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Bishop Scott Jones Moves from ‘Extreme Center’ of UMC to Global Methodist Church

By Emily Miller
jones
Bishop Scott Jones speaks during an oral hearing before the United Methodist Judicial Council, the denomination’s top court, on May 22, 2018, in Evanston, Illinois. (Photo by Kathleen Barry/UMNS)

Bishop Scott Jones isn’t the first United Methodist bishop to join the Global Methodist Church since the theologically conservative denomination launched in May, but his exit from the UMC has arguably caused the greatest stir.

That’s partly because of the unique position his family holds in Methodism and the “extreme center” position he had staked out within the United Methodist Church.

For some, it also casts a different light on his retirement, just days before he joined the GMC, as head of the Texas Annual Conference where about half of its churches — more than any other conference in the United Methodist Church — likewise left the denomination.

“The Jones family is truly one of the first families of Methodism in our church,” said Will Willimon, a retired United Methodist bishop and a professor of the practice of Christian ministry at Duke Divinity School in Durham, North Carolina.

Willimon added, “This family has been a family of leaders of our church, and it’s such a shock to have one of the members of the family leading churches out of our church.”

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Jones’ late father, S. Jameson Jones, Jr., was president of the Iliff School of Theology in Denver and then dean of Duke Divinity School — two United Methodist schools.

His brother, L. Gregory Jones, now the president of Belmont University, previously served as dean of Duke Divinity School, arguably Methodism’s premier seminary.

And one of his three children, Arthur Jones, is senior pastor of a United Methodist Church: St. Andrew United Methodist Church in Plano, Texas, which is currently negotiating to leave the UMC.

Both Arthur Jones and Greg Jones declined to be interviewed for this article.

“So when you talk about family involvement, there is a lot of that,” Bishop Jones said, who after seminary got his Ph.D. in religious studies from Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

He wrote his dissertation on the history of biblical interpretation and John Wesley, one of the founders of Methodism, because, he said, “I recognized that how Christians interpret the Bible is the most controversial question in Christianity today.”

That question is at the heart of a controversy that has haunted the United Methodist Church for decades and has led to the current split: whether to ordain and marry LGBTQ Christians.

In 2020, delegates to the global UMC’s General Conference were expected to consider a proposal to split the denomination, but the meeting was subsequently delayed three times due to the pandemic. After the third pushback to 2024, the Global Methodist Church, which is against ordaining LGBTQ clergy and marrying same-sex couples, split from the United Methodist Church earlier this year.

conservative methodists
Logos for the Global Methodist Church, left, and the United Methodist Church, right. (Courtesy images)

Jones — who pastored several congregations in Texas and taught at the Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University before he was elected bishop in 2004 — had previously positioned himself in what he calls the “extreme center,” a phrase he said he first encountered in “The Economist.”

He wanted to convey how Methodist doctrine holds in tension things other Christians may see as contradictory, such as evangelism and social action.

After reaching out to the magazine to make sure it wasn’t trademarked, Jones said, he wrote it into the title of his 2002 book “United Methodist Doctrine: The Extreme Center,” his social media presence and his website.

Methodist doctrine is “conservative in some ways and liberal in other ways; it occupies the extreme center and is totally opposed to the dead center,” he explained in his 2008 book, “Staying at the Table: The Gift of Unity for United Methodists,” in which he argued the debate over homosexuality was “a symptom of deeper disagreements,” including Christology, ecclesiology and authority of Scripture. 

Alongside essays from a diverse group of United Methodist leaders, he wrote that he believed the denomination should not split.

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Bishop Scott Jones. (Photo via Global Methodist Church)

“Now, years later, I realized that my hope and my dream turned out not to be possible because the church has in fact, split this last year,” Jones told media. “But it was a desire to try to do whatever I could to hold it together and point the way forward. It just didn’t work.”

It didn’t work, he said, because some church leaders and regional conferences have taken action to oppose the denomination’s official stance barring LGBTQ members from ordination and marriage.

“These doctrinal and moral disobedience questions have made it hard to keep the idea that we really are a church following the same Book of Discipline,” he said.

In June, after more than 18 years as a bishop, he announced he was retiring from the United Methodist Church. But, Jones said, he thought he might have a few more years of “good service to Christ” and wanted to go where he was most needed.

In the meantime, he said, he continued helping churches in the Texas Annual Conference discern whether to remain United Methodist or join the Global Methodist Church, recording videos, writing articles and leading decision-making processes. Either was a great option, he said.

“I think God has a great future for the United Methodist Church. God also has a great future for the Global Methodist Church, and people needed to decide which place could they best serve Christ,” he said.

On vacation for the last few weeks of December, he said it was time for his own discernment. 

On the last day of 2022, nine days after his retirement, he joined The Global Methodist Church as an elder and bishop in the fledgling denomination.

The move touched a nerve with Methodists.

The Rev. Keith Boyette, who heads the Global Methodist Church as its transitional connectional officer, said in a statement at the time that the GMC was “rejoicing over God’s good grace to us,” calling Jones a “tremendous blessing” to the new denomination.

Boyette told media he commends Jones for creating a “fair playing field” for churches and clergy to discern whether to stay in or leave the United Methodist Church, though he understands others might be critical.

The Rev. David Donnan — pastor of Glennville Methodist Church, a Global Methodist congregation in Glennville, Georgia — penned a blog post titled, “Why Scott Jones is a Bigger Deal than You Think.”

“By moving he is demonstrating how his views align better in the Global Methodist Church. This (is) more than any person moving. This is the extreme center poster child himself moving out,” Donnan wrote.

Others were skeptical of the timing.

stan copeland Jones
The Rev. Stan Copeland speaks during the “Dear Bishop: What Took You So Long?” video on his Picklin’ Parson YouTube page. (Video screen grab)

In his own post, which came in the form of a satirical video on his Picklin’ Parson YouTube page titled “Dear Bishop: What Took You So Long?,” the Rev. Stan Copeland of Lovers Lane United Methodist Church in Dallas said he wasn’t surprised.

Copeland had already raised the alarm about Jones and two other bishops he said had provided “promotion and support” to the Global Methodist Church, all the while being paid by the UMC.

The Texas Annual Conference, once one of the strongest conferences in the UMC, has lost 302 of its nearly 600 churches since 2019, according to United Methodist Church data. That doesn’t happen if a bishop is presenting neutral information, Copeland said.

Jones then retired — with benefits, Copeland stressed — before joining the new denomination himself.

“I think when he wrote those books, he really believed in an extreme center, but he’s extreme right of center now,” he said.

keith boyette lawsuit
The Rev. Keith Boyette. (Photo courtesy of Wesleyan Covenant Association)

Boyette said Jones had been part of the 2020 gathering that produced a statement outlining a vision for what became the Global Methodist Church, but they had not discussed any potential role for the bishop within the denomination until after Jones retired.

The bishop was “very insistent on observing those appropriate boundaries,” said Boyette.

Jones maintains he provided a process that allowed clergy and local churches to make “a genuine discernment.”

“And I provided high quality, accurate information that helped people see what was going on,” he said. “For example, I said the United Methodist Church is going to be moving in a progressive direction over the next several years. The only question is how far will it go and how fast? I was criticized for telling people that, but I believe it’s the truth.”

The Global Methodist Church’s nine provisional annual conferences and districts are now holding convening gatherings. By the time its three Texas conferences — Mid-Texas, Great Plains and Eastern Texas — finished meeting earlier this month, Jones said they had ordained about 120 new clergy and received a number of United Methodist clergy, who can transfer their credentials to the new denomination.

It’s difficult to build something from scratch, the bishop said, but he believes the Global Methodist Church has a lot of potential.

“It’s exciting to be in a community of people who are focused on worshipping passionately, loving extravagantly and witnessing boldly. I love that mission statement and look forward to being a part of it,” he said.

At the same time, he wishes the best for the denomination that was his home for so long.

“They can reach people that the Global Methodist Church will never reach, and that’s a good thing.”

Emily McFarlan Miller is a national reporter for Religion News Service. 

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4 Responses

  1. All I needed to know about this leader came early in the story: that there is a bunch of nepotism around this man centering around power in the religious institution. That says a bunch. The fact that he jumped ship as soon as a majority of his old institution left to join the new one says a lot too. And the fact that he wanted all of the individual churches under his control and damn the actual reasons why. The man loves power and it is in his family. How corrupt our religious institutions have become. They have kicked the real Jesus out so that He is knocking on their doors asking to come back in. This is not a Church ready for Jesus return at all…

    1. Ralph,

      I know Bishop Jones personally, and he is a man of tremendous integrity and decency. In the sea of UMC bishops who regularly flout the laws they have committed to upholding and abuse their power of appointment and investigation to hurt orthodox Christians and promote those in open rebellion to our rules, Bishop Jones has maintained a reputation, deservedly, of decency, honesty, and fair mindedness. He really is a centrist, which is why his movement to the Global Methodist Church is so significant for both denominations. Its an indictment of the UMC, and a statement about the reasonableness of the GMC position.

      For transparency sake, I am a UMC minister and in no way affiliated with the WCA or GMC.

    2. Ralph,
      I want to you to consider your statement and how little it was based on facts, reporting, or observable criteria. What you’ve done is bear false witness. You should consider how little it took you to leap into sin and condemnation of someone you don’t know and clearly know nothing about.

  2. I know that in the past, especially, There were Methodists who would not deny the importance of the scriptures. I left the Methodist Church decades ago not only for political reasons–but more importantly–for doctrinal ones.

    The supremacy of scripture is not accepted in the United Methodist Church!

    Theological Guidelines

    https://www.umc.org/en/content/theological-guidelines

    1 Corinthians 6:
    9 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! The sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, passive homosexual partners, practicing homosexuals,
    10 thieves, the greedy, drunkards, the verbally abusive, and swindlers will not inherit the kingdom of God.
    11 Some of you once lived this way. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.—New English Translation

    It’s rather obvious there is no Methodist group that holds to he complete supremacy of Scripture, unfortunately. It is an it is even more unfortunate that United Methodist Church will soon disagree with the above Bible verses as many already do in the UMC. I am much more in agreement with the Moody Bible Institute.

    THE CHICAGO STATEMENT ON BIBLICAL INERRANCY

    ….

    5. The authority of Scripture is inescapably impaired if this total divine inerrancy is in any way limited or disregarded, or made relative to a view of truth contrary to the Bible’s own; and such lapses bring serious loss to both the individual and the Church.

    https://www.moodybible.org/beliefs/the-chicago-statement-on-biblical-inerrancy/#:~:text=The%20authority%20of%20Scripture%20is,the%20individual%20and%20the%20Church.

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