May 22, 1998

Head of California-Nevada evangelical caucus leaving denomination

By Charley Lerrigo*


Contact: Thomas S. McAnally (615) 742-5470 Nashville, Tenn.

NOTE: This story is a sidebar to UMNS #317.

The Rev. Kevin Clancey, president of the Evangelical Renewal Fellowship (ERF) of the California-Nevada Annual Conference, has announced his decision to withdraw from the United Methodist Church and plant a new independent congregation in the community where he currently serves a United Methodist parish.

It was at his 306-member Commmunity United Methodist Church in Oakdale, Calif., that a call for a separation from the conference was first raised in early April. At that point, 18 Cal-Nevada clergy and 25 lay persons signed a statement declaring that they were "tired of fighting" and felt that differences between evangelical theology and the dominant values of the conference leadership had divided them "beyond reconciliation."

The original statement requested "outside mediation to establish a just process for evangelical pastors and churches to retain their local property with some just compensation to the Conference." The Oakdale statement did not raise the call for an evangelical district or conference, a concept that arose from some of the signers of the Oakdale statement.

Clancey has announced that he will resign his orders as a United Methodist clergyman this July. He said he and some members of the Oakdale congregation would explore planting a new church in the same community. To date, no other evangelical pastor within the conference has taken similar action.

"We aren't trying to be rebels and sow seeds of discontent," said the Rev. John C. Sheppard II, pastor of the 650-member First UMC in Yuba City, another signer of the Oakdale statement who met with the conference ministry team. "We want to find a place to do our ministry with others who have similar goals and views. We are not at odds with the Council of Bishops or with the Discipline. We want to be a body living under the Discipline the way it is written."

He said he expects the ERF to continue its efforts to get General Conference to create an option for a provisional evangelical conference.

Another ERF member, the Rev. Robert Kuyper, said he believes there's no one in the evangelical camp "who hasn't thought about leaving the denomination, whatever that means. I've thought about it. But that doesn't mean you're going to act on it."

Kuyper said he had not presented his 205-member Bakersfield congregation with a plan to leave the connection because there is currently not a legal option for a United Methodist congregation to leave and take its property with it. "But I support the creation of an option.".

Kuyper made clear he did not wish to leave the denomination; but only the California- Nevada Annual Conference. "I have no quarrel with the Discipline," he said. "It's the Conference who disagrees with the Discipline."

Kuyper is one of the founders of the Transforming Congregations movement, a group that believes homosexual practice is wrong but also that says it seeks to combat homophobia in the church. But it is not only the conference leadership's position on homosexuality that is the problem, Kuyper said. "That's only one of the issues."

Among the protesting evangelicals, the other issues have included adherence to the Articles of Religion, attitudes toward interreligious dialogue, the primacy of Scripture, the reality of sin and the centrality of belief in Jesus Christ.

Sheppard said his local church council agreed with the pastoral letter from the Council of Bishops which reiterated the denomination's multiple statements on homosexuality and reaffirmed the statement in the Social Principles banning holy unions between same-sex couples.

But, he said he was "incensed" when he read Bishop Melvin G. Talbert's follow-up pastoral letter in which he affirmed the council's statement -- but announced that he did not believe strictures in the Social Principles stand as law within the church.

"It's not that we think Bishop Talbert is the enemy," Sheppard said. "But we have a different mindset that needs to be expressed ... My goal is to be able to serve together in love and unity as two different groups with two different mindsets."

Sheppard quoted Kingsburg pastor Ed Ezaki as saying that for the California- Nevada evangelicals to stay in the same organizational relationship to the conference structures would be akin to seeing the American Cancer Society merge with R.J. Reynolds. "The world view is different," he observed. "Not right or wrong, but different."

*Lerrigo is director of communications for the California-Nevada Annual Conference.

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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