Two weeks after many United Methodists were dismayed to discover that a General Board of the United Methodist Church was closely involved in passage of the sweeping new health-care law that has vastly expanded federal power and could lead to doctor shortages and medical delays, many evangelicals in the denomination are receiving a letter from a UM renewal leader urging them not to give up on the UMC.
“[I]t’s easy to become discouraged about The United Methodist Church,” Good News president Rob Renfroe wrote in a support letter dated April 1.
“Some of our General Boards often take positions and make public declarations contrary to what we believe…. But I believe The United Methodist Church is worth fighting for,” he wrote.
Mr. Renfroe’s letter does not specifically mention the health-bill imbroglio and may have been written before the controversy erupted on March 21 when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi publicly thanked the UMC for “endorsing” the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, a deeply unpopular bill that marks the greatest expansion of federal power in decades. (The law is being challenged as unconstitutional by at least 18 states; several private entities have filed suit as well.)
UMC support for the legislation, which passed the House last month on a narrow and sharply partisan vote, came primarily from the General Board of Church and Society (GBCS), the “social justice” agency of the denomination. (The Women’s Division of the General Board of Global Ministries also pushed for greater government involvement in U.S. health care, according to RENEW—PDF link.)
In supporting a government-centered overhaul of the American health-care system, GBCS claimed the mantle of three resolutions — two of which were authored by GBCS general secretary Jim Winkler — that were hastily passed in a combined vote on the frenetic final night of the 2008 General Conference.
(One of the resolutions — “Health Care For All in the United States” — calls for creation of a tax-funded health-care system in America, which would necessarily entail “the virtually total elimination of the health insurance industry.” That resolution is now Resolution #3201 in the 2008 edition of the UM Book of Resolutions.)
In addition to supporting final passage of the controversial health bill, GBCS earlier lobbied against a pro-life provision — included in the original House version but not in the final law — that would have prohibited the use of tax revenues to pay for abortions.
Speaker Pelosi’s March 21 remarks about UMC support of the health bill ignited a firestorm of calls and e-mails to pastors, district superintendents and bishops from United Methodists concerned that the new law is likely to damage the quality of U.S. health care and lead to taxpayer funding of abortions (PDF).
With some United Methodists even considering leaving the UMC in the wake of the denomination’s involvement in passage of the controversial law, Rob Renfroe’s April 1 letter has taken on a perhaps unanticipated poignancy.
In the letter, Mr. Renfroe argues that working for United Methodist renewal is a sacred trust that must not be abandoned, no matter how difficult the fight.
I believe that a Wesleyan understanding of the Gospel is one of God’s great gifts to the world. The combinations of heart and head, personal faith and social holiness, the primacy of grace and the necessity of spiritual disciplines — the balanced theology God gave us through John Wesley is something worth protecting, preserving, and promoting.
It’s a holy gift. And I refuse to walk away and leave it in the hands of those who neither appreciate it nor understand it [italics in original]….
I also believe The United Methodist Church…[has] a critical role to play in God’s redemptive purposes…. In spite of everything, we are still seen as a church that can be trusted by persons who are unchurched. We are the kind of church that parents bring their children and teenagers to and that they attend for themselves when live is hard and they are looking for a better way.
We Methodists continue to have an unparalleled opportunity to bring the lost into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.
In concluding the letter, Mr. Renfroe encouraged his readers to not to lose heart. “[Take] the long view of things” he urged. “Continue to believe in the promises of God. Believe that he can make a way. And believe that he will use the efforts of people like you and me to protect and prosper the church and the heritage we love.”
He also serves as the pastor of discipleship at The Woodlands United Methodist Church near Houston, Texas. Before being appointed to The Woodlands, Mr. Renfroe was an executive pastor at First UMC in Houston, serving with late Dr. Bill Hinson.
Good News, founded in 1967 (PDF), is considered the United Methodist Church’s flagship renewal ministry.