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Liza Kittle

This post is by Liza Kittle, president of RENEW, a network for evangelical women within the United Methodist Church.

According to the group’s website, RENEW “is also a voice for renewal and reform of the Women’s Division, the governing body of United Methodist Women.”

This commentary first appeared in a different form in the March/April issue of Good News magazine. Links below have been added by MethodistThinker.com — Ed.

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Membership in United Methodist Women (UMW) now stands approximately 570,200 women — a figure that represents only 13 percent of the total U.S. female membership in The United Methodist Church.

According to 2010 local church statistics (recently released by the UMC’s General Council on Finance and Administration), UMW lost 24,608 individual members in 2010. Over the past decade, UMW has sustained a cumulative loss of 241,089 individual members and 3,867 local units, averaging a loss of over 26,000 members and 420 units per year.

True, the United Methodist Church as a whole has experienced substantial membership losses, but UMW losses are occurring at a much faster rate.

The chart at right illustrates that while the UMC has experienced a 25 percent decline in total membership since 1974, during the same period the membership drop for United Methodist Women has been 58 percent.

It is heartbreaking that our beloved church is in crisis, but these data can prompt us to make necessary changes for the future health of the United Methodist Church, especially as we approach General Conference 2012.

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New ministries for women

In just a few weeks, GC delegates will be debating and perhaps adopting legislation to restructure the denomination. The goal of restructuring is to help to reverse the UMC’s downward spiral by increasing the spiritual vitality of local congregations.

We believe that allowing new avenues for women’s ministry should be a critical component in the restructuring process.

United Methodist Women has historically been a mission-oriented organization. Other women’s ministries could provide nurture, healing, and outreach to women sitting in our pews.

Sadly, the Women’s Division of the UMC has consistently fought efforts to open doors for other women’s ministries. But our hope and prayer ist that delegates to General Conference 2012 will facilitate expanded ministry to women, simply by inserting language into the Book of Discipline that would allow additional women’s ministries (i.e., in addition to UMW) to be formed under the authority of the local church council.

RENEW has submitted a petition (PDF) that would accomplish this, using similar language already present in the Discipline regarding United Methodist Men (¶256.6). That language allows for a variety of men’s ministries at the local church level. We also have submitted a resolution (PDF) that would encourage the UMC to endorse the establishment of vital women’s ministries in local churches.

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Ministry models already in place

Some larger UM congregations already have other women’s ministries in place, but these ministries are not officially recognized by the denomination. One women’s ministry, Celebration, has been officially recognized by the Texas Conference.

The Celebration ministry is winning souls for Christ, nurturing women in the Word of God, and transforming lives. (And, yes, chapters of Celebration have prospered in churches that have UMW groups and both ministries operate successfully.)

Regrettably, women in many small and medium-sized churches have a difficult time starting ministries for the women in their congregations. Lack of pastoral support, along with negative pressure from UMW and an absence of church resources are just a few of the hindrances such women face in trying to “think outside the box” and offer new women-focused ministries.

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Embracing opportunity

We believe that strong, diverse women’s ministries (including but not limited to UMW) would have a positive impact on the spiritual vitality of the United Methodist Church and its local congregations.

So many women are desperate for a fresh encounter with the living God through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Let’s use this opportunity of church revitalization at General Conference 2012 to have “open minds, open hearts, and open doors” for expanded women’s ministry in the UMC!


Related posts
Call to Action member: We must foster vital congregations or ‘we do not have a future with hope’
Podcast — George Hunter: Can the once-great Methodist movement become a movement again?
Podcast — Bishop Lindsey Davis: Will the UMC have the courage to do what needs to be done?
‘Assessment’ report: United Methodism faces compound crisis
Riley Case: ‘Operational Assessment’ shows UMC has lost its way

Related articles and information
2012 General Conference Visitors’ Guide (PDF)
Connectional Table proposes legislation to implement the Call to Action recommendations | news release (Sept. 2, 2011)
Interim Operations Team Report, as amended by the Connectional Table (PDF) | (Aug. 2, 2011)
UMC renewal demands vital local congregations | Andrew C. Thompson, UM Reporter (June 7, 2011)
Staggering UMW membership loss continues (PDF) | Liza Kittle, Good News (March/April 2011)
The heart cries of women in our pews (PDF) | Liza Kittle, Good News (May/June 2009)
United Methodist ‘Call to Action’ finds 15% of UM churches highly ‘vital’ | Mark Tooley, UMAction—IRD (July 17, 2010)
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)

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Liza Kittle

This post is by Liza Kittle, president of the RENEW Network, a renewal group that “advocates on behalf of evangelical women in the United Methodist Church” and “promotes mission outreach that offers Jesus Christ.” — Ed.

In March, when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi publicly thanked the United Methodist Church for helping secure passage of a controversial health-care law that vastly expands the role and power of the federal government, a firestorm of protest erupted among United Methodists. Many were angry that UM leaders had advocated on their behalf in the political arena, especially in regard to legislation opposed by many United Methodists.

Now, some UM leaders are at it again, this time advocating for “comprehensive immigration reform” — a somewhat nebulous term used often in the immigration debate.

Such advocacy was on display at the quadrennial United Methodist Women Assembly, held three weeks ago in St. Louis, Mo. UMW officials and several United Methodist bishops led a May 1 rally and march for immigrant rights. The event (photos) also featured participation by St. Louis-area interfaith leaders and several “community groups.”

UM Bishops Carcaño and Schol led the May 1 march (UMNS photo)

The gathering took on a somewhat defiant tone in the wake of the late-April enactment of an Arizona law aimed at stepped-up border control and stronger enforcement of existing immigration law.

The Arizona legislation (PDF) largely mirrors federal immigration law but authorizes local and state officers to enforce its provisions. The law includes specific provisions aimed at prohibiting “racial profiling” (PDF) in immigration enforcement.

In recent years, Arizona has become ground zero of America’s illegal-immigration battlefield. The state’s citizens and cities have been held hostage to violent crime, drug trafficking, and kidnappings — largely stemming from a lack of enforcement of federal immigration law. Phoenix has become the kidnapping capital of the U.S.

Not surprisingly, a recent Rasmussen poll found that 70% of Arizona voters (including both US.-born citizens and legal immigrants) endorse the new law, known as the Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act.

None of the disturbing facts about Arizona’s immigration crisis was mentioned at the UMW-led rally, nor were there any calls to protect the civil and human rights of Arizona’s law-abiding citizens. Rather, both the U.S. and Arizona governments were lambasted for trying to enforce the legitimately passed immigration laws of a sovereign nation.

The speakers at the rally framed any opposition to illegal immigration as manifestation of “racism,” ignoring the fact that many innocent people are being harmed by crime related to Arizona’s porous border. None of the speakers at the rally seemed to support any means of border control.

Speakers also ignored the economic strain that a soaring illegal population is placing on medical, educational, and public services for Arizona’s citizens.

Most of the speeches at the UMW-led rally displayed a far-left political ideology that favors both open borders and amnesty for those in the country illegally. This same ideology opposes any detention or deportation for those who break immigration law.

Speeches by Harriett Olson, Inelda González

Harriett Jane Olson, deputy general secretary the Women’s Division (the governing body of United Methodist Women), argued that Arizona’s law would lead to a “virtual caste [system]” in the state.

When the combined force of a powerful nation and powerful commercial interests trample on human rights of people without power, people of faith must stand up and speak out….

This is a particularly urgent moment as we witness the signing of a law in Arizona that will criminalize immigrants, leading to virtual caste laws and legalized racial profiling. As people of faith we must proclaim that this is not just!

We follow in the footsteps of our foremothers like Alma Mathews who met young immigrant women on the docks of Ellis Island, providing housing and support as they adjusted to a new country and saved them from sex trafficking.

Immigrant rights are [sic] the racial justice issue of our time. We challenge racial profiling by local and state police, empowered as immigration enforcement officers who in 2008 turned over 45,000 immigrants to federal enforcement and customs agents who turn over immigrants due to racial profiling.

First, it should be noted that when Methodist missionary Alma Mathews welcomed and helped young immigrant women on the docks of Ellis Island, these women were coming to the United States legally.

Further, as reported above, the new Arizona law strictly prohibits racial profiling. Persons can be asked about their immigration status only if apprehended or stopped for questioning in relation to other suspected illegal activity. In such cases, if local or state police find that a person is not a U.S. citizen and doesn’t appear to have a legal resident status, they can turn that person over to federal immigration authorities.

Joining Harriett Olson in speaking at the immigrant-rights rally was Inelda González, national president of United Methodist Women.

My family lives in the border region of Southwest Texas and we are proud to say that we did not cross the border, but the border crossed us. Yet today, we experience the construction of walls and the militarization of the border regions that divides families and peoples who have had roots on both sides of the border for many, many years.

Our broken immigration system is breaking up families and we stand for families. Over the last 10-year period, 100,000 immigrant parents of U.S. citizen children have been detained or deported.

We will continue to challenge violence against immigrant women and the widespread rape of women crossing the border and abuse while in detention and at work. U.S. trade and economic policies that compel millions to migrate in search of livelihoods must also be changed.

It is regrettable that families are sometimes broken apart because of the detention and deportation of unlawfully resident aliens. However, this would not occur if the persons detained had not violated the law by entering the country illegally.

Bishop Minerva Carcaño’s speech (video at left) began with greetings and support from the UM Council of Bishops. Bishop Carcaño is the episcopal leader of the Desert Southwest Conference and chairs the United Methodist Task Force on Immigration (PDF).

Other bishops present were Bishop Robert Schnase (Missouri), Bishop John Schol (Baltimore-Washington), and Bishop Jim Dorff (Southwest Texas and Rio Grande).

Making no distinction between those who enter the country legally and those who do not, Bishop Carcaño said immigrant rights is an issue that stands “at the very core of people of faith.”

She then instructed the crowd to sign postcards calling for a change in enforcement of immigration laws. The bishop said the cards would be hand-delivered to U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano (the former governor of Arizona).

The May 1 immigrant-rights march in St. Louis

A particularly militant speaker at the rally was Jamala Rogers, founder of the Organization for Black Struggle (OBS), one of community groups that co-sponsored the event along with United Methodist Women.

OBS, according to its website, was founded “to fill a vacuum left by the assaults on the Black Power Movement.”

In her speech, Rogers claimed that some of the measures in the new Arizona law “were due to white backlash at having a black man in the White House.” Her remarks were laced with derogatory comments about the United States and capitalism.

In addition to chairing the United Methodist Task Force on Immigration, Bishop Carcaño is vice-president of the General Commission on Religion and Race. This church agency is offering $250,000 in grants for ministries related to “assuring the rights of racial ethnic immigrants and refugees.” Between eight and 15 one-year grants of $40,000 each will be awarded.

“These grants will assist church congregations and non-profit organizations in reaching out to those who have suffered the double indignity of being mistreated because they are immigrants, and because they are racial ethnic immigrants,” Bishop Carcaño said in a statement earlier this year.

The 2010 focus for the grants (PDF) is on programs related to the sanctuary movement, which encourages churches to harbor illegal immigrants in their churches, thereby evading arrest by law enforcement officers. Money for this grant program comes from apportionment dollars.

Top United Methodist leaders have made “comprehensive immigration reform” a priority issue. In May 2009, the Council of Bishops released a statement (PDF) calling on President Barack Obama and the U.S. Congress to support reform that would:

  • provide a pathway to U.S. citizenship;
  • reunite immigrant families separated by immigration itself, detentions, or deportations;
  • increase the number of visas for short-term workers;
  • extend legal protections to undocumented as well as documented workers;
  • eliminate privately operated detention centers.

Americans, of course, have varying opinions on what constitutes immigration “reform” and how it should take place. (“Reform,” of course, literally means “to change into an improved form or condition”; legislative history is littered with so-called reforms that have made matters worse.)

Interestingly, among churchgoers the widest difference of opinion on immigration policy appears to be between members and their leaders, not among members themselves.

A December 2009 report (PDF) from the Center for Immigration Studies, based on one of the largest polls on immigration views ever conducted, reveals a wide disparity between the membership and leadership of various religious denominations regarding immigration issues.

Those surveyed included likely voters who identified as Catholic, mainline Protestant (United Methodist Church, Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian Church USA, United Church of Christ), “born-again Protestant” (nondenominational, evangelical, Pentecostal), and Jewish (Union for Reform Judaism, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism).

The study revealed the following dynamics:

  • While most religious leaders believe illegal immigration is driven by overly restrictive limits on legal immigration, most church/synagogue members (74%) think people are entering the country illegally primarily because existing laws against improper immigration are not being enforced.
  • Unlike religious leaders who argue that more unskilled immigrant workers are needed in the U.S. labor force, most members (71%) believe there are plenty of Americans to do such work.
  • When asked to choose between a) enforcement that would cause illegal immigrants to go home over time or b) creating a conditional pathway to citizenship, most members (88%) choose enforcement.
  • In contrast to many religious leaders, most members (67%) think too many immigrants are coming into the country at present.

This study suggests that church leaders’ views on immigration are sharply different from those of the “people in the pew.” (The overwhelmingly negative reaction from United Methodists in the wake of the UMC’s involvement in the health-care bill indicates that UM leadership is out of step on that issue as well.)

In response to the United Methodist Women immigration rally, as well as bishops’ statements on immigrant rights, many United Methodists have posted comments on the official UM website, UMC.org. A sampling is below:

  • I have been a Methodist for 59 years and never so angry. This is a nation of laws which has made our country the great place it is! It is unconscionable to advocate breaking the law…to enable the “illegal” immigration policy being pushed by the church. I am not anti-immigration, but happen to be a law-abiding Christian and this is causing me to reevaluate my association with this church.
  • These laws are not in place due to racism or unfairness and I am so tired of being called a racist or unchristian because I support LEGAL immigration. It is appalling that our bishops engage in these political actions in the name of all United Methodists. We will withdraw our money and our time if these actions continue by our bishops.
  • I have been a Methodist for 50 years. I am becomingly increasingly disturbed at the political positions of our church leaders. The influx of illegals must be stopped or we will continue on a dangerous economic and social decline. Our church should invest more time and effort into winning souls for the Lord and stay out of these political issues. It appears our leaders have lost touch with the majority of the members. Their actions will cause more people to leave the church rather than support this far left agenda.
  • This demonstration is either the result of terrible ignorance or horrific dishonesty. Either way it is a sign of the UMC’s hypocritical sellout to politics over faith, and the reason for our rapid demise. This is not a justice movement as presented, but a tribute to UMW’s inability once again to speak fairly and thoughtfully to a complicated issue.
  • I am appalled the United Methodist Church advocates breaking the law. These women are obviously misguided and misinformed, and when you see the bishop of Arizona making the statements that were made, it makes my blood boil! It is time for Americans to turn back to God, to seek His face, to repent, to put Him first again in our lives and our country, and pray we are not about to have another Sodom and Gomorrah moment.
  • I would like the church to stand with the family members who are mourning a death in the family as a result of weak border controls. Who is standing with the victims of the crimes occurring in Arizona?
  • It is time for Methodist leadership to get out of politics. The church is hemorrhaging members because of the leadership speaking for the entire church when in fact it only represents a misguided group. For Bishop Carcaño: people illegally in the United States are not “immigrants.” They are illegal aliens, and they are breaking our laws, using U.S. taxpayer paid health, education, and welfare services, and are contributing heavily to the absolute bankruptcy of California and Arizona. If people want to enter this country, they need to abide by the laws, just as any U.S. citizen must when entering another country.
  • The state of Arizona is in a crisis. The UMC needs to be careful here. We have chosen another leftist side of a divisive issue. The result will be more members leaving and the further drying up of funds.
  • I started thinking about leaving the church when I heard Nancy Pelosi thank the UMC for its support of the health care bill. Seeing this seals my decision. I was born a Methodist and I’ve been one for 60 years.
  • I personally will no longer support the church. Our tithes will be going to missionaries who struggle in Africa.
  • When I traveled to Israel I was told that I needed to have proper identification and the ability to show that I was legally in the country. I am assuming that the same type of documentation is both proper and reasonable in America. Isn’t the Arizona law simply upholding the federal law that already exists? Do our bishops feel that it is improper to uphold the existing immigration laws or Arizona’s desire to enforce what already exists?

Related articles and information
Immigration: A brief analysis | Alan Wisdom, Institute on Religion & Democracy (May 24, 2010)
UM women at Assembly rally for immigration justice | Robin Russell, United Methodist Reporter (May 10, 2010)
Bishops urge action on immigration | David Briggs, United Methodist News Service (May 6, 2010)
March in St. Louis protests Arizona’s immigration crackdown | Leah Thorsen, St. Louis Post-Dispatch (May 2, 2010)
UMW Assembly theme moves from page to pavement | Elliott Wright, UM General Board of Global Ministries (May 1, 2010)
Bishop Carcaño joins other faith leaders to oppose Arizona law | United Methodist News Service (April 28, 2010)
Grants offered by General Commission on Religion and Race to assist immigrants | Faith in Action newsletter, UM General Board of Church and Society (March 29, 2010)
United Methodist Women joins 200,000 on National Mall for just immigration policies | Carol Barton, United Methodist Women (March 25, 2010)
UM Immigration Task Force travels to Sonoran Desert | California-Nevada Annual Conference (Feb. 2, 2010)
Religious leaders vs. members: An examination of contrasting views on immigration (PDF) | Steven A. Camarota, Center for Immigration Studies (December 2009)
Evangelicals and immigration | Mark Tooley, The American Spectator (Oct. 21, 2009)
A biblical perspective on immigration policy (PDF) | James R. Edwards Jr., Center for Immigration Studies (September 2009)
Statement on the U.S. immigration situation (PDF) | Council of Bishops, The United Methodist Church (May 8, 2009)
Statement by 28 bishops of the UMC on news President Obama will take up immigration reform in 2009 (PDF) | news release (April 15, 2009)
Alma Mathews: Pioneer for immigrants rights (PDF—see pp. 4-5) | NEWS, United Methodist Women (Fall 2008)

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