YARBROUGH COLUMN: Make way for a new oxymoron – United Methodist

Published 12:56 pm Monday, May 29, 2023

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We are all familiar with the term “oxymoron,” meaning a figure of speech that combines words with opposing meanings, such as bittersweet or jumbo shrimp, freezer burn or pretty ugly. Here’s a new one to add to the list: United Methodist. The Methodist Church, the nation’s second-largest Protestant denomination, is about as united these days as a flock of chickens in a henhouse with a rooster on the loose.

As of this writing, 193 churches in the South Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church have voted to leave the denomination. Still to come is a decision by churches in the North Georgia Conference, one of the largest in the nation with 700 churches and some 320,000 lay members, on what churches and how many may also pull out. The North Georgia Annual Conference has scheduled a vote on the process known as disaffiliation for Saturday, Nov. 18. Churches that are disaffiliating will have to meet certain financial obligations as part of the agreement.

One of the primary reasons cited for disaffiliation concerns the ordination of gay clergy as well as the performance of same-sex marriage.

Cobb County Superior Court Senior Judge Stephen Schuster recently ruled in favor of 186 North Georgia churches that had filed suit in March wanting to disaffiliate from the United Methodist Church and asking to be allowed to proceed with the move to leave the denomination and become independent or join the more conservative Global Methodist Church.

The lawsuit named the North Georgia Conference, former Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson, current Bishop Robin Dease and the conference’s board of trustees among others, as respondents.

At issue was a “pause” the North Georgia Conference had initiated, temporarily halting requests to leave the denomination until the United Methodist Church’s General Conference, the global decision-making body, could take up the matter in 2024. The conference cited “factually incorrect and defamatory” information being circulated about the process of disaffiliation for establishing the pause.

The North Georgia Conference leadership (speaking of oxymorons) claimed that, “information presented to members of local churches about disaffiliation has been outside the bounds of normal and acceptable civil discourse.” They stated further that, “It has not only been false and misleading but has been antithetical to the concept of a gracious exit” — another oxymoron — “or a commitment to honoring the mission and ministry of all Christians.”

In his ruling lifting the pause, Judge Schuster told those attending the hearing that, “It is difficult to watch this Church go through this. It truly, truly is.” Amen to that, Your Honor.

Much of the problem, at least in the North Georgia Conference, I lay squarely at the feet of lawyer-turned-theologian Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson, whose high-handed and clumsy dictatorial reign ended when she was reassigned to the Virginia Conference this past January. If you are a Methodist in Virginia, I would suggest you fasten your seatbelt. It could be a bumpy ride.

If I ever get the chance to talk to God, I will first ask what was His reasoning behind creating the housefly. Second, I will inquire as to why He ever allowed a litigating lawyer to become a bishop. That is akin to me teaching quantum calculus, only I would admit I was out of my league.

I have been a Methodist all my life. My mother was a Methodist and so was her mother. Had they been Lutheran or Presbyterian, I probably would have been, also. My dad used to say that religion is like a road map, a lot of different routes to the final destination with no one way being the only way to get there. I just happened to have chosen the Methodist route.

I’m not sure what will be the final outcome of the disuniting of the United Methodist Church, but for me personally, I won’t let anyone or anything stand between me and my personal relationship with God. I am a work in progress and have miles to go before I sleep. What the rest of my Methodist brothers and sisters do is up to them and their own conscience. Whichever side you come down on, please don’t try to justify your correctness and everyone else’s wrongness by quoting specific Bible verses to me. Frankly, I find that condescending. I suspect God does, too.

Humorist Will Rogers once quipped he wasn’t a member of any organized political party. He was a Democrat. Chances are that if Will were around today, he might very well be an un-United Methodist – like me.