Mainstream Secular Media Spin UMC Schism Proposal
Excerpts from the New
Conservative Methodists Propose Schism Over Gay Rights
May 7, 2004
By LAURIE GOODSTEIN
PITTSBURGH -- Frustrated by years of rancor between the left and the right in the United Methodist Church, conservative members proposed Thursday that the denomination dissolve itself and split into separate churches.
The call for separation came on the 10th day of the church's quadrennial general conference, a marathon policy-setting meeting that has only highlighted the church's gridlock over homosexuality and scriptural infallibility.
[Homosexual advocate] leaders insisted that they have no plans to leave the church because they expect the gay rights cause will inevitably prevail.
Although a schism is far from imminent, the proposal is part of a long-term strategy and an indication that Methodist conservatives intend to use the gay issue as a wedge to precipitate a fracture -- just as conservatives have in the Episcopal Church USA, in which some churches are forming a rival network. Methodist conservatives do not plan to advance the proposal here but to build support for it among church members in advance of the next convention in 2008.
In nearly every mainline Protestant denomination, from the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, conservatives are mounting increasingly organized challenges to denominations long associated with theological diversity and liberal causes.
Editor's comment: What?! Conservatives are challenging the UMC?! This is a ridiculous statement, as all recent General Conferences have demonstrated that the conservatives ARE the UMC.More than many churches, Methodists represent the nation's geographic, economic and political diversity. President Bush is a Methodist, as is Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Liberals said they were offended that the conservatives seemed to be offering to buy them out in order to be rid of them. The Rev. Troy G. Plummer, executive director of the Reconciling Ministries Network, an alliance of churches that support inclusion of openly gay people, said that the idea of a split would have been anathema to Methodism's 18th-century founder, John Wesley.
"John Wesley said schism is sin," Mr. Plummer said.
The conservatives' proposal for an amicable divorce stunned many here because conservatives appear to many church observers to be gradually gaining ground. Areas where the church is growing, in the South and Midwest, are increasingly evangelical in theology and worship style. The church has also been skewed toward conservatism with growth in Africa, Asia and Latin America, whose delegates make up about 20 percent of the voters at the general conference.
The conservative movement, whose members call themselves orthodox or evangelical, has also been bankrolled by some of the same conservative foundations that give money to conservative political causes. The Institute for Religion and Democracy, which backs a move to the right for the Methodists and other Protestant churches and coordinates initiatives to influence several mainline denominations, has received funding from Richard Mellon Scaife and the John M. Olin Foundation, which also fund conservative political causes, according to a recent book, "United Methodism at Risk," researched and written by church members concerned about a conservative takeover.
In multiple votes on gay issues at the conference here, the nearly 1,000 delegates have consistently opposed changing their church doctrine to include acceptance of gay sex or openly gay ministers. But the votes have ranged from 60 to 40 percent to as close as 55 to 45 percent, giving both sides ammunition to claim that at this general convention they gained ground since the general conference four years ago.
Editor's correction: The majority of "black/white" homosexual-related petitions at General Conference have demonstrated a consistent split of 82% traditional vs. 18% liberal.In a meeting with reporters, four active bishops and one who is retired said that they had been taken by surprise and saddened by the proposal.
"We share a church that's a moderate church, that's pretty centrist," said Bishop Warner H. Brown Jr., of the Denver area. "You cannot say that either a more liberal or a more conservative view is unwelcome in this church."
The conservatives are proposing that the church convene a task force made up of liberals, centrists and conservatives. In the separation, they propose, churches would keep their own property, and clergy would keep their pensions.
Conservatives, however, suggested that they had no intention of actually presenting the proposal to the delegates in Pittsburgh.
Mark D. Tooley, who works at the Institute for Religion and Democracy and directs United Methodist Action, its program focused on Methodists, said in an interview that the proposal was intended not for the delegates here, who are "institutionalists" likely to defend church unity, but for church members and clergy around the country.
The strategy, he said, is to float the idea so it would be embraced by church members around the country, both conservatives and liberals, who would come to see that separation is a practical solution. Four years from now, after the proposal has had time to be thoroughly digested, the actual dismantling of the church could begin to be put in motion when the church meets again for its next general conference, he said.
Mr. Tooley said that conservatives had been hoping to engineer a divorce from liberals for years. He said that a large group of conservative caucuses in the church supported the idea, even though Dr. Hinson said in making his proposal that he was speaking only for himself.
by Rev. Dr. Bill
May 6, 2004
The following address was presented to the UM Decision Breakfast in Pittsburgh, PA. Dr. Hinson is the president of the Confessing Movement within the United Methodist Church.
I have consulted with some of the members of my Confessing Movement steering committee and have not taken a formal vote. I am speaking only for myself.
All of us have poignant moments when deep sadness sweeps over our souls. I recall as a young preacher when our church was the largest Protestant denomination in America at the time first began to lose members. I've always thought number were important because they represent people. Besides I've become convinced that people who run numbers down never run them up. Mine is the last generation of United Methodists preachers who can remember when we were a growing movement. I believe that every Christian possesses a deep sense of joy. I remember the story of Bishop Arthur Moore who was riding a train across south Georgia on a hot summer's day. His train pulled into a small station and from his open window he noticed an old man leaning his chair back against the wall, whose eyes were closed. The bishop calling out from the train inquired, "Friend, do the people around here enjoy their religion?" Without opening his eyes or moving a muscle, the old man responded to the bishop saying, "Them what has it do."
I've felt another poignant moment of sadness on the morning I learned that Karen Dammann had been acquitted. For the first time in my life I wasn't so eager to go out and face the world with the announcement that I'm a United Methodist pastor. Last Monday night when six of us met with fifteen persons who are of a different perspective, my sadness took on a new dimension. We took turns talking in that circle about the church and where we were coming from. At the end of more than two hours my feelings had coalesced to the point that I was fully persuaded we cannot bridge the gap separating us. I was and am profoundly saddened by that conviction.
Our friends in the Western Jurisdiction have left us. Our covenant is in shreds. And when I speak of covenant I'm not talking about the trust clause. I'm talking about a sacred trust that is much deeper and more binding. Through the years such a trust could be counted on to keep us faithful to what we have discussed voted on, and placed into our Book of Discipline. All of that has now changed. More than that, our friends who have broken our covenant feel that they themselves are broken, because the votes of this Conference have largely gone against them, they feel disenfranchised, they feel we are doing spiritual violence to them, and have told us clearly that we are not truth tellers. In addition they are seeking autonomy from the larger body. They garnered more than 300 votes in an attempt to do things their way with regard to ordination in the Western Jurisdiction.
No one enjoys stepping on another person's dream. Some playwright whose name I cannot recall told of the crossing of the Red Sea by the children of Israel. When the waters began to roll over the Egyptian chariots, and as they began to drown in the sea, Miriam and the children of Israel began to sing and dance because of their great victory. God however inquired, "How can you sing and dance when my children are drowning?" No earnest Christian enjoys seeing another human suffering. I believe it is time for us end this cycle of pain we are inflicting on each other.
There is a great gulf fixed between those of us who are centered on Scripture and our friends who are of another persuasion. Repeatedly they have spoken of the need to get our church in step with our culture. We on the other hand have no desire to be the chaplain to an increasingly godless society. Rather our desire is to be faithful to the Word of God.
I shall never forget the puzzled look on the face of a newscaster this past Summer. He was covering the events leading up to the selection of an active homosexual as a bishop in the Episcopal Church. He asked one of the priests who had worked hardest to elect Gene Robinson, "How do you feel about what you are doing? This is the first time in recorded history that a mainline denomination has gone against the clear teaching of Scripture. How do you feel about that?" he asked. The priest responded, "I feel fine about that. You can't be guided in the 21st century by an old book like the Bible." The newscaster, obviously bewildered, asked then, "What is your ultimate authority if it is not the Bible?" The priest responded, "Our authority comes from the Holy Spirit working in community." Now, at first glance, I thought, "How subjective can you get?" That means a group could meet down at the convention center and decide the Holy Spirit was leading them to be polygamous. However, as I reflected on his statement, I realized that the church was born out of the Holy Spirit working through community. That is precisely what happened at Pentecost. What is the difference? The difference is Simon Peter stood up immediately and announced that what was occurring was the fulfillment of Scripture. What the prophet Joel had declared was becoming a reality. Then I understood. The Holy Spirit leads in the fulfillment of Scripture and in the illumination of Scripture. He never contradicts the Word of God. If you are being lead by a spirit to do something that is contrary to the Word of God, you must test the spirit, because it is clearly the Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit will never contradict Himself.
For many, truth is still evolving. They sincerely believe that the world has the wisdom we need and we should relativize the Bible so as to bring our thoughts into harmony with whatever the current worldly wisdom suggests. We on the other hand believe that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. And the grass withers, and the flowers fades, but the Word of God shall stand forever. We think that old military man Omar Bradley had it right when he said that, "We do not set our course by the light of every passing ship but by the stars."
Let me confess that there is a deep yearning in my heart as strong as when I first began to preach to be called up in the wave of God's Spirit that is sweeping the earth especially in the global south. Just this week I had dinner with two of the bishops from Africa to listen to them speak of the mission and ministry being accomplished in their areas is to make the heart homesick for a place in the world revival.
I would not even tell my wife of my dream and conviction when I first began to preach in my 39 member church in south Georgia. I really thought a great revival would begin in that tiny church that would sweep through the community and eventually the nation and finally across the world. I thought God might use me to ignite that holy fire. Now my earnest desire is for my church, which exists to spread scriptural holiness across the earth, might be free to recapture our mission and refocus on the great commission to make disciples of all nations. I dream of men's, women's and youth's movements grounded in the Great Commission.
We cannot fight both church and culture. Our culture alone confronts us with more challenges than we can humanly speaking confront and challenge. That struggle, combined with the continuous struggle in the church, is more than we can bear. And our people, who have been faithful and patient, should not have to continue to endure our endless conflict. I believe the time has come when we must to begin to explore an amicable and just separation that will free us both from our cycle of pain and conflict. Such a just separation will protect the property rights of churches and the pension rights of clergy. It will also free us to reclaim our high calling and to fulfill our mission in the world.
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