‘I believe we can find a solution’
By Jessica Brodie
GREER—Hundreds of South Carolina United Methodists headed to Covenant United Methodist Church during Annual Conference for a gathering of the Wesleyan Covenant Association.
An association of congregations, clergy and laity who promote the ministry of the Gospel from a Wesleyan theological perspective within the UMC and ascribe to what they term “orthodox Methodist beliefs,” the WCA gathered to dialogue about the future of the UMC during this time of uncertainly over issues such as human sexuality and more.
Calling the WCA a movement of renewal and revival within the UMC, the Rev. Jeff Kersey introduced the keynote speaker for the evening, the Rev. Tom Lambrecht. Lambrecht is a leader within the WCA, the vice president and general manager of Good News Magazine and one of the 32 members of the Council of Bishops’ Commission on a Way Forward.
“Now is the time to hold together, come together and be the church and stand up for what we believe,” Kersey said to applause before introducing Lambrecht.
Lambrecht began by posing a question to the crowd: Are we going to stand with God, or are we going to follow the whims of the world and the way the world wants us to go?
“In the immortal words of William Shakespeare, the world is in a pickle,” Lambrecht said.
Since 2011, Lambrecht said, clergy have been stepping forward in disobedience to perform same-sex marriages; even bishops have gotten involved. Numerous complaints have been filed against clergy for violation of the UMC’s Book of Discipline. Seven annual conferences declared they would no longer enforce the Discipline that self-avowed homosexuals could not be ordained, he said.
“The Western Jurisdiction took that nonconformity to the next level by electing an openly gay woman married to another woman as bishop,” Lambrecht said, referring to the 2016 election of Bishop Karen Oliveto. “That consecration is not lawful, and it is not lawful for an annual conference to pass resolutions of nonconformity.”
The question is whether the Western Jurisdiction will remove Oliveto, he said, and what the rest of the denomination will do about it.
“We are currently in the state of schism in The United Methodist church,” Lambrecht said, noting that “schism” is simply defined as a separation within the body of Christ.
“The church ought to reach out and minister to (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning) persons with love and compassion,” Lambrecht said. “At the same time, the church teaches any kind of sexual relationship outside heterosexual, monogamous marriage is not God's will.”
The church should not facilitate such behavior by performing same-sex weddings, he said.
But there are those who dissent, who believe the Bible is not talking about homosexuality as we know it today; they believe “that to say homosexuality is a sin is to be out of step with culture or,
as they put it, on the wrong side of history,” Lambrecht said.
But something deeper is at stake here—something far more than sexuality. Lambrecht said the whole issue brings up questions like is the Bible the inspired word of God; is the Bible the primary authority on faith and life; did God create people to be homosexual and, if so, why would He forbid it; what is definition of holiness; etc.
“For most evangelicals what's at stake is not where we stand on the homosexual issue but that the people called Methodists will be committed to the faith,” Lambrecht said. “That's why the work of the Commission on the Way Forward is so important.”
Lambrecht said there are not just two differing groups in the UMC but four or five, to include
progressive incompatibilists (who feel they cannot remain in a church that does not allow homosexuals to be ordained) and traditional incompatibilists (who, on the flip side, feel they cannot remain in a church that allows homosexuals to be ordained). But there are also progressive compatibilists and traditional compatibilists (who are willing to be more flexible), as well as a group solidly in the middle who haven't made up their mind on the issue at all.
The Commission on the Way Forward is looking at a variety of options for the UMC; he said he cannot reveal these options yet because of confidentiality agreements, but he is hopeful the group will find a solution that is broadly acceptable in the church.
“I'm optimistic we will be able to find a plan that will honor people across the board,” Lambrecht said.
He said the commission will give its final proposal to the Council of Bishops next April. It will be submitted legislatively next July in preparation for the special called General Conference in February 2019.
“Whatever plan we come up with is going to require a constitutional change, which needs a two-third vote… so we need a proposal everyone can buy into,” Lambrecht said. “I believe we can find a solution.”