Embracing the Checkmate in Our Fifty-Year Struggle in the United Methodist Church

Wednesday, January 20th, 2021

Now that 2021 has finally arrived, we can begin to turn our attention, once again, to the momentous season which will likely unfold in 2021 in the United Methodist Church. This year will almost certainly be the year that the United Methodist denomination agrees to some kind of separation agreement, known as the Protocol. Millions of United Methodist Church members from across all conferences around the world will exit the denomination over the next few years to join new or existing movements. After all is said and done, the Protocol is achieving what fourteen consecutive General Conference votes (1972 to present) could not; namely, finding some way to get the traditionalists to exit the denomination. It has been a bit like a chess match. The traditionalists and the progressives have been playing a game of ecclesial chess for fifty years, each trying to out-maneuver the other and reach a checkmate where the opposing side would lay down the fight, admit defeat, and move on to other challenges we face as a denomination. In 2019, the traditionalists thought they had achieved a final and decisive resolution. Four hundred sixty-one voted yes for the Traditional Plan (56.22%), whereas only 359 voted no (43.78%). This, one must remember, was at a specially called General Conference dedicated to finally resolving our dispute. However, the progressives refused to accept the outcome of the vote. The vote did not matter. The bottom line was that the outcome was not the one many of our episcopal leaders hoped for, so it was not accepted.

Over the next year, the Protocol was formed and within a few months a new agreement was reached, which endorses—surprise, surprise—the orthodox exiting the denomination and the progressives being given the United Methodist Church. Back to the chess analogy: despite fourteen straight General Conference votes on the matter of human sexuality, we are now finding ourselves checkmated and shown the door. Doctor Tom Berlin, as it turned out, was prophetic when he declared at the 2019 General Conference that those who hold to the traditional view were like a “virus” which must be expelled from the body. Doctor Berlin could not have known then that an actual virus was about to be unleashed on the world. But he did make it crystal clear to the traditionalists that the only hope for the survival of orthodoxy was for us to be expelled from the body of United Methodism. In short, our future lies in our embracing the checkmate.

This is where the gospel does its greatest work. It is only by embracing the loss of the United Methodist Church that we can receive something reborn. It is only by embracing the checkmate that we can experience a resurrection; a new movement which fully embodies historic faith, Wesleyan identity, and biblical integrity. This is the opportunity which is before us in 2021. The year 2021 is the year we turn from decades of trying to save the United Methodist church to the even more daunting challenge of building a completely new Wesleyan movement. We are so familiar with the old struggles, it will likely be years before we fully realize the new struggles that we will need to face with equal resolve, faith, and courage. But, this is the year when the new denomination will be born. Our struggle has never been about human sexuality. Our struggle has never been about the precise language in the Book of Discipline. Those have only served as the presenting problem. Our struggles have always been about Christology (Who is Jesus Christ?), soteriology (Do we have a saving message for a lost world?), and divine revelation (Is the Bible divinely inspired, the message of which is binding on the very identity, doctrine, and preaching of the church?). Hopefully, over the next decade, millions of former United Methodists will join with millions of newly justified and Spirit-filled Christians who have no background with the United Methodist Church or any knowledge of these struggles, to together focus on the spiritual renewal of our nation and the world. There is a huge storm about to break over not just the “people called Methodists” but the “people called Christian” in this nation. We must prepare for the full onslaught of the world’s antipathy toward Jesus Christ and the Christian gospel, and the faithful remnant (in whatever denomination they may belong to) are always in the crosshairs. We will not have much time to come together and prepare for the coming assault on all that we hold dear. So, let’s embrace the checkmate, thanking God for all that we have learned in these many years of struggle and prepare for the real struggle that is before us as the people of God. It will be a struggle framed by the nature of truth, the Christian view of the body/human personhood, and the limits of religious liberty. It will require full surrender and sanctification before God if we are to remain faithful in this hour.

Martin Luther famously said that “the Christian shoemaker does his duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship.” In the same way, the time for user friendly Christianity with simplistic slogans, cheap grace, and no demands is passed. We must redouble our efforts to build strong, faithful Christians. During the Diocletian persecution (303–311 AD) the Christians who were prepared to compromise their faith rather than be thrown to the lions would say, “It’s only a pinch of incense . . . nothing worth dying for.” But the pinch of incense was the acknowledgment that Caesar was Lord, rather than Jesus. The whole future of the church, quite frankly, came down to a pinch of incense. 2021 must be the year when we remind our faithful flocks afresh of this history as we prepare for what lies ahead.

Comments

  • Will Hoyle says:

    I graduated from Asbury Seminary in 1997 and returned to the NC Conference to be ordained. The Western NC Conference where my family has Methodist pastors back 120 years rejected me after I left Duke Divinity and transferred to Asbury. They yelled and screamed at me and verbally abused me in the meeting for ordination. After the abuse, a clearly homosexual pastor took me in a room by myself and put his arm around me. It was demoralizing. I eventually became an elder in the North Carolina Conference. The ordination process was adversarial and verbally abusive because I left Duke for Asbury. I was judged and labeled. A female clergy verbally made fun of Asbury Seminary in my ordination interviews. It was demoralizing and dehumanizing. I left the local church and became a federal prison chaplain 14 years ago. When I called the Wesleyan Covenant Association to see if they had a plan for endorsement of chaplains which is required for our employment, I was told I would need to pay a huge sum of money to them in exchange so they could pay a person a salaryof $150k a year to maintain endorsement. Unhealthy patterns of abuse were clearly being carried from one organization to another. Federal chaplains may be the front line victims or warriors in the coming religious freedom battle that is coming to force the LGBTQ agenda against Christians. They do not want a live and let live philosophy. They will force you to give the gay transgenderism agenda full support or you and your church will be destroyed. They will force employees to sign statements of full support or lose jobs. Satan’s goal has been the destruction of the traditional family all along because it is the original ark or church where salvation begins. The attack has been going on for years, but theological conservatives just leave and are persecuted as I was. I finally had the courage to sever my ties to the UMC after years of abuse. I was able to move my pension money out of Wespath before the money disappeared due to insolvency and the fact it isn’t government insured. Take steps to protect yourself in the coming separation and bigger fight in society. Don’t pinch the incense to do it, but don’t be a victim either.

    • I tried to reply to Will Hoyle’s comment posted on January 25, 2021, at 6:41 a.m. but the reply link appears to not be functioning. I am president of the Wesleyan Covenant Association. I have spoken with all four staff members of the WCA and none of us had such a conversation with Mr. Hoyle. Mr. Hoyle did speak with Bob Phillips, chair of the WCA Chaplaincy Task Force in December of 2019. Mr. Phillips recalls the conversation with Mr. Hoyle. He assures me that he did not convey the information which Mr. Hoyle recounts to Mr. Hoyle.

      In December 2019, the Chaplaincy Task Force had not made any recommendations to the WCA on how chaplaincy would be handled in a new denomination. The Chaplaincy Task Force delivered its recommendations to the WCA Council and to the Transitional Leadership Council in January 2021 on how endorsement ministry for chaplains will occur in a new denomination. Their recommendations do not include the payment of “a huge sum of money” for endorsement nor do they recommend the payment of a salary such as Mr. Hoyle suggests. Since the new denomination does not exist yet, no potential fee structure for chaplains has been adopted. The new denomination has no staff currently and no salaries have been established for any potential staff positions in the new denomination.

      I can assure Mr. Hoyle and any other chaplains that there is no plan to charge chaplains “a huge sum of money” in order to be endorsed or to pay anyone a salary of $150,000 in connection with work with chaplains.

      I invite anyone who is interested in plans for the endorsement of chaplains in a new theologically conservative Methodist denomination to be in touch with me at president@wesleyancovenant.org.

  • Dale Shunk says:

    Thank you again Dr. Tennent for helping us see the bigger situation that we in the UMC are facing. Having endured four General Conferences as a delegate and the shameful tactics of intimidation to get conservatives to vote their way, I realized all along that the fight was much deeper and fundamental in nature. I, also, knew that I have to be actively involved and not just complain from the sidelines. My stand for the authority of the Word of God did cost me being called a legalist and a bigot, reprimands by a D.S. And a Bishop, lower paying appointments and hateful slurs by colleagues. Yet, I believe what I endured in the past will be nothing compared to what is coming not only from the church side, but from society and government as we get closer to our Lord’s return. May the Lord find us in prayer and serving others unselfishly as we claim the “blood of Christ” over us and faithfully share our salvation testimony to all who will hear. I really look forward to the coming fresh expression of the Methodist Church in the coming year.

  • Will Hoyle says:

    My deep struggle as a young, newly ordained clergy is that the D.S. and Bishops told me something was wrong with me personally. Seminary did nothing to prepare me for the abuse my family was subject to because of being a theological conservative. I was also as Dale commented in the previous comment, put in the lowest paid appointments in very conflicted churches all in an international effort to force me to quit ministry as the abuse they knew would happen continued. The DS and Bishop did nothing to stop the abuse of my clergy family. By giving no support or discipline they enabled church bullies and abusers. In one of these churches, my 2 year old daughters bed was full of rat feces nightly. It was their parsonage, not my personal home. The trustees and the DS said, “Welcome to the country BOY!”. Boy was a term used there for negro slaves to keep them in their place. They let us know we were their slaves and no better than the negroes their family used to own and abuse and still hated. There was no love for neighbor or clergy. The abuse enabled by the system was meant to force traditionalist clergy out. James R. White, a Calvinist theologian preached a very powerful sermon on the pinch of incense on YouTube called Roman’s 13: Unlimited Obedience. It is on the ApologiaStudios YouTube channel. Watch it through. He is not Wesleyan Armenian, but it is extremely powerful and builds on what Dr. Tennet laid out here.

  • Loved the title: ‘Embracing the Checkmate….’ Powerful.

  • Terry Powell says:

    I’m truly sorry to hear about the abuses happening in the UMC, but to those looking for a true Wesleyan message this is good news. Hopefully in my city we’ll see some traditionalist churches appear. I’m so sick of cutural Christianity and I’m so looking forward to another great aswakening.