The Big Tent Has Collapsed
by Jay Therrell
November 15, 2022
For months (years, really) bishops in The United Methodist Church, along with other progressive leaders, have pushed hard on two ideas:
1. The United Methodist Church is a big tent.
2. There is room for everyone, including theological conservatives, in The United Methodist Church.
From November 2-5, 2022, the five U.S. jurisdictions held their conferences and elected new bishops. The results are clear: the big tent has collapsed. The United Methodist Church now has the most liberal Council of Bishops in its history. Not one single traditionalist bishop was elected. Not one. Forget about these elections telegraphing the future of The United Methodist Church. They declare the denomination’s present state.
It should now be crystal clear that the two points above in reality are the following:
1. The big tent has collapsed.
2. It’s time for traditionalist churches to go…if they still can.
There’s Room for Everyone
If there’s truly room for everyone, wouldn’t you think delegates at jurisdictional conference would want to throw theological conservatives a proverbial bone and elect at least one traditionalist-leaning bishop? Yet they didn’t. Instead, here’s a sample of who they elected and the resolutions they adopted:
The North Central Jurisdiction elected Kennetha Bigham-Tsai. Bishop Bigham-Tsai will begin leading the Iowa Conference on January 1. Before her election, she served as Chief Connectional Ministries Officer at the Connectional Table. During an interview with a delegation as she was campaigning, she said, “No, it is not important that we agree on who Christ is.” She went on to further cast doubt on where she stands on the incarnation of Jesus when she said during the same interview “God became flesh, but not particular flesh. There’s no particularity around that. God became incarnate in a culture, but not one culture.” To read the article about this, including a recording of the aforementioned interview, click here.
The Western Jurisdiction elected Dottie Escobedo-Frank. Bishop Escobedo-Frank will begin leading the Cal-Pac Conference on January 1. Before her election, she was senior pastor at Paradise Valley United Methodist Church Arizona. On her biography on Paradise Valley UMC’s website she is described in the following way: Dottie believes we are living in a time of epochal change, which requires the church find sacred ways to die in order to be reborn. She calls for heretics and edge-dwellers to lead the church forward. Now is the time, she says, to push these new leaders to the forefront of church restarts. (Emphasis added)
The Western Jurisdiction elected Cedrick Bridgeforth. Bishop Bridgeforth will begin leading the Pacific Northwest, Oregon-Idaho, and Alaska Conferences on January 1. Before his election, he was the director of communications and innovation for the Cal-Pac Conference. Bishop Bridgeforth is a married, gay man. His husband is Christopher Hucks-Ortiz. The Western Jurisdiction now has two married, gay/lesbian bishops: Cedrick Bridgeforth and Karen Oliveto. You can read more about Bishop Bridgeforth in this article from the Western Jurisdiction.
The Southeastern Jurisdiction elected Tom Berlin. Bishop Berlin will begin leading the Florida Conference on January 1. Before his election, he was the senior pastor of Floris UMC in Virginia. Bishop Berlin is infamous for his speech on the floor of the 2019 General Conference where he referred to the Traditional Plan (the legislation adopted upholding accountability for a traditionalist understanding of marriage and ordination) as a “virus” that would infect the denomination. The logical extrapolation was that people who supported the traditional plan (i.e., theological conservatives) were also a virus. Moreover, the Southeastern Jurisdiction’s opening worship featured four giant dream catchers and liturgy that some felt had pagan overtones. The dream catchers were present for the entire meeting while, at times, there was no cross.
All the jurisdictions adopted a series of resolutions detailed in this article from UMAction that called for such things as, “effectively purging conservatives from denominational leadership (under the misleading pretext of denominational loyalty) and pushing immediate, de facto policy changes to disregard longstanding rules prohibiting same-sex weddings.”
From just the small sampling above it is clear that if there is any room left for theological conservatives in The United Methodist Church it’s for us to sit down, be quiet, and give our tithes and offerings while progressives continue to implement their agenda.
It’s Time to Go
Traditionalists, it’s time to go. By the end of 2023, paragraph 2553 that provides for disaffiliations, will expire. I met with the president of the Council of Bishops, Bishop Tom Bickerton, this past September. During that meeting he confirmed that the Council had decided at its recent summer, 2022 meeting not to allow extensions of paragraph 2553 past December 31, 2023. He further agreed with me that there would likely be no additional exit ramps passed at the General Conference in 2024 which has now been set for April 23 – May 3, 2024 in Charlotte, NC. To use his own words, he is ready for the denomination to “pivot” to its new future and put disaffiliations behind it.
This means it’s time to go. Churches, if you still can, you need to get in the que for your annual conference’s disaffiliation process. Sadly, some annual conferences have already closed those ques. If yours is still open, do not wait. Exit ramps are quickly closing and will soon be gone. When district superintendents and others tell you that a better deal will come in 2024, at best they are mistaken, and at worse they are intentionally misleading you.
If your conference is offering a disaffiliation process using paragraph 2549 after December 31, 2023, the WCA has extreme concerns about that. It requires an enormous amount of trust as the church will close in the process and lose any ability it might have to seek accountability if something goes wrong. We think it’s also possible progressives will challenge the use of a closure paragraph for disaffiliations and seek a ruling from the Judicial Council. (The Judicial Council has been very unfriendly towards departing churches.)
It is highly likely that the General Conference in 2024 will be the first gathering in the UMC’s history with a majority of progressive delegates. Progressives will finally be able to get everything they’ve always wanted including changing the 6,000-year Judeo/Christian definition of marriage, the 2,000-year orthodox understanding of ordination standards, and many others. They will have no incentive to offer more exit ramps. It’s time to go.
If you still have not started this process, please contact the regional chapter of the Wesleyan Covenant Association in your area. You can find the contact information for your chapter by clicking here.
Don’t Get Trapped
The so-called big tent has collapsed, and it’s only going to get worse. After General Conference in 2024, I’m afraid theological conservatives remaining inside the UMC will realize they’re trapped in a church that has no intent to honor them except by cashing their checks. It’s sad, but the progressives have shown us who they are with the bishops’ elections. We need to listen.
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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