Transformation After Trial

By Diane West

When I was informed that Jimmy Creech had recently released a book of his “memoirs,” Adam’s Gift, I thought about whether or not I wanted to read it. I was raised in First United Methodist Church in Omaha, Nebraska, and my family and I were very much involved in the situation that transpired there over a decade ago when Creech was appointed to the church as its pastor and was eventually put on trial for conducting a high-profile homosexual union ceremony. This storyline is one of the major topics in the book. Even though it was not really something upon which I wanted to spend my time, I concluded that I should reflect on his book in light of my firsthand experience.

The story told by Jimmy Creech in his book is about his journey over the past several decades. He begins with a story about “Adam,” a gay man who comes into his office crying one day in 1984 over the news that the General Conference of the United Methodist Church had just passed a new policy to prevent “self-avowing practicing homosexuals” from being ordained and appointed (pg.1). From this point forward, Creech recounts stories of his own “sexual awakening,” which are surprisingly graphic to the point of being unnecessary, proceeds to try to discredit each reference in the Bible referring to homosexual behavior, talks about how he basically changed his mindset regarding homosexuality, and describes how he acted on his new beliefs in his various ministerial appointments.

By the time I reached the end of the book, the text struck me as a rather desperate attempt to use emotion and sloppy “facts” to persuade the reader to empathize with the writer and his cause and to be emotionally obligated to adopt his point-of-view. There is also, of course, a recurrent theme of attempting to marginalize and trivialize the mindset of those who disagree with him, as though they are the ones whose convictions are violating the intent of God laid out in the Bible and the order of the church as determined in The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church. For example, Creech refers to the Confessing Movement as, “part of the global emergence of militant religious fundamentalism that seeks to hold onto archaic cultural structures of power” (pg. 108). He cannot seem to get past the fact that “lack of understanding” on the part of those who disagree with him is not the reason for their disagreement.

I kept waiting to see a redemptive story appear in Creech’s book, but it simply never did. A few passages sadly stood out. Creech says, “Although my mother and father were devout, they were not rigid in their beliefs. They taught me that our way isn’t God’s only way, but that there are a variety of people and religions in the world, all deserving as much respect as our own” (pg. 5). He also refers to “…the spirit of Methodism’s founder, John Wesley, who gave priority to piety over dogma and doctrine, and to social responsibility over purity and personal salvation” (pg. 13).

When referring to his ordination in the United Methodist Church, Creech says, “My application was not approved without controversy and resistance.  Interestingly, this was not because of my theology. No one on the Board of Ordained Ministry seemed troubled by that, although I was told there was ‘too much horizontal and not much vertical’ in my understanding of God and the church. What caused the board difficulty was the length of my hair” (pg. 24). Also catching my eye was a comment made by Creech about a meeting with a parishioner from First United Methodist Church in Omaha “the day after Easter, which marks the mythic victory of God’s new order of life and freedom over the old order of oppression and death” (pg. 108, emphasis mine).

Days of my time could be spent addressing and correcting the many statements in this book attributed to my family and friends, as well as the situations described. There is a lot of selective memory, the taking of words and circumstances out of context, and flat-out embellishment, all while hiding behind the façade of “love.” It simply isn’t worth my time to sort through all of that, and I will not.

I’m surprised that a publishing company associated with a reputable university would publish a book where there are so many errors and assumptions. For example, Creech clearly doesn’t even know the people he wants to misrepresent well enough to refer to them by their correct names, and regardless of what he so righteously assumes, he doesn’t have a clue about their family relationships, their history of involvement in the church prior to his arrival, or the status of the family and friendly relationships with those who would call themselves homosexual. He is more interested in labeling them and trying to make them look like the minority, the “fringe,” and “subversive.” His many assumptions, “facts,” and recollections are sloppy, at best.

So, you may be asking, what prompted me to write about Creech’s book. To begin with, I think it is important for me to say that the ordeal that transpired at First United Methodist Church in Omaha upon Jimmy Creech’s appointment had a profound impact on my life. It changed me in wonderful ways of which I never could have fathomed.

Through this experience, my understanding of who Jesus is, as my Savior, was finally revealed to me. I had searched for this answer for quite some time, but the answers were not to be found in the social gospel to which I was exposed.

Through my searching of the Bible, discussions with Christians, and visits to biblically-sound churches during the turmoil my church was experiencing, I finally was able to see that Jesus was more than a “story” and a cultural preference. He became my living Savior, and the only One whose opinion really mattered. I developed a real, vital relationship with him that changed everything. Before, I knew “of” him. Now, I knew him.

I did not need to read this book for closure of any old, gaping wounds or to answer any questions I had about my own faith or point-of-view. My closure came a long time ago in the person of Jesus Christ, who brought me, and many of us who lived this experience, into a new life of salvation, deeper faith, and fellowship.

However, the fact that a book such as this was even written, and that the legitimate parts of the stories told about within it even transpired, is deeply troubling for the United Methodist Church.

Social justice is, without a doubt, very important. At the same time, it needs to be taken in context and with the entirety of what God has revealed in the Bible about sin, salvation, and redemption at heart. It seems as though, however, that a particular version of “social justice” has been allowed to consume the theology of many within the United Methodist Church.

There is some type of mental block for Creech and his supporters when it comes to understanding people who believe in the United Methodist stance on human sexuality, marriage, and homosexuality. We are not unenlightened, uneducated, or uncaring just because we do not agree with Jimmy Creech or his view of “social justice.” We are not bigoted, homophobic, abusive, or afraid of the “truth.” These types of statements and characterizations only show the desperation of those who want so badly to convince others to agree with them, that they will resort to personal insults and labels to do so.

While it is unfortunately true that there are many instances where people of the church have not treated each person’s need for redemption with the appropriate grace and sensitivity it deserves, that does not change God’s perspective on sin and redemption, and it takes nothing away from the work He can do in transforming lives.

Let me be clear. I do not write out of “love” for the United Methodist Church or for any particular denomination. Instead, I am motivated out of a deep concern for what has transpired and what continues to fester within one of the denominations in which God is still choosing to reach people whom He can call His own.

I have not been keeping an account over the past decade of names, what was said, or what was done to me, to my family, or to others I know. Frankly, I don’t care about that. I never did. It was far more important to the “opposition,” as Creech calls those from First United Methodist Church in Omaha who broke away during the ordeal that occurred there, to move forward and work positively for God and to be a part of where He is working to bring souls to salvation through Jesus Christ. That is our passion and our calling.

Living Faith United Methodist Church, which was born out of this struggle, has been richly blessed. My story of finding Jesus as the Savior is only one of many. Through this experience, some found their real faith for the first time, some renewed their faith, and others realized their need to contend for their faith. Our relationship with Jesus is more than just an hour spent on Sunday morning, as we strive to live up to the name we chose for our church.

We will gauge our success by how well we are planting the seeds for God to water and grow, not on how many members we have on our membership rolls. How can we force people to listen to God? All we can do is be faithful and provide the tools to allow that to happen.

Relevant Sunday school classes for all ages, Bible study groups, a fantastic VBS program written in-house that had every inch of our building bursting at the seams, are all signs of the vibrant life that the living Savior can bring to a church. As it says in Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

The United Methodist Church seems to be missing the point that a narrow version of the “gospel of social justice” alone isn’t working. It doesn’t have the power to change lives or conquer sin.

If the focus was on the Gospel of salvation, through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and it was put back at the heart of the United Methodist Church, wouldn’t more lives be changed? Is it not a red flag that the United Methodist Church bleeds members like an open wound? A watered-down gospel has sold more than a few souls down the river. Members will continue to be lost as they wisely look for the message that can transform their lives elsewhere.

Other than its sloppy portrayal of many of the events that transpired and comments that were made in regard to the events involving the ordeal at First United Methodist Church in Omaha, there were no surprises in Creech’s book for me. Instead, I was reminded once again of how important and absolutely imperative it is for the United Methodist Church to turn its eyes back upon the Jesus of the Bible, who can speak nothing but the truth. That truth will redeem the souls of all who are willing to hear and follow him and should never be watered-down, distorted, or silenced!

 

Diane West lives in Omaha, Nebraska, with her husband and two sons. She is a member of Living Faith United Methodist Church and is passionate about seeing Christ impact the lives of those within the United Methodist Church.