I recently had the opportunity to attend one of the whistle-stop rallies promoting the Global Methodist Church (GMC), a new denomination being formed by the Wesleyan Covenant Association that is recruiting members of the United Methodist Church. WCA/GMC operatives are organizing rallies inside UMC churches throughout my conference under the pretext of a “discernment process.” To my knowledge, these gatherings take place without the authorization of the bishop or cabinet.
Neither myself nor the congregation I serve intend to join the GMC. We are home to numerous UMC retired pastors, a retired bishop, give to every special offering, support UMC missions, and pay apportionments early and in full every year. Our church also has three individuals participating in the delegations to General and Jurisdictional conferences. We also enjoy strong historic connections with general agencies and international Methodist partners.
I decided to attend the San Antonio area gathering for the following reasons:
- Good News Magazine disregarded my written request to stop sending their anti-UMC propaganda to my church office.
- The host minister promoted this event inside my church as we provided hospitality to the UMC Las Misiones District.
- I wanted to see who showed up.
- I felt it important for someone to address concerns with misinformation and to speak up for the UMC. (I was the only individual to do that at the gathering.)
The location of the gathering was one of San Antonio’s historic Methodist churches, Oak Island UMC, founded by the evangelist John Wesley DeVilbiss and located on a street now bearing his name.
The meeting was well attended, filling the church. Most in attendance were laypersons between 50 and 70 years old. The clergy attending were slightly more diverse but within the same age range. Many of these pastors are personal friends, coworkers in the harvest fields and in spiritual camps and retreats, working pastors who have been willing to serve modest appointments, move, and share Jesus at the margins of population and power.
The organizers made it clear that the meeting could be documented. Four clergy members of the district and conference staff attended as monitors, but none raised questions or spoke.
After an initial greeting by the host minister, two former members of the UMC hierarchy made their presentation about the need for a new expression of Methodism. Ossification, bureaucracy, doctrinal and disciplinary chaos, lack of purpose and identity, cumbersome fair process requirements, ineffective (female) pastors, and bishops using tarot cards to make appointments were offered as critiques of the United Methodist Church.
As an alternative, they offered a glorious adventure into a new denomination, the Global Methodist Church. This new church would enforce traditional ideals for gender and marriage, canonical theological affirmations, and a high view of scriptural authority. The speakers also claimed that the GMC would:
- Achieve global relevance by rejecting pluralism
- Start thousands of new churches by collecting less money from established churches
- Improve doctrinal integrity by loosening the standards for intellectual formation
- Promote holiness and love by abandoning fair process and appointment security for clergy
- Improve counter-cultural witness through local control of property and hiring
Of all their paradoxical proposals, only one drew open applause in the audience: the abolition of mandatory retirement for clergy.
During the response time, I raised two questions.
First, I asked whether the GMC and Wesleyan Covenant Association were in fact the same organization, since the WCA, incorporated, owns “Global Methodist Church” as a Federal Trademark. In spite of the fact that every policy, proposal, and leader promoted within the GMC had been set up and chosen by the WCA, the response was an emphatic “no, we are distinct.” For the GMC, this is of tactical importance. The WCA is their boarding ladder into the UMC, their primary source of new members.
Second, I asked if they would live into their amicable rhetoric and tell Good News to stop publishing and mailing defamatory, anti-UMC propaganda to my church and other churches. Just as they distanced themselves from the WCA, they also disowned Good News, their propaganda proxy.
Socially, the presentation had a positive tone. Hospitality and civility were extended to all in attendance. I was treated with both respect and kindness. My concerns were heard, and several expressed appreciation for my attendance.
Considering what and who I saw rather than the mere words spoken, I believe it is a mistake to credit the proposals of the GMC with the response and exodus. Yes, the UMC is politically polarized. Yes, hateful bias exists within our denomination. Yes, we have a problem with antinomianism. Yes, there are unresolved conflicts and grievances. All of that considered, however, there is still a more powerful motive: self-preservation. No one wants to be left behind.
Enter Noah’s Ark, or drown.
Leave Sodom, or burn.
Keep up with the Hebrews during the Exodus, or be left behind in the desert.
Accept the returning Christ and join the redeemed in glorious rapture, or remain behind to suffer under the Anti-Christ.
Explicitly, the Left Behind meta-narrative is found in cynical rhetoric describing an evil post-separation UMC. In the words of the late William Abraham, the UMC will become “a church that is built on sex and gender. There’s going to be a church built on rebellion against the policies and practices of the church. There’s going to be a church that’s built on non-rational means of persuasion. It’s a church that will be built on individual personalities and even rock star public personas and a church that will be built on the shifting sand of post secular experience and cultural proclivities.”1 The righteous should leave because the UMC will be made even more corrupt by their departure.
Good News tells its readers that traditionalists will be persecuted and abused if they do not leave now. Join the GMC, they say, or be “left behind” in a woke denomination of post-Christian freaks.
Tacitly, this narrative is seen and felt rather than heard. It is experienced in the fear of social and professional separation from allies, colleagues that reliably offered acceptance, opportunity, and belonging when others would not. Among friends, one is free of the petty shibboleths, elitism, and double-standards experienced elsewhere.
The risk of losing trusted bonds of relationships forged in shared ministry has the power to shut down critical thinking and render God’s servants vulnerable to deception, manipulation, and actions that violate their own interests. This is how bandwagon works, and of all the tactics used by the GMC, this is by far the most effective.
IMPUNITY AND PRIVILEGE
At present, the militant campaign of the GMC against the UMC has largely been unmitigated and unchallenged. At this gathering, I was the only United Methodist clergy member to challenge their claims and openly admit that I would remain within the UMC.
Are these gatherings ethical? Are they appropriate?
Over 27 years of full-time ministry, I’ve mostly walked the straight and narrow, but there have been times when I was called out, dressed down, and chewed out by superintendents and others in authority. Here are a few of the reasons:
- Insisting that my seminary internship include a Spanish-language ministry component.
- Using chain email to attempt raise money to replace my poor church’s broken AC. (Before there was GoFundMe!)
- Asking college students to write cards to thank churches that pay campus ministry apportionments in full.
- Posting in social media that district superintendents in a bilingual conference should be able to read confidential consultation forms submitted in Spanish.
- Trying to organize a conference-wide Hispanic caucus after the RGC SWTC merger.
- Applying Matthew 25 “Sheep and Goats” to those who oppress immigrants entering the U.S.
- Publicly criticizing the church’s executive branch for preserving its own status while enacting devastating funding cuts against historic and vital missions.
On all of those issues, and a few others, I was guilty, but never in my career have I invited anti-UMC infiltrators into a United Methodist Church that I knew would agitate a congregation or group of congregations to divide, betray, loot and leave the denomination that credentialed, sent, and sustains me Christian ministry.
Such self-serving proselytism is never justified by a “what about” argument and cannot be sanctified by a one-sided discernment process. Yet it continues, unchallenged, and unabated. The appeasement and impunity extended to these rallies suggests that unjust privilege is, for some, even more sacred than institutional integrity and the welfare and loyalty of those who are remaining.
The damage is being done.
My annual conference, like many, is about to turn into Swiss cheese, and I will be among those who are “Left Behind.”