Letter About Protocol

To the People of First United Methodist Church of Rainbow City

From: Pastor Dee Dowdy

December 2020

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

            Grace and peace to you in the name of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  May His name be praised for our God has created, redeemed, and adopted us!

I write to you concerning the extremely important issues facing our denomination. As pastor, I feel it is my responsibility to keep you informed. In this letter, you will find hyperlinks that can be used to help you find additional information. I encourage using them. Now to the topic which I wish to discuss.

 As you may recall there was a special called General Conference of the United Methodist Church where it was decided that we would continue in our current stance concerning ordination, human sexuality and marriage. However, this decision was highly contested and led to many pastors and other leaders acting in defiance of it. This defiance includes our western jurisdiction which is considering disaffiliating with the denomination.

            Due to the escalation of the situation, several leaders from across the United Methodist Church, including orthodox/traditionalists, centrists and progressives, met together to discuss what might be done to preserve our Christian witness in the world while admitting that we are at an impasse. They worked out a plan called “The Protocol of Grace and Reconciliation through Separation.” This plan was to have been considered at the 2020 General Conference but due to Covid19, that meeting was postponed until late August of 2021.

            The protocol basically allows for the formation of at least two new denominations the “Post-Separation United Methodist Church” and one that will be more Orthodox, Traditional and Wesleyan in nature which is yet to be named. Should this protocol be passed, each annual conference and each local church will have to decide with which of these two organizations they wish to align.

            Thus, there is a possibility of a vote being taken at the 2021 Annual Conference meeting of the North Alabama conference (date to be set) that would allow our entire conference to align with the new global Methodist expression or to affiliate with the “Post Separation UMC.”  Should the vote to align with a new form of Methodism pass, any church or clergy who wishes to stay within the “Post Separation UMC” (meaning what is left of what was the UMC before the schism occurred) may vote to do so.

       However, a group with our own conference called “Stay UMC” has started a campaign within our conference. This group believes that we should not even consider any sort of separation. Thus, they have begun sharing confusing information to convince laity that we would be best served by the status quo.

Therefore, I encourage you to read the article “What Stay UMC is Not Telling You” by Dr. Paul Lawler of Christ Church UMC in Birmingham to gain another perspective. Paul along with many other pastors (including me) and laity in our conference are involved with a group called the New Methodist movement. You can also see much more information about this group, by going to their website and looking under the “blog” section to read more about them.

            Also, I wish to address some of the misinformation that the “Stay UMC” group have shared over the past few months. Below is a few of their claims and my response. 

The “New Methodist Movement” is curated by a few clergy in the North Alabama Conference of the UMC that plan to leave our denomination and start a new one.

Response: The New Methodist movement saw over one thousand people gathered at Clearbranch UMC before the pandemic. These were United Methodist, both clergy and lay including a delegation for our own church, who long for a return to our Wesleyan roots. Thus, there are much more than a few who are interested in this issue.  Also, none of those who are involved with the “New Methodist Movement,” which is affiliated with the Wesleyan Covenant Association, are attempting to start a new denomination. They are simply preparing in order that, should the situation in which we find ourselves lead to a full “divorce”, we will be ready. This issue was not started by “TOW” (Traditional, Orthodox, Wesleyan) United Methodists but by the progressives who have sought to change our denomination into one that would follow in the ways of other mainline denominations who have abandoned the historical teachings of the church.

The post-separation UMC will not force or compel pastors or churches to change any policies concerning wedding ceremonies.

Response: How can “Stay UMC” make this claim as they do not have any way of knowing what the General Conference of a Post-Separation UMC may do? Plus, there are many on the progressive side who cannot, in good conscious, compromise on this issue because to do so would imply that same sex marriage is not okay.

I join Paul Lawler and other orthodox pastors in our conference in encouraging you to visit websites like Mainstream UMCReconciling Ministries NetworkUM-Forward, and UMC Next. On these sites you can learn about centrist and progressive proposals to change the definition of marriage in a future, post-separation, United Methodist Church.  As clergy in the United Methodist Church, we all took vows to uphold the United Methodist Book of Discipline. If the proposed Protocol of Reconciliation & Grace through Separation passes at General Conference 2021, the denominational iteration known as the United Methodist Church will not be the same denomination she has been in the past.

The United Methodist Book of Discipline will change, and the United Methodist denomination will redefine Christian marriage and will begin to officially ordain same sex partnered clergy.

I agree with Paul Lawler, as do numerous other clergy and laity across the North Alabama Conference as he writes,

 For United Methodist Christians whose convictions will not allow us to redefine marriage, it would be hypocritical for us as clergy or lay-persons to be a part of a future denominational expression that redefines marriage when our conscience cannot support it. A people called Methodist are connectional in nature. We cannot be a part of a connection that adopts what we believe to be heretical teaching that endorses patterns that we believe are in direct conflict with God’s will for humanity, as expressed through Scripture.

A proposed new traditionalist denomination has not yet formed, so the Conference would be voting to become part of something that does not exist. The uncertainties are endless.

Response: As mentioned above, there is the group called The Wesleyan Association that is working to have structures in place should the divorce happen. While the WCA and New Methodist Movement are not trying to form a new denomination, they are preparing for the inevitable by working on a polity and Discipline should the separation happen at the upcoming General Conference.

Churches in a proposed new denomination may or may not have a pastor at a given time, because there will no longer be an appointment system.

Response: Should the separation occur each local church will have much more say in the pastor that they receive. Thus, there would no longer be a practice of a progressive pastor being sent to an orthodox church or vice-versa.

Also, I have heard that the “Stay UMC” group is claiming that the proposed new expression of Methodism would be less likely to advocate female pastors and/or local pastors. That simply is false, the WCA has already affirmed that females, minorities and local pastors will be affirmed and will have a place in the new expression of Methodism. Furthermore, the WCA has just elected a female pastor to be its Chairperson.

Furthermore, one pastor, of the Stay UMC movement made a video that is being posted on several sites to influence laity across our conference. In this video, he seems to suggest that those of us who believe in the orthodox understanding of scripture are causing the unfolding schism in our denomination; that is simply untrue. Those who have opposed and defied our discipline over the past several years have forced the issue.

By disregarding our Discipline, they have departed from the church’s teaching and have not honored the vow they took to uphold it. As mentioned earlier, neither the Wesleyan Covenant Association nor the New Methodist movement have been trying to force a split. Instead, they have simply been trying to prepare for the eventuality of such a situation. Also, as mentioned earlier, many liberal/progressives churches and jurisdictions have or are looking at disaffiliating with the church because they do not wish to be confined by our current Discipline’s stance on the ordination and marriage of same sex persons.

Furthermore, this pastor quotes John Wesley’s sermon concerning schism. He touts the fact that Wesley seemed to be against any form of schism within the church. But he neglects to mention in that same sermon, Wesley stated that should a church or denomination begin to veer from the Word of God, then a person or persons should seek to align with one that upholds the historical understandings of Scripture. (See point 17of the sermon). He along with many other pastors also mentions Wesley’s Sermon “The Catholic Spirit” saying that we should just all get along and stay together. But they pass over Wesley’s comments that say that there are some eventualities when a schism may be the only option.

And finally, this pastor mentions that he does not understand what those who use the word traditionalist mean when speaking of how they identify themselves theologically. He mentions that his church uses the Creeds, liturgies, and hymns of the church. However, when someone such as I call themselves traditionalist, we mean that we stand by the historical (traditional) understandings of God’s Word. We stand by what the church has taught concerning issues of Christology (the identity of Christ), Soteriology (how one is made right with God) and the nature of sin. We do not adhere to the more progressive ideals that calls into question the identity of Christ, how one is made right with God and who has the right to define sin. Therefore, a pastor may do all the “traditional” things in a worship service and not be a traditionalist.

Like many of you, I have grown up in the United Methodist Church and I love her. Therefore, I am saddened by the possibility of a church split.  And like all of you, I also believe that God loves every human being and God seeks to draw everyone to himself. But, since 1968, our denomination has fought over Biblical authority, Biblical Deconstructionism, Christology , the identity of Jesus Christthe bodily resurrection of Jesus, pluralism,  and the nature of sin. So, after the years of fighting over so many things, perhaps it is time for the two groups to go their own way.

Also, like many others, I join many other Methodists in our conference, country and the world who envision a new expression of Methodism, where we can reclaim Wesley’s stress on the love of God for all humanity, Christian conversion, and the desire to spread Scriptural holiness across the globe.

 If this is your desire for the people called Methodist, would you please go to New Methodist Movement  website (newmethodistmovement.org)  and add your name to their list. By doing so you are saying that you are interested in seeing a new expression of Methodism emerge, but you are NOT in anyway voting for a split at this time. The possible split can only come if the General Conference votes to affirm Protocol of Grace and Reconciliation through Separation.

I know that you may wish this whole situation would just blow over and that we could just keep things as they are. But those days are forever behind us, as the impasse has grown untenable and those who are progressive in their theology will not stop until they have reached their goals.

Furthermore, should the “Protocol of Grace Through Separation” pass at the upcoming General Conference, the United Methodist Church as we have known will be forever changed.

So, again, I ask you to consider signing your name on the New Methodist Movement site by going to newmethodistmovement.org and scroll down until you find the place to enter your name and the church name. If you do not have the ability to sign online and would like to do so, please contact me and I will help you. God bless you all!

You Pastor, friend, and brother in Christ,

Dee Dowdy

Pastor Dee

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