An Open Pastoral Letter to United Methodists

An Open Pastoral Letter to United Methodists

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Dear United Methodists,

Another General Conference has ended and you are feeling betrayed, angry and sad about the brokenness of the church. Is there a way forward? Have the Bishops provided it with the document by the same name? Are we hopeful about the future?

First, as much as we might want to be angry with our Episcopal leaders, we should reflect on what a difficult place they are in. Just imagine what the country would be like if both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were both sworn in as President. Imagine further, if Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz also became President. Also sworn in the same day would be Elizabeth Warren and Paul Ryan, and so on until, eventually we had—simultaneously—66 Presidents of the United States. Are you sweating, yet? This is analogous to the situation we face in the United Methodist church. We have 66 bishops (46 episcopal regions in the US and 20 areas outside the US) who serve as the episcopal leaders over the United Methodist Church. Is it any wonder that we are deadlocked with no leadership? In the past the system managed to work reasonably well because, despite the numbers, there was a broad agreement concerning the gospel, the Wesleyan message, and there was, frankly, more integrity about covenant keeping. All of that is gone today. The church is left without leadership. The covenant which binds us is in tatters. The gospel message has become dim. The Wesleyan distinctives have long been reduced to a few predictable sound bites which have been ripped from their original setting and meaning. We are in a tough spot.

Second, we need a little truth telling about what happened at General Conference on the issue of human sexuality. The “leadership” move by the bishops was as predictable as it was lamentable. Appoint a commission to study the issue of human sexuality and kick the can down the road for three more years.

1. This episcopal document, known as An Opening for a Way Forward, is the final triumph of Rule 44. Like Rule 44, it will place in the hands of a few carefully selected people the privilege of drafting legislation about human sexuality. We have been given Rule 44 back in a different form, but it will unfold over three years rather than three days. I would rather be shot in three days than slowly tortured over three years, but that’s just me.

2. This motion expects that two or three more years of discussion will change things. They will not. The voices “chosen” for the evangelical position will likely be the weakest, most conflict adverse people they can find. But, even with that, the Scriptures will not change over the next two years. No amount of blue ribbon commissions will change God’s Word.

3. The time frame allows for three more years of cultural shift in post-Christian America. Because many of the leaders of the United Methodist church still foolishly envision our church as occupying the cultural center, it is hoped that more United Methodists will finally get on board this path of cultural accommodation. Let me be clear: I am not going to get on that boat. Because it will only lead us to more missional drift, more staggering membership losses, and more silencing of the Wesleyan message.

I consider the passing of the Episcopal initiative a failure for the church. It continues our agony for three more years. One of the closing sentences from the document best sums up the agony which awaits us: “We will continue to explore options to help the church live in grace with one another—including ways to avoid further complaints, trials and harm while we uphold the Discipline.”

What exactly does this mean? It is language which has become all too familiar to those of us in the rank and file. It throws us all back into the fog. Everyone can read into this whatever they want. But, let’s be clear what it really means. This statement gives official episcopal “space” for further disobedience to the Discipline (avoiding complaints, trials, and harm) while, in a masterful stroke of double-speak, says “while we uphold the Discipline.

What is the Way Forward?

Despite all of this agony, I have not given up hope in the power of the historic Wesleyan message. I believe that God still has a plan for the “people called Methodist.” I am not planning on leaving the UMC, but nor can I hope that anyone in leadership can lead us to a place of health. So, what do we do? We must realize that the future of the church is in our hands. We cannot expect our church to be rescued by endless meetings of Annual or General Conferences, episcopal deliberations, or costly blue ribbon study commissions. We must turn the volume off on the “general church” deliberations and focus on preaching the gospel, discipling believers, and living in holy covenant.

This is why we created the New Room Network and the New Room Covenant. We have zero interest in starting a new denomination. We are not even interested in arguing for separation. I’m tired of all the “solution” for a “third way” and a “way forward.” None of this will help us. We don’t have time for that. There is too much gospel work to be done. There are too many people dying without Jesus Christ. The purpose of New Room is to enter a new space which is joyful and missional. We are uniting evangelical Wesleyans from all over the world in a restored covenant. Thousands of United Methodists are joining. Thousands of other Wesleyans who are either former United Methodists or who belong to other Wesleyan movements like the Free Methodists, the Wesleyans, the Christian and Missionary Alliance and Salvation Army are joining from all around the world. This has nothing to do with “getting out” or “staying in” the UMC. This is for everyone who longs for the day when the gospel is again clearly proclaimed, God’s Word is affirmed, the Wesleyan insights are embraced, and our covenant is restored. Please join us.

I will never forget last September at our last New Room Conference. The conference ended with hundreds of United Methodist pastors on their face before God in travailing prayer. I had never seen anything like it. God is not through with us. We do have a future and a hope. Come to our next New Room Conference (Sept. 21-23) which will draw over a thousand of us together. We have created a space for hope. We have created a space for mission. We have created a new room for Wesleyan identity. Let’s join together and remember our first love, shall we?

Learn more about the New Room Network.


30 Responses

  1. Yes Dr. Tennent,many Evangelicals are feeling “betrayed, angry and sad about the brokenness of the church”. Thanks for your encouragement. It is needed. I can’t wait for New Room this year. Great to be gathered together with like minded Wesleyans with a passion for both Truth and Grace. Chris Akers of the Wesleyan Evangelical Network in the Florida Conference.

  2. Amen and Amen! There have been some that have asked me of my level of concern as a United Methodist nearing graduation from ATS… My response is one of eagerness! Why? Because I believe I am right where God wants me “for a time such as this.” Thank you for your leadership, Dr. Tennent!

  3. My husband and I have been watching the conference with heavy hearts; we aren’t UM’s, but he is an ATS grad. My response to the document rivaled yours; avoiding consequences while upholding the Discipline are mutually exclusive! Excited to see the New Room movement; God is still working mightily in our world; may He bless the work of these travailing believers!

  4. Thank you Dr. Tennet. I am encouraged as you articulate so well the way forward. New Room Confernce has provided education, truth, and encouragement as Weslyans have joined hearts and hands to spread the gospel. Blessings!

  5. Thank you Dr. Tennet. Yes, what are we to do? As a church member, my husband and I can no longer support the UMC. For us, the UMC leadership crossed the line this week which puts us without a church very soon. We are the average Mr. and Mrs….not pastors. What are we to do? There are many of us waiting on our evangelical leaders to step up and lead us out of this place…now. Home church next? I have no idea. We lead weekly bible study in our home. We have shared our position with our friends. We are all devastated but will be faithful and trust in the Lord. We know we are not alone.

    1. Same here. I am currently not clergy, but was studying for the ministry. I had my doubts about staying in the UMC; this week’s events confirmed those doubts. My wife and I will be uniting with a non-denominational church now.

      1. Born and raised Methodist and my heart breaks that UMC seems to want to manipulate God’s Word to conform to today’s culture. My husband and I have already become a part of an inter-denominational church that teaches God’s Word as written.

        1. That’s really good Donna.

          I’m sure your conviction sees you and your husband challenge any view that says Sodom And Gomorrah were destroyed because of homosexuality!

          God’s Word as written is so important. For example, in Ezekiel chapter 16 verse 49, where it makes the story very clear (KJV version here):

          “Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fullness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy.”

          (“Behold” Ezekial exclaims, because this particular verse is the reason, the overriding important message of the story… It’s not about homosexuality!)

          Peace and love. May the Word set us all free together as better people.

      2. Checkout the ACNA, Anglican Church in North America. Birthed out of the quagmire in 2004 for TEC and now a thriving voice for Bringing The Transforming Love of Jesus Christ. No longer embroiled in the sexual freedom/right discussion – that is, and will be, never ending. Amen.

  6. Thank you so much Dr. Tennet! Please keep the faith up. I wish I may contribute with, not only my prayers, but some action. Please let me know if I can do it within the Latinos.

  7. Thanks Dr. Tennet! Please keep the defense of our faith high! Please let me know how I can help, specially among Latinos.

  8. Very well said Dr Tennet. After attending GC the last four sessions before 2016, it was hard to be optimistic about the UMC. I am retired after 40 years of full time ministry and gladly taken on the responsibility of an Asbury Ambassador because I believe Asbury Seminary is now positioned to be a powerful tool used by our Creator God to fulfill the prophecy of preaching the Gospel to the nations!

  9. Dr Tennet thank you so very much for sharing your wisdom and heart for the mission of Jesus. My heart is a bit broken and your encouragement has been a blessing. Thank you for letting God use you. You will not remember us but we met a couple of years ago at The Mission Society’s Global Gathering in Florida, we are TMS full-time missionaries serving the UMC in Ecuador, SA. We will be Stateside on furlough during the next New Room Conference and we hope very much to be able to attend. Thank you for your leadership and for making this Methodist of 55+ years shed tears of hope. May God be glorified in you and through you. Blessings!

  10. Perhaps what got the UMC into this morass of divided leadership is the system itself. Your comment of how Bishops are elected so that we now have 66 Presidents…does seem that we are reaping what was sown many years ago when the Institution was first established. Like the old saying, “Garbage in…garbage out! ” It’s time to change the system…but I doubt it can be done with the players now in place. Time to SEPARATE! Why are we torturing ourselves by continuing the ineffective institution we have. You can’t mix oil and water in a container and expect that it will remain mixed after you shake it. Heresy and apostasy cannot mix with truth and holiness. There is too many affects from what Satan has planted amongst us….Time to separate the wheat from the tares….God can show us how…..

  11. God is not done with us. Whatever position we take on our brokenness from the General Conference, God’s ultimate goal takes president. Rev 21:1-5 encapsulates the matter on the table, which couldn’t be solved in Oregon. Our differences in sexuality don’t divide God for or against anyone on whichever side of the table one sits. Neither is anyone arm-twisted. Our ultimate goal is to reflect on what we take out this situation. That is: division doesn’t follow us as we return home to our conferences and churches.
    In Rev 21:1-5 God says it all, God is making all things new. In God’s newness, all of us, in the same United Methodist Church – the Church at large, whether we are sad, troubled, suffer pains, frustrations, regrets and tears, all is just for a time. However, God’s Word prevails. Isn’t that an assurance to “all” called God’s children? God is in control and will reign in the end?
    Whatever name we carry from the General Conference, as people of God, we are not defeated. Neither are we losers in the end. God takes eminence and power over all of us. We are all victors in diversity, even at the end of time. Final victory lies in the hands of God; not in our individual brokenness or opinions. God is indeed doing a new thing in us all.
    Here is the conclusion of this matter: if you know the Lord you need not worry! God is gradually making us a new church on God’s own term; not on our feelings of brokenness. Why won’t us just rejoice to know that the best days of God’s Church is yet to come? On that day, that is in God’s presence, everything will be goodness. Let the church be the church: God’s new Church!

  12. Is this open even to those evangelical, United Methodist that believe GC should have moved towards full inclusion?

  13. A point by point summary:
    A lot of people are upset at the result of general conference.

    Leadership is tough because the UMC is ruled by a committee
    Rule by committee used to be good, when people kept their word more (covenant keeping) but is bad now
    predictably, the leaders passed the buck and stalled for time (on sexuality)
    (something about rule 44 – I am unclear on this: a legislative procedure?)
    Culture might slide a little bit in that time, but the Gospel will not (implicit – in regards to sexuality)
    The leaders hope that more people will accept alternative sexuality within the church, but I (Tennant) will not.
    The initiative was a failure because:
    it allows people to ignore the discipline while the leaders claim to uphold the discipline
    Hope for the UM comes not from it’s leaders, and we need to ignore the hierarchy.
    We’re not leaving the UM, but we have a different organization now.
    A lot of people like this new organization, and we are focused on the Gospel
    Don’t reject, the UM, but our new organization is better, join us.

    I attempted to sum up each paragraph in a sentence, with as little interpretation as possible.
    What I got out of this article is: the CG bishops struggle to make good decisions regarding thecultural hot topic of homosexuality and it’s variants, because they lack the moral fiber they once had, and we should essentially disregard the bureaucracy and organizational structure of the church to focus on the Gospel – and I note here that there is a decided shift in subject matter from sexuality to Gospel – implicit here is that those discussing hte issue of sexuality within hte church are not likewise focused on the gospel. of course, you can argue that this is about “leadership” but several paragraphs are specific to sexuality and no other issue of leadership is raised.

    Finally, With great love and respect, I find that saying “hope will not come from our leadership” is disingenuous, I understand that you mean “the leadership as embodied by the General Conference and duly appointed representatives according to the book of discipline” but that is not what you said. As President of ATS, you clearly and obviously occupy a leadership position in the church, and are using that position to push an agenda – this new room thingy. in addition to this, the repeated claims about not leaving the denomination, ring hollow, since you appear to be strongly advising to disregard the duly elected officials while instead devote our time and effort to this new form of Gospel preaching. Wesley may have never left the Anglican church, but neither are we all Anglicans.

    thank you for allowing me to voice these thoughts.

    1. Thank you, Nicholas. It is refreshing to see someone speak up critically on a blog like this. I don’t imagine Dr. Tennent is accustomed to getting much push back, if any at all. Apparently, he doesn’t realize there are faithful, committed United Methodists, lay and clergy, who disagree with him on just about every point he raises–or perhaps he simply dismisses us as not being true United Methodists.

      1. Thank you, Keith and Nicholas. You have expressed my sentiments completely. Why this new room thingy Isn’t the Good News crowd good enough anymore?

        1. I am glad i could help express what others are thinking and feeling. I have no personal objection to the New Room. to be honest, this article is all I know of it. I do feel that the article promotes it in an unexpected and unsettling manner. But, if it encourages people to find God’s will, to love Him and to love others, Well, we all need more of that, not less. I pray for the Spirit of God to work in the hearts and lives of those who participate, that they may be come springs of blessing welling up and overflowing to become a mighty river nourishing the nations.God Bless.

      2. Thank you for your encouragement. Speaking up on these topics is always a struggle for me, because of the contentious nature of the issue. I hope that Dr. Tennent takes my critique with the good grace I have seen in him during my time at Asbury, and that what I wrote might strengthen the conversation rather than polarizing it. We all share the same baptism, the same Lord, and the Same Spirit, and we all strive for the same kingdom, “shedding abroad the love of God” in our hearts and in the world.

  14. It is our conformity to culture that moved us to cling to a few easily overinterpreted pieces of scripture, ignoring the thrust of the Gospel message of Jesus: don’t judge, love everyone the way God does, stick up for the marginalized and ostracized. I suppose the culture has now shifed, but the Gospel hasn’t. I would love to find more Bible-believing Christians who aren’t stuck on issues of sexuality.

  15. As a spouse of a UMC local pastor, a born again Christian, and a believer in Bible study everyday of the week, we need only to seek daily wisdom from the Holy Spirit. God is giving us marching orders to
    Go and make disciples of All People. How that happens is not a mystery. We can be friendly and hospitable and unashamed of our heritage as Methodist. No bigotry is acceptable when it comes to being obedient to the great commission. We may not be all alike, but we all need the Savior, Jesus Christ. With that said please consider that the Lord placed those in authority over us and they always need our prayers, not unconstructive criticism. We do the UMC harm when we bicker about doing instead of being. First be grateful you’re a Methodist and saved and have a personal relationship with God through Christ. Everything will flow from this that the Church needs to do.

    1. Amen. As a British born Methodist, from Wesley’s homeland, I am quite surprised by some of the comments. Even from our own UMC ordained ministers on public blogs/news outlets. We all need to bite our tongues at times. Mine is sore from doing so! I don’t say so because of “Political Correctness” but I say so as a guy who knew the distraught Methodist parents of a son they found after he committed suicide in the UK at 16, and I say so as a Methodist in the USA who watched the 40 minute presentation by the parents of Ryan, a son they lost. Video link below (well worth a watch, but get the Kleenex because you will need it)…

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