For any church to function, it needs to have a certain level of basic doctrinal and moral standards (especially for ordained clergy and others in leadership), some clear policies followed with some degree of consistency, and a culture in which members can trust that those set aside for ordained pastoral leadership will have enough integrity to be men and women who keep their own word.
Yet now a wealthy unofficial caucus group is actually offering to pay United Methodist clergy who break their ordination vows.
My denomination’s rulebook, the Book of Discipline, rather explicitly requires ordained United Methodist clergy to commit to a Christian lifestyle of abstaining from sexual relations outside of monogamous, man-woman marriage, and requires that no one gets fully ordained until they have vowed before God and the church that they personally believe, “[a]fter full examination” that the UMC’s official doctrines “are in harmony with the Holy Scriptures,” that they personally “approve” of our denomination’s rules, and that they will “support and maintain” these rules. As readers are well aware by now, these UMC rules they vow to “support and maintain” include clear bans on “ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions.”
But now the Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN) has have set up a “Clergy Defense and Resiliency Fund,” which RMN describes as designed to support United Methodist clergy who choose to break their own word by performing such ceremonies, as well as ordination candidates who are unwilling to commit to our denomination’s biblical standards for sexual self-control.
RMN is an unofficial caucus devoted to demanding, by any means necessary, United Methodist Church support for homosexual practice along with pre-marital cohabitation, and since at least 1998, the anti-monogamy practice of “polyamory” (concurrent multiple sexual partners).
So when a Virginia pastor, Rev. Amanda Garber, was recently given a (rather short) suspension without pay for conducting a same-sex union service, RMN bragged about immediately rushing in to send a check “in the full amount Rev. Garber would have otherwise lost.” Thus a group independent of the official United Methodist Church structure, a group which is opposed to our denomination’s historic, official doctrinal standards, is throwing around its wealth to nullify what it describes as “the financial deterrent the Virginia Conference is choosing to place upon the Rev. Garber,” thus undermining the official church leadership body’s ability to do its work in accordance with our doctrine and standards.
Huge questions of ethics and principles that arise when a United Methodist minister appointed to pastor a local congregation switches (at least for a time) from being salaried by the church to instead becoming financially beholden to such a covenant-breaking, disruptive caucus group. And what about the ethics of people outside the boundaries of a church’s doctrine sending direct payments as a sort of reward for clergy of that church who betray their vows to God and to the church (including to members of their congregation)? Or using money from secular foundations (who have no interest in our church’s tradition and biblical doctrine) to financially entice our clergy to betray our tradition and doctrine, or at least remove financial disincentives against such betrayals? It’s not clear that RMN and its supporters have given much thought to such questions.
RMN is indeed rather wealthy. It has twelve staffers and in 2013 received $1.3 million in revenue.
While they emphasize that the donations they receive from individual members of the United Methodist Church, they have also received heavy financial support from non-church, secular foundations.
Last year alone, RMN received $181,920 from the Arcus Foundation, a grant explicitly given to RMN for the sake of “clergy who engage in acts of ecclesial disobedience in the name of LGBTQ justice and work with coalitions for policy change within the United Methodist Church.” Until last year, another major unofficial liberal United Methodist caucus, the Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA), reported that one of its four non-intern staff positions was funded by this same Arcus Foundation. According to a 2008 profile in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, the Arcus Foundation is based on the fortune of billionaire Jon Stryker, a gay activist who has also spent millions on partisan political campaigns, has targeted religious institutions as a key barrier against its own values on LGBTQ liberation, and “gives more than any other grantmaker” does to gay-rights groups.
Rev. Karen Booth, who serves on the UMAction Advisory Board member, has further documented how secular foundations and political groups have heavily financially invested in supporting the efforts of activists seeking to undermine and overturn our denomination’s adherence to the basic Christian sexual ethics demanded by Scripture and our denomination’s official, historic doctrinal standards.
RMN is itself a formal “organizational partner” of the Institute for Welcoming Resources, a program of the multi-million-dollar, secular National Gay and Lesbian Task Force devoted to supporting sexual liberalization efforts within religious bodies.
Another purely secular gay-rights group, GLAAD, has boasted of working “to support Bishop Talbert” and others undermining our denomination’s biblical doctrine and standards.
But with all of their money and lucrative connections, neither RMN nor its wealthy secular supporters appear to have any interest in even partially reimbursing our denomination for their illegal protest that shut down the 2012 General Conference and cost an estimated $180,000 in apportionments taken from our congregations’ offering plates.
All of this seems worth keeping in mind at our denomination’s regional annual conference sessions this spring when we see that certain General Conference candidates are endorsed by local “Reconciling” and MFSA leaders and teams.