Conservative UM Voice "Comes Out" By Heading Out
©--This sermon is Copyright 2006 by Michael H. Evans. You have my permission to use parts or the entire work for your church providing you email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for permission and give credit.
Coming Out of the Closet
November 26, 2006
Cedar Grove-Sunshine Church
Today you will not get your normal “Christ the King Sunday” sermon. You will not even get the normal Pastor Mike sermon. As I prepare to preach it I know only that these words need to be said as today I am “Coming Out of the Closet”. Relax. It is not nearly as ominous as it sounds. The words of today’s sermon are what they are. May God bless them.
Where My Struggle Began
The last two years of ministry have left its scars on my being. It started with a question after the acquittal in a church trial of a self avowed practicing homosexual Elder in Full Connection[i]. She had made statements to her District Superintendent and Bishop that she was indeed what is commonly called today “a lesbian” and also stated such in sermons from the pulpit of her assigned church. She freely admitted she was a lesbian and in a sexual relationship with another woman. She was tried and acquitted—that is found not guilty—by a jury of her clergy peers in her annual conference. The jury knew our laws set by General Conference and heard the evidence and let her pass anyway. Today she is still an Elder in Full Connection. The news at the time was so shocking we had a church meeting on the subject in Cedar Grove’s fellowship hall and during the meeting as I was endeavoring to explain how this came to be a question was posed to me simply and straight forward, “How can there be 13 ministers in the entire church much less an annual conference who would let her off?” I had no answer then and after two years I still have no short easy answer.
That question raised other questions for me and set in motion a chain of events for me one of which is this sermon today. What is going on with our clergy that such a blatant violation of both the letter and the spirit of our General Conference laws could take place? And other questions raised themselves above the radar as well that have not gone away such as “What are our bishops saying and doing on the subject of sexuality? To put it simply there was and is an accountability issue involved with my beloved church’s clergy. Where such lapses of good sense an exception or were they going to become the rule?
United Methodist Bishop Watch
The original question was asked and I ended up looking stupid because I had no answer.
I hate looking stupid in front of people. I may in fact be stupid but I still hate to look that way. I began seeking knowledge on the subject. I had a computer and internet access. I knew where to find the list of bishops in chronological order so I went and copied the list from 1972 forward on to a blank screen and started to look up each one. I went in already knowing we had a hand full of pro-homosexual bishops who believed that openly homosexual people should not be discriminated against in the church even in matters of ordination. I knew they were organized and vocal. What I expected to find was a larger group of vocal orthodox bishops organizing and opposing the normalization of homosexuality using both the Bible and even science to explain why homosexuality is harmful to physical bodies and society as a whole. Much later, the findings of that search were posted on the internet at “United Methodist Bishop Watch”.[ii] I will not address those details here. They are available to the public for free twenty four hours a day seven days a week. To put it simply I was disappointed to find that no group of bishops in this ongoing now intergenerational struggle has defended our church’s historic prohibitions against homosexuality with any real zeal against such passion on the contrary to change our stance as a church.
My quest for knowledge from that point to the present has left me with a deep distrust of our leadership of the clergy specifically the episcopacy—what we call our bishops. And when one area of trust is undermined it is often accompanied by scrutiny and doubt in many other areas. Here are a few samples of events that should raise alarm for any United Methodist:
· We know that packs of bishops and individual bishops have put out statements vehemently dissenting in the matter of our present rules on sexuality especially homosexuality declaring our present understanding of homosexuality and policies based on that to be outright wrong. They have gone on to characterize the process used at General Conference to come to this stance as being devoid of the Holy Spirit.[iii]
· We know two dozen or more annual conferences which are led administratively by bishops and an entire jurisdiction openly side with the pro-homosexuals in the 1990s[iv] by declaring themselves “Reconciling Conferences”. Though Jurisdictional Council has forbid this practice these annual conferences and jurisdiction still identify themselves with the pro-homosexual cause.
· We know bishops have arranged and participated in protests outside on the streets of the host city demanding General Conference change its stance on homosexuality even to the point of being arrested.[v] They made the news and then went on to defend their actions as just and right winning for the poor and down trodden civil rights.
· Bishops active and retired have had a hand in leading and participating in apostate preaching and teaching events “The Re-Imagining Conference of 1993”[vi] and The United Methodist Women’s 2006 Assembly who enjoined pro-homosexual speaker and openly homosexual musicians in their national gathering of women.[vii]
· An overwhelming number of active and retired bishops support “The Hearts on Fire Convocation 2005”. This gathering gained national notoriety as pro-homosexuals from across the nation gathered at one of the most revered sites in Methodism to preach and teach the goodness of homosexual sex.[viii] Forty plus bishops wrote sending greetings to the gathering. Several active and retired bishops participated in the planning of this event and even spoke at it. No participating bishop dared call homosexuality evil or a sin.[ix]
· We know General Conference 2008 will be led in worship by two openly homosexual worship leaders.[x] The Reconciling Ministries Network is thrilled about the prospect and once again traditionalists angry feeling betrayed. Yet no protest to date has moved any bishop to speak out against this.
· We know The General Board of Church and Society has openly come out supporting change in The Book of Discipline regarding homosexuality. This is a classic case of the tale wagging the dog. The GBCS works for The UMC per the rulings of General Conference.[xi] In any other situation, this would be considered insubordination.
This conflict is being caused by a major shift in how we as United Methodists view God, interpret the Bible and represent Jesus. This is seen clearly in the actions of three particular bishops along with their fellow disciple bishops who support them and openly hail them as fresh voices of theology:
Ø One such bishop is Joseph Sprague. Bishop Sprague wrote Affirmations of a Dissenter and so reinterprets the majority of our Articles of Religion and The Apostle’s Creed as to make Christianity something totally alien to the plain meaning of those texts.
Ø Another such Bishop is Susan Morrison. Bishop Morrison embraces paganism and the worship of Sophia and has recently stated that the greatest event in the United Methodist Church she has been to was “The Re-Imagining Conference of 1993”. Bishop Morrison also admits she has been to many “croning” services which are Wiccan rites. She is careful to explain that though she has been to them she has not participated in them.
Ø Another such Bishop is Minerva Carcano. At every opportunity Bishop Carcano preaches the gospel of radical freedom. According to her gospel homosexuals should be free to be homosexual and be accepted and even applauded.[xii] She has been known to publicly endorse events by “The Reconciling Ministries Network” and encourage the clergy who serve under her to attend their meetings.
Ø And yet these three leading the march and a couple of dozen in close step behind them my major concern is the overwhelming lack of confrontation from other bishops over the words and actions of those who are outspoken against the church they took a vow to uphold.
Communicating With My Superiors
As one who is not known for keeping his peace I have shared my struggles over this issue with my superiors through my District Superintendent. Early on I began forwarding copies of my findings up the chain of supervision expressing my distress and even anger at such events. I even began sharing on the net my findings to anyone that would listen. To date to say that the episcopacy in general or my own particular bishop has been unresponsive is an understatement.
My Expectation of Bishops
All of my frustrations regarding the current events of our church keep coming back to the episcopacy of our church. I am well aware that as a church we do not give our bishops direct authority over the organization of our church and we do not operate with the belief that they are infallible. But we give our bishops a place on every agency, commission and board and we look to them to speak for Christ and speak out against evil. With just a word from a bishop many of the events I have named and others could have been stopped before they started. But instead of opposing evil as a group they are in my view embracing it under the guise of “Open hearts, open minds, open doors”. And while we supposedly open the doors wider and wider and lower the standards of church membership to correct for the loss of three million people since our merger in 1968 the situation gets worse not better.
I had hoped that I could maintain the optimism that our church would be led back from the brink of oblivion by our clergy and in particular our bishops. But unless there is a mighty movement of God to the contrary The United Methodist Church will be led to oblivion with our clergy and particularly our bishops leading the way. Before I began my quest for knowledge on the subject of the bishops in the modern era on the topic of sexual ethics I had hopes of reform. Yet the episcopacy has proven openly resistant to any reform by theological persuasion, membership loss or even financial bankruptcy.
Coming Out of the Closet
So where does coming out of the closet come in? Coming out of some closet has been the thing to do the past few decades from clergy across the board. Some come out on their own and some are forced out by others. The only closet that a bishop hasn’t come out of is the closet of homosexuality and perhaps even that is not far off. But today I come out of my own closet. Don’t get too upset yet, it isn’t what you think.
For instance looking back over the decades of clergy misconduct I have not:
· I have not built a theme park and double booked the hotel rooms.
· I have not had an affair with my administrative assistant. That was made difficult by the fact I did not have an administrative assistant.
· I have not had inappropriate relations with your wives or single ladies of the church.
· I have not abused your children.
· I have not embezzled your money.
· I have not sought out pornography on the computer at the church or in home.
· Nor am I coming out of the closet as a homosexual. I cannot come out of a closet I am not in.
The lack of these all too common sins otherwise knows as closets within the modern church does not make me a saint in the Roman Catholic sense of that word. It does give me a clear conscience however and an encouragement that I am refraining from evil.
Today I come out of the closet as a dissenter against our dissenting apostate and even heretical bishops who have denied in our time the deity of Christ, the authority of the Bible and promoted evil within the church. I suppose I have always been a dissenter of these bishops but now I am out of the closet and on the record.
The problem is since our bishops define the clergy covenant then I am obviously outside the covenant and if I am outside the clergy covenant than I believe the only option of integrity is to leave the United Methodist Church as a clergy person. To stay and remain silent is to give the impression that I am apathetic or complacent. To stay and keep silent may also send the message that I am complicit in the evil and I definitely do not want to do that.
Leaving the United Methodist Church clergy is not a step I take lightly. In fact several renewal groups within United Methodism are begging their traditionalist constituents to hang in there citing reasons why it is going to get better in the future and soon. They point to changing statistics within the United Methodist Church that will turn us back to a traditionalist view. They say that present legislation before General Conference 2008 will not pass. Yet it is my belief that whatever happens at General Conference 08 even if all measures now backed by multiple annual conferences are soundly defeated our burgeoning number of active bishops in the US who dissent against General Conference’s present stance on homosexuality will conduct their annual conferences as if the rules had changed. And our retired bishops will continue to malign General Conference’s decisions and throw themselves into the fight for opening our church at every level to the vocal openly homosexual until our policies are officially changed.
What This Means for The Evanses
What this means for the Evanses is another chapter in our book of walking by faith as we work out our salvation with fear and trembling. As much as we preachers preach on walking the walk and not just talking the talk this is fitting. As of now, I am pursuing a leave of absence for 2007-08 appointment year and then in 2008 leave the UMC clergy altogether. What happens beyond that is unclear. What I can tell you is I have not worked out a secret deal with any church or denomination to provide a safety net of another job with salary, insurance and retirement as I have now. In just seven months I may well be self employed in a start up business scraping by day to day. We are simply thankful as a family for a wonderful house to live in which we are now renovating in anticipation of a sudden early retirement from the clergy of the UMC. Like our forefathers and mothers of faith at the direction of God we start walking. Like Abraham and Sarah we may walk for a while and find ourselves back in familiar areas as we walk towards our final heavenly home. In other words we do not rule out coming back to the UMC as laity knowing the differing denominations in America have equal and sometimes worse problems. The world has a saying, “The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know”. Sadly there is some truth to that. But for the next seven months as all this plays out, you can expect to get the kind of sermons and teaching sessions you have gotten the last few years.
In closing I want to strive for Jesus against the world not the leaders of my church for a time. I certainly do not want to continue under the rule of bishops who often view anyone with an orthodox belief in matters of sexual ethics to be an intolerant malcontent homophobe. But in this transition I want be like Christ if at all possible and leaving the clergy of the UMC amicably at this point is my conscious effort to like Christ.
What This Means for Cedar Grove and Sunshine Churches
What does this mean for the members and friends of Cedar Grove and Sunshine United Methodist Churches?
Get some perspective. The one thing we know for sure about our church is our preachers come and go. This is nothing knew. It would be only a matter of time before a change of pastorate would be inevitable. At five years I made it more than most! Functionally speaking, you will be assigned a new preacher as has been done since your inception. I am just one of many along the way. The church will not collapse simply because one clergy person has left. That is perspective.
Then hear the call of the scriptures and do not forsake the gathering of yourselves together for worship, study and fellowship. The Evans’ are not leaving the church universal and you should not either. And before you think about running off to another denomination stop by my house and lets do some research first to make sure you aren’t going from the pot into the fire.
As a local church body continue to examine all apportionments and support or don’t support as appropriate. Be represented at Annual Conference and go prepared. As for engaging the episcopacy on matters of pastoral appointments, learn as a church through your PPRC what you can to do to determine who you pastor is.
A Graceful Ending
I normally end a sermon with the words “This is the Word of God for the People of God”. But that is after an extended look at a particular text and at the end a common sense application. I will not do that today. But I pray that somewhere between the human words breathes the Word of God that speaks to the souls of men and women.
The good news is, if you came today with the burden of sin on your heart you may still offer your heart to Christ today. Christ has often overcome the trials and tribulations even within the church to deliver souls eternally to his Father. You may receive the forgiveness of sins that comes from repentance and belief in Jesus Christ even if that was not the particular focus of today’s particular sermon.
For the rest of body I call you forward to the altar today for prayer. Pray for your own concerns. Pray for the souls of others. Pray for the peace of our country and the world. Pray for our denomination and our local church that we might be found to be useful in the in the hand of God Almighty. There will be no music to make the time pass more quickly. There will be no singing so that we may to hide behind. Just come.
[i] Karen Dammann.
[iii] www.umbishopwatch.net “Watershed Moment 2” covers “The 1996 Declaration”. Bishop Carcano has also stated this publicly at “Hearts on Fire 2005” and is recorded on the DVD published by “The Reconciling Ministry’s Network”.
[v] Bishop Sprague isn’t the only one but he may the most famous.
[vi] Ibid. “Watershed Movement 1”. Tapes of this event are still around. The address and phone number are given.
[vii] http://www.renewnetwork.org/ has archived articles on this at http://www.renewnetwork.org/Womens%20Division/Women's%20Div_2006%20Assembly.htm
[viii] The Reconciling Ministries Network still has on its site Katalyst; Spring 2005 which gives the courses taught at http://www.rmnetwork.org/katalyst/kat_spring05.pdf .
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