This concludes the series on the dramatic changes to the United Methodist Church in the American South. Part 1 reported on how the new United Methodist liberalism has become dominant across America, so that now even formerly conservative regions have become hostile territory for orthodox faith. Part 2 outlined the spread of destructive rule breaking to the highest levels of leadership among Southeastern United Methodists, so that now even this formerly conservative region has gay weddings and non-celibate gay ministers. Part 4 provided similar documentation of the new realities established by officially supported rule-breaking in the United Methodist South Central Jurisdiction. Part 3 provided all-in-one place documentation for how the new liberalism is shaping every non-missionary Southeastern United Methodist Conference. Part 5 below provides similar all-in-one-place documentation for how every non-missionary conference in the United Methodist South Central Jurisdiction has been taken over by the new liberalism.
The United Methodist South Central Jurisdiction used to be moderate, and was a source of much of the denomination’s theologically orthodox strength. After all, this jurisdiction elected three of the five United Methodist bishops who have now joined the Global Methodist Church.
A lot has changed recently.
United Methodists in the South Central Jurisdiction should understand the aggressive new liberalism that has taken over their region. It will continue advancing thanks to the United Methodist Church’s seminaries and the mass exodus of conservatives in their region. It has been officially embraced by every jurisdiction of American United Methodism, so that now conservative congregations remaining in the UMC cannot count on indefinite tolerance. I outlined all of this in Part 1 of this series.
In the 2019 annual conference elections, I found that two-thirds of reportedly theologically traditionalist General Conference delegates in the South Central Jurisdiction came from just two conferences: Oklahoma and (eastern) Texas. Any conservative South Central Jurisdiction United Methodist hoping that remaining traditionalists could still make a difference should consider how both of these conferences reportedly saw a markedly liberal shift in supplemental delegate elections this year.
The hard reality is that the United Methodist South Central Jurisdiction’s formerly moderate and “big tent” nature has collapsed, and now every area in the region has become hostile territory for theological traditionalists.
I have already documented how Western-Jurisdiction-style open defiance of the UMC Book of Discipline’s on-paper prohibitions of gay weddings and non-celibate gay clergy has already created new, de facto realities of these standards being abandoned in much of the United Methodist South Central Jurisdiction.
A strong majority of the United Methodist South Central Jurisdiction’s eight active bishops are known as liberal on the presenting controversy. Three (Laura Merrill of Arkansas, Delores “Dee” Williamston of Louisiana, and David Wilson of the Great Plains Annual Conference) were elected at the November 2022 South Central Jurisdiction, where there was admittedly “a theological litmus test” that ensured that all newly elected U.S. bishops were committed to LGBTQ+ liberationist ideology. The Reconciling Ministries Network, long the main champion of liberalizing UMC sexuality standards, celebrated the election of Merrill, as someone “supportive to the Reconciling movement,” as well as Williamston and Wilson becoming bishops as part of “a historic slate of episcopal elections for the Reconciling movement.” As candidates, both Merrill (see question 16 on page 7) and Wilson (see page 18) prioritized loosening church standards on homosexuality in sharing what they would like to change in the Discipline.Before he was elected bishop, Bob Farr of Missouri was a public supporter of Adam Hamilton’s 2014 plan for liberalizing the UMC’s restrictions on gay weddings and non-celibate gay clergy (see here for a critique about how this was not really a true, sustainable “compromise”). Both Bishops Cynthia Fierro Harvey (now of the Texas Conference) and Robert Schnase (now of the Rio Texas and New Mexico annual conferences) prominently urged the last General Conference to liberalize the UMC’s sexuality standards (see here for some analysis of misleading promises of their so-called “One Church Plan”).
The exceptional case of Bishop Jimmy Nunn (overseeing the Oklahoma, Oklahoma Indian Missionary, and Northwest Texas annual conferences) is itself telling. It has been widely observed the culture of the UMC Council of Bishops is such that, again and again, supposed conservatives act much less conservative after they are elected bishop.
For some, it highlights the UMC’s unfixable brokenness that even when theological traditionalists work through the system to accomplish a seemingly major victory of electing a reputedly orthodox bishop like Nunn, the result is the anti-conservative hostility and liberal rule-breaking noted under the Oklahoma section below.
Because of the biblical truth of how a little yeast leavens the whole dough, especially in as connectional of a denomination as the UMC, after scrolling down to first see about your own annual conference, you will also want to note the trends in your neighboring conferences. After all, these United Methodist South Central Jurisdiction bishops trade places every few years, with the next round happening next year.
Every individual named here is a person of sacred worth who has some good qualities. But identifying specific leaders and problematic actions is important for documenting the truth about trends of concern to remaining non-liberal United Methodists in the South Central Jurisdiction.
What follows is documentation for how every non-missionary annual conference in the United Methodist South Central Jurisdiction has now become hostile territory for theological traditionalists.
Keep in mind that all of these conferences have recently seen a significant portion of their congregations leave, as part of the mass exodus of conservatives as well as moderates, making what remains even more liberal.
Last fall, the Arkansas Conference shocked many with its unusually contentious handling of disaffiliations.
Less noted was an apparent anti-traditionalist double standard in clergy accountability.
I have previously observed how a reported same-sex wedding officiated by one of this conference’s ministers, Dr. Rebekah Miles, brought no clear accountability.
Conference leaders chose to handle accountability for Pastor John Miles (Rebekah’s brother) very differently. Last November, the conference chose to take unprecedented action to block his large congregation’s attempt to disaffiliate, even after Jonesboro First UMC’s members had voted by more than the requisite super-majority and had done everything required of them. So Pastor Miles then called a meeting at which members voted overwhelmingly to still pursue disaffiliation, within the limited options then available.
Arkansas Conference leaders, then under the leadership of Bishop Gary Mueller, wasted no time in issuing a remarkably aggressive public rebuke against Pastor Miles the very next day.
Less than two weeks before the congregation’s celebration of Christmas, Mueller’s rebuke announced three harsh actions:
- Conference leaders chose to claim “exigent circumstances” under Discipline ¶2549.3 in order to seize the congregation’s property (a “nuclear option” other bishops have used against conservative congregations);
- All five Arkansas district superintendents filed a complaint against Pastor Miles; and
- In the meantime, Mueller acted “to suspend [John Miles] from all pastoral duties effective immediately.”
However, it was not immediately obvious if or how exactly Pastor Miles had done anything wrong, in terms of church law. Indeed, despite claiming that the congregation’s meeting “was in violation of The Book of Discipline,” Mueller failed to cite any specific Discipline provision which Pastor Miles or his congregation had allegedly violated.
In contrast, there is no such question that Dr. Rebekah Miles’s reportedly officiating a same-sex wedding is an unambiguous violation of two UMC Discipline provisions: ¶341.6 (“Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers…”) and ¶2702.1 (subjecting to accountability ministers guilty of “conducting ceremonies which celebrate homosexual unions”).
However, Arkansas Conference leaders issued no similar public rebuke and announced no suspension for such a clear violation of church standards on marriage.
While Mueller has now departed Arkansas, others who shared in this aggression have not, and will continue to lead those who choose to stay in this corner of the United Methodist South Central Jurisdiction.
Under Discipline ¶2549.3, invoking “exigent circumstances” to seize the church property meant that Mueller, the majority of district superintendents, and key district leaders, all agreed to do this.
Four of the five district superintendents who filed the questionable complaint against John Miles, and were part of declaring “exigent circumstances” to seize the church property, remain in office (compare then with now).
Under Discipline ¶362.1.d, the decisions to suspend Pastor Miles but not Dr. Miles were not only decisions of the bishop but also of the executive committee of the conference board of ordained ministry.
Mueller’s announcement shared that the moves to seize the church property and suspend Pastor Miles were done “in full consultation with Bishop Merrill [Mueller’s successor], the Conference Chancellor, the Appointive Cabinet, and other appropriate Conference officers and bodies.”
It hardly seems coincidental that Pastor John Miles was a prominent traditionalist leader before the split. He was a delegate to the 2012, 2016, and 2019 General Conferences. As the Western Jurisdiction elected an openly partnered lesbian activist bishop, in defiance of church law, John Miles helped ensure that the 2016 United Methodist South Central Jurisdiction submitted a formal legal challenge. Before the pandemic, Jonesboro First UMC, under Pastor Miles, was one of the fastest-growing large United Methodist congregations in the country.
All of this appears ominous for any non-liberals who may choose to stay in the UMC’s Arkansas Conference. If you promote theologically orthodox values that vindictive liberals dislike, if your congregation has property which liberal leaders may greedily covet, and/or if you have success in ministry that may, perhaps, provoke a little jealousy, then you can expect to have a target on your back.
Central Texas has long been a liberal-leaning conference. In 2019, a liberal caucus gloated that not one of its eight General Conference delegates elected that year was supported by the orthodox Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA). Indeed, three of the conference’s four General Conference clergy delegates (see page 15), elected by their fellow conference clergy, previously publicly endorsed Adam Hamilton’s aforementioned 2014 stepping-stone plan for liberalizing church standards on marriage and sex.
Now this already-liberal conference has lost most of its non-liberal constituency, with more than 43 percent of its congregations having disaffiliated. Any orthodox believer remaining in this corner of the United Methodist South Central Jurisdiction can expect isolation.
Central Texas has shrunk to the point that it will likely soon merge with another conference. The 2023 annual conference report from its neighboring North Texas Conference, with whom Central Texas already shares a bishop, referenced “the conversations around unification of the North Texas, Central Texas and possibly Northwest Texas conferences.” Given North Texas’s greater size, those remaining in Central Texas should expect to be soon dominated by the former’s liberalism noted below.
I have previously reported on how the 2019 session of the Great Plains Conference (all of Kansas and Nebraska) voted to not only protest bans on gay weddings and non-celibate gay clergy, but also formally commit to “resist” the implementation of relevant church law and to devote conference funds to expenses which non-liberals may find objectionable.
Resolutions adopted in 2019 used harsh language to express the attitude of the conference’s liberal majority towards biblical sexual-morality standards (and by implication, people who support such standards). One resolution adopted by a strong 607-396 (61 percent) majority, “condemn[ed] the decision of the 2019 General Conference to pass the Traditional Plan and apologize[d] for the harm that it has caused LGBTQ+ persons, their families, their friends, and the body of Christ.” Another resolution, adopted by a similar margin of 586-396 (60 percent), endorsed the four commitments of the “UMC Next” caucus of Adam Hamilton (who the conference clergy readily elected on the first ballot to represent them at General Conference). With this resolution, the conference not only committed itself to “resistance” against church law, as noted, but also identified traditional biblical perspectives on sexual morality with “evil, injustice and oppression.”
Now that more than 230 conservative congregations have disaffiliated here, the balance of what is left has shifted much further. Non-liberals remaining are now a vastly outnumbered, dwindling minority. With the overwhelming liberal majority, harsh traditionalist-demonizing rhetoric, and commitment to resisting the biblical, covenantal standards of the UMC Discipline, this corner of the United Methodist South Central Jurisdiction appears to have become about as liberal as some prominently radicalized, activist conferences of the north and west.
Louisiana previously leaned traditionalist, but has dramatically shifted. In 2019, a resolution to “disavow” the Discipline’s marriage standards failed by a mere 20 votes, out of 700 (see pages 93-105).
With theological traditionalists amounting to more than one-third of that conference’s congregations having disaffiliated since then, liberals are assured a clear majority of what remains.
I am told that the Rev. Scott Bullock was the only remaining theologically traditionalist district superintendent. On May 31, Bishop Delores Williamston announced her decision to remove Bullock from her cabinet and initially replace him with the more liberal Dr. Tom Dolph. Her announcement alluded to difficulties.
Reportedly a few hours later, Bullock emailed out a bit of his side of the story. His statement graciously focused on his thankfulness for his decades of ministry, and offered support for his replacement as well as positive hopes for Bishop Williamston and her conference. However, Bullock also shared that the bishop chose to remove him as a “sudden departure” the previous week, for “reasons that, quite frankly, still remain unclear to me,” leaving a “lingering sense of shock and disappointment.” The last traditionalist DS further shared that he decided to take “an early retirement” in response to how he had “very few remaining options, and still fewer amenable to me.” Then “in a further surreal plot twist,” the bishop chose to have Bullock “relieved of all duties, effective immediately,” rather than allow Bullock some standard transition time to wind down his superintendent work.
Less prominent traditionalists have also been bullied here.
When one larger congregation was considering disaffiliation—an explicit “right” under the Discipline—Bishop Williamston reportedly targeted this congregation and its members with gratuitous impositions, in apparent attempt to coerce their decision. This included calling the pastor into the bishop’s office and imposing a “gag order” on him and even the congregation’s lay staffers, lay leader, and church council chair, forbidding them from answering members’ questions about disaffiliation, instead channeling inquiries to their liberal district superintendent. If they did not comply, the bishop threatened “severe consequences.”
Conference leaders even forbade side conversations outside of official meetings, even in the church parking lot.
A member of this congregation accurately spoke to her own church about her firsthand experience of the sharp liberal turn taken at last November’s United Methodist South Central Jurisdictional Conference. Then Williamston forced the removal from the church website of a video of this presentation (which you can still view here) and also of even the unedited text of the liberal resolutions adopted by the jurisdiction, as part of a wider information-suppression campaign we have seen from bishops. Williamston also coerced the congregation into devoting half of one Sunday’s worship services to two liberal delegates from outside the congregation disparagingly rebutting this member’s earlier report.
When those who choose to remain United Methodist here find the bishop irritated with them over some other issue, they should not be shocked to face similar bullying.
Missouri is a formerly moderate conference that has shifted. In 2019, the official annual conference news summary reported that of those elected as General Conference and jurisdictional delegates, “All of the clergy delegates were from the slate proposed by the MO UMC Next organization, which is committed to eliminating discriminatory language and the restrictions and penalties in the Book of Discipline regarding LGBTQ persons.” The organization referenced is the Missouri chapter of the aggressively liberal UMC Next caucus. This report also noted that in the laity elections, all General Conference delegates and all but one jurisdictional were “on the MO UMC Next slate.”
I have already reported on Missouri Conference leaders allowing a prominent congregation and pastor to advertise their willingness to violate the UMC’s ban on gay weddings, while the conference’s dominant faction is also willing to force non-liberal church members to pay for agendas they may regard as unfaithful.
Altogether, this indicates that the place of non-liberals in this corner of the United Methodist South Central Jurisdiction is one of taxation without representation.
While this is relatively less certain, for now, the geographically spacious but numerically small New Mexico Conference may also have to merge with another conference. In any case, this conference is overseen by Bishop Robert Schnase, who also leads the Rio Texas Conference. So any concerns about his leadership, appointments, and allowance of rule-breaking in Rio Texas noted below are of interest to New Mexico United Methodists.
I have previously documented several recent instances of key officials of the North Texas Conference blatantly defying the UMC Discipline’s ban on gay weddings and non-celibate gay clergy.
Lately, this conference has apparently gone all-in for affirming the trend of increasing transgenderism among vulnerable children and youth. The North Texas Conference even devotes an entire section of its website to this cause.
A resolution adopted by the conference’s 2022 session not only called for congregations to be safe sanctuaries for all children and families (which is great) but also defended so-called “gender-affirming care, for minors experiencing gender dysphoria.” The resolution frames such “gender-affirming care” as healthcare, and particularly disagrees with many who have called such treatments child abuse.
To be sure, many who initially lean towards “trans-affirming” rhetoric are motivated by genuine compassion for the marginalized, and sincerely desire to protect people from bullying, depression, and suicide—as we all should.
However, such rhetoric and resolutions rarely go deeper than the euphemisms and sloganeering to face the brutal facts of what is actually involved in “gender-affirming care” for minors.
Anyone who is truly more concerned about vulnerable children than virtue-signaling to their political tribe should learn about the rushed steps, “lack of rigorous standards,” deforming of healthy genitalia, and permanent harm involved in such North-Texas-Conference-defended “gender-affirming care” performed on children, as recounted by a leftwing, queer, whistle-blowing former employee of such a clinic.
There appears to be little room for dissent left in this corner of the United Methodist South Central Jurisdiction. A few months ago, the conference website celebrated Texas United Methodist clergy who promote transgender activism as “a gospel issue.” The same article noted that the aforementioned 2022 resolution was adopted “by a 98% margin.”
For Northwest Texas, the most important reality is that this annual conference will soon cease to exist. It officially acknowledged, “If the majority of churches leave the NWTX Conference, the remaining churches will likely be connected with another conference in the coming years.”
Now there is no longer any “if” about it. In 2021, the conference counted 199 congregations (select “Annual Conferences” and then “South Central”). Subsequently, over three quarters of these congregations have left the UMC! The few congregations remaining in this once-conservative corner of the United Methodist South Central Jurisdiction will likely soon find themselves swallowed up by the liberalism of North Texas noted above. There was already a reportedly dramatic liberal shift in this year’s supplemental delegate elections, among the remaining minority in Northwest Texas.
Until very recently, this was an overwhelmingly conservative conference, and some would say the most conservative in American United Methodism. With even this corner of the United Methodist South Central Jurisdiction dominated by the new liberalism, you know the hostile takeover has succeeded.
Oklahoma is another formerly traditionalist-leaning conference that has flipped. In 2019, in a key procedural vote related to a liberal resolution, the traditionalist side prevailed by a single vote, out of over 650 votes cast. The subsequent exodus of dozens of congregations has ensured a new liberal majority, which showed its dominance in this year’s supplemental delegate elections.
I have already reported on the lack of evident accountability for two recent violations in this conference of the UMC Discipline’s ban on gay weddings.
I reported earlier on Oklahoma Bishop Jimmy Nunn’s contrasting approaches to free speech. On the one hand, for laity, he has attempted to heavy-handed restrict who they can talk to as they explore the possibility of disaffiliation. On the other hand, for clergy, the bishop allows a minister and key denominational official serving under him to publicly teach against the UMC’s core Doctrinal Standards, even though such behavior by a minister is grounds for accountability according to the UMC Discipline.
Nunn has lately been in the news for his unforced choices to use his superior power and resources to continuously “punch down” against two conservative-leaning congregations. Rather than settle and seek a more amicable approach, Nunn has chosen to take his fights all the way to the Oklahoma Supreme Court. In the case of Oklahoma City First UMC, the fight appears to center on the congregation’s apparently valuable downtown property, with Bishop Nunn reportedly declining to reassure the congregation that he would not seize the building away from church members.
Earlier, Nunn tried to force this congregation to undergo a “viability study,” which may make sense for a congregation so small that its survival was in question.
But this is an active, debt-free downtown congregation. Its ministries include a daycare, work with the homeless, and assisting ex-offenders. By Oklahoma Conference standards, it is not remotely small. UMData.org’s statistics section shows that in 2021, Oklahoma City First had a higher worship attendance than 85 percent of the conference’s 462 congregations.
I have already reported on the apparent lack of accountability in the Rio Texas Conference, under the leadership of Bishop Robert Schnase, for a clergywoman openly violating the rules against ministers having same-sex partners.
In 2018, in lobbying for his preferred plan for liberalizing church standards on marriage, the Schnase made the strikingly, demonstrable false claim that under that proposal, “no annual conferences, bishops, congregations, or pastors” would be “compelled to act contrary to their convictions.”
I do not know for sure if the bishop was being intentionally deceptive, or if he simply never bothered listening to any theologically orthodox leaders (who could have educated him on the plan’s dire implications for trampling our consciences) when he prepared that statement, or in all the years he has left his statement online. Either way hardly inspires trust.
Furthermore, the chancellor, or top lawyer, for the Rio Texas Conference, Jay Brim, is a longtime Advisory Board member of the aggressively liberal “Mainstream UMC” caucus. In May 2019, this Advisory Board, which by then already included Brim, denounced denominational standards effectively banning gay weddings and non-celibate gay clergy as “mean spirited.” The board members further declared, “we cannot affiliate” in the same denomination as those who support such standards.
Per Discipline ¶603.8, the chancellor is “nominated” (effectively appointed) by the bishop.
So a powerful official in the Rio Texas Conference, appointed by Bishop Schnase, is openly part of a small group who issued a statement publicly harshly characterizing supporters of traditional biblical standards as “mean-spirited,” and expressing the doubtless sincere belief that such traditionalists do not belong in the same denomination.
This is another corner of the United Methodist South Central Jurisdiction that has been taken over.
The Houston-based (eastern) Texas Conference used to be conservative-leaning. A straw poll found only one-third of 2020 annual conference members taking a liberal position on homosexuality.
Since that straw poll, however, a majority of the conference’s congregations have disaffiliated.
With the most conservative 51 percent of the conference’s congregations gone, what remains has shifted. Indeed, a new liberal dominance was seen in Texas’s aforementioned 2023 delegate elections.
For her part, Texas Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey now feels free to exhort conference members to “outdo one another in uniting this Conference and the UMC and our work for justice and full inclusion.” In UMC discourse, “full inclusion” has been the common shorthand designation for the agenda of making every level of the church fully affirming of same-sex weddings as well as transgendered and non-celibate gay clergy (including bishops). Liberal advocates have made clear that “full inclusion” goes further than policies that would have relaxed church restrictions related to homosexuality but also provided for some protected spaces for some areas or congregations to not accept gay weddings or non-celibate LGBTQ pastors.
Now the United Methodist Church in this corner of the South Central Jurisdiction is apparently locked into a near future of such traditionalist-excluding “full inclusion.” With other ideological takeovers, one might expect regional pockets of resistance to endure for a bit. The new liberalism’s takeover of the United Methodist South Central Jurisdiction has instead proven to be extremely rapid, thorough, and, by all appearances, irreversible.