A New Day is Dawning, by Pastor David

My Beloved Church Family and Friends,

As we welcome our new Bishop (Rev. Dr. Cedric Bridgeforth – speaking in the foreground above), I think most of you know there are Sea-Changes (profound, notable) taking place in the United Methodist Church. The next General Conference will be held April 23 to May 3, 2024 (just 14 months from this writing) at the Charlotte Convention Center in Charlotte, North Carolina. This will be the moment when final plans are adopted to either create two new Methodist denominations, or to merely change the current church laws in the existing UMC. 

Our local church family needs to recognize these coming changes and the implications that will arrive with them. In our most recent regional news, the Western Jurisdiction elected Rev. Dr. Cedrick Bridgeforth as our new Bishop. Bishop Bridgeforth began leading the Pacific Northwest, Oregon-Idaho, and Alaska Conferences on January 1, 2023. Before his election, he was the Director of Communications and Innovation for the Cal-Pac Conference. 

You may or may not be aware of the fact that Bishop Bridgeforth is a married, gay man. His husband is Christopher Hucks-Ortiz (standing to his right). The Western Jurisdiction now has two married, gay/lesbian bishops: Rev. Cedrick Bridgeforth and Rev. Karen Oliveto. You can read more about Bishop Bridgeforth in this article from the Western Jurisdiction:

https://westernjurisdictionumc.org/news/. What I just wrote may mean nothing to you at all. It might be a jubilant cause for celebration for some, and it might be grievous and sad news for others. This is the world of deeply held differing social mores we live in.

These responses also describe perspectives found in the broader Christian church. The best thing we can do, as Christians who are in conscientious disagreement with each other on these issues of gender identity and human sexual mores, is to follow the admonition of the Apostle Paul, who said, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15 NIV). That means be sensitive to what others are thinking/feeling on this issue and meet them in that place. Meeting them does not mean pretending to agree with them. It means acknowledging what this moment means to them, how it impacts them, and sensitively expressing awareness and either congratulations or sympathy. 

Many of you know that I am a Traditionalist and Conservative/Orthodox when it comes to these divisive issues. I hope you also know that I want the church to be a place that is safe and accessible and welcoming for all people no matter what their background or beliefs. I also don’t believe it is a holy or good thing to label people who believe differently than me on these issues (or any others). Labels are contrary to God’s Kingdom, are demonizing instead of edifying, and are counter-productive to healthy relationships. I renounce these practices as evil. These sentiments are contrary to neighbor love and the witness of grace and mercy. 

I am asking you to respect the confession of faith of our new Bishop, even if you disagree with his sexual identity and practices. I am asking you to respect the office he holds and the covenant relationship we have with the PNW Annual Conference. I am asking you to choose your future prayerfully, graciously, and devotedly. Jesus wants you to be an “all-in” disciple and follower. As Joshua said: “…choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…” (Joshua 24:15). Here’s what I believe you should do: Either (1) Dive in deeper into our important UMC church and minister fervently in this coming, broader inclusivity to make each day count, or (2) plan to replant your spiritual pilgrimage in another local body in Oak Harbor, as you leave graciously and peacefully, while offering encouraging sentiments and gratitude for your spiritual siblings as you go. Whatever your conviction and commitment, choose to “Do no harm” and to “Do all the good you can” (John Wesley). 

Bishop Bridgeforth has introduced himself to us via a personal video testimony. You can watch his nine-minute introduction at this link: https://vimeo.com/784668057/8ca518f59e. In his introduction, he affirms the reality and scope of our denominational strife as being greater than a mere complication or an issue that has come up. It is indeed a sea-change moment. Regarding our response to our great divide, he offers this reflection:

“If folks feel they can no longer be United Methodist, that’s fine, that’s a great thing for someone to be clear about. And so, I believe on one hand, we have to be ok with blessing people to go to be the faithful disciples that they feel they are called to be, wherever God is calling them to be faithful disciples. And for those who remain United Methodists, I believe it’s hopeful and helpful for us to become even clearer about why we have made that choice, and we haven’t made a choice to remain United Methodist because some people left, but we remain United Methodist because we believe in the strength of Wesleyan grace. Do we believe in the strength of being connected? Do we believe that serving together is better than just serving on our own? Do we believe that there is truly hope in Jesus Christ? Do we believe that we have a message of salvation and resurrection that can resonate in this season and in coming seasons? So for me, I’ll preach that, I’ll teach that, I want to organize us so that we are delivering that message in every way possible.”

I appreciate our Bishop’s call to clarity and choices regarding our future as disciples of Jesus Christ. I am a proudly ordained UMC pastor (by choice and by calling) who has served in full time appointments for 32 years. I have always made my convictions known on these divisive issues without brandishing them as a club for conformity. The Bible says, “…continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12 NIV). Everyone is responsible and accountable to God for their own journey in following Jesus. Give yourself, and other people, the gracious space they need to do that. 

As for me, I will eventually be joining (realigning my ministry calling and service) the new Global Methodist Church (GMC – https://globalmethodist.org/) in the future. I will do that as a gift to myself (for conscience’s sake) and as a gift to those who yearn for a different kind of church communion (showing deference & spiritual courtesy to my progressive brothers and sisters). This is a space-making moment in our larger church. I hope our actions (from both sides) can come with the notions that our siblings in disagreement with us need a space to “work out their own salvation with fear and trembling.” 

The New York Times recently published a very significant article on how we move forward in a divided, pluralistic culture (and church). In her article entitled, “Why Pluralism Matters” (December 4, 2022), Rev. Tish Harrison Warren (a Priest in the Anglican Church in North America), commends us to embrace, and express, “a spirit of mutual love and honesty, a spirit of reaching however clumsily across differences to support one another, a spirit that doesn’t expect agreement and works for peace.” Legal battles, in and over culture, are almost always toxic, divisive, and demonizing. Christians need to be committed to Democracy and not “State Theocracy.” State mandated religious and moral conformity (however well intended), has had universal oppressive effects on cultures around the world. Rev. Harrison-Warren holds a unique and helpful slant on a better approach:

“Pluralism is not the same as relativism – we don’t have to pretend that there is no right or wrong or that beliefs don’t matter. It is instead a commitment to form a society where individuals and groups who hold profoundly different and mutually opposed beliefs are welcome at the table of public life. It is rooted in love of neighbor and asks us to extend the same freedoms to others that we ourselves want to enjoy. Without a commitment to pluralism, we are left with a society that either forces conformity or splinters and falls apart.”

It would be my hope that our OHFUMC Family, no matter how we conceive and align our future, would be open to receiving all persons into our fellowship who are ready and willing to participate as a pilgrim follower of Jesus Christ. If you are curious about why traditionalists are forming a new denomination, the best resource I can send you to is a series of six brief videos (1.5 hours combined) on YouTube by Rev. Rob Renfroe of Good News Magazine. He explains the current divisions within the United Methodist Church and discusses how Traditionalist Methodists should navigate future decisions.

Good News Video Series: Differences that Divide the UMC

No matter what we face in life, there is only one appropriate way to live: with gratitude for the past and hope for the future. Anything else is disgruntled survival. Let’s live better! Let’s help each other soar. 

Many Blessings,

David Parker 😊

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