Editorial: No Laughing Matter



Recently, the General Board of Church and Society in Washington D.C. has done a pretty good job – of keeping a low profile and not making the kinds of radical statements that have baffled and bothered traditional United Methodists for decades. But all that changed when one of the Board’s senior staffers, Dr. Bill Mefford, posted a picture of himself on Twitter as a spectator to the March for Life this January in Washington D.C. As sincere persons of faith marched for the unborn , Mefford greeted them with a large sign, stating, “I March for Sandwiches.”

Mefford serves as the board’s “Director of Civil and Human Rights.” While others were marching to protect the most basic human right – the right to life – our United Methodist champion for human rights seemed to be more concerned about his next ham on rye.

The reaction to what appeared to be Mefford’s trivializing concern for the life of the unborn and the sincere beliefs of other Christians was so overwhelming that he offered something of an apology. He said he was sorry for the anger and hurt he had caused. But then went on to state that his holding the sign “has been taken entirely out of context.” He explained on his personal blog that the sign was meant to bring some levity to the marchers.

Over 50 million abortions have occurred since Roe v. Wade – only 5 percent because of rape, incest or the physical health of the mother – and the guy we pay to represent us thinks people aren’t laughing enough.

You have to wonder how Mr. Mefford would have reacted to someone holding a similar placard at a pro-immigration, anti-gun or climate change march whose defense was nothing more than, “I just wanted to make people laugh.”

To her credit, GBCS General Secretary Susan Henry-Crowe issued a statement that “appropriate conversations and actions have been taken.” I would love to know what those actions were. Anything short of removing from the church’s employ someone with such poor judgment (and that’s as kind as I can put it) is far less than appropriate.

Actually, Mefford’s sign and his remaining on staff at GBCS are not difficult to understand. GBCS has for many years been a member organization of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC).  This radical group supports abortion for any reason and at any time – including late-term and partial- birth abortion.


Mefford’s Twitter

GBCS is one of two UM organizations affiliated with the RCRC (the other is United Methodist Women) even though our official position clearly states we oppose abortion as a “means of birth control, and we unconditionally reject it as a means of gender selection.” We also reject partial-birth abortions.  Nevertheless, GBCS continues to affiliate with the RCRC, lending our United Methodist name and credibility to its radical agenda. So maybe we shouldn’t fault Mefford too strongly when the Board he represents has partnered with an organization that believes unborn life can be terminated simply because it is inconvenient.

GBCS has a long history of ignoring traditional United Methodists. Every four years it writes legislation and lobbies for General Conference to change the Book of Discipline so it would radically alter United Methodism’s traditional and biblical stance on marriage and sexuality. Never has it promoted or even explained our balanced, compassionate biblical position regarding sexuality.

And who can forget its full-out lobbying for the passage of the Affordable Care Act that was praised by then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi?  The board was engaged in its efforts to pass the bill even when it allowed for government-funded abortions.

For two years, I served on GBCS’s board of directors. I remember when one of its young members, giddy with excitement over some resolution the board had passed, asked me, “Do you go home and tell your church all about what we do here?” I said, “I’m not as positive about this board as you are.” “Why is that?” she asked.  I replied, “It’s not very diverse.” She was taken back.

We had every ethnic group imaginable in the room. Every age group was represented, as were all five jurisdictions. As for sexual preference, there were straights and gays and lesbians and bisexuals and a couple of young college women who insisted on being called “queer.”

“What do you mean, not diverse?” she wanted to know. I responded, “When all our votes end up 40-8 in favor of liberal causes, I don’t care what the people in the room look like on the outside, it’s not a very diverse group.”

And that’s the problem – at least part of the problem. The staff does not reflect the diversity of United Methodism, and neither does the board of directors. When you are surrounded by people who see the world the way you do, it’s easy to believe that’s how all “intelligent” or all “informed” or all “non-bigoted” people think. And it’s all too common to think it’s your duty to enlighten the masses where you can and your prerogative to ignore them if you can’t – even if they are the ones paying you to represent them fairly and promote what General Conference has decided we United Methodists believe.

At General Conference 2012, every general board and agency reduced its staff and budget in an effort to cut costs and make the hierarchy more responsive to local churches – except GBCS. Every other general board of the church was responsive to the concerns of the delegates at General Conference representing the local church. What would happen if GBCS only received funding from local churches that felt that the board’s work actually provided a service to their members and ministry? Churches would say to the board, “Make us better followers of Jesus, teach us how to do his work in the world, resource us with materials that help us become more faithful in laboring for what Wesley called ‘social holiness,’ and we will gladly support the board’s financial needs.”

I wonder if those were the criteria for funding, if the board might be more responsive to the needs of the local church and even see a reason to become diverse enough to understand the congregations they claim to represent.

When GBCS’s past general secretary was retiring, nearly 20 pastors, whose churches were among the largest in the denomination and paid well over $10 million in apportionments annually, wrote the committee tasked with finding a replacement. It was a respectful letter, requesting that the committee look for someone who represented the full breadth of the denomination rather than just a narrow, liberal minority.

Seven persons received the letter. One responded, stating he appreciated the letter but felt the pastors were wrong in thinking the past general secretary had been too progressive. The other six committee members did not even bother to respond to the pastors.

Change us when you can; ignore us if you can’t. Watch us go by with a sign in your hands and a smirk on your face. After all, you know better.

I am heartened that Dr. Susan Henry-Crowe stated that the Mefford incident “did not reflect our culture of respect, openness and hospitality.” I have been hopeful that she might lead the board into a new way of engaging with local churches and representing the denomination. We should always give our brothers and sisters the benefit of the doubt. Time will tell. Whether she does or not, I’m sure of this: it’s no laughing matter.

Rob Renfroe is president and publisher of Good News.



  1. William T says

    The fact that Mr. Mefford is still on the UMC payroll is a sorry testament to the United Methodist Church.

  2. Dale L. Walls says

    Thank You for keeping the Right to Life at the forefront. The other issues i.e.: gay marriage, homosexual clergy et al are peripheral distractions. The Right to Life is central and salient. It serves to keep the devil on the defensive and His Church on the offensive.

  3. It is all such a joke anymore, the notion that this denomination hears and cares about objections. Might as well talk to a wall.

  4. Actually,I don’t think Susan Henry-Crowe’s response deserves any credit, considering how hypocritical it is, given her pro-abortion advocacy. Exactly what is there about the GBCS that demonstrates a “culture of respect, openness and hospitality”, anyway?

    It is disgusting that our apportionments pay for the salaries of Mefford and others at the out-of-touch GBCS. Not only should Mefford be fired, the whole agency should be shut down, and most of the other agencies of the UMC along with it. They are a drain on our valuable time, energy and resources, and they hinder us from our mission in Christ and damage our witness of Him.

    My response to Mefford’s “joke” and Henry-Crowe’s statement, on my blog, can be found here, along with further comments:


  5. J. Glenn Cummings says

    This is a great article and I can very well relate to being ignored by a small group of influential liberals and ministers who control Boerne, Texas FUMC. The aged Congregation are largely conservative but are apathetic and complacent. No laughing matter indeed.

  6. al milligan says

    The following is a letter I recently wrote to my District Superintendent concerning a UMC that was taking a vote to allow same sex marriage. It is the same issue that you take up in No Laughing Matter. The leadership of the church seems to have its own agenda. My letter concerned a UMC in Iowa taking a vote to make gay marriage an official part of their church’s mission. The vote passed and now Grace UMC in Des Moines has officially endorsed the mission to marry gays with pastoral oversight in the sanctuary of the church.

    Dear Dave, I am quite sure that you and the cabinet and the Bishop knew about the vote that took place yesterday at Grace. I can only conclude that the cabinet has accepted the inevitability of this issue. I have tried to reconcile myself concerning these things. I can not. I think with this issue falls the church because it aims at the foundation of our faith, not because it undermines the bible, which it does, but because it denies that the union of a man and a woman is the foundation of marriage and family. This is not about homosexuality, This is about marriage.
    While in church yesterday I tried to imagine two men standing before God asking to be united as one. I couldn’t do it. Perhaps I am wrong. But gays do not need the church in order to get married. All gay marriage can do for the church is to show its irrelevance.
    I have said to myself that whatever the Discipline of the church does concerning this matter I would accept. I thought the Discipline represented the whole church and that the job of the Conference was to uphold it. It is not up to me to make any charge. The cabinet should be protecting the Discipline, the UMC coventent, and sticking up for its membership. When a lay person got up and defended marriage by texting the bible and witnessing her own understanding about marriage as the union of a man and a woman like I heard yesterday from an older woman, who has been a member of the UMC for 40 years, this inspired me to speak also. I informed the congregation at that time that what they were doing was illegal. The vote passed by 87% (the 2/3s they needed to make it church policy).
    You said that this vote has no authority as far as the BOD. Well, Grace thinks it does; And if our leaders do not act to uphold the Discipline then I feel they are right.

  7. Here is a letter sent to Bishop Gregory Palmer’s (West Ohio Conference) office (3/25/15) concerning the recent appointment of Rev. Laura Young to lead RCRC as Executive Director. The Office has indicated, via return email, that they will address my concerns.

    Subject: Recent Appointment Inquiry

    Good morning Karen.

    I was quite surprised to see the recent appointment by Bishop Palmer of Rev. Laura Young to lead The Ohio Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice as the Executive Director. This signals a change in our WOC policy regarding abortion. I find it quite disturbing that our Connectional Giving dollars are being used to essentially promote abortion, and an organization that measures part of it’s success by the number of children that are “protected” by being aborted. “PROTECTING AND EXPANDING ACCESS TO ABORTION CARE” –Rev. Harry F. Knox. In fact, we have appointed an ordained elder of the UMC to an organization who’s stated goal is to be the leader in the field. RCRC is poised to be the leading multi-faith voice for reproductive rights, health, and justice,.

    “In the face of anti-abortion legislators, you have remained steadfast. In the face of a Supreme Court that ruled against access to contraception, you have remained steadfast. In the face of signs condemning women to hell, you have remained steadfast. In the face of bombs at abortion clinics, you have remained steadfast.”
    Rev. Harry F. Knox
    President and CEO
    Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice

    It would be with great sadness if we found there was any sort of movement within the UMC to “condemn women to hell” for choosing the unfortunate and regrettable path to abort a child for any reason. Quite frankly I have witnessed quite the opposite effort within the UMC and larger faith community to rally, support, council and pray for the baby, mothers, fathers and families that felt it necessary to make this unfortunate decision. Many times the decisions are made while mired in a “spiritual void.” This is often addressed by our faith community prior to a family making the decision to abort.

    As a denomination we have opposed abortion except under extreme circumstances. Unfortunately that has changed somewhere along the line. We are now endorsing and promoting abortion as being compassionate. There is only one sure way to keep a child out of poverty, and our once principled denomination has chosen to facilitate that.


    Bryan, OH
    Member, Bryan Wesley UMC

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