By Jeff Walton
The public policy arm of the United Methodist Church has once again voted to introduce legislation to the 2012 General Conference that would remove disapproval of homosexual practices and effectively liberalize the church’s teachings on sex.
In a lopsided vote, directors of the General Board of Church and Society (GBCS) adopted a resolution at the agency’s spring meeting February 9-13 that would swap the current text of the church’s “Social Principles” in the denomination’s Book of Discipline with neutral language that was termed more conciliatory. Of the 63-member board, only two directors opposed the resolution, while one abstained. An undetermined number were not present for the vote. The two “no” votes were Mark Parris from North Alabama Conference and Steve Furr of the Alabama-West Florida Conference.
GBCS has a long-time tradition of asking General Conference to liberalize the church’s sexual teachings. Every General Conference has rejected these appeals.
The Book of Discipline declares that “The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching,” which is in the “Social Principles,” and instructs elsewhere in the Discipline that “self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church.” The Board’s resolution only addressed the “Social Principles” language.
In a change from how other proposed resolutions were introduced at the meeting, GBCS Human Welfare Committee Chair Bishop Jane Middleton of Central Pennsylvania asked directors to first pair off into groups of two. The directors were asked to, in under a minute, share with the other how they had arrived at their current position on the human sexuality language. After each director had shared with the other, they were then to explain what they had learned from the other. Following this discussion session, the plenary session editing of the resolution resumed.
Several directors were not present for the meeting held at a United Methodist retreat center outside of Orlando, Florida, but the overwhelming margin of the vote would seem to signal GBCS’s determination to see the language changed.
The move paves the way for human sexuality disputes to once again be at the forefront of the United Methodist General Conference when it meets in 2012. As the denomination’s highest rulemaking body, only the General Conference can vote to change language in the Discipline.
The board’s vote in favor of removing the “incompatible” language, which dates to 1972, coincided with a statement issued in February by a group of retired United Methodist bishops in which they called upon The United Methodist Church to remove the ordination standards regarding homosexual practice.
The retired bishops’ statement quickly drew rebuke from a coalition of traditionalist groups who aim to uphold church teaching on the matter.
“The path urged by the retired bishops, if adopted, will leave The United Methodist Church barely distinguishable from the culture, particularly in the Christian West,” read a statement by the Renewal and Reform Coalition. “All this would be done for the sake of expediency and convenience, a desire for ‘relevance,’ and a misapplied sense of social justice. In reality, the retired bishops’ position is in a distinct minority across the Church universal and has only resulted in dissension, schism, and the weakening of the Church where it has been adopted.”
Some bishops expressed disappointment with the retired bishops’ public opposition to the Book of Discipline’s current rule.
“I think that it’s unfortunate that this group of bishops has stepped outside of the covenant relationship and find this the only way in which to voice their opinion about the issue of homosexuality,” Oklahoma Bishop Robert E. Hayes Jr., said in an interview with United Methodist News Service.
He said the statement steps outside the accepted process for changing church policy. Any person, regardless of whether that individual is clergy or a layperson, can petition General Conference to ask for a change.
“This circumvents our way of handling difficult issues,” Hayes said. “I am very disappointed the bishops chose this way to make their opinions known.”
Two bishops from Africa also spoke out against the statement.
“Africa should not be pushed on this issue,” said Bishop Eben K. Nhiwatiwa of Zimbabwe. “The position of The United Methodist Church right now is the position that is in sync with the context of the African church right now.”
Bishop John Innis of Liberia agreed. “We are all created by God,” he said. “A person who practices homosexuality can be my friend, but I cannot condone that behavior.”
In 2008, delegates to the General Conference voted 517 to 416 to retain the church’s official stance holding homosexual practice as “incompatible with Christian teaching.” The margins on the church’s prohibition against active homosexual clergy and same-sex unions were larger, sometimes surpassing 70 percent.
The presence of 192 African delegates, who were outspoken in their defense of the church’s current position on homosexuality, was credited by traditionalists as providing the votes necessary to prevent deleting the “incompatible” clause. The number of African delegates will increase to nearly 300 at the 2012 General Conference. Although over 4 million United Methodists now live in Africa, over one-third of the denomination, only 3 Africans serve on GBCS’s 63-member board.
The 2008 General Conference also voted, by larger margins, to “support laws in civil society that define marriage as the union of one man and one woman,” to affirm that “sexual relations are affirmed only within the covenant of monogamous, heterosexual marriage,” and to maintain the current prohibitions of same-sex union services and the ordination of “self-avowed practicing homosexuals.”
Jeff Walton is Communications Manager for the Institute on Religion & Democracy.
Call to Action
Regarding the analysis of the Call to Action in the March/April issue, I applaud Dr. George Hunter for naming theology and spiritual formation as two of the Great Omissions in the Call to Action. I’m guessing Dr. Hunter will agree, but the truth is, theological and spiritual formation should always be mentioned together as dimensions of the same task. I work with college students and other emerging adults. The crying need of this generation is good, solid, exemplary (i.e., visible in lives of mentors and models) doctrinal formation; what we in the academy sometimes call first order theology. Theological formation is spiritual formation. John Wesley got this fundamental truth in a way that we simply do not these days.
I also want to disagree with the Rev. Kent Millard for defending the legitimacy and reliability of the research organization used to develop the Call to Action. Of course, these organizations are good at their jobs, but are they using the right tools for the analysis we need? Social science research methods render social science results. That there is “vitality” across congregations of a wide theological spectrum simply means that the definition of “vitality” fits what a social science method will define ahead of time as useful or appropriate. It simply begs the question about theology.
Finally, let me add what may look like a tangent, but I think is not. Whereas I love the local church and understand its importance for ministry,
I plead with United Methodists not to forget about the rising generation. To that end, we had better not put all of our eggs in the local church basket. Yet, when we face the pressure of denominational decline, we still default to talk about “the local church” when we want to cure what ails us. On the contrary, until there is large scale and systematic reformation in the theological aims of higher education (this includes church-related schools and state university campus ministries), we will continue to abandon our emerging adults to whatever pop culture forces happen to be at work. And we will thereby fail at one of the four missional priorities established by General Conference.
Cracks before the rift
I am disturbed as well by bishops who do not have the integrity to uphold our denominational rulings. They seem to conveniently ignore the fact that General Conferences speak for the United Methodist Church. But over and above this is the reaction many of us receive who hold to what we believe are clear Biblical mandates concerning human sexual behavior.
I have found that many (not all) who are supposedly tolerant, liberal, and open-minded can become very hostile and narrow-minded when they find I am on the “other side” of these issues. It’s as though holding to traditional Biblical morality is some kind of religious or cultural crime.
Considering the terrible brokenness people experience around sexual issues, it would seem that the more liberal viewpoint isn’t working. From an exegetical basis, there is not a single word or phrase in the original New Testament Greek (related to human sexual matters) to condone the “liberal” viewpoint. In any case, it makes me wonder just how long the UM Church can live with this kind of tension before the cracks become a wide rift. I pray that does not happen.
Durand UM Church
Failing as disciples
In the article, “Leaders react to homosexuality statement by retired bishops,” retired Bishop Sharon Z. Rader is quoted as saying many have told her the initiative “brings hope for the future of our church and the making plain of our desire to invite, receive and empower all who desire to live as faithful disciples of Jesus as part of The United Methodist Church.” Bishop Larry Goodpaster, writing on behalf of the Council of Bishops’ executive committee says, “We call this holy conferencing.” Why do our bishops, General Conference, Good News, and whoever considers this topic worth talking about not realize that the main problem is that we’re even willing to discuss this topic?
The fact is evangelical, Bible believing Christians who oppose homosexual ordination believe it is impossible “to live as faithful disciples of Jesus” while continuing to practice homosexuality. The two are in opposition of each other.
As long as Bishop Rader and those like-minded continue to believe it is possible to live as a faithful disciple of Jesus while continuing this practice ,I, and others like me, have no reason to do any holy conferencing on this subject.
There is no reason to talk to someone who refuses to pay attention to the clear teachings of Scripture. And may I go a bit further in saying that I am annoyed that our current council of bishops does not hold this opinion.
Remember the issue is not whether we should invite homosexuals to church in an attempt to introduce them to Christ and disciple them. The issue is whether we’re going to call them to be faithful to Christ by leaving their homosexual lifestyle behind. It will not be easy. They will stumble and fall, and we will have to extend grace. But if we do not ask them to leave this lifestyle, then we are failing to “live as faithful disciples of Jesus.”
Mann Memorial UM Church
North Georgia Conference
By Riley B. Case
Christianity is dying in the following countries—Australia, Austria, Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Switzerland—and is headed for extinction. That is the conclusion of a study conducted by a group of social scientists (the Research Corporation for Science Advancement), using census studies, and a linear dynamics mathematical systems model (whatever that is). These “findings” were reported at a recent American Physical Society meeting in Dallas.
Of course anyone who has been in Europe recently and has interacted with cynical college students or visited empty churches might draw the same conclusion. Census figures report that more and more persons in these “western civilization” countries are reporting “non-affiliated with religion,” with 60 percent of the persons in the Czech Republic making that claim. While not put into the “headed for extinction” category, countries like England, Germany, and France are also reporting increasing secularization and disregard for organized religion. A study conducted by the British Humanist Association reported that while 61 percent of those in England indicated they “belonged” to a religion, 65 percent reported they were “non-religious.”
Shall we panic?
Well, no, but it is sad to think that the lands which furnished the Christian beliefs and values that were so influential in making America what it is today, are now turning their backs on those beliefs and values.
There is no denying that the continent of Europe is growing increasingly pagan. We have not, in the past, associated the word “pagan” with the word “civilized.” The word “pagan” in popular usage often refers to persons, practices, or peoples that are not “civilized” (as in Westernized). Does not paganism have to do with primitive religions, heathenism, barbaric practices, and superstition? Can one be civilized and pagan at the same time?
Of course. Alien, secular, and humanistic philosophies are gaining dominance in Europe. These philosophies serve different gods. Man (and Woman), not God, is the center of the universe. Progress in these nations is measured not by how society reflects Christian values, but in the
extent to which their society is ordered apart from those values. The word “pagan” fits these nations appropriately.
But God is not without a witness.
This past Sunday more Anglicans attended church in each of the following countries: Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda than did Anglicans in all of Britain and Canada and Episcopalians in the United States combined. The number of Anglicans in church in Nigeria was several times the number in those other African countries.
This past Sunday it is possible that more Christian believers attended church in China than in all of so-called “Christian Europe.” Yet in 1970 there were no legally functioning churches in all of China.
This past Sunday there were more Roman Catholics at worship in the Philippines than in any single country of Europe, including such “Catholic countries” as Italy, Spain, or Poland.
It is important to see the big picture. Is it possible that in the plan of God Europe will be like the branch of the vine in John 15 that, since it no longer bears fruit, is cast away? Is God now using lands we once disdained as not-civilized to bring about his purposes? Is this an example of God using “what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, and what is weak in the world to shame the strong” (I Cor. 1:27)? Christianity is among other things a philosophy of history. All of history is moving toward a goal. God once used the European nations to advance that goal and to bring healing to the world. But in the present time we are seeing a redistribution of the world’s Christian population. The energy and the vision for a redeemed world lies no longer with Europe but with those nations where the church is alive.
We ought to be interceding for the spiritual health of Europe. One can mention judgment only with sadness. This present week in Great Britain at least fifteen thousand Christian foreign missionaries are hard at work evangelizing the locals. Most of these missionaries are from Africa and Asia.
What a twist of history; what a twist of faith.
Riley B. Case is a retired member of the North Indiana Conference, assistant executive director of the Confessing Movement, and a member of the Good News Board of Directors. He is also the author of Evangelical and Methodist: A Popular History (Abingdon).
The Rev. David Wilkerson, the founding pastor of Times Square Church in New York City, died on April 27 in a car accident in East Texas. His wife, Gwendolyn Wilkerson, was airlifted to a local hospital with injuries.
“Pastor David Wilkerson’s was a life fully given for the glory of God and souls of men,” said a statement from the 8,000-member Times Square Church. “He was greatly loved and he will be greatly missed.”
Times Square Church was founded in 1986 after Wilkerson felt called by God to return to New York City. He describes walking down 42nd Street and being heartbroken over the pimps, prostitutes, drug addicts, runaways, and X-rated movie theaters.
“I saw 9-, 10- and 11-year-old kids bombed on crack cocaine. I walked down 42nd Street and they were selling crack. Len Bias, the famous basketball player, had just died of a crack overdose, and the pusher was yelling, ‘Hey, I’ve got the stuff that killed Len,’” recalled Wilkerson, according to the Times Square Church website.
“I wept and prayed, ‘God, you’ve got to raise up a testimony in this hellish place…The answer was not what I wanted to hear: ‘Well, you know the city. You’ve been here. You do it.’”
In 1963, Wilkerson was launched into worldwide fame as the author of his influential bestselling book, The Cross and the Switchblade, which described his calling in 1958 to New York City and his street ministry with drug addicts and gang members. The book also detailed the conversion of Nicky Cruz, the leader of the New York City gang called the Mau-Maus. Cruz later became an evangelist and bestseller author of Run Baby Run.
The Cross and the Switchblade is ranked No. 32 in Christianity Today’s list of “Top 50 Books That Have Shaped Evangelicals” and has sold 50 million copies in more than 30 languages. In 1970, the book was adapted into a movie starring Pat Boone and Erik Estrada.
Wilkerson is also the founder of Teen Challenge, a drug and alcohol recovery program for those struggling with addictions. The ministry is connected to the Assemblies of God denomination. There are 233 locations in the United States and 1,181 international centers, reaching as many as 25,000 people struggling with addiction.
“‘Brother Dave’ was used by God in 1958 to reach out to gang members in New York City. Through that singular act of obedience, tens of thousands of those bound by drug, alcohol and other addictions have found freedom through Jesus Christ,” said Teen Challenge USA, in a statement.
David Wilkerson is survived by his wife and four children.
Good News Media Service
By B.J. Funk
Have you recently received news about your health or the health of someone you love, and you live daily inside of this frightening revelation? Has a tragedy catapulted you to a new urgency that has the possibility of stripping your finances? Are you stuck on Fear Mountain, moving further up the Slope of Stress toward the Pinnacle of Pressure? Discouragement and depression are a difficult place to abide. You have no anchor to balance you as you move up and down Fear Mountain, but you just hope daily that something will come along to help you. Well, it has.
There is blessed help on the other side of this particular mountain. That something is found in 1 John 4:18: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” Not the answer you were looking for? Perfect love casts out fear? What exactly is this perfect love John talks about?
Our love for God and God’s love for us can deliver us from tormenting fear. Perfect love is love that is allowed to exert its proper influence on the soul. It delivers the mind from alarms. If we had perfect love, we would be entirely free from all dread in regard to the future. Fear torments us. It is a powerful and painfully distressing emotion. Fear captures us, moves inside, is arrogant enough to actually set up camp on our heart and soul and cause tremendous distress. This is not what God wants for those who believe in and love Him.
As we climb up Fear Mountain, we can take ourselves to the other side of that mountain. Like opposite colors, love is the opposite of fear. Move to the other side and watch how love can push fear out of the driver’s seat. Fear does not have to win. We resolve our fears by focusing on His immeasurable love for us. This is the love that can quiet our fears and calm the raging storms. This is the love that can give us confidence and strength. Is this just available to a select few? Never!
Romans 8:38-39 makes sure this love is for everyone when Paul tells us “I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present or the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Fear of rejection has hindered people from beginning wonderful relationships, like those who refuse another chance at love after the break-up of a marriage. Fear of failure has kept many from starting a new business. Second Timothy 1:7 tells us that “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and of a sound mind.”
It is estimated that 80 percent of Christians today are oppressed by a spirit of fear. Fear tends to bring us down when we are caught it its strong hold. When we fear something that has not happened, we almost convince and convict ourselves that it will happen. When we dwell on a negative response from the doctor, when we cry, worry and clog up our spiritual arteries so we cannot even receive life-giving strength from God’s love, then what hope do we have that things will turn out okay? We’ve already started living in the negative concerning our problem. God wants us to live in the positive, to expect new faith, to believe in His love in such a way that you are actually moving to the opposite side of Fear Mountain where love resides.
King David gives us good advice when he says in Psalm 27:1, “The Lord is my light and my salvation. Whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”
Fear is the biggest enemy we have to face. If we can move past the fear of uncertainties, the fear of failure, the fear of rejection, the fear of losing a loved one, then we can reside embraced in a love so dynamic that one cannot understand it unless it is experienced.
Love prompts us to seek others; fear causes us to shrink from others. Fear brings its own punishment to the one who has not tried to live inside of God’s love. It is inconsistent with the gracious design of God to have his followers miserable.
Today, live inside of God’s love and believe in your heart that He can make a difference for you. Determine to get off of Fear Mountain and move to the other side, to Love Mountain. Set up camp and trust God’s love to take you through whatever fears you are facing.