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Contained here are excepts from the recent Conference Confessing Movement gathering which took place on the Historic Methodist Campground in Des Plaines, Illinois.

Rev. Kent L. Svendsen

BIBLICAL ACCOUNTABILITY OF OUR CLERGY BROTHERS AND SISTERS I want to publicly read a letter which I wrote to the Rev. Dwight Stewart. If you remember, Rev. Stewart is the United Methodist Elder who declared the Des Plaines Campground as “unholy ground”. I wrote him this letter in the hope that he would take back his hurtful and blasphemous statement. He is the pastor of a Reconciling Congregation and I had hoped that reconciliation was truly what he wanted.

Rev. Dwight Stewart
Euclid Avenue United Methodist Church
405 S. Euclid Ave.
Oak Park, IL 60302

September 27, 1999

Dear Rev. Stewart,

Matthew 18:15 tells us: “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.”

I am writing as a brother in Christ to ask you to re-consider a public statement you made concerning the Des Plaines Campground. You have been quoted in the United Methodist Reporter’s national news as stating that the Des Plaines Campground is “unholy ground”. I consider that statement a sin against God, the campground, and your colleagues within the United Methodist Church.

It is a sin against God and the campground in that the Historic Methodist Campground has been a center for worship, Sabbaths, and discipleship training for 140 years. While you may be in disagreement with them over the issue of homosexuality and the church, they are a place in which Jesus Christ is worshipped and served. At every worship service, Bible study, and prayer meeting they are gathering in Jesus’ name. Matthew 18:20 tells us that “where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them”. When you declare the campground as “unholy” you are therefore also declaring their gathering for worship and study as “unholy”. Let me ask you a very important question. When Jesus is in our midst during worship, doesn’t that in fact make it “holy ground”? Do you believe that by disagreeing with your views on homosexuality it negates that spiritual reality?

It is a sin against your colleagues in that we are called to be in covenant with each other. While you may have a strong commitment to speak out on this subject, you have an even more important covenant to uphold with your fellow United Methodist ministers. You did not speak as an individual Christian, but as a United Methodist Elder. It was not spoken privately as a matter of conscience, but proclaimed publicly to the world. In doing that, you dishonored your covenant vows. It may have brought you applause and acclaim from some, but it showed a lack of respect for the views and opinions of the rest of the church.

I am asking you to re-consider that statement and acknowledge the fact that we must be in an attitude of loving reconciliation with each other and not lower ourselves to “name calling” which only acts to promote division and conflict within the denomination. I will FAX a copy of this to you, besides mailing it, so that you can reply quickly. There will be a gathering at the campground this Sunday to declare it as “holy ground”. During that gathering I will be speaking directly to your declaration, which denies that spiritual reality. At that time, I will also be reporting on your response to this letter.

Rev. Kent L. Svendsen

Well, I called Rev. Stewart on Thursday to see if he received the FAX. I didn’t want to make statements concerning his position, not knowing if he actually received the letter or the FAX. He told me that he had in fact received it. Then without permitting me to say even one sentence, he immediately added that he did not plan to respond to it. So I guess we can assume that finding common ground and living together in peace under some “big tent” is not what is either desired nor part of the plan. I went to him privately as the Bible tells us to do and he simply wouldn’t listen. So I am bringing it to this group of brothers and sisters and publicly proclaiming that Rev. Stewart is wrong and that he has declared that which is sacred as unholy. If he continues to be unrepentant in this matter, I will pledge to bring it before the entire annual conference. I am here proclaiming, in the name of Jesus Christ, who bled and died that we might be made holy through the blood of the lamb, that we are standing on holy ground! Please be in earnest prayer, begging God to come to our aid in this matter, while Paula comes and sings for us.

I would like to share additional evidence to show that reconciliation is neither desired nor the goal. Let’s look at the upcoming October 17th “Conversations on Homosexuality and the Ministry of the Church” which is being sponsored by our conference. It is supposed to be an open forum and provide “Conversations that allow a variety of perspectives to be heard”. That sounds like a nice balanced program, don’t you think? But there is a problem with their balanced program. I new friend of mine did a little research on the planners of this event and discovered something interesting. Of all the names listed as being part of the planning team, nine out of twelve are supporters of the Reconciling Congregation Program. Also, six of the twelve are listed on the “In All Things Charity Supporters” WEBSITE.

The “In All Things Charity” program is the organization that Rev. Greg Dell has gone to work for time, until after General Conference next year, when he will be allowed to return to his pulpit on July 1st. It’s goal and purpose is to work toward reversing our Book Of Discipline’s stand in regards to the issue of homosexuality. So between the two groups, ten out of the twelve planners are supporters of either one or the other.

The United Methodist Reporter stated that they were looking for individuals to represent another perspective. I immediately volunteered, but they said I was too “high profile”. My great concern in this regard is that just as in the Dell trial, the transforming perspective will not be heard. On the literature table is a document entitled “To Reconcile or Transform”. We often hear about the argument that homosexual practice should not be condoned because of biblical proscriptions against it. However, we don’t often hear about ministries like Transforming Congregations, Exodus International, Transformed By Grace, Overcomers, and a whole list of other groups that have been working to successfully help homosexuals leave the lifestyle and who have helped many to even change orientation from homosexual to heterosexual. The reason some people don’t want you to hear about those organizations is because it weakens their case for the acceptance of the homosexual lifestyle if there is a possibility that change can occur.

Because of our rapidly changing society, we are now faced with a serious dilemma. In the past, adopting ministry to a changing world was a process that moved much slower and was more exact. Today, change is so rapid that things called contemporary can become outdated in the blink of an eye and quickly discarded. Unfortunately, this tendency to do away with the old, and bring in the new, has also been applied by some to many of our traditions and doctrines that are critical to a unified understanding of the faith. We have, in some instances, allowed what many would believe are salvation essentials to be discarded and replaced with another gospel.

Let me share with you a quick example of what I mean. The Rev. Gary S. Wales is an Elder and the pastor of a United Methodist Church in Michigan. He is part of a weekly Bible study group made up of United Methodist pastors. One of those who attended that Bible study was an ordination candidate who served a nearby parish. In an attempt to be helpful, the group invited her to share the paper she was preparing for the Board of Ordained Ministry. It contained the answers to the questions from the Book of Discipline, which reveal her theology, vocational call from God, and practice of ministry.

(Quote)"After reading the young woman's paper, I was truly confused. Though it was perhaps thirty pages long, I saw scant mention of Jesus Christ. In the presence of the entire Bible study group I asked, "Where does Jesus fit into your theology?" She said, "He doesn't." I asked, "How then is a person saved?" She said, "Anyone who believes in God is saved." I said, "Does that include Muslims, Hindus, and even idol worshipers who believe in some kind of a god?" She responded, "Yes. It looks like you have found me out." I was horrified. She had openly denied the most foundational truth of the Bible, that Jesus Christ is the only Savior. But about two months later she was ordained to the ministry on the basis of that very same theology paper. Why? I guess because she was very articulate in defense of beliefs that should have been indefensible in a Christian church." (End of Quote)

John Wesley tells us that when it comes to the non-essentials, we should have the liberty to agree to disagree. However, he also says that when it concerns the essentials of salvation, we must have unity. One day during my seminary training we had a gathering in which we were allowed to ask questions of members of the teaching staff. I quickly raised my hand and asked: "John Wesley tells us that we must agree concerning the essentials of salvation. Just what are the essentials of salvation?" For whatever reason, the question was not acknowledged and went unanswered. How nice it would have been if that question had created a dialogue. Perhaps it wasn't answered out of fear that academic freedom would be suppressed or that theological investigation would be stifled. Perhaps if we had identified those essentials, and taught them diligently to those who would graduate and become United Methodist clergy, we would be more unified today. In the name of academic freedom, we no longer hold our seminaries accountable to support and uphold the doctrines we believe. So when those who graduate begin teaching and preaching heretical views, we should not be surprised.

It is only through a grass roots movement of individuals taking a strong stand for doctrinal integrity and social holiness that we can hope to stand strong against the onslaught of the worldly views that deny the biblical witness.

Listen to this quote which is taken from Wesley’s Sermon On The Mount series based on “Matthew 7:13,14”

“How difficult must it be to stem the tide, and to keep ourselves unspotted in the world! What heightens the difficulty even more is, that those who oppose us are not the rude and senseless part of mankind, at least not these alone, who set us the example, who throng the downward way, but the polite, the well-bred, the genteel, the wise, the men who understand the world, the men of knowledge, of deep and various learning, the rational, the eloquent! These are all, or nearly all, against us. And how shall we stand against these? Do not their tongues drip with manna; and have they not learned all the arts of soft persuasion? – and of reasoning too; for these are vested in all controversies, and strife of words. It is therefore a small thing with them to prove, that the way is right, because it is broad; that he who follows a multitude cannot do evil, but only he who will not follow them; that your way; must be wrong, because it is narrow, and because there are so few that find it. These will make it clear to a demonstration, that evil is good, and good is evil; that the way of holiness is the way of destruction, and the way of the world the only way to heaven.” (John Wesley didn’t mind being called “narrow minded” in this respect. In fact, I suspect that he found it to be a compliment and a badge of honor.)

Why are we here at the Des Plaines Campground today? Well, it’s a beautiful setting and they graciously allowed us to meet here. But there is another reason. We are gathering here to offer our support and to encourage them. This year has brought some anxious times to the campground and they are at present finding themselves in the middle of a legal battle. There is in fact a spiritual war being fought and this place has been chosen as the battlefield. The situation here has appeared as news in the United Methodist Reporter (conference edition) on an almost weekly basis. It would seem that every half-truth and nasty rumor concerning events of the past year were offered as news, not only in the Reporter, but also in other secular publications. Unfortunately, I cannot respond to what has been said because of the on-going legal battle. Sadly, the good reputation of this place is being drug through the mud along with its 140 year history of serving and glorifying our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It pains me to have to hold my tongue and my greatest desire is to go through the entire sad story, point by point, but I cannot. I can only pray that when the truth comes out, the campground will be vindicated or all charges. If and when that happens, the Northern Illinois Conference leadership owes this campground an apology. But I wouldn’t hold my breath in anticipation, that would be dangerous for your health.

But I can say this: The issue here is not one of discrimination, but of intolerance. Are you surprised that I would say such a thing? After all, isn’t that the very thing those who support the Book Of Discipline get accused? But I content that the very people who accuse us of intolerance are in fact intolerant themselves! One of the favorite sayings used today by those who would have us believe that homosexuality is normal, natural, and a gift of God to be celebrated, is this: “The only thing that I’m intolerant of is intolerance”. Which means that if you are declared intolerant, then anything goes in the efforts to silence your voice and force you to accept their views. Ironically, it is the very people who promote tolerance who are in fact being the most intolerant of all!

It would seem that in today’s world, if you support The Book Of Discipline and openly allow its views on the subject of homosexuality to be preached from the pulpit and taught as truth, that you can expect to be subjected to angry confrontations, intimidated by public protesters, descended upon by conference storm troopers, and finally, you can expect to have legal charges brought against you. Disagreeing with them on this particular subject does not provide an opportunity for dialogue as one might suppose, but an excuse to punish. If that sounds rather strange, then let me fill you in on why that’s the case.

Josh McDowell, who has a well know ministry to young people, tells us this: “The traditional definition of tolerance means simply to recognize and respect others’ beliefs, practices, and so forth without necessarily agreeing or sympathizing with them. This attitude, that everyone has a right to his (or her) own opinion, is what tolerance means to most of us. But today’s definition is vastly different. This new tolerance considers every individual’s beliefs, values, lifestyle and truth claims as equally valid. So not only does everyone have an equal right to his (or her) beliefs, but all beliefs are equal. The new tolerance goes beyond respecting a person’s rights; it demands praise and endorsement of that person’s beliefs, values, and lifestyle…. This new tolerance has many dangerous implications, and unless Christian churches and families recognize and respond to it, the beginning of the next millennium is likely to be marked by: The repression of public discourse…. In the new cultural climate, an unpopular message can be labeled “intolerant” and therefore repressed. (Focus On The Family magazine, page 6, August 1999)

We are at a cross road and the decisions we make now will have important implications. This is a wake up call for Christians to take a public stand for righteousness and defend our religious freedoms. But more than that, it is a wake up call to be in ministry. I can stand here and complain about the Reconciling Movement all day long. I have studied their bible studies and read their analysis of the scripture references and found them disingenuous in that they disregard the entire biblical witness. I honestly believe that their analysis of the Hebrew and Greek are purposely misleading. Many of those who promote these “new understandings of culture and language” are some of the same who would agree with Marcus Borg who said this in his book The God We Never Knew:

“I let go of the notion that the Bible is a divine product. I learned that it is a human cultural product, the product of two ancient communities, biblical Israel and early Christianity. As such, it contained their understandings and affirmations, not statements coming directly or somewhat directly from God…I realized that whatever `divine revelation’ and the `inspiration of the Bible’ meant (if they meant anything), they did not mean that the Bible was a divine product with divine authority.” ( Marcus Borg, The God We Never Knew, page 25.)

If you did not already know this, that book has been issued to every pastor in the entire Northern Illinois Conference. We have been told to read it and be prepared to discuss it’s contents at gatherings across the conference. It is being offered as theological food for thought. So consider these facts the next time you hear someone tell you that the bible says nothing against “modern homosexuality as we know it”. Because their views on the authority and inspiration of the Bible may have played an important factor in their reasoning.

I have been studying the issue for quite some time now and have found that there is no proof of genetic origins for homosexuality and there is much to suggest that the issue is centered more around nurture then it is around nature. I have heard testimony after testimony of individuals, who have not only rejected the gay and lesbian lifestyle as sinful, but have also changed orientations and are now happily married with families. However, there are many of those with whom we disagree that try to claim that change is not possible. Many of them are intolerant of any suggestion that individuals can change.

But listen closely, because what I am going to say next may not sit well. Although I think the Reconciling supporters are doing great harm with their efforts to make homosexuality an acceptable lifestyle option, I also believe that we are doing even greater harm. That’s right, with all our good intentions and desire to support the biblical witness, we are in fact doing a very sinful thing of which we need to repent.

Here is a quote from a young man who sent this note to a friend of mine. That friend is a self-identified gay man who supports the Reconciling perspective and is in ministry to the gay community. He sent it to me with the hope that it would show me exactly how much damage conservative evangelical Christians are doing.

(Quote) "I'm in a small town in ____, I'm gay, I can't tell my preacher because he hates gays, my parents, I can't tell them. I'm so totally alone I just want to end it all with my dad's gun. I mean, God hates me anyway, doesn't he? I have no car but I snuck off and had sex with a guy I don't know. I wonder if I have AIDS? I can't get a test. I can't tell anyone. Tell me why I shouldn't just pull the trigger." (End Of Quote)

It is much easier to take a public stand against something then it is to be in loving ministry to those involved in it. It is much easier to condemn then it is to love. What are we doing to be in ministry to young people like this young man who is thinking of suicide because he doesn’t dare share his struggle with Same Gender Attractions? We have created a hostile atmosphere which forces individuals into living a life of pretending to be normal, so they don’t lose family, friends, and the support of their church. We somehow manage to be in loving ministry to people with all kinds of other sins, but yet this one we tend to offer only rejection and condemnation. I may not agree with the Reconciling Supporters, but at least they are trying to do something to be in ministry to those with Same Gender Attractions.

This is indeed a wake up call and if and when the Confessing Movement succeeds in bringing doctrinal integrity back to the denomination, my earnest prayer is that we will also bring this important need for loving ministry with it. We are called to love one another, we cannot let this denominational way we are in divert us from that goal and purpose because “God is love”. We must temper law with grace and truly love others by leading them to faith in Christ and then allowing the Holy Spirit to do a great work in their lives. We are all moving on toward perfection and must continue to grow in our faith and in our ability to be obedient to God’s Word.

Is your heart right with God? Then give me your hand and let us walk together, forgiving each other and loving one another; defending and supporting one other. For our zeal to defend our doctrine has to be matched by our zeal to love each other.

It is the desire of the Confessing Movement that we be united in our faith and beliefs. We are not trying to be Pharisees. It was the Pharisees who had rules and regulations concerning everything in a person’s life. In fact, our goal is quite the opposite! Our earnest wish is to protect our diversity when it comes to the non-essentials of faith. The Apostle Paul says that we need to “become all things to all people”. We celebrate and encourage whatever means it takes to bring people to faith in Jesus Christ and to help them to become disciples. What we stand against is a substitute gospel, one that denies the very foundation upon which we stand as Christians. While we earnestly desire diversity, we must make sure that in the end we can also stand in unity.

Rev. Kent Svendsen is an ordained elder and the pastor of the Reynolds United Methodist Church which is located in rural route Ashton, Illinois. He is an Illinois Army National Guard chaplain and serves the 1/178th Infantry Battalion with headquarters in Chicago, Illinois. Finally, Rev. Svendsen is also the Northern Illinois Conference coordinator for the Confessing Movement Within The United Methodist Church.