Amid a summer of denominational discontent, Council of Bishops President Thomas J. Bickerton called on fellow bishops and church members to begin pivoting The United Methodist Church toward a hope-filled future.
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Bickerton also decried what he called “a constant barrage of negative rhetoric that is filled with falsehood and inaccuracies” coming from backers of a breakaway theologically conservative denomination that launched in May.
He specifically disputed claims that United Methodist leaders are abandoning the denomination’s doctrinal standards in the Articles of Religion, that they do not embrace the primacy of the Bible and that they do not believe Jesus Christ is the son of God.
While The United Methodist Church will maintain basic Christian teachings and its historic roots in Wesleyan theology, Bickerton said he does expect United Methodists to make changes. Those changes include recapturing a spirit of evangelism, practicing the church’s theology of mission and confronting the sin of racism.
“It is time, in our role as leaders, to initiate a conversation about what it is we want and dream about as a church moving forward,” Bickerton said Aug. 22 in his first formal address as the bishops’ president. “What do we see as the next expression of Methodism? What kind of church do we envision in the ongoing United Methodist Church?”
Bickerton also leads the New York Annual Conference.
The Council of Bishops met to discuss various challenges facing the denomination and to begin planning for its future.
The bishops are gathering at a time when a number of congregations and church leaders are trying to discern whether they want to remain part of The United Methodist Church.
Church disaffiliations have been on the rise, though not all of the churches that disaffiliate from The United Methodist Church opt to join the Global Methodist Church.
But amid their recruiting, some supporters of the new denomination have accused United Methodist bishops and other church leaders of not holding with core Christian doctrines such as the virgin birth, the divinity of Jesus Christ, the resurrection of Jesus Christ or salvation through Christ alone.
In his presidential address, Bickerton expressed gratitude to clergy and laity who continue to give apportionments.
He also explicitly called out both the Global Methodist Church and the Wesleyan Covenant Association by name.
“I ask the members of the GMC and the WCA to stop this negative rhetoric of accusations and statements that are just not true,” Bickerton said. “It damages our public witness as Christians and does little to invite people into the hope-filled story of God’s love.”
He also called on United Methodists not to return an “eye for an eye” but to spread scriptural holiness across the land and invite “a broken world into the possibility of being a part of a story that will change their lives.”
Part of healing a broken world, he and other bishops said, requires The United Methodist Church to address the sins of racism and colonialism.
“Church, there is a way through the storm and a course that can be followed that will lead us to the other side,” Bickerton said at the conclusion of his address. “It will not be done in isolation. It cannot be done relying upon our own ideas. It must not be done without the power and presence of Christ in our midst.”
excerpt from a story by Heather Hahn, assistant news editor for UM News.
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