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Internet Brings New Light To Darkness Of Abuse In Punitive Actions

May 23, 2000

Dear Vicky,

In your last email to me, you asked about why I posted your letter on the internet and why those on the internet have read my letter to you before you have received it in the mail.

I mailed the letter to you because I am uncertain about the legal standing of email correspondence. I cannot speak to the slowness of the US Postal Service.

I posted the letter on the internet because the primary operating principal that has guided the signers of the open letter has been, "Do everything in the light." The bishop has the coercive power of the institution. The only thing we have going for us is the truth and the good will of United Methodists everywhere.

The application of light to what is before us manifests a number of dark realities to which the United Methodist world must awaken.

The first application of light makes clear the darkness of the standard operating procedure of Bishop Talbert and the California Nevada Annual Conference. Many, many clergy and lay people can bear witness to what they have experienced as the abuse of power over many years. Many have felt the violence of the back room strategizing of those with power in control of the structures of authority without accountability except to those who share their theological and political perspectives.

My brother, an Episcopal priest, was horrified by what he experienced on Wednesday, May 17th as I negotiated with you, Ardith Allread, and the bishop, seeking to protect myself from abuse. I explained to my brother our United Methodist polity and how this could happen. After listening carefully, he brought a clear analysis of our system. He said that a top down, hierarchical structure, without true accountability over the bishop, is a structure that does not build people of character, but rather "toadies." While recognizing that faithful people may resist the temptation, he suggested that our system invites our leaders to surround themselves with sycophants. Because of the power dynamics and the lack of real accountability in the design of the structure, faithful leadership must work hard to keep from being surrounded by those who seek to please.

Advancement in the system is given to those who affirm the wisdom of the leader, toe the line, or sit down and shut up. Churches and individuals who attempt to hold the structure and its leadership accountable are rebuked and silenced. Charles Sineath and his former congregation in Marietta, GA can give testimony against the darkness, as can thousands of others.

Search your own heart, Vickie. As you have experienced this agony with me, you have shared that you seek to be faithful to the institution. That is an honorable desire when the institution is faithful. What is before us, however, is clear violation. The very structure we serve moves us into an endless series of spiritual compromises until we become simply an instrument of the system’s power. The power is worldly. It is of the flesh. It is either seductive in the form of rewards or it is coercive in the form of punishment. Our laity at work everyday in the world recognize the pattern for this system. It is the pattern of the world.

In seminary we learned the term, "systemic evil." All of us who participate in the United Methodist Church are seduced to participate in that darkness. In these past months as I have sought to be faithful to the Lord’s highest calling, the dark truth of our structure has been made clear.

The second application of light makes clear the empty myth of unity espoused by our bishops throughout GC2000. We are a profoundly divided people. When the foundational value is not "Jesus is Lord," or when the institution fails to guard that value as the only true foundational value for the church, unity is impossible. Jesus’ high priestly prayer in John 17 makes clear that there is no unity outside of union with Christ as Lord.

In a newsletter to my congregation following the General Conference I wrote,

The key issue confronting the church is not about homosexuality but about authority, the Lordship of Christ and the authority of scripture. Our leadership is unwilling to exercise the kind of authority that will clean up the mess. Why is that? I can only name it as spiritual darkness. Our leadership either cannot see the truth or is unwilling to act on the truth. It is frightening.

The battle is not over, not by a long shot. Soon, I anticipate every annual conference West of the Rockies challenging the authority of the Church with ever greater intensity. Our leadership is simply unprepared to do the hard work of holding itself accountable to the truth of scripture and the authority of the General Conference. In their paralysis, they leave the UMC open to increasing bitterness and rancor.

I did not realize how quickly and how personal the bitterness and rancor would come. This past week I have found myself going places in my heart I have never been before. I praise the Lord for his instruction "to be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ." (Eph. 5:21) I would fear for my soul if it were not for the faithful ministry of brothers and sisters in Christ who have both held me in comfort and in accountability that I might not violate the Lord’s standard of purity of heart. Where I have violated that standard, they have demanded that I relent, forgive, and remain open. I praise God for their faithfulness.

In their ministry to me, I have experienced the power of the Lordship of Christ. When we refuse to lift up Jesus as Lord and hold one another accountable to that first value, there is no unity and never will be. We will continue to be competing communities. We will continue contending against one another, doing great violence to our conscience as those who, for conscience sake, cannot abide by disciplinary provisions assert themselves in the arena of the Church. As I shared with you and Bishop Talbert in that abusive meeting of May 18th, I am sincere when I say GC2000 failed and placed conference leadership in the Western Jurisdiction in an impossible leadership context. All they can do is either resign or do violence to themselves and to those they serve. I grieve for our conference leadership even as I contend for the truth.

This brings us to the third application of light. GC2000 was a great failure. As I perceive it, our church structure is the product of an unholy union. In 1939 the Northern and Southern churches reunited. The cost for this reunion was the creation of the jurisdictional system. Clearly the sin of that union was institutionalizing racism. At that point, the church agreed not to live in accountability with each other, but to allow jurisdictions the license to perpetuate their pet sin. That systemic evil has now been visited upon the third and fourth generation.

The failure in 1939 to take seriously deeply conflicting issues, to not just pretend that the issues didn’t exist, but even to structure an organization to perpetuate and deepen the conflict, has brought us to his point.

I believe Don Fado acted in great integrity when he organized the act of civil disobedience and laid the groundwork for the present crisis. Don recognized that the church is deeply and profoundly conflicted. He and the others could not abide what they have experienced as great violence to their best understanding of God’s will. I respect Don for what he did. He did act out of the core values of the dominant community in the California Nevada Annual Conference, and, even more, out of the core values of the dominant community in the Western Jurisdiction.

The bishop approached the truth on February 11th when he affirmed those core values as the core values of the conference. In reality they are the core values of our conference leadership, not shared by all in our conference. The problem is, as we all understand, the core values of our conference leadership and the leadership in the Western Jurisdiction are not the core values that shape the policy decisions of General Conference. Every four years it becomes clearer that the values of the dominant community in the West will never be affirmed at General Conference.

Why cannot the Church simply see the truth? Core values are in conflict. The church exists in a state of spiritual civil war. Declarations by Soulforce and AMAR assure us that the war will deepen and spread. This state of war will become increasingly clear in the months and years ahead. I am just another casualty.

GC2000 was not a great victory for the conservative wing of the United Methodist Church. It was simply one more manifestation of the reality that the evil one has a grip on the church keeping us distracted from the simple task of making disciples of Jesus.

Why am I posting my letters on the internet? Why are my five colleagues who stand with me posting their correspondence on the internet? The answer is simple: truth. We are attempting to make manifest the darkness. I am prepared to go to the cross. I welcome it that the church of my great-grandfather might know the truth and be set free.

With great hope and expectation,


Kyle Phillips

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