When the Annual Conference Opposes the Global Denomination
By Rev Cliff Wall
Last week, at Lake Junaluska Assembly, the 2019 Western North Carolina Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church elected General Conference delegates and passed petitions related to the denominational debates on sexuality and gender identity. Overall, the votes of the Annual Conference body of clergy and lay delegates showed strong support for the progressive agenda, and corresponding opposition to the official position of the United Methodist Church. All clergy and lay delegates to the 2020 General Conference are progressive. Traditionalists only garnered three reserve lay jurisdictional delegates.
The Annual Conference also passed petitions to ask the General Conference to remove the statement that “the United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching” from The Book of Discipline. The rationale given was that there is no clear Christian teaching to which this statement applies and that there is teaching from some scholars that some homosexual relationships can be justified from the Bible. The truth is the “teaching” that the official statement refers to was the univocal teaching of the universal Church that was really only questioned by pagans outside the Church until the sexual revolution of the 1960’s. This is a fact acknowledged by progressive scholar Dan O. Via in a book called Homosexuality and the Bible: Two Views (Robert Gagnon presents the other view). I heard progressive scholar Phyllis Tickle say in a lecture on her 500 year cycle theory of church history that it is a “fool’s game” to try to prove that any form of homosexual relationships are justified from the Bible. Yet people continue to try.
As I shared from the floor during the debate, even some of the best progressive/liberal scholars admit that the Bible is actually clear in its absolute prohibition. Most scholars like this end up rationalizing their rejection of “the straightforward commands of scripture,” as Luke Timothy Johnson puts it, by dubiously pitting “Jesus” or “the Gospel” against the law and/or Paul. This is what Adam Hamilton does. Yet their vision of Jesus is not one that is actually in harmony with Jesus as he is revealed in the New Testament. There Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount no less, affirms the entirety of the law and the prophets and warns about those who might lead others to even “relax” the commandments (Matt 5:17-20). For Jesus obedience to the will of the Father revealed in his written word is the fruit to look for in godly teachers and his true disciples (Matt 7:15-23).
William Loader, a progressive scholar, who has written a few thousand pages on ancient Jewish and Christian beliefs about sex, acknowledges that the biblical teaching throughout the history of ancient Judaism and early Christianity was that marriage between male and female was the only appropriate place for sexual expression, which was the good gift of the Creator. The foundation of this view was the creation story in Genesis. The creation of male and female for what was intended to be a permanent, life-long marital union set the norm for what was only appropriate within the marriage covenant. Anything outside of that was seen as contrary to the commandments given in Torah, beginning with the summary found in the Ten Words (Ex 20; Dt 5). Homosexual practice, which clearly violates the “natural,” God-given male/female complementarity evident in the structures of creation, was seen as especially egregious (Loader, Making Sense of Sex (2013), 146). According to Loader it is not surprising that Jesus makes a point about the intended permanence of the marriage covenant based on the creation texts in Genesis (i.e. Mark 10; Matt 19) (Loader, 46). These texts were viewed by many as revealing God’s design for sex and marriage in a general sense that would have specific application to any number of specific issues that might come up.
Loader, nonetheless, believes that the prescriptions and proscriptions of the Bible are simply outdated for the modern world wherein there is access to effective birth control. He also assumes a modern absolute, essentialist nature argument for sexual orientation for which, however, there is not a modern scientific consensus. The evidence actually indicates that it is not entirely genetic like race, to which it is so often falsely compared. It is, nonetheless, simply historically untenable and absurd to insist that Jesus must have approved of some same-sex relationships, but failed to pass that message on to his apostles. But progressives continue to try to distance themselves from the Bible while claiming to still cling to Jesus for justification of their rejection of God’s commands.
One progressive lay delegate, who was elected to General Conference, made it a point to declare that she believes Jesus is the Word of God, the clear implication being the Bible is not. But what does she—or anyone else—know about Jesus apart from the Bible? According to Luke 24, on the first day of the resurrection Jesus led his disciples in a study of the entirety of the Bible to show them how it all pointed to him for its fulfillment. Without the Bible, we will never recognize Jesus for who he truly is; apart from the Bible we are likely to create an idol and call it Jesus really in order to worship Aphrodite.
When it comes down to it, it seems progressives do not really care what the Bible says. That’s why when they are pressed to justify their views from scripture, they will often begin by maligning scripture by taking the most harsh sounding passages out of context. This is clearly the modus operandi of Adam Hamilton and his followers. And that is what actually happened on the floor of Annual Conference when progressives were pressed to justify their position from the Bible. The Bible is clear and Jesus insisted he was in harmony with it. Moreover, it is not justifiable for progressives to declare that the Holy Spirit is leading them to something new, because the Bible clearly indicates that the Holy Spirit brings obedience to the just requirements of the law (Rom 8:4), which was one of the central promises of the new covenant (Ezk 36:27). If there is a spirit leading progressives to reject the straightforward commands of the Bible, it cannot be the Holy Spirit.
The Western North Carolina Annual Conference also passed a petition “Endorsing the Commitments of UMC Next and Supporting the Full Inclusion of All People.” This petition declares the traditional plan, which reaffirmed and reinforced the longstanding official position of the United Methodist Church, to be evil, unjust, and oppressive to the LBGTQIA+ community and to be “inconsistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ.” It also commits the Western North Carolina Conference to actively work toward the “full inclusion” and “full participation” of LGBTQIA+ persons in membership and leadership of the church. In the context of the progressive movement this undoubtedly means regardless of whether such persons are living within the framework of the United Methodist and Christian standard of fidelity within the covenant of opposite-sex marriage or celibacy in singleness. From the floor progressives acknowledged that gender-identity can include multiple different genders and that the sexual identities along the entirety of the spectrum of the LGBTQIA+ acronym can be virtually endless. Progressive activist and lay delegate to General Conference, Hellen Ryde, explained, what all the letters and the + mean: there are many, many possible expressions of sexual and gender identity and the + stands for those things that we haven’t yet found a name for.
In other words, this petition declares the teaching that God created sex for marriage, and marriage to only be between a man and a woman, to be “evil, unjust, and oppressive” and “inconsistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ.” And it commits the Annual Conference to resist the implementation of the traditional plan, which reaffirms and reinforces that view. It also declares that the church is to include and affirm the expression of the entirety of the LBGTQIA+ spectrum, at least among all consenting adults. This must of necessity include polyamarous relationships (like open marriages) and pan-sexualism, where a person is attracted to people of multiple gender identities and sexual identities. There is ample evidence to demonstrate that a free-for-all of sexual “liberation” is exactly what they demand. Note that I personally was called a liar in February for saying this is where the progressive movement in the church was headed, despite the fact that I provided plenty of evidence.
What this means is the church is being asked to reject not only the straightforward commands in the word of God concerning homosexual practice, but to renounce as “evil, unjust, and oppressive” the entirety of the biblical and traditional Christian sexual ethic set in place by Jesus himself. It was clearly Jesus himself that raised the bar and tightened the restrictions on sexual conduct for his disciples. The progressive petitions completely reverse the trajectory set by the teachings of Jesus and the apostles in a way that even goes far beyond what the early Marxists did by promoting the “free love” movement. They say they are fighting for justice, but they are moralistic sexual and cultural revolutionaries, who, like the revolutionaries in the novels of Dostoevsky, are hell-bent on bringing down the two pillars of western society, the orthodox Christian Church and the traditional family. Both of which, they see as main pillars of the “evil patriarchy” they so despise. But I do know that some are caught up in this movement, who do not realize what they are actually supporting in totality. May God open their eyes!
So it seems pretty obvious that the Western North Carolina Conference has declared its opposition to the global United Methodist denomination. It is also obvious that the Annual Conference has been, is, and will continue to use conference resources not only to promote the acceptance of homosexual practice, but to vilify the traditional and official position of the United Methodist Church, and to promote sexual licentiousness in all of its consensual expressions. Most of the conference leadership has worked to create an atmosphere of intimidation for traditionalists. The deck is certainly stacked against traditionalists when it comes to going before the board of ordained ministry. The conference summer youth event, Spirtus, had to be canceled due to controversy because the main speaker chosen was an LGBTQIA+ activist. During the opening worship service of the Annual Conference there was a choral hymn that was obviously promoting “justice” for LGBTQIA+ persons. The chorus used the tagline “For Everyone Born” straight from the progressive caucus groups that proclaim they are fighting against the “evil, injustice, and oppression” of not affirming the entirety of the LGBTQIA+ spectrum.
They have falsely argued for decades that because people are born with fixed sexual orientations therefore the church must accept committed same-sex relationships, when in reality it really seems they just think people ought to be free to have sex with whoever and however and whenever they want without restrictions and negative judgment. The Bible teaches that fallen humans are born with sinful desires, but by the grace of God do not have to be slaves to them. Progressives seem to share the philosophy of Alfred Kinsey that unfettered, mutually-consensual expression of almost any sexual desire is natural, good, and healthy and that sexual repression is bad and, as one of the petitions (Petition 21) put it, “has been the source of tremendous harm to countless people within The United Methodist Church and beyond.”
Progressives have declared the traditional teaching of the Church—what is clearly biblical teaching—to be evil, unjust, and oppressive. Isaiah 5:20-24 (ESV) warns:
Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight! Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine, and valiant men in mixing strong drink, who acquit the guilty for a bribe, and deprive the innocent of his right! Therefore, as the tongue of fire devours the stubble, and as dry grass sinks down in the flame, so their root will be as rottenness, and their blossom go up like dust; for they have rejected the law of the Lord of hosts, and have despised the word of the Holy One of Israel.
During the discussion on the floor regarding the UMC Next petition, an elderly African American gentleman, Coley Hooker, who was a lay delegate to the 2016 and 2019 General Conferences, basically asked who are we to tell God his word is wrong? Mr. Hooker also insisted that when he voted for the traditional plan that he did not vote for evil and hate, he voted for love. He said sometimes the most loving thing God does is to say NO! to what we want. Indeed, getting what we want, when it suits the sinful desires of the flesh, is a dangerous thing.
Conservatives, individuals and churches, must say NO! to the progressive agenda. We must stand firm for what is right and stand against and resist the resistance as we submit ourselves to God.
What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. ~James 4:1-10