Editorial: Facing Up

By Rob Renfroe

We’re about to find out if we have any face boys.

In 1936 the Olympic Games were held in Berlin.  Hitler intended to use them to showcase the glory of the Third Reich and the supremacy of the Aryan Race. Sparing no expense, Hitler constructed imposing stadiums, all adorned with swastikas. He attended the games in military dress and was hailed with the Nazi salute.

Into this formidable setting stepped the son of an Alabama sharecropper, so sickly and thin as a youth that he had often been unable to help his father and brothers in the cotton fields. After moving to Cleveland, Ohio, so his father could find work, the course of his life was changed when a track coach watched him run the 100 yard dash in 10 seconds. He was 12 years old.

Attending school during the day and working at night, he refused a college scholarship because his family needed his paycheck. Only after the authorities at Ohio State arranged permanent work for his father, did he agree to attend.

Living in a segregated society, not allowed to eat in the same restaurants or use the same restrooms as his white teammates, he traveled to Hitler’s Germany to run for the United States. And there in the Olympic Stadium, with the Fuhrer glaring at him, Jesse Owens won four gold medals, breaking three Olympic records, tying another, and shattering the lie that Nazism was built upon.

Describing the internal strength that had allowed her son to overcome the challenges of sickness and poverty as a child and then the immense pressure of “Hitler’s  Olympics” as they were called, Mrs. Henry Cleveland Owens said: “Jesse was always a face boy…. When a problem came up, he always faced it.”

The United Methodist Church is about to learn if we have any face boys at the top. In this issue of Good News you will read that 59 United Methodist pastors, some leading our largest congregations, have called upon the Council of Bishops to respond together to the 900 United Methodist clergy who have stated that they will break The Book of Discipline and marry homosexual couples. They believe that if enough pastors break the Discipline enough times, the UM Church will not have the resources or the will to enforce the covenant that holds us together. And we will have a new de facto policy regarding marriage and the practice of homosexuality.

Our life together as United Methodists is at risk. We have a problem.  And we need some leaders who will face it.

Fifty-nine pastors from every part of the country have stepped up and put their names on the line. Pastors who love their churches and who love the United Methodist Church. And who can no longer turn their faces away from the problem before us. (You may read the letter they sent in the following pages, as well as learn how to add your name to theirs.)

These pastors correctly understand that an after-the-fact response by the Council of Bishops shows no understanding of the damage widespread disobedience will do to the life and the unity of the church. They are correct in believing that even forceful statements by a few Bishops will be ineffective. And another call to “holy conferencing” (the typical tepid response given in the past) will not be simply pointless—it will be ludicrous, when 900 pastors have declared they are done conferring and conferencing and trusting the process of General Conference.

In essence, the fifty-nine who have signed the letter are calling upon our Bishops to be “face boys”—men and women who will together speak out as the shepherds of the church and the defenders of the faith.

And Good News is calling upon the Council to go one step further. Defend and promote our position regarding sexual holiness. We live in time of sexual confusion and hedonism. And the damage done to families, to marriages and to individuals is impossible to overstate.

The United Methodist Church has a word to speak to our culture and to our members. The Wesleyan way of holiness is a beautiful offer of freedom and dignity that protects the worth of all persons and that offers healing and wholeness for all who are broken.

It is time, past time, for our Bishops to address the most controversial issue facing the church—and the issue that is most likely to cause the church to be torn in two. It is time to create resources for the church that provide a biblical, theological, historical and psychological defense of the Discipline’s position regarding sexuality. In other words, it’s time to be face boys.

Friends, we have a problem. Is there a Jesse Owens in the stadium?

Rob Renfroe is the President and Publisher of Good News.