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A Special Message from Mark Tooley

A Special Message from Mark Tooley

December 22, 2005

Dear United Methodist Friend,

The bishops of our church are not quite sure what to say about sexual morality. They recently issued a statement declaring that "homosexuality" is not an obstacle to church membership. But the bishops can't agree whether they're talking about "homosexual desires" or "homosexual practice," and whether their response is to convey tolerance or outright approval.

However, they are quite sure about one thing. They absolutely, unequivocally condemn the U.S.-led military action to overthrow Saddam Hussein and establish a democracy in Iraq.

These statements from our bishops emblemize the problems that plague our United Methodist Church. Liberal elites, including many bishops, obfuscate what the Bible says about key issues of morality and Christian doctrine. But when it comes to "progressive" political causes, they speak forcefully and without compromise!

As leader of UMAction, I'm fighting this complete misunderstanding of the church's true purpose. I believe the church should proclaim classic Christian beliefs without hesitation or hedging. But the institutional church should be reluctant to tie the Gospel to any secular political agenda. Christians can and do disagree about political issues, the war in Iraq among them. But we are united by our common faith in Jesus Christ.

Do you agree? If so, please read on. I need your help in working to reclaim our church for traditional Christian faith.

Let me tell you more about the bishops' recent meeting. They nearly unanimously approved a resolution condemning the U.S. military presence in Iraq. A separate unofficial statement, signed by over half of the U.S. bishops, even more harshly denounced the "unjust and immoral invasion and occupation." It alleged that Americans are being "sent to Iraq to kill and be killed."

Note that the bishops did not acknowledge that some of our military personnel in Iraq might actually believe in what they are doing there. No, according to the bishops' statement, these brave young men and women are merely victims of President Bush. How insulting!

But it gets worse.

In contrast to the harsh and lengthy denunciation of the U.S. presence in Iraq, the bishops also issued a short statement on Darfur, a brutalized region in the African country of Sudan. They urged prayer but carefully refrained from criticizing the radical Islamist Sudanese government for its genocidal campaign against the Darfurians. Presumably, the bishops regard that situation as more complicated than Iraq's.

So the bishops are willing to trash the United States, its leaders, and its military for attempting to build democracy in Iraq. But they are evidently too timid to condemn the radical Sudanese regime's deliberate destruction of hundreds of thousands of lives in pursuit of an Islamic theocracy.

Where is the sense in that? Where is the Christianity in that?

Quite even-handedly, the bishops, in their official statement, "lament the continued warfare by the United States, coalition forces, and the insurgents" in Iraq. How nicely impartial! The bishops did not make any distinction between our own armed forces' attempts to rebuild Iraq and the suicide bombers who are blowing up Iraqi civilians in order to impose an Islamic state.

No doubt, if transported back in history, these bishops likewise would have impartially "lamented" the "continued warfare" between Allied and German forces in Normandy in 1944, while blaming the plight of millions of victims of fascist aggression on the United States.

Is America always wrong? Well, according to our bishops, it seems so.

The bishops' official statement blamed the United States for the "denigration of human dignity" and "gross violations of human rights of prisoners of war." There was no mention of Saddam Hussein's human rights record, which includes the murder of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, torture rooms, mass rape, and the theft of billions of dollars.

Nor did the bishops acknowledge the type of repressive regime that would result if the terrorists in Iraq prevailed. Instead, their statement urged the withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Iraq, while seeking a greater United Nations role.

Yes, that's a solution! Apparently, these bishops imagine that the UN observers who failed to halt the genocide in Rwanda will suddenly be able to master the situation in Iraq. What planet do they live on?

In the unofficial statement, signed by 96 bishops, Iraqis were described as "needlessly" dying. But the bishops did not identify who was killing the most Iraqis (i.e., the terrorists), nor did they explain how this killing would stop if the United States were to withdraw.

Neither of the statements from the bishops mentioned the national elections held in Iraq since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Nor did either mention that the United States is spending tens of billions of dollars on Iraqi schools, hospitals, electrical grids, water supply, and other infrastructure. Evidently, these efforts mean nothing to the bishops.

This unofficial statement of the bishops was framed as an apology for their ostensible "complicity" in the Iraq war. "In the face of the United States Administration's rush toward military action based on misleading information, too many of us were silent," the bishops asserted. Now they want to "repent."

Such ostentatious humility is not impressive. The fact is that the bishops have hardly been "silent." They have now issued three official denunciations of the U.S. presence in Iraq in as many years. None of the bishops has publicly defended the war, and one (Bishop Joseph Sprague) was arrested in a demonstration against the war outside the White House. Another bishop (Joe Wilson) joined activist Cindy Sheehan in her demonstrations outside the Bush ranch in Texas this summer. So this "repentance" rings pretty false.

The bishops are supposed to represent the church, of course. Their official statement partially quoted the United Methodist Church's "Social Principles," which call war "incompatible" with the teachings of Christ. But it neglected to acknowledge the very next sentence of the Social Principles, which states that war might be justified in cases of genocide, brutal suppression, and aggression. Seemingly, each one of these terms could have accurately described Saddam's regime.

These bishops said they were repenting because they failed to "warn the nations" that security depends not on "weapons of war" but helping the poor and vulnerable to "flourish." The bishops declared that they are praying for war to end everywhere, for "justice to roll down like waters," for an end to "prejudice toward people of other faiths and cultures," and for continuing "dialogue" and "unity in a world of diversity."

They could have said that United Methodists pray for the return of Jesus Christ. But they didn't. Without that recognition of the Lord Jesus' indispensable role in consummating his own eternal kingdom, all this squishy rhetoric sounds like warmed-over 1960s utopianism. It's the flower children and chronic demonstrators who never really grew up and faced the real, sinful world. Unfortunately, many of our bishops speak as if the 1960s had never ended.

More disturbingly, many bishops have not moved beyond the sexual revolution of the 1960s. The United Methodist Church, as reflected at General Conference every four years, continues to speak strongly in favor of the biblical teachings about marriage and sex. But the bishops aren't sure where they stand.

This fall, our church's top court, the Judicial Council, defrocked a minister who was openly involved in a lesbian sexual relationship with another woman. And the court also ruled that a Virginia pastor, Ed Johnson, had the pastoral discretion to refuse to extend immediate church membership to an unrepentant man involved in a sexual relationship with another man.

Johnson's bishop, Charlene Kammerer, had been punishing Johnson. She placed the pastor on unpaid leave, without even consulting his church, simply because Johnson was following his understanding of the membership vows in which we promise to turn away from sin.

Bishop Kammerer and other bishops responded with indignation when the Judicial Council ruled that Johnson should be returned to his local church and reimbursed for the salary withheld from him. The official statement of the Council of Bishops seems to criticize the Judicial Council.

Clearly, the bishops of our church are divided over homosexuality. Many of our bishops openly support same-sex "marriage" and homosexual clergy. Other bishops uphold the church's position. This situation breeds confusion, of course.

But the bishops seem to be united in condemning the U.S military action in Iraq! There were abstentions, but no open dissents from that statement. How sad!

UMAction is challenging the bishops of our church. For too long they have been unchallenged, and they have not been held accountable for their political statements.

More importantly, UMAction is informing hundreds of thousands of United Methodist church members all across the country about what bishops and other church officials are doing in the name of our church.

For too long, bishops and church officials have operated in a fog of self-protection, making irresponsible statements while hoping that church members don't actually find out!

That fog is being dissolved, thanks to UMAction.

And our United Methodist Church is slowly moving back in a positive, Bible-oriented direction. The General Conference and the Judicial Council are showing leadership, even when the bishops are not. Praise God!

Meanwhile, there is much work yet ahead of us.

UMAction can accomplish only as much as our supporters enable us. We depend on your support. We believe that we speak for most United Methodists when we challenge irresponsible political statements by the bishops and other church officials. We believe that most United Methodists hold traditional Christian convictions about marriage and sexuality.

As the year concludes, we need your help. Your contribution of $50, $75, $100 or more helps us to continue the work of church reform, through mailings, through our website, through news releases to the media, radio interviews, op-eds, and newspaper quotes. When the bishops will not defend our church's beliefs, UMAction will!

Donations by credit card are accepted on the IRD website.

Your contribution to UMAction is an investment in the church's future. Just as importantly, we need your help in reaching MORE United Methodists. Our mailing list is 400,000 homes. But there are over 8 million United Methodists in America.

Can you send us your church directory? We will send our UMAction Briefing to members of your church at no cost to you.

Thank you for your faithfulness to our church!

With gratitude,

Mark Tooley
UMAction Executive Director

P.S. Please be sure to sign up on our website www.ird-renew.org (http://www.ird-renew.org/) for regular e-mail updates about what is happening in the church! Our ministry is to keep you informed. Your gifts make it possible. Thank you!

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