Good News Vice President President Tom Lambrecht addressed evangelicals at the United Methodist Annual Conference last week in Hampton, extolling United Methodism’s traditional beliefs and church discipline. Meanwhile, several dozen liberal clergy in the conference are asserting willingness to defy church law by celebrating same sex unions.
“I can understand and sympathize with those who disagree with the church’s teaching on marriage and sexuality,” said Lambrecht to the Evangelical Fellowship Banquet. “Their efforts, however, have failed to persuade the church to renounce the clear teaching of Scripture and 2,000 years of the Church’s tradition.” Lambrecht’s Good News group is United Methodism’s oldest evangelical renewal caucus.
Lambrecht noted that “as many as 5% of our clergy have volunteered to break the Discipline and break our church in the process.” And he observed: “No one forced these clergy to become United Methodist and to submit to our doctrines and discipline.” Lambrecht asked: “Where is the integrity of a person saying, ‘I’m going to remain a United Methodist pastor, but I’m not going to live by the voluntary way of discipleship required of all United Methodist clergy?’” And he surmised: “They want the benefits of being United Methodist clergy, without the corresponding responsibility to live by the clergy covenant.”
Prior to the Virginia Annual Conference, several dozen conference clergy, evidently working through the local chapter of the Methodist Federation for Social Action, pledged defiance of United Methodism’s prohibition against same sex unions.
Shenandoah University Professor John Copenhaver of Winchester, Virginia explained in a cover letter for MFSA:
“Up until the 2012 General Conference of the United Methodist Church, I lived with the comforting illusion that the United Methodist Church was making progress toward abandoning its condemnation of the “practice of homosexuality” in the Social Principles and was moving toward full inclusion of LGBT people. But with the 61-39% rejection of changes to the church’s position on homosexuality at the 2012 General Conference, and with the increasing number of African delegates at General Conference, who for the most part strongly oppose changing our policy, our church’s position appears to be hardening.”
Copenhaver and Virginia’s MFSA urged lay and clergy United Methodists to endorse “An Altar Call for ALL,” which pledges willingness to conduct same sex unions or solidarity with persons who do.
In response to “An Altar Call for All,” Virginia Bishop Young Jin Cho said in a statement, “I understand the deep feelings of those engaging in these discussions,” but “when I was elected and consecrated a bishop I took an oath to uphold The Book of Discipline of our church, and this I will do with regard to this issue as with all other issues.” He also reminded the three self-declared “Reconciling” congregations in the Virginia Conference that the church’s Judicial Council ruled in 1999 that a local church “may not identify or label itself as an unofficial body or movement,” which is “divisive and makes the local church subject to the possibility of being in conflict with the Discipline and doctrines of The United Methodist Church.”
In his own concluding remarks to Virginia evangelicals, Lambrecht noted an “impossible situation,” and suggested “we can throw up our hands in helplessness” or “we can offer ourselves to God as instruments of bringing renewal and revival to his church.”