories of sexuality being advanced in academia.  The current landscape is beginning to look more like the one Paul inhabited, wherein the human will plays a strong role.  The issue is returning to one of behavior rather than fixed orientation.  Thus, The Discipline was perhaps wise beyond its understanding to view homosexuals as persons of sacred worth while rejecting certain sexual practices. 

The most profound scriptural analysis of this issue occurs in the first chapter of Romans.  Here, I would argue, Paul does not so much define what we call homosexuality as a sin as he views it, along with many other items, as a consequence of the fundamental sin of idolatry.  And the primary idolatry is the idolatry of the self as the final authority with regard to good and evil, right and wrong. That is to say, that the essence of sin is the elevation of the human will over the will of God as revealed first in nature and then more fully in the Christ we meet in scripture. 

United Methodists are a compassionate people, but to alter The Discipline by simply removing the restrictive language without so much as substituting anything that might resemble an affirmative or even a limiting principle would be to capitulate to an increasingly pagan culture. 

An Update on Ongoing Discussions Regarding Future Plans

An Update on Ongoing Discussions Regarding Future Plans

Earlier in the month, Rev. Keith Boyette, president of the Wesleyan Covenant Association, held a conference call for leaders of WCA regional chapters. During that call, he shared details of the ongoing conversations, discussions, & “negations’ among leaders from the traditional and progressive sides of the church, and he also asked the regional WCA leaders to take a survey to help shape future discussions and conversations.

Following that conference call, Keith sent out an email update that can be shared publicly so we share it here with you. It gives important updates about the ongoing situation that will have great impact on the future of the UMC.

As always, continue to pray for the UMC!

The email follows:

“Thank you to each of you who participated in the recent survey concerning potential paths forward in resolving the irreconcilable conflict in The United Methodist Church. I want to provide you with an update on the dialogue in which I am participating and comment on a recent article you may have seen.

As I shared with you in our last set of conference calls, a dialogue is underway involving recognized leaders associated with the One Church Plan (OCP) and the Traditional Plan (TP). Ten persons have been involved in the dialogue – five from each group.  The group has agreed that the specific identity of its participants is to be confidential at this time. I am obviously one of the participants and I have chosen to disclose my participation. The group has further agreed not to attribute statements made to specific individuals.

Participants in the dialogue have agreed there is a desire to avoid repeating the experience of St. Louis in Minneapolis, but what this means is unclear.

Both camps are preparing for another confrontation in Minneapolis, focusing on the election of delegates for GC 2020 and the preparation of legislation to implement their positions. TP proponents are focused on adopting those portions of the TP that were either not enacted at GC 2019 or which were declared unconstitutional. OCP proponents are focused on enacting some version of the OCP or perhaps even enacting the Simple Plan.

Thus far, both groups are trying to ascertain each other’s plans and what are their non-negotiables. Both groups acknowledged some form of separation (or multiplication of Methodist expressions) might be needed to resolve the conflict. Both groups have made efforts to discern how much separation their constituencies would regard as necessary, and where any amount of ongoing connection would be possible.

The TP group relied upon surveys conducted by the WCA and Good News. In terms of preference, those surveys revealed our constituency favors a complete separation creating two or three successor denominations to the UM Church. Some or all of the existing UM boards and agencies would be spun off as independent 501(c)(3) entities. Successor denominations would have the option of contracting with those entities for services, but would not be required to do so. There was less support for grouping the existing UM boards and agencies in something like an UM association, preserving the UM name, and permitting the successor denominations to contract for such services as they desired from the UM association. And a distant third option was to push forward for the TP’s full adoption and implementation. It calls for supporters of the full inclusion agenda to voluntarily exit the UM Church, or face disciplinary actions and trials that could result in their forced removal if they remain and violate the Discipline.

The OCP group primarily relied upon two meetings (held in Dallas and Atlanta) to take the pulse of its constituency. A recent article by Adam Hamilton essentially summarizes where the OCP group understands its constituency to be. The OCP constituency has moved a considerable distance since GC 2019. Prior to GC 2019, they were almost universally opposed to providing a gracious exit for any churches and to any division of the UM Church. Now they report about 50 percent of their constituency favors a strategy of “stay, resist and work to provide WCA congregations with a gracious exit,” and 50 percent favors the adoption of legislation to multiply Methodist expressions into two or three new denominations.

The deadline for submitting legislation for GC 2020 is September 12.

Here are the options that could be considered by the TP Group:

  1. Enact the rest of the TP and encourage pastors, churches, annual conferences and bishops who cannot commit to abide by the Discipline to graciously exit the UM Church. Implementation of this strategy will ensure that St. Louis will be repeated in Minneapolis, and likewise will prolong the conflict in the Church for some time if successful as the TP is implemented likely involving resistance and obstruction by those who disagree with the TP. Our survey showed that pursuing this strategy was the last of the strategies in terms of preference although absent a mutual agreement, it is the most likely strategy to be pursued as we approach GC 2020.
  2. Work with OCP proponents to enact a gracious exit provision and encourage those who cannot abide by the Discipline to exit the UM Church.
  3. Work with OCP proponents to enact a gracious exit provision and have WCA/TP pastors and churches exit the UM Church and launch a new Methodist expression/denomination.
  4. Work with OCP proponents to enact legislation to multiply Methodist expressions out of the UM Church (which would cease to exist) thus creating two or three new denominations.

Based on Adam Hamilton’s article referenced above, here are the options being considered by the OCP group:

  1. Stay in the UM Church, resist the TP, and give TP proponents a gracious exit in the hope they will leave.
  2. Leave the UM Church to start a new denomination.

Adam Hamilton’s article states that OCP leaders who gathered in Dallas and Atlanta were equally divided between these two options. Those who favored the OCP plan to have a meeting at Church of the Resurrection from May 20-22 during which they will have further conversation about these options.

Hopefully this gives you context to interpret Adam Hamilton’s article and to see how what he is sharing in the article fits into the dialogue between TP leaders and OCP leaders. Further dialogue between TP proponents and OCP proponents is planned.”

Spring Gathering 2019 Videos

We are very thankful for the people at Wilderness Community UMC for providing recording services of the Spring Gathering for us.

We also thank all who came out and joined us at the Gathering. It was wonderful to have everyone there that day!

Special appreciation goes out to Rev. Keith Boyette and Rev. Carolyn Moore for coming to speak.

Videos of the Gathering are available on our Youtube Channel at the following links:

Spring Gathering 2019: Rev. Keith Boyette

Spring Gathering 2019-Rev. Carolyn Moore

Introducing our new President!

Introducing our new President!

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Effective March 30, 2019, Rev. Gayle Thornberry is the President of the Wesleyan Covenant Association of Virginia We wanted to take this opportunity to have her introduce herself and tell you a little more about her as well.

A Note From Gayle:

What an honor to be the newly elected President of the regional chapter of the Wesleyan Covenant Association here in Virginia as of March 30, 2019.  It is my honor and privilege to help lead the way into a bright future.  Seasons of great change require faithful prayer and I appreciate you joining with me in focused prayer each morning at 8:30am, from wherever you are. Please feel free to email me if you have questions or concerns.

Bio

Gayle Thornberry came to the Virginia Annual Conference by way of the Northwest Texas Annual Conference in 2004 where she was the 2003 Denman Award for Evangelism recipient for clergy.  While in Texas, she served on the NWTX Annual Conference Insurance Commission.  After moving to Virginia, she was the President for the Associate Member & Local Pastor Fellowship, served on the Board of Ordained Ministry for 5 years, served on the Small Church Taskforce, and participated in the New Church Leadership Academy, served on the Church Development and Revitalization Committee, among others.  On the District level she has served as the District Chaplain, Chair of the Spiritual Formation Committee, was the Missions Chair; heading up District mission trips, was a mentor to several entering the clergy process, served on the DCOM, among serving in other ways on the District.

She has a B.S. degree in education and art from McMurry University in Abilene, Texas and a Masters of Divinity from the Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology at Virginia Union in Richmond, VA. In 2017, she was ordained Elder in the VA Conference.  Prior to receiving her Masters of Divinity, she completed 6 years of Course of Study as a local pastor from Duke Divinity School in Durham, N.C.

She is the Vice President of the Evangelical Fellowship in the Virginia Annual Conference.  She has been the keynote speaker at many women’s events in several states and was the founder and President of Hepzibah Word and Worship, Inc.

She married her sweetheart, Wes Thornberry, in 2004. They share 4 children, 7 grandchildren and 6 great-grandchildren.  They reside in Grottoes, VA where she pastors the Annex-Crimora Charge in the Harrisonburg District.  They enjoy “glamping” in their Motorhome and seeing all the states in the Union.

Prayers needed for our Bishop

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, closeupDuring this morning’s live stream about the recent General Conference, Bishop Lewis shared the news that she is having to take a six months medical leave. She is facing at least two more surgeries, including one this Thursday. This will all be here in Virginia this time. An interim Bishop will be appointed to the VA Conference while she is on Medical Leave.

We are in prayer for Bishop Lewis and ask you to also hold her in prayer for healing and strength over the next several months.

Also, be in prayer for the selection of our interim Bishop, and begin now to ask God to anoint whoever is selected with wisdom to guide and lead our Virginia Conference while Bishop Lewis is on Leave.

Final General Conference Update-Feb. 26, 2019

Final General Conference Update-Feb. 26, 2019

An Update for the events of Feb. 26 at General Conference from Rev. Bob Cooper, a Virginia Conference Reserve Delegate to the Conference and the Virginia Wesleyan Covenant Association President

The final night in St. Louis,

Today was a very difficult day. There was a great deal of pain and anxiety that was felt by everyone. Some difficult choices were before the General Conference.

So, what happened?

The One Church Plan was presented as the minority report before the General Conference. There was a motion made to substitute the Traditional Plan legislation with the One Church Plan legislation. The General Conference did not approve the motion 54.56%-45.44%.

The General Conference then took up legislation regarding the Traditional Plan. After much passionate debate, the General Conference approved the Traditional Plan 53.28%-46.72%.

What this means is that the current language in our Book of Discipline regarding human sexuality is unchanged. It also means there will be some stronger measures to hold bishops and denominational leaders accountable who refuse to follow the Book of Discipline.

In the last few minutes of General Conference, a plan for disaffiliation was approved. This means a “gracious exit” would be provided for churches and/or clergy who desire to leave the The United Methodist Church if they could not accept the outcome of General Conference.

It also important to know that several pieces of the Traditional Plan legislation and the plan for disaffiliation were deemed unconstitutional prior to the General Conference vote. Measures were taken to perfect these two pieces of legislation, but they will be reviewed by the Judicial Council.

As you can imagine, there were mixed reactions to the days events. There were multiple protests but I also witnessed many acts of kindness and compassion.

It was a day when that my heart was heavy. It was very difficult to see so many in pain. The brokenness of our church was apparent.

This Sunday I’ll be speaking more about General Conference.

Please continue to be in prayer for our church.

General Conference Update for Monday, Feb. 25

General Conference Update for Monday, Feb. 25

An Update for the events of Feb. 25 at General Conference from Rev. Bob Cooper, a Virginia Conference Reserve Delegate to the Conference and the Virginia Wesleyan Covenant Association President

Hello from chilly Missouri,

Today was a day of committee work. There were several pieces of legislation that were addressed. Here’s a round up of today’s work:

  1. The Legislative Committee approved the Traditionalist Plan by 56.22% to 43.78%

2.   The Legislative Committee did not approve the One Church Plan 53.04%-46-96%

3.   The Connectional Conference Plan and the Simple Plan did not receive the support of the Legislative Committee.

4. Two plans for disaffiliation were approved. This has to do with churches who may desire to leave the denomination regardless of the outcome of General Conference.

So, what does this mean?

The Traditional Plan will come before the plenary session of the General Conference tomorrow. There are some constitutional amendments the Judicial Council is considering that could impact the Traditional Plan. We should know something in the morning.

While the One Church Plan was not approved, it can still be presented as a “minority report.” This means it can come before the plenary session of General Conference tomorrow providing it gets enough support.

It’s possible both disaffiliation plans could be merged into one plan.

As you can imagine, today was a day of highs and lows. Strong emotions surround all of these issues. Throughout all of this, I have felt your love and support.

Tomorrow is the final day of General Conference. Please continue to be in prayer.

General Conference Update for Feb. 24, 2019

General Conference Update for Feb. 24, 2019

An Update for the events of Feb. 24 at General Conference from Rev. Bob Cooper, a Virginia Conference Reserve Delegate to the Conference and the Virginia Wesleyan Covenant Association President

Good evening from St. Louis,

The first day of the Called General Conference began with a wonderful worship service. It reflected the global nature of The United Methodist Church as we heard different languages used to express the glory of God.

The rest of the morning was spent with some house-keeping matters to organize our proceedings of the day. As the afternoon got underway, our first matter was to vote on pieces of legislation that would be considered “high priority.” There were multiple pieces that were considered. These are the top results:

The results I will focus on are where the two of the three plans lined up. The Traditional Plan came in with 459 votes (55.57%) and the One Church Plan came in with 403 votes (48.67%).

What this means is that the Traditional Plan will be the first plan to be considered by the General Conference on Monday morning. Please keep in mind the One Church Plan or another plan may also be considered, depending on the decision of the General Conference.

Please continue to pray

Bob Cooper

GC Update Feb. 23, 2019

GC Update Feb. 23, 2019

Hello from St Louis!

The first day of the Called General Conference is complete. The day was spent in worship, prayer, and fasting. Holy Communion was celebrated at the conclusion of the day.

There were a few protests outside of the facility, but overall things went smoothly. Tomorrow we will be getting into some of the legislative matters. Please see upcoming schedule for the remainder of General Conference:

General Conference Links of Interest

Here are some links you might find of interest over the next few days during the UMC General Conference

The Advance Daily Christian Advocate (ADCA) contains the agenda, rules, delegate listings, petitions, reports from the general agencies/commissions and study committees, information for delegates, and codes of conduct for the 2019 General Conference.
The Daily Christian Advocate (DCA) is produced daily during the General Conference sessions, and contains news and features as well as the verbatim transcript of the conference proceedings and calendar items.
It can be read online here

The General Conference will be live streamed and can be viewed by clicking here


The WCA will have a video recap each morning at 8am CT (9am ET). That can be viewed on their FB page by clicking here


The UMC Official GC page with links to official latest news and other items of interest can be found by clicking here