A Monday afternoon tweet by Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, received sharply negative responses from several United Methodist tweeters.
Dr. Albert Mohler
At 4:19 p.m. Eastern Time, Mohler tweeted: “Join me in praying that the General Conference of the United Methodist Church will hold firm for biblical standards of sexuality.”
Mohler apparently was referring to the sexual standards detailed in the United Methodist Book of Discipline in paragraphs 161F and 304.3. Petitions that would alter those paragraphs will be debated and voted on later this week.
The Discipline language upholds human sexuality as “God’s good gift” but teaches that not all forms of sexual expression are within the boundaries of holy and appropriate Christian conduct.
“Although all persons are sexual beings whether or not they are married, sexual relations are affirmed only within the covenant of monogamous, heterosexual marriage,” paragraph 161F states.
Paragraph 304.3 requires clergy members of the UMC “to maintain the highest standards of holy living in the world,” further noting that “self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be accepted as [clergy] candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church.”
A few UM tweeters thanked Mohler for his comment about praying for the upcoming vote on sexual standards, but most responses directed to him (via the @albertmohler designation) were decidedly negative and in some cases even derisive:
Although a Southern Baptist, Albert Mohler served two Methodist churches while pursuing his seminary education. He has been president of Southern Seminary in Louisville, Ky., since 1993.
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)
On this April Fools’ Day, we’re setting aside theological discussions and denominational news in favor of something a bit lighter. — Ed.
For more than two decades, singer-songwriter Mark Bradford has been putting smiles on the faces of morning-show radio listeners in cities such as Philadelphia, Houston and Kansas City with his dead-on parodies of popular songs that replace the original lyrics with new lyrics that satirize current events.
Bradford at Denver's First Church of the Nazarene
But there is more to Mark that just zany morning-show humor. Mark is a follower of Jesus Christ — and a member of First Church of the Nazarene in Denver, Colo. — who has turned his talent for parody into a ministry opportunity. (The Church of the Nazarene is part of the the World Methodist Council.)
Working with One Way Street, Inc., a provider of resources for puppet ministry, Mark has created a series of recordings that he calls “Righteous Pop Music” (RPM).
Each of his 14 RPM CDs features well-known pop songs with newly written lyrics inspired by the stories, characters, and themes of the Bible. The recordings are often used as a musical adjunct for puppet ministries.
Mark Bradford’s mission statement is “To glorify God, uplift and challenge believers, appeal to non-believers, and reflect in my music the power and intimacy we can have with God through Christ.”
Need a smile on your face today? Use the audio player to listen to Mark’s recording of “Sacred Agent Man” (about the Apostle Paul), a “righteous” version of the 1966 hit, “Secret Agent Man.” The song is from Righteous Pop Music—Volume 2, released in 1996.
Mark Bradford’s YouTube channel is here. His blog, focused on Scripture, is here.
The hyper-commercialization of the Christmas season is nothing new. Fifty-two years ago satirist Stan Freberg produced “Green Chri$tma$,” a memorable indictment of the profit-above-all mindset that seeks to transform the celebration of the Incarnation into an endorsement of everything from soft drinks to soap.
Stan Freberg in the late 1950s
“All my life I had been disturbed by advertising’s increasingly blatant intrusion into Christmas,” Freberg recounted in his his 1998 book, It Only Hurts When I Laugh (Crown Publishing).
[H]aving been raised as a Christian, in a minister’s home, was mostly responsible for my feelings about it, but once I began working as a professional advertising person around people in agencies and clients, I suddenly realized that the overcommercialization simply didn’t have to be….
If a company wanted to tie some product into Christmas that just didn’t fit or that was grossly out of place, it was the job of its advertising agency to talk them out of it. If the agency was the one who had dreamed up ways of lashing some extraneous product into the holiday… it’s the client’s job to talk the agency out of it. Client and agency should save each other from themselves.
Why? Because it is the ethical thing to do.
“Green Chri$tma$” was greeted with controversy even before its release, Freberg recalled in his book.
[After we made the recording,] I was in New York when a call came in from a man named Lloyd Dunn. He was the new president of Capitol…. He…did not share my sense of moral outrage that Christmas had deteriorated into a sell-a-thon. He was calling now to tell me that on the advice of legal and many other people at Capitol he was pulling “Green Chri$tma$” off release…
“This is a very offensive recording[,” he said].
“Who is it offensive to?” I asked.
“Everybody in the world of business!” he said. “You’ll offend everybody in advertising!”
“Not everybody,” I said. “Just the ones who should be offended.”
When Stan Freberg threatened to leave Capitol over the company’s refusal to release “Green Chri$tma$,” Dunn relented, but he demanded that Freberg “take out any mention of whose birthday we’re celebrating,” according to the account in It Only Hurts When I Laugh. Freberg refused.
Eventually, “Green Chri$tma$” was released as originally produced, but with no publicity from Capitol.
Nonetheless, the recording gained attention — including plenty of negative attention from advertisers and those businesses (i.e., newspapers and broadcasting stations) supported by advertising.
A Christmas Day (1958) editorial in the Los Angeles Times accused Freberg of attacking the spirit of giving. In a rejoinder, published in the paper three weeks later, Freberg wrote that Times had misidentified the object of his satire.
[“Green Chri$tma$”] is an attack on one thing and one thing only: advertisers who…decide to take a crack at tying their extraneous products into Christmas with Alka-Seltzer, soap, hair tonic and whiskey ads (to name a few), implying that it is indeed the Christian thing to be alkalized, clean, dandruff-free and loaded for Christmas.
Somehow this is a little sickening and a far cry from the gift giving that took place in Bethlehem 2000 years ago.
In a interview decades later, Freberg noted that despite a few dated elements, the satirical point of “Green Chri$tma$” remained remarkably sharp. “I’m amazed that it holds up all these years,” he said.
Stan Freberg donated the proceeds from “Green Chri$tma$” to the Hemophilia Foundation.
To listen to “Green Chri$tma$” (4:30), use the audio player below. (This version, with some of the more-dated elements removed, is about two minutes shorter than the original production. The full version is available for purchase — as an mp3 download — here.)
Stan Freberg grew up in Pasadena, Calif., the son of a Baptist minister. He began providing voices for cartoons while still a teenager, then broke into network radio. After making series of popular satirical recordings in the 1950s, he concentrated his career on advertising and became known (in the words of Advertising Age magazine) as “the father of the funny commercial.”
In 1995, Stan Freberg was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame.
Commercials for God | TIME (July 12, 1963) (NOTE: In 1963, Stan Freberg wrote and produced a series of commercials for the United Presbyterian Church, a denomination that was later part of the merger that formed the Presbyterian Church (USA) — tagline for the spots: “The blessings you lose may be your own.” In the 1970s, he wrote and produced several audio essays for the Southern Baptist Convention.)
To reverse the United Methodist Church’s decades-long membership decline in the United States, local UM churches must embrace innovation and commit themselves to constant improvement, according to Adam Hamilton, leader of one of the UMC’s largest and most successful churches.
Even if local churches are willing to embrace innovative change, a net membership increase in the UMC is still likely to be at least 10 years away, Hamilton predicted, because the next decade will see heavy membership losses due to the deaths of tens of thousands of older members.
“If we act now, in 10 years we might actually see that we begin to reverse the decline,” he said during the conference’s Friday afternoon session. “In 10 years, we’ll actually start to see that we have a future with hope.”
He did not address the serious doctrinal disagreements or sharply differing approaches to social concerns that have roiled the denomination over the past four decades and have helped fuel membership decline.
Adam Hamilton illustrated the need for innovation and improvement at the local church level by looking at how computers have changed during the 20 years since Church of the Resurrection was founded.
I bought a computer for us four weeks before our first worship service. It had just come out…. It was a Macintosh Classic…. And this was the hottest computer you could buy in 1990….
And I want you to imagine if Apple Computer had said…, “We have just built the best computer that anybody could ever build.”… [Or maybe they said,] “We’ll make if faster, but we’re going to keep it [looking] just like this.”…
The Rev. Adam Hamilton
Instead, they developed laptops… that had the capacity to do things that nobody had ever dreamed of when [the Mac Classic] was built….
And [now in 2010 they’ve] invented a whole new way of doing computers…[with the release of] the iPad….
[T]hey studied how people used computers, they studied to try to understand…the needs of people, and then they formed a product….
And so [as the church,] part of this [is] in our hands. We have to be able to ask: “What needs to change [so that we can better speak to people’s needs today and connect with them]?”…
[M]ost of our churches [haven’t] had leaders who understood that and we [have] just kept doing the same thing over and over and over again. And we’re realizing that can’t work. It simply can’t work for the future.
You either…innovate, you improve, or you’re going to die. That’s a [Church of the] Resurrection classic principle we use around here….
[W]e’re not changing the gospel, we’re not changing the Scriptures. But we are changing how we talk about faith. We’re changing how we help people experience the presence of God in their lives.
Hamilton also focused on ways new communication technologies are improving the ability of local churches to connect with people — and with other churches.
The world is changing. Are you willing to shape the future by embracing technology?…
I think our future [in the United Methodist Church is] rooted and grounded in our past. When the early Methodists went to start churches across the United States, here’s what they did: they sent circuit riders out, and those circuit riders were given two books — they were given a hymnal and a book of John Wesley’s sermons.
And they would preach in a place and they would form a church, and after three weeks they would say, “Now, you’re in charge while I’m gone…. Here’s a copy of John Wesley’s sermons. And while I’m gone, why don’t you just read one sermon a Sunday when the people gather together for worship?” So the circuit rider would go start five or six or seven more churches and would circle back around 12 weeks later….
How do you think John Wesley would do this today? Would he give them a book of his sermons? No, he would say, “Why don’t you log on…online and then you can join me and I’ll look in the camera and I’ll say ‘Hey’ to all of you….”
Circuits were the groupings of churches that worked together and they shared one pastor and then they had lay leaders and they would work together for the discipleship of the people….
Is it possible that there are super circuits in the future where there are multiple churches, not bound geographic areas — they may be in different parts of the country — and they join together voluntarily and become connected to one another in these circuits?
Some of them [would] have ordained pastors who are overseeing. Some of those ordained pastors [might be] excellent preachers and some of them, maybe not so much. So sometimes they [would] use the sermons from another congregation…. Maybe some of them [would] only use the sermons from the largest church.
They [would] all share the IT resources of that [largest] congregation, and all of the churches [would] work together and bring their strengths to the table to help them all be more effective and stronger congregations….
There are 19,600 churches in the United Methodist denomination in the U.S. that have less than 60 people a Sunday in worship. Currently, most people say those churches have no future. They’re going to have to close because they can’t afford pastors, they can’t afford benefits, they can’t afford apportionments — they simply are going to die.
But what would happen if each of those was seen…as a place that could be [connected by technology]? And…it costs nothing to do it in this place. The building is already paid for. And if we get 25 people and over the next three years we can grow it to 30, we’ve seen a 20 percent increase in attendance in that place in three years, as opposed to closing it down….
What could you do with this? How could you help other churches in your community? Is there a way that you could create a voluntary circuit in which you are helping support and nurture one another in being healthy, vibrant congregations?
Renewing the church is going to require all of us looking at how we do share we share the resources we have so that other might have a chance to have future with hope.
Use the audio player below to listen to Adam Hamilton discussing the need for innovation and improvement in United Methodist churches (this 12-minute excerpt has been edited for length).
The purpose of the annual Church of the Resurrection (COR) Leadership Institute, launched in 1999, is to teach “practical, translatable principles” that have helped COR grow from four people in 1990 to about 17,000 today with multiple meeting locations.
DVDs of this year’s Leadership Institute will be available through The Well, the Church of the Resurrection bookstore.
During MethodistThinker.com’s late-summer hiatus, we’re highlighting podcasts from our Spring 2010 season.
This podcast features one of the most influential United Methodists of the 1960s and 70s: Dr. Charles W. Keysor, founder of the Methodist renewal ministry known as Good News.
Dr. Charles W. Keysor
In a 1986 tribute, published several months after Dr. Keysor’s cancer-related death at age 60, Good News magazine described him as a “minister and journalist who almost single-handedly forged an influential evangelical movement within the United Methodist Church.”
Charles Winchester Keysor was born in Pittsburgh, Penn., in 1925 and was raised in Illinois. After receiving a journalism degree from Northwestern University, he married Margaret (Marge) Wickstrom, the daughter of a Swedish Methodist pastor, and began a career in journalism.
In the 1950s, he served as managing editor for The Kiwanis Magazine and later as managing editor of Together, the now-defunct official magazine of The Methodist Church.
Then, in 1959, he had a profound encounter with Christ at a Billy Graham crusade. Soon, he felt called to leave journalism and enter seminary.
By the mid-1960s, Charles Keysor — known to his colleagues and friends as Chuck — was serving as the pastor of Grace Methodist Church in Elgin, Ill. During a late-1965 lunch meeting with James Wall, then-editor of the Methodist ministers’ magazine, New Christian Advocate, Keysor shared his concerns about the prevailing liberal theology in the denomination, which he saw as a departure from the historic, orthodox Christian faith.
Within The Methodist Church in the United States is a silent minority group…. Its concepts are often abhorrent to Methodist officialdom at annual conference and national levels.
I speak of those Methodists who are variously called “evangelicals” or “conservatives” or “fundamentalists.” A more accurate description is “orthodox,” for these brethren hold a traditional understanding of the Christian faith….
Here lies the challenge: We who are orthodox must become the un-silent minority! Orthodoxy must shed its “poor cousin” inferiority complex and enter forthrightly into the current theological debate….
[W]e must be heard in Nashville, in Evanston, and on Riverside Drive. Most of all, we must be heard in thousands of pulpits, for the people called Methodist will not cease to hunger for the good news of Jesus Christ, incarnate, crucified, risen, and coming again.
“Methodism’s Silent Minority” sparked an overwhelmingly positive reaction from hundreds of Methodist pastors and leaders, several of whom asked why the church couldn’t have a publication that reflected an evangelical understanding of the Christian faith.
Months later, Keysor launched such a publication: Good News magazine. Bishop Gerald Kennedy (Los Angeles Area), the most well-known Methodist bishop of the time, wrote an article for the inaugural issue, which rolled off the press in March 1967.
In 2007’s 40th-anniversary issue of Good News, James Heidinger (who succeeded Keysor as editor) described how the new magazine led quickly to the formation of a full-fledged renewal ministry.
Seeing [an] immediate surge of interest in his magazine, Keysor chose 12 Methodists to serve as board members, and the Good News effort became incorporated as “A Forum for Scriptural Christianity.” The board’s first meeting was in May of 1967, only two months after the appearance of the first issue of the magazine.
Good News was a breath of fresh air for Methodists seeking spiritual renewal, quickly becoming their rallying point. Pastors and laity began organizing clusters of like-minded Methodists who came out of a felt need for fellowship, support, encouragement, and prayer. Soon, they began to map strategies for increasing evangelicalism within their annual conferences.
Good News' logo
In 1972, Dr. Dennis Kinlaw, president of Asbury College in Kentucky, asked Charles Keysor to join the Asbury faculty to teach journalism part-time, so the Good News ministry relocated from Elgin, Ill., to Wilmore, Ky., where it remains headquartered today, just a few blocks from Asbury College and Seminary.
In addition to leading Good News, editing Good News magazine, and teaching journalism at Asbury, Dr. Keysor wrote several books — including Our Methodist Heritage (David C. Cook, 1973), Living Unafraid (David C. Cook, 1975), and Come Clean! (Victor Books, 1976). He also edited What You Should Know about Homosexuality (Zondervan, 1979).
In 1982, weary from 16 years in the trenches of renewal ministry, he left the United Methodist Church to become a pastor in the Evangelical Covenant Church, a denomination founded by Swedish immigrants to the U.S.
Charles W. Keysor died at his home in Clearwater, Fla., on Oct. 22, 1985, two months after being diagnosed with advanced liver cancer.
The address on this podcast was recorded in August 1970 at the inaugural Good News Convocation, held in Dallas, Texas — an event attended by more than 1,500 pastors and leaders.
To listen, use the audio player below (22 min.) — or right click (Windows users) to download an mp3 (10.5MB).
For previous MethodistThinker Podcasts, click the “podcasts” tab at the top of this page. To subscribe via iTunes or other podcast software, use the “Subscribe to Podcasts” link at the top of the right column.
The most-listened-to audio file during our second year was a May 2009 podcast featuring a 1960 sermon by the late Methodist missionary, E. Stanley Jones.
(*The site launched on Aug. 9, 2008. The right-column archive of posts dates back to July 2008 because it includes “test” posts written during site development.)
For next several weeks, MethodistThinker.com will take a break from posting new material. During that time, we’ll highlight podcasts from earlier this year. The ThinkerTwitter feed (see right column) will remain active, with new material “tweeted” each weekday.
Lord willing, fresh blog posts will resume just after Labor Day.
Although MethodistThinker.com has been warmly received by many readers (and podcast listeners), the future for this site is cloudy. For reasons spiritual and practical, it is unclear how long MethodistThinker.com can continue, at least in its present form.
At a minimum, we’re hoping to press on until the end of 2010 and feature a full fall season of podcasts with the following speakers:
• Methodist theologian Billy Abraham;
• Bishop Alfred Norris;
• Evangelism scholar George Morris;
• Rob Renfroe, president of Good News; and
• The Rev. Billy Graham, speaking at the 1980 UM Congress on Evangelism.
Thank you for visiting MethodistThinker.com. If you have comments and/or suggestions, post your feedback below (click “Leave a Comment”) — or, if you prefer, send an e-mail to feedback@MethodistThinker.com.
This post is by Richard Hunter, senior pastor of Snellville United Methodist Church (North Georgia Conference). He holds a doctorate in parish revitalization from McCormick Theological Seminary (Chicago) and teaches on the adjunct faculty at both Asbury Theological Seminary and the Candler School of Theology. — Ed.
I want to be a part of renewing our Methodist movement for faithfulness in the 21st century.
Renewal requires facing facts — namely that reversing our downward spiral of membership losses and evangelistic ineffectiveness calls for dramatic changes and creative innovations across the church.
I suggest four areas where we need to embrace a different way of doing things:
We must bring an emphasis on church planting into every district and place it in the DNA of every church.
After 20 years of existence, the average United Methodist congregation brings one new believer to Christ for every 85 members (an 85-to-1 ratio)! In contrast, our new churches reach new believers at a 2-to-1 ratio. After five years, they are still reaching new people, 3-to-1.
The future of our denomination depends on starting new churches every week just as we did at the beginning of the 20th century, yet we put far more resources in serving ourselves rather than church planting.
We must welcome innovative and “out-of-the-box” church plants. To reach today’s culture, we must be starting churches in coffee houses, in warehouses, in homes and movie theaters. Not all church plants can succeed with the UM label. We need to insist on UM theology and accountability but not require these new starts to carry a label that is a huge hurdle for some people.
We must recognize that growing churches of the future will be multicultural.
Thirty years ago I was taught that fast-growing churches were homogeneous. Not anymore! Many thriving churches are multicultural, especially in our cities.
Most of our conferences are behind the time on this trend. We need to educate, place, and promote pastors who are bilingual and effective in developing these churches.
We must encourage and embrace innovative and contemporary worship.
This does not mean churches like mine should stop offering “traditional,” main-sanctuary worship services. Our traditional service is still relevant and growing. Yet the trends tell us that innovative worship is here to stay.
We must be wiling to use modern media to 1) reach the unchurched, 2) teach the Gospel to a visual culture, and 3) communicate with people through the modes of communication that they use daily. We must require our seminaries to respect this trend and teach how to be effective in using communication technology.
Virtual churches will be common in the next decade. Will the UMC be a part of this movement or leave it to non-denominational churches?
We must offer sound doctrine and serious discipleship.
People may choose a church based on the style of worship, the preacher, and the programs. But they stay and commit to a church that disciples them to a cause and a movement that is changing the world. Therefore, we must embrace our Methodist roots and bring scriptural holiness to every community we serve.
People are drawn to high-commitment churches. So let us clearly state the membership expectations of prayer, worship, tithing, and servant living.
Thirty years in ministry have demonstrated to me that God’s Kingdom-design for a community will be served by faithful churches and visionary leaders.
The future of our movement depends on our willingness to be committed to change and innovation regardless of the hardships. May God find many United Methodist churches that will be faithful to His call.
To serve the present age, my calling to fulfill:
O may it all my powers engage to do my Master’s will!
A version of this column previously appeared in the newsletter of the Wesleyan Renewal Movement.
The WRM is a group of North Georgia clergy seeking “to promote the election of delegates to General and Jurisdictional Conferences who are committed to ensuring the Book of Discipline and the election of bishops reflect [the] principles of Wesley and the Bible.”
Bishop Scott Jones (Kansas Area) is scheduled to speak at next month’s WRM annual breakfast (June 18) in Athens, Ga., concurrent with the 2010 session of the North Georgia Annual Conference.