Category Archives: Articles

Good News Responds to Bishops’ Appointed Commission


For the second time in as many General Conferences, the body has decided not to decide on reaffirming our church’s teaching on marriage and sexuality. Instead, the General Conference has authorized the Council of Bishops to create a commission to address the divisions within the church and to propose a way forward.

This is a proposal with some potential to resolve our differences in a definitive way, but also one fraught with peril.

Traditionalists have long been under-represented on the church’s boards and agencies, as have our African brothers and sisters. If we who represent the majority of the church are a minority on the commission, it will have little credibility and United Methodists will be skeptical of its recommendation.

If the commission is nothing more than a ploy to further a progressive agenda disguised as plan for unity, it will lead to deeper division and possibly schism.

We pray and believe that our bishops will be wise enough to include well-known and respected leaders of the traditionalist and orthodox renewal movement.

Particularly troubling in the Bishops’ proposal was the statement that during this interim period, the bishops will seek to avoid further “complaints” and “trials” for those who break the Book of Discipline. If the bishops refuse to enforce our covenant during this period, it will lead to growing acts of disobedience and further disenchantment toward a church that appears dysfunctional. And we fear many faithful United Methodists will feel that they must leave the denomination.

The conference has asked that the bishops lead. We ask that they lead with integrity.

-Good News

Focus 1: Tuesday, May 10

Questions about Rule 44

By Walter Fenton

The Rev. Walter Fenton

The Rev. Walter Fenton

Most General Conference delegates are either elected or chosen by their annual conferences because they have years of experience in the church. It is also fair to assume all the delegates love God, love the church, and want what is best for it. They are well aware of the push-and-the pull of making faithful decisions together. They understand that to have a polity means they must engage in politics with grace and respect. It’s not a perfect process, but on this side of the veil, most large deliberative bodies believe it is the best available.

People who do not attend General Conference can be forgiven for concluding it is a long, angry, and acrimonious political brawl. Unfortunately, some bloggers and columnists give that very impression. But that is not the case. General Conference delegates work very hard to show deference and respect to their fellow delegates, and seldom, if ever, are voices raised or tempers lost.

All this is why it is unfortunate one of the proposed rules for governing the conference fails to respect the decorum, sincerity and graciousness of our duly chosen delegates. The rule in question is Rule 44.

There are several reasons why this new rule has met resistance from observers from various perspectives.

The proposed rule’s biggest shortcoming is its failure to respect the delegates for whom it is proposed. Rule 44 would assign individuals to “monitor” the conversations of nearly 60 small groups of delegates as they discussed petitions, plans, and proposals regarding the church’s statement of the practice on homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and the ordination of openly gay clergy. The Commission on General Conference (COGC) has already chosen the monitors. They are members of the Committee on the Status and Role of Women, the Committee on Religion and Race, and the organization JustPeace. The monitors would be empowered to “signal the [small] group leader … if they observe harmful behavior as determined according to the Guidelines for Conversation.”

As well intended as this may be, it is fraught with problems. Whether it is true or not, many delegates do not regard members from these committees as fair arbiters when it comes to the issues up for debate. The monitors were not elected by anyone; they were simply chosen by the COGC. And what a monitor regards as “harmful behavior” is an exceedingly subjective call. If the point of the small groups is to allow for open, respectful, and candid conversation around difficult issues, the presence of the monitors will have an opposite effect. What delegate wants to be called-out for saying or doing something an unelected “monitor” regards as harmful behavior?” The monitors will actually stifle conversation and chill debate.

As noted above, the delegates are elected or chosen for their Christian maturity, their experience, and their ability to engage in the process of General Conference. They should be treated with respect, not as children who need to be monitored.

We should also respect the time-honored process for debating, deliberating and voting on petitions submitted to General Conference. At one time or another everyone is disappointed with this or that outcome at GC. However, the process is an open and fair one, and over the years the vast majority of delegates have shown respect for one another, and have acted with integrity. Adopting an untested and time consuming process, and then applying it to perhaps the most contentious issues confronting the General Conference, is far more likely to heighten tensions and feed suspicions regarding the eventual outcome. It is far more preferable to respect the process we have used for many years.

Finally, the Judicial Council has ruled out of order a discernment process similar to that proposed by Rule 44. Should delegates accept the rule and use the process it implements, it will surely be challenged. Citing Judicial Council precedent, some have argued the rule, and any petitions approved using it, are likely to be ruled out of order. Others make reasonable arguments to the contrary. But the fact remains, no one can say with any certainty how the Judicial Council will decide the fate of Rule 44 and petitions approved via its use.

After the fiasco of General Conference 2012, delegates would be wise to hew to our time-honored process, particularly given the sensitive issues Rule 44 is designed to address. It would be a travesty were the General Conference delegates to pass legislation on these sensitive matters, only to later learn that the Judicial Council ruled the process and the approved petitions out of order.

We trust our time-honored process, we trust the thousands of people who have participated in the process, and we trust the General Conference delegates trust the General Conference delegates to act with integrity, respect and grace. We encourage them to decline the approval of Rule 44.

Walter Fenton is a United Methodist clergyperson and an analyst for Good News.


Welcome to Portland

IMG_1529As you find your way around Portland, we want to introduce you to the first issue of Focus, Good News’ daily newsletter for the 2016 General Conference of The United Methodist Church. For almost 50 years, Good News has urged the church to be faithful to the biblically-based principles of its historic Wesleyan heritage. We believe United Methodism should reflect its foundation of Scriptural holiness, doctrinal faithfulness, winsome evangelism, as well as social action and advocacy in the name of Jesus Christ.

Here in Portland, we will be working with the Renewal and Reform Coalition, which also includes the Confessing Movement, UMAction, the Renew Women’s Network, Lifewatch, and Transforming Congregations.

Focus will be published 10 times here in Portland. Each issue will include a devotional, news, and reflections.

General Conference delegates are invited to attend our free daily Briefing Breakfasts at 6:30 a.m. at the Crown Plaza Hotel (1441 NE 2nd Ave), a few blocks north of the Convention Center.

The Breakfasts will be held May 11 (Wednesday), 13 (Saturday), 16 (Monday), 17 (Tuesday), 18 (Wednesday), 19 (Thursday), and 20 (Friday).

It’s a great time to network. On the first morning you will have an opportunity to meet with others serving on your Legislative Committee. There will be daily briefings on important legislation and upcoming votes. Make every effort to attend this daily breakfast and to invite other delegates to join you.

We will also coordinate our nation-wide prayer ministry with United Methodists who have pledged to pray for General Conference each day after receiving our daily prayer concerns. Thousands of United Methodists will be able to pray specifically about what General Conference is doing.

Christians all around the world are praying that the 2016 General Conference proceedings will be led by the Holy Spirit. As United Methodists, we are in desperate need of a season of revival, reform, and renewal. Nothing is more vital to the future of our denomination than a fresh touch from God and a mighty outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon our congregations, seminaries, boards, and agencies.

During these extra hectic days of General Conference we encourage delegates to make time for prayer, interceding for the proceedings of the next two weeks and the future of The United Methodist Church.

We trust that Focus will prove to be an informative and inspirational resource for you in Portland.


The Supremacy of Christ [C.S. Lewis]

C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis

“…so that in everything he [Christ] might have the supremacy” (Colossians 1:18).

Then comes the real shock. Among these Jews there suddenly turns up a man who goes about talking as if he was God. He claims to forgive sins. He says he has always existed. He says he is coming to judge the world at the end of time.

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.” This is the one thing we must not say.

A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic…or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool; you can spit at him and kill him as a demon; or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.

—From C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Barbour and Company Inc.

Pageantry and Controversy

Bishop Warner H. Brown helps lead opening worship at the 2016 United Methodist General Conference in Portland. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS

Bishop Warner H. Brown helps lead opening worship at the 2016 United Methodist General Conference in Portland.Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS

By Walter Fenton

The United Methodist Church’s greatly anticipated 2016 General Conference opened with colorful pageantry and an evangelical message from Bishop Warner Brown, president of the Council of Bishops. Brown challenged the General Conference to heed the words of St. Paul: “So let’s strive for the things that bring peace and the things that build each other up” (Romans 14:19). “Today, in this place, in this important time, by the power of God’s Spirit, may we once again collectively sing [the African phrase]: ‘Jesu Tawa Pano’ ̵ Jesus, we are here for you. Not any other agenda. We are here for you. Therefore, let us go!”

“God is with us,” Brown said, “the transformation of the world has already begun. Therefore go, make disciples in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit!”

Supporters gather around Susan Laurie (center) -- an outspoken lesbian activist--to proclaim her unauthorized ordination at the 2016 United Methodist General Conference. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS

Supporters gather around Susan Laurie (center) — an outspoken lesbian activist–to proclaim her unauthorized ordination at the 2016 United Methodist General Conference.
Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS

However, the day was not without controversy. Shortly before the conference convened dozens of LGBTQ advocates gathered in the convention center to participate in the unauthorized ordination of Susan Laurie, a prominent leader in the movement. Although the act of ecclesial disobedience grants Laurie no official standing in the UM Church, it does add to the list of infractions that threaten to splinter the worldwide denomination.

Later in the day the same advocates disrupted the celebration of Holy Communion during the conference’s opening worship service. As the elements were shared with delegates and thousands of observers, Laurie and other protesters opened alternative “Queer Communion stations” where delegates and others could receive Holy Communion.

Bishops Sharon Radar and Elaine Stanovsky (left foreground) receive elements at what was declared as one of the "Queer Communion Stations" from Sue Laurie (right) and Julie Bruno during opening worship at the 2016 United Methodist General Conference in Portland, Oregon. Photo by Mike Bose, UMNS

Bishops Sharon Radar and Elaine Stanovsky (left foreground) receive elements at what was declared as one of the “Queer Communion Stations” from Sue Laurie (right) and Julie Bruno during opening worship at the 2016 United Methodist General Conference in Portland, Oregon.
Photo by Mike Bose, UMNS

Surprisingly, two UM bishops, Sharon Rader and Elaine Stanovsky, received the elements from the protesters rather than from those who were designated to celebrate the sacred service.

Some United Methodists regarded the unauthorized ordination and the “Queer Communion Stations” as schismatic acts. “When you take it upon yourself to ordain people and politicize Holy Communion, you are essentially saying you no longer respect or even recognize the unity and good order of the church,” said the Rev. Rob Renfroe, president of Good News.

After the close of the worship service, the delegates turned to the work of General Conference. They spent a late afternoon and an evening session debating the rules that would govern their work. They adopted 43 of the proposed 44 rules, but deferred Rule 44 for further debate tomorrow.

The hotly contested rule calls for delegates to set aside traditional methods for handling petitions in exchange for a “discernment process” for considering issues regarding same-sex marriage and the ordination of openly gay clergy. The delegates are expected to engage in further debate on the rule in the morning and then decide to adopt or reject it before noon.

Walter Fenton is a United Methodist clergyperson and an analyst for Good News.


LGBTQ Defiance Mounts as General Conference Begins

Therefore GoBy Walter Fenton

More than 70 United Methodist pastors from the West Ohio Annual Conference participated in or bore witness to the same-sex wedding ceremony on Saturday, May 7. The Rev. David Meredith, who pastors at Clifton United Methodist Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, married his partner Jim Schlachter at Broad Street United Methodist Church in Columbus, Ohio. Meredith acknowledged his marriage is in violation of UM Church teaching, but he said he hoped it would “excite, engage and motivate others working for change.”

The ceremony came just days before The United Methodist Church’s General Conference convenes in Portland, Oregon, and once again takes up the contentious issue of same-sex marriage, the ordination of openly gay clergy, and the practice of homosexuality.

“Even though the church has debated this issue for nearly 45 years, and has repeatedly declined to endorse same-sex marriage and the ordination of openly gay clergy, for the past several years LGBTQ advocates have decided to break covenant with the vast majority of the denomination, and engage in these acts of ecclesial disobedience,” said the Rev. Rob Renfroe, President of Good News and Pastor of Discipleship at The Woodlands UM Church (The Woodlands, Texas), one of the largest churches in the denomination.

Good News is spearheading a coalition of traditionalist United Methodists at the denomination’s General Conference, which meets every four years and begins today. Along with The Confessing Movement and UMAction, Good News seeks to defend and promote the UM Church’s core theological confessions. It shares with the vast majority of Protestants, Roman Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox Christians the belief that marriage is between one man and one woman.

The ceremony in Columbus was clearly part of an orchestrated effort on the part of LGBTQ advocacy groups seeking to change the UM Church’s position on sexuality and marriage. It comes just two weeks after a same-sex wedding service held in a UM Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. Retired Bishop Melvin Talbert co-officiated at that wedding with the Rev. Val Rosenquist, an elder in the Western North Carolina Annual Conference.

Also, the boards of ordained ministry in the progressive Baltimore-Washington, New York and Pacific-Northwest Annual Conferences recently announced they would no longer follow the denomination’s Book of Discipline when interviewing candidates for ordination. All three boards said they would no longer bar openly gay candidates from seeking clergy credentials in their annual conferences.

“Clearly, progressives have decided that even if they fail again at this General Conference to change the church’s position, they will continue to regularly and provocatively defy the will of the church’s highest legislative body,” said Renfroe. “Their actions will divide the church, particularly if our bishops fail to hold them accountable. Even worse, they will undermine the good work of colleagues and the health and vitality of thousands of local UM Churches.”

The West Ohio Annual Conference is one of the largest annual conferences in the denomination’s North Central Jurisdiction. However, in the past several years it has been racked by dissension over the same-sex marriage debate. Some pastors and local churches are threatening to leave the conference if other pastors are simply allowed to defy the church’s teachings on what many believe are core issues.

“We want to remain connected to brothers and sisters in the faith,” said the Rev. Jeff Harper of Evangelical UM Church in Greenville, Ohio, “but not if a minority in the church is willing to defy and disregard what we believe are the sacred bonds and covenants that unite us.”

The Rev. Jeff Greenway, who leads the Evangelical Fellowship of West Ohio, issued a strong statementcalling for accountability for a “clear act of disobedience to the spirit and letter of our covenant. It is with great sadness that we write as persons who love the church, have been devoted to and invested in the United Methodist Church, and who have consistently advocated for unity.”

Walter Fenton is a United Methodist clergyperson and an analyst for Good News.