At the time of this writing [April 19] our North Georgia Bishop will address the laity of the Annual Conference. This presentation will be live-streamed to those who pre-registered. I shared the link a while back and encouraged the laity to attend the meeting. If you did not pre-register, it will be made available at a later date, I am told.
I think it is important for the 400,000 or so laity of North Georgia United Methodism to hear and know this bishop’s agenda. Correctly understood, I believe the majority of Georgia Methodists will not be supportive.
However, the caveat is, “correctly understood.” Do I know what she will say? Of course not. However, I do know what she has been saying since coming to this Conference. I know much of what she has recently said to the clergy in a similar presentation. I know what she has recently published.
Further, I know much of her advocacy will be around the full inclusion of the LGBTQ+ in the ranks of the ordained clergy and the support for welcoming them “to the table.” This will show itself as the major presenting issue and will make it appear that anyone who does not support this agenda is unloving and unwelcoming. It will be clear that those of us who think of ourselves as Traditional are guilty of breaking Mr. Wesley’s rule of “Do no harm.” In the name of love she will, I suspect, embrace one while excluding the other at this big table.
There are a few problems with this, as far as I am concerned. First, it is the assumption that those of us who have voted for years to reject the ordination of practicing homosexuals and the ritual of same-sex marriage actually hate the people impacted by our theological position.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Most of us have family members, fellow church members, dear friends, and colleagues who self-identify as those we supposedly hate. Yet we love them, welcoming them into our homes and lives and ministries. We simply reject these two aspects, same-sex marriage in the church and ordination. We believe in their equal civil rights. And further, many of us have actively sought to minister with and to them.
The language which identifies us as “haters” and “bigots” (I do not think the Bishop will use those words) is painful to us as it completely mischaracterizes reality. Here I simply give one personal example.
In the 1980s the AIDS Epidemic was raging exclusively (as far as we knew then) through the homosexual community. Often they were treated like modern-day “lepers” by society, often by their own family and the church. The church I was serving was the first outside the Perimeter of Atlanta to begin a ministry with and to AIDS victims. We sought to love, embrace and serve those who had received a diagnosis of what was then a terminal and horrible disease. Yet, our theological orthodoxy caused others to label us “haters” toward the very ones God called us to love.
The second problem I have with the agenda she will, I expect, present is this agenda will seem as if the only issue dividing the church is this issue. Nothing could be further from the truth.
We are divided over our understanding of scripture and scriptural authority. We are divided over theological issues as critical as Christology, Original Sin, Atonement, Repentance, Justification, Salvation, Sanctification, the Trinity, Universalism, and much more. These are deep, deep theological differences. While both “sides” will use much of the same language, we mean very different things. That will be apparent to orthodox believers who listen very carefully to what our bishop says.
This theological division is not new. It has been present in the UMC since we first formed this denomination in 1968. The divergent views of the revelation of truth have taken two tangents which have moved further and further apart across these over 50 years.
The third issue will be it will appear, I think, that those of us who do not support her theological and social, and ecclesiological agenda are simply an uninformed and narrow few. We are a minor part of the church and if a split occurred only “20 to 30” churches in North Georgia would leave the UMC for a more Traditional orthodox Methodist/Wesleyan denomination.
The assumption is that the vast majority of Methodists in North Georgia will support her agenda. I have served almost 50 years in the UMC, almost all of it in North Georgia. I have preached in dozens and dozens of churches in this conference. I have consulted with numerous congregations. I have known hundreds of lay leaders and worked with them on Walks to Emmaus, Boards and Committees on Ministry, numerous Conference Committees and Task Forces, have taught courses in dozens of churches, have served as a District Superintendent, a General and Jurisdictional delegate working closely with the lay delegates and have shared about missions with an unknown number of churches in this conference. My appraisal of the laity of North Georgia is they are by far more Orthodox than my clergy brothers and sisters and once they clearly understand the Bishop’s theology and agenda will discover they are far removed from her vision of the faith and the church.
The fourth issue is what appears to be a coordinated attempt to silence any alternative theological, doctrinal or ecclesiological opinion divergent from her own. Pastors have been told directly by her district superintendents they are not to speak to the current theological divide in the church. Some have been obviously punished in the appointment making because they have been outspoken in their churches and the greater church. Some of our most effective Evangelical pastors have been invited to leave the denomination by their pastoral supervisors.
This has resulted in many clergy under appointment to simply be afraid to speak. This is not anecdotal. Dozens have privately shared this concern with me. They clearly do not agree with the position of the Bishop, but are fearful to speak about this crisis in their own congregations. They have witnessed the treatment of some who dared speak and they feel it necessary to remain silent.
As a retired elder, I am not vulnerable to appointment retribution and I can and will speak. Many of them privately thank me for raising a voice of opposition to what is being propagated in North Georgia Methodism.
But this is about the laity of the conference, not the clergy. You have no fear of the appointive impact of voicing your thoughts on these matters. You control the purse strings of the local churches and the annual conference and in many ways, the General Church since you make up the largest or second-largest conference in Methodism. Your voice needs to be heard. You do not have the platform of the Bishop. In fact, you probably can’t even get the names and contact information for your fellow local church lay leaders. This has been carefully controlled by the Conference. This was not the case in the past. You should ask what has changed.
Further, lay folks, your sense of justice and fair play will be manipulated to make it appear if you do not agree with this theological agenda you are unloving, even hateful. Do not fall for it. The laity of this Conference are among the most loving, gracious, and generous people I have ever known. You have stayed faithful while often you have been assigned ineffective pastors or pastors who held very divergent beliefs from your own. You have remained faithful as the growing rift between the local church and the Boards and Agencies of the church has continually widened. You have tolerated the often anemic and even heretical theology taught in many of our denominational seminaries and by some of your own pastors. You have watched as scores of your fellow Methodists, family, and church members have simply walked away from your church to join another, more vital congregation. They rejected the chaos and theological drift of our denomination. You have stayed faithful while the conference has escalated closing churches and adjusted to rapidly shrinking resources, yet you funded generously clergy salaries and pensions. You paid off our unfunded pension liability in spite of the current message. You have supported mission here and around the world. You have fed hungry people, removed debris from natural disasters, taught Sunday School, built Habitat Houses, sung in the choir, joined UMM and UMW. You have supported great ventures such as Camp Glisson, Mountain Top Boys Home, Murphy/Harpst Home, our denominational Colleges and Universities and Seminaries, our Methodist Hospitals and so much more.
Stay the course. Do not be confused. Like me, many of you are several generational descendants of your Methodist fore-mothers and fathers. Our faith, our doctrine has not changed. We are followers of Christ and children of the Wesleys. We know what we believe. And this current theological formulation is not it. Use your voice and your influence. Pray for your Bishop and your pastors and your fellow Methodists.
The time for amicable separation has come. It is time for leadership to act on the proposed Protocol for Separation in the UMC. Choose this day whom you will serve. “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” I Corinthians 15:58.
Dr. Warren Lathem is the President of the Seminario Wesleyano de Venezuela. He is disabled, but continues to serve as the US president of the Seminary and teach regularly in the Seminary. He also preaches regularly in the US and teaches some course here as well.
He is the former District Superintendent of the Atlanta/Marietta District of the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church. Warren Lathem was called to preach at Holbrook Campmeeting in CherokeeCounty, Georgia, in 1962 when he was 10 years old. He has pastored churches since 1972; West Bend, KY, Trinity, Covington, GA, St. James/Prospect, Toccoa, Georgia, Greenville, Greenville, GA and MountPisgah, Alpharetta, GA. He began The Springs, a United Methodist mission in Forsyth County as well as two Hispanic congregations inNorth Georgia. He was ordained an Elder in the United MethodistChurch, North, GA Conference in 1977. He has served as a delegate to both Jurisdictional and General Conferences.
He has served as adjunct faculty of Candler School of Theology, EmoryUniversity, and SemBiMex Theological Seminary in Mexico City. He taught for several years in the National Institute of Church Finance and Administration, and The North Georgia Conference School of Pastoral Ministry (formerly License to Preach). He has spoken at and conducted workshops at a variety of national and international seminars. He also founded Lay Missionary Training, a 72 hour training program of the North Georgia Conference Board of Laity.
Dr. Lathem is serving or has served on several non-profit Boards, including: Reinhardt Unversity, Venezuela Now, Inc. M.U.S.T. Ministries, Proactive Evengelism, Covecrest Retreat Center, Beacon of Hope Women’s Center, Mount Pisgah Christian School, Wesley Foundation, Kennesaw State University, Holbrook Campmeeting. He has preached revivals and campmeetings in every area of Georgia, as well as dozens of states and foreign countries. He has preached outdoor evangelistic crusades, served as song leader and soloist, sung in several college and church choirs and led many seminars on evangelism, worship, church administration, leadership, stewardship, mission and church renewal.
Dr. Lathem has always been committed to reaching the unchurched with the Good News of Jesus Christ. This led him to start many innovative ministries, e.g. The Journey, Recreation Ministry,Crisis Pregnancy Center, and the first Aids ministry outside the perimeter of Atlanta. He began an After School Program, a Pre-school, an Elementary School, a Middle School and a High School, all enrolling over 900 children. He also started what has become the largest Hispanic ministry in the North Georgia Conference. And in his last year as Senior Minister led the Conference in net new members. His ministry has been marked by transformed lives.
Dr. Lathem received an Associate in Arts Degree at Reinhardt University, a Bachelor in Arts degree from Asbury University, attended Asbury Theological Seminary, received his Masters of Divinity from Candler School of Theology, Emory University, and this Doctor of Ministry Degree from McCormick Theological Seminary.
Dr. Lathem has been married to Jane since August, 1973 and they have one surviving son, Jared. They live on Arepa Farms, a small family farm in Cherokee County, GA. Their son Jared and his lovely Venezuelan bride, Lim, built a home on the farm. Jared and Lim have two wonderful children, Zoe and Elijah. Jared is the pastor of the Ball Ground UMC. Warren and Jane also have four “adopted grandchildren: Carlos, Danny, Warren and Elizabeth Santiago, children of pastors Tito and Yami Santiago. Tito is a well known Latino singer/songwriter.