Updated: Apr 3
By Rev. Jay Therrell
March 28, 2023
TIn a message to the United States Congress in August of 1950, President Harry S. Truman warned leaders against passing laws that, on their face battled communism, but in reality eroded the “basic liberties” on which America was founded. In his message he included these important words: “Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear.”
President Truman may have been writing about the cold war and measures against communism, but his words ring true in our present denominational troubles. Today we might say, “Once an annual conference is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its members and creates a church where everyone lives in fear.”
Sadly, I see this happening more and more. Multiple annual conferences, including North Georgia, Western North Carolina, and Virginia have either placed severe restrictions on how and where traditionalist groups may share information about disaffiliation, or they have outright banned it. Just last week, Bishop Ken Carter of the Western North Carolina Conference issued a statement that included the following, “… there shall no longer be meetings with WNCC churches where persons recruit members to depart from The United Methodist Church.”
I know The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church fairly well. Somehow, I’ve missed the paragraph that gives bishops the power to suspend the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guaranteeing Americans the right to “…the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble….” Bishops now claim they have the right to prevent churches from hosting meetings on their own property. It smacks of totalitarianism.
Bishops are also contradicting themselves. Repeatedly, bishops and district superintendents have told churches that they do not have to leave The United Methodist Church because no one will ever force them to have a pastor they don’t want or to host a wedding they don’t wish to host. In my home state of Florida, this falsehood has been repeated ad nauseum. The gist of the argument is that local churches have full control over who they allow to use their property. If that’s true, then how can bishops make declarations like the one above preventing churches from hosting a meeting led by a traditionalist regarding disaffiliation? Both things can’t be true. Either a local church has control over its own property and who can speak on it or not at all.
I pray local churches that might still have time to enter the disaffiliation process are watching what is already going on. These repressive measures are going on now while there are still a large number of theological conservatives in The United Methodist Church. Imagine how things might deteriorate once the disaffiliation process ends and the majority of traditionalists are gone? While I pray “past performance isn’t a prediction of future results,” I fear that may not be true in the case of the UMC.
At the end of last year, I made a prediction privately to our traditionalist leaders that sadly seems to be coming true: the closer we come to the end of the disaffiliation process, the more desperate annual conferences and bishops are becoming. A few weeks ago, I wrote an article that shared several disturbing trends that have already begun to occur with concerning regularity. Now another one can be added to the list: restricting or silencing traditionalists completely.
This shouldn’t be happening in the United States of America, and it certainly shouldn’t be happening in the church of Jesus Christ.
The Rev. Jay Therrell is the president of the Wesleyan Covenant Association and an ordained elder in the Global Methodist Church.
East Ohio WCA is not affiliated with the East Ohio UNITED METHODIST CHURCH.
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