A Question for my “Traditionalist” Friends

Currently the United Methodist Church is considering proposals from the “Commission on the Way Forward” which will determine our future as a denomination.  One of those options is called the “Traditionalist” plan and is supported by the Wesley Covenant Association.  As I read it there is one question which never seems to get asked:

“If your plan is adopted, where do you plan to train your pastors?”

Currently more than half of all UM students attend one of the 13 United Methodist seminaries.  The rest go to non-United Methodist seminaries which are approved by the University Senate for training candidates for ordination. In addition, United Methodist seminaries offer the Course of Study program for Local Pastors which provides clergy for about 1/3 of our churches.  Our whole education program for clergy is dependent upon this network of seminaries.

The traditionalist plan includes the requirement for institutions to sign an oath around issues related to LGBT concerns including opposition to same sex marriage and the ordination of gay and lesbian persons.  If a program or institution doesn’t sign on, they will not be allowed to receive denominational funds or to use the United Methodist logo.  I worked closely with the United Methodist seminaries when I was a staff member at the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry and my assumption is that none of the United Methodist seminaries would be willing to sign such a pledge. If I am correct and if these 13 seminaries are no longer affiliated with the UMC, where do you plan to train your pastors?

Of the 30+ non-United Methodist seminaries which are approved for UM students, Asbury Theological Seminary is the most clearly Methodist and trains a large number of United Methodist pastors.  I am one of them–Asbury Seminary, Class of 1972. Asbury would probably support such a pledge, but I am sure most of the others–schools like Vanderbilt, Pittsburgh Theological, Austin Presbyterian, Harvard, Pacific School of Religion and many more–would not. You would be left with a very small list of schools which would not meet the geographic or the demographic needs of the church. Asbury alone could never meet the demand for training all United Methodist clergy.  So I ask, where would you train your pastors?

With the decline in membership in many of our congregations and the rising cost of employing a full-time fully ordained pastor, more and more churches are relying on Local Pastors to provide pastoral leadership.  Local pastors are not ordained and do not require a seminary degree, but they are trained through the Course of Study program which is directed by our seminaries.  If the seminaries were no longer affiliated with the denomination and no longer offered the Course of Study, where would you train Local Pastors?

Finally, I see that one of the great concerns of the Wesley Covenant Association is the desire for a thriving Wesleyan movement.  But if your clergy are being trained primarily at non-United Methodist schools, some of which might be rigidly Reformed or Baptist in orientation, how do you plan to pass on the Wesleyan ethos, theology, passion and spirit? Where will you train pastors for a renewed and revived Methodist movement?

This question highlights an issue which never seems to make it into the discussion about the Traditionalist plan; that is, the future of the United Methodist network of institutions, colleges, universities and seminaries around the world which have been part of the Methodist tradition from the days of John Wesley.  We have planted schools in every state and on every continent and that connection of educational institutions would likely be lost if the Traditionalist plan is adopted since very few of these institutions would be willing to sign the required oath concerning LGBT issues.  The church would be bereft of the contribution of the schools and the schools would lose the historic connection with the church.

And once this network of seminaries, colleges and universities has been dismantled, where will you train your pastors?

10 thoughts on “A Question for my “Traditionalist” Friends

  1. Linda Remington

    Hi, Jack,
    Thanks for such an insightful message. This is quite thought provoking. Do you think the Traditionalist plan will pass? When is the vote?
    Linda Remington

    Reply
    1. Jack Harnish Post author

      The special General Conference is in February. I really don’t know what the chances are of this plan passing. I am hoping they will pass what is called the “One Church Plan”. If you go to umc.org or umnews.org you can find quite a bit of information.

      Reply
  2. Rev Louise Tallman

    Good morning, I am a friend of family of one of your former parishioners in MI. So, your weekly blog travels far and wide. I find your thoughts insightful and thought-provoking.

    I am not UM but you certainly have valid points that I hope will be carefully considered. I wonder if those who don’t prescribe to “openness to all people” need to rethink Jesus’ teachings of inclusivity?

    I know. I make it sound so simple. “More simplicity in our world might be advantageous?”
    Peace, Rev. Louise Tallman, FLA.

    Reply
  3. James J Bonsall

    Jack, just goes to show that marriage is a legal matter. Not spiritual, or am I wrong on this? Should not require a split in church.

    Reply
    1. Jack Harnish Post author

      Well, a bit of both. Currently, the church serves a legal and civil function in the signing of the marriage license. But the two are separate–for example, just because the state says gay couples, or divorced persons, or persons living together prior to marriage can get married doesn’t mean a religious group has to do that. I believe there is clearly a spiritual side to marriage or why would the church be involved at all? But the state also sets legal standards for marriage as a way of organizing society. In many countries, the two are quite separate. In USA, as I say, they have overlapped. But this should not split the church.

      Reply
  4. Thomas A Lambrecht

    Hello, Jack. Thank you for your question. As the submitter of the Traditional Plan, I would like to correct a misperception. The Traditional Plan does not require institutions to make a pledge regarding their attitude toward same-sex marriage and LGBT ordination. The only groups that need to make a pledge are annual conferences and bishops.

    Institutions would continue in relationship with the part of the church that they are currently related to. If related to a jurisdiction, they would continue that relationship. If related to an annual conference, they would continue in relationship with the annual conference, whether it stays in the UMC or elects to become part of a new self-governing Methodist church. Institutions, under their own bylaws, could move to change their affiliation if they want to, but it is not required.

    Bottom line is that most UM seminaries would continue in relationship with the UMC. Some might move to be related to the new self-governing Methodist church. The issue of pastoral training is a follow-on issue to resolving the current impasse. I do not believe the UMC can support 13 seminaries. I further believe that some good evangelical seminaries (that are not hard-core Reformed in theology) are being excluded from the current list of approved seminaries. But changes to the seminary list and Course of Study would be dealt with in future General Conferences, based on the outcome of the February 2019 conference.

    I would appreciate your correcting the perception that your blog has created. All three plans are full of complexities that are difficult to grasp and keep straight. I have problems doing that myself, even though I was part of writing the plans! It is important that we try to give as much accurate information as possible about the plans, especially the ones we don’t like.

    Thank you for engaging the topic, Jack.

    Reply
    1. Jack Harnish Post author

      I am approving your comment so anyone who reads my post can read your response and correction to my statement. I may have misunderstood the “oath” for institutions, but my experience with the schools tells me that most of them will not choose to be related to a denomination which takes such a hard-line and punitive stance toward persons who hold differing positions on homosexuality. I am certain that the Universities (and therefore seminaries like Duke or Candler) which are part of a university would not want to be related to a denomination with your stance. And as a trustee at a United Methodist-related college, I can assure you that there would be great concern about our on-going relationship to the church which was committed to the “traditionalist” plan.

      Your reference to the University Senate, the fact that you don’t believe we can support 13 seminaries and that some schools you like are not approved raise a different issue, but by including that you do give evidence to direction this proposal would probably take us– using the Senate to purge the schools you don’t like. The Methodist Inquisition is on.

      Reply
      1. Thomas A Lambrecht

        Thank you for your response, Jack. I don’t understand why you think that United Methodist-related colleges and universities would not want to remain affiliated with the UMC under the Traditional Plan, given that the actual position of the denomination would not change. Presumably, if they had no problem with our current position, they would have no problem with it continuing?

        The fact that the UMC cannot support 13 seminaries is not a matter of doctrine, but of finances and students. Several of our current seminaries are struggling to maintain enrollment and financial viability. Traditionalists are not the only ones pointing out that our current system is probably unsustainable.

        I am not of the opinion that the church ought to “purge schools I don’t like.” That is actually what the University Senate has been doing for the past 15 years. Rather, I would like to see more options opened up for students to attend other seminaries. I would broaden the list, rather than restricting it further.

        There is no inquisition involved or intended.

  5. Pingback: The Way Forward: A Comprehensive Compendium – People Need Jesus

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