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Christian Exodus from UMC Evident in Bishop Sprague's Northern Illinois Conference

Rev. Debbie Fisher
Senior Pastor
First United Methodist Church
Downers Grove, IL

July 3, 2003

Dear Debbie,

As a concerned member of this church and the Northern Illinois Conference, I find it impossible to agree with and therefore follow the leadership of the Northern Illinois Conference and this church.  Please understand that this is a statement that reflects the concerns I have as a Bible believing Christian over recent interpretations and theological rhetoric that Bishop Sprague has chosen to expound.  I cannot agree with his outlandish interpretation of key components of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  There are certain essential truths which cannot be denied. Paul said to Timothy, "for there is one God, and mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all." [I Timothy 2:5,6]  According to this scripture there is only one way to God, and that is through his Son, Jesus Christ.  I believe the Gospel is able to defend itself and therefore we will not number and list all of the scripture interpretations I cannot agree with as presented by Bishop Sprague.

However, it is oversimplifying to attribute my departure to the views of one single errant Bishop.  He could not continue as he has without support from others.  I and many others also oppose many of the programs that FUMC has supported, including the passing of a resolution at Annual Conference to teach to our children in our Sunday schools that homosexuality is a gift from God to be celebrated.  This violates our Book of Discipline as well as the Scriptures.

At FUMC, Downers Grove, there have been three Jesus [Seminar] on the Road seminars, and another JSR Scholar, Marcus Borg, and Bishop Sprague, all of whom question the deity of Jesus Christ.  FUMC has also sponsored a speaker, Ted Jennings who has written a book claiming that Jesus was a homosexual.  We had a United Methodist clergy speak at Youth Outreach 2002 who is a self-admitted practicing homosexual.  He has also been elected as a delegate to General Conference to represent the Northern Illinois Conference.  We have supported a petition to ask the President of the United States to repent but yet have endorsed our Bishop to violate the laws of this country as well our own Book of Discipline.  When these issues were brought up, they were either swept under the rug, met with nasty emails from the supporters of these programs, or by more cowardly secretive correspondence that was not "Open to All."  I have several times asked for presentations that gave the more traditional, Biblical side to these issues.  I was told it would be "too controversial."  There has been too much talking in "code" and not enough straight talk.  I strive to be a good steward of God's provisions and with clear conscience cannot support leadership with such differing beliefs.  As I have said before, I wish to go to church to worship, not to fight or have to defend my Christian beliefs.

I realize that I alone do not have all of the truth, but we all are accountable for what we know to be true as stated in the "Word of God for the People of God."  I wish you well, but effective immediately, I am resigning my membership in this church as well as any committees on which I serve.  My wife, Donna, co-chair of the Children and Family Work Area will remain thru Vacation Bible School next month to help with the transition of Shannon into her new role, as well as the other co-chair, Nancy's pregnancy.  I hope that Shannon, with her evangelical background will be treated with more respect than I have been.  I believe the membership of FUMC deserve to be given all the facts about the programs the church leadership is supporting.  There are other members of the Administrative Council who are planning on leaving over these same issues.  However, they thought my letter was too mild and will submit their own.

Respectfully Submitted,

Joe Royston
Chair Mission Work Area

CC: Richard Wansley, Administrative Council Chair; Rev. John Smoke, Associate Pastor; Rev. Nick Nicholas, Youth Minister; Danita Anderson, Aurora District Superintendent; C. Joseph Sprague, Bishop NIL

From:  "Joe Royston" <joelroydton@hotmail.com>
To:  C. Joseph Sprague <jsprague@umcnic.org>
Subject:  Controversy
Date:  Thu, 09 Jan 2003 09:33:30 -0600

We have been discussing the fact that all of our so-called Christian Education events have been of the new age or unorthodox variety at FUMC, D.G. "Jesus on the Road Seminar's, Marcus Borg, and now you.  I have been waiting for someone to stand up and say, "I believe in the Jesus as described in the word of God."  I believe that Jesus shed blood on the Cross was for me and anyone else who believes in him.  The bible is very clear that Jesus is the only way to salvation -- that we have the promise of eternal life as demonstrated by the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

I am offended and hurt that I am called a neo literalist, narrow minded, and small minded because I do believe the Holy Bible and the Doctrine of the United Methodist Church, as well as the stilted language of the ancient creeds, like the Apostles Creed.

It appears to me that you are more interested in stirring up controversy than preaching the plan of salvation.  It is my understanding reading Titus 1:7-9 and the Book of Discipline that you, as a Bishop, are suppose to the defend the word of God and the Teaching of the Church as well as the United Methodist Discipline and Doctrines.  In short you are supposed to protect the flock from people like you.  Although I disagree with the vote taken by the Adult Education Work Area to allow you to sell your book at our church, I will show Christian Love by not protesting it or having to be arrested and disturbing the Sanctity of the House of God.  However, I would ask that you be a gentleman and not do so.

I heard a young woman last night at the meeting express her view of the "historic Jesus."  She stated at least five times that Jesus is not God, and not the Way to Salvation.  I am not angry at her, I view her as a victim of false teaching done by the disciples of these "Jesus on the Road seminars" as well your written work.  Even more concerning to me, was later I found out that she was teaching my 10 year-old daughter.  So keeping that in mind, I feel that I am very calm.

Again, please do not come and spread that propaganda in my church.


Joe Royston
Member of First United Methodist Church
Downers Grove, IL

[Official Letterhead]

The United Methodist Church

77 West Washington Street, Suite 1820, Chicago, Illinois 60602
Office: (312) 346-9766 Ext. 322;  Fax: (312) 214-9031

PHYLLIS E. GRIFFIN, Administrative Secretary

January 22, 2003

Mr. Joe Royston
435 Grant Street
Downers Grove, IL 60515

Dear Mr. Royston:

I write in response to your January 9, 2003 e-mail and other communications from you about me.

That you harbor such rage against me, given the several, seemingly mutually supportive and missionally directed conversations we have had, is a mystery to me.  If you so despise me and my theological thinking, why didn't you approach me either alone or with a friend (Matthew 18) so that we could have attempted to at least understand each other before you acted as you have?

I find your behavior not only hurtful, but indicative of unaddressed grief and hurt that are being projected onto me.  Your pain must be immense.  I care about your apparent woundedness but remain troubled that you assign motives and behavior to me that do not exist.

To be sure, I stand against the right-wing take-over of The United Methodist Church.  I have spent my life seeking to assure a place at the table for the whole family, including evangelicals before you were the dominant voice.  But, my critique of neo-literalism stands. Neo-literalism is full of ill-informed biblical assumptions that render the church mute on key issues and drives many people, especially the young, away from the church.  I stand ready to discuss these and other like matters with you or any of your colleagues.

I did not invite myself to First UMC to "sell books" and I take serious issue with such an allegation.  I responded, months ago, to a formal invitation by staff and elected leaders to preach, discuss the book, and autograph copies, if persons so requested. Your hostile use of the word "propaganda" associated with what I do and have done in more than 300 NIC local congregations over these years is a scurrilous charge.  You have assumed and alleged far more than you know.  This is hardly fair, to say the least.

Facts sometimes are helpful: NIC income and Sunday worship attendance increased each of the first five years of my tenure.  These good news facts are not my doing, but they are a clear refutation of your ill-informed statement about my adverse effect on missional giving.  A retraction, please?

Do whatever you must regarding my visit.  However, your behavior is not received by me as an act of Christian love.  You have shown me none.  And that is offensive.  After all, is not that what it comes down to in the name and spirit of Jesus the Christ, our Savior?


Bishop C. Joseph Sprague

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