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NIC Voice GC2004 Update - Part XXI

NIC VOICE is a network of laity in the Northern Illinois Conference of the United Methodist Church.

UM Action : 2004 General Conference

The 2004 General Conference of the United Methodist Church is taking place on April 27 through May 7 in Pittsburgh, PA.  UMAction director Mark Tooley is in Pittsburgh, and will be issuing regular reports on the issues and controversies.  Check this page for the most current articles and press releases on the conference.

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Renegade Bishop Participates in "Gay" Church Service
John Lomperis
May 5, 2004

Methodist Bishop Joseph Sprague (photo courtesy UMNS)
On Sunday May 3, the Reconciling Ministries Network (a “gay” caucus within the UMC) performed a church service at East Liberty Presbyterian Church aimed at General Conference delegates.  Joe Sprague, the Chicago United Methodist bishop who last year infamously denounced orthodox Christian beliefs about Christ’s divinity as “idolatrous,” was an official “co-celebrant.”  Sprague wore a rainbow stole popular among delegates and activists with the Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN).  

The event began with an address by Rev. Troy Plummer, RMN’s executive director.  Alluding to their failure to advance much of their legislative agenda at the General Conference, Plummer urged the audience to “keep calling the church to inclusiveness.”  

The centerpiece of the service was the “Witness to the Word” delivered by the Rev. Janet Wolf.  Wolf claimed that the church was at a “crisis” point in which the “evil” of those who oppose their agenda “seems to reign.”  She urged the audience to thoroughly reject “compromise…and cooperation with the powers and principalities” of evil.  She also exhorted them “to keep on keeping on—to not give up.”

Janet Wolf 200px
Rev. Janet Wolf (photo courtesy UMNS)
A number of recurring themes were apparent in Wolf’s address.  One such theme was the fight for “inclusiveness” in the church.  Another emphasis apparent in Wolf’s speech was her assertion that “who we are at core is some good stuff!”  She claimed that people were “divinely designed” to come in “all shapes and sizes” as well as “all sexual identities,” which were all equally and unquestionably good.  Also highlighted was the emotional pain experienced by those within the reconciling movement, with several allusions to “the huge tears that have been shed by the people in this room.”

Wolf repeatedly told her audience that that despite their failures in the struggle and despite their personal shortcomings, they could take comfort in the fact that God was actively on their side.

Wolf warned her audience to beware of “the man who appears to be the Lamb, uses the words of the Lamb,” and “appears in the places where the Lamb might be, but is not the Lamb.”  During one of her many equations of various political struggles for “justice” with the will of God, Wolf approvingly cited an activist friend who had said that proclaiming  “Hallelujah!” (Hebrew for “Praise God”) in church was “the same damn thing” as militantly raising one’s fist as yelling “A la lucha!” (Spanish for “To the struggle”). 

Rev. Karen Oliveto spoke briefly after Wolf.  The San Francisco minister was greeted with resounding applause after being introduced as the first United Methodist pastor to conduct a legally recognized homosexual “marriage” ceremony.  She lavished praised upon the RMN, which she said has “made [her] the pastor [she] is today” by giving her a “theology of inclusion.”  Oliveto’s vision of “inclusion” did not seem to include theological conservatives, or anyone else who favored a “restrictive definition of marriage.”  Denouncing the “oppression” and “homophobia” of official UMC policy, she bragged that “try as others may, they can’t get rid of us.”  

The service closed with a baptism service of two children.  One was an infant and the other was old enough to walk and converse.  Joseph Sprague was one of the officiating ministers.  During the liturgy, they warmly spoke of how the children were being baptized the children with their “sexual identity and gender orientation yet unrevealed.”

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