Archive for the ‘Stewardship’ Category

Looking for just the right gift for a preacher? Consider Warren Lathem and Dan Dunn’s 2008 book, Preaching for a Response: Leading New Believers into Spiritual Maturity, published by Bristol House. preaching-for-a-response2

The authors (Lathem has served as a pastor, district superintendent, and seminary president; Dunn has been a pastor, associate pastor, and missionary) know how to declare biblical truths in ways that elicit a clear response from listeners — a skill neither learned in seminary.

From the book:

These authors have a collective 17 years of formal theological education.

Yet never in those years did anyone attempt to instruct either of us in how to preach for a response, how to give the invitation for a response, or even why we ought to find a way to invite and encourage a response….

[But r]esponse is inherent in the gospel and the gospel preacher who does night invite response is not being completely faithful to the gospel.

Other excerpts:

How many sermons are preached, how many worship services are conducted in church all across America without any thought being given to a response by the hearer? How often do preachers and worship leaders prepare a great banquet, set it before the people, entice them to this gospel feast with beautiful words and music, yet never say, “Come and get it”?…

We may delude ourselves into thinking that just because the listener recognizes the need to respond, that he or she will know how to make a proper response to the gospel.

More likely, without direction, guidance and invitation from the preacher, most will simply make no overt, conscious, intentional response, and by failing to do so will in fact reject the message they just heard….

Why do most mainline preachers fail to issue an invitation or give an opportunity for response? There are several possible reasons….

  • We do not really believe people are lost…
  • We do not believe the power of the gospel…
  • We do not know how to invite a response…
  • We would not know what do if they did respond…
  • Our order of worship does not accommodate a response…
  • We are fearful of the opinion of others…
  • We do not take preaching seriously enough….

Preaching for a Response includes advice about “what to say” and “how to say it.” The chapter “Twelve Keys to Effective Preaching” emphasizes the basic building blocks of effective speaking — such as maintaining strong eye contact, using varied pacing, employing short sentences, and ending strong.


Warren Lathem


Dan Dunn

The book also includes detailed suggestions on how to plan worship services, week after week, aimed at eliciting responses that move people toward maturity in Christ.

You can order Preaching for a Response here (Amazon) or here (Bristol House).

Read Full Post »

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?

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.

Related posts
Riley Case: ‘Operational Assessment’ shows UMC has lost its way
United Methodist Judicial Council convenes for fall session
Renewal & Reform Coalition releases letter to Council of Bishops
Riley Case: The future of the United Methodist Church is at stake
Riley Case: Approval of Amendment XIX a ‘positive development’ for evangelicals
Podcast: Randy Maddox on Methodist ‘doctrine, spirit, discipline’
Podcast: Dr. James Heidinger on ‘United Methodist Renewal’

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)

Read Full Post »

Arguing that the District of Columbia Superior Court’s ruling “constitute[s] legal error,” the D.C. attorney general has taken the usual step of asking the court (PDF) to “alter and amend” its ruling in a case involving endowment funds held by the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society (GBCS). The attorney general’s office represents the public interest in District of Columbia cases involving charitable trusts.

Last month, Superior Court Associate Judge Rhonda Reid Winston ruled (PDF) that a 1965 Declaration of Trust (PDF) that restricted much of the board’s endowment for use in temperance-related ministry was based on “mistakes of fact” and that the GBCS should have essentially unrestricted use of the endowment funds.

The endowment money came to the GBCS via its predecessor organizations in The Methodist Episcopal Church and The Methodist Church, including the Board of Temperance and the Division of Alcohol Problems.

Based on legal advice it received in the 1970s, the board has been operating for more than three decades as though the endowment funds were virtually unrestricted.

In 2007, following repeated inquiries from the Audit and Review Committee (PDF) of the UMC’s General Council on Finance and Administration about how the endowment funds were being used, the General Board of Church and Society petitioned the Probate Division of the D.C. Superior Court, seeking a “reformation” of the 1965 trust (GBCS is headquartered in the United Methodist Building in the District of Columbia.) That reformation was granted last month, with the court striking a dozen clauses in the trust document that referred to restricting funds to temperance-related ministry.

According to a source close to the case, the General Board of Church and Society spent close to $1.5 million in legal fees in its quest to have the trust reformed.

Two weeks after the ruling, D.C. Attorney General Peter J. Nickels, acting on behalf of the District of Columbia, submitted a motion under Rule 59(e) of the D.C. Superior Court Rules of Civil Procedure (PDF) requesting that Judge Winston “alter or amend” the court’s ruling, arguing that “[i]f the Court’s reformed language were allowed to stand, this would constitute legal error.”

Specifically, the attorney general’s motion suggests that the “reformed language is unduly broad in light of both the trial record and the Court’s own finding of fact.”

That the settlors [of the 1965 trust agreement] intended to restrict the use of the Trust funds to some purpose more limited that any lawful purpose is evident from the record….

Contrary to what the reformed language permits, the evidence at trial simply does not support the conclusion that the settlors’ would have intended that the Trustees use the funds for any lawful purpose related to public welfare. At most, the evidence suggests that the settlors’ intention would have been to expand the use of funds from temperance and alcohol problems to include other “public morals.”…

Clearly, the evidence establishes that the settlors intended to limit the Trustees’ discretion over the purposes for which the Trust Funds could be spent. Therefore, reformed language that limits use of the Trust Funds to issues related to “public morals” would better reflect what the settlors would have intended than reformed language that gives Trustees virtually unfettered discretion.

The attorney general’s motion notes that the 1960 Discipline of the Methodist Church, which is specially referenced in the Declaration of Trust, “defined [public morals] as including issues related to gambling, narcotics, tobacco, exploitation of sex, including the elimination of pornographic literature, and Sunday observance laws.”

“Principles of equity and prudent trust management lead to the conclusion that all funds should be restricted to causes involving ‘public morals,'” the attorney general’s motion states.

It is not known how long it will be before Judge Winston either accepts or denies the attorney general’s motion.

Judge Rhonda Reid Winston (PDF) was appointed to the federal bench in 1994 by President Bill Clinton. She is a graduate of Duke University Law School.

In a commentary posted Oct. 28 on the website of the UM renewal ministry Good News, Rob Renfroe, a former member of the General Board of Church and Society and now president of Good News, wrote that Judge Winston’s ruling in the GBCS case is puzzling.

Thirteen times the [1965 trust] document states that funds in the trust and funds generated by the trust were to be used for “temperance and alcohol problems.” The stated intention of the trust could not be more clear.

Rob Renfroe

For many years, the General Board of Church and Society has used the trust monies for its general purposes and now has been given the green light to continue to do so.

But if these monies were intended for general purposes, why were they ever restricted in the first place? Why designate the funds originally if you intended the funds to be used for any and every purpose that the Board adopts?

Persons of good faith can debate how broadly the phrase “temperance and alcohol problems” can be interpreted — and we have always believed the funds could properly be used for many causes such as alcohol abuse, drug and other addictions, pornography, and gambling. But certainly that phrase was meant to be a restriction of some kind.

It is simply impossible to believe “temperance and alcohol problems” was meant to give permission for the Board to use these funds for any and every purpose it feels a need to address.

Does “temperance” really include writings that promote sex outside of marriage as a moral choice, changing the church’s stance that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching, and lobbying for federally funded abortion — all positions that trust monies were used to support?

The result of the ruling will be dire for the United Methodist Church. The Board of Church and Society’s willingness to spend over a million dollars to change the intent of the trust gives a clear message to anyone contemplating the donation of a trust or other restricted gifts to any of our Boards in the future.

The message is this: Once you are deceased, your original intent may not be honored and the Board with whom you placed your trust may spend whatever it takes to break that trust. The monies spent to do so will be United Methodist apportionments and, ironically, the very monies generated by the trust itself.

A trust is called a trust for a particular reason. And regardless of a court’s decision, a trust has been broken.

Good News played a role in the case, acting in concert with the Confessing Movement and the Institute on Religion & Democracy. The three groups — working together as the Coalition for United Methodist Accountability — supported five individuals who served as “intervenors” in the trust case. The intervenors assisted the office of the D.C. attorney general by providing testimony and other evidence.

The United Methodist General Board of Church and Society is the successor to the Board of Temperance, Prohibition and Public Morals and two other agencies of the former Methodist Episcopal Church. In the early 1920s, Methodists concerned about alcohol abuse donated millions of dollars to construct a headquarters for the Temperance Board near the U.S. Capitol in Washington.

The 1965 trust agreement, which transferred the building and other assets to what was to become the General Board of Church and Society, stipulated that income from the trust would be devoted “in perpetuity” to addressing the “areas of temperance and alcohol problems.” (The trust language is consistent with ¶1008.2 of the United Methodist Book of Discipline: “Funds vested in any of the predecessor boards shall be conserved for the specific purposes for which such funds have been given.”)

Attempts to loosen the restrictions of the trust began as early as 1969. In that year, the Investment Committee of the Endowment Fund Trustees concluded that language in “original” Board of Temperance documents is “broader in scope and more inclusive than certain language in…the Declaration of Trust of March 23, 1965.”

These original documents include the Temperance Board’s 1917 Certificate of Incorporation, which said the board was being created “to promote the cause of temperance by every legitimate means; to prevent the improper use of drugs and narcotics; [and] to render aid to such causes as in the judgment of the Board of Trustees, tend to advance the public welfare.”

In the mid-1970s, GBCS — in an attempt to further loosen the 1965 trust restrictions — sought an opinion from outside legal counsel. The result of that consultation is described in the GBCS’s financial statements (PDF) for 2005 and 2006:

The Board’s management, on March 5, 1975, asked outside legal counsel whether the income from the Trust Fund could be properly spent on certain activities carried out by the board related to “public morals” and “general welfare.”

The list reviewed by the outside legal counsel included not only alcohol and temperance concerns, and drug abuse, but also…policy aspects of the public welfare problem and policy aspects of our health care delivery system… [as well as] questions of public morality relating to human sexuality… [and] the cost of administration for these programs…

On May 12, 1975, outside legal counsel stated that “it would be proper to interpret the [types of] work [which the Board described when it requested the legal opinion] as [being] included under the category of ‘public morals’…and ‘general welfare’ for Trust Fund purposes. This would mean that income from the Trust Fund could be used on an annual basis for these purposes.”

In an October 2002 letter, GBCS attorney Milton Cerny noted that it was unlikely that “the trust instrument’s language could be interpreted any more broadly than has already been done.”

Today, temperance-related spending now accounts for a relatively small percentage of GBCS expenditures. A record of the Board’s 2008 spending (PDF—see p. 7 of the file) shows a line item of $158,100 for programs focused on “Alcohol, Addictions, and Health Care,” with no breakdown of how much of that dollar amount actually went to specific alcohol-related ministry.

The bulk of the Board’s $2.8 million program budget in 2008 was spent on areas such as “Education and Leadership Formation,” various undefined “program-related” expenses of the general secretary’s office, and maintaining an office at the United Nations.

In addition to money from trust, the General Board of Church and Society receives apportionment money from local churches via the United Methodist World Service Fund. GBCS’s financial statement for 2008 (PDF) showed total revenue of $6.1 million. About $2.6 million of that amount came from apportionments.

The General Board of Church and Society has long been a lightning rod for criticism within the United Methodist Church. As noted by Steven M. Tipton in his 2007 book, Public Pulpits: Methodists and Mainline Churches in the Moral Argument of Public Life (University of Chicago Press), “For decades…vigorous critics of the board have protested its public advocacy as politically partisan and radically left-wing.”

In 2009 and early 2010, the GBCS used its resources to advocate for a controversial Democrat-led health bill that called for significantly expanding the federal government’s role in the U.S. health care system. The board’s work earned a public thank-you from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

“Our coalition ranges from the AARP…to…the United Methodist Church,” she said on the House floor March 23, moments before passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The 2,685-page legislation, known colloquially as “Obamacare,” passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 219-212 (50.8%-49.2%). Every Republican and 34 Democrats voted no.

The board’s involvement in advocating for the unpopular bill created a strong backlash within the United Methodist Church.

Related posts
In GBCS article, UM elder argues against celibacy for single clergy
United Methodist Church facing health bill fallout
House Speaker thanks UMC for help in passing health bill
‘Church and Society’ decries pro-life amendment to health bill
Board of Church and Society sex-ed writer: Sex outside of marriage can be ‘moral, ethical’
‘Church and Society’ urges repeal of ‘conscience’ rule for healthcare workers
Update on the ‘Church and Society’ court case
Former member of Board of Church and Society speaks out
Source documents in the Methodist Building Trust case
General Board of Church and Society goes to court
‘Church and Society’ withdraws support for Freedom of Choice Act

Related articles and information
The 1965 Declaration of Trust (PDF) | (March 23, 1965)
Memorandum of Points and Authorities in Support of the Motion of the District of Columbia to Alter or Amend Judgment (PDF) | Office of D.C. Attorney General (Oct. 21, 2010)
Decision: General Board of Church and Society v. The District of Columbia (PDF) | District of Columbia Superior Court (Oct. 6, 2010)
“Joint Proposed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law” from the Acting Attorney General of D.C. and the Intervenors (PDF) | (January 2009)
Summary Judgment on Count 1: General Board of Church and Society v. The District of Columbia (PDF) | District of Columbia Superior Court (Jan. 18, 2008)
The General Board of Church and Society’s filing with the District of Columbia Superior Court (PDF) | (February 2007)
Court sides with agency on use of funds | Heather Hahn, United Methodist News Service (Oct. 7, 2010)
Superior Court rules in favor of United Methodist General Board of Church & Society | GBCS (Oct. 7, 2010)
Why is an agency of the United Methodist Church in court? (PDF) | Joe Whittemore (March 2009)
Financial statements of the General Board of Church and Society, 2007 and 2008 (PDF)
Case may decide direction of social action agency | Kathy L. Gilbert, United Methodist News Service (Nov. 26, 2008)
Board of Church and Society calls for withdrawal from Iraq | Mark Schoeff Jr., United Methodist News Service (Oct. 19, 2005)
The war in Iraq is lost (PDF) | Jim Winkler, General Board of Church and Society (June 9, 2004)
Who profits from the Methodist Building? (PDF, see page 4) | UMAction Briefing, Institute on Religion and Democracy (Fall 2005)
Agency rejects Church & Society audit over Methodist Building | Mark Tooley, Good News (March/April 2004)
Methodists cross line on Middle East | David Fischler, The Reformed Pastor blog (Oct. 19, 2010)

Read Full Post »

With the stated goal of helping “solve the world’s big problems,” a seminary of the United Methodist Church is becoming an “inter-religious institution” and will add clerical-training programs for Jews and Muslims this fall.

UMNS photo

Southern California’s Claremont School of Theology (CST) — one of 13 official United Methodist seminaries — later plans to create programs for Buddhists and Hindus.

“We’re making history,” Claremont president Jerry D. Campbell said at a June 9 news conference, officially unveiling the school’s embrace of non-Christian religions, a project that has been in the planning stages for several years.

“[We have] a bold and idealistic vision to create the first graduate consortium in the world where Christian ministers, Jewish rabbis, and Muslim imams — and eventually clerics from other religions — will be educated side by side,” Campbell said.

Such joint education will “facilitate love among our different traditions in order that we can begin to solve the world’s big problems,” he said.

Audio from the June 9 news conference at Claremont School of Theology

President Jerry Campbell (44 seconds)

Najeeba Syeed-Miller (28 seconds)

Najeeba Syeed-Miller, CST’s first Muslim faculty member, told the news conference that Claremont’s broadened orientation demonstrates a new kind of righteousness.

“We are redefining what it means to be righteous in the 21st century,” she said. “To be righteous is to hold on to the message of pluralism and inclusion.”

Earlier this year, the United Methodist Church’s University Senate, a group that determines which schools meet criteria for being affiliated with the UMC, voted to place Claremont on public warning for failing to “consult fully” with the Senate, the Council of Bishops, and the UM General Board of Higher Education and Ministry regarding “a substantial reorientation of the institution’s mission.” (The Senate also expressed concern about CST’s “failure to transmit the school’s most current audit and management letter.”)

Along with the warning, the University Senate placed a hold on $800,000 from the UMC’s Ministerial Education Fund that had been targeted for Claremont.

CST’s multi-year reorientation plan, recasting the school as “an ecumenical and inter-religious institution,” was approved in March 2008 by the school’s board of trustees. The plan is known as the University Project.

In an April 24, 2010, guest column in a Los Angeles-area newspaper, Sandra N. Bane, chair of the CST board of trustees, stressed that the University Project would not undermine the United Methodist influence at Claremont.

Sandra Bane (L) at a
2009 trustees meeting

“The School of Theology will be the founding partner of this proposed university, ensuring that a Protestant Christian — and United Methodist — presence will be preserved in the new university structure,” she wrote.

“[CST’s] Board of Trustees will remain predominately United Methodist (as it is today) and it will continue to be overseen by a Methodist governance structure.”

Claremont’s board includes two active United Methodist bishops: Mary Ann Swenson of the California-Pacific Conference and Minerva Carcaño of the Desert Southwest Conference. A complete listing of board members is here (PDF).

Mrs. Bane said the goal of the University Project is to “educate leaders and scholars across religious boundaries” so they can later be more effective as community leaders. Future Claremont graduates “will already know how to work across lines of religious difference to improve our neighborhoods and communities,” she wrote.

Longtime CST trustee F. Thomas Trotter, a former general secretary of the UMCs Board of Higher Education and Ministry, fully supports the school’s transformation to an inter-religious institution. He told In Trust magazine last year that Claremont, which has struggled financially in recent years, can thrive by broadening its scope beyond the Christian faith. “The confessional seminary is a dead duck,” he said.

In a July 2009 essay, Riley B. Case, associate director of the Confessing Movement Within the United Methodist Church, argued that Claremont’s move to a multi-faith model should disqualify the school from being an official UM seminary.

“Claremont can obviously do what it wants to do,” he wrote. “But does the United Methodist Church need continually to pour [almost] $1 million yearly into such an institution? Isn’t [the UMC] supposed to be…about winning disciples to Jesus Christ?”

The mission of the United Methodist Church, as stated in the Book of Discipline, the denomination’s official doctrinal guide and rulebook, is “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world” (¶120).

Dr. Jerry D. Campbell

The Discipline also notes that the “ultimate concern” of the church’s ministry is “that all persons will be brought into a saving relationship with God through Jesus Christ” (¶127).

Further, the Book of Discipline states that while “we respect persons of all religious faiths,” the United Methodist Church “affirms that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Savior of the world, and the Lord of all” (¶121).

In response to a question at the June 9 news conference, Claremont president Jerry Campbell said he is “guardedly optimistic” that the new inter-faith school will retain its ties with the UMC.

“There will be strains in the relationship anytime we attempt to do anything new and different,” he said. “We’re in the midst of [a] process of working it out.” Campbell noted that “the [UM] Church sent a team to review what we were doing, and that review, in my judgment, went very well.”

He attributed denominational concerns about Claremont to the fact that “education and religion are two things that do not change quickly or easily — and this is requiring a change in both.”

The UMC’s University Senate will decide at its meeting next week (June 23-24) whether to ask the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry to release the money earmarked for Claremont.

Claremont’s “University Project” is being funded in large part by a $10-million gift from David and Joan Lincoln, members of Paradise Valley United Methodist Church in Arizona.

More from the June 9 news conference at Claremont School of Theology

Jerry Campbell on implementing Claremont’s new inter-religious model (5 min.)

Q&A re: Claremont’s relationship with the United Methodist Church (2 min.)

“We believe the outcome of this kind of education will be…the ability to better address global problems where religious collaboration and cooperation are needed to reach solutions and repair the world,” David Lincoln said in a Feb. 22, 2010, news release from Claremont.

In a June 10 interview on the Salem Radio Network’s Albert Mohler Program (audio below), Mark Tooley — author of Taking Back the United Methodist Church (Bristol, 2008) — said CST’s transformation to an inter-faith institution is not surprising, given the school’s theological trajectory over the past 50 years.

Claremont has long been identified with process theology, which “claims that God is constantly evolving and mutating into something different,” Tooley said. “So the fact that [Claremont] would end up in the place of becoming multi-faith and multi-religious is just the logical outcome of where they started.”

The Claremont School of Theology was founded as the Maclay School of Theology in 1885 in San Fernando, Calif. The school moved to Los Angeles in 1990 and was housed at the University of Southern California. It moved to its present location in Claremont, Calif. (east of downtown Los Angeles), in 1957.

In 2006, just weeks after Jerry D. Campbell became Claremont’s president, the school nearly lost its accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges because of lingering financial problems.

Before coming to Claremont, Campbell served for a decade as the Chief Information Officer and Dean of the University Libraries at the University of Southern California. He is a past president of the Association of Research Libraries as well as the American Theological Library Association. An ordained elder in the United Methodist Church, Campbell earned his Ph.D. in American History from the University of Denver.

During the recently concluded spring 2010 semester, the Claremont School of Theology had an enrollment of about 225 full-time and part-time students. Fewer than 100 were United Methodists.

Related articles and information
Seminary announces multifaith project | Joey Butler and Kathy L. Gilbert, United Methodist News Service (June 15, 2010)
Theology school integrates studies of different faiths | Associated Press via USA Today (June 14, 2010)
Claremont seminary reaches beyond Christianity | Mitchell Landsberg, Los Angeles Times (June 9, 2010)
Excerpts from a conversation with Mark Tooley, author, Taking Back the United Methodist Church | Albert Mohler Program, Salem Radio Network (June 10, 2010) — Use player below (9 min.)

(Albert Mohler is president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.)
Methodists, Muslims and Jews: Learning together to lead together | Jerry D. Campbell, On Faith, WashingtonPost.com (June 10, 2010)
All religions are the same, right? | Bobby Ross Jr., GetReligion.org (June 10, 2010)
A new paradigm for theological education | Sheryl Kujawa-Holbrook (professor, Practical Theology and Religious Education, Claremont School of Theology), Huffington Post (June 9, 2010)
Can a United Methodist seminary be “interfaith”? | news release, Institute on Religion and Democracy (May 14, 2010)
Methodist and multi-faith dialogue | Sandra N. Bane (chair, Claremont School of Theology board of trustees), Los Angeles Newspaper Group (April 24, 2010)
Methodists suspend funding of two seminaries | John Dart, The Christian Century (April 6, 2010)
University Senate places Claremont, United theological schools on public warning | UM General Board of Higher Education & Ministry (Jan. 26, 2010)
University Senate organization, policies, and guidelines — 2009-2012 (PDF) | United Methodist University Senate
Members of the United Methodist University Senate — 2009-2012 | UM General Board of Higher Education & Ministry
Claremont responds to sanction from the United Methodist Church | news release, Claremont School of Theology (Jan. 29, 2010)
Being Methodist and multifaith | Jerry D. Campbell, United Methodist Reporter (Oct. 15, 2009)
Financial crisis inspires new vision at Claremont School of Theology | William R. MacKaye, In Trust magazine (Autumn 2009)
Why Methodist seminaries are becoming irrelevant and dying | Riley B. Case, Confessing Movement Within the United Methodist Church (July 2009 — via Methodist Examiner)
Claremont seminary loses, regains, accreditation | Linda Green, United Methodist News Service (Dec. 11, 2006)
Accrediting ups and downs | Doug Lederman, Inside Higher Ed (Dec. 27, 2006)

Read Full Post »

Bishop Mike Watson, episcopal leader of the United Methodism’s largest U.S. Conference, is interviewed in the premiere issue (PDF) of the North Georgia Advocate, now the official newspaper of the North Georgia Conference. (The North Georgia Advocate is the successor to the recently discontinued Wesleyan Christian Advocate.)

Bishop Watson was assigned to North Georgia last summer after serving eight years as the leader of the South Georgia Conference.

Interview excerpts:

Advocate: What is the biggest challenge facing [the North Georgia] Conference?

north-ga-advocate-june5-09-imageBishop Watson: There are several major challenges. Among them is the constant need to reach new people with the Good News of Jesus Christ across all racial, ethnic, cultural, economic, and generational lines….

While we rejoice that the United Methodist Church is growing in North Georgia [quadrennial report, May 2008—PDF], we are not keeping up with the population growth.

We especially need to reach the younger and more diverse culture around us.

Another challenge is one of financial stewardship. Even during difficult economic times, can we even imagine what resources for ministry would be available if United Methodist people tithed?

Fundamentally, we do not have a financial problem, we have a financial stewardship problem. Until we faithfully commit our pocketbooks, we will not be able to do all that God has for us to do in North Georgia….

Advocate: Excluding your time as Bishop, what do you consider your most blessed time in ministry?

Bishop Mike Watson

Bishop Mike Watson

Bishop Watson: God has blessed my life in too many ways to count throughout my 37 years in ministry; however, serving as the founding pastor of a new congregation for 11 years certainly was a rich blessing.

We began with no conference money, no building, no land, and no members. [My wife] Margaret was the first one to join!

Being part of an experience in new church development that has resulted in Covenant United Methodist Church (Dothan, Ala.) becoming one of the strongest congregations in the Alabama-West Florida Conference was pure joy.

Advocate: Other than the Bible, what book has most affected your thinking?

Bishop Watson: The Bible definitely is the book that has affected my thinking the most. I have a daily Bible reading plan that enables me to read the Bible through each year.

I have also been greatly influenced by John Wesley’s sermons and Journal, by Henri Nouwen’s The Living Reminder and The Wounded Healer, and by Eugene H. Peterson’s Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity.

I love to read and I read so much that it is difficult to say what one book other than the Bible has affected me the most.

Advocate: How do you make time in your schedule for prayer and Bible study?

Bishop Watson: I have made a personal commitment to an hour of quiet time each day, usually in the morning, for prayer, Bible and devotional reading. I also try to do an hour of physical exercise each day. The North Georgia Committee on Episcopacy holds me accountable for these two commitments to spiritual and physical care.

The North Georgia Advocate will feature more conversations with Bishop Mike Watson in future issues, using questions submitted by readers.

Next week, Bishop Watson will preside for the first time at a session of the North Georgia Annual Conference.

During a “Bishop’s Forum” at the Georgia Pastors’ School in 2004, Bishop Watson briefly discussed his approach to presiding at annual conference sessions, especially during times when delegates are called on to vote on various issues. (Next week, North Georgia delegates will vote on 32 proposed amendments to the United Methodist Constitution).

Use the audio player below to listen to his remarks (1 min.).

Related posts
Bishop Mike Watson’s 2008 Installation sermon
MethodistThinker Podcast: Bishop Mike Watson — ‘We Wish to See Jesus’
Bishop Mike Watson: Spiritual disciplines for the New Year
An Advent sermon from Bishop Mike Watson
Bishop Mike Watson on ‘prevenient grace’
Bishop Mike Watson on ‘justifying grace’
Bishop Mike Watson: ‘The Methodist Christian Way’

Related information
Biography of Bishop Mike Watson
Bishop Michael Watson ready for next step after eight years leading South Georgia | Allison Kennedy, The Columbus (Ga.) Ledger-Enquirer (June 14, 2008)

Read Full Post »

Joe Whittemore, a former member of the United Methodist Church’s Committee on Audit and Review (part of the General Council on Finance and Administration), has authored an extensive column about the pending court case involving the UM General Board of Church and Society.

Joe Whittemore

Joe Whittemore

The case, now awaiting a ruling from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, relates to whether the Board of Church and Society can disregard specific provisions a 1965 Declaration of Trust (PDF) that earmarked certain assets for the promotion of “temperance and [ministries related to] alcohol problems” (backgrounder here).

Mr. Whittemore’s column — offering in some instances a first-hand account of events that led to the court case — is published in the March 20 edition of the Wesleyan Christian Advocate, the newspaper of the North and South Georgia Conferences.

The column, shortened from its original length due to space limitations, is available only to Advocate subscribers. However, MethodistThinker.com has been able to obtain the full version of Mr. Whittemore’s column. It is posted here (PDF—5 pages).

Excerpts from Mr. Whittemore’s piece are presented below (links to source documents referenced have been added by MethodistThinker.com):

In February 2007, the General Board of Church and Society…filed a [three-part] legal request (PDF) in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia:

gbcs-complaint1) Asking the Court to bless the expanded use of trust assets and rule on the ambiguity of the language of the 1965 Methodist Building Endowment Trust;

2) Requesting approval of the Court for [the Board] to continue to operate the trust as it has for the last thirty to thirty-five years; and

3) Asking the court to release the restrictions if the Court could not rule in [Board’s] favor in the first two requests. These requests are referred to as Count I, Count II and Count III in [the Board of Church and Society’s petition to the Court].

Shortly after [the Board] filed its request with the Superior Court, it withdrew Count III at the insistence of the General Council on Finance and Administration, the financial agency of the general church.

The reasoning for withdrawing Count III was that if the Court determined that Church and Society’s use of trust money and assets was outside the Trust Agreement, it would not be appropriate to ask the Court to change the expressed will of the persons who created the Trust.

In other words, the financial agency of The United Methodist Church (GCFA) was properly calling for a program agency of the church to obey and live by the Trust document which was agreed to by that agency. In the accounting world this is sometimes referred to as “living within the trustee’s fiduciary responsibility” by carrying out the provisions of a trust agreement….

The case is before the D.C. Superior Court

The case is before the District
of Columbia Superior Court

[Then, i]n a Summary Judgment issued on Jan. 18, 2008, the Superior Court rejected Church and Society’s Count I request and ruled that the Trust Agreement restricts usage of income generated by the trust to “abstinence from alcohol — a commonly understood meaning of temperance — and to other alcohol problems.”

Church and Society’s position, as stated in its 2007 Financial Statement (PDF—see page 9), was that “management believes the work it performs in all (emphasis added) core programs of the Board meet the ‘public morals’ and ‘general welfare’ descriptions… This would include the following core programs: Public Witness and Advocacy, Legislative Briefing, Ministry of Resourcing Congregational Life, Communications, Christian Social Action, Resource Production, United Nations Office, and the program-related portion of the General Secretary’s Office.”

In other words, management of Church and Society has been spending trust assets and income for just about anything the agency does.

Indeed Church and Society has not even been accounting for trust assets, income, or expenditures over the past thirty years. The agency has treated all trust income and assets as being without any restrictions and has spent millions of dollars of trust money as if the assets and income were owned outright by Church and Society.

The Trust Agreement restricts trust funds for “work in the area of temperance and alcohol problems.” There is a huge difference in the specific wording of the Trust and how things have been handled by agency management over the years.

Mr. Whittemore goes on to explain that the General Board of Church and Society has used assets from the trust, including the United Methodist Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, to generate significant other income.

In 2006 alone, rental income from the Methodist Building was $1,739,255 while expenses were $979,032, producing a net rental income of $760,223. Over the seven-year period from 2000 through 2006, the net cash generated from the building has been approximately $5,000,000.

During this time Church and Society used $5,000,000 without any restrictions, as if no Trust [Agreement] existed.

In the first-hand portion of his account, Mr. Whittemore describes how the General Council on Finance and Administration’s Committee on Audit and Review (A&R) began looking into concerns about whether the General Board of Church and Society was fulfilling its fiduciary responsibilities. (A three-page PDF file detailing the responsibilities of the Committee on Audit and Review is here, excerpted from GCFA’s 2008 report, “The Financial Commitment of the United Methodist Church.”)

A&R brought this matter to light in 2003 when it examined the 2002 financial statements of Church and Society which contained disclosures required by new accounting standards.

Two footnotes in the 2002 financial statements contradicted one another. One footnote said there were no restrictions on trust income and another footnote said Church and Society was treating part of the trust assets as restricted.

declarationoftrustA&R asked for a copy of the 1965 Trust Agreement (PDF) and discovered clear and strongly worded restrictions on every aspect of trust assets and income.

A&R, of which I was a member, refused to accept the Church and Society financial statements the way those disclosures were written. Church and Society then shopped around for a legal opinion that would support its unrestricted treatment of the income of the trust.

The opinion they finally settled upon was not strong enough to support what was being claimed by Church and Society management, and over the next three years A&R pressed for clear documentation of the financial statement positions being taken by management.

In his column, Mr. Whittemore refutes the idea that the current court case is part of a vendetta against the General Board of Church and Society.

Once Church and Society filed its request in Superior Court, the Attorney General of the District of Columbia was charged with the responsibility of representing the people.

Generally in this type case, if the Attorney General does not file an objection to a request the judge will rule in favor of the petitioner [in this case, the General Board of Church and Society]. This makes it imperative for the Attorney General to have full knowledge and background of all the facts and circumstances.

When dealing with a forty-year-old trust, discovery can be time consuming. This is where several present and past Church and Society Board of Directors members felt a responsibility to the church.

These persons (called “Intervenors” in the language of the court) requested to be heard and the judge ruled — over Church and Society’s objections — that the Intervenors could assist the Attorney General by presenting arguments and facts opposing what Church and Society was requesting the Court to approve.

gbcslogo3That is what the Intervenors have done. They did not initiate the court action, they are not official parties of the case, and they do not represent the opposition — the Attorney General of the District of Columbia is the “opposition” to Church and Society….

Church and Society has no one to blame for this situation other than management of the agency over the past forty years. Claiming that people are out to “get” the agency is a “kill-the-messenger” mentality. A&R did not ignore the Trust provisions. GCFA did not accept the assets and then use funds for purposes not authorized by the Trust Agreement. The Intervenors did not bring the legal action….

In all fairness, it needs to be remembered that the Directors of Church and Society and especially the Trustees should not be blamed for the misuse of trust funds over the years. Prior to 2004, none of the Directors knew of the Trust. They did not have a copy of the Trust Agreement, which when read even by a novice to trust fiduciary responsibility, can be easily seen as problematic for the lack of accountability to the provisions.

This does not change the way things are — or Church and Society’s responsibility to the Trust — but individual directors who are kept in the dark about a trust agreement cannot very well control what has happened.

On Jan. 8, 2009, the Acting Attorney General for the District of Columbia and the Intervenors filed a “Joint Proposed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law” (PDF) with the D.C. Superior Court, based on trial testimony and the process of discovery.

jointproposedfindings-dc-agAmong their findings: “Evidence presented at the trial established that the Old Board of Temperance and the New Board of Temperance [predecessor agencies of the General Board of Church and Society] communicated to…donors that the money given [to these Boards] would be used for temperance and alcohol problems.”

The document further notes that the Trust was created for three reasons:

1) the settlors [of the Trust] believed they had a moral obligation to…donors;

2) the settlors did not want Old and New Board of Temperance’s [sic] money to be used for areas other than temperance and alcohol problems; and

3) to preserve the primary and historic work of the Old and New Board[s] of Temperance.

In closing arguments last October, Jeffrey A. Liesemer, an attorney for the General Board of Church and Society, argued that an October 1965 compromise agreement among three Methodist boards that were being merged into one supplanted the Declaration of Trust drawn up just months earlier.

According to a United Methodist News Service account, Liesemer said the compromise made it clear that “the money could be used for all programs and couldn’t be squirreled away for temperance and alcohol problems.” The “October Compromise” creates a legal basis for “reformation” of the Trust, he argued.

That line of argument is refuted in  the Joint Proposed Findings and Conclusions of Law document. “The so-called October Compromise, if it exists at all, was a proposed modification that occurred six months after the settlors executed the Trust on [March] 23, 1965…. Even if clear and convincing evidence of the October Compromise exists, it occurred post-execution.”

Such an agreement, therefore, would carry no legal weight. “[M]odification of the Trust is not permissible because the Trust document itself does not reserve the right of modification,” the document notes.

Mark Tooley, author of the recent book, Taking Back the United Methodist Church, speculated in a 2004 article in Good News magazine, that “[i]f income from the [trust is] restricted to alcohol-related work, it would be a devastating blow to Church and Society’s ability to lobby for its more favored liberal political causes.”

The UM Building in Washington, D.C.

The UM Building in Washington, D.C.

A record of the Board of Church and Society’s 2006 spending (PDF) shows that the bulk of the Board’s $2.3 million program budget was spent on areas such as “Economic and Environmental Justice,” “Education and Leadership Formation,” and maintaining an office at the United Nations.

That same record shows a line item of only $137,933 for programs focused on “Alcohol, Addictions, and Health Care,” with no breakdown of how much of that dollar amount actually went to specific alcohol-related ministry. Another $7,303 (a designated gift) was spent on “Substance Abuse Training.”

In 2007, the Western North Carolina Conference overwhelmingly passed a resolution calling on the Board to comply with the “purpose stated in the Trust and use Restricted Funds for the work on temperance and alcohol related problems” (see “Petition 34″ here—PDF).

The resolution asserted that the Board has not “followed either the letter of the trust or the spirit of its founders as it has expended a large portion of the funds from the trust (approximately $2 million annually) on items and programs not in accordance with the requirements of the trust.”

District of Columbia Superior Court associate judge Rhonda Reid Winston (PDF), a graduate of the Duke University School of Law, is the presiding judge in the case.

The 65-member Board of Directors of the General Board of Church and Society is holding its Spring 2009 meeting this week at the M Street Renaissance Hotel in Washington, D.C. Board members are listed here.

Related posts
General Board of Church and Society goes to court
Source documents in the Methodist Building Trust case
Former member of Board of Church and Society speaks out
‘Church and Society’ to Obama: End protections for unborn
Church and Society withdraws support for Freedom of Choice Act

Related articles and source materials
Why is an agency of the United Methodist Church in court? | Joe Whittemore (March 2009—PDF, 5 pages)
Case may decide direction of social action agency | Kathy L. Gilbert, United Methodist News Service (Nov. 26, 2008)
Who profits from the Methodist Building? | Mark Tooley, Good News (March/April 2004)
The 1965 Declaration of Trust (March 23, 1965—PDF, 8 pages)
Financial statements of the General Board of Church and Society, 2005 and 2006 (PDF, 23 pages)
The General Board of Church and Society’s February 2007 filing with the District of Columbia Superior Court (PDF, 15 pages)
“Joint Proposed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law” from the Acting Attorney General of D.C. and the Intervenors (January 2009—PDF, 54 pages)

Read Full Post »

The man who led one of the United Methodist Church’s strongest and largest congregations for more than three decades shared his “ideas and opinions” last week about the future of the denomination.

Dr. John Ed Mathison addressing North Ga. pastors and leaders

Dr. John Ed Mathison addressing
North Ga. pastors and leaders

Dr. John Ed Mathison, pastor of Frazer Memorial UMC in Montgomery, Ala., for 36 years, spoke at a gathering of the Wesleyan Covenant Renewal Movement, a group of theologically conservative pastors and leaders in the North Georgia Conference.

He said the most “pressing challenge” facing the UMC is a series of constitutional amendments — to be voted at this year’s Annual Conference sessions — that would separate the denomination into multiple “Regional Conferences,” each with the ability to adapt the United Methodist Book of Discipline as it so chooses.

If passed, the amendments would allow United Methodists in the United States to structurally segregate themselves from United Methodists in Africa, Asia, and Europe.

Noting that such a change would likely have a profound effect on the ministry environment in the United Methodist Church, Dr. Mathison urged his audience to get involved with educating delegates about the amendments.

“Don’t sit back and say, ‘Somebody’s going to take care of it,'” he warned. “Be sure you talk with the folks who are delegates from your church and in your area.”

Another cause of concern is the United Methodist Church’s failure to attract young people to the ministry. “It’s appalling to see the [small number] of young people under 35 who are entering the United Methodist ministry,” Dr. Mathison said. Recent studies show that only about 5 percent of UM clergy are under 35.

Source: Lewis Center for Church Leadership

Source: Lewis Center for Church Leadership

A related problem is that “we seem to making it more and more difficult to enter the ministry,” especially for those who didn’t attend a UM-approved seminary.

“I am for strong standards,” he said, but “if we keep putting up bigger and bigger fences to get into the Methodist Church, we’re losing a lot of good people.”

Dr. Mathison, who now heads a leadership-training ministry, also noted that UM seminaries need to a better job of teaching students leadership skills. “How many of us took a course in seminary on leadership?” he asked. “And [yet] that’s what we do most of the time.”

Another concern Dr. Mathison focused on is the growing impact of the economic recession on local church budgets.

He said leaders at the Annual Conference and General Church level could help reduce the burden on local churches by cutting some of the denominational expenses local churches are required to pay. If such leaders would publicly announce specific cuts, local churches would have a sense that they are “being heard at the upper levels,” he said.

John Ed Mathison also spoke about the need for Annual Conferences to be “more intentional in starting new churches,” noting that the planting of new fellowships gave tremendous impetus to the early Methodist movement.

He rounded out his list of seven concerns by focusing on upcoming decisions facing the United Methodist Judicial Council (Spring 2009 docket—PDF).

“I think it is extremely clear [from votes at the General Conference] how United Methodists stand worldwide on human sexuality,” he said. “And I’m just hopeful and prayerful that when the Judicial Council meets they will remember that and…act accordingly.”

Use the audio player below to listen to the first half of Dr. John Ed Mathison’s Feb. 24 address to the Wesleyan Covenant Renewal Movement at Norcross (Ga.) First United Methodist Church (19 min.).

In the second half of his address, Dr. Mathison discussed six specific ways UM pastors and leaders can expand their influence though intentional leadership.

The Wesleyan Covenant Renewal Movement was founded in 2004 to “promote the presence of leadership within the [North Georgia] Conference…committed to the renewal of historic Wesleyan standards and Biblical authority.”

An October 2008 statement detailing the WCRM’s “foci” and “core convictions” is here (PDF).

Related posts
John Ed Mathison: Six ways for a pastor to make a lasting difference
Proposed amendments would separate UMC into ‘national entities’
John Ed Mathison on the future of the United Methodist Church
Judicial Council sends controversial cases back to conferences
Joe Whittemore: ‘Enough is enough’

Related articles
Amending away our global church? | Riley Case, Good News
African Power: How 192 delegates saved Methodists from madness | Mark Tooley, Touchstone
Clergy age trends in the United Methodist Church: 1985-2008 (PDF) | Lewis Center for Church Leadership
The skandal-ous mission of the Board of Ordained Ministry | Will Deuel, ‘Man Called Preach’ (blog)
Court docket includes Bush library, same-sex unions | United Methodist News Service

Read Full Post »

Bishop Robert Schnase (Missouri Conference) has done a great service for the United Methodist Church with his book, The Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations.

Bishop Robert Schnase (UMNS photo)

Bishop Robert Schnase (UMNS photo)

The United Methodist News Service notes that “[p]ublisher Abingdon Press has sold nearly 75,000 copies of the Five Practices book, and demand is hot for the companion leader manual and media kit and church-wide devotional book, Cultivating Fruitfulness. More than 2,000 congregations have used the material in some fashion.”

Speaking last week at the United Methodist Congress on Evangelism in Nashville, Bishop Schnase (Schnay’-zee) explained that the five practices — radical hospitality, passionate worship, intentional faith development, risk-taking mission and service, and extravagant generosity — are “the fundamental activities by which congregations carry out their mission.”

When I talk about radical hospitality, it’s got to pervade the whole life of the congregation — every cell has to vibrate with… [an] outward focus…. Churches that practice [radical hospitality] are constantly examining every one of their ministries and saying, “How do we become more… attuned to the call of God to reach out to other people?”…

When I talk about passionate worship, I’m talking about worship that is authentic, that is true to the gospel, that is life changing. Worship that we enter into with an air of anticipation that something significant might actually happen in this time together…. I’m talking about worship that really connects people to God….

Intentional faith development has to do with all those things that a congregation offers to help people grow in faith outside of the Sunday morning service…. [This] is central to our self-understanding as United Methodists, of the sanctifying grace of God…. And churches that are vibrant, fruitful, and growing are those that provide rich opportunities constantly for people to grow and mature in the faith….

But you can’t go very far in engagement with Scripture, or learning in community, growing in Christ — this “inner holiness” — without being struck by a call of God to make a positive difference in the lives of people around you.

And that leads us to risk-taking mission and service…. [These are] the things we do out of our commitment and obedience to Christ that we would not have done  if we had never known Christ…. Risk-taking mission and service stretches us, and churches that practice risk-taking mission and service… [are] looking at the gifts and abilities of the people in their congregation and the needs of their community and the world, and they’re [asking], “Where do these intersect?”…

Now, extravagant generosity. I’ll just say it up front, what I’m talking about is teaching, preaching, and practicing the tithe, among other things — and just being unapologetic in our proclamation of that. Churches that are growing and vibrant and fruitful talk about generosity — not about the church’s need for money, but about the Christian’s need to give. They focus on generosity as an aspect of Christian character…. The practice of tithing — of putting God first in everything — starts changing how we feel and experience everything else.

Use the audio player below to listen to a 12-minute excerpt of Bishop Schnase at the 2009 Congress on Evangelism.

Bishop Schnase’s Five Practices Blog is here.

The Congress on Evangelism is presented each January by the Council on Evangelism and the General Board of Discipleship, with support from The Foundation for Evangelism.

coe09In addition to Bishop Schnase, this year’s speakers and workshop leaders included Tyrone Gordon of St. Luke Community United Methodist Church in Dallas, Tex. (summary of remarks); Sue Nilson Kibbey and Mike Slaughter of Ginghamsburg Church in Tipp City, Ohio; Maxie Dunnam, chancellor of Asbury Seminary (summary); Terry Teykl of Renewal Ministries; Kent Millard of St. Luke’s UMC in Indianapolis; and Karen Greenwaldt of the UM General Board of Discipleship.

Dr. Billy Abraham of the Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University delivered the annual Denman Lectures (summary).

Video and audio recordings of the 2009 Congress on Evangelism are available from the GNTV Media Ministry.

Read Full Post »

Rob Renfroe is the pastor of adult discipleship at The Woodlands (Texas) United Methodist Church, one of the UMC’s ten largest churches. He is also a former member of the UM General Board of Church and Society (GBCS).

Writing in the January/February 2009 Good News, Mr. Renfroe mentions the current lawsuit related to whether GBCS has violated a 1965 Declaration of Trust that earmarked certain donated funds for the promotion of “temperance and [ministries related to] alcohol problems” (lawsuit details are here and here).

While serving on the Board, I asked questions about the suit that had not yet gone to court….

Rob Renfroe

Rob Renfroe

When I made a motion that every Board member be given a copy of the Trust so we could read it for ourselves, I was voted down.

And after the suit was filed, when I asked why we were employing a legal strategy that had not been authorized by the Board (i.e., asking the court to allow the Board to use funds for purposes other than those specified in the Trust), I was told that these matters could not be discussed with me.

At that point, I resigned.

For Mr. Renfroe — and for anyone else who may wish to read it — the 1965 Declaration of Trust is posted here (PDF—8 pages).

Key paragraphs (note: the Division of Alcohol Problems is a predecessor to the General Board of Church and Society):

The [Methodist Church] Division [of Alcohol Problems] owns securities and cash given to it over the years through donations, contributions, and bequests to support the work in the area of temperance and alcohol problems….

declarationoftrust[These assets,] including real, personal, and mixed property, have been impressed with a trust-in-fact for them to be used and applied for the purposes for which they were given — for work in the areas of temperance and alcohol problems. The assets have been so utilized to the present time.

It is the purpose of this Declaration of Trust to formalize the existing situation and provide a method for the continued management, investment, reinvestment, and application of the principal and accumulated income for the purposes for which the funds were originally given, that is to say, work in the areas of temperance and alcohol problems….

It is the further purpose of this Declaration of Trust to implement the action of the 1960 General Conference of the Methodist Church…. [T]he General Conference… ordered the following wording to be placed in that section of the 1960 Discipline of The Methodist Church which describes the Board of Christian Social Concerns and its Divisions…:

Funds vested in any of the predecessor boards shall be conserved for…the specific purposes for which such funds have been given.

The General Board of Church and Society is asking the District of Columbia Superior Court for a “reformation” of the Trust “which will make it clear that the trustees of the Board will not in the future be limited in the use of income of the Endowment Fund to problems of alcohol abuse only.”

The Board’s Feb. 2007 complaint filing to the Court is here (PDF—15 pages).

The case is before the D.C. Superior Court

The case is before the D.C. Superior Court

Some Methodist conservatives have complained that GBCS appears to be using funds that should be restricted for temperance-related ministry to lobby for causes associated with the American political left, such as abortion rights, government-run health care, and an expanded welfare state.

In 2007, the Western North Carolina Conference overwhelmingly passed a resolution calling on the Board to comply with the “purpose stated in the Trust and use Restricted Funds for the work on temperance and alcohol related problems” (see “Petition 34” here—PDF).

The resolution asserted that the Board has not “followed either the letter of the trust or the spirit of its founders as it has expended a large portion of the funds from the trust (approximately $2 million annually) on items and programs not in accordance with the requirements of the trust.”

District of Columbia Superior Court associate judge Rhonda Reid Winston (PDF), a graduate of the Duke University School of Law, is expected to issue a ruling in the Trust case soon.

Related posts
General Board of Church and Society goes to court
Source documents in the Methodist Building Trust case
‘Church and Society’ to Obama: End protections for unborn
Church and Society withdraws support for Freedom of Choice Act

Read Full Post »

With one more vacancy on the Supreme Court, we could be looking at a majority hostile to a woman’s fundamental right to choose [to have an abortion] for the first time since Roe v. Wade. The next president may be asked to nominate that Supreme Court justice.

That is what is at stake in this election.

Throughout my career, I’ve been a consistent and strong supporter of reproductive justice, and have consistently had a 100% pro-choice rating with Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America.

Sen. Barack Obama, Jan. 22, 2008

In response to such statements from the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee, as well as to the party’s 2008 platform, Charles J. Chaput, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Denver, pulled no punches in an address last week to a conference of Catholic women.

I believe that Senator Obama, whatever his other talents, is the most committed ‘abortion-rights’ presidential candidate of either major party since the Roe v. Wade abortion decision in 1973….

The party platform Senator Obama runs on this year is not only aggressively ‘pro-choice;’ it has also removed any suggestion that killing an unborn child might be a regrettable thing.

On the question of homicide against the unborn child — and let’s remember that the great Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer explicitly called abortion ‘murder’ — the Democratic platform that emerged from Denver in August 2008 is clearly anti-life.

Archbishop Chaput isn’t alone among Catholic leaders. One political commentator observed that “the Roman Catholic leadership has never been this united or this vocal in denouncing the agenda of a nominee.”

In Scranton, Pa., hometown of Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Biden, Catholic bishop Joseph Martino directed his priests to read a pastoral letter at all masses on Oct. 4 and Oct. 5 in which the bishop noted that that “pro-choice candidates” are living out a “tragic irony”: they “have come to support homicide — the gravest injustice a society can tolerate — in the name of ‘social justice.'”

Although an uninformed observer might see such statements as “political,” the reality is that these and other Catholic leaders are simply urging Catholics to live out long-held moral teachings of the Church, teachings that through the centuries have often run counter to the prevailing culture.

And the appeals made by these leaders are being presented clearly in the context of Christian discipleship. As Bishop Martino put it in his pastoral letter: “Our Lord, Jesus Christ…does not ask us to take up his Cross only to have us leave it at the voting booth door.”

Strong language. Not the sort of thing you would hear from any Methodist leaders I know.

But let’s think about this.

Aren’t we, too, a people who — as Christian disciples — profess belief in the “sanctity of unborn human life” (UM Book of Discipline)? Don’t we say that we “cannot affirm abortion as an acceptable means of birth control” (which account for an estimated 75 percent of abortions) and we “unconditionally reject it as a means of gender selection”?

Perhaps we aren’t as bold in our speech as the Catholics (Hmm, didn’t we used to be “back in the day”?), but at least we’re willing to take up our cross and carry it into the voting booth!

Or are we? Do we still have the conviction to live out a biblically rooted moral code that runs counter the culture?

Thinking more: I sense that many United Methodists (and other Christians) are leaning toward voting for Sen. Obama, not so much because they agree with his economic and social views, or because they are confident regarding his judgment, but because of a sense of “white guilt” over past sins. By voting for Sen. Obama, they somehow hope to “make up for” the sins of the past.

Yes, we have racial sins in our past, nationally and denominationally. And we ought to decry them.

But shouldn’t we be more concerned about the sins of the present and the future? After all, these are the sins over which we have some control.

The reality is that left unchecked, legal abortion — which Sen. Obama is squarely behind — will continue to claim hundreds of thousands of innocent lives each year. And (speaking of race-based sin) let us remember that abortion disproportionately affects black and Hispanic children. The abortion rate for black women is 49 per 1,000 women. For Hispanic women, the rate is 33 per 1,000. The rate for white women is 13 per 1,000.

In other words, while abortion is violence against children generally, it has its severest cultural impact among black and Hispanic populations. Do we want to be complicit in this, just so we can feel better about our past?

We need to remember that the first General Rule of the United Methodist Church is: “Do no harm.”

UPDATE: From “Faithful Citizenship — Respect for Life,” issued Oct. 23 by Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia:

The human dignity that we proclaim works two ways: it affords us a great privilege but it also demands a responsibility. The feeble defense ‘I did not know’ cannot be used by any responsible person in our time when confronted with the reality of abortion. We do know. We know because we can reason and think and see….

It is not a question of politics but a question of the gravest of intrinsic evils; and just as the reality of what it is cannot be explained away, neither can our responsibility.

A word about California, Florida, and Arizona, where the definition of marriage will on the ballot on Nov. 4. As United Methodists, we say we “affirm the sanctity of the marriage covenant that is expressed in…shared fidelity between a man and a woman.” We even “support laws in civil society that define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.”

Will these precepts regarding marriage, rooted in two-thousand years of Christian teaching, make any difference to Methodist voters in those states? I hope so, but I’m not too sure. Indeed, some UMs in California are working on the opposite side of the issue.

At least the Lutherans (LCMS) are willing to stand up for what they say they believe.

The UM Book of Discipline reminds us (Article XII, The Confession of Faith) of the biblical truth that someday we will all “stand under the righteous judgment of Jesus Christ.” A sobering thought.

John Wesley, in his sermon The Good Steward (PDF), wrote that one aspect of that judgment is likely to be this question from the Judge: “Didst thou employ… whatever advantages thou hadst by education, whatever share of learning, [and] whatever knowledge… was committed thee, for the promoting of virtue in the world?”

Because we live in society in which people have the privilege of electing their leaders, a key means available to us for promoting virtue is the voting booth. May we take up that responsibility with a keen sense of our stewardship.

Here is a personal prayer for Election 2008 (I hope you will make it your own):

Righteous Judge, I am a steward of what belongs to you. By your Spirit and your Word, help me to judge righteously in the choices I make in this election, to the end that your will may done on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

Related posts:

Read Full Post »

Phil Schroeder, associate director of Connectional Ministries for the UMC’s North Georgia Conference, has an interesting idea for helping people take steps toward becoming more generous givers.

From his column in the Sept. 19 Wesleyan Christian Advocate:

Several years ago I was working with a friend’s church that was resistant to having any kind of pledge campaign to set their budget. They finally decided to try something different in order to set a budget based on what God was calling them to give.

Phil Schroeder

Phil Schroeder

We presented a pledge card with a perforation down the middle, with the person’s name, and their commitment to pray and serve on the left side — and a place for them to make their financial commitment on the right side.

After the card was completed, people brought their cards forward and tore them in two before the altar as a sacrifice unto the Lord. One half was placed in each of the two offering plates to echo Matthew 6:3 on giving alms.

The church knew who was giving and what was going to be given, but not who was giving what.

In challenging economic times, this allows the church to set a budget based on faithful promises — while sending a quarterly statement thanking people for their giving, rather than sending a statement that reminds them of what they have failed to give.

People appreciated that we trusted them to be faithful to their pledge. In fact, over the years, the amount and the number of people willing to pledge grew as did the budget.

Here’s a sample of what a two-part pledge card might look like (click to enlarge):

Thinking more about this: The card above echoes the longstanding membership vows of the UMC, which call on members to “be loyal to The United Methodist Church” and to “faithfully participate in its ministries by their prayers, presence, gifts, and service.”

Effective January 1, 2009, these vows will be altered, based on action by the 2008 General Conference.

Soon, members will pledge “to be loyal to Christ through The United Methodist Church” and to “faithfully participate in its ministries by their prayers, their presence, their gifts, their service, and their witness.”

These are good changes. Challenging people to be loyal to Jesus Christ is much more apt to produce generous givers than challenging them to be loyal to a denomination.

When Jesus is first, giving becomes much more than support for an ecclesiastical institution. Giving becomes a means of witness — to us and to others. Through our giving, we declare that the One to whom we are loyal is the source of our financial resources and the Lord of all.

Praise be to you, O LORD…. [E]verything in heaven and earth is yours….
Everything comes from you, and we have given you
only what comes from your hand.
(1 Chronicles 29:10, 11, 14)

[T]hey went beyond our expectations; having given themselves
first of all to the Lord, they gave themselves by the will of God also to us.

(2 Corinthians 8:5)

Read Full Post »