Cries of Defamation and Undermining Ministry Aimed At "The Cal 6" by Pro-homosexuality Conference Leader
Hello again John,
Things remain tense out here. We have been receiving many encouraging notes and prayer support from all around the country. We also have been receiving "less- supportive" phone calls (and one email) from colleagues out here. I am sending you the e-mail and our response, to give you a taste of the atmosphere out here. Don Cunningham is a former D.S., an insiders insider, and currently the chair of the 'order of elder' (something new for us last year). Below is his letter, and attached is our response.
Light is a good thing.
Thanks, and I am praying for you as well.
Note: the above email has been edited with some of the content removed for clarity.
Email from Don Cunningham, Chair Order of Elders:
I was given a copy of your "Letter" at the BOOM Exec meeting today! I had word of it by the posting of a press release by Bob Kuyper on the California-Nevada Dialogue.
I was told at the meeting that you had already sent this letter to all of the pastors and lay members of the Annual Conference.
To say the least, I was "stunned" (to use your word), troubled, saddened and offended by what you have done, written, and proposed to do. I feel compelled to tell you that, and to share briefly why.
First, on the basis of the decision of the Committee on Investigation you make a hasty generalization and use it as your major premise for your action. You say, "The California-Nevada Annual Conference has ceased to function as a faithful expression of the United Methodist Church." That generalization includes me! It includes numerous clergy and lay colleagues of yours who are and continue to be a faithful expression of not only the United Methodist Church and the Christian Faith. You impugn us all in your assertion! I am offended by that.
Second, that you would send this to all of the churches without consultation with your colleague elders who are the pastors of those churches seems to me a serious breech of ethics, behavior which may well undermine the ministry of those colleagues. This troubles and offends me!
Third, that you would make the kinds of accusations you have about our Bishop in a public letter, stuns, troubles, saddens and offends me. It is one thing to think and feel these things, on whatever grounds. It is another thing to say them personally face to face, one on one, as Matthew reports Jesus to have counseled us to do as a first step when we have something against another. It is still another thing to say them behind that persons back in a kind of whispering campaign, bad as that is. It is still more troublesome to publish them abroad in an open letter--without any particulars or any substantiating evidence. I am not an attorney, but it seems to me you made yourselves liable to the charge of defamation of character!
Fourth and finally, I find your action to open an escrow account and to invite congregations to sent their apportionment payments to the account (under your care, I suppose) a manifestation of overwhelming hubris. To couple that with one or more conditions to be met seems to me to be an act of mutiny, an act of terrorism, an attempt to hold the Conference hostage. This stuns, troubles, and offends me! And that is not assuaged by your statement that it is done "with a deep sense of the sacred trust that is ours as elders!"
You may argue that what you have done is no more than the 68 colleagues did in performing the holy union. I beg to disagree. Their action attacked one sentence in the Book of Discipline. Your action attacks the institution. They impugned no one. You impugn us all. They defamed no one's character. You have laid accusation upon accusation on the Bishop without detailing one particular.
I am "stunned," troubled, saddened, and offended!
May the God of all grace have mercy on us all!
Don Cunningham, Chair Order of Elders
Thank you for your email. For the sake of clarity we wanted to address your four concerns.
You say, " on the basis of the decision of the Committee on Investigation you make a hasty generalization" when we suggest that California-Nevada has ceased to function as a faithful expression of the United Methodist Church. You have misread our letter. What we say is that the decision of the Committee on Investigation has "manifested" a reality that we and many others have feared. This apostasy has been going on for years. Weve watched faithful brothers and sisters raised and reared in faithful United Methodist churches walk away from our connection in disgust. Those of us who have stayed have been able to do so only because the symbol of authority, The Book of Discipline, has been honored, at least verbally and in public, by the Bishop. The Committee on Investigation, and, more precisely, the affirmation of that decision by our bishop has proven, with a fearful resonance, the reality. Unless the General Conference acts with great intentionality, we fear that the United Methodist witness in the Western Jurisdiction will be compromised.
Don, hear us. This is how it looks from our perspective. We feel betrayed, hurt upon hurt. This is how it looks from where we stand.
We hear you when you say we "impugn" all in our assertions. We own that, and, please understand, we include ourselves in that criticism. We have willingly participated in the system of our annual conference. We do not hold ourselves above our conference family, but we do grieve for it.
Your second point, questioning the ethics of sending a letter without consulting our colleagues, interests us. In the second-to-the last paragraph we invite questions. We consider this an invitation to consultation. We do not see the value of holding a consultation prior to consultation. We have consulted with colleagues. Our letter has invited communication and broadened the "consultation." We value this opportunity to share our hearts with you.
In the spirit of sharing, it is important for you to know that the tone of your letter raises, we believe, a deep ethical question. We are a silenced minority in our conference. When we attempt conversation, we have been chided. The California-Nevada Annual Conference has consistently refused to hear us when we say that the kind of "diversity and inclusion" that undercuts the gospel of Christ is nothing short of a philosophical fallacy. The kind of "inclusion" that willfully violates the clear will of the General Conference has never been a part of the covenant of which we are members. To continue to use the glib appeal to "diversity and inclusion" that regularly excludes our voice would be comical except for the fact that it strikes at the very heart of the gospel.
We dont know what to do with your statement suggesting we "may well undermine the ministry" of colleagues. If we are speaking the truth, the truth will stand in the hearts of reasonable people. If what we write is not truth that too will be apparent. We have written to the clergy and lay members of the annual conference of which we are members. We would not presume to exclude our lay members from the conversation.
Your third point comes closer to home. We can understand how the open letter may feel like a personal attack upon the Bishop. Let us be clear here. We hold the Bishop to be a man integrity. To our knowledge, he has never done anything in the dark. He has faithfully and with forceful conviction expressed his views. We have never suggested that the Bishop has sinned. He has done what he sincerely feels is best. If he is wrong, the Lord will be his judge.
When we claim that the Bishop has failed we are speaking of his public office and sacred trust. He has done the best he could with the lights that guide him. We dont begrudge him that.
The evangelical community has spoken much with the Bishop. While we understand that the Bishop has listened, we feel that he has not heard. If the Bishop feels he has been blind-sided, we invite conversation. If we have sinned, we will repent. When Greg and Kyle talked with the Bishop on March 9th, the Bishop made no mention of a personal offense. We believe the Bishop understands the public nature of his office and of the stand he has been taking for years. Again, if he feels he has been wronged, we invite conversation.
Regarding the notion that we have defamed the Bishops character, I cannot see how. Libel is a serious charge indeed. Perhaps, Don, the emotion of the moment has gotten the better of you. The Bishops words and actions over the years are a matter of public record. All we are suggesting is that his consistent challenge to the Book of Discipline has emboldened those who disagree with our law to violate the covenant with impunity. By failing to lead in our complex context, he has encouraged the rebellion that is before us. What do we say, after all? He is a man who has acted out of his convictions and in so doing has fumbled the responsibilities of his office. He has created the environment that has brought us to crisis.
Your fourth point challenges our motivation. Your language is strong: "an act of mutiny, an act of terrorism, an attempt to hold the Conference hostage." Wow. Outside of truth, we really dont have that kind of power. If what we write is so patently false, nothing will happen. People will roll their eyes and round file the documents. As of the writing of the letter, our congregations had yet to make a decision regarding redirecting apportionments. Some of us have yet to have heart-to-heart conversation with our leadership. We are allowing the truth to have its effect. All we have done is provide a mechanism for congregations, not to withhold apportionments, but rather, to allow a third party to hold them until the confusion is cleared. Recognizing the deep chasm that divides our conference leadership from us and from the General Conference, the three terms are simply our best idea of how to resolve our crisis. Of course we would be open to other solutions.
Don, in your second to last statement you share that you are offended. We all feel offended. Offense is the bitter fruit of pluralism. When "inclusion and tolerance" are the primary principles of an organization, the center cannot hold. Competing views and values will war. We all have experienced the pain. We did not seek to offend. We too are grieved. In all sincerity, we feel the offense is not of our making. Our hearts continue to seek to speak the truth in love.
We share in your prayer of closing, "May the God of all grace have mercy on us all."
Kyle Phillips, John Motz, John Sheppard, Greg Smith, Don Roulsten, Dave Wainscott
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