Staying Video/Podcast Series Highlights Differences without Disaffiliation, Unity without Uniformity

Mark Lambert
October 21, 2022

The Louisiana Conference has produced “Staying,” a series of video interviews with United Methodist Church clergy and lay people who discuss their decisions to stay with the church while some contemplate breaking away.

The series, co-hosted by Communications Director Rev. Todd Rossnagel and Assistant to the Bishop Rev. Dr. Van Stinson, features 15 video interviews, each about 30-40 minutes long.

Aside from being United Methodists, the interviewees are far from a homogenous group. They represent traditionalists, centrists, and progressives in the Louisiana Conference of the United Methodist Church who acknowledge their disagreements on some issues, including same-gender marriage.
 

Responding to Theological Conflict


The remarkable and consistent thread that runs through the series of 15 videos is how they view and respond to theological conflict: Instead of disassociating themselves from those with whom they disagree, they believe the differences makes them stronger.

Rev. Weldon Bares


“I think there’s value to the church in having people of diverse theological opinions be in the same church,” said Rev. Weldon Bares, pastor of First United Methodist Church in Lake Charles.

Bares pointed out that when Christians from around the country came to Lake Charles to help with hurricane recovery, “their stances on human sexuality didn’t even come up. We just loved each other and cared about each other, and we cared about the mission that we have in Christ.”

Bares, who describes himself as “theologically conservative,” remains firm in his belief that marriage is a sacrament reserved between a man and a woman, and he has declined at least one request to officiate over a same-gender marriage. “It’s not in my theological understanding to do that.”
 

Explore the Entire Series



It would be hard to find someone who disagrees with Bares more on that issue than Jessica Trahan, the director of UL Wesley, the Methodist student center at the University of Louisiana in Lafayette. Trahan, another guest on the series, is getting married in November in an Episcopal church “because a church wedding is important to me.”

Because she’s marrying another woman, Trahan cannot be married in the United Methodist Church.

Instead of letting same-gender marriage or gay bishops or, really, any issue surrounding gay people become a “wedge issue,” Trahan and Rev. Bares opted to stay in the church.

“I’ve really thought about it a lot, and struggled with it, and prayed about it,” Rev. Bares said. “And I would encourage anyone who’s thinking about this to really spend some time in prayer and ask for God’s wisdom…For me, I’ve heard God whisper to me to stay.”

“I tell our students all the time, if you want to find people to disagree with, you will find them,” Trahan explained. “And you will casually and carefully eliminate all the people around you until you’re on an island by yourself.”
 

Combatting Disinformation and Rampant Rumors


Louisiana Conference Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey, who is featured on the first and last installment of “Staying,” said there is room for a variety of views with the United Methodist Church, but she drew a line with “falsehoods and misstatements” that are serving to “instill fear and disparage people” among United Methodists. Those rumors include false claims that, at some point in the future the church will change its Doctrinal Standards and deny the Trinity and the virgin birth of Jesus.

Rev. Dr. Van Stinson
 


“It instills some fear in people, and so now we’re making decisions based on fear versus fact,” Bishop Harvey said.

Some have heard a rumor among Methodists that, “eventually, the bishop is just going to send you a gay pastor,” a falsehood that is “premised in fear-mongering,” Stinson said.

“It would make no missional sense to force any pastor upon any congregation that’s not a missional fit,” he said.

Another persistent falsehood is that the Articles of Religion will radically change to fit some shadow progressive agenda, Stinson said.

“Those Articles of Religion have stood the test of time because they are fundamental to who we are,” Stinson said. “To change those or to amend them requires such a significant threshold that it’s never occurred in my lifetime.”

Rev. Bares agreed. “That’s not going to happen, in spite of what people are being told,” he said.

The truly discouraging thing about the false rumors and misstatements surrounding the future of the United Methodist Church is that it hinders those who are contemplating disaffiliation from making an informed and God-led decision, Bishop Harvey said.
 

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“This should not be a decision people enter into easily or lightly,” she said.

The rumors and falsehoods that are clouding the disaffiliation debate are no surprise to the venerable Rev. John Winn, a United Methodist Church stalwart with nearly 70 years of service. He says the propaganda effort against the church is fueled by a small faction with roots going back more than 150 years.

“The issue then was slavery. Then it became race, that became a wedge issue, particularly in certain parts of the county,” Rev. Winn said. “The Vietnam War became a wedge issue. Women in ministry became a wedge issue. And this element in the church has grabbed onto whatever wedge issue they can find in order to gain more control of the United Methodist Church.”
 

"We will find you a home..."


Bishop Harvey said she understands some Methodists may be members of a church that is disaffiliating, but those members may not want to leave the United Methodist Church. In those cases, the Louisiana Conference will help those members find new churches, and “in some places, we’re going to start planting new churches where there is a missing footprint…I want to make sure people know we will help them find a home.”

Bares said he believes there is great value to him, personally to stay with the United Methodist Church, and he believes that value proposition is a two-way street.

“I’m conservative, theologically, and our United Methodist Church needs conservatives to be in the church,” he said. “We need conservative churches, we need moderate churches, we need liberal churches. I just want to plant my flag and say, ‘I’m a conservative theological pastor in the United Methodist Church.’”

Rev. Truman Stagg, pastor of First United Methodist Church in Gonzales, also considers himself on “the more traditional side” of the theological spectrum. He also is staying with the church, but it was watching Rev. Bares’ interview that “empowered me to do the same.”

Rev. Truman Stagg


“Hearing Weldon put it into words gave me the optimism that we can still have good, rational discussions within the United Methodist Church,” despite differences of opinion, Rev. Stagg said.

Rev. Winn agreed. “We can have unity without uniformity,” he said. “We’ve done that for years. That’s been one of the great strengths of the Methodist church.”

“I see hope in the hard conversations” Trahan said. You have to look into people in the eyes. You have to shake a hand. You have to hug it out. We are not going to agree on everything.”

Despite whatever differences United Methodists may have, “there’s one thing we agree on. That Jesus Christ is the son of God, and we are here to worship, and love one another in the best way we can by the power and movement of the Holy Spirit,” Bishop Harvey said. “That’s the only reason we can sit shoulder to shoulder or come to the communion table – an open table, by the way – where we all come, broken as we are. Somehow in the mystery of all that, God is at work in us.”
 

"Where do you see hope?"


During the video series, Rossnagel asked nearly every participant where they see hope. The answers varied, but they all saw hope for the church that stretched across ideology, gender, race, and age.

Jessica Trahan


“The hope I have is when we have older folks in our communities that can look me in the eyes and say, ‘I don’t know how to make sense of this, but I love you, and I have a gay brother, and I just don’t know what to do.’” Trahan said. “We are life-long learners, if we want to be.”

Rev. Stagg recounted a recent statewide event at the Wesley Center in Woodworth that attracted about 300 United Methodist youth who were “celebrating being together,” and the only time anyone brought up any divisive issues over disaffiliation “is when two clergy happened to get in the corner together.”

“We have a mission field that is full of promise, and I see hope in that. I see hope in the people that are taking a deep breath and saying, ‘let’s see what’s best for ourselves and our churches.’” Rev. Stagg said. “The hope is still where the hope always was, that we can push aside what’s tearing us apart and love one another. 


 
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