Many United Methodists have questioned what foundation, spiritual or otherwise, undergirds the work of our denomination’s multi-million-dollar D.C. political lobby office, the General Board of Church and Society (GBCS).
The Spring 2015 meeting of its board of directors did little to assuage such concerns. Instead, it featured sloppy misuse of Scripture along with bizarre and borderline pantheistic prayers invoking “Mother Earth” and calling agricultural crops “sisters.”
One of the morning worship times featured the awkward spectacle of two young, white Americans (a GBCS staffer and a board member) leading the group in prayers seemingly based in pre-Christian Native American spirituality, without many in the room having much understanding of the values and worldview shaping the ritual.
Director Kurt Karandy of Upper New York asked GBCS directors and staff to “extend a greeting to our Mother Earth” and solemnly described “the four winds” as “our grandfathers.” Staffer Susan Burton reverently gave thanks for “the three sisters,” corn, squash, and another crop. The worship guide from which they were reading was developed by some Native American individuals.
My live-tweeting about the GBCS’s use of familial names for non-human parts of the natural world led to probably the bizarrest chat in the history of the UMC twitterverse, a debate on whether or not we humans are genetically related to the wind.
The church is right to be concerned about the historic oppression and ongoing mistreatments of Native Americans. And yes, there have been bad and sinful legacies of efforts to spread the Christian Gospel being too tied to spreading Western culture and disrespecting other cultures, though the actual history is a lot more complicated than contemporary anti-missions ideology imagines. And for the record, evangelical renewal groups in the UMC supported an earlier General Conference petition that affirmed aspects of Native cultures that are consistent with Christianity.
But is the best, most Christian way to express solidarity with Native Americans (or American Indians, as many prefer to be called) to fetish-ize this entire people group with a sort of romantic racism, by acting as if there is something inherently especially spiritually pure or above-critique about this idealized race of humanity, following the old tradition of projecting onto this people group imagined ideals of “noble savages,” or getting shallow thrills from dabbling in rituals reflecting their pre-Christian cultural tradition without taking the time to even understand them? Or is doing this actually dehumanizing, for disregarding how individuals of Native descent are just as complex, non-monolithic, beautiful, prone-to-sin, intelligent, and in-need-of-Christian-salvation as any of the rest of us?
Some may speak or act as if church leaders of non-Native descent should never, ever criticize rituals by Native Americans reflecting a “Native American worldview,” even when such rituals are competently understood to express beliefs and values contrary to biblical Christian teaching.
By that same logic, why wouldn’t future GBCS worship sessions feature praying to Zeus, since that’s no less part of the cultural heritage of Greek-American United Methodists?
One of the resolutions adopted at this GBCS meeting shallowly referenced the allegedly shared prayer of “all religions” for peace. No one with much understanding of world religions, in history or today, would ever speak as if any central value or truth is common to ALL religions. After all, human sacrifice is hardly consistent with any meaningful definitions of “peace,” yet has been a major part of the religion of Molech-worshippers and others.
The GBCS’s use of Scripture in many of its resolutions gives every appearance of the GBCS staff deciding on their political agenda based on their secular, partisan political loyalties and favorite MSNBC pundits, and subsequently rather hastily skimming through a concordance to find a convenient biblical proof-text to help their resolutions sound more “churchy,” without noticing or caring if they are taking the Scripture verses wildly out of context.
For example, one resolution adopted at this meeting cites what is actually a Levitical regulation to protect familial inheritance of tribal lands in theocratic Israel as a proof-text against certain coal-mining practices in Appalachia. Another cites a Pauline verse about reducing hostility between Jew and Gentiles within the church as an embarrassingly out-of-context proof-text for talking about military peace between religiously diverse nations.
Multiple resolutions speak as if everyone created in God’s image is a “child of God.” It is a very important distinction, even if some see it as subtle.
The idea that “everyone is a child of God” has its roots not in Scripture but in Universalism, the liberal religion that claims no one really needs to be saved since everyone goes to Heaven anyway.
Scripture certainly teaches that God creates every human being in His own image, that He preciously loves each one, and desires their salvation. But the New Testament could hardly be more explicit, whenever it actually speaks of someone being a “child of God,” that this a technical theological phrase that properly refers ONLY to that minority of humanity who have been made so through adoption, while the majority of humanity remain “children of the Devil.” 1 John addresses this distinction at length, while Jesus Himself was willing to tell some children of the Devil to their face that that’s what they were.
The fact that most of our neighbors are NOT (yet) children of God should fill us with holy sorrow, and an urgent commitment to the Great Commission of getting new people to become adopted children of God. And yes, it should make us want to restrain embarrassing public statements of church officials that “give people one more reason not to be United Methodist,” as a pastor of one of the largest United Methodist congregations in the North Central U.S. quipped about the GBCS’s divisive, partisan lobbying for Obamacare.
Some other highlights from this board meeting are also worth noting.
The GBCS approved a grant to MARCHA, our denomination’s unofficial Hispanic caucus. In recent years, some within the liberal-caucus world, with which the GBCS has completely identified itself, have sought to strategically engineer the support of leaders of ethnic caucuses like MARCHA for liberal agendas on supporting late-term abortion and “anything goes” sexual ethics, regardless of the limited support for such agendas among the ethnic church-member constituencies supposedly represented. Is the GBCS, which often operates more like a caucus for the most liberal faction of the church rather than a ministry of and for the whole UMC, trying to use its vast wealth to literally buy favor with key strategic players?
In her General Secretary’s Address, GBCS CEO Susan Henry-Crowe identified as a key challenge facing the board “creating cultures of trust, respect, and engagement” and responsible use of social media, prompted murmurs of apparent agreement.
This was in obvious reference to the incident in January in which Bill Mefford, the GBCS’s lead staffer for “human rights” used the anti-abortion March for Life as an occasion to display and tweet about the open contempt GBCS staffers have long displayed against less liberal United Methodists. Mefford is now back on social media, after a brief apparent suspension from it. He has removed his tweet of his sign mocking pro-lifers and laughing at abortion, and also deleted his “I’m sorry you felt that way” blog post about it. But he has left up other tweets from the time (here, here, and here) in which he remains unapologetic, but rather seems to accept a narrative that he was somehow the victim and that those who objected to his little stunt were simply “haters” with no legitimate concerns.
In any case, Matthew Maule reported on how it did not take long after Henry-Crowe’s own apology statement for her staff to get right back to treating human babies as less valuable than sandwiches.
Another major part of this meeting’s agenda was hearing reports from consultations the GBCS held around the world on the UMC’s official Social Principles, which express the values on Christian social concerns the GBCS is charged with promoting.
Participants in Africa expressed their concern that the UMC’s Social Principles should more clearly show their rootedness in the Bible and in our theology, in ways that our understandable to average church members.
Dan Dick, a liberal director from Wisconsin who was part of these consultations, expressed his opinion that the church should move away from having such “one-size-fits-all” social values, suggesting we instead allow for different global regions of the church to have greater flexibility to take their own separate positions. This is further evidence that allowing the U.S. church to set its own values on issues like sexual morality and abortion, without the input of our peskily orthodox overseas brethren, is part of the hidden agenda of this Social Principles re-visioning process.
For the consultations in the United States, the GBCS staff appeared to select a group of participants, who, like its board, was rather stacked to make sure that the most theologically and politically liberal voices were the main ones heard. For example, rhetoric at these U.S. consultations questioned the Social Principles current opposition to assisted suicide and euthanasia.
The GBCS directors adopted a petition for the next General Conference to spend extra money for a new process of comprehensively rewriting the UMC Social Principles, a process in which the GBCS will have a key oversight role.
They adopted this after a couple people claimed that the GBCS is somehow more representative of our global denomination than General Conference. I have reported earlier on how the GBCS’s American directors are overwhelmingly stacked with leaders from the most theologically liberal and politically leftist wing of the church. And in a denomination in which some 40 percent of membership resides in Sub-Saharan Africa, the GBCS chooses to structure its own board of directors to limit Africans to three token slots (less than five percent of the whole).
More often than not, the GBCS has generally chosen to act exclusively as an arm of the most liberal wing of the U.S. church. Its U.S. staff is monolithically theologically and politically progressive.
As noted above, it does not take care to ensure that its work proceeds from a theologically solid, biblical foundation. Instead, it has no problem dabbling in “Mother Earth” prayers and directly opposing parts of biblical teaching that challenge GBCS-ers’ values as loyalists of the left wing of one of the two major American secular political parties.
The GBCS political agenda reflexively includes such far-left causes investing North Korea, divesting from Israel, legalizing drugs and prostitution, and demonizing the U.S. military.
In terms of basic competence, the GBCS has a habit of endorsing laws they’ve never read, making strong factual claims without doing all their homework to verify their truthfulness, and moving at an artificially rushed pace to achieve in embarrassingly sloppy work in exchange for directors getting to use part of their time in D.C. as a free apportionment-funded vacation (rather than spending all of the scheduled time to do the church’s work more carefully).
Is this really the group that has earned the greatest trust of United Methodists for comprehensively rewriting as important an official document of our church as the entire Social Principles?Google+