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The pastor of one of the United Methodist Church’s largest congregations is urging those casting votes for delegates to the 2012 General Conference not to allow personal friendships to carry more weight than theological orthodoxy.

“[If a brother or sister wants my vote] and yet they don’t believe the same things I do, all I can say is ‘I love you, but I’ve got to vote my conscience,’” said the Rev. Dr. Stephen P. Wende, pastor of Houston’s First United Methodist Church, in a Jan. 8 address to a clergy group in the North Georgia Annual Conference.

Dr. Steve Wende at North Georgia's Mt. Pisgah UMC

Wende urged the the election of General Conference delegates “who will represent God-honoring, Kingdom-focused, Christ-first, biblically strong positions.”

The elections will occur at annual conference sessions across the UMC this year. The General Conference will be held April 24-May 4, 2012 in Tampa, Fla.

The outcome of this year’s elections, Wende said, will determine if the United Methodist Church will “be built on the path of orthodoxy, the primacy of Christ, and the advancement of the kingdom.”

Wende spoke to a gathering of North Georgia’s Wesleyan Renewal Movement, held at Mt. Pisgah UMC in suburban Atlanta.

The Texas pastor noted that the North Georgia Conference, the largest annual conference in the United States, plays a unique role in the overall direction of the United Methodist Church.

“We need North Georgia involved at the highest levels of the [UMC], helping the church keep its weight on scriptural authority and the apostolic tradition. And if North Georgia won’t [do that], then we’re all in trouble.”

According to the Wesleyan Renewal Movement’s December 2010 newsletter, the group seeks to “promote the election of delegates to General and Jurisdictional Conferences who are committed to ensuring [that] the Book of Discipline and the election of bishops reflect [the] principles of [John] Wesley and the Bible.”

WRM clergy are “unified in our belief that the actions of [the] General Conference are key to revitalizing our church or to sending it further into decline,” the newsletter said.

In his address, Steve Wende said he is encouraged by many things happening in the United Methodist Church, believing that the denomination made a positive turn in the early 1990s.

Our numbers are not great because we are [not doing well] in certain parts of this nation. We are hemorrhaging members and ministry. But in other parts of this nation and in Africa…the Holy Spirit is moving in dramatic ways.

I think the best days of this denomination are absolutely ahead…. But I also believe that those good days are not automatic — and that if the corner has been turned, which it has, we now need to make sure that the ship keeps going in a healthy direction.

Wende urged his audience to recommit to “thinking theologically.” He noted that his own preaching has become much more doctrinally focused in recent years because “the most important challenges being launched against…the church today are not about ‘practical’ issues.” Instead, those challenges are focused on “what orthodox Christians believe,” he said.

Our ministry to the poor and service to others…is not what offends the culture. What offends the culture is Jesus…. It’s Jesus [who is] being attacked. And if we are not willing to defend at the point of attack, we have betrayed our Jesus.

We have to be willing ourselves to learn again how to think and speak theologically about the basics of the faith.

The Houston First pastor also said United Methodist pastors need to focus on building “healthy, caring, authentic Christian relationships” with each other as well as with lay people. “All healthy [church] politics grows out of people who first understand what healthy relationship looks like and who [build a] community of healthy relationships,” he said.

To listen to Steve Wende’s address to the Wesleyan Renewal Movement, use the audio player below (35 min.), or download an mp3 file (12.5MB).

A native Texan, Steve Wende is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, Yale Divinity School, and Princeton Theological Seminary.

He is a board member of the Confessing Movement Within the United Methodist Church and has been a delegate to several UM General and Jurisdictional Conferences.

Dr. Wende has served as the senior pastor at First Methodist Houston since 2001.


Related posts
GC 2012 delegates set at 988 — Philippines gains delegates despite large membership loss
Four things the UMC must do ‘to serve the present age’
Bishop Scott Jones: Rethinking the path to a worldwide UMC (address to North Georgia’s Wesleyan Renewal Movement)
John Ed Mathison: Seven concerns about the UMC (address to North Georgia’s Wesleyan Renewal Movement)
John Ed Mathison: Six ways for a pastor to make a lasting difference (address to North Georgia’s Wesleyan Renewal Movement)

Related articles and information
Mentioned in Dr. Wende’s address: The Hitchens Transcript: An exchange between Christopher Hitchens and Marilyn Sewell | The Portland Monthly (January 2010)
Mentioned in Dr. Wende’s address: A west coast lament (comparing growth trends in the North Georgia and Cal-Pac Conferences) | Steve Beard, Good News (October/November 2010)
Mentioned in Dr. Wende’s address: Statement in opposition to Structure Study Commission Report | Albert C. Outler, from the Journal of the 1972 General Conference (April 17, 1972)
Wesleyan Renewal Movement | Steve Wood, pastor of North Georgia’s Mt. Pisgah UMC (June 14, 2010)
Unity Task Force Meeting: Dialogue with Renewal Leaders (PDF) | Meeting with the Council of Bishops Unity Task Force, Lake Junaluska, N.C. (Nov. 5, 2009)

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This post is by the Rev. Paul T. Stallsworth, president of the Taskforce of United Methodists on Abortion and Sexuality and editor of the Lifewatch newsletter.

The Rev. Paul Stallsworth

Mr. Stallsworth has served as the editor of three books: The Church and Abortion: In Search of New Ground for Response (Abingdon, 1993), The Right Choice: Pro-Life Sermons (Abingdon, 1997), and Thinking Theologically About Abortion (Bristol House, 2000).

This post is adapted from Mr. Stallsworth’s remarks at a May 2010 public forum on The Manhattan Declaration: A Call of Christian Conscience, a manifesto issued by Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic leaders in November 2009.

The forum, held at North Carolina’s Carteret Community College, was sponsored by the Carteret County Ministerial Association.

Links in the text below have been added by MethodistThinker.com — Ed.

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The first contemporary matter addressed at length by The Manhattan Declaration is human life and abortion. The Declaration puts this issue in historical, political, and legal context.

In the years leading up to 1973, American society had reached a basic consensus on abortion: state laws, more or less, restricted abortion. The states, just before 1973, were routinely turning back legislative attempts to legalize abortion; so the consensus held.

But on Jan. 22, 1973, this national consensus on abortion was shattered. On that day, the United States Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision knocked down all state abortion laws and made abortion available on demand throughout all 50 states of the union.

In 1973, one institution in American public life that stood against Roe v. Wade and against abortion on demand: the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. All the other major institutions in our society — public education, colleges and universities, the movie and music industries, prestige journalism, the mainline Protestant denominations — favored Roe. Even the Southern Baptist Convention backed abortion rights.

But since 1973, the abortion debate has continued. And over the years, the American people have become increasingly pro-life. Just over a year ago, a Gallup Poll found that more Americans now identify themselves as “pro-life” than as “pro-choice.”

Today in American society the greatest ally and advocate of the pro-choice position is the United States government:

  • The U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, in their final version of the health-care overhaul bill, refused to include legislative provisions that would protect unborn children from federally funded abortion;

Those supporting the pro-choice position have helped to create what John Paul II called the “culture of death.” The culture of death renders some human beings, especially the weak, “imperfect, immature or inconvenient” — as the Manhattan Declaration puts it — to be “discardable.”

Abortion is ground zero in the culture of death — but that culture now extends far beyond abortion. The “slippery slope,” which some feared would be created by abortion, has become a reality. The Manhattan Declaration speaks to the fact that many human lives are now at risk.

  • “[H]uman embryo-destructive research and its public funding are promoted in the name of science” and compassion.
  • There is “an increasingly powerful movement to promote assisted suicide and ‘voluntary’ euthanasia.”
  • Eugenics, advanced in Europe last century under the doctrine of lebensunwertes leben (“life unworthy of life”), is now advanced in America under the doctrines of “‘liberty,’ ‘autonomy,’… ‘choice’” and compassion.

In frontally challenging the moral truth of the dignity of the human person, abortion has opened wider the door to massive human indignities around the world.

As the Manhattan Declaration declares, “Genocide,” “ethnic cleansing,” “the neglect and abuse of children, the exploitation of vulnerable laborers, the sexual trafficking of girls and young women, the abandonment of the aged, racial oppression and discrimination, the persecution of believers of all faiths, and the failure to take steps necessary to halt the spread of preventable diseases like AIDS” are made possible by a diminished sense of the dignity of the human person.

This diminishment begins with abortion.

So what are we to do about this culture of death — at home and abroad? We begin, at ground zero, with abortion. In the words of The Manhattan Declaration:

We will be united and untiring in our efforts to roll back the license to kill that began with the abandonment of the unborn to abortion. We will work…to bring assistance, comfort, and care to pregnant women in need and to those who have been victimized by abortion….

Our message is, and ever shall be, that the just, human, and truly Christian answer to problem pregnancies is for all of us to love and care for mother and child alike.

At the same time, the Declaration calls on the government to exercise its first duty: “to protect the weak and the vulnerable.”

The Bible, reinforced by reason, demands that the people of God defend those who have no defense, to speak for those who have no voice. So we must defend and speak for the unborn child, the disabled girl, the elderly man.

The Manhattan Declaration boldly challenges: “We must be willing to defend, even at risk and cost to ourselves and our institutions, the lives of” the vulnerable — no matter their ages, no matter their circumstances.
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Read and sign the Manhattan Declaration here.

The Rev. Paul T. Stallsworth helped Richard John Neuhaus launch the Center on Religion and Society in 1984 and the Institute on Religion and Public Life in 1989.

Mr. Stallsworth, a clergy member of the UMC’s North Carolina Conference, founded Taskforce of United Methodists on Abortion and Sexuality/Lifewatch in 1987.

In addition to his work with TUMAS/Lifewatch, Paul Stallsworth is a member of the National Pro-life Religious Council and serves as the pastor of St. Peter’s United Methodist Church in Morehead City, N.C.

Lifewatch holds its annual worship service and board meeting today at the United Methodist Building in Washington, D.C.

The group rents the space used for the service and the meeting. Use of the facility is not donated by the UMC’s General Board of Church and Society, which is a member of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, a group that supports legalized abortion.


Related posts
United Methodists praying, speaking, and marching for life
Why aren’t UM leaders supporting the Manhattan Declaration?
UM pro-life group urges Sen. Ben Nelson: ‘Do no harm’
Bishop Timothy Whitaker: Abortion and the gospel of peace
Party platforms and the UMC

Related articles
How a pastor might first broach the abortion issue with his congregation | Paul T. Stallsworth, Remarks at the 2010 Convention of National Right to Life, Pittsburgh, Pa. (June 2010)
United Methodist Bishop Scott Jones addresses pro-life event | Connor Ewing, IRD (Jan. 22, 2010)
Presentation to the Study Committee on the Worldwide Nature of The United Methodist Church | Paul Stallsworth, Lifewatch (November 2009)
United Methodists and abortion today | Bishop Timothy Whitaker (Feb. 9, 2009)
United Methodism on abortion | Paul T. Stallsworth, On the Square—First Things (May 29, 2008)
The pro-life pulpit | Lynne M. Thompson, At The Center (Winter 2005)
Roe ruling: More than its author intended | David G. Savage, Los Angeles Times—via HispanicPundit.com (Sept. 14, 2005)
Diversity of life: Opposition to abortion spans ideologies and ethnic groups | Gene Edward Veith, WORLD—via National Pro-Life Religious Council (Nov. 6, 2004)
The sanctification of human life (a historical overview of the Christian church’s position on abortion and other issues related to the sanctity of human life) — Chapter 2 of How Christianity Changed the World | Alvin Schmidt (Zondervan, 2004 — via Google Books)
Why is the New Testament silent about abortion? | Michael J. Gorman, Good News (May/June 1993)
‘Durham Declaration’ asks for ‘Scriptural approach’ to abortion in the UMC; Signatories include Bishops Ole E. Borgen and William R. Cannon | United Methodist News Service (March 12, 1991)
Text of the Durham Declaration (January 1991)

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This Saturday (Jan. 22) marks the 38th anniversary of the United States Supreme Court’s decisions in the cases of Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton. Taken together, the two rulings (authored by Justice Harry Blackmun, a United Methodist) effectively voided dozens of state laws aimed at protecting unborn children from abortion.

Since then, abortion providers have performed 50 million abortions in the U.S. — primarily for purposes of birth control rather than for medical reasons. On average, five abortions occur in America every minute of every hour of every day.

Many churches will observe this Sunday as Sanctity of Human Life Sunday.

The pro-life prayer guide below, designed for use as a church-bulletin insert, is adapted from material prepared by Lifewatch, also known as the Taskforce of United Methodists on Abortion and Sexuality. A PDF copy of the prayer guide is here. (UM pastor Chris Roberts has prepared additional material that can be used as bulletin insert.)


On Monday (Jan. 24), Lifewatch will host its annual worship service at the United Methodist Building, next door to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Rev. Dr. Edwin King, a Methodist clergyman instrumental in the civil rights movement in Mississippi, is scheduled to deliver the message.

Ed King in 2009

In the early 1960s, King — then a chaplain at Tougaloo College near Jackson, Miss. — worked (unsuccessfully) to convince white pastors in the area to issue a statement against racial segregation.

He then helped students to stage a series of sit-ins and other protests in Jackson, according to the 1998 book, Lift Up Your Voice Like a Trumpet: White Clergy and the Civil Rights and Antiwar Movements, 1954-1973 (UNC Press).

Denied membership in the white Mississippi Methodist Conference because of his racial views and civil rights activism, King joined the conference of black Mississippi Methodists, part of The Methodist Church’s Central Jurisdiction.

In a 2002 address (PDF) in Charlottesville, Va., King — now a professor of Sociology and Medical Ethics at the University of Mississippi Medical Center — spoke about legalized abortion’s negative impact on black Americans.

Today in Mississippi, two-thirds to 75 percent of the abortions are done for black children in the womb…. [Across America,] the majority of the children whose [lives are] snuffed out in the womb [are] black or Hispanic…. Is that freedom for somebody — or is something else going on?

Fannie Lou Hamer was the first person to talk to me after Roe vs. Wade came down and she said, “Rev. King, this is another racial thing — this is the answer to the civil rights movement, they are going to get rid of black babies.”

Previous speakers at the annual Lifewatch gathering have included Bishop Scott Jones (Kansas Area), Bishop Will Willimon (North Alabama), and Bishop Timothy Whitaker (Florida).

At the 2004 service, Bishop Whitaker said a church that supports abortion undermines its proclamation of the gospel.

“[W]e who are United Methodists…have a responsibility to live according to our first rule [of the Methodist General Rules], which is to do no harm,” he declared. “Do no harm to the unborn! Do no harm to the witness of the Church as a peaceable people! Do no harm to the Gospel of peace!”

(UMNS photo)

Shortly after Monday’s Lifewatch service, the annual March for Life begins on the Mall in Washington, D.C. (map showing route).

The event, which draws tens of thousands of pro-lifers each year, will be aired live (beginning at 11 a.m. ET) on EWTN, the Roman Catholic cable/satellite TV channel. (EWTN’s coverage will be repeated at 11 p.m. ET.)

Go here for live audio and video online.

The March for Life has been held annually since 1974.

In 2008, the United Methodist General Conference passed legislation acknowledging “the sanctity of unborn human life” and noting that United Methodists are bound to “respect the sacredness of life and well-being of [both] the mother and the unborn child.”

The United Methodist Book of Discipline also states that the UMC “cannot affirm abortion as an acceptable means of birth control” (¶161J).


Related posts
Bishop Timothy Whitaker: Abortion and the gospel of peace
‘Church and Society’ decries pro-life amendment to health bill
Party platforms and the UMC
Bishop Mike Watson: ‘The Methodist Christian Way’

Related articles
How a pastor might first broach the abortion issue with his congregation | UM pastor Paul T. Stallsworth, Remarks at the 2010 Convention of National Right to Life, Pittsburgh, Pa. (June 2010)
United Methodist Bishop Scott Jones addresses pro-life event | Connor Ewing, IRD (Jan. 22, 2010)
United Methodists and abortion today | Bishop Timothy Whitaker (Feb. 9, 2009)
United Methodism on abortion | Paul T. Stallsworth, On the Square—First Things (May 29, 2008)
United Methodist Church continues decades-long crawl to pro-life direction | John Lomperis, LifeNews.com (May 23, 2008)
Abortion opponents speak out during national rally | United Methodist News Service (Jan. 24, 2008)
Pro-choice? Pro-life? | A sermon (text and audio) by UM Lay Speaker Joseph Slife, Gateway Church (UMC), Athens, Ga. (Jan. 22, 2006)
Dr. Billy Abraham tells abortion opponents not to give up | Mark Schoeff Jr., United Methodist News Service (Jan. 24, 2007)
Mainline churches participate in abortion rights march | John Lomperis, Good News (July/August 2004)
UMC holds ambiguous stand on abortion, speakers say | Melissa Lauber, United Methodist News Service (Jan. 24, 2002)
Roe ruling: More than its author intended | David G. Savage, Los Angeles Times—via HispanicPundit.com (Sept. 14, 2005)
Justice Harry Blackmun was active United Methodist | United Methodist News Service (March 4, 1999)
Justice Blackmun and the little people | Mary Meehan (originally published in Human Life Review, Summer 2004)
The sanctification of human life (a historical overview of the Christian church’s position on abortion and other issues related to the sanctity of human life) — Chapter 2 of How Christianity Changed the World | Alvin Schmidt (Zondervan, 2004 — via Google Books)
Why is the New Testament silent about abortion? | Michael J. Gorman, Good News (May/June 1993)
‘Durham Declaration’ asks for ‘Scriptural approach’ to abortion in the UMC; Signatories include Bishops Ole E. Borgen and William R. Cannon | United Methodist News Service (March 12, 1991)
Text of the Durham Declaration (January 1991)
42 years later, clergy who fought racism to reunite | Associated Press (June 6, 2005) — Related: The “Born of Conviction” statement, published in the Mississippi Methodist Advocate, Jan. 2, 1963 (PDF)
Religion and the Civil Rights Movement (PDF) | An address by the Rev. Edwin King (Feb. 22, 2002)

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The United Methodist Church in the Philippines, despite a steep decline in its reported membership, will enjoy an overall increase in the number of delegates it sends to the 2102 General Conference and will have a level of representation far out of proportion to its membership.

The 2012 UM General Conference will have outsized representation from both Europe and the Philippines

Likewise, the representation level of the European Central Conferences will bear no connection to actual membership.

These details are included in a report released by the secretary of the General Conference that sets the total number of delegates to next year’s quadrennial gathering at 988 and advises annual conference leaders about the number of delegates each annual conference will be allowed to send.

A seven-page spreadsheet summary and analysis (PDF) of the denominational data, prepared by former North Georgia Conference Lay Leader Joe Whittemore and obtained by MethodistThinker.com, notes that Europe and the Philippines, which together account for less than 2 percent of total UMC membership, will have delegations that comprise more than 9 percent of the 2012 General Conference.

Specifically, the Whittemore analysis notes that Philippines Central Conference, despite a reported decline of nearly 28 percent in membership since delegation sizes were calculated for the 2008 General Conference, will nonetheless see a 14.3 percent increase in the size of its 2012 delegation.

(The steep membership decline in the Philippines is left unexplained in the denominational data; it is likely due in part to more accurate membership reporting from the annual conferences there.)

Meanwhile the European Central Conferences (Central and Southern Europe, Germany, Northern Europe), despite a overall membership loss of 8.5 percent since delegation sizes were calculated for 2008, will see no impact on the size of their delegations.

The out-of-proportion representation afforded to Europe and the Philippines is the result a constitutional provision, applied to small annual conferences, that overrules the normal formula for determining representation.

Typically, the size of each annual conference’s delegation is based on a formula — approved by the 2000 General Conference and found in ¶502 of the United Methodist Book of Discipline — that allows each annual conference to send one clergy delegate and one lay delegate for every 375 clergy members in the conference, plus one clergy delegate and one lay delegate for each 26,000 lay members.

Certain conferences, however, are too small for the formula to apply. Under the United Methodist Constitution (¶15: Section II, Article III), such conferences are guaranteed a minimum of two delegates — one clergy and one lay — regardless of membership. The guaranteed-minimum rule gives these smaller conferences — and the Central Conferences or Jurisdictions areas of which they are a part — outsized representation at the expense of larger conferences.

Based on a strict application of the 375 clergy/26,000 lay members formula, the Philippines Central Conference would send only 14 delegates to the next General Conference, according to the Whittemore analysis. Instead, because the Philippines church is composed of 23 annual conferences, the Philippines is guaranteed a minimum of 46 delegates. (Its actual delegation size next year will be 48.)

Click to enlarge

Likewise, without the minimum rule, the Central Conferences of Europe would send only eight delegates to the 2012 General Conference, according to Mr. Whittemore’s calculations, rather than the 42 called for under the recently released delegation data.

The additional delegates afforded to Europe and the Philippines by the guaranteed-minimum rule will mean that the Central Conferences of Africa (Africa, Congo, West Africa) will have a level of representation that falls well below what would be required under a strict application of the 375 clergy/26,000 lay members formula.

According to denominational membership tallies as of Dec. 31, 2009 — the figures used to calculate delegation sizes for the 2012 General Conference — United Methodists in Africa comprise 34.6 percent of total UMC membership. However, at next year’s General Conference, African delegates will make up only 28.5 percent of voting members, assuming all delegates are present.

The second- and third-largest areas of the UMC, the United States’ Southeastern and South Central Jurisdictions, respectively, will also see their representation diluted by the two-per-conference-minimum rule. The SEJ, with 24 percent of total UMC membership, will have 22.3 percent of delegates. The SCJ, with 14.4 percent of members, will have 13 percent of delegates.

The three other U.S. Jurisdctions — Western, Northeastern, and North Central — will all enjoy delegation sizes slightly larger than their actual membership would call for if General Conference representation was strictly proportional.

As noted above, the number of delegates for GC2012 has been set at 988.

The UM Constitution (¶13: Section II, Article I) requires that the quadrennial General Conference “be composed of not less than 600 nor more than 1,000 delegates, one half of whom shall be clergy and one half lay members, to be elected by the annual conferences.” Further, the Constitution requires UM missionary conferences to be considered as annual conferences for purposes of General Conference representation.

Ten delegates to the 2012 General Conference are expected to come from “concordat” churches with which the United Methodist has a formal relationship, including four voting delegates from the British Methodist Church (see ¶13).

A November 2010 press release from the UMC’s Office of Public Information offered background on the process of determining  delegation sizes for the 2012 General Conference:

The Constitution of The United Methodist Church allows for the General Conference to have anywhere from 600 to 1,000 delegates. Because the formula that is provided within church law for the distribution of delegates currently allocates more than 1,000 delegates, the formula must be adjusted to bring the total within that range.

In October 2009, the Judicial Council issued a decision stating that the secretary of the General Conference has the authority to “determine the number of delegates that each annual and missionary conference will elect to General Conference within the provisions of the Constitution and the legislative enactments of the General Conference.”…

A decision about the number of delegates was delayed in part because of a request from the South Carolina annual conference for a declaratory decision from the Judicial Council concerning the secretary’s authority to calculate the number of delegates to be elected by each annual conference.

At their fall meeting, the Judicial Council said it has no jurisdiction to act upon that request because the request did not “have a direct and tangible effect on the work of the” South Carolina Conference.

The current secretary of the General Conference is the Rev. L. Fitzgerald Reist, the pastor of Grace United Methodist Church in Harrisburg, Pa.

Reist was nominated to the secretary’s post by UM Council of Bishops and was elected by the 2004 General Conference. He was re-elected in 2008.


Related post
Prominent UM layman offers analysis of amendments outcome

Related articles and information
2012 General Conference delegations as compared to membership (PDF) | Joe Whittemore (Jan. 7, 2011)
The Jurisdictional Conferences (U.S.) and the Central Conferences of the United Methodist Church | Wikipedia
Fairly represented? GC 2008 considers limits on delegates | Bill Fentum, United Methodist Reporter (April 18, 2008)
Southeastern delegates push for fair representation at General Conference | Alice Smith, United Methodist News Service (Sept. 24, 1999)

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The following commentary is by Riley B. Case, associate executive director of the Confessing Movement Within the United Methodist Church.

Dr. Riley B. Case

Dr. Case served many years as a pastor and district superintendent in the UMC’s North Indiana Conference (now the Indiana Conference).

He is the author of Evangelical and Methodist: A Popular History (Abingdon Press) and has served as a delegate to five UM General Conferences.

This commentary was published in a slightly different form in the Confessing Movement publication, “Happenings Around the Church.” Links below have been added by MethodistThinker.com. — Ed.

In 2009 Boston School of Theology received $863,235 from the Ministerial Education Fund (MEF). For this investment a grand total of seven students in 2008 received United Methodist ordination at the cost of $123,319 per student.

The School of Theology at Claremont did a bit better; 10 students from Claremont were in the newly ordained elders and deacons 2008 class in the various conferences. The church’s investment per Claremont ordained student totaled $84,967.

(Claremont, of course, has declared itself to be a multi-faith seminary and has indicated that it is not in the business of trying to convert persons from other religions to Christianity.)

This situation with the Ministerial Education Fund funds points to what many of us consider a serious problem in the church: namely, the seminaries (and the colleges).

The church is presently excited about the Call to Action Report (PDF) that speaks of widespread church reforms to address decades-long membership losses. Based on two independent studies (here and here — PDF) and adopted unanimously by the Council of Bishops, the report calls for the building of vital congregations, the consolidating and eliminating of church agencies, the reforming of clergy leadership development, and for holding bishops accountable for church vitality.

However, the report and the studies preceding the report say nothing about United Methodist seminaries or the way the present seminary situation addresses the need for clergy leadership development.

Part of the problem is that the seminaries (and the colleges) are basically independent entities that go their own ways quite apart from the stated mission of the United Methodist Church, which is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world (UM Book of Discipline ¶120).


A bit of background

At Methodism’s organizing conference in 1784, preachers were advised never to let study interfere with soul-saving: “If you can do but one let your studies alone. We would throw by all the libraries of the world rather than be guilty of the loss of one soul” (Discipline of 1784).

John Wesley himself was highly educated and valued education, but he understood that there is not a direct link between educated clergy and church vitality.

Between 1780 and 1829, during the period of Methodism’s most rapid growth, 40 colleges and universities were founded in the United States, mostly by Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and Congregationalists. Few were Methodist.

While Presbyterians and Congregationalists were steeping themselves in classical studies so that they could serve the cultured elite of the nation, Methodist preachers were organizing camp meetings, preaching revivals, and winning the hearts of the masses.

The Methodist message that all could be saved (i.e., unlimited atonement), that each person had value, and that — in God’s sight — the experience of the heart was more to be desired than the trained mind, made it attractive to all people, rich and poor, black and white, sophisticated and unsophisticated. Methodism was a “bottom-up” religion rather than a “top-down” religion ruled by mediating elites.

In 1832 Congregational seminaries enrolled 234 students, Presbyterians seminaries 257, Episcopalians 47, Baptists 107, and Methodists none. The first Methodist seminary opened in 1847.

By 1859 the other denominations enrolled more than 1,200 students to the Methodists’ 51. Yet Methodism, in its several bodies, claimed the allegiance of one-third of all the religious adherents in America.

In the last half of the 19th century Methodism began to establish colleges and seminaries with abandon. These were not the cause but the result of Methodism’s evangelistic success.

As Methodism grew more sophisticated, Methodists became more and more enamored with education. Education was thought to be the new means by which the world could be civilized and thus Christianized.

While many of these newly minted educational institutions sought a close relationship with the church, many others were increasingly drawn into the values of an increasingly secularized society that worshipped at the altars of academic freedom, new knowledge, and the scientific method.

The coming kingdom began to look more and more like a secular utopia and less and less like the biblical millennium. Creedalism, sectarianism, and all forms of “dogmatism” were to be resisted on the way to this earthly kingdom. Educational institutions began to believe that they were the change agents and that the church existed to serve them, not they the church.


The 20th century

In 1901 Bishop Warren A. Candler, a Methodist bishop on the Vanderbilt University board, presented a resolution that that the university should give preference to hiring Methodists, all other things being equal. The school reacted by disaffiliating itself from the M.E. Church South.

In 1908 the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, under the influence of its educational institutions, passed legislation removing bishops (who were instructed by the Discipline to guard the faith) from the responsibility of guarding the faith in regard to university or seminary teaching, thus effectively removing the church from intervening in university or seminary affairs.

From this point on, seminaries and colleges would be free from all church constraints. Religious tests for teaching were discarded. The only “heresy” the church now allowed was the belief that heresy could exist.

By 1925 (according to a study done by Ministers’ Monthly), of 91 seminaries in the U.S., only 33 seminaries identified themselves as “orthodox” in orientation. None of these was Methodist (four United Brethren and Evangelical Association seminaries claimed to be “orthodox”).

“Fundamentalism” (which in the modernist mind included all forms of evangelicalism) was pronounced as dead. Modernism was considered the wave of the future for Methodist schools and for the future of the church.

Fortunately, nearly 60% of the ministerial students at the time (of both the North and South Methodist churches) were trained through the Course of Study and weren’t required to attend seminary. These were the pastors who did the work in the trenches and helped to keep some kind of theological balance in the church.

By the 1960s and 70s, ministerial candidates who wanted full ordination were required to be seminary graduates. But the seminaries, at least the mainline seminaries, wanting to be sensitive to all the cultural shifts, were missing what was really happening in the Christian world.

Theological modernism and its successors were spiritually bankrupt. The evangelical renaissance was taking place. Pentecostalism was breaking out worldwide. And, not least of all, many theological students preferred to attend growing and thriving evangelical seminaries. The mainline seminaries, wanting to be relevant, were becoming irrelevant.

Source: UMCgiving.org

This would mark the beginning of United Methodism’s 43-year decline — a decline which must be placed, in part, at the feet of the official church seminaries.

The seminaries (and their friends) never admitted to their own complicity in the church’s problems. Their enrollment declines and financial problems were not of their own making. What they needed was more money.

And so, in 1968, the General Conference established the Ministerial Education Fund (MEF) — effectively a “bail out” fund that began being apportioned to the annual conferences in 1970 as one of the church’s general funds.

In recent times this fund has channeled $15 million a year to the general budgets of the seminaries with no strings attached so that the seminaries might continue to do all the things they had always done in the way they had always done them.

There is no indication that the millions of dollars that have been poured into seminaries since 1970 have in any significant way increased the quality of seminary education.

To be sure, there are hopeful signs in UM seminary education, but despite these signs the question remains: If the United Methodist Church is genuinely interested in renewal and reform, what shall be done with the seminaries?


Correction:
An earlier version of this article stated that the Ministerial Education Fund was created in 1972. The MEF was authorized by the 1968 General Conference and became an official apportionment item in 1970.


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Related articles and information
Why Methodist seminaries are becoming irrelevant and dying | Riley B. Case, Confessing Movement Within the United Methodist Church (July 2009 — via Methodist Examiner)
The Ministerial Education Fund (PDF) | UM General Council and Finance and Administration, Financial Commitment of The United Methodist Church 2009-2012
Call to Action: Reordering the Life of the Church | Website of the UMC’s Call to Action Steering Committee
The complete “Operational Assessment” report (PDF) and Appendices (PDF) | Call to Action Steering Committee (June 29, 2010)
Leaning into the Future: President’s address to the Council of Bishops | Bishop Larry Goodpaster (Nov. 2, 2010)
Momentum builds for major church change | Bishop John L. Hopkins, United Methodist News Service (April 12, 2010)
Church leaders seek consensus on plans for change | Kathy L. Gilbert, United Methodist News Service (Nov. 12, 2009)
Connectional Table OKs new plan to study church | J. Richard Peck, United Methodist News Service (Nov. 9, 2009)
Bishop Palmer says church is in ‘sweet spot’ for change | Kathy L. Gilbert, United Methodist News Service (May 14, 2009)
Methodism’s coming death spiral | Donald Sensing, WindsOfChange.net (Nov. 15, 2007)
40 years of vision for United Methodist Renewal (PDF) | James V. Heidinger II, Good News (November/December 2007)
From the margin to the mainstream: United Methodism’s renewal movement (PDF) | Riley B. Case, Good News (November/December 2007)
Seminaries in crisis | Geoffrey Wainwright, Good News (September/October 1995)
Confessions of a grieving seminary professor | Thomas C. Oden, Good News (January/February 1994)

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This is the first installment of a new MethodistThinker feature for 2011 that will present excerpts from the writings of John Wesley, co-founder (with his brother Charles) of the Methodist movement.

“A Word from Mr. Wesley” will appear around the first of each month.

Because language changes with the passage of time, the wording in these excerpts has been slightly updated. (Where possible, a link to the full text of the original document will be provided for those who wish to consult the complete text.)

The following is from John Wesley’s sermon, “Salvation by Faith.”

For by grace you have been saved through faith… (Eph. 2:8)

All the blessings God has bestowed upon man and women are of his grace, his free, undeserved favor. We have no claim to the least of His mercies.

It was free grace that “formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into him a living soul,” and then stamped on that soul the image of God. The same free grace continues to us at this day — life, and breath, and all things. And whatever righteousness may be found in us, this is also the gift of God.

With what then can we atone for even the least of our sins? With our works? Even if our works are many and holy, they are not our own, but God’s.

Therefore, having nothing — neither righteousness nor works — to plead, our mouths are utterly stopped before God. If, then, we find favor with God, it is “grace upon grace!” “By grace you have been saved through faith.”

Grace is the source, faith is the condition, of salvation.

What kind of faith? Faith in Christ. Christian faith is a full reliance on the blood of Christ; it is a trust in the merits of His life, death, and resurrection. This kind of faith means resting upon Him as our atonement and our life. It is cleaving to Him as our “wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption” — or, in one word, our salvation.

This is a present salvation — something attained here on earth — by those who are partakers of this faith. This is that great salvation foretold by the angel, before God brought His First-begotten into the world: “You shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).

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Born again unto a new life

Through faith in Jesus Christ, we are saved both from the guilt of sin and from the power of it.

First, we are saved from the guilt of all past sin. Saved from guilt, we are also saved from fear — from fear of punishment, from fear of the wrath of God, whom we now no longer regard as a severe Master, but as an indulgent Father.

Secondly, through this faith we are saved from the power of sin. Those who by faith are born of God do not commit habitual sin (for this would mean that sin reigning and sin cannot reign in anyone who believes), nor do they commit willful sin (because those who abide in the faith abhor sin as deadly poison).

This, then, is the salvation that is through faith — even in this present world: A salvation from sin and the consequences of sin, by the atonement of Christ applied to those who believe on him, and a deliverance from the power of sin, through Christ formed in the heart.

Those who are thus saved by faith are indeed born again. They are born again of the Spirit unto a new life — a life that “is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3).


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Podcast: John Wesley on ‘The New Birth’
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Related articles and information
Salvation by faith (full text) | The Rev. John Wesley (1738) (from The Sermons of John Wesley, 1872 Edition — Thomas Jackson, editor)
‘By grace are ye saved through faith’ | John Meunier (June 24, 2010)
This still new doctrine of salvation by faith | John Meunier (Sept. 28, 2010)

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