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Photo Credit: SwedentoAfrica.com

Photo Credit: SwedentoAfrica.com

By John Lomperis (@JohnLomperis)

As more and more liberal United Methodists admit that they are “not optimistic” about the direction of our denomination, they are increasingly mulling over their future options.

“[T]here is there is no indication that given the present structure of our United Methodist Church the official policies and positions” which affirm biblical standards on sexual morality “will change.”

That declaration was made in a resolution adopted in 2012 by the heterodox-dominated New York Conference of the United Methodist Church and reaffirmed by the 2013 session of the same conference last month.

Meanwhile, in its March Katalyst newsletter, the Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN), the main caucus agitating for United Methodist endorsement of homosexual practice (as well as other varieties of sex outside of man-woman marriage), revealed that through a recent large-scale survey, they have learned that now its own constituency is divided in half between those who are committed to staying within the denomination and angrily fighting other United Methodists to the bitter end and others who say, in one representative comment, that they are “[d]one waiting four more years” for the next United Methodist General Conference to  liberalize church policies and that “RMN should be helping people talk about separation.”

Our denomination’s last governing General Conference, which met in Tampa, Florida, in 2012, was dubbed by heterodox activists as “the most conservative General Conference ever,” affirming biblical standards for sexual morality by a GROWING majority, and with many further points of evangelical reform only being stymied (until next time) by indefensibly Machiavellian, anti-Golden-Rule tactics shamelessly adopted by the liberal protest caucuses.

As we have reported earlier, in response to the United Methodist Church increasingly being liberated from the theological liberalism which has oppressively dominated our denomination for decades, last year two of the most heterodox-dominated United Methodist conferences, New York and California-Nevada, adopted identically entitled resolutions calling for “A Study Committee for an Inclusive Conference” to promote structural alternatives for heterodox United Methodists. The California-Nevada resolution openly mentions the creation of a new, liberal Methodist denomination as one option for such an alternative structure, while the 2012 New York resolution drew encouragement from other oldline denominations that have caved in to the sexual revolution.

Liberal New York City-area United Methodists are now making clear that such talk is more substantial and sustained among heterodox United Methodists than a short-lived emotional outburst.

The New York Annual Conference Study Committee on a More Inclusive Church was structured to exclude supporters of biblical teaching on sexual morality. After a year of regular meetings, this Study Committee is maturing into its next stage. Its 2013 resolution, adopted by the Annual Conference session, reiterated the 2012 resolution’s protest of General Conference’s orthodoxy on sexual morality, expressed fear over what future General Conferences may do, and called for all United Methodist congregations in the conference to send a representative to a November 16 forum to discuss the evolving, heterodox-led movement for structural alternatives.

On the one hand, the Study Committee expresses a commitment to making the United Methodist Church more sexually liberal, and neither its report nor its resolutions explicitly endorse schism as a possibility.

But on the other hand, the Study Committee’s report states “We are not optimistic that there will be a timely openness to change that would make greater LBGT inclusiveness possible, given the present disposition of the General Conference….” The report shares that the Study Committee “took comfort and courage from” looking at how John Wesley’s strong prejudice against church schism was balanced with his conviction that he “should be under an absolute necessity to separate from” a body of Christians if the price of remaining was “lying and hypocrisy,” preaching contrary to his own beliefs, or other perceived sins of commission or omission. Thus, the group is “consider[ing] ways we might remain in communion with The United Methodist Church, but with the ability to establish enough room for the inclusiveness to which we are committed.” In these efforts, they are “actively networking with other Jurisdictions and Conferences across the connection that share our goals” of “loyalty to our denomination, tempered by our growing unwillingness to participate in the on‐going and in our view discriminatory exclusion” of homosexually active clergy candidates.

Of course, an independent new denomination could both be “in communion” with the United Methodist Church while doing whatever it pleases in terms of its internal policies on sexual morality and other matters. It is not clear what other long-term, sustainable, and politically realistic options would meet the standard of both “remain[ing] in communion with The United Methodist Church” and “establishing enough room” to have official, sexually liberal policies.

For over four decades, activists in the “Reconciling” movement have devoted massive amounts of time, energy, and money to try to get General Conference to directly liberalize our denomination’s governing Book of Discipline – only to lose a large and growing amount of ground on that front.

A few years ago, such liberal activists eagerly championed the informally nicknamed “Global Segregation Plan,” which would have given United Methodists in the United States some freedom to set their own policies without the input of largely orthodox African United Methodists. But that plan went down in flames as evangelical United Methodists in America understood why sexually liberals were so eager for it while United Methodists in Sub-Saharan Africa understood that its primary practical effect would be to drastically squelch their voice in denominational affairs. An effort by the Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA), a liberal caucus group, to revive a version of this plan at the 2012 General Conference received a grand total of five supportive votes in a committee of 62 delegates.

At last summer’s Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference, a liberal clergywoman’s resolution to “Eliminate Jurisdictional Conferences” was referred to that jurisdiction’s College of Bishops. At last month’s New York Annual Conference session, the conference Study Committee on a More Inclusive Church submitted a resolution “expressing concern” that the Northeastern bishops have not prioritized this and demanding to know why they are taking so long. But even if cleverly framed as an effort “to eliminate jurisdictional conferences,” such proposals to create a new national US-only church structure devoid of international input amount to little more than thinly disguised attempts to resurrect the already rather dead Global Segregation Plan.

In any case, it will be interesting to see what happens with such conversations increasingly taking place throughout what can already be fairly described as the Not-So-United Methodist Church.