Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Creating a Respectful and Fair Separation

Today’s post is a translation of Klaus Ulrich Ruof’s article “Trennung respektvoll und fair gestalten,” first published on the website of the Evangelisch-methodistische Kirke, the UMC in Germany. The translation is by UM & Global’s Dr. David W. Scott.

Three United Methodist bishops responsible for European Central Conferences wrote an open letter to the Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA). The reason for the criticism voiced therein was the handling of the recent withdrawal of the Bulgaria-Romania Provisional Annual Conference from the UMC and the simultaneously declared joining in the founding of the Global Methodist Church (GMC).

Open letter criticizes WCA leadership
Christian Alsted, bishop for Northern Europe and the Baltics, Patrick Streiff, bishop for Central and Southern Europe, and Harald Rückert, bishop for Germany, criticize the behavior of the WCA leadership in the public letter.

The conservative lobby group, which is based in the United States and now active worldwide in the UMC, describes itself in its own words as a " global connection of local churches, laity, clergy, and regional chapters that seeks to partner with like-minded orthodox Christians to build a new global Methodist church." In line with its objectives, the WCA supports individuals, groups, congregations, and conferences in many places in their efforts to separate from The United Methodist Church.

The intended withdrawal of the Bulgaria-Romania Annual Conference had only been announced shortly before the conference session. Patrick Streiff, the presiding bishop for the conference, declared the request inadmissible in the form submitted because it disregarded the regulations laid down in the Book of Discipline of the UMC. The conference members did not want to wait for a clarification offered by the bishop through the Judicial Council, the highest judicial body of the UMC. Without the chairmanship of the presiding bishop, it was unanimously decided to withdraw from the UMC and to join the Global Methodist Church, effect on the founding date of the new church, announced for May 1 this year.

Against this background and given subsequent commentaries about the events by WCA and GMC leaders, the European bishops chose the unusually public form to express their criticism and disappointment: "We would have expected the Wesleyan Covenant Association and Good News to uphold the discipline and promote respectful ways of separation."

In view of the situation in which the worldwide UMC has found itself, especially since the special General Conference in February 2019, paths to the separation of the church are foreseeable. As bishops, they have therefore “established documents laying out the different decision-making processes on central conference, annual conference and local church level for separation.” As bishops, they are "committed to the United Methodist Church", but "equally" to those "who think differently." According to the three authors of the open letter, this attitude was even appreciatively described as "stellar leadership " in a blog post from Good News Magazine.

Separation: “fascinating” and “courageous”
From the perspective of the three European bishops, the leaders of the WCA and the emerging Global Methodist Church have in turn lacked respectful leadership behavior. Tom Lambrecht, UMC pastor from Wisconsin and vice president of Good News, who had highlighted the "stellar leadership" of the European bishops, commented on the departure of the Romanian and Bulgarian Methodists from the UMC as a "fascinating account". In a blog post, Chris Ritter, a member of the WCA council, described the "recent actions of the Bulgaria-Romania Conference" as a "spunky persistence of traditional, Methodist, Christian faith."

Respect and fairness
Such reactions, in the opinion of the European bishops, raise questions about the leadership behavior of the leaders of the Wesleyan Covenant Association and the Global Methodist Church. It is not about the fact of the separation per se, but about creating the ways to a respectful and fair separation. They want to still be committed to this goal, "even if we are disappointed by what we have experienced."

Judicial Council will clarify the case
In the meantime, the decision of the Bulgaria-Romania Provisions Annual Conference and its circumstances have been forwarded by Bishop Streiff to the Judicial Council for clarification of legal matters in accordance with the Book of Discipline.

1 comment:

  1. The European references to the "upholding of the Discipline" seems halfhearted since the split is happening because the bishops will not fully uphold and enforce the Discipline. Furthermore, the UM leadership should stop blaming the WCA because the global connection does not support the direction that the UMC and the CoBs wants to go. As an institution, the bishops are fully adrift. They are the servants of the ACs, not the masters of them.