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Whatever benefits a restructuring The United Methodist Church may bring, it will not result in the UMC becoming more effective in its stated mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ, according to Rob Renfroe, the president of Good News, the oldest and largest renewal ministry within United Methodism.

The Rev. Rob Renfroe

In a radio interview that aired April 21, Renfroe said that to increase effectiveness, the UMC needs more “spiritually impassioned, Christ-centered…leaders [who will] speak to us about a lost world and a gospel that saves people.”

The interview aired on the The World and Everything in It, a weekly radio program produced by WORLD News Group, the organization that publishes WORLD Magazine.

On the topic of repeated legislative attempts to alter The United Methodist Church’s doctrine on human sexuality, Renfroe said the church’s ministry to people suffering “sexual brokenness” would be undermined if the General Conference opts to affirm sexual relations between people of the same sex.

“Once we decide that homosexuality…is a good gift of God that deserves to be blessed, we have in that moment abdicated the healing ministry of the church,” he said.

Use the audio player below to listen to the six-minute conversation with Rob Renfroe. If the audio player doesn’t work, use this mp3 file.

(NOTE: The interview with Rob Renfroe follows a brief segment on the the recent legal settlement between the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia and Truro Anglican Church. Truro broke from The Episcopal Church in early 2007 over concerns related to biblical fidelity.)

Rob Renfroe has served as the president of Good News — and the publisher of Good News magazine — since 2009. He is also the pastor of adult discipleship at The Woodlands United Methodist Church in The Woodlands, Texas.

From 2007-2009, he served as president of the board of the Confessing Movement Within the United Methodist Church.


Related posts
Should United Methodists agree to disagree on homosexuality?
UMC restructuring: Power shifts, turf battles and trust
Bishop Mack Stokes: Holiness in human sexuality
Podcast: Rob Renfroe on ‘The Truth About God’
A word from Mr. Wesley: Holiness in singleness
Renewal & Reform Coalition releases letter to Council of Bishops
UM renewal leader: ‘The UMC is worth fighting for’
Podcast: Rob Renfroe on ‘The Deeper Issues of Methodist Renewal’
Podcast: Dr. James Heidinger on ‘United Methodist Renewal’
Podcast: Charles Keysor – ‘How then should UM evangelicals fight?’

Related articles and information
The deeper issues of United Methodist renewal | Rob Renfroe, Good News (via The Sundry Times)
Compromising positions | Rob Renfroe, Good News (May-June 2011)
What do United Methodists expect from their bishops? | Rob Renfroe, Good News (Feb. 17, 2011)
Should the UMC change its ordination standards and allow sexually active homosexuals to serve as clergy? | Rob Renfroe, Good News (Feb. 17, 2011)
In pursuit of truth | Rob Renfroe, Good News (January/February 2011)
Believe, experience, and increase | Rob Renfroe, Good News (June/July 2010)
Grace and truth (video) | Rob Renfroe, Asbury Seminary Chapel (April 13, 2010)
Speaking the truth in love | Rob Renfroe, Good News (September/October 2009)
For the cause of Christ (PDF) | Rob Renfroe, Good News (May/June 2009)
Defining the issues: A Methodist witness | Albert Mohler (Nov. 1, 2006)
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)
Turning Around the Mainline: How Renewal Movements Are Changing the Church (ordering info) | Thomas C. Oden, Baker Books (2006)
40 years of vision for United Methodist Renewal (PDF) | James V. Heidinger II, Good News (November/December 2007)
The story of Good News: A recollection by Charles W. Keysor (PDF) | Good News (March/April 1981)
The Junaluska Affirmation: Scriptural Christianity for United Methodists (PDF) | Forum for Scriptural Christianity (Good News) (July 20, 1975)

The following statement was released April 13 by the Renewal and Reform Coalition, composed of Good News, the Confessing Movement Within the United Methodist Church, Lifewatch, RENEW, Transforming Congregations, and UMAction.

Links and subheadings have been added by MethodistThinker.com — Ed.


It’s that time again. General Conference will soon be here and all of us are hoping and praying for a Conference that will “major on the majors” and propel The United Methodist Church toward a vital, growing, and faithful future.

Of course, the issue that has divided us for over 40 years will need to be addressed again. And no doubt the debate regarding the practice of homosexuality will be as heartfelt and as emotional as it has been in the past.

Though other issues such as restructuring, vital congregations, and reaching young adults are essential for our future, none of those issues carries the possibility of splitting the denomination. Only the issue of homosexuality has that potential — will we ordain and appoint practicing homosexual clergy and marry same-sex couples?

Homosexuality is not the most important issue before the church, but it is the most divisive and the one that can rip apart The United Methodist Church, just as it has The United Church of Christ, The Episcopal Church in the U.S., The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and, most recently, The Presbyterian Church (USA).

A proposed ‘compromise’

Some are proposing that we avoid this kind of damage to The United Methodist Church by adopting one of two “compromise” positions. At our last General Conference there was a strong movement simply to “agree to disagree.” This position would have us admit that we are of divided mind regarding homosexual practice and would have us make no definitive statement regarding the practice of homosexuality until we receive “further light.”

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.

While appealing to some, this “compromise” is ultimately unhelpful. We all want to be done with this issue. When a matter is pragmatic and little more, compromise can be the right option to take. Part of growing up is realizing that you can’t and don’t need to get your way all the time.

But when the issue is one of principle and when it involves the clear teaching of Scripture, we cannot take the easy way out and claim that we do not know what we believe without injuring our personal integrity and our corporate witness.

And to be honest, everyone knows that removing the clear statement we currently have in the Discipline would not resolve the issue. It is only a first step by those whose ultimate intention is to change the church’s position. That’s hardly a true compromise.

When the “agree-to-disagree compromise” was defeated in Fort Worth and the historic position of the church was reaffirmed, the charge against those who supported the church’s stance was, “You’re dishonest. We are of divided mind. Why won’t you even allow us to state that we differ?”

It’s a good question. And there’s a very good answer. We United Methodists are divided on practically every issue. But in none of our other statements on matters theological, moral, or cultural do we state that we have agreed to disagree.

Many United Methodists were surprised to discover that our denomination has a position on healthcare that supports the government providing universal coverage. Not only surprised to discover that we had a position, they were adamant that they disagreed with it.

Will those wanting us to adopt the “agree to disagree” position on homosexuality be consistent and ask the General Conference to remove our stance on healthcare and replace it with “we are of divided mind and are waiting for God to give us additional light before we take a position”?

We are divided on the church’s position regarding abortion. Some want us to take a stand against all abortions. Others want us to liberalize our position. Should we have no statement other than “we aren’t sure what we believe about abortion”?

We are divided regarding war. Some of us are pacifists; others adopt a just war viewpoint. Our differences have not kept our Bishops from issuing a statement on war. Nor have our differences kept us from making pronouncements in the Book of Discipline regarding collective bargaining, consumption, civil disobedience, and the death penalty.

None of those positions passed with 100% agreement at General Conference, and none of our positions in the Book of Discipline on those issues begins, “We are of divided mind.”

Another approach

The other “compromise” that will come before General Conference is an “Annual Conference” option. This approach would grant each Conference the autonomy to decide its own policies regarding ordination of practicing homosexual clergy, as well as performing same-sex marriages.

Again, though perhaps well intended, such a solution would be disastrous for the health of our church. We are a connectional body — and we are grateful and even proud of that reality. One of the reasons we are United Methodists is because we believe that a divided church is less than what Christ desires and prayed for in John 17.

In the past we have bemoaned the fragmented nature of the Church Universal and have been dismayed that there are so many “independent” congregations that are autonomous and accountable to no body greater than themselves.

Now, some are trying to make us United Methodists what we have never been to solve a matter of biblical interpretation and ecclesiastical accountability.

Annual Conferences and individual churches are not autonomous when it comes to paying apportionments, infant baptism, or women’s ordination — and they shouldn’t be. It means something to be United Methodists. We cannot violate our very nature to solve a problem just because we want it to go away.

  • The autonomous solution would create chaos. Could an elder ordained in one Annual Conference be denied appointment in another Conference because the second Conference has different ordination standards?
  • The autonomous solution would ruin our witness. Persons looking for a church home could not be certain what they would find in any congregation, and a bad experience in one local church could very easily turn them away from the entire denomination.
  • The autonomous solution would destroy our unity. This would be the first step toward a balkanization of the church that would cause us to drift further apart as time passes. This compromise intended to “keep us together” would insure, over time, just the opposite.
  • The autonomous solution would grant exemptions from church standards. Once exemptions are granted in one area, it will be very difficult to maintain any kind of covenant of mutual accountability within the church.

No promise of ecclesiastical peace and unity can justify these distortions of the church’s theology and polity.

The way forward

We may remain a divided church on the practice of homosexuality for some time to come. That’s a hard place to be. But our way out is not an easy solution that compromises our integrity by saying we don’t know what we believe or dismantles our connectional unity.

Our way forward is to listen to each other respectfully, to remain open to God, to vote our conscience, and to stay committed to each other and to the process of holy conferencing.


Related posts
General Conference 2012: More attempts to change UM standards on sexual behavior
If defiance continues, United Methodism may come crashing down
Podcast: Mark Tooley, author of Taking Back the United Methodist Church
Outcome of DeLong trial likely to exacerbate disunity of UMC
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
The church addresses marriage and sexuality | Thomas A. Lambrecht, Good News (January/February 2012)
Outsider influence over homosexuality at General Conference | Karen Booth, Good News (January/February 2012)
Book Review: Forgetting How To Blush: United Methodism’s Compromise with the Sexual Revolution by Karen Booth | James V. Heidinger II, Good News (March/April 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)
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)
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)

Liza Kittle

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

New ministries for women

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

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

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

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

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

Ministry models already in place

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

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

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

Embracing opportunity

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

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


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

Related articles and information
2012 General Conference Visitors’ Guide (PDF)
Connectional Table proposes legislation to implement the Call to Action recommendations | news release (Sept. 2, 2011)
Interim Operations Team Report, as amended by the Connectional Table (PDF) | (Aug. 2, 2011)
UMC renewal demands vital local congregations | Andrew C. Thompson, UM Reporter (June 7, 2011)
Staggering UMW membership loss continues (PDF) | Liza Kittle, Good News (March/April 2011)
The heart cries of women in our pews (PDF) | Liza Kittle, Good News (May/June 2009)
United Methodist ‘Call to Action’ finds 15% of UM churches highly ‘vital’ | Mark Tooley, UMAction—IRD (July 17, 2010)
Methodism’s coming death spiral | Donald Sensing, WindsOfChange.net (Nov. 15, 2007)
40 years of vision for United Methodist Renewal (PDF) | James V. Heidinger II, Good News (November/December 2007)

Steve Hawthorne, director of the prayer ministry Waymakers, offers interesting insights about the event we call Palm Sunday, which this year is celebrated on April 1.

He notes that in the days leading up to the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, Jesus had “instigated a movement of hope throughout the towns and villages of the entire region” as He performed miracles and answered prayers.

triumphal-entry-jesusofnazarethBy the time He rode into Jerusalem to shouts of praise, “the whole city was stirred and [people] asked ‘Who is this?'” (Matt. 21:20).

For several days after the Triumphal Entry, Jesus taught at the temple, and “all the people hung on his words” (Luke 19:48).

By the end of the week, of course, the Lord’s adversaries had him arrested and crucified. But Scripture says the arrest occurred during the dark of the night, “because [Jesus’ enemies] were afraid of the people” (Luke 22:2).

In his Lenten-season prayer guide, Seek God for the City, Hawthorne notes:

1) “Palm Sunday shines as prophetic picture of the spiritual awakening Christ desires to bring [in communities everywhere]”; and

2) “Whenever there has been revival, it has been a partial fulfillment of the promise of Palm Sunday.”

To help pastors, Sunday School teachers, and small-group leaders explain the significance of Palm Sunday, Waymakers has posted background information here, along with three sermon suggestions.

Use the audio player below to listen to a 12-minute excerpt of Steve Hawthorne teaching about Palm Sunday and Holy Week. He was recorded in 2008 at Christ Church in Austin, Texas, a congregation associated with the Anglican Church in North America. (Player won’t work? Click here.)

Steve Hawthorne holds a Masters degree from the School of World Mission at Fuller Theological Seminary. With Graham Kendrick, he is the co-author of Prayerwalking: Praying On-Site with Insight.

A Palm Sunday prayer: “Father, we pray for spiritual awakening and shouts of praise here, as Jesus enters our city with His presence and power. Stir people to ask, ‘Who is this?’ — that we might proclaim to them the One who is the way, the truth, and the life.”


Related resources
Background information about Palm Sunday, plus three Palm Sunday sermon suggestions | Waymakers
A Service of Prayer, Scripture and Song for Holy Week | United Methodist General Board of Discipleship

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.


Related posts
MLK’s address to the Methodist Student Movement
Podcast: Mark Tooley, author of ‘Taking Back the United Methodist Church’
UMW leaders, UM bishops disparage Arizona immigration law, rally for ‘comprehensive immigration reform’
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)

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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Why the United Methodist Church cannot condone homosexuality
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Breaking the covenant: Why aren’t ‘Reconciling’ churches being held to account?
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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)

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.


Related posts
January in Christian History
February in Christian History

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 slightly different form in the Confessing Movement’s e-publication, “Happenings Around the Church.”

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


Every four years the General Conference of The United Methodist Church meets to set programs and visions for the next quadrennium (the coming four years), approve legislation that will revise the church’s Book of Discipline, accept a four-year budget for the general church, and consider the church’s position on various issues. The next General Conference will occur in less than three months — April 24-May 4 in Tampa, Fla.

Two proposals “hover near the top of the controversy list” for the conference, according to a recent article by United Methodist News Service (UMNS). One proposal (PDF) calls for restructuring the denomination by, among other things, consolidating nine of the church’s 13 general agencies into a Center for Connectional Mission and Ministry under a 15-member board. The other (PDF) would end job guarantees for ordained elders.

(The UMNS story failed to mention the elephant in the room: homosexuality. Issues related to homosexual relationships, including the church’s general view of moral standards and its understanding of family, have the potential to fracture the denomination. But that is another discussion.)

Restructuring is sorely needed

Evangelicals have been calling for restructuring for 40 years! The 1972 restructuring of the UMC, which came about in the wake of the 1968 merger of The Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren, institutionalized the radical social agenda of the day.

Just four years after its founding, the UMC adopted doctrinal pluralism, depreciated evangelism at the expense of social action, mandated social engineering by way of quota systems (PDF), created independent superboards, and created impossibly huge and expensive boards of directors for the agencies (the General Board of Global Ministries originally had 160 directors).

The underlying assumption of the 1972 structure seemed to be that the “real” United Methodist Church was to be found in its boards and agencies and the local church existed to support those agencies.

Under the 1972 structure, The United Methodist Church in the United States has lost 3.3 million members.

As has been pointed out, if the church were a corporation run by a competent board of directors, the leadership of the church would have been fired and the corporation re-organized long before now.

Finally, within the past few years, the church is facing up to its problems. Even without restructuring, the agencies are facing a 6.5% cut in funding. Staff has already been reduced from 3,139 in 1971 to 1,384 in 2010. The average age of a United Methodist Church member is now 57.

Faced with these facts, the Connectional Table and the Council of Bishops ordered independent studies (here and here—both in PDF) to assess why our present way of doing things is not serving us well. The studies came back with several conclusions. Among them: the agencies are out of touch with local churches; the boards of directors are too big (and costly); and there is much duplication of efforts.

Out of the studies came a “Call to Action” report (PDF), laying out principles and a process. Out of the Call to Action process has come an Interim Operations Team that has prepared the legislation for General Conference 2012.

The proposed legislation (PDF) calls for combining nine of the program agencies into four “ministry centers” (a new word for a general agency). Over the ministry centers would be a group — the Center for Connectional Mission and Ministry — that would be directed by a 15-member board. (This body would replace the present Connectional Table which coordinates the work of the agencies.)

The four ministry centers would operate with reduced-sized boards of directors, and, presumably, with less money and probably fewer staff than they presently have. Meanwhile, the overseer body, the Center for Connectional Ministry, would be able to align and reallocate funds in order to focus on increased local church vitality. All of this will be done in consultation with the Council of Bishops.

Battling over turf

The church seems to be dividing up sides on the restructuring proposal.

  • There is a group that thinks that something (anything!) should be done, and that this proposal is as good as can be hoped for.
  • The general agencies themselves are critical of the IOT legislation; a number of agencies are preparing alternative legislation. The agencies believe that their interests will receive less money and some present staff would lose their jobs. The heads of the agencies have made a public statement (PDF) saying that vital services to the church will suffer.
  • The Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA) believes the church’s social witness would be compromised.

In other words, turf battles abound. There will be winners and losers. There will be smaller boards, less money to work with, and a different accountability process.

Especially troubling for some is the proposal that the Center for Connectional Mission and Ministry with its 15-member board will be able to reallocate up to $60 million in program funds during the quadrennium. For some, this concentrates too much power in the hands of too few people.

If there are winners it would appear to be the Council of Bishops. The bishops believe the church is suffering from lack of strong executive management, and that the (controversial) 15-member committee can provide that management voice.

But lurking in the background would be the bishops. The plan calls for the 15-member committee to be “in consultation with the Council of Bishops.” That troubles many people. It has been pointed out that bishops do not do “in consultation with” well. Plus the bishops will have a strong hand in deciding the makeup the 15-member board.

Would a new structure be good for the church — or does it have the potential to make things even worse? The answer to that question appears to be based on a prior question: How much do we trust our bishops?

An evangelical view

No place in the current official structure of The United Methodist Church is particularly receptive to evangelical influence, so evangelicals are in some ways disinterested observers in this process. Because they have no real turf to protect, nothing much can be lost. But cutting the power of the boards and agencies and allowing more funds to be used by local churches for mission and ministry would be a positive outcome.

Of course, many UM evangelicals believe the foundational problem in the UMC isn’t structure, but rather theological and moral integrity. None of the restructuring proposals address the underlying issue of United Methodist doctrine.


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Related articles and information
2012 General Conference Visitors’ Guide (PDF)
General Conference to weigh merits of adopting a New Method | Ed Tomlinson, North Georgia Advocate (Feb. 3, 2012)
2 big disputes ahead at General Conference | Heather Hahn, United Methodist News Service (Jan. 9, 2012)
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)
Unity Task Force Meeting: Dialogue with Renewal Leaders (PDF) | Meeting with the Council of Bishops Unity Task Force, Lake Junaluska, N.C. (Nov. 5, 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)
Statement in opposition to the 1972 Structure Study Commission Report (PDF) | Albert C. Outler, from the Journal of the 1972 General Conference (April 17, 1972)
UMC realities (video–see below) | Lovett H. Weems, Jr., Lewis Center for Church Leadership (March 2011)
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
January in Christian history

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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Riley Case: ‘Operational Assessment’ shows UMC has lost its way
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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)

Jan. 22 marked the 39th anniversary of the United States Supreme Court’s decisions in the cases of Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton. Taken together, the two rulings (authored by Justice Harry Blackmun, a United Methodist) effectively voided dozens of state laws aimed at protecting unborn children from abortion.

Sign outside a UM Church in North Georgia

Since then, abortion doctors have performed more than 50 million abortions in the U.S. — primarily for purposes of birth control rather than for medical reasons. On average, more than 3,000 abortions occur in America every day.

In 2005, on the 32nd anniversary of the Supreme Court’s 1973 abortion decisions, United Methodist Bishop Timothy Whitaker of the Florida Conference addressed the topic of how faithfulness to the gospel and to the Wesleyan tradition demands a pro-life position on abortion.

Speaking to the annual gathering of Lifewatch, the UM pro-life caucus, he called on United Methodists to stand against “the violence of abortion in the name of the God of peace.”

Below are excerpts from Bishop Whitaker’s address, followed by audio of his remarks.

When John Wesley gave the General Rules to the people called Methodists the first thing he told them was, “Do no harm.” In order to show evidence that we are a people who are being saved by God, we should do no harm.

The rule to do no harm directs those of us who are Christians to practice non-violence. A Christian is someone who is horrified by violence, refrains from violence in her or his life, and seeks to restrain violence in the world insofar as possible….

When Jesus was born, all of the angels in heaven praised God and promised peace on earth.

When he grew up he inaugurated his ministry by being baptized by John in the Jordan River, and the Spirit of God confirmed that he was the Son of God by descending upon him not as an eagle but as a dove, the bird of peace.

Bishop Timothy Whitaker

Bishop Timothy Whitaker

He taught the people, saying, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called the children of God.”

As one would expect in a world of violence the Prince of Peace suffered a violent death…. By his violent death he overcame violence. Then God vindicated him by raising him from the dead; and when he appeared to his disciples he announced, “Peace be with you.”

On the Day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit descended upon his disciples, and the church was born. The church is a community from all of the nations called to be a peaceable people who follow Jesus until he comes again at the end of history and establishes that kingdom where “death will be no more: mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4 NRSV).

We who are the church are called to be a peaceable people. In our practices and in our public witness we are called to make peace in the world. We acknowledge that the ultimate kingdom of peace has not yet been established by God.

We ourselves cannot build the kingdom, but we can build for the kingdom. We can live and witness in ways that can lead to a more tangible peace here and now that points to the coming kingdom of God….

Pope John Paul II made a powerful Christian witness to God’s peaceable purposes in his 1995 encyclical called The Gospel of Life. He warned the world about creating “a culture of death” that is rebellion against “the Gospel of life.”

He showed us that a culture of death is one that endorses abortion, euthanasia, and capital punishment.* He asserted that the commandment, “You shall not kill,” is integral to the revelation of God….

In the United Methodist Church we ought to apply our theological reflection, our pastoral guidance and our public witness against the violence of abortion in the name of the God of peace…

I think that our silence and passivity about abortion comes from the difficulty of being a Christian in America.

The logo of Lifewatch,
the pro-life UM caucus

I used to think that being a Christian in America is easy. I thought it would be hard to be a Christian in a country dominated by other religions, or in a Communist country where atheism was avowed by the state, but I thought it was easy to be a Christian here.

Now I realize that practicing the Christian life in America has its own difficulties. The seductions of American life may seem more subtle, but they are real and dangerous.

In America both the culture and the state view persons as autonomous individuals who have private rights to live as they choose.

But we who are Christians have a different anthropology: we view persons as members of a community who are made in the image of the Triune God and who have both rights and responsibilities.

Therefore, we cannot endorse a woman’s right to abort an unborn child as a morally neutral decision because we understand that the child also has a right to live and the community has a responsibility to care for this child if the mother is unable to rear it….

Can there be any doubt that there is silence and passivity about abortion in our Church?

How often is a sermon about abortion or an educational forum on abortion offered in our congregations? How many congregations are involved in supporting crisis pregnancy centers in their communities or offering tangible support to women with unwanted pregnancies? What kind of pastoral counsel is being offered behind the closed doors of the pastor’s office?….

(UMNS photo)

We who are United Methodist Christians should continue to seek to embody in our teaching, pastoral guidance, congregational care and public witness the preservation of human life, and a protest against the killing of human life, in the name of the God of peace….

It is often said that there is no clear prescription against abortion in the Bible. That is because such a horror is unthinkable and unspeakable to the people of Israel and to the people called the church….

From the very beginning Christians everywhere have felt this revulsion against the killing of human life. As Christians moved into the wider world where abortion was not unthinkable or unspeakable they had to apply the divine commandment against murder to the horrible practice of abortion….

In our time and place, in our own Christian communion, we who are United Methodists also have a responsibility to live according to our first rule, which is to do no harm. Do no harm to the unborn! Do no harm to the witness of the Church as a peaceable people! Do no harm to the Gospel of peace!

Use the audio player below to listen to a portion of Bishop Whitaker’s 2005 address, Do No Harm!, delivered in the Simpson Chapel at the United Methodist Building in Washington, D.C. (8.5 minutes).

The full text of Bishop Whitaker’s 2005 address is included in the March 2005 Lifewatch newsletter (PDF).

The speaker at this year’s Lifewatch service is the Rev. Jim Heidinger, former president of the UM renewal ministry Good News. The service will be held today (Monday) at the United Methodist Building (PDF) on Capitol Hill.

Use of the facility is not donated by the UMC’s General Board of Church and Society, which is a member of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC) a group that supports legalized abortion. Rather, Lifewatch rents space in the UM Building for its annual service and board meeting.

In a recent press release, RCRC accused pro-life “zealots” of waging a “war on women.”

In conjunction with MoveOn.org, RCRC is currently sponsoring a “Virtual March for Women’s Lives” as part of a promotion called “Trust Women Week.”

Other groups co-sponsoring the “Virtual March” include the Center for Reproductive Rights, NARAL Pro-Choice America, the National Organization for Women, the Feminist Majority Foundation, Fund Abortion Now, and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

In addition the annual Lifewatch service, the March for Life to the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to take place Monday, preceded by a rally on the National Mall. The rally and march draw tens of thousands of pro-lifers each year.

The March of Life events (i.e., pre-rally activity, the rally, and the march itself) will air live on EWTN, the Roman Catholic cable/satellite channel, beginning at 11 a.m. ET. Live online audio and video will be available here.

The March for Life rally will also air live on C-SPAN 2 (live online video here starting at Noon ET).

EWTN will re-broadcast the March for Life events tonight (Monday) at 11 o’clock ET and again on Saturday, Jan. 28, at 2 p.m. ET.

The March for Life has been held annually since 1974.

*Editor’s note: In The Gospel of Life (Evangelium Vitae), Pope John Paul wrote that punishment of a murderer “ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessity: in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society. Today however, as a result of steady improvements in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practically non-existent.”

This blog post is adapted from a post first published in 2009.


Related posts
The Manhattan Declaration: In defense of human life
United Methodists praying, speaking, and marching for life
Why aren’t UM leaders supporting the Manhattan Declaration?
Party platforms and the UMC
UM pro-life group urges Sen. Ben Nelson: ‘Do no harm’
UM Board of Church and Society withdraws support for Freedom of Choice Act
Bill Bouknight: The good news from General Conference ’08

Related articles
How a pastor might first broach the abortion issue with his congregation | Paul T. Stallsworth, Remarks at the 2010 Convention of National Right to Life, Pittsburgh, Pa. (June 2010)
NOTE: The Rev. Mr. Stallsworth is president of the Taskforce of United Methodists on Abortion and Sexuality and editor of the Lifewatch newsletter.
United Methodist Bishop Scott Jones addresses pro-life event | Connor Ewing, IRD (Jan. 22, 2010)
Presentation to the Study Committee on the Worldwide Nature of The United Methodist Church | Paul Stallsworth, Lifewatch (November 2009)
United Methodists and abortion today | Bishop Timothy Whitaker (Feb. 9, 2009)
United Methodism on abortion | Paul T. Stallsworth, On the Square—First Things (May 29, 2008)
The pro-life pulpit | Lynne M. Thompson, At The Center (Winter 2005)
Roe ruling: More than its author intended | David G. Savage, Los Angeles Times—via HispanicPundit.com (Sept. 14, 2005)
Diversity of life: Opposition to abortion spans ideologies and ethnic groups | Gene Edward Veith, WORLD—via National Pro-Life Religious Council (Nov. 6, 2004)
The sanctification of human life (a historical overview of the Christian church’s position on abortion and other issues related to the sanctity of human life) — Chapter 2 of How Christianity Changed the World | Alvin Schmidt (Zondervan, 2004 — via Google Books)
Why is the New Testament silent about abortion? | Michael J. Gorman, Good News (May/June 1993)
‘Durham Declaration’ asks for ‘Scriptural approach’ to abortion in the UMC; Signatories include Bishops Ole E. Borgen and William R. Cannon | United Methodist News Service (March 12, 1991)
Text of the Durham Declaration (January 1991)