Category Archives: United Methodist Church

A Pastoral Letter to God’s people at Indianola First UMC

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

By now you are hearing that the work of the General Conference in St. Louis did not go as many of us had hoped and prayed it would go. The One Church Plan failed to pass and we will be left without a General Conference adopted way forward.  It was our desire to be welcoming to all people in the UMC and make room for all our diverse theological understandings.

While some members of First Church did not want the policies of the UMC to change, many of us, myself included, hoped that the UMC would vote for a more open inclusive Church which would recognize the gifts and graces of LGBTQ+ people in our midst, provide full access to the ministries of the Church and full inclusion. Now that that the UMC will not vote to move forward at this time, what shall we do and say as the people of God at Indianola First UMC?

First, let me assure you that our entire church staff are unanimous in affirming our love and acceptance of each and every one of you including our LGBTQ+ members and their families. I as your Lead Pastor pledge to fully support every member of this congregation in every way I possibly can and to continue to stand up for and advocate for LGBTQ+ people who are being treated unjustly by the UMC. We love you. We will stand with you!

Second, I believe Indianola First must find ways to declare our love for everyone in our community be they progressive, conservative, LGBTQ+, whomever and let it be known that we love and accept all people no matter what others in the UMC may say.

This church has its own voice and in this time of struggle for justice and sharing God’s loving grace with all, your voice must be heard! 

On Sunday March 10th following worship at 12:15p I will hold an informational meeting for anyone who wants to know more about the decisions of the General Conference. We will share, we will grieve, will pray and we will discuss how we continue to be the church in Indianola whom God has called to love and care for all. And all means all!

In the name of God who is love,

Tim Bonney, Lead Pastor

What the Bible does (and doesn’t say) about marriage

For those of you who couldn’t make it to Indianola First UMC on Sunday or others who might be interested, I’m posting my sermon from this Sunday about my understanding of what the Bible does and doesn’t say about marriage.

You can get the full details in the sermon. But let me summarize briefly. I believe that we need allow and encourage same sex couples to be married in our churches and give them the same love and support we give any couple who comes to us wanting to make a life long commitment of love to each other. 

If you want in detail why I believe all this, please watch the sermon. Then if you have questions feel free to contact me. I’m happy to talk about it.

What the Bible Says About Love

Beginning the first Sunday in February First UMC in Indianola will have a four week sermon series on “What the Bible says about Love.” 

What the Bible Says About Love

  • February 3 – “What the Bible Says About God’s Love For Us”
  • February 10 – “What the Bible Says (And Doesn’t Say) About Marriage”
  • February 17 – “What the Bible Says About Parenting”
  • February 24 – “What the Bible Says About Loving Each Other”

The first of these sermons will be preached by our new Associate Pastor Brian Williams. This will be our first opportunity to hear Brian preach at First UMC! I’ll preach the remaining Sundays.

I hope you will take time to worship with us during the month of February as we explore the limitless of love of God shown to us through the gospel of Jesus Christ!





The Way Forward – My Two Cents on Current Models

I’m sure every blogger in the UMC is probably going to end up posting something about which of the Way Forward Commission’s current proposed options they like and why. So, I might as well put in my two cents.

Let me start with a couple of disclaimers and statements of fact. I’m an Elder in Full Connection in the UMC. I’m only representing my personal opinion. One of my opinions, that I’ve worked hard to be clear about with everyone including my own congregation, is that I support same sex marriage and the ordination of LGBTQ persons and changes to the Book of Discipline that will allow for both. I support the full inclusion of LGBTQ persons in the life of the church. (In fact I said so just this Sunday in a “Way Forward Conversation” at my church.) I’ve said this before on my blog. But, again, now is not a time to be wishy washy or dodge being clear about what we believe. (And yes, I do find support for my views in Holy Scripture. And, I’d be happy to talk about that in another post or with you personally, as long as we can do so civilly.)

As the Way Forward is now progressing the Council of Bishops is working on two options. The original first option of leaving everything the same, but with greater enforcement of the rules, has been laid aside at least for the time being. So I won’t spend a lot of time on that option now other than to say it is a terrible idea as it isn’t a fix at all. I would amount to us all collectively sticking our heads in the sand and pretending nothing is happening.

The two remaining options now are:

1. The One Church Model – which largely involves removing the language form the Book of Discipline regarding homosexuality and then allowing clergy, conference, Boards of Ordained Ministry and local churches to make their own choices as to if same sex marriages are performed, LGBTQ clergy ordained, or local church facilities used for same sex weddings. This model could be directly adopted by the General Conference without change to the constitution of the UMC.

2. Multi-Branch One Church Model – Briefly, the US would lose its current jurisdictional structure and replace that with three overlapping jurisdictions over the entire US. Then each annual conference would choose if they join the Progressive, Moderate, or Traditionalist Jurisdiction. After such votes local churches could choose to affiliate with a different jurisdiction than their annual conference, presumably joining a different conference as well. But I’m fuzzy about that. Also clergy would make themselves available in one (or more) of the jurisdictions they feel compatible with. One of the realities of this model is that it would require 28 amendments to the UMC constitution to be implement. (That is very very difficult as it requires an aggregate 2/3rd majority of all voting members of all annual conference world wide, twenty-eight times no less!)

There is a great deal more to these options than I’ve written. For a fuller discussion check here. (Way Forward Article)

As I’ve looked at the two models what I notice immediately is how much simpler the “One Church Model” is. It allows for a great deal of flexibility and matching of your context. It is not a perfect solution. Many progressives will remind you that, like other denominations that have a congregational solution to sexuality issues, not every church will be “reconciling” (welcoming of all people no matter what their sexuality.) But, the truth is, that was never going to happen. There is not a denomination out there of any size where every pastor and every congregation holds a reconciling viewpoint. There are not, and probably have never been, the votes at General Conference to make that happen now.

If you are someone who holds traditional views of marriage it means you will have to live with a UM church down the road whose ministry and beliefs vary about sexuality from yours. But the truth is that has always been true. There have always been local variations in theology, ministry, and mission from one UM congregation to another.

The multi-branch model might appear to give greater justice for progressives and greater upholding of traditional values for traditionalists. But, that is largely an illusion created by an organizational separation. Birds of a feather can flock together and, while they can pretend they are 100% reconciling (or traditional) that “other” jurisdiction and and churches in those other jurisdictions will be around. We will just kind of pretend they are not there to enjoy the value of our flocking together with like UMCers.

The multi-branch model does have some advantages. LGBTQ persons seeking ordination might have a clearer path in their current local if their current annual conference is one which might vote not to ordained them because of their identity. But it may not be much different if they are in an Annual Conference where few churches choose to affiliate with the progressive jurisdiction. Traditionalists can be together feel that they’ve maintain their theological integrity.

The multi-branch model adds a lot of polity complications to our structure. My experience is that the more complicated a proposal and more you have to change you current model of ministry the more difficult it is to actually implement the plan. Yes, big changes can cause big shifts and make a big difference. But the Church often does better with incremental change. Good change has to be planned, it has a timing, it has a pace and it has to be done with great care to avoid just sinking the ship rather than turning it.

Again, neither plan is fully inclusive, fully progressive, fully traditional, etc. For some people that is a deal breaker. But for me, as someone who has been pastoring more years of my life than I’ve not pastored, (30 years soon) I know that church is messy. The decisions we make are messy. They are not perfect but always in need of perfecting. Either of the above plans would be more just than what we have now. And, better is a good thing!

So right now, I believe that a “Way Forward” (though not a way to immediate perfection of course) would best be served by the simpler plan “One Church Model.” It is not all many of us hope for.It is not a final answer, as we will still have a General Conference every four years when we always change the Discipline. But it would be a solid step to allowing pastors to follow their consciences, local churches to follow their own and Boards of Ordained Ministry to be able to clearly vote to be more inclusive.

As these plans develop further, I might change my mind if the details change significantly. And I know still that many of you not only disagree with me about human sexuality but, also about how the UMC should be organized. But, would we really be United Methodists if we all had to agree with each other on everything?

What plan do you believe would be the best for our General Conference to adopt? I’d love to hear your views?

Tim Bonney

Uniting Methodist Movement – Staying Together

I attended the Uniting Methodist Movement’s event in Atlanta, GA last week. I attended because I wanted to hear directly from the leaders of this movement and their vision for unity. I had an immediate attraction to this movement because, having grown up in one denomination that split and served previously in another denomination that nearly split some years ago, my experience is that Church splits benefit very few people, and not usually the people you would hope would benefit. Mostly you end up with a smaller less diverse, less capable and less vital denomination.

When I attended the event I had two primary questions that I needed answered to decide if I would continue to support the values expressed by the Uniting Methodist Movement.

1. Is the Uniting Methodist Movement truly diverse? – I needed to know if there are really progressive United Methodists and traditionalist United Methodists who are willing to talk about how we can get along with each other, how we can respect each other’s views, and how we can make space for each other to live up to our own understandings of the issues we all face around varying understandings of human sexuality.

I was please that yes, those in attendance, those in leadership, and those speaking at the event were even more theologically diverse than I hoped for. There were voices from all sides of the spectrum at the event who argued passionately for the gospel witness of unity as well as concerns for justice not only in the areas of human sexuality but also race and gender. It was powerful to hear both progressive and more conservative voices tell us why we are better together and why they believe the gospel mandates that we find ways to figure our our divisions together. There was no tokenism here. All voices were welcomed, encouraged and lifted up.

2. Is this about real unity or just about institutional preservation? – Friends and colleagues of mine have expressed concern that the Movement is just about preserving the organized church and all the flaws that go with it. And that people of privilege are simply trying to preserve their privilege within the organization.

I always have to speak carefully about issues of privilege because as a white male clergy person, I am privileged in almost any system of the Church. I want to acknowledge that. So, I wanted to be very sensitive to any whiff of “preservationist” behavior at the event that might be pandering to privilege. Also, to honestly evaluate my own motives to make sure I’m not just trying to preserve the status quo.

What I saw in the theological presentations, the preaching and other presentations was not at all about institutional preservation. Instead I heard impassioned messages about the theological imperative of unity. I was particularly moved by the sermon by the Pastor of First UMC Atlanta, the first African American pastor and the first woman pastor of that church. I hope to get recordings of the event so I can listen to her sermon again. She spoke honestly about the struggles of trust in a denomination that has struggled with racial justice, and justice for women. She encouraged us to bold witness and personal sacrifice for the sake of the gospel and the sake of unity. It was powerful, riveting, and spirit led!

We also heard from the pastor of Foundry UMC in DC. She preached about the importance of not participating in the divisions within our culture and not allowing the Church to be caught up in the “us versus them” disease that plagues the US right now. Again, her preaching was powerful, Biblical, and convincing.

Splitting – The Easier Answer, Not the Best Answer

I became even more fully convinced that splitting our denomination is really the easier answer rather than the best answer.

For progressives – the Uniting Methodist Movement wants you to be able to follow your conscience and have the ability for your pastor and church to legally perform same sex marriages in the UMC. The UMM also wants it to be possible for willing conferences to ordain LGBTQ clergy with integrity.

What progressives do not get is uniformity of acceptance in every conference and every church. I know that is a huge sacrifice in the minds of many progressives. But it is fairly similar to the current situation in the UCC and ELCA whom we often hold up as progressive examples. Is it everything progressives want/need? No. Would it be a huge challenge to our polity? Yes. But so is splitting.

For “Traditionalists” – For traditional United Methodists (I know my terminology isn’t perfect. But I have to use something!) You and your church will be able to follow your own consciences as well in reference human sexuality. Will you get everything you want? No. You won’t get to maintain the status quo. And United Methodists who disagree with you will, as always, still be doing ministry differently down the street than you are.

Is this a Way Forward?

All I can give is my own opinion. If the Uniting Methodist vision caught hold I do believe it is a Way Forward. It is a way to being family together, not agreeing with each other. It is a way of finding space for each other, not a way for one side or the other to “win.”

And make no mistake about it, if we split there will be no winners. We will all lose! Many churches will split or splinter. Many ministries will no longer be supportable. Some churches may close. We may or may not be able to support other ministries of justice that we support now. And for years and even for generations we well may limp along as yet another little set of fractious factions of a body of Christ that cannot be all that God has called us to be.

As always, “Though we can’t think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may” ~ John Wesley

Submitted Prayerfully,

Tim Bonney