Bishop Denies Minority Voice In Campground Investigation
NEWS FROM THE FRONT
The conference leadership was asked to include this report in addition to the one issued by the Board of Church and Society. The bishop has denied that request. In doing do so, he has also denied the campgrounds right to defend themselves against a great injustice. The idea that the investigative teams report would be received and allowed to stand unchallenged until our next annual conference is simply inconceivable. After doing some investigation on my own and talking with campground residents, as a conference member I offer the following report.
INVESTIGATION OF ALLEGATIONS OF DISCRIMINATION AT THE CHICAGO DISTRICT CAMPGROUND ASSOCIATION
The justification for this document is the fact that the investigation team itself became a contributing influence on the unfolding situation and in doing so lost its objectivity.
Within our denomination there are safeguards used to protect individuals from defamation of character. When charges of misconduct are brought forward, the matter is not immediately presented publicly to the church assembly, but it is handled privately. As concerns The Chicago District Campground Association, this policy was disregarded. On June 8th, 1999, during the 160th session of the Northern Illinois Conference, a resolution was brought forward. It made public accusations and did great harm to the reputation of the campground in what can best be described as an ambush. It gave the campground a very good reason to be suspicious and defensive.
THE CONFERENCE CREATED AN ATTITUDE OF MISTRUST
At the same time that the resolution was brought to the floor of annual conference, Marjorie Cilley (the president of the campground trustees) was in the same building. She was staffing the campground information table and was ready to talk to anyone who might have a question concerning the campground and its activities. A significant number of conference leaders had to be aware of the situation prior to the resolution being presented. But instead of going to her and asking for an explanation, the campground was blindsided and publicly humiliated. Instead of being offered reconciliation, they were told of an inquisition, which was then widely disseminated in the news media.
The "investigation team" has now submitted its report to the conference. In it they claim to have found "a pattern of discrimination" but say that it is covert or hidden! They claim that "a pervasive atmosphere of intolerance and inhospitality" exists at the campground. However, their evidence is based on supposedly "hidden prejudice" and "atmospheric" conditions. This suggests that there was no tangible evidence to support their conclusions. So how then can they say to us that there was "clearly a violation"? There is another side to this story that needs to be heard, but because of the present lawsuit, the campground has to sit silently by as their reputation is trashed and false accusations are being proclaimed as truth. The campground Board of Trustees is anxious to provide details to clarify the many misunderstandings that have arisen. They have even asked to meet with our bishop on two different occasions, but were turned down because of the "investigation". The Board of Church and Society has denied the campground due process within this investigation and it is obvious that some minds were made up before first contact was even attempted. It might also be suggested that the real purpose of the "investigation" was to get maximum news media coverage of the homosexuality issue as preparation for the year 2000 General & Jurisdictional Conference and proposed changes to our discipline.
THE COVENANT RELATIONSHIP ISSUE
Traditionally, the Methodist Church has not owned outright many of its homes, hospitals, schools, and colleges. Like some of those, the Chicago District Camp Ground Association is an independently run religious organization. While it may be desirable to have a direct covenant relationship, that does not necessarily imply that within that relationship the campground is subordinate to the conference. (It should also be noted that the campground has been trying for several years to establish a covenant relationship with the conference.)
THE AUGUST 7TH INCIDENT
By August 7th the campground leadership still had not received any pastoral care. All they had received were calls from the news media, promises of confrontation, & personal threats. I was there that day and to my surprise was allowed inside. When asked why I was allowed in when so many others were turned away I was told this:
"For every pastor who approached us saying they wanted to minister to us and pray with us, I was there to welcome them in the gates, as you yourself can testify. You were the only pastor to do that." Quotation taken from Bob Matson (campground security volunteer who let me in the gate that day)
HERE IS WHAT THE CAMPGROUND FACED THAT DAY
WHAT WERE THEY TO DO?
They took all of this information to a committee of public safety officials in Des Plaines and asked them to assess the risk. They were told that the only way to guarantee protection for both people and property was to shut down the campground to non-residents and implement appropriate safety measures. Those measures included a general lock down of the camp, the posting of police security with crowd control capabilities, and additional private security elements. Having been given this assessment of the situation and not wanting to put anyone at risk, they reluctantly agreed. The details were then left to the public safety officials who took the actions they felt were needed to protect the campground. Ask yourself this question: If you had this information and it was your church and congregation that needed to be protected, just what would you have done?
There is so much more that needs to be shared publicly and as soon as the legal litigation is resolved it will be presented. Hopefully when that happens, we will see as many news articles in the United Methodist Reporter which offer a complete picture of what actually happened as there were reports about the unproved accusations and personal insults aimed at the campground.
(November 11, 1999 - revised edition)
Rev. Kent L. Svendsen, Elder
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