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Bishops push back against recruitment tactics (UM News)

September 28, 2022

United Methodist bishops are pushing back against recruitment tactics being used by some supporters of a new traditionalist breakaway denomination. 

Meanwhile, the bishops also express a commitment to ensuring The United Methodist Church will be a denomination where people across the theological spectrum — traditionalists, moderates, progressives as well as people who reject such labels — all feel they have a home.

“I firmly believe a future UMC needs traditional orthodox members as well as progressive members and everyone in between,” said Bishop David Graves in an email to the Alabama-West Florida Conference. “A church cannot effectively reach the least, the lost and the lonely if it is of one mind on every topic.”

The bishops share a common message: As churches prayerfully discern where God is calling them, they need to have accurate information. 

However, bishops say, that’s not always what churches are getting from some recruiting for the Global Methodist Church, a new traditionalist denomination organized by the Wesleyan Covenant Association that began operations in May.

“These actions, friends, harm The United Methodist Church, your individual church, the United Methodist witness, and frankly the witness of Christians all over the world,” said Louisiana Conference Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey in a video shared with the conference. She is the immediate past president of the Council of Bishops.

Specifically, she and other bishops denounce any claims that United Methodists will abandon core Christian doctrines such as the Holy Trinity, the bodily resurrection of Christ and the primacy of the Bible. These doctrines are found in the denomination’s Articles of Religion and Confession of Faith, and as Harvey puts it, they form “the cornerstone of our faith.” 

Harvey also said it is “100% false” that traditionalist United Methodists will no longer have a home in the denomination. “The contributions of traditionalists have been part of our rich history and will continue to shape our future history,” she said. 

East Ohio Conference Bishop Tracy C. Malone, in her own video, said some in the Wesleyan Covenant Association are among those spreading the misinformation.

“I encourage you to use extreme caution in engaging information from the WCA and attending any of their recruitment meetings,” she said.

Malone, who is Council of Bishops president-designate, added that it is especially important now, “that we each commit ourselves to embodying John Wesley’s rule of life: Do no harm, do good and stay in love with God.”

The United Methodist Church is seeing a splintering after decades of intensifying debate, not over basic Christian tenets found in the Apostles’ Creed but over the status of LGBTQ people in the life of the church. 

New York Conference Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton, the current Council of Bishops president, began the pushback to the Wesleyan Covenant Association’s tactics during the bishops’ online August meeting. He decried “a constant barrage of negative rhetoric that is filled with falsehood and inaccuracies.”

Since their August meeting, other bishops issued their own statements. In addition to Graves, Harvey and Malone, others speaking out include Bishops Julius C. Trimble of IndianaDavid Bard of Michigan and MinnesotaGary Mueller of Arkansas and Grant Hagiya of the California-Pacific and Desert Southwest conferences.

In each statement, bishops address misinformation as well as proclaim their vision for a big-tent United Methodist Church. 

“Millions of moderates and traditionalists around the globe and in the United States actually are choosing to remain in The United Methodist Church,” wrote Arkansas’ Mueller in his vision of a “ReStart for The United Methodist Church.”

“The choice by traditionalists and moderates to stay should not be a surprise since they have been shaped and formed by United Methodist DNA.”

African bishops have gone further, releasing a statement on Sept. 8 that repudiates the Wesleyan Covenant Association and the like-minded Africa Initiative — groups they previously saw as allies on matters of human sexuality and the Bible.

“We will not tolerate anyone giving false information about The United Methodist Church in our areas,” the bishops’ statement said. All but one of the active bishops in Africa attached their name to the statement. 

The various bishops who have issued statements often don’t see eye-to-eye on matters related to biblical interpretation and homosexuality. But they share a commitment to The United Methodist Church. 

“The United Methodist church has a BRIGHT FUTURE, for God is at work in ways seen and unseen across our connection,” said Graves in a statement about why he loves being a United Methodist

“God is using United Methodist churches to proclaim the gospel, feed the hungry, comfort the broken, and resist the evils of this world. God has called us, God has equipped us, and God will carry us forward to reach new people and new generations for Jesus Christ.”