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General Conference 2019: Myths and Realities

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General Conference 2019: Myths and Realities

*By Bishop Forrest C. Stith

After attending 15 consecutive General Conferences, the special session of 2019 was the most unique and one that brought much frustration and disappointment.  True, the worship and music were inspiring.  Likewise, the sense of being a part of such a historical and cosmopolitan body under the flame and cross fills one’s soul. 

Yet this conference had a mood of apprehension and fear, with half the body searching to find a way forward in unity, and the other half approaching each day almost like a “butcher attacking a tenderloin.” Seemingly, two agendas and goals.  My personal frustration was not just the concluding votes, but, in deciding to adopt one of three options, we chose the only plan that rejected unity. The final decision could lead us towards a “never-never land” of cataclysmic proportions. I have spent much of the succeeding weeks searching for a silver lining, for my beloved church of 84 years.

My conclusion is that the process before, during and following the conference was punctuated with a number of myths, not consistent with reality. Whereas I lack the expertise to be precise, I share my critique. 

MYTH #1  

The entire denomination prefers the traditional model over all other possibilities.

REALITY

Our denomination is composed of some 13 million persons, none of whom participated in a referendum on the subject, and most members are unaware of the ramifications of the Disciplinary issues around human sexuality and our faith.  Rather, a representative body of slightly over 800 persons, gathered together in a huge dome stadium, within a brief 4-day window, unknown to one another, speaking a number of distinct languages, from various cultures and experiences all over the globe. This body was given the task of receiving a report from the Commission on a Way Forward, with three possible plans or options.

The result: after one day of dynamic worship and one day being a committee of the whole with no small group deliberations, the body proceeded to take a series of votes, many on parliamentary procedures.  Over two days, there were a number of crucial votes; one procedural vote passed with a four-vote margin; and the final vote In favor of The Traditional Plan passed by 57 votes.  Who of us, in a local congregation, would decide on a major building expansion WITH 47 percent of the body against the project?

MYTH #2

The church in the U.S. is equally divided on the question of full inclusion of LGBTQ persons in the life of the church. 

REALITY

First, as a country, there are many dimensions of the issue of human sexuality. Polls would indicate most Americans consider themselves heterosexuals, yet, would favor full inclusion of all people.  Which is why the Supreme Court decisions rendered by a conservative Court continuously affirm equality of all persons, while protecting individual biases (WHICH IS WHAT THE ONE CHURCH PLAN OFFERED). Unscientific surveys indicated 2/3 of American and European United Methodist delegates favored the One Church Plan as a way towards unity.

MYTH #3

Schism is inevitable for The United Methodist Church. 

REALITY

Depends on what you mean by "schism."  The Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren (EUB) Church experienced splintering of individual congregations from their inception. That includes several black congregations that later evolved into the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) and AME Zion churches. The Christian Methodist Episcopal Church (CME) was not a splinter but an amicable divorce initiated by the white Southern church. There were many other divisions, based on the degree of lay participation, local church autonomy, and theology.

Another division was the separation of Churches in the Caribbean, and South America, which again were induced to leave the Methodist Church and form their own CIEMAL

However, the most graphic and numerical schism was the separation of the North and South church based on slavery in the middle of the 19th century.  This schism lasted 90 years before there was reunification, which placed African Americans on the sacrificial altar of unity, culminating in the (segregated) Central Jurisdiction for almost 30 years. 

Up to the present, individual congregations have left, based on discomfort with inclusion of African Americans, women’s full participation, and the church’s stance on several social issues. One could assume that if the human sexuality clauses in the Discipline were changed, or not changed, there would be defections. In fact, many of those threatening to leave have been unhappy for a myriad of reasons and might use sexuality as an excuse for complete autonomy, which is not the same as a schism. Though many threaten, the complexity and economics of a schism makes formal schism doubtful. 

One of the models proposed at the special session was a Connectional Conference model, wherein semi-autonomous annual conferences would be created based on human sexuality ideology. Its rejection was mostly due to constitutional questions and logistics that, unlike the 1850 slavery issue which had a clear Mason-Dixon Line, geographical distinctions are not as clear on this issue. It is one thing to vote sympathetically for a model, but another to leave grandmother’s church.

MYTH #4

Most African Americans reject the inclusion of same-sex orientation persons.

REALITY

African Americans have never been homophobic or overtly rejecting of persons with different sexual preferences.  Whereas many African Americans are uncomfortable  with sexual expressions outside the norm, individuals, regardless of their sexual preferences, have always been affirmed and welcomed as  full participants in all facets of the life of our  congregations, if “they love the Lord.” However, few black churches are comfortable publicaly advocating for any special group, or being labeled a Reconciling Congregation.  Ultimately, because of so many years of oppression, the black church tends to echo Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s words:  “Justice denied anywhere is justice diminished everywhere.”

MYTH #5

The reason for membership decline in North America is due to UMC public stances on sexual preferences and other social issues.

REALITY

The church in the west has been in decline for several decades, due to a host of reasons, but not because of any specific reason. There are a host of issues facing the Protestant Church in America and Europe. Our basic dilemma is not who is leaving but that we are not replacing persons who depart for normal reasons like death, illness, relocation of jobs, marriage and family transitions, etc.  New disciple-making is also difficult in a world of secularism, social media,  gentrification, creation of anonymous high rises, and major transitions in metropolitan areas, along with a host of geographical and demographical shifts in urban, suburban and exurban settings.

Historically, Methodism flourished with small homogeneous congregations (200 or fewer).  Small, monolithic congregations cannot afford full time credentialed pastors and find their survival difficult or limited. Conversely, we have not done well with heterogeneous, multiracial and diverse settings.  

Major growth still occurs via a few mega-churches and other religions. Protestant churches that appear to be strong are dominated by gray-haired people of the same color and culture. Statistics show that ALL Protestant denominations are declining in numbers. Further, the Pew Research and other polls indicate that the next generation (millennials) reject religious institutions that are judgmental and exclusive. Future growth in this country is dependent on this very population.  

MYTH #6

Since the assumption is that a majority of the Churches in Africa voted in favor of the Traditional Plan, and assured its passage, it must have been in their best interest.

REALITY

Actually, the African voters for the Traditional Plan might have “felt good,” but a deeper look shows it was not necessarily in their best interest, for the following:

  • Both the One Church Plan and the Connectional Conference Plan intentionally used language to exclude the Central Conferences from the ramifications of any Disciplinary changes.
  • There was nothing in the proposed language that was in contradiction to national laws or customs in Africa, Russia, or the Philippines.
  • The Central Conferences have the privilege of writing their own book of Discipline as long as it does not violate the Constitution. As a result, the conferences in Africa utilize their own rules relative to clergy recruitment, qualifications, standards, credentialing, and the election of bishops. 
  • The fast-growing church in Africa, while exciting, will continue to be dependent on a strong American church’s resources and support.
  • Specifically, the heartbeat of our denomination is the apportionment system.  Anecdotal gifts of a personal nature or a pet project is just the beginning of huge financial outlays for Central Conferences.

The  apportionment system covers board meetings, translations (written and oral), international travel, per diems, 10 million dollars quadrennially for Africa University, 10 million voted recently for African higher education, bishop’s salaries and support, Central Conference meetings, and other items that guarantee the function of the Central Conference’s ability to be a part of a global church. The apportionment system is the regular giving of 8 million United Methodists in America and Europe. 

It behooves the church in Africa to have a strong, united church in America, with positive morale and positive relationships with all churches, not just a few caucuses. 

  • A review of denomination giving in apportionments, Advance specials, and Africa University are especially strong in areas of the U.S. where the One Church Plan was most popular.  Specifically, a recent report by GCFA revealed that the Northeastern Jurisdiction, long berated for its minimum growth, led the denomination in Apportionment giving; all but one conference paid 100 percent.
  • The issue of human sexuality is not on the agenda of the typical African Church, as it is in many churches in the West. African church leaders do not have to address complaints, angry letters, demonstrations, trials, and time-consuming discussions as in the West.  Far more important in Africa are issues of authoritarian politics, tribal divisions, tropical diseases, natural disasters, limited transportation and communications, and equipping and training pastors. So African leaders spend little or no energy on human sexuality in their areas unless Americans export the discussion for political reasons
  • Finally, the church in Africa needs to be careful that it does not create an inverted or reverse colonialism. Could it be that one of the unconscious motivations at General Conference by many African church leaders was to demonstrate a kind of moral superiority, like unto what the West did for so many years towards Africa?  Another word for that is COLONIALISM.

It is ironic that the West has struggled to eliminate the vestiges of COLONIALISM (that is, importing Western culture upon the secular and spiritual life of Africa. So it was almost a humorous irony to observe what I perceive as “reverse or inverted colonialism” occurring during the General conference

Colonialism was the method over the last hundred years, whereby Western civilizations dominated African peoples. Millions of God’s children were enslaved and brought to the West, especially the southern American states.  The West took the land, minerals, and resources of Africa for their own benefit.  Almost simultaneously sincere and faithful Western missionaries brought the gospel to the hinterlands of Africa.  Not only did they bring the good news of the gospel, but often the missionaries were unable to separate their western culture and dogmas from the Good News.  As I said to some of my friends from Africa, “it’s ironic, that “what goes around comes around.” 

Yet the secret of church growth in Africa occurred in the 20th century with the indigenization of the faith, which only Africans could do.  In a similar way, what may be problematic in the U.S. can only be fixed by we who know our culture best.

MYTH #7

The Traditional plan represents the tradition and history of Methodism

REALITY

 In a 235 year history, a decision made in1972 cannot be seriously called a tradition especially since every General Conference since its inception has had close votes on its continuance.

For many years the Methodist church struggled with instituting a “laundry list” of sins ordained pastors were prohibited from committing. These included alcohol consumption, cursing, gambling, infidelity, tobacco, use, with the final one, tobacco in any form, eliminated only in 1972.  Bishop William Lewis reminds us of the irony that 1972 was also the year that a specific sin was re-introduced in the form of homosexuality.  Bishop Lewis also offers the irony that tobacco use is the cause of death, illness and family breakup many times more than any ramifications of same-sex relationship. 

The only true Wesleyan principle is not hurling Bible quotes “out of context” against each other, but understanding that the Wesleyan method of understanding is based on the Quadrilateral, that is on four sources:  Scripturetradition, reason, and Christian experience.

MYTH #8

The Holy Spirit is no longer appropriate for our time, and the only hope for The United Methodist Church lies in its legislative parliamentary maneuvers, annual conference debates, strategizing, caucuses, the Judicial Council, and individuals who rail against each other.

REALITY

So where is there hope? First, TIME is our friend. As Isaiah said, “they who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength….” Or as Dr. King loved to quote another philosopher who said, “The Arc of the Moral Universe Is Long, But It Bends toward Justice.”  Nor does this imply that we are not to work together to create a just and shalom community. 

The book of Acts is a great story of how a group of dedicated and spirit-filled Apostles had to grow beyond their own limited thoughts and experiences, and allow God to do a new thing.

Peter and Paul came to terms with the fact that the gospel was for all of God’s creation, not just circumcised Jewish men, but women, Gentiles and even slaves.  But they grew and came in unity through Holy Conferencing.  That was the missing ingredient at General Conference (no time for Holy Conferencing).

It would be good if the African culture of consensus-building could be imported as a better mechanism than “parliamentary democracy.” For thousands of years, in Africa, political decisions were made by consensus or “benevolent” dictators.

Once, in our first experience teaching at Gbarnga School of Theology in Liberia, I saw a Palaver Hut (Gazebo) and asked a friend about its purpose. He explained that it was not a rest stop, but rather when the elders were faced with a difficult decision, they gathered together in the Palaver Hut and would not leave until they reached a decision, not by vote, but by consensus.

My hope is that in 2020 we will find some way to do Holy Conferencing and go to the Palaver Hut and find a way to finally MOVE FORWARD. My hope is not built on human words or strategies, or the wisdom of a Judicial Council, but rather, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus name. On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.”

Bishop Forrest C. Stith, is a retired bishop. He lives in Upper Marlboro.

 

Comments
Rev. Ken McDonald Apr 3, 2019 1:05pm

Thank you Bishop Stith.

Dr. Les Apr 3, 2019 7:09pm

What a wonderful history lesson! There is much to think about after reading this analysis. Thank you for your continued care and concern for the followers.

Lauren Semper Scott Apr 3, 2019 10:34pm

Insightful. In depth. Comprehensive. Clearly it is possible to be retired but not retire from the role of leader and leadership. Thank you Bishop for this extraordinary encapsulation of the breath of issues, and history, that inform and impact this current fork in the road. The Palaver Hut - consensus - may well be an element if not our full path forward.

Carol Bergmann Apr 10 10:40am Apr 10, 2019 9:45am

When are we going to begin to follow Christ instead of a conference. Thank you for your special thoughts. You are truly one of the people in my life that I can be guided by. You are now and have always been a Blessing to the church.

Hermon Darden Apr 12, 2019 4:58pm

Bishop Stith,
You have offered a useful and prophetic view of how to move forward. Thank you for your clear and well founded leadership.

Rev. Stephen Goldstein Apr 12, 2019 5:01pm

Thanks Bishop Stith. A very cogent analysis.

Al Talkington Apr 12, 2019 5:01pm

All sounds good until you consider scripture. It is evident that the gentleman favored the one church plan. To me it sounds like his article is more of a disagreement with the outcome of the GC19 than history. He is having trouble dealing with the discipline way of doing things which is what happened in St. Louis. If we would all abide by the way we are supposed to do things there would be no controversy and the church would be the church instead of a fractured body. When the bishops stopped enforcing the discipline 40 years ago they started the downward spiral we find ourselves in today.

Deborah Appler Apr 12, 2019 5:07pm

Thank you, Bishop Stith, for this very helpful analysis of GC2019. I appreciate your suggestion that we move from Robert's rules to a consensus model--a much more relational one. Your unpacking of the myths is also helpful for those of us trying to wrap our hearts and minds around what happened in St. Louis. I continue to pray for our church and for you.

hbp Apr 12, 2019 5:12pm

While yours is a persuasive presentation with much support, I fear we discount the sincere belief held by many others at our peril. Even on this form I hear no voices in support of the Traditional Plan. Why?

Valerie Duncan Apr 12, 2019 5:42pm

The best, most comprehensive commentary I have read. Bishop Stith seems to be able to look at our history with knowledge, compassion, and understanding. Thank you.

Lloyd Nyarota Apr 12, 2019 5:55pm

Thank you Bishop Stith, this is a very powerful way of looking at things in our denomination. A lot of lobbing and misinformation directed how most of the votes were delivered. There were also lots of threats for the unknown.
It is sad that the power behind the plan that passed was generated by people who were looking for a way to dissolve the denomination. behind the support for the traditional plan was the exit plans which were framed as they were set to kick progressives out of the denomination. Lots of delegates had no idea what numbers were they talking about.
GC19 thrived on lies and misinformation directed towards those who have no access to the internet to read the debates for themselves. I have talked to several people some of them key speakers who took the micro-phone at GC19 and they did not read any of the plans in total they depended on the interpretations done by some caucuses.

Richard L Gongwer Apr 12, 2019 6:16pm

It's surprising that Bishop Stith can quote Wesley's Quadrilateral while missing Scripture's primary emphasis for our life of faith and mission as John Wesley affirmed. It's primarily Scripture that introduces us to what is essential for understanding God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit for individuals and for the church body. Stith leans on Experience. It is NOT first for authentic spiritual reasons in the quadrilateral. Such experience merely reflects what humans or social groupings decide in their own situation. After we've addressed Scripture, Tradition and spiritually rational Reasoning can anyone's experience become test-worthy for faithful and righteous living. Anything else is pure humanism in the guise of "fake Jesus' love" bent on assimilating culture as a primary driving force for our life together in the United Methodist Church.

Terri Apr 12, 2019 6:18pm

Thank you.

RevLuv Apr 12, 2019 6:48pm

Bishop Smith, I think your evaluation of GC2019 has omitted some very important points, such as the effect of Liberal Theology on the UMC and the refusal of so many UM leaders, especially the bishops, to uphold the BOD and enforce the decisions of multiple General Conferences. The schism we see today is the result of those who refuse to live in unity with those who seek to abide by GC decisions and the BOD. When bishops rebel through lack of enforcement, they encourage the rank and file to do the same. Turning a blind eye to the divergent goals of Traditional and Liberal Theology is not just naivete', but intentional. Despite calls for unity, it has been made clear that those with Traditional theology are not welcome. To say the One Church Plan would have settled the differences is to ignore the criticisms Traditionalists listed against it. I find your opinion that Africans exhibited reverse colonialism very patronizing. For all talks of unity, the greatest push has been to separate the US UMC from the rest of the global family so that "we" can do our own thing, and United Methodists in other countries can face their own issues. If connectionalism really is at the heart of the Methodist Movement, and calls for unity are sincere, there should be a means and willingness to include and accept the views of United Methodists around the world. As it is, in voting for the Traditional Plan, African and Asian United Methodists made themselves vulnerable to loosing their funding from CG agencies. This speaks more of conscious than agenda.

Rev. Frederick Morris Apr 12, 2019 7:40pm

Forrest, this is the first time we have communicated since our graduation from Drew. Great piece. I congratulate you for an excellent analysis and summary.

Pastor Carol Rhan Apr 12, 2019 8:30pm

One of the best breakdowns of what happened. Very insightful.

David Harrison, PhD researcher. Apr 12, 2019 8:40pm

I request the UMC conference of our Baltimore and Washington area to post online a list of UMC churches that agree to follow the Bible, specific to Romans 1:26 and the current vote to not ordain homosexuals as ministers and not to marry homosexuals (they can have civil unions in a court of law that is presided by a human judge). Homosexuals may attend church for community for the purposes of the Holy Spirit to convict their souls. I have attended Aldersgate UMC in Alexandria, Va on Collingwood road since 1979. I understand now after the vote that I must seek a bible believing church to attend, and not a social club wanting to fill pews and play pop music. I request a response and my email is DHarrison@GEO7.org

Rev. Dr. R. Gwinn Lacy Apr 12, 2019 9:09pm

As a fellow student at Wesley with the good Bishop I appreciate his analysis and suggestions. My undergraduate degree was from Earlham College, a Quaker institution. Decisions at that school were always by consensus. We would do well to learn from the Friends!

Judy Coffey Apr 12, 2019 9:21pm

Appreciate your insights ~ still trying to get my head and heart around the actions of the Special Conference; I attended as an observer.

Martha Banks Apr 12, 2019 9:24pm

Thank you so much, Bishop Stith. The full context of the United Methodist denomination is critical to our understanding of the consequences of the the 2019 General Conference. I look forward to real Holy Conferencing.

H.R. Hollister Apr 12, 2019 9:46pm

Al Talkington said it best. The Methodist denomination leadership has failed to enforce rules. Homosexuallity is not compatible with Christian beliefs. All other myths and/or verbiage does not refute scripture. Enforce the BOD.

Gary Dowdy Apr 12, 2019 11:27pm

As a believer in Christ who died, a Christ who rose from the death, a Christ who is coming again I believe in answered prayer. We were asked to pray for direction for three years. I thank Him for His response. Did you?

Anonymous Apr 13, 2019 4:23am

“Homosexual practice” is not incompatible with the teachings of Holy Scripture. The Bible doesn’t say marriage is exclusive to heterosexuals. And Jesus didn’t require His disciples to prove their heterosexuality in order to lead folks to God and salvation! I wish the UMC had the courage to address the theological and moral question. Instead the church seems to wring it’s hands and “grieve the pain” instead of doing anything to help us to stop hurting each other. I am continuously insulted by those who claim their own narrow understanding of the Bible is the only truth! I struggle with the question of whether I should stay with the church I love, when it institutionalizes prejudice against and exclusion of people like me in the Body of Christ.

Garland Young Apr 13, 2019 10:24am

I have a long standing appreciation for Bishop Stith. This article enhances my appreciation. His closing, impassioned call to listen for the Holy Spirit and gather at the Table of Holy Conferencing brings light to the threatening darkness.

Frank Mason Apr 13, 2019 11:32am

I think the great majority of those who voted for the traditional plan were motivated by the belief that homosexual activity is wrong. They believe this is the teaching of the scriptures. This has been the position (I think) of the global church for over 2,000 years. If you love someone, shouldn't you tell them the truth? The truth can cause pain and discomfort but it is needed. Believing these things can we befriend and love homosexuals (practicing & celibate)? Yes, I think so. I think God blesses this.

Bruce Buzalski Apr 13, 2019 12:58pm

As an 80 year old life long gay Methodist I can attest to the mental anguish and pain inflected by the imposition of the BOD introduced in 1972 and the societal norms of the time. Science was just learning being queer was not a choice. It is the way God made us, in God's image.

At the time the Bible was written there were no words to describe the genetic variation we call gay. It was only able to address the act, mostly associated with pagans, but never addressed the Love behind the act. Human sexuality is a gift from God celebrated through Love

Christ's focus was on loving others including people different from you. The disciples were charged to spread The Word and the message of Love to everyone, not just jews or men. Everyone means all peoples: black, brown, yellow, white, male, female, gay, straight, trans, questioning, variants we don't yet recognize...Everyone!

The central conference is worried about the biblical interpretation of the West and are opposed to the One Church because the western view is influenced by societal norms. In the same way the Conservative church in the US is reflecting their view of society.

I wish Bishop Stith's proposal of consensus could provide a solution. I can see it happening in a group of 10. It is more difficult with a group of 100 and almost impossible with a group of 1000. We have to learn that we are all different, just as our faith is different and very personal.

We have always been a denomination where differing views are experienced while still recognizing that Everyone is a child of God and we are all brothers and sisters in faith made in God's image.

I pray that we just focus on Love? Does God care who we love as long as we love God first?

Perhaps, ultimately, the way forward will be decided by the Council of Bishops. They are our duly elected representatives from around the world. Bishop Stith's proposal and Holy Conferencing has a fighting chance in a group of that size. The GC should pray that they have God's Grace to accept a decision made by their leadership. They then need to move forward with Love for all people as Christ commanded. Did He ever say "Except"!

I pray God Bless our UNITED Methodist Church!

Anonymous Apr 13, 2019 7:05pm

Bishops in the United Methodist Church are a large part of the problem and it appears at least one retired bishop is no exception. Bishop Sith totally ignores scripture and bends to the will of secular world as have most of the bishops. He writes convincingly to readers who may not have a good command of the facts surrounding what has taken place between GC 2016 and GC 2019. The majority of Bishops have failed in their duties, if you take time to look at their actions in this time period.

Mike Apr 13, 2019 9:08pm

I am saddened by the continuing conflict carried on by the Progressives in the Church. I have come to believe it must be in the Progressive DNA to not accept democratic results if they do not favor them. Unfortunately, we see this in National politics AND in our beloved Church. For three years the Holy Spirit was called upon by the leadership of the Church...yet, now that same leadership wants to deny the results of that call. As much as I hate to have a schism...I hate even more the division promoted by the losers at the Special Conference. Time to move on!!!

Rev. Ivar Granum Apr 14, 2019 4:53am

Thanks. This gave me inspiration for Holy Conferencing in Norway Annual Conference .

Marti Swords-Horrell Apr 14, 2019 1:03pm

Thank you so much, Bishop Stith, for your cogent and well-argued offering. Your breadth of experience both here in the US and globally makes your perspective especially valuable.

My husband Dana and I are still in your debt for welcoming us to North Central NY 28 years ago — what a blessing to hear from you.

Howard Bond Apr 15, 2019 10:23am

Thank You Bishop Stith.
While I and my family are new members of The United Methodist Church, we are saddened by the results of GC19. We pray that somehow we will be “united” in our Christian Faith and inclusion of all people that share in Christ’s Love. I pray for the Holy Spirit to bring us back together, as we have called the United Methodist Church “our Home” . Maybe we’ll have to take another look for “our” Church.

Clayton Childers Apr 15, 2019 10:53am

Thank you Bishop Stith. So good to hear your analysis and reminder that this is not the first time the church has struggled with division and disunity.
I praise God that the realm of God is not limited to the UMC. As hard as it is for me to say it, perhaps it is time we to acknowledge and remember.
1) Acknowledge that the UMC is only a tool which God has used in a particular time and season.
2) Remember that in the true realm of Christ, the Gospel tells us that Christ's arms are open to all, "whosoever will, may come." It may very well be that God is doing a new thing and a beautiful new church will arise from the anger and ashes of St. Louis, a church where all of God's children are welcomed, and not even one will be turned away.

Linda Grubb Apr 15, 2019 11:01am

I can only pray for Bishop Stith and those who believe that homosexuality is accepted by God. It is obvious that the Bible has become irrelevant in today's secular church. IN THE BEGINNING - God created man and woman. That is very clear and that is the ONLY sexual relationship that God recognizes. Just as Satan deceived Eve, he continues to deceive the descendants of the first Adam. 2 Peter and Jude also address sexual sin as does Romans 1 and other passages. It is not just homosexual sin but any sexual sin outside of marriage. Adultery and fornication are still sins in God's eyes. There was a time when sin and hell were preached from Methodist and EUB pulpits but those words are no longer allowed. Even our communion liturgy has been watered down. There is no longer a confessing of sins of commission and omission. Bishop Stith may be popular with the progressive establishment, but it is God to whom we owe our respect. I do not worry about offending other human beings, especially those who are in opposition to the laws of God. My loyalty is to Him and Jesus Christ my Savior, who died for my sins. Not everyone who cries Lord, Lord shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven. That is a quote from our Lord Jesus Christ.

Robert Ham Apr 18, 2019 12:43pm

Bishop Stith’s first myth points out a great weakness in the governance of our church - the members of the congregations have no voice in choosing our leaders, and no voice in the choices our leaders make, thus making our leaders totally unaccountable to their congregations.

David Apr 18, 2019 12:47pm

We have sowed the wind. We will reap the whirlwind. Progressives of the UMC unite. You have nothing to lose but your chains.

Allyn Foster Apr 18, 2019 1:08pm

Bishop Stith,
I was refreshing to read your comments. It was my privilege to serve under your leadership in the 80's in Western New York. Thank you for taking the time to provide this engaging analysis.

John Apr 18, 2019 2:19pm

Progressives have "crept" into our denomination, seeking to "Hi-jack" a denomination for their own. Others have said it better than I, but when leaders of our denomination cannot fullfill their duties (as Bishops) they should step aside and no longer carry the title. They are afraid of causing a riff. They should be afraid of the wrath of God in the final judgement. Does one think God has changed his mind? God's revelation to "man" has now given us new light? The word of God and God himself remains the same today as it did in the beginning. Jesus said: "I wish ye were cold or hot, but because ye are luke warm I will spew you out of my mouth." And many will say "Lord, Lord, He will say depart from me ye workers of iniquity. I know you not.".
Read Al Talkington, Gary Dowdy, Frank Mason, HBP and Mike's comments previously listed. Sin is crouching at our door. Let's preach the Gospel, Let's hear the Word of the God preached from out pulpits to day and every Sunday. Stop this progressive, 'feel good', insanity.

Daniel Reed Apr 18, 2019 3:53pm

The question is one of standards vs Culture. The Bishop is clearly Biased toward Culture

Rev. John Gudikunst Apr 18, 2019 6:38pm

When God began to create (as the Hebrew text is better translated) sexual activity had no bearing on anything. There is a movement beginning to remove reason and experience from our guidance, and to limit tradition to the first 500 years of the church. I believe that is a sign of desperation among some conservatives who recognize that neither reason nor experience can be used to justify the exclusion of LGBTQ Christians from the fullness of the Body of Christ. I further believe that a closer, prayerful examination of Scripture will remove it as a blockade also. When John 3:16 is read without John 3:17, it has no true meaniing. When read with John 3:17, Christus Victor reminds us that the grace of our lord Jesus Christ cancels the power of sin and death over all of us, not just the heterosexual ones. We are redeemed by love, not law.

Noy Pruitt Apr 22, 2019 2:01pm

Jesus gave Himself to die for all of us and our sins. The Bible is the God breathed Word. So now, liberalism has become a very strong belief system in our Nation and in our UMC Denomination. Both in our nation and denomination we see if the liberals do not get what they want they do not accept the legal decisions made.

We are here to bring God"s message to our people. The question is this: Will we submit to our culture and allow ourselves to be directed by it, or will we challenge our culture with the Word of God. If the former, we no longer represent ourselves as God's ambassadors, but lie to people who are lost from God's grace by their ungodly lifestyle. We do not love active practicing homosexuals by accepting their lifestyle as Christian. Lying to them may make them feel better, that is until the face Jesus Christ in the Judgment.

I am for truly loving all by teaching and preaching the truth. As Pilate asked Jesus, "What is truth.?" Jesus said, "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father, except by me." It is by God's grace that any of us make it into His Kingdom, and grace alone. However grace is not a license to disobey God's ways as a lifestyle. Paul said, "Shall we go on sinning that grace may abound. God forbid. Know you not that when you were baptized, you were baptized into his death. Romans 6-8 are great truths to conquer our sinful nature. We cannot do it ourselves, and do not have to for we are never alone. "By the Spirit put to death the misdeeds oF the body." Paul to the Roman Church, 8:13.

I know from experience that Satan will whisper evil thoughts into our minds. If we have filled our minds with the Word of God, we will not submit to these temptations. However, he attempts to make us think that his temptations are who we are. If we submit to those thoughts and begin acting on them, we get ourselves captured by them. Who can deliver us, only Jesus can and will if we ask and believe.

Why does God leave Satan to tempt us? Resistant training makes us stronger. Just as going to the gym and lifting weights. we get stronger through resistance.

God truly lovers us and has made a way for us to live godly lives, through Christ Jesus.

Carol Apr 23, 2019 2:24pm

Thank you, Bishop Stith, for your thoughts and convictions. It seems that what the UMC needs is to preach the Gospel and forget the 'feel good' message we hear to often. If we can really learn and apply the words of Jesus, "love one another as I have loved you", many of our questions and concerns would be resolved. Don't let laws overpower love!

Michael Martin Apr 24, 2019 1:12pm

It is the basic Christian Church doctrine from the Bible and the Spirit of the Holy
Ghost, unaltered that pleases God. This should come as no surprise to anyone. We are
Methodists, Lutherans, Catholics and so on as a matter of traditions and evolved
group followers of Jesus Christ. If we study the writings and explanations of people
like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and C. S. Lewis among others we will see that Christianity
only functions properly under the absolute values of the Spiritual intent of the Holy
Scriptures. Many would have you believe otherwise - many who call themselves
Christians have new interpretations from which they draw new doctrine.
A relationship which can produce no children, no natural families and therefore
no future for humanity must be looked upon for the damage it will and has fermented. Little girls and little boys are being told today by liberals and progressives
that they can choose to be gender adoptive or gender neutral. The ensuing chaos
and confusion are not good for our children and we know well that our God is not
a God of confusion and that His children are important to Him. Little girls and little
boys deserve their inheritance of a natural family. God's plan was not for them to have
two earthly fathers or two earthly mothers as a family unit. Where does it say in the
Bible "Honor thy father and thy father"?
If we read Daniel's closing chapters we know where we are headed and what will
eventually trigger God's wrath. It is right here before us - and it is the welfare and
protection of the children. A watered down Church and a watered down doctrine is without the Living Stream of Clear Salvation Water flowing from God's Throne and
as you take the water out of the Church it starts to become a dry place resembling the realms of Sheol where there is not even a drop of water as we well know.

Anonymous Apr 29, 2019 1:31pm

Melissa and/or Erik: May I have your permission to repost Bishop Stith's essay on myths and realities on UM Insight? Thanks for considering my request. -- Cynthia Astle

David Jun 11, 2019 2:19pm

African Americans have never been homophobic? Is this a joke?

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