Now THIS is outlaw! Progressives with backbone.

There’s a growing movement among disaffected emergent evangelicals and disheartened progressive Christians — “Outlaw Preachers.” They’re an unofficial group, they’re a Facebook page, some of them know about others who are kindred spirits, some think they’re all alone. What they share in common is how they are treated by the religious powers that be; i.e. they’re treated like the rejected freaks on the famed “Island of Misfit Toys” in the Rudolph movie.

That’s okay, they’re in good company. Many of the individuals behind the best inventions, revelations, and paradigm shifts that we all enjoy and benefit from today were similarly treated by their peers and contemporaries.

The Western Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church is showing some progressive Christian backbone and is exercising ecclesiastical disobedience by being obedient to Christ’s radical and inclusive love!

Last week, the lay and clergy delegates from each of the annual conferences that comprise the Western Jurisdiction met they passed the following petition with an overwhelming majority.

A Statement of Gospel Obedience

In response to our common belief that God’s grace and love is available to all persons, the Western Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church states our belief that the United Methodist Church is in error on the subject of “homosexuality’s incompatibility with Christian teaching.”

We commend to our bishops, clergy, local churches and ministry settings, the challenge to operate as if the statement in Para. 161F does not exist, creating a church where all people are truly welcome.

The secretary of the Western Jurisdictional Conference will submit this statement of Gospel Obedience to the Jurisdictional College of Bishops, each Annual Conference, and chairpersons of Boards of Ordained Ministry for discussion and implementation.

***

Despite the actions taken by the recent General Conference of the UMC, and despite my efforts to try to influence that General Conference, these faithful believers are putting their faith into action by seeking to place higher allegiance to Christ than to their denomination’s current policies. Worded another way, they’re seeking to help their denomination be the best it can be by living as if the kingdom were fully manifest here and now.

At a minimum, this means that UMC clergy in the Western Jurisdiction will not be punished if they perform gay weddings. It may also mean that they’ll ordain self-avowed, practicing, homosexuals.

Sure, there will be those who condemn this action. Philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer said this about truth, “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.” Jesus said it will set us free.

The same is true with God’s radically inclusive unconditional love and welcome. The kingdom of God (or “the beloved community” as MLK put it) is still seen as crazy and preposterous to many. So be it.

I’ve jumped in, and friends, the water is good.

Who else is willing to be a fool for Christ?

Roger

The Rev. Roger Wolsey is an ordained United Methodist pastor. He is the author of  Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don’t like christianity. In addition to contributing to Patheos, Roger also blogs for Sojourners, Huffington Post, and Elephant Journal.

About Roger Wolsey

Rev. Roger Wolsey is an ordained United Methodist pastor who serves as the director of the Wesley Foundation at the University of Colorado at Boulder. He's the author of "Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don't like christianity."

  • Larry

    What do they mean precisely by the name Western Jurisdiction? Is that concering their physical location, or is there other meaning attached? Just curious.

    • http://www.progressivechristianitybook.com/ Roger Wolsey

      Yes. It refers to the Annual Conferences that are in the Western portion of the U.S.

  • http://www.progressivechristianitybook.com/ Roger Wolsey
    • Connie

      Roger, this list is a wonderful resource. We need to get all these groups, and the Outlaw Preachers into communication!

  • Frank

    So another “church” ignoring the Word of God. Wonderful!

    • http://www.progressivechristianitybook.com/ Roger Wolsey

      Frank, I take it that your church refuses to allow unmarried couples who are living together to marry; that your church refuses to allow people to divorce for reasons other than adultery; and that you don’t allow divorced persons to remarry? If so, at least you’d be consistent, if not, you’d be hypocritical.

    • Bill

      Hey Frank, what are you wearing? Mixed fiber clothing is an abomination before God.

      - Deuteronomy 22:11

      • Steve

        Bill, I wonder if you could tell me how God’s former–and presently abolished–covenant with the Jews (and only the Jews and Jewish proselytes) dictates anyone’s way of life? I recall Paul writing to the Galatians saying that the old law, acting as a tutor, is of no more use and that we are no longer under that tutor (Gal. 3:24-26). I recall the Hebrew writer speaking to Jewish Christians and telling them that the old covenant in its entirety was becoming obsolete and ready to vanish away (Heb. 8:13). I recall Christ saying that he came to fulfill that law, hence the completion of it and the insertion of a new covenant between God and man by Christ’s death (Matthew 5:17-18; Heb. 9:15-17).

        Furthermore, I am curious as to the intention of your argument towards Frank. It seemed as if you were promoting disregard of scriptural truths, and accusing Frank of being hypocritical. You seemed to say “You can’t speak against homosexuality on the basis of God’s word, because you are probably also doing things that contradict the will of God. Therefore, don’t speak out against homosexuality.” While it is inaccurate to portray Deut. 22:11 as a commandment to anyone except Jews who have died thousands of years ago, it is an even greater miscarriage of reasoning to use Scripture against itself in this way.

        The fact is: God DOES speak out against homosexuality (if anyone needs the passages – Romans 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; 1 Timothy 1:10). To pretend that these people are not committing sin is not only a disservice to those men and women who need to understand their faults, just as I and all other Christians had to realize ours, but is also a sin before God, and constitutes false teaching.

        Also, anticipating the accusation of hatred or a lack of Christ-like love toward homosexuals, I will say that it is not love to ignore the sins of others. Instead, we should seek to teach them the truth about God and the obedience that is necessary to please Him.

        • http://www.progressivechristianitybook.com Roger Wolsey

          Steve, It is not the case the the Bible is “clearly” opposed to homosexuality. Please see this document written by UM Bible scholar, the late, Dr. Walter Wink: http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=1265

        • Duane Toole

          Walter Wink’s article is good, but leaves out some interesting facts, especially that male temple prostitution was widespread in Paul’s day. Many scholars believe that Paul and Timothy were talking about that when they used the word the KJV translators guessed to be “homosexual.” Yes, they guessed; there was no other use of the word in any other of Paul or Timothy’s writings, nor in any extant writings of the period, so they guessed. This is well documented in the Anchor Bible Commentary and in books about the creation of the KJV.

  • http://www.wesleyputnam.org Wesley Putnam

    Roger,

    I do not share your elation. I see this as an act that is unfaithful to the Gospel and destructive of the covenant. It opens the door for anyone who has a disagreement with any portion of the BOD to simply choose as a matter of conscience to disregard it. It will create division, confusion, and ultimately – schism. It comes across as a toddler tantrum, not Christian discipleship.

    Each one who signed on to this also made a vow that brought them into covenant with the rest of us. We live in the tension of knowing there might be some things with which we disagree, but for the sake of the covenant we choose to walk in obedience. While living under that covenant, there is nothing that says change can’t be pursued. But, when that change does not come, the option is to remain faithful to the vows you made or to leave. It is not OK to pitch a fit and crap in the nest. I am ashamed of this action by my colleagues.

    • http://www.progressivechristianitybook.com/ Roger Wolsey

      Mr. Putnam, I would encourage you to read MLK’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail. It applies to this situation. The time is now. If not now, when? http://www.stanford.edu/group/King/frequentdocs/birmingham.pdf

    • Susan Coho

      Mr. Putnam, I totally agree with your statements. Didn’t all of these bishops vow to uphold the Book of Discipline at their ordination ceremonies?

  • Bill Bass, Jr.

    Bravo, Roger. Conscience should always control our actions. The BOD is a human, flawed writing…161F is just the seemingly most egregious doctrinal statement therein. I admit being very disappointed that the General Conference wouldn’t even pass the Adam Hamilton proposition which would have merely acknowledged the growing split in the church as to this core issue, and would have encouraged us to continue to work towards resolution with dignity and love for one another first in heart. I am even more concerned that in 2016 there will be an ultra-conservative numeric majority from the delegates of the Central Conference which will dial the clocks back decades if given free reign. I do not know the solutions to these problems but I believe in civil disobedience, even in the context of church polity, where conscience dictates. Voices have been ignored for nearly 40 years and that’s far too long to lay idle, in my humble opinion. This is a start. I wish my own jurisdiction would have hearts opened enough to realize that inclusiveness begat of unconditional love is ultimately the ONLY way to grow the Kingdom here on earth.

  • http://ijoey.org Joey Reed

    I have no problem with people who follow their conscience and the leadership of the Spirit in their lives. In fact, I applaud it. I understand that this move was a carefully considered theological decision based on the dictates of conscience and done with careful exegesis (by some, anyway) and painstaking reflection.

    But this action shows little regard for the connection and the covenant vow made at ordination.

    I have little respect for folks who take a stand on an issue and defy the connection and covenant while still reaping the benefits of the connection and covenant.

    All clergy were asked at ordination: “Have you studied the doctrines of The United Methodist Church? … Have you studied our form of Church discipline and polity? … Do you approve our Church government and polity? Will you support and maintain them?”

    Maintenance means upgrades and changes sometimes. Our polity allows for that. What it does not allow, without ethical breach, is ignoring our polity, even for the sake of conscience. Instead, provisions are made for withdrawal, honorable location, or sabbatical time which might be used to further this agenda of change within our denomination.

    If you cannot support and maintain our polity while working to change it, then conscience dictates a departure. Those who value the covenant too highly to depart it should at least respect it while working to change the polity.

    What this has done is establish a precedent for ignoring our Discipline. You might agree with this action in the current setting, but what happens when a Jurisdiction allows a bishop to make arbitrary changes to the status of one’s ordination — based on conscience of course — without an appeal to process? This precedent becomes a thing of destruction and not a path worthy of our best traditions.

    If this or any other issue is worth defying the denomination, then defy it, by all means. But don’t pick and choose the comfortable parts of the covenant like pension, guaranteed appointment, insurance, and, for some, parsonage housing while you refuse to abide by the uncomfortable theology that is, for good or for ill, in place by the dictates of our covenant relationship.

    No cheers for the Western Jurisdiction.

    • http://www.progressivechristianitybook.com/ Roger Wolsey

      Joey, thank you for your input to this conversation. I referenced this in the blog above, but here’s a link I’d like to invite you to explore. I’ve worked hard for the past 18 years in the way that you commend. Others have been working even longer. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogerwolsey/2012/04/a-pastoral-letter-to-the-united-methodist-church/

    • Wayne Vinson

      I think this view misunderstands where the pension, appointment, parsonage etc comes from both in an economic and spiritual sense. We provide for those things because Roger has the courage to live and preach the gospel as best he can, not in spite of that. And not, ultimately, because of anything in the book of discipline or anything that happens at annual conference.

      This is a case of unanimous support from below being belatedly matched from above for which I’m quite thankful as, if I understand correctly, it takes Roger out of a difficult position. If we risk schism here we risk it for a good cause and in good company.

  • Jordan Pendleton

    Roger: I would just like to express my joy at the possibilities of this change. I am a 21 Y/O Bisexual male, with a heart for Christ. For a long time now, I have felt drawn to ministry, but have been unable to pursue it due to my sexuality. I have been told by many that if I truly had a christian heart, that I would not choose to be Bi. I believe that my church community is deeply flawed in their teachings, telling parents that if their children are gay, they should be punished until they renounce their evil ways. The church cannot move forward if it continues to teach fear and hostility toward the LGBT community. I look forward to the day when everyone will be accepting of eachother and no longer alienate people who are different or have different views.

    With Love and Hope

    Jordan Pendleton

    • http://www.progressivechristianitybook.com/ Roger Wolsey

      Jordan, thank you for sharing your valuable perspective!

      Re: “The church cannot move forward if it continues to teach fear …. I look forward to the day when everyone will be accepting of eachother and no longer alienate people who are different or have different views.” — Amen and Amen.

  • http://www.WEHOMEethodist.org Scott T. Imler

    The Statement of Gospel Obedience of the Western Jurisdictional Conference is a powerful step in the right direction but bitter-sweet to be sure. Coming as it does just one year after the Annual Conference of its sponsors voted, without debate and over the objections of the local congregation, to “inoluntarily discontinue” the largely LGBT congregation of Crescent Heights United Methodist Church, the last and only welcoming Protestant church in the City of West Hollywood, CA, and the region’s oldest, most visible and publicly engaged Reconciling Congregation.

    While the controversy around homosexuality’s “incompatibility with Christian teaching” is as preposterous today as it was four decades ago — when it was proffered by Christian Right strategists as the golden egg of fundamentalist fundraising and the silver bullet for silencing what at that time was the increasingly progressive voice of American Protestantism, which had been so instrumental in pushing the tide of the black civil rights struggle — only time will tell if this latest dust-up is just another round of toothless resolution making or if it represents the emergence at long last of an authentic challenge to this most brazenly counter-Christian doctrine.

    I don’t mean to be cynical, but after Cal-Pac’s fifteen year formal “welcoming dialogue” that brought together liberals, conservatives, evangelicals and progressives for supposedly authentic Christian Conferencing and resulted in the Cal-Pac Conference’s strong stand for marriage equality in 2008 and its formal opposition to California Proposition 8, the premeditated scuttling of the flagship of LGBT aspirations of full inclusion, without credible or substantive reason, or even the courtesy to hear from the congregation, leaves me to wonder, “COVENANT? What covenant.?”

    Indeed, it is difficult to conceive of anything more “incompatible with Christian teaching” than the indignity and injustice of involuntary discontinuance and saying to a historically marginalized and excluded people that after 97 years, the place they have come to call “homeland” is no longer worthy of God’s love as understood, practiced, and shared by a United Methodist church of their own.

    No covenant based on a blasphemy has any binding authority and those who cling to it condemn themselves. The tired and shopworn cliché of “love it or leave it” and the supposed pain borne by those who would all too gladly purge the rolls completely of LGBT persons and their allies, is just a little too self-serving to warrant serious consideration, although it is increasingly difficult to criticize anyone who might be compelled to “shake the dust from their feet.”

    Knowing as I believe I do, the hearts and minds of those responsible for the Statement of Gospel Obedience, my money is on a an authentic challenge the likes of which Methodism hasn’t seen since John Wesley’s heart was “strangely warmed.”

    Pastor Scottt T Imler, Servant General

    Crescent Heights United Ministry Collaborative

    coveoannt? LGBT flagshipan historic endorsementagainst Propsition 8 in 3008

  • http://www.progressivechristianitybook.com/ Roger Wolsey

    from a sermon from retired Bishop Melvin Talbert at the California-Pacific Annual Conference:

    Talbert, preaching an ordination sermon, recalled his own experience as a young pastor as well as the recent history of the church.

    ….“In the name of Jesus Christ, I declare you to ‘take thou authority’ and ‘do the right thing.’ And remember this: You are called by God; and you are confirmed and sent by your church. There will be times when you will be called and challenged to choose between God and your church because your church does not always ‘do the right thing.’”

    • Dale Roberts

      How can these words be “change the Book of Discipline” on sexuality? How do these words say “Ordain GLTG, perform same sex marriages?” They do say we may have to choose between God and our church. I take these words that the Church needs to follow the teachings in the Bible and not the rhetoric of sinners who want their sins to blessed by the Church. It is not man’s option to change the Bible. This is wrong – this would be the reason I would leave the UMC. We can and do love the sinners but not the sin. We might as well bless and condone murder, pedophile, etc without asking for forgiveness, oh I forgot it would not be a sin, don’t have to quit or ask for forgiveness because it would all be ok. Why is it that if I don’t believe in your sin and accept it, I’m wrong? and you feel bad and it’s my fault because I don’t condone your sin.

  • Dorothy

    Roger,

    Thank you for your courage and stance. As a cradle Methodist, you told me to hang in there before General Conference. I’m still hanging in there. I’ve moved my membership to a beautifully spirit-filled UMC in the heart of the SEJ, where the same courage and love is alive and well. God is doing a new thing, with or without the “approval” of the bureaucracy. I’m very thankful that the Western Jurisdiction and it’s leaders have the backbone to follow the Spirit!

  • http://mcannon05@comcast.net Max Cannon

    After having read all the postings, I must admit to being somewhat confused because they seem to be circular in their statements and responses. Perhaps my inability to understand the issue is due to my intellectual deficiencies but when an individual, or individuals, decide that the standards espoused by an organization are in conflict with their’s then the obvious decision would seem to be disassociation. It would then follow that the most logical action would be to attempt to find an entity with similar leanings; not to coerce that organization into restructuring its standards to accommodate their life style choice. Unless, of course, the goal was capitulation, not accommodation. This leads me to my second conundrum, “Why is the existing value always assumed to be in incorrect and required to accommodate those for whom that value no longer has validity?”

    • http://www.progressivechristianitybook.com Roger Wolsey

      Max, The UMC didn’t adopt the language that is discriminatory against homosexuals until a few years after it was created; i.e., they changed the rules on us after the denomination was started. Moreover, it is easier to change an institution from within than it is to if one abandons it. Finally, there are one heaven of a lot of us who absolutely love the UMC, our Church home, and who yearn for it to be the best it can be; i.e., to love all of God’s people. We’re in this until the inevitable change happens — and then we’ll stay in it and keep breaking bread, singing, and serving Christ with you. Peace.

      • http://mcannon05@comcast.net Max Cannon

        I believe you’re technically correct about the language currently found in the Discipline of the UMC. However, I became a Methodist in 1939 and the issue we’re currently debating was quite firmly established then and has been confirmed many times since. This defense reminds me of the tobacco issue in which individuals who smoked were somehow unaware of the harmful effects of inhaling smoke. As far back as my youth, a common remark among smokers referred to cigarettes as coffin nails. They were well aware of the harmful effects. However, over the past several years, society created a false narrative that allowed and encouraged the extortion of millions of dollars by portraying smokers as ignorant dupes that were taken advantage of by evil tobacco companies. American Catholics are taking similar stances against their church even though they went through extensive catechism and understood and accepted all they are currently rebelling against. This is why I question the motives of those who would change the Discipline and why I believe the objective is not accommodation but capitulation with the goal of transforming UMC theology.

        • http://www.progressivechristianitybook.com Roger Wolsey

          Max, there are no harmful affects of love. (except for broken hearts as has been the case with the UMC).


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