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Ray Nothstine

The following review is by Ray Nothstine, managing editor of Religion & Liberty, a publication of the Acton Institute.

He holds a Master of Divinity degree from Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky., and a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Mississippi in Oxford.

He also served on the staff of former Rep. Gene Taylor (D-Miss).

This review was originally published in a slightly longer form on the Acton Institute Power Blog.

Some links below have been added by MethodistThinker.com. — Ed.


Methodism was once the largest denomination in America. The faith grew rapidly from America’s beginning and has traditionally been characterized by aggressive evangelism and revival.

It has carried a vibrant social witness, too. Methodist Church pronouncements once garnered front page headlines in The New York Times.

Its high water mark undoubtedly came during prohibition, the greatest modern political cause of the denomination. Methodists even built and staffed a lobbying building next to Capitol Hill believing a dry country could remake society.

In Methodism and Politics in the Twentieth Century (Bristol House, 2012), Mark Tooley has chronicled Methodism’s denominational political pronouncements from William McKinley, America’s first Methodist president, to 9-11. Tooley has unearthed a staggering amount of official and unofficial Methodist declarations and musings on everything from economics, war, civil rights, the Cold War, abortion, marriage, and politics.

Tooley, who is also the author of Taking Back the United Methodist Church (Bristol House, 2009), offers little of his own commentary on the issues in Methodism and Politics, instead allowing Methodism’s voice for over a century to speak for itself.

What emerges is a denomination that begins to recede in significance, perhaps because of the sheer saturation of its witness in the public square. But its leadership often trades in a prophetic voice for a partisan political one, and sadly at times, even a treasonous voice.

Methodists not only led on prohibition, but were out in front on issues such as women’s suffrage, the New Deal, and the Civil Rights Movement. While they did not always carry a unified voice on these issues, even many Southern annual conferences and bishops broke with the popular political position (in their home states) of defending segregation.

While support for the New Deal and greater federal intervention in the economy was not rubber stamped by all Methodists, an emerging and often biting anti-free market voice would dominate official pronouncements.

This continues to this day with declarations calling to support greater government regulations, single payer health care, and a host of measures calling for government wage and price controls.

Way back in 1936, one Oklahoma Methodist pastor offered his own advice to some of his brethren:

Why do [these Methodist Reds] not get passports, emigrate to Russia where they can prostrate themselves daily before the sacred mummy of Lenin and submit themselves to the commands of Joseph Stalin?

Soft on totalitarianism

Tooley chronicles the pacifist sentiment that began to overtake the denomination the 1920s. By the 1980s, a denomination that once was harsh in its critique of communism became one in which a committee of bishops would pronounce that “actions which are seen as ‘Marxist-Leninist’ by one group are seen as the core of the Christian message by others.”

President Eisenhower with Methodist bishops in 1959

Perhaps most shameful was the action of several bishops during the American hostage crisis in Tehran, Iran, from 1979-1981.

United Methodist Bishop Dale White said of the new Islamic fundamentalist regime, “I know there are individuals in the Iranian power structure who do trust The United Methodist Church.” White offered assessments of the new regime being “democratic.”

The United Methodist General Conference sent a message to Ayatollah Khomeni declaring that the UMC hears the “cries of freedom from foreign domination, from cultural imperialism, from economic exploitation.” Methodist officials even participated in pro-Khomeni student demonstrations in Washington D.C. and met with (and offered praise for) officials in the new Iranian government.

One former hostage recalled:

Some of the people who came over especially the clergy were hypocrites because they came to aid and comfort the hostages but ended up giving aid and comfort to the Iranians and actually making it worse for us.

Leftward on

The election of President Ronald Reagan naturally sent many United Methodist Church officials into a tizzy. “People voted their self interest instead of the Social Principles of the church,” Bishop James Armstrong concluded. “It looks like United Methodists with everybody else forsook their Christian idealism at the ballot box.”

Some United Methodist Bishops had already declared their denomination much more aligned with the Democratic Party. It was downhill from there for many Methodist leaders, as they coddled the Sandanistas and “Brother Ortega” in Nicaragua and dove head first into the nuclear freeze movement.

President Johnson addresses Methodists in 1966

In the 1990s, one official of the UMC’s General Board of Global Ministries bewailed the Republican Congress by saying, “White, male supremacists now wear suits. They talk states rights and anti-taxes. The climate of hate and violence is a challenge to us.”

Not to be outdone, General Board of Church and Society official Robert McLean declared that the GOP Contract with America effectively “cancels” the Sermon on the Mount. Most recently, some UM officials have joined forces with the left-leaning “What Would Jesus Cut?” campaign.

Waning influence

Because The United Methodist Church is a connectional denomination, today the growing influence of theologically conservative African is counter balancing what Methodist progressives and political liberals can accomplish. Indeed, the liberal influence has been shrinking for decades. And because progressives have made so many predictable pronouncements, they no longer speak with the weighty spiritual authority The Methodist Church once held.

Dedication of the Francis Asbury statue in D.C. in 1924

American Methodism in 1900 was growing, confident, largely unified, and politically formidable.

One hundred years later, it looks back over decades of steep membership decline and political marginalization, as church officials were no longer presumed to speak for most church members.

In the 1920s, President Calvin Coolidge said of Francis Asbury, one of the first two Methodist Bishops in early America, that “he did not come [to America] for political motives,” but came to bear “the testimony of truth.”

One wishes Methodist denominational officials would not only follow more of Asbury’s doctrine, but his praxis as well.


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United Methodist Church facing health bill fallout
House Speaker thanks UMC for help in passing health bill
Mark Tooley profiled in WORLD magazine

Related articles and information
The rise and fall of American Methodism | Thomas S. Kidd, Patheos.com (Feb. 22, 2012)
Methodists and politics: A conversation with author Mark Tooley | The World and Everything in It (radio – interview is in second half of the segment) (Jan. 28, 2012)
Same-sex marriage for United Methodists? | Mark Tooley, The American Spectator (June 27, 2011)
Mere-O Interview: Mark Tooley | Mere Orthodoxy (March 14, 2011)
Religious Left despised Ronald Reagan | Mark Tooley, The American Spectator (Feb. 4, 2011)
Wesleyan surge: A review of Taking Back the United Methodist Church | William Murchison, Touchstone (May/June, 2010)
A conversation with Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy | The King’s College (New York City) Distinguished Visitor Series (Sept. 9, 2009)
Review: Taking Back The United Methodist Church (2008 ed.) | Ray Nothstine, Acton Institute Power Blog (April 10, 2008)
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)
Turning Around the Mainline: How Renewal Movements Are Changing the Church (ordering info) | Thomas C. Oden, Baker Books (2006)
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The following commentary is by Riley B. Case, associate executive director of the Confessing Movement Within the United Methodist Church.

Dr. Riley B. Case

Dr. Case served for many years as a pastor and district superintendent in the UMC’s North Indiana Conference (now the Indiana Conference), and he has been a delegate to five UM General Conferences.

He is the author of Evangelical and Methodist: A Popular History (Abingdon Press).

This opinion piece was originally published in a longer form in the Confessing Movement’s e-publication, “Happenings Around the Church.”

Links below have been added by MethodistThinker.com. — Ed.


United Methodists will discuss many important matters next month at General Conference in Tampa, Fla. — such as restructuring, the budget, and the global nature of the church. But for the press, the big news will be the decisions made around homosexuality.

The United Methodist Church is the last of the mainline churches to hold to the biblical view on marriage and the practice of homosexuality, and the pro-homosexual lobby knows that getting the UMC to alter that stand would greatly advance the homosexual agenda. To that end hundreds of thousands of dollars — much of it from outsiders not connected with the UM Church — have been poured into an effort to overturn United Methodism’s present stance.

From the UM
Book of Discipline

¶161F Human Sexuality — We affirm that sexuality is God’s good gift to all persons. We call everyone to responsible stewardship of this sacred gift.

Although all persons are sexual beings whether or not they are married, sexual relations are affirmed only within the covenant of monogamous, heterosexual marriage.

We deplore all forms of the commercialization, abuse, and exploitation of sex. We call for strict global enforcement of laws prohibiting the sexual exploitation of children and for adequate protection, guidance, and counseling for abused children.

All persons, regardless of age, gender, marital status, or sexual orientation, are entitled to have their human and civil rights ensured and to be protected against violence. The Church should support the family in providing age-appropriate education regarding sexuality to children, youth, and adults.

We affirm that all persons are individuals of sacred worth, created in the image of God. All persons need the ministry of the Church in their struggles for human fulfillment, as well as the spiritual and emotional care of a fellowship that enables reconciling relationships with God, with others, and with self.

The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice incompatible with Christian teaching. We affirm that God’s grace is available to all. We will seek to live together in Christian community, welcoming, forgiving, and loving one another, as Christ has loved and accepted us. We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends. We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons.

¶304.3 Regarding Clergy — While persons set apart by the Church for ordained ministry are subject to all the frailties of the human condition and the pressures of society, they are required to maintain the highest standards of holy living in the world.

Since the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching, self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be accepted as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church.

The United Methodist position on matters related to homosexuality is clear: All persons are individuals of sacred worth; marriage is between a man and a woman; the practice of homosexuality is not compatible with Christian teaching.

But we live in an increasingly secular society that is moving toward the acceptance of homosexual practice and, tied to it, homosexual marriage.

A vocal group in the church — those who call themselves progressives — agrees with the secular world. As one person said: “Society around us is leading the way about accepting of homosexual practice and the church is lagging behind.”

The progressives include some who by title and position are considered leaders in The United Methodist Church, including bishops, seminary professors, and board and agency staff.

What to watch for

So we come to General Conference 2012. While there are many petitions seeking to change the church’s historical stance in regard to human sexuality, three groups of petitions bear special watching.

1) Petitions that would have the church redefine marriage so that it is no longer a covenant between “a man and a woman” but between “two persons” (see an example here—PDF).

There is no biblical argument nor is there any argument from church or cultural tradition for this kind of redefinition.

The main religious argument is an inclusion/exclusion argument — i.e., we should not deny two men or two women who love each other the privilege of marriage because to do so is judgmental and restrictive (for progressives being judgmental and restrictive are practically the only personal sins left to condemn).

2) Petitions from several annual conferences would place disclaimers in the preamble to the Social Principles (see an example here—PDF).

These petitions want the preamble to state that unanimity of belief, opinion, and practice has never been characteristic of the Church. Therefore when there are significant differences of opinion in the church (such as around the practice of homosexuality), these differences should not be covered over with false claims of consensus, but embraced with courage as the people of God continue to discern God’s will.

The important thing is “celebrate our differences” and stay together.

The logical question to ask in response to these petitions is: Why then even bother? Why have any statements of faith? Why have any Social Principles? Why appeal to any biblical teaching? When all the chaff is blown away these petitions want us to say that, in practice, the United Methodist Church has no standards. Whatever is said in doctrinal standards or Social Principles is only a matter of opinion.

3) At least two petitions direct the church and the world to refrain from judgment regarding homosexual persons and practices “until the Spirit leads us into new insight” (see pages 273-276 of this PDF file).

“Until the Spirit leads us into new insight?” The assumption behind the statement is that whatever Scripture says, whatever church tradition holds, whatever the truth claims made by Christian groups of all times and in all places, these teachings are not adequate to serve as the basis for our moral standards.

Apparently, in these modern, secular times we are waiting for the “new insight” the Spirit offers us.

Petitions such as these typically make reference to “unity” and all being “people of good will” and “working together.” But when Christian faith with its appeal to Scripture is attacked and replaced with ideology based on personal preferences and subjective experience, we have long departed from unity and good will and working together. We are talking about two different religions.

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If defiance continues, United Methodism may come crashing down
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Bishop Mack Stokes: Holiness in human sexuality
A word from Mr. Wesley: Holiness in singleness
Why the United Methodist Church cannot condone homosexuality
Pro-homosexuality foundation pours millions into Catholic and mainline Protestant dissident groups
Breaking the covenant: Why aren’t ‘Reconciling’ churches being held to account?
Renewal & Reform Coalition responds to retired bishops’ call to alter UMC’s sexuality standards
In embracing homosexual marriage, Foundry UMC rejects UM boundaries, breaks with 2 millennia of church teaching
Board of Church and Society sex-ed writer: Sex outside of marriage can be ‘moral, ethical’
In Mississippi Conference, testimony from lesbian couple stirs controversy
Judicial Council says no to same-sex marriage
Billy Abraham on United Methodism: ‘There is no common faith among us’

Related articles and information
Outsider influence over homosexuality at General Conference | Karen Booth, Good News (January/February 2012)
UM clergy vow to wed homosexual couples | Sam Hodges, UM Reporter (July 15, 2011)
Eros defended or eros defiled — What do Wesley and the Bible say? | Ben Witherington, The Bible and Culture (Patheos.com) (Feb. 14, 2011)
Christianity elevates sexual morality (a historical overview of the Christian church’s teaching on sexual morality) — Chapter 3 of How Christianity Changed the World | Alvin Schmidt (Zondervan, 2004 — via Google Books)
Book: Staying the Course: Supporting the Church’s Position on Homosexuality (ordering details) | Maxie Dunnam and H. Newton Malony, ed. (Abingdon Press, 2003)
Anyone who works under the authority or auspices of the Church must be held to the highest standards of behavior, free of misconduct in any form | UMSexualEthics.org
United Methodist churches perform same-sex weddings with one foot in the closet | Amanda Hess, TBD.com (Sept. 30, 2010)
UM Judicial Council backs clergy dismissal over affair | Linda Bloom, UMNS (April 27, 2010)
What the evidence really says about Scripture and homosexual practice: Five issues (PDF) | Robert A. J. Gagnon (March 2009)
Slavery, homosexuality, and not being of one mind | Riley B. Case, via The Sundry Times (July 1, 2008)
How churches can refine message on homosexuality | Robin Russell, United Methodist Reporter (May 19, 2008)
United Methodists uphold homosexuality stance | Robin Russell, United Methodist News Service (April 30, 2008)
Methodists strengthen stand against homosexual practice | Christianity Today (May 5, 2004)
Homosexuality and the Great Commandment (an address to the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh) | Peter C. Moore (November 2002)
‘Good News’ says push to accept homosexual practice threatens to split United Methodist Church | United Methodist News Service (May 6, 1997)

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March 2, 1791: Methodist founder John Wesley dies in London at age 87. At his death, the Methodist movement had 294 preachers and 71,668 members in Britain, plus 198 preachers and 43,265 members in America. Today Methodists number about 30 million worldwide.

Among Mr. Wesley’s last words: “I’ll praise my maker” and “The best of all, God is with us.”

Use the player below to listen to a 1950s-era radio dramatization of Mr. Wesley’s final moments, with actor Miron Canaday as John Wesley. (An mp3 CD of the 30-part radio series, “A Brand from the Burning: The Story of John Wesley,” is available from Moody Audio. Order here.)
Charles Finney

Charles Finney

March 9, 1831: Evangelist Charles Finney concludes a six-month series of meetings in Rochester, New York.

The meetings, often called “the world’s greatest single revival campaign,” led to the closing of the town’s theater and taverns, a two-thirds drop in crime, and a reported 100,000 conversions.

March 10, 1748: John Newton, captain of a slave ship, is converted to Christianity during a huge storm at sea. He eventually became an Anglican clergyman and the author of the famous hymn, Amazing Grace.

March 10, 1880: Commissioner George S. Railton and seven women arrive in New York City to establish the Salvation Army in the United States.

Francis Asbury

Francis Asbury

March 21, 1778: Charles Wesley, brother of John and author of 8,989 hymns (including Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing, and Christ the Lord Is Risen Today), dies at age 81.

March 31, 1816: Pioneer Methodist bishop Francis Asbury dies at age 71. During his 45-year ministry in America (he was sent here in 1771 by John Wesley), he traveled on horseback or in carriage an estimated 300,000 miles, delivering some 16,500 sermons.

A biography of Asbury was released in 2009, American Saint: Francis Asbury and the Methodists (Oxford University Press).

Adapted with permission from ChristianHistory.net.


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January in Christian History
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Deitrich Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoffer

Feb. 4, 1906: Lutheran pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer is born in Breslau, Germany. As one of the leaders of Germany’s Confessing Church, he opposed the Nazis.

Bonhoeffer was arrested and eventually hanged — just days before Allied troops liberated the concentration camp where he was held. His books include The Cost of Discipleship.

Feb. 5, 1736: Brothers John and Charles Wesley arrive in Savannah, Georgia. They were to be missionaries to the native Americans, and John was to be pastor of the Savannah parish. Their efforts failed. “I went to America to convert the Indians; but O! who shall convert me?” he wrote two years later.

After returning to England, each had a deep experience of God’s grace and went on to lead what became known as the Methodist movement or Wesleyan revival. Today, there are an estimated 70 million Methodist and Wesleyan Christians worldwide.

Dwight L. MoodyFeb. 5, 1837: Dwight Lyman (D.L.) Moody (left), the greatest evangelist of his day and one of the greatest revivalists of all time, is born in Northfield, Massachusetts.

During his lifetime, he presented his message — by voice or pen — to at least 100 million people. Like the Wesley brothers mentioned above, Moody gave testimony of a deep and transformative experience of God’s grace.

Feb. 12, 1915: Blind hymnwriter Fanny Crosby dies at age 95 after writing more than 8,000 texts. Her works include Blessed Assurance, All the Way My Savior Leads Me, and Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross.

John Bunyan

Feb. 18, 1678: Puritan preacher John Bunyan (right) publishes The Pilgrim’s Progress, the second best-selling book in history (after the Bible) .

The allegorical tale, which describes Bunyan’s own conversion process, begins, “I saw a man clothed with rags… a book in his hand and a great burden upon his back.”

Feb. 22, 1906: Itinerant evangelist William J. Seymour arrives in Los Angeles to lead a Holiness mission. The group grows larger as word spreads of its revival meetings, which include speaking in tongues — a practice which, though mentioned several times in the New Testament, was largely unknown in the modern church.

The revival meetings eventually move to a rundown building on Azusa Street, and become known as the Azusa Street Revival. This revival often is cited the birthplace of modern-day Pentecostalism.

Adapted with permission from ChristianHistory.net.


Related post
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The following commentary is by Joe M. Whittemore, a member of the United Methodist Church’s Connectional Table.

Joe M. Whittemore

Mr. Whittemore, a delegate to the 2012 UM General Conference, has chaired Committee on Episcopacy for the Southeastern Jurisdiction and has served as the Lay Leader of North Georgia Annual Conference.

This opinion piece was originally published in a different form in the United Methodist Reporter.

Links below have been added by MethodistThinker.com. — Ed.


The United Methodist Church has never been willing to give the Council of Bishops authority to run the church. The job of the Council is to support the Book of Discipline and to carry out the polity and mandates established by the General Conference.

And yet the Connectional Table/Interim Operations Team legislation scheduled to be brought before the 2012 General Conference in April amounts to turning the general church over to the bishops.

This is exactly the opposite of what needs to be done. Our episcopal leaders should be devoted almost exclusively to their respective annual conferences.

A bad idea resurfaces

Several years ago, the Council of Bishops (COB) proposed that one bishop not be assigned to an episcopal area, but rather be set aside to handle the affairs of the Council, including the evaluation and accountability of individual bishops. The idea did not gain traction before or during the 2008 General Conference.

Now, a similar idea has come forward. Affirmation #2 of the Aug. 2, 2011, Interim Operations Team report (PDF) called for the adoption of performance standards for bishops. Jurisdictional committees on episcopacy would implement annual assessments.

To support this request, the report then called for a bishop without residential assignment to guide the UMC, support and assist residential bishops, and chair the body that could hire and fire a new 15-member board of directors for the church that would control the vast majority of all net assets other than pension funds.

This idea runs counter to the UMC’s long-standing unwillingness to “turn things over to the bishops.”

Our UM culture is well acknowledged in the operational assessment project done by Apex (PDF), which states that “the church has the opportunity to strengthen its existing leadership structures without altering power or authority (emphasis added)…. This strengthening could be achieved through renewal of purpose, goals and role clarity, better accountability, courageous leadership and better capabilities to support leadership.”

Note that the Apex research called for strengthening “without altering power or authority.” However, the final Interim Operations Team recommendations place power in the hands of a 15-member group (the board of the Center for Connectional Missions and Ministry) subject to considerable influence by the set-side bishop and the Council of Bishops generally.

Further, the Interim Operations Team has called for the Council of Bishops to institute and maintain an effective executive management operating function that strategically and practically aligns the resources of the general church.

In other words, let the COB take over and operate the church, agencies, budgets, everything!

A better approach

A lay executive of the Council of Bishops to facilitate the accountability of individual bishops may be to the benefit of the denomination. An experienced, strong executive who is not clergy may bring a fresh and reasonable approach.

Envision the changes we could quickly experience if that lay executive had the authority to recommend to the College of Bishops and the Jurisdictional Committee on Episcopacy the removal (or placing on leave) of the ineffective or non-responsive episcopal leader as currently provided in paragraphs 16.5, 408.3 (PDF) and 410.1 (PDF) of the Book of Discipline.

But to adopt the recommendations of the Interim Operations Team would interpret the Apex research to indicate that the Council of Bishops should have huge political, financial, and organizational power and authority. Such an approach would significantly alter our polity.

Many believe the Council of Bishops already does not function well. Why put more authority there?

With few exceptions our U.S. annual conferences are dying. Perhaps if our bishops were fully focused on their annual conferences, the likelihood of turnaround would be increased. Diluting each bishop’s time with additional operational responsibilities for the entire church is folly.

Yes, we desperately require restructure and reorganization of our general church to focus on the development of vital congregations and leadership. The starting place is in devoting all our bishops to the ministry and mission of their own annual conferences, and evaluating in transparent ways the fruits of their ministries.

Let’s “set aside” all our United Methodist bishops for their most important ministry, namely, leading their annual conferences and developing vital congregations.


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?
‘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
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)
Bishops seek change in presidency | Heather Hahn, United Methodist News Service (May 5, 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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In December 1964, Southern Christian Leadership Conference president Martin Luther King Jr. addressed a gathering of the Methodist Student Movement in Lincoln, Neb.

Speaking about the “Christian responsibility” to affirm that racial segregation “is morally wrong and sinful,” King described nonviolence as “the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom and human dignity.”

The SCLC president also declared that the “God that we worship is not some Aristotelian ‘unmoved mover’ [but] an other-loving God working through history for the salvation of his children.”

Excerpts from King’s address are below, followed by a portion of the audio.

It is always a rich and rewarding experience for me to take a brief break from the day-to-day demands of our struggle for freedom and human dignity and discuss the issues involved in that struggle with college and university students and concerned people of goodwill….

Martin Luther King Jr. ini 1964

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1964

And by and through the grace of God and continued work we will be able, I’m sure, to solve this great problem which is the chief moral dilemma of our nation….

[W]e have a Christian responsibility — in this racial crisis, in this revolution — to reaffirm the essential immorality of racial segregation….

[W]e, as Christians, must come to see not only the unconstitutionality of segregation, but we must reaffirm over and over again that racial segregation is sinful and immoral, whether it’s in the public schools, whether it’s in housing, whether it is in the Christian church, or any other area of life. Segregation is morally wrong and sinful….

Christian responsibility means that it is necessary to engage in creative and massive action programs to get rid of segregation and discrimination in our nation, and racial injustice wherever it exists in the world…..

[C]ertainly some strides have been made that make us all very happy — you’ve done things in the Methodist church that are most significant in this area, and we’re all inspired by it.

I just talked with my good friend Bishop [James] Thomas, who has just been appointed to serve in an area where a Negro Bishop has never served, and most of the congregations that fall under his jurisdiction happen to be white congregations. This happens to be a marvelous step forward, and it is always great to see the Church moving on to remove the shackles of segregation from its own body….

[I]t is my hope that we will move on to get rid of segregation in all of its dimensions within the Church. That not only means the Church itself, but church institutions such as hospitals, such as colleges and universities….

♦ ♦ ♦

I would like to say just a few words about the philosophy and the method of nonviolence, since it has been so basic in our struggle across these years….

I’m still convinced that nonviolence is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom and human dignity…. This way of nonviolence has a way of disarming the opponent. It exposes his moral defenses. It weakens his morale and at the same time it works on his conscience and he does not know how to handle it….

[I]f he puts you in jail, you go in that jail and transform it from a dungeon of shame to a haven of freedom and human dignity. Even if he tries to kill you, you develop the inner conviction that there are some things so dear, some things so precious, some things so eternally true, that they’re worth dying for; and if a man has not discovered something that he would die for, he isn’t fit to live. And this is what the nonviolent movement does.

So, there is power in this way because it has a way of disarming the opponent. But not only this: It gives individuals engaged in a struggle a way of seeking to secure moral ends through moral means….

mlk_smileAnother thing about this philosophy is that it insists that it is possible to struggle against an unjust and evil system and yet maintain an attitude of active goodwill for the perpetrators of that unjust system.

In points, this is the most misunderstood aspect of nonviolence when one seeks to live it as a creed and not merely use it as a strategy. It says that you somehow place the love ethic at the center of your struggle.

People begin to say what do you mean? How can you love those who are oppressing you? How can you love those who are using violence to destroy ever move you make?…

Fortunately, the Greek language comes to our aid in trying to determine the meaning of love at this point…. [It speaks of agape love.] Agape is understanding, creative, redemptive goodwill for all men. It is an overflowing love which seeks nothing in return.

Theologians would say that it is the love of God operating in the human heart. And so when one rises to love on this level, he loves every man, not because he likes him, not because his ways appeal to him, but he loves every man because God loves him, and he rises to the level of loving the person who does an evil deed while hating the deed that the person does….

And I believe that it is this kind of love that can take us through this period of transition and we can come to that brighter day….

The thing that must always console us is that as we struggle, we do not struggle alone. And there is something in our Christian faith to remind us of this: The God that we worship is not some Aristotelian “unmoved mover” who merely contemplates upon Himself. He’s not merely a self-knowing God, but He’s an other-loving God working through history for the salvation of His children.

And there is an event at the center of our faith which reminds us that Good Friday may occupy the throne for a day, but ultimately it must give way to the triumphant beat of the drums of Easter. There is something in our faith which reminds us that evil may so shape events that Caesar will occupy the palace and Christ the cross, but one day that same Christ will rise up and split history into A.D. and B.C., so that even the life of Caesar must be dated by His name.

There is something in this universe which justifies [Thomas] Carlyle in saying, “no lie can live forever.” There is something in this universe which justifies William Cullen Bryant in saying, “Truth, crushed to earth, [will] rise again.”

There is something in the very structure of the cosmos which justifies James Russell Lowell in saying,

Truth forever on the scaffold,
Wrong forever on the throne,—
Yet that scaffold sways the future,
and, behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow,
keeping watch above his own.

This is our faith, and this is what will carry us through.

Use the audio player below (or click here) to listen to excerpts from Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1964 address to the Methodist Student Movement (9 minutes).


umsm

The entire text and full audio of King’s address can be found at AmericanRhetoric.com.

According to an article in the Fall 1995 Journal of Ecumenical Studies, the Methodist Student Movement was organized in 1937 and continued until 1965.

The organization was reconstituted — as the United Methodist Student Movement — in 1996.

This post was first published in January 2009.

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

Dr. Riley B. Case

Dr. Case served for 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 opinion pieced was originally published in a slightly longer form in the Confessing Movement’s e-publication, “Happenings Around the Church.”

Links below have been added by MethodistThinker.com. — Ed.


It is nice to be liked. United Methodists are well liked, at least according to a recent survey (PDF) by Southern Baptist-affiliated LifeWay Research. Sixty-two percent of Americans have a “favorable” or “somewhat favorable” opinion of United Methodists.

This is compared with favorable opinions of  59 percent for Roman Catholics, 53 percent for Southern Baptists, 37 percent for Mormons, and 28 percent for Muslims.

New survey, but nothing new

Over the years, several surveys and studies have reported somewhat similar results. Methodism, at least for the past 100 years, has reflected American popular religious culture. Methodism gave to the country gospel hymns, Mother’s Day, chicken-and-noodle suppers, and “the right hand of fellowship” (traceable back to campmeeting days).

United Methodists are middle-class. They are common, ordinary people. They do food pantries, deliver Christmas boxes, and always cooperate in the community Good Friday services.

While some denominations are regionally concentrated, United Methodists are everywhere.

In every state, in almost every county, in almost every little community and even in the open country, there are United Methodist churches, sometimes big brick churches with steeples, sometimes little frame churches.

The teachers, the owners of small businesses, the farmers and the skilled workers are very often United Methodists. United Methodists are the backbone of the Rotary Club, the home ec club, and the Girl Scouts.

Methodists through the years have been good citizens, good neighbors, and have been optimistic about the future of the country.

So, there is no surprise that most Americans think favorably of United Methodists.

United Methodism has a well-established ‘brand’

Much is made today of “branding.” United Methodism has it. The American public’s good impressions about The United Methodist Church ought to work in our favor.

Those of us who work with evangelical renewal groups within The United Methodist Church deal continually with pastors and lay people who want to opt out of United Methodism. It is dead, liberal, hierarchical, and bureaucratic, they say. We in the renewal groups urge people to stay.

There are a number of reasons why some of the greatest opportunities for ministry are in The United Methodist Church. The UM Church has the doctrine and the polity — to say nothing of the money — to be an influence for good in the world.

Because of Methodism’s favorable impression many people seeking a new church home will give the local United Methodist Church a try. They may not stay, but at least Methodists get a chance.

When I was an active pastor doing house-to-house visitation (a lost art these days, I am sorry to say), I was always accepted — even with strangers. United Methodists just by the name have a “foot in the door”; they just need to “make the sale.”

A downside to our popularity

Christians should beware when all people speak well of them — especially in pagan territory. During its early years in England and in America, Methodism was a despised sect.

Methodists were enthusiasts (too excitable); their camp meetings were out of control; their preachers were uneducated. They sang “ditties” instead of stately hymns. They offended people by talking to them about their souls. They opposed “worldliness,” which included Sabbath breaking, dancing, card playing, gambling, alcohol, and fancy dress.

For the first 75 years of their presence in America, Methodists would never have won any popularity polls. But Methodism grew. From 1784 to 1850, a period known generally as the Second Great Awakening, Methodism grew from 3 percent of America’s religious population, to 33 percent. It was in part because Methodism during this period thought it better to be despised for the gospel than to be respectable in the world.

It is time for the church to come up with something better than “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors” as its slogan.

A better approach to making disciples?

It is time to talk about informed minds and changed hearts — and the narrow doors on the path that leads to life.

The UMC’s current emphasis on vital congregations is fine, but it needs to be understood that leadership and exciting worship and other marks of vital congregations must be based on commitment to biblical doctrine and biblical moral standards.

People talk about making United Methodism a movement again, instead of a dead institution. This will require new directions.

New life in Methodism will have to come through individuals, small groups, and local churches that will affirm with conviction United Methodist doctrinal standards, traditional Christian views on morality, and John Wesley’s passion of souls.

New life will come when United Methodists talk more about Jesus (this would lower our favorable rating in a hurry) and insist of the new birth as a condition of church membership. New life will come when people witness to miracles, to the presence of the Holy Spirit in their churches, and to changed lives.

Let us pray for the day when The United Methodist Church’s brand isn’t just that we’re nice people, but that “we preach Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 1:23).

Such a message has always been “a stumbling block” to some “and folly” to others (1 Cor. 1:23), “but to [those] who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18).


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
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)
‘Open Hearts’ slogan is marketing, not theology | Andrew C. Thompson, UM Reporter (July 12, 2007)
United Methodists poised for ‘open house,’ media campaign | United Methodist News Service (Aug. 30, 2001)

The video below was produced for the UMC’s General Council on Finance and Administration:

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