Baylor University’s Truett Seminary has added a second faculty member aligned with the new Global Methodist Church, the conservative breakaway from the United Methodist Church.
The appointment of Scott Jones as affiliate professor and pastor-theologian in residence at Truett’s Wesley House of Studies strikes at the heart of the current schism in the UMC, however, because Jones and his family are lightning rods in the controversy.
Jones was a bishop in the UMC overseeing the Texas Conference. Last June, he announced his retirement for late 2022. Then, nine days after his retirement — with full benefits — he joined the Global Methodist Church as an elder and bishop.
That decision rankled his colleagues in the UMC who are working overtime to debunk false narratives spread by the GMC about alleged “liberalism” in the UMC. The root of the splintering relates to LGBTQ affirmation and ordination. The new GMC has positioned itself as a more conservative alternative to the UMC.
The Texas Annual Conference, where Jones served as bishop, has lost more than half its 600 churches since 2019. It has become an epicenter in the splintering of the UMC.
A family with connections
And Scott Jones isn’t the only member of his family in the headlines over this. One of his three children, Arthur Jones, serves as senior pastor of St. Andrew United Methodist Church in Plano, Texas, which recently attempted to leave the UMC without following due process and paying the required assessment to keep its multi-million-dollar property, which according to Methodist policy is “held in trust” by the denomination.
A firestorm of criticism followed that announcement, and several months later Arthur Jones and the Plano church relented and said they would follow the required process and pay the required assessment to retain property.
The Jones family is legendary within United Methodist circles.
Scott Jones’ late father, Jameson Jones Jr., served as president of Iliff School of Theology in Denver and then as dean of Duke Divinity School, two United Methodist schools. Scott’s brother Gregory Jones previously served as dean of Duke Divinity School and now is president of Belmont University, a Baptist-affiliated school. Gregory Jones also briefly served as provost at Baylor University.
“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.”
“The Jones family is truly one of the first families of Methodism in our church,” Will Willimon, a retired United Methodist bishop and professor at Duke Divinity School told Religion News Service. “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.”
‘Extreme center’ not possible
Previously, Scott Jones had billed himself as representing the “extreme center” of the UMC, even writing a book in 2002 titled United Methodist Doctrine: The Extreme Center. He advocated against a split in the UMC.
Now, he told RNS, “my hope and my dream turned out not to be possible because the church has in fact, split this last year. 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.”
He cited disagreements over the ordination and marriage of LGBTQ people as the barrier that could not be overcome. “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 told RNS.
“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.”
Yet Scott Jones already was a controversial figure in the UMC’s Texas Conference. In 2020, he was removed from the Southern Methodist University trustee board after he petitioned a Texas court to join a lawsuit filed against SMU by the South Central Jurisdictional Conference of the UMC. SMU officials said Jones breached his fiduciary responsibility as a board member by suing the school.
Jones called his removal from the board illegal and “vindictive.”
In the current context, Scott Jones is a hero in the nascent GMC. Keith Boyette, a leader in the GMC, called Jones joining the conservative movement “a tremendous blessing.”
A warm welcome at Baylor
Now, Truett Seminary Dean Todd Still echoes that sentiment in welcoming Jones to the Baylor faculty.
“For nearly a decade, Scott Jones has been a friend both to me and to our school,” Still said. ‘It is nothing less than a grace that a person of his capacity and care, skill and stature, commitments and character would be willing and able ‘to come over to Macedonia and help us’ as we build our Wesley House of Studies, wherein we seek to equip God-called Wesleyan students for gospel work and witness in and alongside Christ’s Church by the power of the Holy Spirit. I am truly grateful and am most hopeful that this significant development will strengthen further this fledgling, yet flourishing, work in our midst.”
Rusty Freeman, program director of the Wesley House of Studies, added his praise; “We are grateful that the Lord has brought to Truett’s Wesley House of Studies a leader with Bishop Jones’s experience and expertise. He has been a gift to the Methodist Church for years and will be a blessing to the students at Truett. Not only will he provide solid theological teaching in the historical Wesleyan tradition but will also offer godly counsel to students and staff alike.”
Leah Hidde-Gregory, president pro-tempore of the Mid-Texas Conference of the GMC also praised Truett for hiring Jones: “I couldn’t be more thrilled with the appointment of Bishop Scott Jones to serve in the Wesley House of Studies at Truett Seminary. He will not only provide our students with excellent academic instruction, but he will also offer practical, pastoral counsel to help guide their journey in ministry. The addition of Bishop Jones is an extraordinary addition to all that God is doing through the Wesley House of Studies at Truett Seminary.”
Jones is the second high-profile leader in the GMC named to the faculty of Truett’s Wesley House of Studies.
In November, Jason Vickers was named to lead the Wesley House and to be the first holder of an academic chair in Wesleyan studies. Vickers serves as a theological adviser to the GMC and serves as chairman of the task force crafting the new denomination’s catechism.
An unsettled landscape
Truett Seminary’s tilt toward the right-most flank among Methodists comes at a time Baylor University attempts to walk a fine line between those who want the Baptist university to be more welcoming and supportive of LGBTQ students, faculty and staff and those who want the school to maintain strict sexual purity policies that forbid same-sex relations of any kind.
Faced with immense pressure from its alumni base, Baylor has sought to become more inclusive while not alienating more conservative Southern Baptist pastors in the state, including some who serve as university regents.
Creation of the Wesley House at Truett also comes amid shifts in theological education for both Methodists and Baptists. Ninety miles north of Waco in Dallas, Perkins School of Theology at SMU has begun a Baptist House of Studies. That effort’s financial supporters include some who helped launch Truett Seminary in 1991 but now are disaffected by Truett’s more conservative positions.
Truett Seminary was born amid the late 20th century schism in the Southern Baptist Convention. Initially, Truett siphoned off moderate students who no longer wanted to attend Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, an SBC school in Fort Worth, Texas. Southwestern ultimately turned into a bastion of biblical inerrancy as the SBC’s “conservative resurgence” reshaped its trustee board and leadership.
Today, Truett occupies a space between the extreme conservatism of Southwestern and the more progressive cultures of other Baptist seminaries created in response to the SBC controversy.
Ironically, one of the places more progressive Baptist students have found refuge is Duke Divinity School — where Scott Jones’ brother twice served as dean.