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The California-Nevada Annual Conference Has Ceased To Function: Six UM Pastors Encourage Churches To Withdraw Support

From: Kyle Phillips kylep@lightspeed.net
To: jwarrene@surfsouth.com
Sent: Friday, March 10, 2000 5:24 PM
Subject: News Release: Pastor's Respond to California Nevada Decision News Release

Six pastors of the California-Nevada Annual Conference have issued a letter to all conference churches affirming the break down of authority represented by the failure of the Committee on Investigation to certify the complaints against the 67 clergy who participated in a holy union in January 1999. The letter announced the establishment of an escrow fund to receive apportionment payments until such time as conference accountability is established, a missionary conference is created, or a "gracious means" is devised allowing individual churches to leave.

Concerned about the proper ground of authority used by Committee on Investigation and affirmed by Bishop Melvin Talbert, these pastors state, "The California-Nevada Annual Conference has ceased to function as a faithful expression of the United Methodist Church."

Furthermore, they say, that Bishop Melvin Talbert "...has encouraged a spirit of rebellion to take root and grow within this annual conference." They refer to their responsibilities as Elders to lead the Church in obedience. "Obedience is not a throw-away term. It is the very bedrock of Christian service," they say.

While noting that redirecting apportionments is a decision for the laity to make, they ask for one of three things to happen. The first would be re-structuring of the General Church to allow for greater accountability. Second would be the establishment of an United Methodist Missionary Conference in the West for evangelicals. The third alternative is a "gracious means" is created to allow those churches who cannot remain in covenant to leave taking their property.

In a paper included with the letter, they maintain that this position is "...in keeping with the wisdom and vision of the larger United Methodist Church and with broader orthodox Christianity. To continue with the position which the conference has taken "...undermines the church as a healing community."

They say in that paper, "Biblical wisdom holds that the church's first pastoral strategy for reconciling sin-wounded persons to God is speaking the truth in love and then welcoming them into a community of persons who know themselves to be forgiven sinners, who, having been given mercy, extend it to followers on the way."

Dissatisfaction with the conference came after a news article in which the cabinet of the California-Nevada Annual Conference was quoted as favoring homosexual unions. A proposal to separate was developed and representatives met with the bishop, cabinet and staff of the conference where that proposal was rejected. Several churches and a number of pastors left the United Methodist Church after this meeting. After that work began on a proposal which will be considered by General Conference, May 2-12, that a missionary conference be created.

For more information, contact the Rev. Kyle Philips (661) 822-1440.

An Open Letter to the California/Nevada Annual Conference

March 8, 2000

The decision of the Committee on Investigation for Clergy Members on February 8, 2000 has stunned many in our Annual Conference. Recognizing the theological chasm in our annual conference, still there existed mutual respect for the covenant we share under the Book of Discipline. Participants on both sides of the divide have chafed through the years of debate. Some could not live with the tension and have opted to leave the covenant. Those of us who have stayed have done so out of a love for the United Methodist Church, respect for those with whom we share covenant, and commitment to that covenant as delineated in the Book of Discipline as a foundation to hold us steady through the storm.

It is clear that the decision of the Committee on Investigation has manifested what some have feared. The California-Nevada Annual Conference has ceased to function as a faithful expression of the United Methodist Church. We have been thrown into crisis.

Our bishop, Melvin Talbert, has cultivated a leadership culture in the Annual Conference that is myopic and privileged. Rather than fulfilling his charge "to guard the faith, order, liturgy, doctrine, and discipline of the Church; to seek and be a sign of the unity of the faith; to exercise the discipline of the whole Church," (Para. 404.1, BOD, 1996) he has cultivated a posture of arrogance relative to the broader United Methodist Church and the Church at large. He has encouraged a spirit of rebellion to take root and grow within this annual conference. He has placed personal conscience over mutual submission to our shared covenant.

When faced with such a crisis of conscience the honorable act is to surrender orders and press on boldly in the direction in which one has been led. The bishop has failed. Rather than cultivating an environment that models submission to our covenant as a primary expression of leadership, he has modeled a spirit of rebellion and thereby has encouraged the chaos that presently reigns.

Consequently, the sacred trust that is an annual conference has been poisoned. Trust in the annual conference has become limited to those with whom one has a personal relationship or of whom one may have personal knowledge. It has become clear through the decision of the Committee on Investigation that our sacred trust is tarnished if not destroyed. It may be able to be restored but only with profound changes in our denominational structure and annual conference leadership.

As Elders, our charge includes ordering "the life of the Church for mission and ministry." (Para. 323, BOD, 1996) This charge includes providing leadership to broader expressions of the church beyond the local congregation. The Book of Discipline specifically describes this charge as leading the Church in obedience to mission in the world. Obedience is not a throw-away term. It is the very bedrock of Christian service.

With a deep sense of the sacred trust that is ours as elders in the United Methodist Church, we have opened an escrow account. This account will receive the apportionment payments of those congregations who seek to remain loyal to the United Methodist Church, and yet repudiate the rebellion of our Annual Conference leadership in their recent actions.

We invite United Methodist congregations to send their apportionment payments to the account until the General Church addresses the crisis that presently defines our annual conference.

The escrow will hold in trust monies paid into the account and will keep a careful accounting of all payments. Funds will be held in escrow until one of the three following conditions are met:

  1. A re-structuring of the General Church to provide for episcopal and annual conference accountability to the General Conference of The United Methodist Church.

  2. The establishment of an Evangelical Missionary/Provisional Conference in the Western Jurisdiction that will provide for a faithful expression of United Methodism within the Western Jurisdiction.

  3. A gracious means is developed to invite those clergy and churches, regardless of their theological position, who cannot remain in covenant to depart without penalty taking with them all properties and trusts held, used or occupied by the local congregation.

When one of the above terms is met, the escrow account will be closed. Each local church shall determine how their funds are to be directed, whether paid to the California-Nevada Annual Conference, released to the new missionary/provisional conference or returned to them as an independent congregation. If it appears within a reasonable period of time that no resolution is forthcoming, funds will be returned to the local churches for their independent decision on allocation of the funds.

Recognizing the nature of the times, while we encourage local church lay leadership to redirect their apportionments into this escrow account, the decision to do so should be theirs alone. We encourage a prayerful review of the events leading to the present crisis. Our prayer is that the decision to redirect apportionments be made out of a spirit of faithfulness to the United Methodist Church and not out of a spirit of rebellion. Additionally, we encourage local churches to continue paying the Pension/Benefit portion of the apportionment in order to protect our pastors while we await the resolution of this crisis.

If you have questions or would like to attach your name to this document, contact Kyle Phillips, Tehachapi Valley United Methodist Church, 414 S. Curry St., Tehachapi, California 93561, (661) 822-1440, email: kylep@lightspeed.net .

For detailed instructions on how to redirect apportionments to the escrow account, contact Greg Smith, Hope United Methodist Church, 6161 Valley Hi Dr., Sacramento, CA 95823, (916) 395-0237, email: HOPEUMC@Earthlink.net .

With heavy hearts,

Kyle Phillips, John Motz, Don Roulsten, John Sheppard, Greg Smith, David Wainscott

 Why We Are Concerned

March 8, 2000

The in-action of the Committee on Investigation is the latest expression of gay and lesbian affirmation that our conference leadership has chosen. This again exposes the deep divide that erodes our life as an annual conference. We see the divide as growing from divergent ways of approaching scripture, the understanding of salvation, how one receives God’s grace, notions of authority, and the very person of Christ.

These fundamental differences lead to incompatible ethical, pastoral, and leadership strategies.

Those who agree with conference leadership do so from conviction. With conference leaders they see, supremely, in Jesus an "ethic of love". This ethic must unconditionally include persons who self-identify as gay or lesbian, are in "committed relationships", and desire full participation in the life of the church. Failure to unconditionally welcome and affirm "gay or lesbian" persons or couples violates this fundamental ethic. Our conference leadership holds this deeply, viewing themselves as the faithful, prophetic voice of our day. They have made their choice, in the face of scripture, historic orthodoxy, and the clear will of the General Conference.

Others of us see the prophetic moment in an entirely different light. We see in scripture a clear affirmation of Jesus’ followers who choose either celibate singleness or marriage fidelity. We also hear the biblical prohibition against same sex "acting out". Pastoral directions shaped by this reading of scripture are in keeping with the wisdom and vision of the larger United Methodist Church and with broader orthodox Christianity.

Affirmation of same sex unions constitutes false love from the orthodox perspective. It counters scripture, damages people, hinders discipleship, and undermines the church as a healing community.

Even more, reinterpreting what the Bible clearly identifies as sin as being holy has the actual effect of withholding God’s grace of forgiveness and true reconciliation from brothers and sisters who are at least as broken and in need of the Lord’s healing touch as the rest of us.

The strategy of our conference leadership, in actuality, is an empty love and a superficial affirmation. In practice, it serves only to lead persons away from God and the wholeness offered in Christ that gets worked out in the faith community. Biblical wisdom holds that the church’s first pastoral strategy for reconciling sin-wounded persons to God is speaking the truth in love and then welcoming them into a community of persons who know themselves to be forgiven sinners, who, having been given mercy, extend it to followers on the way.

We have trusted our conference leaders when they have said that they can disagree with the voice of the larger United Methodist Church, live in tension, and yet submit to larger church order, discipline, and methods of accountability. This dismissal of charges against those who intentionally chose to challenge the will, discipline and order of the church destroys the trust that makes life in community viable, vital, and life giving. They have chosen self-will, autonomy, and broken covenant. The actions of our Bishop and conference leadership have clarified their prophetic message. It is not the message of orthodoxy, and it is not the voice of Him who came to seek and to save the lost.

Biblical orthodoxy is not homophobic. It calls us to embrace all persons in the name of Christ, point them to the Lord who lives and reigns in our midst, and pray that they too might experience his healing, freeing touch.

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