Author: Rev. Dr. Mark R. Holland, Executive Director, Mainstream UMC
This is the second in a series on the complaints and trials going on currently in the UMC and what is ahead when the Traditional Plan takes effect January 1, 2020. The Traditional Plan’s goal is to evict bishops, clergy, and entire annual conferences from the UMC. This series will explore how we actively resist this harm. Each of these emails will begin by hearing about the harm experienced by those who are currently under judicial complaint in our church:
“My recent experience is similar to that of Paul, the courageous outsider and evangelist for freedom in Christ, who wrote to the emerging Christian community in Rome, ‘We even take pride in our problems, because we know that trouble produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope. This hope doesn’t put us to shame, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Romans 5.3-5)’
The three-year complaint process continues to be difficult. The assurance of the love of Christ has been magnified through it. The support of Jim, my spouse, my family, congregation, friends, colleagues, allies, and community provide extra strength to face the future bravely without fear. The injustice of the United Methodist denomination must end; unjust laws against persons of the LGBTQ community must be disobeyed regardless the consequences; and the liberating grace of Jesus Christ must prevail.”
Rev. David Meredith, West Ohio, UM pastor for 36 years.
Rev. David Meredith is a faithful, effective pastor who has never been accused of doing harm. He was ordained deacon in 1983, a year prior to the prohibition regarding “self-avowed, practicing homosexual” clergy was inserted into the United Methodist Book of Discipline in 1984. He is currently appointed to Clifton UMC, Cincinnati, Ohio and Urban Ministries in the Ohio River Valley District. Despite being under charges for more than three years, his church continues to grow and thrive, including 100% apportionment payout. If he were accused of harm, he would be on administrative leave during the complaint process. But, like every other case currently facing the UMC, Rev. Meredith has been targeted by “traditional” activists as a part of their generational plan to remove LGBTQ persons from the church.
Rev. Meredith is accused of being gay by several persons in West Ohio after his wedding picture made the local paper in 2016. Leading the complaint process is Rev. Dr. Jeff Greenway, the former President of Asbury Seminary, who currently serves as the Council Chair for the Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA). The other complainants are Rev. Mark Rowland, Rev. Dr. Brian Brown, Rev. Dr. Derek Russell, Rev. Kenin Pees, Rev. John Alice, Mr. Van Slack, Mr. Gary Wood, Mrs. Kristine Wood, Mr. William McNeer. None of the accusers attends Rev. Meredith’s church or has been harmed by him in any way.
Nevertheless, filing a complaint against Rev. Meredith is simply harming him and his church. In addition to emotional harm, this WCA agenda has cost the West Ohio Annual Conference, the North Central Jurisdiction, and Rev. Meredith nearly $50,000 in combined legal fees. The cost to those who have filed the complaint: Zero. Beginning January 1, the Traditional Plan goes even further and gives these accusers (even accusers who have not been harmed) a say in the resolution process which could drag out the proceedings—and the cost—for everyone but them.
The leadership of the WCA has spent a generation harming LGBTQ persons. We should not forget that in November of 2005 WCA President Keith Boyette penned the majority opinion in the infamous, anti-gay Judicial Council Decision 1032. This was the explosive decision that affirmed the right of a pastor to discriminate against a gay man by denying him membership into the local church. Not surprising, this came just one year after Good News Magazine committed to the “forced departure” of LGBTQ persons and their allies with their harmful document “Options for the Future.”
The scene of the discrimination was South Hill UMC in the Virginia Annual Conference. Rev. Edward Johnson counseled a man that he must repent of his “homosexual practice” before he could become a member of the church. Not to be ordained. Not to get married. Just to be a member! Outraged, the clergy of the Virginia Annual Conference voted 448-114 to suspend the pastor from ministry. Bishop Kammerer upheld the suspension.
Then came Rev. Keith Boyette, a Virginia clergy colleague of Rev. Johnson and a member of the United Methodist Judicial Council. Rather than recuse himself from a Judicial Council case emerging from his own annual conference, Rev. Boyette penned the divided opinion that codified discrimination against LGBTQ membership in the UMC. Rev. Boyette just did not see any harm in this gay man being a second-class participant in the church:
“[T]he record provided by the Virginia Annual Conference indicates that the individual seeking membership continued to be welcomed in worship, continued to be administered the sacraments, and continued to meet with the pastor for counseling…Thus, the fellowship of the church to persons in need of its ministry and guidance who are homosexual was provided. The questions of law, the resulting decisions by Bishop Kammerer and our decision here do not address other ways in which local churches are to be in ministry to homosexual persons or others. Thankfully, God’s grace has never been dependent upon membership to be imparted. Membership has never ensured that an individual is availing them self of God’s grace.”
Rev. Keith Boyette JCD 1032
The result of JCD 1032 was to overturn the decision of the clergy and bishop of the Virginia Annual Conference and to re-instate Rev. Johnson with back pay. A message of discrimination was sent out to one gay man…and to the world. This clarifies the current WCA position that LGBTQ persons are “welcome” in the church…so long as they sit quietly in the back of the bus.
The outrage over Rev. Boyette’s JCD 1032 spilled over into General Conference 2008 in Fort Worth, Texas. While the anti-gay coalition was busy passing out cell phones to central conference delegates, the rest of the delegates were voting out four of the offending Judicial Council members (including Boyette) and amending ¶ 225 of the Book of Discipline to change “may” to “shall”: “A member in good standing in any Christian Denomination who has been baptized and who desires to unite with The United Methodist Church shall be received…” Rev. Johnson was on record saying he hoped his exclusion of a gay man could be “a teaching moment for the church.” Perhaps it was.
The point here is that we cannot look at Rev. David Meredith’s situation in a vacuum. This faithful pastor is being used by a group of WCA leaders as a scapegoat in their generational attempt to discriminate against LGBTQ persons in the church. This is a disgrace. We should note, there are no “liberal” activists filing charges against “traditionalists” to try and run them out of the church (For things like re-baptism, refusing infant baptism, or withholding apportionments, to name a few). In fact, the survey conducted by Mainstream UMC clearly shows centrists and progressives want to remain in the church with traditionalists. The survey—and these complaints and trials—show the sentiment is not reciprocated.
How can we resist the harm of church complaints and trials? Let’s focus on the role of clergy.
First, email and call your activist clergy colleagues and ask them to withdraw their complaints. Relationships should matter. If you have a relationship with someone who is using church trials to harm LGBTQ persons and their allies, reach out to them and ask them to stop. We cannot find a way forward in the church with this active harm.
Second, go on record publicly to denounce complaints and trials for those who are doing no harm. As January 1 approaches with the full implementation of the Traditional Plan, being on record matters now more than ever. LGBTQ people need to know who their allies are. Silence is no longer an option.
Third, if you are in a position of leadership in your annual conference, please use your spiritual discernment. If you are on the Committee on Investigation, ask yourself, “Is any harm being done?” If not, do not move the complaint forward. Let the activists in your conference (or another conference) know that you are not going to be an instrument of their harassment. If you are called to be a juror for a church trial, prayerfully hear the evidence and if there is no harm being done, then vote as Jesus would. Let the pastor who is upholding every line of the Discipline cast the first vote.
Finally, call for a moratorium on complaints and trials in your annual conference. Call and email your district superintendent and bishop and let them know that these activities are unacceptable. Reach out to your WCA colleagues and call for a moratorium. The General Conference 2020 must decide this issue. Complaints and trials prior to that are simply piling harm upon harm.
Rule #1 “Do no harm.” —John Wesley
Please contribute to the work of Mainstream UMC at https://mainstreamumc.com/donate/ Thank you.
Read Trials Part I: Forced Departure: https://mainstreamumc.com/blog/church-trials-part-i-forced-departure/
Read Rev. Keith Boyette’s Judicial Council Decision 1032 http://www.umc.org/decisions/41942
Read Rev. Keith Boyette’s article about the changes to the Discipline coming January 1 with the Traditional Plan: https://wesleyancovenant.org/2019/03/11/overview-of-legislation-adopted-by-the-special-general-conference/
Read about “cell phone-gate” at the 2008 General Conference: https://www.umnews.org/en/news/doubts-arise-following-gifts-of-cell-phones
Read about WCA Annual Conferences withholding global apportionments: https://mainstreamumc.com/blog/wca-conferences-withhold-global-apportionments/
Here is an article about the Mainstream UMC survey showing centrists and progressives want to hold the church together: https://mainstreamumc.com/blog/survey-results-2-of-4-can-we-live-together-in-the-us-church/
Read how Good News Magazine has worked since 2004 to push LGBTQ persons and their allies out of the church: http://hackingchristianity.net/2019/02/the-betrayal-of-good-news-how-a-2004-blueprint-created-the-gc2019-endgame.html
If any of the above links do not work, please copy and paste them directly into your browser. Thank you.