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Hearts on Fire:  A review by Mike Evans

Date: January 2, 2006

As a matter of introduction, this review has a dual purpose.  First is to see if the reporting of the HOF event by The Institute of Religion and Democracy was accurate.  Many were the claims that quotes were taken out of context.  Not being in attendance and Lake Junaluska Assembly (LJA) myself and LJA not streaming it over the internet the way they have other events the only real way to see what was said was to buy the DVDs by The RMN and view them.  These were at least the “public” sessions noting that all seminars and classes including the controversial ones described in the Reconciling Ministries Network publications were off limits to reporters.  The second purpose was to be able to say I took HOF seriously enough to devote several hours of my life to really listen and respond with thoughtful positive and negative comments.

Let it be noted for the record I am a traditionalist.  As for supporting traditionalist groups such as IRD and Good News I can honestly say I have never to my knowledge contributed money to them or availed myself of their activities.  I am a sympathizer to their organizations.  But this is about my own struggle with the pro-homosexual movement within the United Methodist Church.  I come with the questions of how do these people who organize and attend this meeting see themselves and view the Bible?  Also what is their strength and determination? I have these and many other questions.

The style of writing is not for publication.  It is simply my “class notes” as I proceed for over twenty hours in December amidst Advent-Christmas services and two significant deaths in my family to listen from beginning to end to all material  on these DVDs.  For the most part I simply recorded what I heard.  You will see some brackets “[ ]” from time to time where I noted my own thoughts as opposed to the speaker.  But at least you know whose thought is whose.  So let’s begin.

Friday Evening Opening Worship—Beth Stroud

The opening worship service of any event sets the stage for the rest of the event.  I watched with an eye for dramatic presentation from beginning to end and an ear for theology.  And this worship in many aspects from drama was as good as it could ever get.  The RMN and planners of this event spared no effort in artistry and symbolism.  Flowing banners moving with the wind decorated the entire hall, not just the worship platform.  Symbols of the yoke of Christ and rainbow colored stoles and pulpit decoration were evident.  The use of digital projection is prominent.  The opening procession by a Korean couple bearing light and figuratively lighting the fire of the Holy Spirit in a large upheld cauldron (it was actually electric) was magnificent.  The music of the worship service was quite varied from a simple drum beat to jazz piano New Orleans style.  An unscheduled love offering was taken for the victims of Katrina and during that event as well as all the worship service people were invited to take the salt given to them at the beginning and pour it into the water fonts around the worship center to symbolize the tears of the victims and their own tears.  There was a liturgical dance too and the litanies and prayers were many.

Beth Stroud spoke at this event.  Her text was I Kings 19:4-15.  This is the story of Elijah on the run, worn out and wanting to die.  Of Beth herself, she is by all accounts quite charming.  She is soft spoken, vulnerable and witty.  She likens herself in a small way to Elijah.  She is tired and stressed (thin) just like Elijah.  She too feels as if she has been fighting the prophets of Baal though she didn’t kill any of them.  The traditionalists people of the UMC are the ones she has been fighting as well as church trials and appeals.  The weekend event she hopes will be her time of quite. One thing that may have been unwittingly symbolic was when Beth began to preach she took the Bible off the pulpit and placed it underneath.

Summation

As the service closes I note that this is a people who want to see themselves and be portrayed as victims but never victimizing anyone else.  They also want to tie their plight with African-Americans and their civil rights struggle.  This was done while the invitation was given for the love offering for Katrina victims and historical African-American lost facilities.  They connect themselves to the plight of the American Indian and Chief Junaluska himself at the introduction of the liturgical dance remembering the trail of tears.  Only the very rare and unusual heterosexual female mentioned in Beth’s sermon has done anything loving or good.  Indeed Beth plainly says the traditionalists beliefs can be their own form of idolatry.  The prescription for our denomination which is likened to a boxing ring with everyone with their dukes up is silence.  I doubt that silence will extend to them in the light of General Conference decisions and their advocacy to overturn them with spoken word and written text ranging from those in print to the internet however.

One special detail about facilities used needs attention.  We note the use of Schackleford Hall rather than the large Stuart Auditorium or even the spacious Harrell Center for this event.  With and estimated 400-500 coming to attend this was a strategic move.  This size crowd in either of the other facilities would have looked small and unsuccessful.  But in Schackleford Hall it looks like packed house.

Saturday Worship—Bishop Minerva Carcano

Bishop Carcano is one of the favorite Bishops of The RMN.  She in fact did advocate the event for the clergy under her authority urging them to be a part of it.  See her entry at UM Bishop Watch.  She can in no way be considered neutral in the debate of our church.

One note about the music of the service.  Traditional hymns such as “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” have been radically rewritten to celebrate the diversity of the group.  No mention of the “prone to wonder Lord I feel it.  Prone to leave the God I love”.  The new words celebrate all aspects of human thought  and behavior with no boundaries.

Bishop Carcano preaches first from Matthew 14:13-21 where Jesus trying to withdraw to be alone is found by the crowds.  He proceeds to have pity on them and heals them then feeds the 5000 plus women and children.  To Bishop Carcano, the feeding of the 5000 was the picture of heaven with no social class.  When they were told to sit down there were no checks not even about sexual orientation.  The emphasis is on the compassion of Jesus Christ.  At this point the not so subtle connection is made between sexually different and people of real need.  In the sermon the disciples are the bad guys of the story and those that dare to have a standard of holiness is just like them.  Understood in the sermon is the point that she-them are the Christ-like figures living by the Spirit of God.

She confesses she is still a UM by the grace of God.  She says she could tell many stories but tells just one told.  When she was a young girl her father cut off a finger as a butcher in an accident.   Being an illegal alien and trying to collect insurance he was subsequently fired.  This resulted in move from California to Texas.  When they tried to go to church at an Anglo-UM church they received a cold welcome.  The Baptist came to their house to welcome them in and they stayed there for a while.  Her point is no one should be rejected by their church race, culture and sexual orientation and that is just wrong she says.

To Bishop Carcano, what is important is they share Jesus world view where no one is excluded.  Her call is for a universalist view.  She speaks against the concept of amicable separation saying it denies God’s vision of a household that includes all of us.  Of course this denies all the sayings of exclusion from heaven based on behavior and attitude.

Bishop Carcano’s concern for UM is not about declining membership or divisions or doctrinal standards.  It is about our scarcity mentality.  She calls us to resist the market mentality.  She wonders what would happen if we gave over all our resources to aid the poor.  She names the Good News Movement, Confessing Movement and IRD specifically as well as those resources of the RMN.  Of course this would get the desired effect of the pro-homosexual community; a church that saw absolutely no distinctions.  But I wonder if her call to devote all resources includes the 109,000 dollar salary, parsonage, travel expenses and other resources of her Episcopal office?

She then addresses I Kings 17:8-24.  This is another Elijah story.  Elijah is in exile and sent to the widow who gathers sticks to cook her and her son’s last food before they died.  This is the passage of the famous miracle of the flour and oil that never run out.  The son later dies and is resurrected.  The widow believes this is happening because of her sin.  God used Elijah’s body as His instrument to restore life to convince the woman Elijah was really a man of God.  Those present are to use their bodies in such a way too. 

In the end having a radically hospitable UMC is the ultimate goal.  The song that follows drives the point home to anyone who might have missed it.  And if you missed the point of the sermon and the song you have another chance in the invitation to the Love Feast to get it.  The love of God is a love of God that accepts you just as your are.  There is no call to repentance unless you object to the behavior of homosexuality.  Her sermon ignores the total context of Jesus teachings about judgment.  Yes, Bishop Carcano.  Jesus loved and had compassion on all the 5000 men plus women and children he fed that day.  But they were also not in heaven yet and they won’t get there with this sermon.  All in all, there is nothing new or particularly inspiring here. 

Sunday Worship--Dr. Margaret Mallory

The worship services shares in the qualities of drama as before.  The processional is done carrying the large yoke which is similar to the one on the pulpit.  Its litanies, songs and prayers advocate openness to all specifically genders.  Again a traditional hymn “Behold the Lord is King” is re-written for the purpose of advocating openness to all. 

Anthem’s strain “I need you, you need me” sounds like a cross between the Barney song and “We Are The Children”.  This song is not a song of devotion or prayer addressed to God.  It is a plea for everyone to get along.  But it isn’t a song whose message is one of compromise.  Later the words are “Stand with me, agree with me.”

The Rev. Dr. Mallory unlike other preachers who wore stoles over informal clothes dressed in full regalia.  Her texts were II Kings 2:1-14 which deals with Elijah’s ascension and Elisha’s struggle with succession.  Also Matthew 20:20-24 where the mother of James and John presses Jesus for the promise of her boys sitting at his right and left.

Dr. Mallory begins by saying she is proud to be there.  She struggles with one question, “Do I preach the word to all the people or to a precious few?  Answer; to every living creature—every one that will stand still and listen.”  From there she focuses on the mantle of Elijah and subject he struggled with “Do I dare you to pick it up?” She notes that congregations need leadership, leadership, leadership.  Parenthetically she states the churches may well have had that leadership and not recognized it.  The reference is most obviously those leaders in that gathering hall and like minded souls. 

Leadership is not for the faint of heart, especially not in the church and there are few that would disagree.  Elisha’s question is will he willingly succeed Elijah?  The choice of who to anoint is question of succession of leadership and the answer is it is always God’s choice.  She states God told Elijah to anoint a new generation of religious and political leaders.  This is a stretch from the text.  God told Elijah to anoint Elisha to succeed him.  This is a singular person and not a multiplicity of people that extends to the RMN.  And like “it” [the time of Elijah] was a tough time.  It is a tough time now.  “God needed a people that would love God more than the desire to fit in, more than the fear of being disenfranchised, more than their own lives.  You are here because you are just such a people.”  Those present (The RMN) is the prophetic voice of God if it dares.

God called Elisha because Elisha was

1.  Elisha was obedient.  Nothing in the record to believe that Elisha was a good church member!  It would seem that Dr. Mallory would not even examine candidates at all.  The decline of the Church is attributed to a stereotype of leadership.  Judgment is coming because our refusal to love and accept all unconditionally.

2.  Elisha was a risk taker.  He knew Elijah was about to have his ordination revoked by Jezebel.  Risked guilt by association.  It must be nice to be the voice of God.

3.  Elisha stepped out in faith to become the person God knew he could be.  Spiritually he wanted to be Elijah’s first born son.  James’ and John’s mother wanted them to be the first too.  By picking up Elijah’s mantle he becomes committed.  Whatever struggle he may have had he did pick it up.  He moved forward in spite of insecurities.  Those listening must do likewise.

She dares those present to pick up the mantle and go home to their church and create welcoming church.  Intentionally build relations with other race.  Align themselves with the disenfranchised and other noble purposes.  Once again connecting their cause to other causes the leadership of this gathering is committed to opening up the church to what others believe are sinful; non-repentant homosexual behavior.

Of special interest is the invitation issued by Rev. Troy Plummer where membership vows are used.  This is where we are called to renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world and repent of your sins?  All answer we do.  It is clear that homosexual behavior is not on the list sins from which to repent.  But it goes on.  They are asked if they accept the power to resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves even if it is within the United Methodist Church.  All answer we do.  Rainbow colored mantles are then handed out to all who would come forward and then all are invited to come put their hand on the yoke that was carried in during the procession.

Dr. Mallory is well spoken and fiery.  It is the purpose that she lends her office and strength to that are questionable.

Monday Worship--Rev. James Preston

Once again The RMN orchestrates a lively mix of contemporary and traditional and inter-cultural music with lyrics once again specifically designed for the occasion.  Worship includes a gong for the chiming of The Trinity with liturgy and a grand processional for an entrance bringing baskets of bread and several chalices for Communion later.  The hymn “In the Midst of New Dimensions”  (1985, alt.) by Rev. Julian Rush United Methodist, Dir. of Colorado AIDS Project (source from Arlington Street Universalist Church) is sung:

In the midst of new dimensions,

In the face of changing ways,

Who will lead the pilgrim people?

Wandering their separate ways. R

 

Refrain

God of Rainbow, Fiery Pillar,

Leading where the eagles soar,

We the people, Ours the journey,

Now and ever, Now and ever,

Now and evermore.

 

Through the flood of starving people,

Warring factions and despair,

Who will lift the olive branches?

Who will light the flame of care? R

 

As we stand a world divided

By our own self-seeking schemes,

Grant that we, your global village,

Might envision wider dreams. R

 

We are man and we are woman,

All persuasions, old and young,

Each a gift in your creation,

Each a love song to be sung. R

This is a good hymn if seen if used in the context of the church as whole.  Here it is used in the limited terms of promoting openness to homosexual behavior.  That is the ultimate goal of this organization.

The Old Testament scripture reading is from II Kings 4:38-44.  Here Elijah is with a group of prophets and it is eating time.  The pot is set out and the meal is fixed but there is a problem; the food is poisonous and the prophets lament “There is death in the pot.”  Elijah works a miracle and the food is now eatable. 

The New Testament scripture is Luke 10-17-20.  This is the return of the 70 who come from a preaching mission rejoicing having been given authority even over demons.  Yet Jesus instructs them not to rejoice over that but rejoice that their names are written in the book of Life.

Rev. Preston’s delivery is well done and his opening tales of the great-aunt’s cooking are hilarious.   In the end his message is very simple.  Rev. Preston outright states “There is death in the pot of The United Methodist Church.”  The congregation is led in the repeated chant “There is death in this pot!”   He specifically expressed much pain over General Conference and freely admits that during the great debacle of the Soulforce demonstration that he did indeed break the chalice.  His justification is that The Lord told him to break that chalice.

It is clear in his message that The UMC is poison and the RMN and likeminded individuals are the cure.  IRD and Good News are linked together with the KKK and are specifically denounced as part of the problem.  He brings home the point that those at this  gathering are the flour or leavening agent for the UMC.  He says and I quote, “God is making us the flour for the church.  Do you realize what the United Methodist Church would if we were not here?  Oooohhh.  There would be death, death, death in the pot.  We got to throw something in there to make it right.” 

In fairness he does address the issue of the death in the pot of the RMN.  It is a few minutes but at least it is something.  He defends their evangelicalness in comparison to the rest of the church but at least it is something.  The death in the pot of the RMN is about lack funds and commitment to change.  He finishes with a call to throw something in that pot of the UMC and make it right.

The service finishes with The Great Thanksgiving and Communion.  I wonder what would have been the reaction if someone who disagreed with them walked up on the platform and broke one of their chalices?  In closing the congregation gathered is dismissed looking forward to a time when the UMC rules will change on the subject of sexuality and the exaltation to scatter themselves into the pot of the United Methodist Church.

Friday Bible Study with Karen Oliveto and Jeffrey Kuan (absent in body) Round 1

Dr. Oliveto’s text is Acts 1:6-11 the story of the ascension of Jesus.  She opens by rejoicing to be at this family reunion.  She relates of the scriptures that Acts is about spread of the Jesus movement.  Particularly here it is about the receiving of power by the Holy Spirit.  This power breaks down barriers and there is nothing that stops it with specific examples of the Ethiopian eunuch and Cornelius the Gentile.  This power enables even martyrs.  This (HOF) gathering is part of the continued movement to break down limits and boundaries set by humans.

Of the spread of the gospel she notes it was to spread from Jerusalem, Samaria and to the ends of the earth.  She notes that Jerusalem and Samaria being under denomination by foreign powers and even the Roman Empire itself operated under forces foreign to the kingdom of God.  She notes the omission of Galilee due to the progress of the Gospel.  [It seems far to simple to Dr. Oliveto to see Jerusalem as the place where the Christians were, Samaria as the next logical step along the way to the rest of the world.]  But she says God calls us to the unfamiliar. 

Dr. Oliveto continues by saying everything Jesus did was to help people do two things; love God and love their neighbors.  [Ideas like salvation by profession of the lips and belief of the heart, Jesus call repent and believe the gospel and his call to go and sin no more are not addressed].  She says no one is to be excluded [but that is not biblical given excommunications even executions (Ananias and Sapphira in the book of Acts) and noting those who had left the faith.  And what of those passages that say certain things and thus certain people will not inherit the kingdom of God?]

The Disciples are caught up in the Ascension Tension.  It is all too easy to settle back into old ways but the Holy Spirit continually pushes the church into the unfamiliar.  Connection of 2006 to the 50th anniversary of full ordination rights of woman made.  Those that turned their face from the fight found the Holy Spirit moving behind their backs.  The specific example of Anna Shaw who was ordained in the Methodist Protestant church was given.  Dr. Oliveto had many humorous answers of Anna’s for her critics.  In the end Dr. Oliveto reports that she lived with Lucy who was Suzanne B Anthony’ niece in an “Adamless Eden.”  The innuendo is plain, they may have been lovers.  Of course there is no way to know and Anna could not defend herself against any accusation since she is dead.  Though ordained in the Methodist Protestant Church, Dr. Oliveto says it is doubtful if she would have been ordained now in the present climate.  [The answer to that may well lie with Anna’s honesty before a Board of Ordained Ministry].  The church even LJA has in the past been wrong in issues of segregation.  These examples are evidence that the church has often been wrong and is now also wrong on this issue.  Dr. Oliveto ends this session on the note that sexuality is a good gift of God and that should be recognized for GBLT people of the church too.

Saturday Bible Study with Karen Oliveto and Jeffrey Kuan (absent in body) Round 2

Bible study is begun with prayer.  Then Dr. Oliveto has an impromptu song introduced by saying “As “Joy to the World” is sung at Christmas and “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” at Easter this song is sung when we gather” at which time they are led in “We Are the Church”.

Pentecost is the birth of the church.  The question is what does this passage have to say to The Reconciling church?  How does it bring together past history and future promise?  Concentration on “the wind” that always leads to liberation.  Also concentration on fire which God uses to make the unholy holy.  God claims us through the Holy Spirit.  Once the rag tag bunch is given the Holy Spirit and they spill out into the street as linguistic experts.

A point is made about the difference of what they heard from the Disciples.  The Bible reports that the disciples said the same thing which included a warning of judgment.  Dr. O. says they heard different things according to culture, orientation, class, gender, etc.  But her question from her assumption that everyone heard something different is, “In a church as large as the United Methodist Church As the Reconciling what can the scriptures offer us as we wrestle with the diversity found in our denomination not just linguistic differences but differences of culture, orientation, class, race gender, ablism(?) and particularly theology?”  [Looking at it that way, anyone can see anything they wish.]  She asked the next question of how the RMN can expand the church’s notion of who is in and who is out?  What is our theological task.

Emphasis is then given to Acts 2:11.  They did not hear the utterances of the disciples similarly.  The use of one’s native language determines how it is heard.  Some things can’t be translated exactly.  She relates she preached in a Taiwanese service and that the sermon she preached and the one they heard was different.  [Nothing was said about the power of the gospel to bring people from different cultures, genders, etc. to the same place of repentance and holiness].

She acknowledges that we define what sin and salvation is radically differently.  We differ on what the proper use of scripture is.  She states the strength of the progressive movement is its diversity even within itself as opposed to “the right” who tend to speak in one voice.  Progressive theology can be uniform, univocal or universal.  [This makes it difficult given our doctrinal standards such as The Articles of Religion, Wesley’s Sermons and Wesley’s Notes on the New Testament.]

There were many striking points along the way to the end.  “I would argue that progressive theology must work within the framework of pluralism, feminism, liberationism, post-colonialism and ecological and environmental responsibility.”  The agenda of progressive theology is justice for all God’s people and God’s creation [no call to salvation by repentance].  Her life as a student of the Bible she has come to the conclusion that biblical interpretation is public discourse.  She also says that there are some times when we must preach and teach against the text of the Bible.  The text of the Bible is not God.

Sunday Bible Study with Karen Oliveto and Jeffrey Kuan (absent in body) Round 3

She opens with the question, “Where would the United Methodist Church be without us?” [You may not like the answer to that question, Dr. O.].  Of those gathered there she says “We help people experience joy in Jesus Christ.”

Scripture for today is Acts 10.  This is the not just the conversion of Cornelius but a lot of other people such as Peter and the Church as well.  It is a story about insiders and outsider, clean and unclean.  This point is made to sexual orientation.  [Again this does not take into account or put into context any of the stories of Jesus where people found themselves not in the state of salvation they thought they enjoyed or any of the stories of the church in Acts of the Epistles where people were put outside the fellowship for sin]. 

Peter struggled with clean and unclean food.  Peter being a Jew practice the proscriptions in Leviticus about food.  He was part of the Jews who were at the time were particularist and exclusivist.  They had to learn and the Holy Spirit was breaking down barriers.  In this lesson God changes the rules [if Dr. O’s logic is followed without any other scripture being applied there are no rules any more.]  She says in her lesson that “Whoever worships God and does what is right is acceptable to God.”  [But again, what is worship?  What is right?  How does even the first church council in Acts have any check or balance to her teaching?]

Dr. O spends a significant amount of time bewailing white, male, heterosexual privilege is bewailed as if there has been little if any progress in any part of the church at all.  She also goes on to relate the OT election of Israel in itself is a problem.  It means that some are in and some are out.  The Jews are not only not to associate with others but they are to destroy them.  That thought carries our in the NT and led to colonization which applies to homosexuals.  Her example to prove her point is of an openly homosexual Asian church and its predicament whose hero is a retired UM Bishop who is the only clergy willing to have anything to do with them.  In the end the, “Open hearts, open minds and open doors” is the ultimate goal of the church.

Saturday Bible Study with Karen Oliveto and Jeffrey Kuan (absent in body) Round 4

She begins by thanking them for being there in her trial.  She had been brought up on charges for conducting a string of homosexual marriages.  The resolution of that conflict was her being appointed as Associate Dean at her seminary.  She thanks them for being there with her and reminding her of the connectional church.

Acts chapter 16.  Second missionary journey.  The telling of the tensions and controversies of Paul and Silas.  Strikingly she says “If you read Paul’s letters carefully, you will be hard pressed to find a consistent teaching from Paul on theological issues and Christian practices”.

They meet the young girl possessed by a ”spirit of divination” or python spirit.  She followed them around for days declaring they were from God when Paul got upset and drove the spirit out of her.  What has been a story of liberation and freedom.  With Dr. O’s interpretation it was a destructive act.  Paul was not concerned with her but about him.  The damage was economic not to her but her slave owner.  She is now damaged property and lost any privilege she may have enjoyed.  We can only hope that she also won her freedom but if not she was now just another slave.  This is a story about the imposition of religious values.  Did she even ask or want Paul’s help?  [I can only guess it would have been better for her to remain in her esteemed estate as a special slave rather than experience spiritual freedom.]

Then in prison at midnight singing and praying when the earthquake hit.   The prison guard believing all inmate had escaped was willing to take his life.  Whereas Paul showed himself insensitive to the slave girl by his action, Paul here shows his sensitivity to the male by his inaction.  We don’t know if the slave girl received salvation but here it seems Paul or Luke is concerned about the prison guard’s salvation.  The slave girl was a nuisance.  The prison guard was different because their liberation was dependent on the guards liberation.  Paul’s acts of liberation are not for the recipients benefit but for his own benefit.

The RMN is in a cell of General Conference.  The RMN is in the process of working for the liberation of others.  The example of point is a story of a the kiss at a homosexual wedding.  The little boy said yuck there but later looked forward to being married to his best boy friend.  She takes great joy that homosexual marriages are happening in the US and abroad.  Liberation is taking place.  Another example from Winnie the Pooh and the point is made.  With the help of a cheap magician’s “change bag” all the ribbons that were cut up in the beginning of the study are now restored to one continuous rainbow ribbon.  The church is for everyone.  God assures us even in the United Methodist Church where there is injustice and hatred that liberation will take place.  Examples in some of the most liberal and conservative parts of the country are cited as successes.

The Bishops Plenary Session

There is more here to comment on than I have time or energy.  From a traditionalists position I can say only seeing is believing. I limit myself to only a few comments.

The makeup of this panel is a joke.  Bishops Dyke (who serves as moderator), Morrison, Talbert and Carcano are all notably long time supporters of inclusion of open homosexuality.  John Schol is one of the newest of the bishops and indicators are that he is following the likes of Dyke, Morrison, Talbert and Carcano.  Bishop Scott is the only one that can possibly be considered moderate or open minded.  Note there is no episcopal voice whatsoever on this panel who will unapologetically hold up and articulate our church’s historical stance against homosexuality in general or homosexuals in the clergy.  This is a group overloaded by bishops who have already decided to support the RMN and its agenda.

The questions to the bishops are loaded.  None of the questions address or even hint at the rightness or wrongness of homosexuality.  They are only about how to keep unity and hope among supporters of homosexuality.

The only time John Wesley is mentioned he is criticized for not leaving us a good ecclesiology.

Continued conversation is the goal of these bishops and the RMN.  The call to converse with individuals and churches even over the course of years is a call to keep talking until homosexuality is accepted only.  Any other end is simply not acceptable and the conversation must continue until all United Methodist individuals and congregations are open and hospitable as defined by the RMN.

The Listening Post

The Listening Post is series of nine speakers all with either good news, bad news stories or bad news, good news stories meant to share pain and elicit hope for the cause. 

Will Green introduces himself as one would at annual conference.  “I’m Will Green.  Gay”.  He is a young student of theology who complains about the situation for homosexuals in prisons.

Mark Miller, the musician for the retreat.  The bad news story was his invitation to lead music for an annual conference youth event was withdrawn because he is gay.  Conference leadership of Arkansas invited him to come lead a youth event and later invited to a Confessing Movement event.  General Conference is set up all wrong with winners and losers.  Another way must be found.

Helen King is a parent of a homosexual.  She doesn’t want to be strange and different but only included.  “Unity Dialogue Committee” in only spinning its wheels.  Of the denomination, splitting the denomination is not an option.  There will simply come a time when they are included.

Jorge Lockward.  Identified from a young age to be a leader in the church but not choosing to be ordained.  “Even working as an employee of the General Board of Global Ministries it is tough thing.”  He encourages those gathered to be prophetic even if it painful.

Rev. Brook McBride is the pastor of the first church in the Dakotas to officially be a Reconciling Ministries Church.  He reports the movement to become a reconciling church was by the laity.  That was his good news story.  The bad news story was his covenant clergy group met the news with dead silence.  The struggle is lonely and he waits for encouragement of bishops.  The inclusion of homosexuals is so close to the heart of the gospel for him.

Sally Sparks.  Announces she was formerly a straight, conservative, evangelical, white male.  She says of herself she is still white.  She/he tells the hard times of finding a church home as her life changed.

Deban Yeomans.  Says Sally Sparks is the reason she is up there today.  Deban says she was a double PK with both parents being preachers and then found out she was a lesbian.  Met her partner at a United Methodist Church and been together for 12 years.  She shares her disappointment at General Conference 2004 but came away willing to stay and fight.

Rosario Quinones.  Not a member of the United Methodist Church.  Rosario says when she was doing her internship she wanted to become a member of the UMC but was told there was no place for her.  Rosario says of herself she is an open lesbian.  He says you have a clear call for ministry but there is nothing to be done about it.  But she has hope and her heart is warm at what she is experiencing at HOF.

C. Rives Priddy and Nancy Cook are “partners in life and love”.  They have been partners for 16 years and married for two.  Received permission to be married in the United Methodist Church in Ontario, Canada.  Nancy says of the two they were United Methodist from the womb and their grandfathers gave land for United Methodist Churches.  Nancy left the church for almost 30 year but now has been back for six year and had no plans to leave.  The bad news story was finding  out on the return trip to their church in Virginia that the pastor had deleted the words celebrating their marriage from the flowers in the narthex.  They aren’t leaving and the new minister is a young man.  Rives is a religious educator and Nancy is a public school English teacher of 30 years.  Nancy says they plan to educate this young man.

Sue Laurie ends the listening post reminding those gathered there that they are water marked.   She notes that those that have spoken at the listening post are permanently and powerfully marked by the Spirit and takes encouragement from that.   She ends the listening post with a benediction from 2 Corinthians 3:3 making hand gestures to convey that Paul meant this to include those gathered at this event.

Bishop Richard B. Wilke’s Keynote Address

Bishop Wilke delivers a sermon on “Listening to the Spirit”.  In this sermon he begins by saying receiving the Spirit means letting go.  Bishop Wilke is so frustrated with people who take a prejudice and then finds a scripture to support it.  He says they have done it with slavery, women and war and now implies with practicing homosexuals.  In his examples of different beliefs it is implied that sex for showing faithful love is okay.

Acts 15 is his text.  This is the story of the first great council of the Church.  Wilke makes the argument that Paul’s words argue in favor of not holding to any of the Jewish law at all.  From there Bishop Wilke goes into a series of monologues speaking for those that were at that meeting;  Peter, Paul, Dr. Luke, and James “the conservative” (the brother of Jesus).  Bishop Wilke always presents an argument favorable for practicing homosexuals.  One wonders are these really the voices of Peter, Paul, Luke and James or is this the voice of Bishop Wilke the way he wants to hear them.

End Conclusions

I began with dual purposes.  The first was to see if IRD and in particularly Mark Tooley reported the events accurately.  I have to say I believe the answer to that question is simply, yes.  What he experienced personally without the ability of a DVD to stop and replay and reported is very accurate.  Mark Tooley was roundly criticized for calling this event a pep rally.  Yet the songs and hymns, worship sermons, Bible study, concerts and seminars were specifically designed to promote a particular idea and cheer on the troops who are in the end called to go back out into the world and church and force change.

The second was to learn myself.  Unfortunately there are many parts of the program over 4 days that are not on the DVD.  The musical duo of Jason and Demarko is notably absent.  These are two homosexuals lovers who also make music promoting homosexuality.  Time does not permit me to look up their lyrics on the net.  Also notably absent are the classes and seminars which were off limits to anyone but participants.  If the descriptions are accurate which are still at http://www.rmnetwork.org/ under their archived news letter “Katalyst" then what we have on the DVD is what The RMN wants to be the public face of their movement.

But what do I walk away with in the end after listening to over 20 hours of worship, Bible study and speakers at this event?

  1. This movement is made up of people who see themselves as the hope of United Methodism.  They present themselves as the arbiters and judges of all that is just and fair with justice and fairness being determined by being unconditionally accepting at every level of the church even open homosexuals.
  1. This is a movement made up of people who disparage and distain traditionalist church and its members.  Only once was a positive word spoken of a United Methodist Church traditionalist organization.  Otherwise all examples upon United Methodist churches and individual were negative unless it was a church or individual who all of a sudden came over to their position.  And the linkage between any UM traditionalist organization or individual with the KKK was made several times.
  1. This is a movement that sees its purpose as securing civil rights and privilege while avoiding any discussion of sin especially if it might be applied to homosexuality.    Ironically they claim to be the truly evangelical of the church.
  1. This is a powerful well organized movement that will not be satisfied until all homosexuals even the open and active are accepted without reservation at all levels of the church.  Bishop Carcano herself claims the 40 bishops who sent greetings as supporter.  Since 1996 dozens of bishops have made statements saying they disagreed with the Holy Spirit led process and decisions of General Conference.  Approximately 1/3 of all our Annual Conferences have made statements to the effect that they will not abide by GC when it comes to matters of homosexuality.  Even the trial, appeal and Judicial Council decision in Beth Stroud’s case may easily with a few elections be overturned or otherwise ignored.

I leave not being able to help myself listening to a proverb I heard many years ago that I believe applies here, “Dress a pig up in a tux and it is in the end a pig in a tux.”  The legal community has a thought process regarding evidence inadmissible in a trial.  Fruit from the poisoned tree is still poisoned.  If you start out with bad theology no matter how impressive the event might be it is still bad theology.

I leave this event ultimately believing that if this is where the United Methodist church is headed I am in the wrong place.  I continue on in large part out of morbid curiosity.  When if ever will a traditionalist bishop finally stand up publicly and articulately defend the Church’s position?  When if ever will clergy get their sacred heads out of the sacred sand and resist such theology and practice rather than worry about our salaries, insurances and appointments?  When will the laity wake up and demand that their clergy at least be honest as to where they stand on this issue and insist on position papers?

As I continue along out of morbid curiosity waiting on Annual Conference 2006, Jurisdictional Conference and eventually General Conference 2008 I can keep up with this movement and share information for anyone who will listen.  If you would like to see these DVDs for yourself I will show them without costs.  There is no indication of a copyright on the DVDs but I will consider them copyrighted material and show them without any profit to me.  Or you can order them directly from The Reconciling Ministries Network yourself at http://www.rmnetwork.org/.

A parting of the ways is going to take place over this matter.  General Conference, Annual Conference and bishops had better have a plan as difficult and painful as it may be for amicable separation otherwise it will be a very messy separation.  Until then we will limp along a divided and conflicted people.


©--These words are copyrighted 2006 by Michael H. Evans. Permission for use may be granted by emailing me at bassdrone01@yahoo.com. 

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