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Pastoral Response to Newspaper
Article About Oak Lawn UMC

by Stanley R. Copeland, Pastor

I write in response to the published article concerning our sister congregation Oaklawn UMC, their pastor the Reverend Rachel Baughman and our Bishop Mike McKee. The article in the Dallas Morning News is entitled, "Church to defy bishop's order, 2 LGBTQ Methodists will be appointed as pastors on Sunday."

I will first say, Oaklawn UMC's pastor, Rachel Baughman is one of my good friends and trusted colleagues. Rachel and I, have held workshops together addressing the One Church Plan that we both supported. We are a bit of an "oddly coupled clergy" in that we come from very different backgrounds, embrace different approaches, serve very different kinds of churches, but both support needed CHANGE in the United Methodist Church's Book of Discipline, and in the way we operate as a complex global denomination.

LETTER CONTENT

CONTEXT

Context is in order to fully understand where we find ourselves in the United Methodist Church. The One Church Plan that our bishops nearly unanimously promoted, basically would have allowed local churches autonomy. Under the plan the church would be allowed to be the church in their mission fields as they define their local mission, without fear of repercussions regarding officiating in LGBTQ weddings. Likewise, Annual Conferences would have been given freedom of choice regarding ordination of LGBTQ persons. The One Church Plan recognized the differences in a Lovers Lane UMC and First UMC, Winnsboro; a UMC in San Francisco and one in Snipesville, Georgia; one in Prague, Czech Republic and Dodoma, Tanzania.

The One Church Plan, though supported by nearly 70% of our United States delegates to General Conference in 2019, ultimately failed. It failed by a slim majority, due to the efforts of a longstanding traditionalist/conservative coalition working with Central Conference delegates with whom they misrepresented the truth about the One Church Plan. They falsely declared to many of them (at a pre-Conference funded retreat) that the plan would force ALL United Methodist Churches to have LGBTQ weddings and received LGBTQ pastors. Of course, in some countries in the world, LGBTQ rights are largely, and sadly denied. Fear was leveraged for a defeat that has ultimately led us to the pinnacle of separation and continued conflict.

The language in the Book of Discipline, regarding limited inclusion of LGBTQ persons, has been a major issue of conflict for over 50 years in our United Methodist Church. The languages didn't exist at the point of the Uniting Conference in Dallas in 1968 that brought Methodists together as the United Methodist Church. In 1972, the words, "Homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching" were adopted, in a tense time and in the midst of a conflicted society in the United States. The church entered the social fray and targeted a group of people to speak about their exclusion, similar to our dealing with black people in the US that led to the first Methodist "church split" over slavery. The Bible was misused then to support that split, similar to now.

The same traditionalist/conservative coalition, though being reduced in their influence and power in the US, has managed to add more restrictive and hurtful language, now with punitive measures, and still through their unethical lobbying of global delegates. (I will spare the details about actions and measures that I have observed first hand). After the 2019 General Conference many of the global Central Conference Bishops and delegates have said, "No more!" to what they call the "neo-colonialist actions," and "misrepresentation and fear tactics."

With the loss of influence among the global Central Conference delegates, the disaffiliation of some United Methodist Churches and pastors into a newly formed denomination called the Global Methodist Church (GMC) is underway. The United Methodist Church going forward, is most likely to be as "global" as ever, yet it will likely operate with more regional autonomy globally. It will nearly certainly allow the ridding our Book of Discipline of hurtful language, and usher in a One Church Plan type model of ministry. This will grant local autonomy regarding our vastly different mission fields.

In the near future, no disobedience will be necessary, because churches, pastors, and Annual Conferences will be allowed to act on their convictions, without the presence of the hurtful and unnecessary language. The church will accept our complex global reality, and stay together for the most part. Respecting convictions of others within our denomination that holds to unity in the essentials of our faith will be paramount. I believe our General Conferences in the future will be celebrations, reports and action regarding world evangelism, life-changing education, life-saving health care, and plans that unify us in our connectional efforts.

The delay of General Conference 2020, until 2024, largely due to the complications of the global pandemic--COVID-19, has only served to complicate our United Methodist form of governance. Delaying General Conference, though necessary has stalled needed legislative action. Such is the case; the context.

ROLE OF THE BISHOPS

The most complicated leadership role today is arguably that of our United Methodist Bishop's. By and large, our bishops are unified and defining the process of disaffiliation according to our Book of Discipline. Most bishops have stated their desire to have all of our churches: rural and urban, more traditional and more progressive, and those we call more centrist, stay in the UMC.

Our Bishop Mike McKee has done an exceptional job in helping bring forth the One Church Plan model. He has kept us informed as to how we will function through this time of transition. He has not entertained church charges against other churches and pastors as we attempt to find our way forward. Some would have liked to see him honor the Book of Discipline to the letter of the law. In our Conference, we voted by nearly 80% to honor a more lenient approach to "civil" or "ecclesiastical" disobedience. A few clergy in our North Texas Annual Conference have chosen ecclesiastical disobedience, and performed weddings on their campuses, without being subjected to repercussions from our Bishop McKee. He is following the strong mandate of the Conference not to punish those churches and pastors who disobey the Book of Discipline regarding LGBTQ inclusion.

The Bishops are walking a difficult and very fine line regarding their roles of upholding the Book of Discipline, honoring their Annual Conferences will not to bring charges "against" those who disobey, maintaining order, and working toward unity. Our Bishop Mike McKee has done that as well as any bishop in the connection, though it is not without criticism, especially from the more progressive churches and pastors, and the more traditionalist/conservative churches and pastors.

LOVERS LANE UMC's STANCE & ACTION

The role of the pastor/pastors in our local churches is complicated too. I will state the way I have chosen to lead, and most of our members seem willing to follow. The list, though far from complete, is as follows:

  1. We are working for change in our United Methodist Church in what I have come to regard as our "hurtful language" and presently stated operational procedures regarding LGBTQ persons; many of whom are members of our congregation and families.
  2. We are committed to working toward unity among those who desire to stay in the UMC. I believe our path forward will be a model like the One Church Plan that Scott Gilliland and I wrote a book about called, Together, United Methodists of the Temple, Tabernacle and Table.
  3. We painstakingly uphold the Book of Discipline on all matters, including not officiating or hosting weddings of LGBTQ members. Some of our clergy do however follow what our bishop does allow, and that is limited participation in such services. When we do so it is our practice to inform our Bishop and District Superintendent. None of our clergy have disobeyed the letter of the law of the Discipline, though most of us strongly disagree with it regarding LGBTQ exclusion.
  4. We respect the positons of churches and members with convictions at all points of the specturm. This includes those with more traditional and conservative practice regarding LGBTQ inclusion, in light of the One Church Plan. Likewise, it inlcudes the position of those churches and clergy who disobey the Discipline on these matters as led by their convictions, and in light of their mission fields and the membership of their congregations.
  5. We work hard to bring about our stated vision to be "One diverse community, passionately engaging the Bible, uplifting Jesus in worship and loving service and challenging in love that which divides."
  6. We strive as a congregation to be non-homogenous and a successful microcosm of the larger United Methodist Church with members: who are from more than a dozen African nations, who are deaf, who struggle with addictions, who are old and young, wealthy and poor, married and single, LGBTQ+ and "straight," as we together "Love ALL people into relationship with Jesus Christ."
  7. We have an amplified voice, a closer scrutiny of us, and hopefully hold a powerful position for change because of who we are, and how we have chosen to go forward. We are not being silent, and being highly visible as a change agent. Obeying the Book of Discipline that we strongly seek to change, strengths our hand in effecting change. (See my many YouTube videos on the Picklin' Parson channel and subscribe to it.)

ACTIONS YOU CAN TAKE

Here are three things you can do to take action:

  1. Sunday afternoon, members of Lovers Lane UMC will be walking in the Pride Parade, and publicly demonstrating our love for ALL. If you missed that opportunity, consider purchasing a LLUMC Pride Month t-shirt next Sunday morning. The proceeds benefit The Promise House. Wear it to make a public declaration of Lovers Lane's love for ALL on social media or within your spheres of influence.
  2. Monday night you can celebrate the commissioning of Randall Lucas and Melissa Nelms, and the ordination of Macie Liptoi. Randall is a gay man, soon to be clergy, who came through the process as it is now, in full compliance with the Book of Discipline. He was unanimously approved by our SPRC and our Charge Conferences. He has done all the work and completed all the requirements. The Bishop has appointed Randall to Lovers Lane for 2022-2023. We love and support all of these clergy wholeheartedly. Join us Monday night at 7 pm at FUMC Richardson.
  3. Every day we can pray and take positive action. We can live out our vision--challenging in love that which divides, and our mission--loving ALL people into relationship with Christ.

FINAL WORD

I am committed to holding a meeting this month, following our Annual Conference to entertain questions and address strategies for change. My purpose in writing was not so much to support or ridicule Rev. Rachel Baughman and Oaklawn UMC, or our Bishop Mike McKee. My purpose it to say I get where each are coming from and pray for them to reach a place of peace.

Whereas, I see no authority in our polity and discipline that is granted United Methodist pastors, such as Rev. Baughman to appoint other pastors to local charges, I do understand what I think Oaklawn and its pastor are doing and why. Furthermore, I respect the approach.

I understand and appreciate the bind that bishops are in, largely due to our state of limbo without the benefit of General Conference action. I greatly appreciate our Bishop Mike McKee. As your pastor, I look forward to our time together to further talk about our unique church and how God can use us to bring peace, hope and unity throughout our connection.

You can email me your questions or concerns scopeland@llumc.org.

Stan