April 6, 1998
Eighteen clergy and 25 lay people in the California-Nevada Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church issued a statement April 2 asking that they be allowed to separate from the regional body.
"We are divided beyond reconciliation," the evangelicals said, pointing to differences in theology, worship, sacraments, Christian education, ecumenical relations, missions pastoral leadership, church growth, evangelism, ethics and morality.
The California-Nevada Conference includes 93,213 members, 375 congregations and about 325 pastors in an area that covers northern California from Fresno in the south, and northern Nevada, not including the Las Vegas area.
"We evangelicals are tired of fighting," the statement said. "We have no further wish to continue to wage war in conference agencies and on the voting floor. We are convinced that, just as we will never be swayed from the basic affirmations of our faith, we will never change the minds of those with whom we disagree."
Annual conference leaders are asked to help design a "careful and wise process by which evangelical pastors and churches can responsibly choose to transform their theological reality into an organizational realty."
Separation, the evangelicals say, would allow both sides to pursue their vision for ministry without the "distraction and injury of an ongoing war of ideas."
A "just process" is also proposed for evangelical pastors and churches to retain their local property with some compensation to the conference and perhaps reimbursement to the conference for financial assistance in the past.
Such a plan, the evangelicals say, would allow "those people of faith who have built a congregation to pursue their faith in freedom."
Area Bishop Melvin G. Talbert told United Methodist News Service the statement would be considered by the conference ministry staff at its next meeting in mid-April. This group includes the bishop, district superintendents and others.
Signers of the document include the Rev. Robert L. Kuyper of Bakersfield, Calif., newsletter editor for Transforming Congregations, a ministry to the "sexual broken," and the Rev. John C. Sheppard II, pastor of the 650-member First United Methodist Church in Yuba City, Calif.
Recent events with regard to the trial of the Rev. Jimmy Creech for performing a holy union between lesbians have brought us to a crisis within the California-Nevada Annual Conference. Two district superintendents have been quoted as speaking in support of clergy who perform same-sex unions. Earlier, our bishop and our most recently retired bishop have signed a statement in support of homosexual rights within the United Methodist Church. Concurrently, a national dialogue between "liberals" and "evangelical/traditionalists" has concluded that our differences stem from basic disagreements on the nature of revelation. These events have caused California-Nevada evangelicals to face the inescapable truth that our differences with a liberal conference are insoluble. For more than 30 years, no evangelical has been appointed to the cabinet and relations between evangelicals and our conference leadership has alternated between open hostility and uneasy truce. Evangelical theology is incompatible with the dominant values of tolerance and inclusion held by conference leadership. The difference touches every area of church life.
Theology, worship, sacraments, Christian education, ecumenical relations, missions, pastoral leadership, church growth, evangelism, eschatology, ethics and morality. We are divided beyond reconciliation.
We evangelicals are tired of fighting. We have no further wish to continue to wage war in conference agencies and on the voting floor. We are convinced that, just as we will never be swayed from the basic affirmations of our faith, we will never change the minds of those with whom we disagree. We feel that the best option is to respect each other despite our differences and to bring peace to our relationships by pursuing another course. Let us disagree in a Christian manner.
Therefore, we humbly and strongly ask our annual conference leaders to join with us in seeking a just way in which we might allow evangelical pastors and congregations the choice to separate from the annual conference. Let us design a careful and wise process by which evangelical pastors and churches can responsibly choose to transform their theological reality into an organizational reality. Separation will allow both sides to pursue their vision for ministry without the distraction and injury of ongoing war of ideas. In disagreement, we will be able to exercise the dictates of our faith without harming those with whom we disagree. We propose that together we might seek outside mediation to establish a just process for evangelical pastors and churches to retain their local property with some just compensation to the conference. Perhaps this would involve certain compensation to the conference for financial assistance in the past. It would serve the just goal of allowing those people of faith who have built a congregation to pursue their faith in freedom.
We realize that those who value organizational unity over peace will oppose such an idea. We believe that organizational unity forcibly imposed does unnecessary injury and violates the desires of either party. Further we believe that the resultant evangelical and liberal churches will have new vigor and effectiveness once freed from the cost of fighting over insurmountable differences. Consider the energy which could be employed to minister in each context. When we make peace then we can being to plant grow and harvest.
We plead with the annual conference leadership to consider this proposal with sincere hearts and open minds. Let us respect each other by allowing each to follow the truth as each receive it. Instead of making winners and losers, let's allow both parties to win.
Signed by (18 clergy): Kevin Clancey, John F. Christie, Peter Cremer, Brian Dodd, Edward Ezaki, Jim Garrison, Ronald Greilich, Robert Kuyper, Sam Manu, Vince Mixie, John Motz, Edgar Nelson, Ray O'Neill, Kyle Phillips, Donald H. Roulsten, John C. Sheppard II, Gregory Smith, Andrew Vom Steeg. Lay people signing (25): Richard Ayre, Carol Blank, Karen Bogard, Robert Byers, Allan Cobb, Evelyn Fernandez-Jones, Barbara Glidden, Janice Graves, Nathan Gomes, Butch Hanlin, Joyce Howell, Lowell Johnson, Susan Johnson Vince La Novara, John McIntyre, Dale Neschuklz, Barbara Nieschulz, Darrel Olson, Bryan Osborne, Leo Reiswig, Gladys Rose, Gene Sceiner, Barbara Asiemens, Harold Shaw and Richard Webb.
Produced by United Methodist News Service, official news agency of the United Methodist Church, with offices in Nashville, Tenn., New York, and Washington.
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