In the aftermath of General Conference 2019, many Progressives were reeling.
In the aftermath of recent Annual Conference elections, many Traditionalists are reeling.
In many conferences, Progressives have posted significant gains concerning 2020 General and Jurisdictional Conference delegates. In these areas, supporters of current church teaching are now woefully underrepresented by their delegations or not represented at all. Some conferences and clergy sessions formally voted to ignore church teaching on the issues upon which they disagree all together. I honestly didn’t know you could do that. If Progressives get control in 2020, they will overturn church teaching on human sexuality and quite possibly close the exit ramp out of the denomination. If they get control of the United Methodist Church, I am convinced they will immediately demand conformity to the new Discipline. Obeying church law will suddenly become the most important thing in the world. For many conservatives, this prospect is untenable.
Many traditionalists are smarting. I didn’t personally run but I completely get it. It never feels good to lose but we must separate our bruised egos and hurt feelings from our collective reality. The United Methodist Discipline is still in force and our denominational positions have changed on nothing. That some bishops and conferences will not uphold the Discipline is not new either. That being said, recent elections have left many wondering if the future United Methodist church can still be a home for warm hearted, orthodox Methodists with traditional beliefs.
Here is the deal: We don’t know yet.
I went into my Annual Conference with a simple prayer for clarity. I didn’t pray to win or to lose; I just prayed for clarity. Our WCA delegates were defeated. Not by much in terms of votes but defeated by a well-organized effort that essentially ran the table. As I write, things seem most clear. My conference has made a sharp turn left. I grieve on one hand but on the other, God has answered my prayer. Thanks be to God!
At present, I am being bombarded by two important questions: 1) How do we respond? 2) What is the plan?
Let’s begin with the first:
1) How do we respond? We must be realistic about what we are feeling but we can’t go squirting weak sauce everywhere. If we must mourn, we must mourn among friends. If we must process, we must process among friends. If we must vent, we must vent among friends. Public space isn’t safe. Never has been. Let’s face it, almost no one wants to hear it and those who do will be glad we are miserable. We do best to keep to ourselves what we can.
When my elementary aged grandsons take a whooping in baseball, I tell them:
- Stop crying
- Don’t whine about the umpire
- Get your chin up
- Realize losing is a part of life
- Don’t get used to losing
- Put a smile on your face
- Be better prepared next time
I would offer the same advice to my disappointed colleagues.
We got beat.
Shake it off.
We will be just fine.
God is still on the throne.
2) What is the plan?
Here are my thoughts in the short term:
- Control your impulses We do well to associate frustration with silence.
- Join the Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA) or Good News or the Confessing Movement Go to their websites. Read their stuff for yourself. Look at the quality and integrity of their leadership. If you resonate; join. If you don’t; don’t join. It is a good time to network. It is a good time to find a “herd.” It is a bad time to be playing “Lone Ranger.”
- Wait to get accurate information We don’t have the “big picture” as of yet. There are people who are “counting the votes” and assessing things. Give them time and hang tight. We will get information soon enough. There WILL be a plan.
- Don’t make long-term decisions based on short-term emotion You can turn in your orders, transfer to another denomination, retire early, withhold apportionments or lead your church out of the dysfunction but such decisions are not to be made lightly. And there will be ramifications. Make no mistake about that. Such weighty decisions require data, well conceived strategy, discernment, networking, fasting and prayer. Seek the heart of God for a long time before you quickly do something you may live to regret.
- Stick together I am on record supporting a strategic separation of the United Methodist Church: (https://revshanebishop.com/2019/05/23/shaking-hands-while-we-still-can-umc/). We need to shake hands and go our separate ways while we can still shake hands. These recent elections have widened our divide, exacerbated the tension and fried our trust receptors. 2020 may be our last shot at still shaking hands. For the sake of our mission, traditionalists can not long remain in this climate…and we shouldn’t. Whatever we do, we need to do together. Where ever we go, we need to go together. Whatever we form, we need to form together. We sons and daughters of John Wesley are sticky by nature. Always have been.
- Get back to work Don’t let this stuff consume you. There is nothing going on in the United Methodist Church that can keep you from telling people about Jesus, proclaiming the Gospel or making disciples. I know many of our churches are deeply divided and tired of the scrap and others are entrenched. I know many pastors are feeling beat up and discouraged. That being said, there is no down side to re-focusing on your mission and doing effective ministry in your local context.
Courageous people know they may die for their convictions but cowards die a thousand deaths. If we are called to sacrifice and suffer persecution for the historic Christian faith; we must be ready to do so. Joyfully. If God calls us to a new collective future, we must stand ready to embrace it. But until we have all the facts, hear God clearly and are ready to move collectively; we do well to, “Wait upon the Lord.” And let’s face it, we could all use a renewing of our strength right now!
Take a breath.
God has this.
-Rev. Shane L. Bishop, A Distinguished Evangelist of the United Methodist Church, has been the Sr. Pastor of Christ Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois since 1997. Christ Church was featured as one of Outreach Magazine’s Fastest Growing 100 Churches in America in 2018.