Archive: Finding a Voice

Archive: Finding a Voice

Archive: Finding a Voice

Reprinted from Christianity Today, interdenominational, evangelical magazine Washington, D.C.

United Methodists’ “silent minority” (evangelicals) began clearing its throat at the renewal group’s first national convention in Dallas last year. This year it found its voice at a four-day convocation (July 7-10) in Cincinnati, and the evangelicals plan to make that voice heard at the highest levels of Methodism.

“We have moved out of the criticizing stage into the action phase,” said Dr. Robert G. Mayfield, general chairman of the Convocation of United Methodists for Evangelical Christianity. “Evangelicals now have power within our own hands to gain representation on our national boards, commissions, and agencies.”

The evangelical strategy to influence the United Methodist hierarchy hinges on laymen. The plan is to elect evangelical laymen as delegates to jurisdictional and general conferences and encourage “selective giving” in the pews. As the convocation met, the denomination reported basic benevolence giving was down 10 per cent from a year ago.

“We are not promoting a cash boycott but regard selective giving as sound stewardship,” explains the Reverend Charles W. Keysor (Keysor’s article “The Silent Minority,” published in Christian Advocate magazine in 1966, launched the “Forum for Scriptural Christianity” and its publication, Good News magazine, which sponsored the Cincinnati and Dallas conventions. Keysor is pastor of Grace United Methodist Church in Elgin, Illinois.)

Two of the twenty-eight convocation seminars were aimed directly at showing evangelicals how to “work within the decision-making processes” of the church. One workshop, conducted by two young Ohio pastors, was called “Strategies for Influencing Annual Conferences.” The other was led by a Dallas pastor on “The Fine Art of Selective Giving.”

Advice given evangelicals attempting to influence church conferences coupled the spiritual with the practical: Read your Bible, pray, get a copy of the Methodist Discipline and Robert’s Rules of Order, watch the professionals—then speak up.

The strong possibility that bucking the establishment lessens a minister’s chances of getting appointed to the better churches was met with the blunt assertion: Where can an evangelical go but up anyway in the United Methodist Church? And where can a bishop send him that God can’t use him?

The bone in the gullet of evangelical United Methodists was described by the keynote speaker, Dr. Leslie H. Woodson, board chairman of the Forum. He told the 1,600 delegates: “Evangelicals have been given curriculum resources which we cannot use, assigned pastors we cannot follow, handed programs we cannot share, and given leaders we cannot trust. Yet we are told to give our tithes while we starve to death.”

The evangelicals are causing some concern—and obvious irritation—to certain church bureaucrats. At a press conference, representatives of United Methodist publications and agencies were so hostile to the panel of Convocation leaders that the religion writer for the Cincinnati Enquirer described it more as a “medieval inquisition than a press conference.” Referring to the public meetings—featuring swinging singers from Lake Junaluska, North Carolina, inspirational messages, and hearty singing and loud “Amens”—one church publication representative said it made him “want to vomit.”

While most of the messages were inspirational, the Convocation was far from a “pie-in-the-sky” production. Dr. Gilbert James of the Department of Sociology of Asbury College in Wilmore, Kentucky, conducted a hard-hitting seminar on “The Evangelical Flight From the City.”

Dr. James’s address, “The Christian as the Agent of Change,” was laced with Scripture but highly critical of evangelicals who prefer joining “harmless knife-and-fork clubs” to confronting social ills in a way that could cause conflict with vested interests. It was widely applauded. Warned Dr. James:

“A ‘decision for Christ’ is not necessarily the regeneration of a believer, and saying ‘yes’ to a list of religious propositions does not necessarily result in the new birth. Where does social action start? At the Cross, and it could very well end there literally for us, If we take our commitment seriously.”

Even Arthur West of the United Methodist Office of Information—whose stomach apparently was feeling better at this point—ran up to Dr. James to declare: “You just saved the day for some of us.”

Young people at the convocation had separate meetings; they reflected the hyper-fundamentalist feeling of today’s “Jesus People”—and also their concern.

They began with a panel on racism in which a Cincinnati black pastor and a Mexican-American pastor from El Paso, Texas, both charged that blacks and Chicanos are “second-class citizens” in the church. The Reverend Robert Stamps, Methodist chaplain at Oral Roberts University, later gave a moving account of a “miraculous” healing he had witnessed and then delivered one of the hardest-hitting sermons on racism that this reporter has heard in years.

“Blacks and Chicanos should not just be included in the Church—they are the Church,” Stamps told about seventy-five young people. “It’s not enough to give somebody a tract. The saving gospel is always a social gospel.”

Had he attended the evangelical Methodist convocation in Cincinnati, John Wesley’s heart would have been warmed all over again.