An Open Pastoral Letter to United Methodists, Part II: A Word of Clarification

Monday, May 23rd, 2016

Dear United Methodists,

Immediately following General Conference I wrote an Open Letter to United Methodists expressing my long term hope for a renewal in the global Wesleyan movement which was rooted not in ecclesiastical deliberations, but in grass roots faithfulness of the “people called Methodists.” I truly wish that I could have shared that message with each of you in person and face to face because it was written in tears over the intractable situation we are in.

Blog articles are a collection of words, and it is not always easy to convey one’s tone or emotions in a blog entry. Speaking honestly, despite the situation we are in, I would not describe my feeling as “anger” but more as “sadness.” I am a lifetime United Methodist. I love our Wesleyan heritage. Yet, my entire ministry has been conducted within the larger narrative of decline and cultural accommodation. The blog article garnered wide circulation. Some were distressed because I have not supported any movement towards separation. Others were distressed because they felt the letter seemed to have lost hope in the leadership of the United Methodist church.

There are many signs of hope amidst the rubble of destruction. I long for the day when United Methodists will re-capture the vibrancy which once characterized our movement. I am proud of all the ways Asbury Theological Seminary graduates, as well as many graduates from the official United Methodist seminaries, have remained faithful to the gospel in the midst of this massive cultural transition from a church in Christendom, to a church in a post-Christendom culture. I am also thankful for those bishops, pastors, and lay men and women around the church who stand unabashedly for historic faith and Wesleyan faithfulness.

I want to sincerely apologize for anything I said in that Open Letter that cast any indictment or disparagement on our episcopal leadership. I intended to express sympathy for their situation. The Council of Bishops can only speak with one voice, yet the makeup of the Council is so polarized it is difficult for a clear voice to be heard. I am, myself, under the appointment of a bishop who has been a great stalwart for historic Christianity. Indeed, I have great respect for many on the Council. I sincerely apologize for any hurt I may have caused any bishops who have given their lives to bringing faithful leadership to our beloved church.

I do know that in the wake of General Conference there are millions of United Methodists around the world who need to know that we have a future. In closing I want to reiterate my invitation to consider the New Room Network as a way of linking Wesleyans around the world. I believe that the millions of United Methodists who are distraught and discouraged may find in the New Room a new space for hope. The New Room Network has nothing to do with dividing the church and everything to do with uniting Christians around the world in the work of awakening and renewal in the classic Wesleyan way. I think we can all agree we are in need of a great awakening in our time. That’s what the New Room Network is all about—gathering, connecting and resourcing the global church to sow for a great awakening. You can learn more about that here.

Finally, while I am a seminary president, I write as an Elder in the United Methodist Church. Like so many others, I am in pain. I feel betrayed. We have been in slow schism for decades, having lost millions and millions of members. I long to see us regain our focus on mission, discipleship, church planting and evangelism. That was the heart of my Open Letter. I also know that I am a “frail child of dust.” I am a sinner, desperately in need of the grace of God. I have never advocated separation from the United Methodist Church, though my reasons for that will have to wait for another time. I have never wavered in my faith that God is not through with us yet. May God’s grace grant us a future and a hope.