Jurisdictional Conference Reveals the Myth of the ‘Big Tent’

By

Chet Harris, Director of the East Ohio WCA



During the past four years the leadership of the United Methodist Church has used the phrase, “Big tent,” as a description of the diversity in the denomination. It suggests all variant beliefs can co-exist in the United Methodist Church and affirm that all are correct in their beliefs.


This description of a permissive doctrinal life has been adopted to encourage and entice traditionalist / evangelicals to stay as active members. The concept has immense appeal as it ostensibly presents a worldview that, regardless of what you believe, there is room for you to exist as equal partners in ministry within the United Methodist Church. For this worldview to prosper it requires a balance and respect of multiple understandings of what is valued in life, theological beliefs, shared leadership, and transparent accountability. The United Methodist Church has failed on every account and effectively removed the center pole from the Big Tent, causing it to tumble down on traditionalists, smothering us with words void of meaning such as ‘agape’ love, acceptance, and a true welcome to the table.


The actions and decisions of the Jurisdictional Conferences prove without question that the Big Tent was a façade created to placate traditionalists with a sweet tune sung to lull them into believing there is a place for them alongside the progressive activists.


The United Methodist Church – by action of the North Central Jurisdictional Conference – has created a leadership team of Bishops who are theologically progressive and laden with an agenda that conflicts with traditional / evangelical beliefs. The denomination will reflect the leadership of the progressive Council of Bishops. John Maxwell observes, "A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way." This concise epitome of leadership describes the influence of the Council of Bishops have on the United Methodist Church. Our Bishops will set the pace, chart the future, and navigate us through the decades before us. Bishops are elected for life and will therefore stay at the helm until the mandatory retirement at seventy-two. The United Methodist Church is locked into a future of theologically progressive leadership. Keep in mind every Bishop serving on the Council is a dedicated progressive. I urge you not to fall into the trap that the extremists among the progressives are in other jurisdictions. Remember, the United Methodist Church is a connectional denomination.


Consider Bishop Karen Oliveto of the Mountain Sky Area comment about Jesus: “too many people make an idol out of him.”


Consider Bishop Wil Willimon’s comments about General Conference 2019. “We prayed for openness to different points of view, unity, communion, gracious listening, holy conferencing, empathetic feelings, and generosity of spirit. It didn’t work. At some point I shifted my prayers to, ‘Lord, please melt the hardened hearts and smite everyone who intends to vote against the One Church Plan.’”


I want to bring the panoramic view of the influence of Bishops into a more focused view by sharing the reaction to the election of three bishops in our jurisdiction, all very progressive, by Rev. Jared Gadomski Littleton, an ordained Elder and a leader of progressives in East Ohio.


“I am so excited that NCJ elected three bishops who are going to transform this corner of United Methodism to a space where clergy can serve openly no matter their gender identity or sexual orientation and where any two consenting counseled adults may be married. Praise be to God.” (November 3, 12:51pm on Facebook, quoted with his permission).


These quotes capture the truth for the future of the United Methodist Church. Even though this statement accurately describes the worldview of our Jurisdictional Bishops, it also graphically defies the current Discipline of the UMC.


I cannot stress the point enough: the denomination will become immersed in progressive ideology and the cultural agenda identified in the quote I shared by a respected progressive in our East Ohio Conference. It is inevitable.


Leadership is always the key factor in determining the direction an organization will travel as well as project the public persona for all to witness. The Council of Bishops is our standard and their words define who we are as United Methodists.


The action of the Jurisdictional Conferences is a call to prayer and discernment for every traditional / evangelical member of the UMC.


I ask that you consider the following:


- First, the inevitable shift away from a biblical understanding of human sexuality. Two Thousand years of orthodox Christian teaching is being cast into the abyss of enlightened thinking of the progressives. General Conference will most likely change the Discipline regarding the current view of human sexuality. If in 2024 the Discipline remains intact, our leadership will ignore it. The covenant has already been broken. Even though Bishops covenant to follow the Discipline their actions prove only when they agree with it.


- Second, please consider what is sacrificed by negating the biblical teaching on human sexuality. The authority of the Bible is at the very core of our concern.


- Third, the diversity of beliefs fostered by the veiled and flawed teaching of [free / open / boundless] love has opened the door to universalism. Universalism is the belief there are many ways to God and point of fact everyone is loved into the presence of God. This derelict doctrine forfeits God’s justice and the need for righteousness or holiness. Traditional beliefs such as a literal understanding of the resurrection and deity of Jesus, the substitutionary atonement, and much more will evaporate into the mist of myth as progressive theology rules the day. For many progressives the death of Jesus on the cross is abusive, harmful to our well-being, depressing, and just not something a loving God would ever sanction as necessary for redemption.


- Fourth, traditionalist / evangelical members of the UMC will slide into second class membership. We are already viewed as believing a misinformed and archaic view of the Bible.


- Fifth, yes you can remain a member of the UMC, but if you want to serve in a leadership role, silence is a necessity when it comes to sharing a traditional view of the Bible.


Finally, do not buy into the mantra that the UMC will grow in numbers as we affirm the current cultural views of the day. Do not believe the prattle that all young adults affirm progressive ideals.


If your church is interested in disaffiliation, now is the time to begin the process. I know there is a rumor that the 2024 General Conference will create a gracious exit plan for all churches that desire to leave. Seriously! The Council of Bishops has zero interest in opening the floodgates for churches to depart. Will someone from the floor present a plan? I suspect this will happen, but we do not know what it will entail.


We need to embrace the reality of making a choice now. We know ¶ 2553, the current exit plan provided by the Discipline, expires on December 31, 2023 and the paragraph states the extension of this exit plan into 2024 and beyond is legally forbidden. We have silence from Bishop Malone about a special conference in November 2023 to allow churches that process after annual conference in June an opportunity to disaffiliate. Clearly, the only absolute opportunity in East Ohio to disaffiliate is at the 2023 Annual Conference. We must act on what we know is factual. We encourage churches that desire to disaffiliate and have not begun the process to declare yourself in January and begin the process.


You are welcome to contact the Wesleyan Covenant Association for more information. Visit our East Ohio WCA website and the national sponsored website for more information.


I am praying for the churches on the edge of deciding to disaffiliate. Certainly, it is a life-changing decision. I pray for spiritual discernment and for the Holy Spirit’s counsel as you consider the future of your local church.


All for the Kingdom,

Chet Harris

East Ohio WCA Director

Ephesians 3:14 - 21

 

East Ohio WCA is not affiliated with the East Ohio UNITED METHODIST CHURCH.

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