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Evangelical event focuses on church?s critical issues

United Methodist delegates to the 2008 General Conference and jurisdictional conferences attend the 2007 Renewal and Reform Conference in Memphis, Tenn. UMNS photos by Kathy L. Gilbert.  

By Kathy L. Gilbert*
Oct. 30, 2007 | MEMPHIS, Tenn. (UMNS)

Six conservative evangelical United Methodist renewal organizations asked delegates elected to the 2008 churchwide and jurisdictional conferences to pray and plan for a "renewed and dynamic United Methodist church."

The Renewal and Reform Coalition sponsored the conference Oct. 26-27 at Christ United Methodist Church in Memphis. The coalition includes the Confessing Movement, Good News, RENEW, LifeWatch, Transforming Congregations and UMAction.

Patricia L. Miller is executive director of the Confessing Movement, a member group of the Renewal and Reform Coalition.

The meeting's purpose was to address what the groups consider the six most critical issues coming before the church's top lawmaking body: General Conference in the context of a global church; advocacy for women and children; the role of the Judicial Council; doctrine, accountability, leadership and the Council of Bishops; membership standards; and empowering the central conferences.

The 2008 General Conference will meet April 23-May 2 in Fort Worth, Texas. The 1,000 delegates elected by annual (regional) conferences will decide policy and approve a denominational budget for the next four years. Jurisdictional conferences will meet in July to elect new bishops for the five geographic conferences in the United States. Ninety-eight delegates, including alternates, registered for the Memphis event, said Patricia L. Miller, executive director of the Confessing Movement.

"You don't have to have a sense of direction as bad as mine to know The United Methodist Church is going the wrong way," said the Rev. Rob Renfroe in opening the first session called "General Conference in the Context of a Global Church."

The Rev. Eddie Fox speaks to the gathering as the Rev. Rob Renfroe listens. 

"In terms of membership, we are going the wrong way; in terms of attendance, we are going the wrong way; in terms of being able to raise up young men and young women who want to give their hearts and their passion and their lives to the cause of Christ in ministry of The United Methodist Church, we are going the wrong way," said Renfroe, a pastor at the Woodlands (Texas) United Methodist Church.

Praising the central conferences

Renfroe said United Methodist evangelicals are indebted "to our brothers and sisters in the central conferences" — which are in Africa, Europe and Asia — because of their commitment to the poor and to Scripture.

The Rev. Eddie Fox, world director of evangelism for the World Methodist Council, praised the central conferences and cautioned delegates about a proposal that may go to General Conference to make the United States a central or regional conference as well.

The proposal comes from the United Methodist Council of Bishops and would change the constitution of The United Methodist Church.

"It is not the time to talk about dividing the church," said Fox. One-third of the General Conference comes from outside the United States. The church is global and has been from the beginning, he said.

"Why change the constitution without knowing what the consequences are? Can you imagine the amount of time and debate we will spend trying to decide what belongs in a national conference and what belongs in a regional conference? Becoming a national entity sets us on a track to be more divisive than it is to create unity for us in our church."

Judicial Council

Judge Ron Enns, Northwest Texas Annual (regional) Conference, told participants the most important votes that will be cast at General Conference will be for spots on the Judicial Council, the top court of the denomination.

"Five people on the Judicial Council can change church law," he said. "It is imperative we elect evangelicals to the council."

The Rev. Maxie Dunnam (left) introduces speaker Les Longden at the
Oct. 26-27 event.

The Rev. Maxie Dunnam held a session on "Doctrine, Accountability, Leadership, and The Council of Bishops."

"Am I misreading the signs?" asked Dunnam, an author and speaker who will serve as a General Conference delegate from the Kentucky Annual Conference. "I am not hearing words like dynamic or life-changing to describe The United Methodist Church in the U.S. and Europe. People are asking for bread and too often are given a stone."

Dunnam said the church's media campaign of "Open hearts. Open minds. Open doors." would be "genius" if presented with orthodox and Wesleyan integrity.

"Open hearts, open minds, open doors to whom and to what purpose?" he asked.

"I join Mr. Wesley," said Dunnam, quoting Methodism founder John Wesley. "I am not afraid that the people called Methodist should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this will undoubtedly be the case unless they hold fast to the doctrine, spirit and discipline with which they first set out."

Renewal and transformation

The Rev. Jerry P. Kulah, superintendent in Monrovia, Liberia, of the Africa Annual Conference, presented a plan for renewal and transforming the church.

"I am delighted to inform you that United Methodists all over Africa strongly hold the conviction that there is hope and a future for global Methodism through our Wesleyan heritage," he said. "But the fulfillment of this hope and realization of the anticipated future critically depend upon the quality leadership that provides direction for the future, and the choices we make as a church regarding biblical doctrine, Christian discipline, our devotion to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, our submission to the control and empowerment by the Holy Spirit and our commitment to the fulfillment of the Great commission (Matthew 28:19-20)."

"Today the church in Africa offers itself as a sanctuary for God's Word …," says the Rev. Jerry P. Kulah of Liberia. 

Kulah said when Jesus was threatened by King Herod, the holy family fled to Africa. "Today the church in Africa offers itself as a sanctuary for God's Word for the renewing of his church around the world," he said.

Other sessions included a presentation on legislation aimed at advocacy for women's and children's issues and membership standards.

The coalition also offered an orientation to its six organizations and invited delegates to join them during General Conference, where daily briefing breakfasts will provide highlights of the previous day's activities and offer delegates a "spiritual lift," according to organizers.

Audio and text from the conference can be found on the Christ United Methodist Church Web site .

*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org .

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