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Oregon Church Choices Narrowed to Two:
Leave UMC or Die


At this time we in Alsea Oregon are not sure what we are going to do, but there seem to be two options open to us:

Option #1:  leave the UMC

Option #2:  die


Our History

In the late 60's the Methodist church in Alsea was almost dead. Regular attendance was down to about 8, with no families who had children in attendance. Then in the mid 70's the church experienced a time of growth.

The church was moved from being a second charge for Monroe to being a second charge for Philomath, a larger town about 20 miles away. Philomath was a former EUB church, and in order to keep peace there the Bishop at that time appointed more evangelical pastors to Philomath. Moving Alsea in with them seemed to be a better match.

The first Philomath pastor started a ministry here with children, a few families started coming... A mid week bible study was started by two of the older women in the congregation, with two sessions; one for the little old ladies who had always been the church, the other for young mothers. Child care was provided with "guaranteed to be a Grandmother" baby-sitters. The congregation came back to life. Attendance peaked at a little over forty in the early 80's but there were serious signs of weakness.

The problem; disillusion of the strongest members of the church. The sources were threefold, but they all came from the Oregon/Idaho conference. Around that time the conference allowed in a young minister, who then announced that he was homosexual. The Bishop did not place him in a charge, but he did assign him to an organizational post. To the Alsea church this was rightly seen as a sign of vacillation on moral issues, which the UMC had formerly based it's programs. Conservative morals with liberal theology had worked well since the time of John Wesley, but here in Oregon/Idaho this was beginning to crack.

The second source was rooted in a resolution which was written by one of the two who started the bible study groups. It called for the church to minister to women who faced an unwanted pregnancy. The resolution was passed by the conference. It called for an immediate study and a "continuing responsibility" of the church to help in this. NOTHING WAS DONE! Three years later, the conference staff reported back that there was no need for the church to take any action.

The third is the UMC in Corvallis, twenty five miles east of here, but a world apart. The Corvallis church has declared itself to be a "Reconciling" church, and has seen it's attendance cut in half in the past twenty years, while the population of the area has almost doubled! They seem to be a large church in a fast descent, and they are taking us down in their wake. They think that the purpose of the UMC is to lobby for liberal political causes. That alienates people in Alsea, who tend to look on the government beyond the local school and fire districts as the problem, not the solution.

The church stopped growing, and very slowly declined in size, but as late as 1995 the attendance was running around 30 people. But it was an activist church. It had a musical group which traveled to minister in places like nursing homes.

The conference tried to drum up support for a conference wide gathering, centered around the building of a "Habitat for Humanity" house in Hermiston, about 5 hours drive from Alsea. About a fourth of the Alsea church signed up, one couple who had considerable housing construction experience went to work on the house for a week, but the conference as a whole could not muster enough people to make the event go, and it was canceled. Another sign of conference priorities.

Then came the annual conference of 1996. The Oregon/Idaho conference declared itself to be a "Reconciling" conference, and our DS, Thomas Whitehead used one issue of his newsletter to church leaders to support that position. Several members of the congregation wrote letters to Whitehead and to Bishop Paup objecting to both Whitehead's newsletter and to the position of the conference. Also, we requested that the Bishop either show us where the scripture supported the "Reconciling" position that Sodomy is not a sin, or that he take steps to discipline the pastors who were so blatantly teaching in violation of Article Six of the Articles of religion.

We have never received a response from Bishop Paup, other than a form letter which "will answer your questions". We believe that no one in the UMC wants to talk about Article Six, because if you read it, and you read Wesley's Notes on Romans Chapter 1, and you read Section 2624 of the discipline you can only come to one conclusion; namely that the entire "Reconciling Congregations Program" has been openly teaching doctrine contrary to the "Doctrinal Standards" of the Methodist Church, and that they should be offered a choice, stop this teaching or be removed from membership.

Alsea's problem is compounded by two facts. One, the Alsea community is very conservative, even the "Hippies" out here vote Republican or Libertarian. And two, Alsea is a literate town. Social life in the town centers around the School, the churches, the Grange, and the Library. Several members have invited people to church only to have them throw the position of the Conference in our faces. "Does your church really think it's OK to be a ( put your favorite derogatory term for homosexuals here ) ?" Well no we don't. "But I read in ( some newspaper or magazine ) that your Conference voted that they should be allowed to marry and even become ministers. Is that true?" Well yes it is, but we strongly disagree with that position. "Well, I think I don't need to go to a church that doesn't even know that it is wrong to be a ( put your favorite derogatory term for homosexuals here ) !"

And we have lost many of our old members over this too, we have declined from 30 in attendance to about a dozen. Some of those who have left would come back if we were no longer associated with the UMC. There are others in our community who do not feel comfortable or welcomed in any of the other ( fundamentalist ) churches, but will not attend a church whose denomination has stated that "Sodomy is not a Sin", and the Oregon/Idaho conference has most certainly done this.

Also, when discussing the situation in Alsea with our DS, I was told that "maybe what we ( the conference) should do is get rid of you people and put a good congregation in there." I have been told by this same DS that none of the material which we have submitted to the conference newsletter has been printed because it was "hateful". I will include a copy of the paper which we requested they refused to print and let you decide.

The crux of the problem is shown by the resolution which Alsea submitted to the 1997 Annual Conference, which the conference rejected, "that the conference declare itself to be a Wesleyan Conference." As a Wesleyan Church, we cannot remain in a Conference which teaches that what Scripture teaches, and Wesley expounded upon, to be sinful and harmful are just OK. It doesn't stop with homosexuality and abortion. Our next door conference in Washington has at least two churches which openly promote witchcraft, our Bishop has refused to get involved with anti gambling groups because the Red Indians need the money, etc...

Our building does not contain the "Trust Clause", and what we hope to do is to leave peacefully, but our DS has already told me that they don't care if we don't have the trust claws on us, they want MONEY for the building. I contacted an attorney who helped an Episcopal group leave the Episcopal Church in the US and attach themselves to an Anglican Bishop somewhere in Africa. He believes that the local corporation in Alsea are clearly the owners of the property. I might add that he is Roman Catholic, and a very devout man, and a member of his congregations board of trustees. Also, his specialty in law is real property, primarily dealing with government regulation, but also dealing with real-estate contracts.

If we choose to pursue this avenue, he will handle the case for us. If we don't follow this avenue, the Methodist Church in Alsea will loose at least seven more members, and attendance will probably drop to nothing. But God did, within our memories, build a Wesleyan Church in Alsea. What we ask is that He be allowed to do this again, but the Oregon/Idaho Conference is no longer Wesleyan in the eyes of the Alsea community, and they will not support a UMC church.

Shabat Shalom,

Daniel H. Richman


OUR STAND

Alsea United Methodist Church

In 1997, the Oregon-Idaho Conference of the United Methodist Church passed a Standing Resolution called "Seeking Understanding", the text of which follows:

We, the members of the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church affirm that we intend to be a Reconciling Annual Conference. This means that we commit ourselves to welcome persons of all sexual orientations as "persons of sacred worth" into the life of the United Methodist Church. It also means we commit ourselves to work at building bridges of understanding and trust between persons who have been divided on this issue.

We acknowledge with humility that the Church has been unable to arrive at a common mind on the compatibility of homosexual practice with Christian teaching. Some consider this practice incompatible with Christian teaching. Others believe it is acceptable when practiced in a context of human covenantal faithfulness. The Church seeks further understanding through continued prayer, study and pastoral experience. In doing so, the Church continues to affirm that God's grace is freely given to all and that the members of Christ's body are called to be in ministry for and with one another and to the world. Churches wishing to organize aspects of their congregational life around different positions related to this issue are free to do so.

Alone, we are not equal to the task, but we are not alone. We ask God to lead us as we enter into the work of trust, hospitality and welcome.

Proponents of this resolution say that their emphasis is on welcoming all persons. If this were the case, there would be little or no disagreement. The emphasis of the text, however, is on homosexual practice, although it provides no guidance on whether the practice is acceptable. The implication is that each person is free to make up their own mind as to whether or not homosexual practice is compatible with Christian teaching. This is certainly at odds with both Scripture and The Book of Discipline.

Par. 65G of The 1996 Book of Discipline says that homosexual persons and heterosexual persons are of equal sacred worth. It also states that "God's grace is available to all. We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons". Clearly, homosexual persons are invited and welcomed into the active life of the United Methodist Church. The same paragraph says that only the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. All of this is in full agreement with the Holy Scripture. This resolution contains no more welcome than is already present in The Book of Discipline. It does contain statements that seem accepting of homosexual practice. The resolution is unnecessary at best, and un-Christian at worst.

We stand firmly in opposition to the acceptance of homosexual practice. Our stand is based on disagreement, not on ignorance, fear or bigotry. We believe this resolution, like its predecessor the "Reconciling Annual Conference" resolution of 1996, is meant to promote the acceptance of homosexual practice, contrary to the teachings of the Old and New Testaments, and to The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church, 1996. We stand solidly with these teachings.

The fundamental basis of our disagreement is this: Having a homosexual orientation is not a sin, but homosexual practice is. We believe that Christians should and can be reconciled to all people, but not to all behavior. There is no mixed message here. It is fully consistent with the Old and New Testaments and with The Book of Discipline.

We believe that the United Methodist Church has failed in its duty to sound a clear warning about the dangers of homosexual behavior. The cost of our failure has been uncounted thousands of lives.

The Wesleyan quadrilateral requires that any position be examined using Scripture, the traditions of the church, experience and reason. Of these, Wesley gave the primary weight to Scripture. We believe that our position meets these criteria.

Scripture is clear. In chapters 18 and 20 of Leviticus, a number of immoral acts are forbidden. References to cultural or ritual purity do appear, but there is also a deep moral law running consistently throughout Scripture. This becomes clear when Leviticus 20:13, for example, is read in context. The author is making a list of immoral behaviors which includes incest, adultery, bestiality and child sacrifice, as well as homosexual behavior. Even today, these are still regarded as sins. There is no rational way to justify selecting homosexual behavior from this list and calling it acceptable.

In Matthew 5:17-20 Jesus reiterates that his followers should obey the moral teachings of the Hebrew scripture. Indeed, he made the law even stronger, saying that the desire to sin was just as serious as the deed itself. In John 5:14 and 8:11 he enjoined those to whom he offered God's forgiveness that they must "sin no more".

Paul is quite clear about homosexual behavior. Romans 1:18-32 gives his attitude towards immoral behavior in general. In verses 26 and 27 he speaks about the acceptance of homosexual behavior in Greek and Roman societies. In I Corinthians 6:9 he states those who engage in sexual immorality shall be excluded from the kingdom of God, and includes homosexuals twice in this group.

The traditions of the church are also very clear. It is recorded in Acts 15 that the 1st Jerusalem council, in a statement dealing with the observance of the Law, stated that Christians must observe the prohibitions against sexual immorality, which included the prohibition against homosexual behavior. With few lapses, the tradition of the Christian church has been consistent from that decision of the first Christian church down to our current Book of Discipline.

Experience teaches us today, even as in Paul's time, that practicing homosexuals receive the natural penalty of their acts in their own bodies. Paul didn't say what this penalty was, but it was probably much like what we see today. Medical reports cite increased risk of intestinal infections, hepatitis, frequent anal injury and risk of bowel cancer in practicing male homosexuals. The lining of the rectum is thin and easily damaged during anal sex. Sperm and infections are easily absorbed into the bloodstream, seriously depressing the body's immune system and making it vulnerable to numerous diseases. The medical community has given the collective name "Gay Bowel Syndrome" to these conditions, which do not include AIDS. Other studies, which do include AIDS, report that life expectancy is reduced by 8 - 20 years in practicing male homosexuals. These are clear warnings about the hazards of engaging in homosexual behavior.

Reason teaches that when a behavior causes health problems such as stated above, then that behavior is not healthy or safe. God does not wish for anyone to suffer, but the simple truth is that our bodies are not designed to practice homosexual sex. Some claim that homosexuality is ordained by God. This obviously not true, or God would have made our bodies able to withstand it in safety.

God's moral law is not intended to imprison us or to keep us from enjoying life, but to keep us safe. The marvelous world created by God is a beautiful, wonderful place to live in, but there are dangers. Our human free will gives us the ability to make harmful choices as well as helpful ones. God's moral law warns us about the harmful choices so we can avoid them. However, if we chose to violate the boundaries that God has set for us, we only break ourselves.

The four parts of the quadrilateral join to teach us that homosexual practice is a sin contrary to godly living, and fraught with health risks. As Christians we have a responsibility to warn those who engage in this practice that they do so at great spiritual and personal danger to themselves and to their partners.

A recent memorial service for AIDS victims commemorated over 300,000 people who have died of the disease in the United States. Certainly there are other ways to get AIDS than by homosexual behavior, and not all practicing homosexuals contract this disease. It is still true that, in the United States, the vast majority of AIDS victims were exposed through homosexual behavior. If the United Methodist Church had been truly loving and conscientious about warning of the dangers of homosexual behavior, many of those people might be alive and healthy today.

Proponents of this resolution believe they are acting out of love and acceptance of all people. But it is hardly loving to accept behavior that carries a substantial risk of illness, injury or death. It is certainly not loving to condone actions that are explicitly forbidden by the Bible which is the "primary source and criterion for Christian doctrine". We believe it is much more loving to "restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness" as Paul admonished in Galatians 6:1.

We do not speak from any feeling of superiority. We are as beggars, offering bread to other beggars. We are all sinners, saved by the grace of God in Christ, when we confess our sins and accept forgiveness. But how are we to be forgiven if we do not admit that we are sinning? Homosexual behavior is the sin that denies it is sinful. Denial of sin robs people of the opportunity for repentance and forgiveness. The church becomes an instrument in this denial when it condones such behavior.

Our shared need for repentance binds us together in our Christian faith. It is our prayer that those who acknowledge that homosexual behavior is wrong and who intend to abstain from this act even though they may be tempted, will join with the rest of us who also must "lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and run with endurance the race which is set before us, fixing our eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfector of faith." (Hebrews 12:1b-2)

It is because we love our church and are deeply concerned over this obsession which tears down where we would build up, that we submit this statement.

Authorized by the Administrative Council of the Alsea United Methodist Church.


Letter to the Bishop

A letter from Alsea to Ed Paup, which was never answered, and which led two of our members to charge him with violation of section 2624. This letter was signed by 13 out of 15 who were in attendance on the Sunday when it was presented. I sat it on a table during our "Fellowship" time and picked it up half an hour later. No one was asked to sign this letter. They were told that they could read it and sign it if they felt so led.


Daniel H. Richman       
20782 Honeygrove Rd
P.O. Box F                 
Alsea, OR, 97324     

Bishop Ed Paup
Oregon/Idaho Conference
The United Methodist Church

Dear Bishop Paup:

It has become clear over the past six months, since the 1997 Oregon / Idaho Annual Conference met and passed the so called "Seeking Understanding" resolution, that the passage of this resolution by the conference has hastened the decline of the United Methodist Church in Oregon and Idaho.

The conference has been forced to cut back on it's ministry because many people no longer choose to give to an organization which they see as having lost touch with it's foundation, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Many congregations, including Alsea, have lost members because they could no longer be part of an organization which they felt was teaching contrary to Scripture.

The resolution reads as follows:

"For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body...and we were all made to drink of one Spirit...If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored all rejoice together with it." ( I Corinthians 12:13,26)

We the members of the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church affirm that we intend to be a Reconciling Annual Conference. This means that we commit ourselves to welcome persons of all sexual orientations as "persons of sacred worth" into the life of the United Methodist church. It also means that we commit ourselves to work at building bridges of understanding and trust between persons who have been divided on this issue.

We acknowledge with humility that the Church has been unable to arrive at a common mind on the compatibility of homosexual practice with Christian faith. Some consider this practice incompatible with Christian teaching. Others believe it acceptable when practiced in a context of human covenantal faithfulness. The Church seeks further understanding through continued prayer, study, and pastoral experience. In doing so, the Church continues to affirm that God's grace is freely given to all and that the members of Christ's body are called to be in ministry for and with one another and to the world. Churches wishing to organize aspects of their congregational life around different positions related to this issue are free to do so.

Alone, we are not equal to this task, but we are not alone. We ask God to lead us as we enter into the work of trust, hospitality, and welcome. (italics added )

Our understanding of this resolution is that it places the Oregon / Idaho Conference in alliance with the "Reconciling Congregation Program"(RCP), a "movement of United Methodist individuals, congregations, campus ministries, and other groups which publicly welcome all persons, regardless of sexual orientation."(1) The use of "Reconciling" rather than "reconciling" makes this conclusion inescapable. Also, as of January 1998, Oregon/ Idaho is listed by the "Reconciling Congregation Program" as a "Reconciling Conference"(2), showing that the "Reconciling Congregation Program" agrees with this conclusion.

The RCP makes their position very clear. They believe that persons who practice same sex genital intercourse should be "welcomed" at all levels of the United Methodist Church, including the ordained ministry. They also teach that this practice is not a violation of Biblical standards of behavior. Allowing this resolution to stand has made this the position of the Oregon/Idaho Conference.

We, the undersigned members of the Alsea United Methodist Church, do not agree with this position. We believe that the practice of homosexual behavior is always a violation of Biblical teaching, and of Article VI of the articles of Religion of the United Methodist Church, which reads as follows:

The Old Testament is not contrary to the New; for both in the Old and New Testament everlasting life is offered to mankind by Christ, who is the only Mediator between God and man, being both God and Man. Wherefore they are not to be heard who feign that the old fathers did look only for transitory promises. Although the law given from God by Moses as touching ceremonies and rites doth not bind Christians, nor ought the civil precepts thereof of necessity be received in any commonwealth; yet not withstanding, no Christian whatsoever is free from the obedience of the commandments which are called moral.

The Hebrew Scriptures which directly deal with homosexual behavior are as follows:

Exodus 20:14 - "Thou shalt not commit adultery (sexual immorality)."

Leviticus 18:22 - "Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with woman kind, it is abomination."

Leviticus 20:13 - "And if a man lie with mankind, as with woman kind, both of them have committed abomination they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them."

Deuteronomy 5:18 - "Neither shalt thou commit adultery (sexual immorality)."

The two passages from Leviticus cited above are clear. Engaging in homosexual activity is prohibited. Some would teach that these passages deal with homosexual prostitution, not homosexual acts per se. The problem with that argument is twofold.

Firstly, homosexual prostitution was known to ancient Israel and is taught against elsewhere in the law (see Deut. 23:18), but the passages in Leviticus do not mention homosexual acts for hire, or as a part of idol worship, but the acts themselves. The second problem with that interpretation is that there is no basis from the traditions of the Christian Church or of the ancient Jewish teachers to believe that these passages were ever interpreted in that manner.

As Wesleyans, attempting to interpret Scripture according to other Scripture, reason, experience, and the traditions of the church, there is only one interpretation for these passages: homosexual acts of any type are forbidden!

Some people also attempt to explain away these passages by claiming that the ancient Israelites had no concept of sexual orientation. This is contradicted by a the fact that the Israelites had a term for the inclination to commit sin, and Isaiah 55:7-9 talks of the need for the wicked to not just forsake his wicked acts, but his wicked thoughts. The modern Orthodox Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchick(3) has interpreted this passage as follows:

The reference here is not to refrain from sin itself, but to avoid the path leading toward it and away from it. The verse does not speak of "sinful thoughts" but just of "thoughts" which means man's entire way of thinking, his world concept, the intellectual obscurity and emotional ambivalence which combine to create sin and then cast man within it as though into a dungeon.

"A new heart and a new spirit" come about only by means of departure from the path of sin, which is considered complete return, while separation from sinful acts is all that is necessary in order to achieve kapparah, acquittal.

Many other passages in the Old Testament speak of the need for this "new heart and a new spirit." The claim that modern people who violate God's laws are somehow different from the people of the ancient middle east who violated God's laws because they are following their natural inclination, while the ancients were not, has no basis in fact whatsoever.

The passages cited from Exodus and Deuteronomy require some explanation. According to Judaic teaching(4), the word which is often translated "adultery" in these passages should be translated "sexual immorality", and that this included much more than the act we call adultery. It was assumed to include all of the acts forbidden in Leviticus, including homosexual practice.

This would very likely have been the accepted meaning of these passages during Jesus ministry here on earth. If He had not been in agreement with this teaching, He would have spoken out against it, as He did on such subjects as divorce, ritual washing, Sabbath rituals, and the practice of supporting the Temple instead of aged or infirm parents.

The fact that He did not speak against this teaching, and that the Apostle Paul and all other writers of the early church also taught that homosexual behavior is morally wrong support this position. This leads us to conclude that when Jesus told the man who came to Him and asked "What shall I do to inherit eternal life?" ( Matt. 19:16-21 and Mark 10:17-21) to obey the commandments, that he was telling him, among other things, to refrain from homosexual acts.

In 1st Corinthians 6:9-10 Paul teaches that engaging in homosexual behavior ( among other sins ) will exclude a person from inheriting the Kingdom. John Wesley's "Notes" on this passage show that he considered homosexuality and idolatry to be "great sins"(5). Some teach that Paul was speaking against homosexual prostitution, but the Greek words used by Paul speak only of homosexual behavior, not of prostitution. In fact, Paul used the same words for homosexual behavior as the Greek Septuagint did in it's translation of the Levitical passages noted above.

The main argument given by those who teach that homosexual behavior itself is not proscribed by the Scripture seems to be that all of the above refers to homosexual behavior as a part of idol worship. There are several major flaws with this argument. First, if homosexual behavior is only wrong when it takes place as part of idol worship there would be no need to single it out from other aspects of idol worship. Second, none of the verses in question refer to this behavior as being part of idol worship. To claim that the word translated "abomination" refers to only idol worship ignores the places in Scripture, such as Proverbs 6:16-19, where the word clearly does not refer to idol worship.

Another flaw with this argument, and with all attempts to show that the Scriptures do not forbid homosexual activity, for Methodists, is Wesley's Quadrilateral. Wesley required that any teaching be supported by Scripture, by reason, by experience, and by the traditions of the church. We know of no document in either the Christian or the Judaic traditions that supports this position, which predates Wesley. In truth, we could not find any which predate 1960. Do you know of such a document?

Given the above, we ask the following: that as Bishop of the Oregon / Idaho Conference of the United Methodist Church you rule standing resolution 24 titled "Seeking Understanding" to be in violation of the Articles of Religion of the United Methodist Church.

If you choose not to do so we request that you answer the following questions for us. Are we correct in our interpretation of the Scripture; that homosexual practice always forbidden by both Old and New Testaments? If you choose to teach that it is not, we ask you to show us those passages of Scripture which support your position.

Please do not choose to ignore our request. The Oregon /Idaho Conference is crumbling at an ever increasing rate, and this issue seems to be the focus of that collapse. Please remember that your duties as Bishop include:

  1. To lead and oversee the spiritual and temporal affairs of the United Methodist Church, which confesses Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and particularly to lead the Church in its mission of witness and service in the world.
  2. To strengthen the local church, giving spiritual leadership to both laity and clergy; and to build relationships with people of local congregations of the area.
  3. To guard, transmit, teach, and proclaim, corporately and individually, the apostolic faith as it is expressed in Scripture and Tradition, and, as they are led and endowed by the Spirit, to interpret that faith evangelically and prophetically.(6)

Footnotes:

1. www.rcp.org - home page

2. www.rcp.org\rclist.html

3. "On Repentance", Paulist Press, page 57-58

4. "Tz'enah Ur'enah", Mesorah Publications Ltd. page 390-391

5. Explanatory Notes Upon The New Testament, Beacon Hill Press, reprint of an edition published by "The Wesleyan-Methodist Book Room, London England.

6. The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church, 1996 Paragraph 414

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