Rev. Rob Renfroe

Rev. Rob Renfroe

This blog is in response to an open letter to me from Dr. James C. Howell.

Dear James,

Hi. Nice to meet you. At least, I don’t think we’ve met. Perhaps I’m wrong since you seem so certain you know who I am and what’s in my heart.

I’ll respond to some of the personal references you made about me below (especially the rumor you are falsely spreading about raising money to “ply” African delegates); but, first, I’d like to address what I believe is most important which is this: you may not like the messenger, but for the sake of the church you and others would do well to listen to the message.

The One Church Plan will devastate the United Methodist Church. It will cause hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of United Methodists to leave the church. It will cause thousands of congregations to leave. It will result in millions of dollars and countless hours being spent in ugly litigation.

How can I be sure? We at Good News polled 150 leading conservative UM pastors, theologians and lay persons. Ninety percent said they would be forced to leave the UMC if the One Church plan passed. Many of these were pastors of some of our largest churches. We have seen this exodus occur in other denominations when they changed their sexual ethics. There is no reason to believe it will be different with us.

Your blog focused on me and my issues, deficiencies, anger – choose whichever word best describes your thoughts. However, you failed to address the issue I raised: the plan the Council of Bishops has endorsed will not keep the church together but will cause it to shatter.

In the video, did I come across a little angry? I believe the majority of bishops have endorsed a plan that denies the clear teaching of the Bible, corrupts our sexual ethics, harms people spiritually, and will divide the church. It’s a plan that would leave millions of us with two possible responses: one, stay in the church and become complicit in leading people into sin; or, two, leave the denomination we have given our lives to serve. How should I feel about that? Slightly concerned, a bit bothered, or a little angry?

What is frustrating is that we conservative leaders have done our best to speak and write publicly and to share our position privately with centrist and progressive bishops so they would know exactly what their plan would do, if passed. And, yet, this is the plan they are pushing.

Why would they do that? In my talk to the Confessing Movement within the Texas Annual Conference, I listed three possible reasons. The first was hubris. I’m not alone in that feeling. Two conservative bishops have told us privately, “they (the centrist and progressive bishops) don’t realize how little people trust them. They are so out of touch they really think they have enough influence to sway the General Conference.” All these bishops need to do is read the Towers Watson study the church commissioned several years ago to see that people in our pews do not trust them. Thinking you are more important than you are and have more influence than you do could rightly be called hubris.

The second reason they may have endorsed the One Church Plan, I suggested, could be ignorance. They are ignorant of our beliefs and how deeply we hold them. We have stated countless times we cannot live in a denomination that denies the clear teaching of the Bible and that the One Church Plan would force us to leave. Either they don’t care (see the next point) or they don’t believe us – which is to demonstrate real ignorance as to who we are and what we will do if their plan passes.

Third, I mentioned it’s possible some bishops hold us in contempt. If you doubt that, here are statements by two of our most progressive bishops.

In his self-described “post-mortem” of General Conference 2012 Bishop Robert Hoshibata called our present position on sexuality “homophobia” which of course makes those of us who support it homophobes. He went on to state that those who voted to support the church’s teachings “demonstrated their inability to incorporate the value of ‘reason’ in their thinking and voting.” That’s how he thinks of conservatives. Not that we interpret Scripture differently. Not that our reasoning is flawed when it comes to sexual ethics. But that we are incapable of using reason when it comes to sexual ethics.

In an article published by The United Methodist Reporter Bishop Minerva Carcano wrote, “Delegates from Africa once again proclaimed that their anti-homosexual stand was what U.S. missionaries taught them. I sat there wondering when our African delegates will grow up. It has been 200 years since U.S. Methodist missionaries began their work of evangelization on the continent of Africa; long enough for African Methodists to do their own thinking about this concern and others.”

Traditionalists are incapable of using reason. Africans are infantile in their thinking. These are contemptuous statements that reveal how some of our bishops think about people who hold views different from their own.

Whatever the reason, the majority of our bishops have failed us. They have endorsed a plan that is not likely to pass and that, should it pass, will devastate the church. We had hoped they would do better. The church deserved better.

What you did not mention regarding my talk is my claim that I have for at least the last eight years written and spoken across the country that it’s time to stop the fighting and come up with a solution that has no winner or losers, no villains or victims, just good people who see things differently and admit it’s time to bless each other and go our separate ways. But centrist leaders and progressive bishops have refused to support such a solution. Instead, they have endorsed a plan that will guarantee the ugliest, most harmful General Conference we have had in modern times. That’s not what I have wanted or worked for. And so, I have no option but to contend for what I believe to be true – just as progressive and centrist bishops and leaders are doing.

It’s a nice rhetorical trick to say, “I’ve heard a rumor; here it is; but surely, it can’t be true.” You get to do damage to the person you’re slandering but can deny that you actually made an accusation. The rumor you are passing along but “can’t believe is true” is that I am raising money to “ply” African delegates with “favors.” Since the publication of your open letter, you claim in the comments section of your blog that this rumor “sadly, has been confirmed as true.”

You provided no new evidence. You presented no additional facts.

Here are the facts: Good News and the other renewal groups have not and do not need to ply delegates in Africa with favors to sway them to vote for a traditionalist plan. The idea they could be influenced or “bought off” by financial gifts says much more about the one making the claim than it does about them. Our African brothers and sisters are persons of great integrity, thoroughly committed to a traditional sexual ethic, and have recently been taking their rightful place of leadership within our global denomination. I can assure you their consciences are not for sale. At no time has Good News, the other renewal groups, or I given money or provided any kind of material assistance to African United Methodists with the expectation they would support our position on marriage and sexual ethics. Their support for a biblical view of marriage and sexuality was never in doubt.

I feel certain I did not refer to anyone in my talk as a hypocrite. At least, a word search of the text I used for the talk you referenced does not indicate I did. I do not believe those who differ from me regarding sexual ethics are hypocrites. I believe, in general, they are good people who see things differently than I do.

I’m not offended you find me lacking in the fruit of the Spirit, only amazed that someone who doesn’t know me or my ministry, and who seems not to have read how I believe we should relate to LGBTQ persons has such powers of discernment from such a great distance. I have been called so much worse by others who champion tolerance (hard-hearted, evil, bearing nothing of the Spirit of Christ – just look at some of the comments your blog evoked), that your analysis is rather tame.

But how I relate to individuals who are in need of the church’s ministry (straight or gay) is very different from how I feel called to address leaders in the church who I believe are leading the church astray. Not that I’m in their company, but I wonder how you would have responded to Paul’s “anathema” upon those who were leading the Galatians astray, or to Jude’s tirade and name calling of those who were liberalizing the church’s sexual ethic in his time, or to Jesus’ lambasting of the Pharisees with words such as “brood of vipers,” “white-washed tombs,” and “hypocrites.” Would you have questioned if there was love in their hearts? Would you have told them that it must be difficult for them to live in their own skin? Or that once you were like them, but, thank God, you’re not like that any longer?

I will take you up on your offer and continue to try to understand you and others who hold a different position than I do. As I said in my talk, I don’t want to fight anymore – not with you or with anyone. What plan can you propose that will bring unity to the church and stop our painful struggle? I’d welcome your proposal.

All the best,

Rob Renfroe
Good News