Advocates for Intelligent Design denied booth at GC2016

By Walter Fenton

73bab812ca308c36883dedabb970ded0The Commission on the General Conference (COGC) recently denied the Seattle-based Discovery Institute’s request to purchase a display booth at the 2016 General Conference in Portland, Oregon. The organization is widely known for its promotion of intelligent design behind the creation of life.

Judi M. Kenaston, the COGC’s chairperson, explained to the United Methodist News Service that a vetting team refused the institute’s request because its mission is “inconsistent with the [UM Church’s] Social Principles” contained in the Book of Discipline.

According to the institute’s website, its Center for Science and Culture seeks to “advance the understanding that human beings and nature are the result of intelligent design rather than a blind and undirected process.”

The Social Principles never directly address the claims of “intelligent design,” or even suggest its claims are in direct conflict with church teaching. The Social Principles say the UM Church “affirm[s] the validity of the claims of science in describing the natural world and … find[s] that science’s descriptions of cosmological, geological, and biological evolution are not in conflict with theology.”

Delegates at the 2008 General Conference also approved a resolution “opposing the introduction of any faith-based theories such as Creationism or Intelligent Design into the science curriculum of our public schools.”

But these statements hardly constitute reason enough for the COGC’s decision to deny the organization’s request for a booth.

For starters, the Discovery Institute makes it explicitly clear that it does not advocate for the “introduction of … intelligent design into the science curriculum of our public schools,” so there is no conflict with the 2008 resolution.

More importantly, it seems odd for a church so heavily invested in the historic Christian confession that an all wise God created the universe and all that is in it, would find it necessary to keep an institute away from its principal gathering because it too believes nature bears the marks of an intelligent, all wise creator.

One need not ascribe to the Discovery Institute’s mission and all that it teaches to at least recognize that the UM Church shares some general beliefs with it. And surely the differences we do have are not so great that they warrant our keeping the institute entirely away from our General Conference.

This General Conference marks the first time the commission has opened-up the exhibition area to outside groups. The approximately $600,000 in sponsorships and fees will help defray the $10.5 million bill for the conference.

While the entrepreneurial spirit of the COGC is laudable, it does raise questions. What are the criteria for determining when an organization is beyond the pale? How will it reconcile the contradictions of its decisions to grant space to some and deny it to others?

We note that the pro-LGBTQ advocacy group Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN) will have a booth in the exhibition area. Given RMN’s high profile identity in the denomination, its inclusion does not come as a surprise. But it is worth noting that RMN does not just disagree with the UM Church’s teachings on same-sex marriage and the ordination of openly gay clergy; for the past four years it has also encouraged and applauded those who have openly defied the will of General Conference.

Surely, if the COGC’s vetting team can find room for the likes of RMN, it can find room for the Discovery Institute. We hope the team will reconsider. Granting exhibit space to the organization will do no great harm.

The Discovery Institute has responded to the COGC’s rebuff with a webpage calling UM Church leaders to live-up to the denomination’s motto of “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors.” You can visit the webpage by clicking here.

Walter Fenton is a United Methodist clergy person and analyst for Good News. 


  1. So sad. Another example of the censorship of evangelical theology and thought. The double standard is so disheartening. When I started in the ministry almost 25 years ago the liberal wing of the church still had the integrity to be even handed and “fair.” Does not appear to be that way anymore. Sad. All I can say is, “Sad.”

  2. Licensed Local Pastor says

    This is sad, and the leadership of the United Methodist Church bemoans why we are losing members. The United Methodist Church is straying away from their own motto, Open hearts, Open minds, Open doors.

  3. Here, as in so many other places, we see intolerance in the name of tolerance. So often, liberals are not at all liberal in the best sense of the word.

  4. View from the pew: Modern fundamentalism has come to be identified as having an attitude of I am right and you are wrong and I am going to condemn you for not believing like I do and force my beliefs on you. Reality is, it now has two faces–conservative and liberal/progressive. Forgive us John Wesley for undoing all your great work!

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