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With a goal of fostering “flourishing churches that make disciples of Jesus Christ,” the Fellowship of Presbyterians, a group of more than 500 theologically conservative congregations of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), has unveiled a new “denominational entity”: the Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians (ECO). The official unveiling occurred at a Jan. 18-20 Covenanting Conference in Orlando, Fla.

The new entity will work with like-minded congregations that decide to remain part of the PC(USA) or choose to cut ties with the older denomination.

“The Fellowship offers three different options for affiliation so congregations can pursue what best honors their ministry context,” according to a news release (PDF) from the Fellowship of Presbyterians.

“The options are: affiliate with the Fellowship as a ministry association (involves no change in status with the PC(USA)); pursue a union membership with the PC(USA) and ECO; and join ECO as full members (requiring dismissal from the PC(USA)),” the release said.

In an address introducing ECO, the Rev. John Ortberg, senior pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in California, said the new denomination was created to help local churches become more effective in making disciples.

You all know what has been going on in mainline denominations, including our own — shrinking memberships and fading churches and aging clergy and lessening evangelism and a preoccupation with survival and internal strife and external irrelevance.

And it is not just theological drift….

[But w]hat if God were to raise up a movement? What if [the] torch for a thoughtful, reflective, urgent, egalitarian, globally active, culturally engaged, Jesus-centered, evangelical faith [were to be] wed with courageous, innovative, bold, risk-taking, bold entrepreneurial ministry leadership? And the torch of this faith were to burn more brightly in this generation than in the last one?

John Ortberg

We’re not talking about a safe, easy, reassuring step from one denomination to another as a way of expressing denominational displeasure….

Purity by separation has been tried before. If the new entity that we talking about is only that, it will just deteriorate a little more slowly….

[But i]magine God were to launch a movement of Spirit-led, Jesus-centered churches where pastors and leaders took seriously the biblical injunction to become teachers of the nations, so that our world and culture could hear in Him that there is such a thing as moral and spiritual knowledge that can guide human lives….

Imagine that the claims of Jesus were to receive a fresh hearing our day because they were being expressed in thoughtful, winsome, non-churchy, literate ways by Jesus followers who had wrestled and studied and prayed, and sought to follow Jesus with all of their hearts….

Imagine a movement where church meetings and denominational meetings never waste anybody’s time…. Imagine a movement that when leaders gather together, it is to learn and to receive vision and to mentor…and to be accountable and to encourage one another….

Imagine that when leaders get together they talk about things like: How do you reach people who don’t know Jesus so they can get to know Jesus? How can you worship better? How can you help the under-resourced people more effectively? How do you make disciples? How do you do justice?….

Can God not do that? Has the Holy Spirit lost His power?

As we…have talked and prayed about a new denominational entity, the idea, the prayer was that it be not just a denominational alternative — [but] that there might be a structure that could be a vehicle and a servant of a movement….

The job of a denomination is the serve the local church, not the other way around…. And the idea is…real simple: to build flourishing churches that make disciples of Jesus Christ.

Because the church really has one job — to make disciples, followers, of Jesus.

Streaming video of Mr. Ortberg’s full address is below. A downloadable mp3 audio file is here (18 MB).

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Related posts
United Methodists are well-liked, but to what end?
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?
‘Assessment’ report: United Methodism faces compound crisis
Riley Case: ‘Operational Assessment’ shows UMC has lost its way
Renewal & Reform Coalition releases letter to Council of Bishops

Related articles and information
New evangelical Presbyterian body unveiled | Michael Gryboski, Christian Post (Jan. 21, 2012)
Conservative Presbyterians launch new denomination | Daniel Burke, Religion News Service (Jan. 20, 2012)
A bold church unafraid: Fellowship casts vision | Leslie Scanlon, Presbyterian Outlook (Jan. 19, 2012)
Introducing ECO: the Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians | Carmen Fowler LaBerge, The Layman (Jan. 19, 2012)
Fellowship of Presbyterians unveils name for ‘new Reformed body’ | Jerry L. Van Marter, Presbyterian News Service (Jan. 19, 2012)

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A member of the United Methodist Church’s Call to Action Steering Team says the team’s task was to be “prophetic” and to avoid the “terminal niceness” that has long inhibited realistic discussion of the challenges facing the denomination.

“We were asked to do a deep study of the church,” the Rev. Jorge Acevedo, lead pastor at Grace Church (UMC) in Cape Coral, Fla., said in a recent address to the Wesleyan Renewal Movement, a group of North Georgia Conference clergy.

Jorge Acevedo speaking last month in N. Georgia

Part of the Call-to-Action team’s work included a research project aimed at gauging the “relative health” of the UMC’s 32,000 church in North America.

It was a relative study in that we only had the information that we commonly gather across all 32,200 churches…. And there are only certain categories we [measure] across the connection — things like membership, worship attendance, professions of faith, adults in Sunday School, children in Sunday School….

I think it says about United Methodism what we don’t measure…. [Y]ou know what we don’t measure consistently across our connection? We don’t measure mission…. So that’s why you will not see in our report very much that has to do with mission….

[The research team we were working with] took the conglomerate materials…for all 32,000 churches and — after we gave them some measures of vitality [based on the things the denomination measures] — we were able then to come out and say that about 4,500…of our 32,000 United Methodist churches would fit in the category of being “vital.”

Now what that means is 27,500 of our church are not vital…. [This is] not an indiscriminate line in the sand [but] a very statistical line in the sand that says, “Is there growth in membership or in worship attendance or in professions of faith?”…

[O]ur fundamental conclusion…at Call to Action is that the focus of the church needs to be on vital congregations — period, end of story, nothing else matters…. If we’re not vital on the corner of Main and Maple, nothing else matters…. And if we do not have [— as the Call to Action report (PDF) says —] “an intense concentration on fostering and sustaining an increase in the number of vital congregations [effective in making disciples of Jesus Christ]” — if we don’t do that, we do not have a future with hope.

This is what matters — the local church…. [E]verything has to serve to the end that we have vital congregations in every community.

To listen to an 11-minute excerpt from Jorge Acevedo’s remarks, click the arrow on the audio player below, or download an mp3 file (5MB).

Before Mr. Acevedo spoke, attendees at the Wesleyan Renewal Movement meeting viewed this five-minute video, which was produced for the UMC’s General Council on Finance and Administration:


Related posts
Podcast — George Hunter: Can the once-great Methodist movement become a movement again?
‘Assessment’ report: United Methodism faces compound crisis
Riley Case: ‘Operational Assessment’ shows UMC has lost its way
Renewal & Reform Coalition releases letter to Council of Bishops

Related articles and information
Rev. Jorge Acevedo: 2009 Distinguished Evangelist of The United Methodist Church | Foundation for Evangelism
Letting Jesus build his Church (a profile of Jorge Acevedo and Grace Church) | Elizabeth Glass-Turner, Good News (November-December 2009)
UMC renewal demands vital local congregations | Andrew C. Thompson, UM Reporter (June 7, 2011)
Call to Action: Reordering the Life of the Church | Website of the UMC’s Call to Action Steering Team
The complete “Operational Assessment” report (PDF) and Appendices (PDF) | Call to Action Steering Team (June 29, 2010)
Tone deafness and the Call to Action | Rob Renfroe, Good News (September/October 2010)
United Methodist ‘Call to Action’ finds 15% of UM churches highly ‘vital’ | Mark Tooley, UMAction—IRD (July 17, 2010)
Call to Action offers signs of crisis and hope | Heather Hahn, United Methodist News Service (July 13, 2010)
Momentum builds for major church change | Bishop John L. Hopkins, United Methodist News Service (April 12, 2010)
Call to Action seeks to increase church vitality | J. Richard Peck, United Methodist News Service (April 9, 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)
Committee assesses life of church | Linda Green, United Methodist News Service (July 22, 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)

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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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As part of its new Rethink Church campaign, United Methodist Communications has produced a captivating and challenging three-minute video aimed a fueling the sanctified imagination of local church leaders.

The video — titled “What If” — asks penetrating questions, such as:

  • What if “church” wasn’t just a place we go but something we do?
  • What if “church” was the way church was in the beginning — outbound, unbound, active?
  • What if “church” looked at itself with seekers’ eyes, recognizing that even the smallest step through one of our doors is an act of courage, a moment of vulnerability?
  • What if “church” was more of an out-of-church experience, an opportunity to prove what we say we believe with our lives?

“What If” is a top-notch piece of work, with effective visuals, music, scripting, narration, and editing.

Unfortunately, the script never mentions Jesus Christ — a rather startling omission, especially in a piece targeted to people who are already church members and, one would suppose, disciples of Jesus. (The video prefers to focus on amorphous concepts such as “journey,” “belief,” and “discovery.”) Nor does “What If” acknowledge the role of the Holy Spirit in empowering the church to be what God intends.

Still, the video is inspirational — and local church leaders can easily follow a showing of the video with additional questions, such as: “What if we stopped focusing on ourselves and started asking God to show us kingdom opportunities — opportunities to move people toward a relationship with Jesus Christ?”

It is worth noting that “What If” makes a subtle yet significant change in the UMC’s eight-year-old “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors” advertising slogan. The video’s tag line says, “Together we can open hearts, open minds, open doors.”

The three added words yield a much different meaning. “Together we can…” refocuses the slogan on mission, rather than on how (some) United Methodists perceive of themselves or want to be perceived. This is a welcome change.

Use the audio player below to listen to an 8-and-half minute presentation about Rethink Church from Larry Hollon of United Methodist Communications (recorded at the 2009 session of the North Georgia Annual Conference).

Order a Rethink Church DVD here.

Visit the 10ThousandDoors web site (i.e., the external Rethink Church site targeted to 18-to-34 olds).

Watch a Rethink Church TV ad below.


Related articles and information
What if? Rethinking the UMC’s ReThink campaign | Scott Kingsolver, Revangelical-Burning Out Bright blog (Aug. 20, 2009)
United Methodist Church launches $20 million ‘Rethink Church’ advertising campaign | UMC Press Center (May 1, 2009)
The theological foundation for ‘Rethink Church’ (PDF) | United Methodist Communications
Media impact and awareness research for the ‘Open Hearts’ campaign (PDF) | The Barna Research Group for United Methodist Communications (February 2008)
Opening doors — Where’s the doctrine?: A rhetorical analysis of the United Methodist media campaign (PDF) | Michelle Spurgeon, Matthew Drumheller, and Kristina Drumheller, A paper presented at the annual meeting of the National Communication Association (Nov. 15, 2007)
Open hearts don’t gamble: UMCom terminates agreement with Buntin Group due to ad agency’s work for Tennessee Lottery | Josh Tinley, Scrambies blog (Sept. 7, 2008)
‘Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors’ slogan is marketing, not theology | Andrew C. Thompson, UM Reporter (July 12, 2007)
Madison Avenue Methodism | David Holman, The American Spectator (Aug. 25, 2005)
United Methodists approve four more years of ‘Open Hearts. Open Minds. Open Doors.’ | Nancye Willis, United Methodist News Service (May 5, 2004)
United Methodists name Buntin Group to create national campaign | BusinessWire (Nov. 27, 2000)
United Methodist agency will launch TV campaign in 2001 | Linda Green, United Methodist News Service (July 10, 2000)

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Transforming Congregations, a 21-year-old United Methodist ministry that helps local churches minister to people struggling with sexual-identity confusion and sexual brokenness, is merging with Exodus International, the world’s largest Christian outreach to those dealing with homosexual attraction.

transforming-congregations2One by One, a ministry in the Presbyterian and Reformed tradition, will be a part of the merger as well.

From an Exodus International news release:

Together, these [three] ministries will form a new division under the leadership of Exodus that will equip leaders within both evangelical and mainline churches worldwide to break the polarizing debate over homosexuality through an approach that is both biblically orthodox and truly compassionate.

This merger will work to enhance current efforts to equip churches through the Exodus Church Association, an interdenominational network of more than 120 churches helping those dealing with same-sex attraction to live a life that reflects the Christian faith….

“The compassionate truth of the Gospel is still the hope of the world today,” said Alan Chambers, President of Exodus International and author of…the newly released Leaving Homosexuality.

“Together, we hope to advance a new era in the global Christian church that is defined by God’s truth as well as His heart for hurting individuals experiencing confusion and conflict about their sexuality.”

Transforming Congregations and One by One “will function essentially as departments within Exodus’ church-equipping ministry,” according to a report by Charisma News Online.

“[W]e will retain our own identity and focus on missions,” said the Rev. Karen Booth, executive director of Transforming Congregations, which has been affiliated with Exodus since 2000.

“We still will be working within the United Methodist Church or with churches from the Wesleyan heritage…. I hope with Exodus working with us, we will be a bit more strategic in our outreach.”

Karen Booth was among several speakers at a July 15 news conference announcing the merger. You can listen to her comments below.

 

The news conference was part of Exodus International’s 34th annual Freedom Conference, held at Wheaton College in Illinois.


Related posts
Sexuality resolution not at variance with Discipline, bishop rules
In Mississippi Conference, testimony from lesbian couple stirs controversy

Related articles and information
How churches can refine message on homosexuality | Robin Russell, United Methodist Reporter (May 19, 2008)
The Reconciling Ministries’ Hearts on Fire event: The lessons of Lake Junaluska (PDF) | Karen Booth, Transforming Congregations (Fall 2005)
On reparative therapy: Shouldn’t homosexual transformation be believable to people of faith? | Karen Booth, Reporter Interactive via The Internet Archive (April 13, 2004)
Transforming Congregations says ‘compassion without compromise’ | Good News magazine (May/June 2004)
United Methodists uphold homosexuality stance | United Methodist News Service; Good News Information Service, Good News magazine (May/June 2008)
What the evidence really says about Scripture and homosexual practice: Five issues (PDF) | Robert A. J. Gagnon (March 2009)
Resources list: Ministry for and with homosexual persons (requested by the UMC’s 2004 General Conference (PDF) | United Methodist Publishing House
Book: Staying the Course: Supporting the [United Methodist] Church’s Position on Homosexuality | Abingdon Press (2003)
Homosexuality and the Great Commandment (an address to the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh) | Peter C. Moore (November 2002)

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The July/August issue of Good News magazine features many words of appreciation (from bishops, professors, pastors, and lay people) for the Rev. Dr. James V. Heidinger II, who retired this week after 28 years of leading United Methodism’s flagship renewal ministry.

James V. Heidinger II

James V. Heidinger II

He is variously described as “cheerful,” “passionate,” “gracious,” “patient,” “humble,” “sensitive,” “thoughtful,” “truthful,” and “motivated by the love of Christ.”

One writer, Dr. Bill Bouknight of the Confessing Movement, noted that Jim Heidinger “illustrates what it means to contend for the faith without being contentious.”

The July/August Good News republishes three of Dr. Heidinger’s columns (out of more than 170 written over the years), selected by the magazine’s long-time editor Steve Beard: “Remaining United Methodist” (from 1982), “The Legacy of Theological Liberalism” (from 1990), and “The Road to Emmaus” (from 1983).

In addition to his writing, James Heidinger has made himself available as a spokesman for evangelical concerns within the UMC and the larger mainline Church. He has often been called on to explain and defend the Church’s standards relating to homosexuality.

Use the audio and video players below to hear/see various interviews with Jim Heidinger, beginning with the 1984 General Conference in Baltimore.

It was in 1984 that General Conference delegates approved a clear guideline aimed at prohibiting non-celibate homosexual persons from being ordained to the United Methodist ministry. Dr. Heidinger was asked to comment on the General Conference’s action. (This 2:50 audio clip is from a UM Communications production narrated by Harry Johnson. Mr. Johnson is also the interviewer.)

Four years later, at the 1988 General Conference in St. Louis, UM Communications asked Jim Heidinger to comment on a failed attempt to overthrow the ordination restrictions passed in 1984 (the attempt was defeated by a better than two-thirds margin).

 

In March 2004, Dr. Heidinger discussed the Karen Dammann trial with host Todd Wilken on the radio program, Issues, Etc. (16:35).

Later in 2004, Mr. Heidinger was a guest on the Albert Mohler Program, talking about the Beth Stroud trial (8:55).

And in November 2005, Jim Heidinger again appeared on Issues, Etc., along with Mark Tooley of UM Action, to discuss rulings issued by the United Methodist Judicial Council at its Fall 2005 session. (17:35).

James Heidinger is a retired clergy member of the East Ohio Annual Conference. An Illinois native, he earned degrees from Asbury College and Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky., and from Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C.

Theological-Malpracticeguarding-the-gospelDr. Heidinger’s books include United Methodist Renewal: What Will It Take? (Bristol Books, 1988), Theological Malpractice?: Essays in the Struggle for United Methodist Renewal (Bristol House, 2000), and Guarding the Gospel: Biblical Faith and the Future of United Methodism (Living Streams, 2007).

Jim Heidinger and his wife, Joanne, live in Nicholasville, Ky. They are members of the First United Methodist Church of Lexington, where Dr. Heidinger has taught an adult Sunday School class for many years.


Related articles and information
Much has changed since Jim Heidinger became a leader of UM evangelicals | Terry Mattingly, Scripps Howard News Service (July 9, 2009)
Reflections on passing the torch | James V. Heidinger II, Good News (May/June 2009)
Heidinger reflects on Good News leadership | Linda Bloom, United Methodist News Service (April 2, 2009)
Good News announces new leadership upon Heidinger retirement | Good News (March 12, 2009)
United Methodism in crisis: Scriptural renewal through the Good News Movement | Chapter 4 of Public Pulpits: Methodists and Mainline Churches in the Moral Argument of Public Life by Steven M. Tipton (University of Chicago Press, 2008 — via Google Books)
40 years of vision for United Methodist reformation and renewal (PDF) | James V. Heidinger II, Good News (November/December 2007)
An interview with the Rev. Dr. James V. Heidinger II | Katherine T. Phan, The Christian Post (Nov. 6, 2004)
Good News board honors Heidinger | Tim Tanton, United Methodist News Service (Feb. 13, 2003)
Coalition speaker Heidinger describes renewal ‘phenomenon’ | Evan Silverstein, PCUSA News (May 27, 2003)
Good News’ response to Cal/Nevada’s dismissal of complaints against 68 clergy involved in same-sex covenant | James V. Heidinger II on behalf of the Good News Board of Directors (Feb. 14, 2000)
Good News board urges bishops to preserve unity of church | United Methodist News Service (Feb. 2, 1999)
Good News celebration emphasizes revival and renewal | United Methodist News Service (July 1, 1997)
‘Good News’ says push to accept homosexual practice threatens to split United Methodist Church | United Methodist News Service (May 6, 1997)
Evangelical leaders from mainline denominations form new association; Heidinger named chairman | United Methodist News Service (Oct. 24, 1996)
‘Re-Imagining’ rejects historic Christianity | James V. Heidinger II, Good News (January/February 1994)
Mainline conservatives protest women’s ‘Re-Imagining’ conference | Carlton Elliott Smith, Religious News Service (Jan. 15, 1994—reprinted in the Feb. 16, 1994 issue of The Christian Century)
‘Durham Declaration’ asks for ‘Scriptural approach’ to abortion | United Methodist News Service (March 12, 1991)

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A lesbian couple invited to address the 2009 session of the Mississippi Annual Conference suggested that the United Methodist Church is wrong in refusing to affirm and celebrate homosexual relationships.

Renee Sappington, Connie Campbell, Bishop Ward

Renee Sappington and Connie Campbell;
in background, Bishop Hope Morgan Ward

One of the women, Dr. Connie Campbell, a faculty member at UM-affiliated Millsaps College, told the gathering, “We have no doubt that God embraces who we are and blesses our relationship.”

The United Methodist Church’s Book of Discipline states that the UMC “does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching.” It further states that “sexual relations are affirmed only within the covenant of monogamous, heterosexual marriage” (¶161G).

The two women spoke at a June 12 worship service that was centered around the theme “that the loving touch of Jesus through believers and the church is healing,” according to a summary of the service posted on the Mississippi Conference web site.

“Carol and Ray McNulty, [an interracial] couple, and [homosexual] partners Renee Sappington and Tommie [sic] Campbell, all testified to the healing which comes through churches which open doors by following the example of Jesus, and surround persons with love,” the summary reported.

Don Wildmon on the cover of the AFA Journal

Don Wildmon on the cover of the Sept. 2007 AFA Journal

Retired Mississippi Conference clergyman Don Wildmon, an influential conservative activist and founder of the Tupelo-based American Family Association (AFA), thinks the testimony by Sappington and Campbell at an annual-conference worship service was out of bounds.

On June 16, Mr. Wildmon e-mailed an “open letter to Mississippi United Methodists” arguing that the testimony was aimed at promoting acceptance of same-sex marriage in the UMC.

“They presented their story and told how rejected they felt because their church would not accept their marriage. Their clear intent was to promote homosexual marriage in the United Methodist Church,” Mr. Wildmon wrote.

Here is a shortened version of Ms. Sappington and Dr. Campbell’s remarks (full video posted below):

Renee Sappington: My name is Renee Sappington, and this is my partner Connie Campbell…. [B]ased on the love and support that we experienced growing up, it was easy to know that God loved us unconditionally.

Even so, when we realized we were gay, we each really struggled with it, and we wondered if this was something we needed to give up for God….

Connie Campbell: And it was years later, actually in church, that we met…. We were really in the same place, both of us having come to the point where we realized that being true to God meant being true to ourselves. We didn’t date long at all before I knew that this was the person for me….

Over the course of a year, we knew we wanted to spend our lives together. So, we wrote our vows and we went to the church. But since the denomination of which we were members does not condone same-sex unions, we did not go in….

[O]utside the doors of our church, but no less in the presence of God, Renee and I vowed to love, honor and cherish each other till death we do part.

Renee Sappington: And, that was 11 years ago…. Around four years ago, we started attending a small study group at Parkway Hills United Methodist Church. We started going to Sunday School and the worship service — and soon realized that we had found what we were looking for.

We joined the church and felt very welcomed…. Our Sunday school class truly treats us as a married couple….

But even as we found so many open doors — and we celebrate them — we are painfully aware that some doors remain closed…. We realize that at some churches in this very denomination we would be denied membership.

And we also know that were we to say our vows today, we would also be standing outside closed doors.

Connie Campbell: ….We are in the church not because of how the church addresses homosexuality but rather in spite of it….

We have no doubt that God embraces who we are and blesses our relationship, that God’s doors are open even when the church’s doors sometimes aren’t. We also know that many others are not so fortunate…. That they are hurting, angry or confused, not realizing that the church just doesn’t always speak for God….

We, on the other hand, choose to hope, believing this church that we are a part of — a church whose faith is founded in the life and death of Jesus, in His teachings and His promises — this church will find the courage to follow His radical example: opening new doors and always showing God’s love to all.

(Note: The applause at the beginning of the
excerpt is in response to the previous speakers.)

The Rev. Buddy Smith, associate pastor the Mississippi Conference’s Tremont Charge (and executive assistant to Don Wildmon at AFA), thinks giving the lesbian couple a platform from which to argue for acceptance of homosexual relationships was clearly inappropriate — not only because embracing homosexuality runs counter to historic Christian teaching, but also because the congregation included children and youth.

“These testimonies [were] an assault on biblical truth about human sexuality and a shameless promotion of homosexual ‘marriage,'” Mr. Smith wrote in a June 20 posting on his blog. “There were young people present when [Ms. Sappington and Dr. Campbell] were given a platform to promote a lifestyle that the Bible clearly condemns as sinful behavior.”

In answer to critics Bishop Hope Morgan Ward, episcopal leader of the Mississippi Conference, insists that the couple’s testimony was not a challenge to official church teaching.

“The witness was not a challenge to the law of the church in any way,” she said in a report published in The (Jackson, Miss.) Clarion-Ledger. “It was an invitation for us to live faithfully and lovingly with all people with whom our lives are intertwined, … people who may be different from ourselves.”

In a “pastoral letter” issued in response to concerns, Bishop Ward said she is committed to upholding UM teaching. “As your bishop, I have been given responsibility to uphold the doctrine, discipline and polity of The United Methodist Church,” she wrote. “This is a responsibility I remember and embrace in this instance and in every instance.”

The bishop, in response to feedback about the appropriateness of the homosexual couple’s testimony, has “invite[d] clergy and lay members to a ‘dialogue’ on the issue sometime in early July,” the Clarion-Ledger reported.

In addition to its declaration that homosexual practice is “incompatible with Christian teaching,” the United Methodist Church officially “support[s] laws in civil society that define marriage as the union of one man and one woman” (¶161B—Book of Discipline 2008).

That provision was added to the UM Book of Discipline in 2004 as the result of a 624-to-184 vote of the General Conference.


Related posts
Bill Bouknight: The good news from General Conference ‘08
Joe Whittemore: ‘Enough is enough’
UM Judicial Council says no to same-sex marriage
Maxie Dunnam, Eddie Fox release videos on proposed amendments

Related articles and information
An Open Letter from the board of directors of the Mississippi Fellowship of United Methodist Evangelicals (MSFUME) | via Good News (July 2009)
Statement issued by the Mississippi Conference GC ’08 delegation | (July 21, 2009)
Healing sought in church controversy | Gary Pettus, The (Jackson, Miss.) Clarion-Ledger (Aug. 3, 2009)
Lesbian testimony ignites debate among Mississippi United Methodists | Mark Tooley, Institute on Religion and Democracy (June 26, 2009)
Lesbians’ testimony shows church rift | Gary Pettus, The (Jackson, Miss.) Clarion-Ledger (June 25, 2009)
A pastoral letter from Bishop Hope Morgan Ward (June 20, 2009 — posted to the Web by blogger Una Malachica)
What the evidence really says about Scripture and homosexual practice: Five issues (PDF) | Robert A. J. Gagnon (March 2009)
On reparative therapy: Shouldn’t homosexual transformation be believable to people of faith? | Karen Booth (Transforming Congregations), Reporter Interactive via The Internet Archive (April 13, 2004)
How churches can refine message on homosexuality | Robin Russell, United Methodist Reporter (May 19, 2008)
The gospel of radical inclusion | James V. Heidinger II, Good News magazine (July/August 2006)
Resources list: Ministry for and with homosexual persons (requested by the UMC’s 2004 General Conference (PDF) | United Methodist Publishing House
Book: Staying the Course: Supporting the [United Methodist] Church’s Position on Homosexuality | Abingdon Press (2003)
Four myths of pro-homosex propaganda: A response to [United Methodist professor] Tex Sample’s ‘What do Bible, tradition say about gay marriage?’ (PDF) | Robert A. J. Gagnon (October 2003)
Homosexuality and the Great Commandment (an address to the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh) | Peter C. Moore (November 2002)

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