Outsider Funding and the 2012 General Conference, Focus 8

By Karen Booth

In the late 1990s, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force developed an interfaith think tank called the National Religious Leadership Roundtable. All of the United Methodist gay advocacy groups were founding members, and the Roundtable was dedicated to fostering alliances between gay-friendly religious communities and other secular rights groups.

In 2006, the Roundtable released a report entitled David v. Goliath that described its first joint research project. More than half of the report focused on gay caucuses in the Protestant mainline churches — “the backbone of American religion.” If these denominations could be won over to the pro-gay cause, “it would … be a tremendous moral victory for the LGBT community.” (www.thetaskforce.org/downloads/reports/reports/David-VGoliathFaithGroups.pdf)

Three of the denominations (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian Church U.S.A, and The United Methodist Church) were singled out for special attention specifically because of their denominational decision making processes.

Their democratic decision making processes made them more susceptible to pro-gay advocacy than other autocratic or autonomous Christian bodies. And their national or world-wide presence made it possible to reach greater numbers of people, including overseas. So these three denominations’ general assemblies and conferences were identified as the best settings to introduce and foster proposals for the revision of Christian sexual ethics.

The David V. Goliath report also encouraged secular activists to partner with people of faith by donating intellectual, political, and financial resources. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the largest of the national secular gay rights groups, and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), which focuses exclusively on gay-friendly media efforts, quickly joined the cause. A variety of “faith and values” programs were developed to target the mainline’s “moveable middle.”

On Valentine’s Day 2010, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the HRC, GLAAD and several other secular groups joined forces with ten mainline gay caucuses to launch the Believe Out Loud Campaign (BOL).

The Common Witness Coalition’s Love Thy Neighbor emphasis is the latest stage of the United Methodist version of BOL. According to the Reconciling Ministries Network’s online program manual, BOL trained volunteers hoped to meet with all 600+ United States delegates to General Conference to tell their stories and advocate for full inclusion of LGBT persons.

Many of these same volunteers are onsite here in Tampa engaging in protest and distributing a multi-page daily paper that is published by former GLAAD staffer, Ann Craig. (GLAAD’s web site has also announced that staffers are onsite to coordinate the Common Witness Coalition’s media campaign.)

Everything described above has required enormous amounts of money, most of it coming from three large funding institutions that have strong commitments to gay rights: the Arcus Foundation, the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund, and the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation.

According to the most recent public financial information, the following donations were given to pro-gay “religion and values” initiatives: $20 million from Arcus; $10 million from the Haas Fund; and almost $4 million from the Carpenter Foundation.

The Reconciling Ministries Network alone received over a million dollars for programming, training in grass roots organization, media communications and promotional “branding.”

Two of these foundations also have strong organizational ties to The United Methodist Church: the Haas Fund through its Senior Program Officer, layman Randall Miller, and the Carpenter Foundation through Rev. Joretta Marshall, UM elder and Dean of Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth, who also directed their “Initiative in Gender, Sexuality and Justice.” Brite Divinty is approved for study by the University Senate.

Of the three mainline denominations specifically targeted in the David V. Goliath report, only The United Methodist Church has upheld the traditional and biblical moral teaching.

But leaders from the Reconciling movement have gone on record predicting that the 2012 General Conference will finally reward them with long-awaited victory. At the very least, they expect compromise legislation to be passed that would enact policies stating United Methodist are “not of one mind” about homosexuality. For Lutherans and Presbyterians that was the first step toward the lowering of biblical standards, increased confusion and ultimately schism. And it would be the first step to the same sad result in The United Methodist Church.

By Karen Booth, an ordained UM elder, the director of Transforming Congregations, and author of Forgetting How To Blush: United Methodism’s Compromise With The Sexual Revolution (Bristol).