UM Voices

by Katy Kiser

Guest Writer

September 23, 2015

Where Will Progressive United Methodists Go From Here?

Katy Kiser is a longtime United Methodist and freelance writer from Texas.


This is my third and final article on the Gather at the River conference.  In Methodist Protest Caucuses: “We Are Coming For the Institution” I covered the progressive UMC caucus leaders’ harsh and angry words for the institution of the United Methodist Church. My second article, The Coming Train Wreck, dealt with progressive plans to disrupt General Conference 2016.

Gather at the River boasted 700 plus attendees, most of which appeared to be middle aged or older, white, married and possibly just sympathizers of the LGBTQ movement in the church. Of the few young people in attendance, the majority were presenters and staff. Although there is no reason to believe changing the church’s biblical teaching on human sexuality will draw millennials, nevertheless, the caucuses and those who support them have a loud and strong voice in the United Methodist Church.

In this final article, I will examine where the progressive United Methodist caucuses hope to go from here and take a brief look at the revisionist biblical teaching they use to support their agenda.

One theme that will no doubt define and guide the future work of progressive caucuses is that of “transgenderism.” Trans, queer, non-binary, and gender non-nonconforming are just a few of the many terms employed at this conference to describe transgenderism, which was celebrated as an emerging frontier. The term transgenderism refers to a growing phenomenon of persons whose gender identity, expression or behavior does not conform to that associated with the sex to which they were assigned at birth. Some use the phrase “biblical obedience” to describe a transgendered person’s faithfulness to submit to their truth or understanding of what God created them to be even if it defies their biological reality.

Transgenderism was celebrated at the gathering in worship, dance, preaching and the sharing of personal stories. Name badges displayed the preferred pronouns of all participants. So that all transgendered persons felt comfortable at Travis Park UMC, where the gathering was held, all restrooms had been designated “gender neutral” on the bottom three floors of the church. Only the top floor had separate facilities for women and men. Eliminating “transphobia” and combating “heterosexism” are emerging justice issues for progressive United Methodists.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court legally redefined the institution of marriage to include same-sex couples. Strikingly, this was hardly mentioned at the conference.

The lack of attention to this victory for LGBTQ activists highlights the fact that no longer are we discussing heterosexuality vs. homosexuality or mere gay rights. The biblical and biological distinctions of male and female have expanded to a smorgasbord of gender options.

Another theme that ran throughout the gathering was one of “intersectionality.”  This is the word that has been given to describe the fusing of all “justice issues.” The term refers to a seamless struggle for justice against the “self-preserving forces of pride, exclusion, power and bureaucratic legalism.” “We are not single-issue people,” declared one pastor.

Reconciling Ministries Network used the term “intersectionality” to describe their coalition with eleven liberal United Methodist organizations known as the Love Your Neighbor Coalition (LYNC). The coalition speaks about the intersections of injustice around all issues. Notable was the coalition’s mention of a new “justice issue,” “alternative methods of pregnancy.”

From the beginning, there has been the claim that the struggle to obtain LGBTQ rights was the same struggle as that of the civil rights movement. For the most part progressives have been successful in making this connection regardless of the profound differences. Currently, two staff members of Reconciling Ministries Network are working with leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement, which RMN says includes other “queer people of color.”

Today the LGBTQ movement within the UMC has gone beyond the supposed civil-rights-movement connection, now claiming that all justice issues are LGBTQ issues. By appropriating all social-justice concerns as LGBTQ justice issues, they appear to strategically strengthen their cause and make it difficult to separate legitimate justice issues from those that are not.

In keeping with the “intersectionality” mantra, this conference also promoted some other very different causes. Amidst the variety of workshops offered were a couple appearing to make the move of equating Israel with apartheid-era South African and promoting singling out the world’s lone Jewish state for Boycotts, Sanctions, and Divestment (BDS). One of these workshops was co-led by a co-founder of a group called “Black Laundry—Queers Against the Occupation.” The BDS movement within and beyond the UMC has been extremely callous in its willingness to resort to anti-Semitic rhetoric and completely dismiss concerns about victims of anti-Israel terrorism.

Conference organizers also hosted a workshop on “Reproductive Justice” (a slogan for unrestricted abortion on-demand through all stages of pregnancy), which was led by Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC) official Kathryn Johnson. The workshop was advertised as exploring “intersections between the struggles for LGBTQ justice and reproductive justice.” It is striking that a conference that so vehemently marched under the banner of “inclusion” made clear that their vision of “inclusion” involves acting as if unborn and Israeli lives do NOT matter.

The most striking intersectional remarks were those of Jason Redick, a youth minister in Carrollton, Texas. He stated that, “All intersections point to Jesus. We don’t know about His personal life – I believe that Jesus was Queer, Black and Poor.” He was given thunderous applause.

Underlying the LGBTQ demands for justice in the church is the vague concept of “biblical obedience” which is broadly defined as disobeying the alleged injustices of parts of the UMC’s covenantal Book of Discipline, out of professed faithfulness to a variety of subjective personal understandings of marriage, gender and other justice concerns currently popular among progressive United Methodists. It was first coined by Bishop Melvin Talbert at the 2012 General Conference.

At Gather at the River, Talbert explained that this phrase was intended to counter the idea that the Bible belongs only to the conservatives. “The Bible is our book, too. We can read and interpret, too.” One presenter used the term, “biblical obedience” to describe queer people who live out their lives in obedience to whom they believe they are created to be. RMN’s CEO Matt Berryman added, that they put loyalty to God’s justice before institutional power. They follow “a queer Christ to the margins of life and the intersections of injustice.”

When trying to make sense of their use of the term “biblical obedience” or the revisionist interpretations of the Bible which are offered to support the LGBTQ agenda, it is important to keep in mind certain principles.  First, progressives read the Bible through a liberationist lens where overcoming injustice and obtaining rights are paramount. The focus is on the institution and not the individual heart. Secondly, creative story telling that conveniently supports their pre-conceived political agendas serves as a substitution for sound biblical exegesis. Thirdly, their appeal to the Holy Spirit is an appeal to a spirit who is revealing new evolving truth, which contradicts previous biblical revelation.  In the words of the Rev. Peter Storey, “The Spirit is showing us what once was revered as ancient truth has become uncouth and untenable.”

The lack of sound exegesis was seen throughout the plenary Bible studies led by the Rev. Grace Imathiu of the Northern Illinois conference, formerly of Kenya.  She retold well-known Bible stories to support the LGBTQ struggle for justice in the church. When teaching from Luke 3, she mimicked and mocked those who think they are saved and say to themselves, when they see an African baby, or a LGTBQ person, or someone in prison, “if only they knew Jesus.” She invoked John the Baptist’s words to call them “children of snakes.” She added, “Don’t think you are saved,” because you are American, or white, or live in the white suburb of Chicago.



After sitting through four days of Bible study, preaching, and reports at Gather at the River, it was painfully clear that what orthodox believers see as good – the progressive UMC caucuses see as evil; what they see as light – the orthodox see as darkness. While everyone is looking for a way forward characterized by clarity and moral fortitude, no one agrees how that should be defined.

Many in the church still hold on to the idea that shared ministry, continued dialogue, and a strong commitment to unity can hold this doctrinally fractured denomination together. Meanwhile, the agitation of a minority of United Methodists who reject biblical standards for sexual self-control has become increasingly militant, pushing our church to the breaking point. But in a day when many believe that truth is relative, when a prominent Methodist pastor can say time honored biblical truth is “uncouth and untenable,” will the truth of our situation be faced? And if it won’t be faced at General Conference 2016, then when?

26 Responses to Where Will Progressive United Methodists Go From Here?

  1. Xerxesfire says:

    Thanks for the report. Sadly, I believe the UMC will eventually fracture and become two churches – One filled with moderate and conservative evangelical Methodist Christians, while the other will be hyper liberal in nature. I do not see how the two groups will ever stay together. Nor should they. The Bible says not to be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. Also, many conservatives will grow increasingly frustrated with Annual Conference actions along with the immorality promoted by the liberals, simply to depart and become independent churches, much like the one in central Pennsylvania. May God have mercy on the UMC.

  2. Dan says:

    Wow; just wow! These people are seriously unhinged. Maybe instead of schism we should be talking about exorcism.

  3. ConfessionPastor says:

    If biblical truth was their real objective then they would be following the great commission, or even our churches mission. “Making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” Yes, I know disciples of Jesus Christ is probably some how homophobic?

  4. Swarrior says:

    I feel sorry for these people , they probably need psychiatric help. At their core these people are just narcissists. The name of the game is “virtue signaling” as a means to gain recognition and demonstrate superiority over others.

  5. Neil Bragg says:

    Do you see anything even remotely resembling agape love in those faces? All I see is infantile, narcissistic anger. This isn’t about love nor about equality, this is about one group of people coercing a denomination into celebrating something that has been condemned by Christians for 2000 years. This is why they don’t leave the UM and join the Episcopalians or the UCC. They want to bend every denomination to their agenda. Let them have the UM. When Christ leaves the church, the Christians should follow.

    • MarcoPolo says:

      Ya know?! I actually agree with you, Niel !
      Perhaps the best, or most effective move for the Liberal side of the Denomination, is to disassociate with the Methodists, and regroup with either the Unitarians or Episcopalians?

  6. Beth says:

    Is there a list of Methodist ministers who attended this conference?

  7. Namyriah says:

    “We’re not single-issue people.”

    That’s true, they support abortion as well as sodomy. Apparently any form of loveless sex gets them excited.

    • MarcoPolo says:

      How coy to think that sodomy is “loveless” sex!
      As a heterosexual, I too enjoy sodomy as much as other heterosexuals do.

      • Diaris says:

        TMI, sicko.
        Go find another site to talk trash, this isn’t the Jerry Springer Site.

        • MarcoPolo says:

          Excuse me, but open conversation is vital for better understanding the human condition. I was simply responding to someone who thinks sodomy is only practiced by homosexuals.
          Ignorance corrected, is an act of mercy for Mankind.

  8. Orter T. says:

    View from the pew: I wish I could say that the problem has been overstated, but from my own cruising of the internet and monitoring discussions, I know Katy is right on. I have started praying for the following strident leaders and voices in the LGBTQ faction:
    Minerva Canacao, Bishop
    Sarah Tweedy, UMC Elder
    Amy DeLong, former UMC Elder
    Julie Todd
    Morgan Guyton, UMC Elder
    Jeremy Smith, UMC Elder
    As far as I know, the last two were not part of this conference, but they continually write about their frustration with the orthodox/conservative part of The United Methodist Church that “refuses” to see it “their way”.
    Heaven help the UMC; that we will not be torn asunder by these people whose quest for justice for one group leads them to “marginalize and oppress” others! Fundamentalism now has two faces: conservative and liberal/progressive!

  9. DukeIV says:

    Being gay I am going to assume that all of you who already left a response will think I identify with these narcissistic simpletons. However, I do not, but I do feel they have a right to teach/preach/tell about their ideas no matter how irrational they are.
    I am a Methodist, and it would do my heart good to know that real Christians would extend a genuine hand to gay people. You know Jesus didn’t tell any of us we’re superior over another, and it’s the responsibility of the conservatives to reach out to gay people if they truly feel their way of life is a sin. I grew up Baptist and converted to Methodism when I was 15. My mom said I had to attend church until I was 18, but she didn’t care if I attended a Methodist church. She grew up Methodist, and always favored the Methodist over the Baptist sermons.
    The point I’m trying to make is ‘TRUE’ people of the Lord need to stop all this bickering back and forth and reach out to gay people with a hand of love.
    If you met a thief and wanted to tell him about the Lord would you start off your conversation saying how wrong he/she is/was for being a criminal? No, you’d start telling him/her about the Lord’s love, and how he loved all of us (ALL OF US) so much that he died on the cross had nails driven in his hands, and feet + wore thorns on his head so that we might be saved.
    I completely understand everyone’s frustration with these people, and I am scared for the church. Some of you might not believe me, but I am genuinely scared for the church.
    I personally know some gay people who say “We’ve finally legalized gay marriage now we can go after the churches and ‘FORCE’ them to stop teaching homosexuality is wrong. These groups are well funded and have worldly power behind them. However, they do not have Godly power behind them which is much stronger.
    I honestly don’t know how to translate the bible where my sexuality is concerned, but I do know it’s been no picnic being gay. Do you honestly think anyone would choose to be gay over being straight? I prayed and prayed when I was a teenager until my eyes were so bloodshot I looked like I’d been drinking at times. The Lord did not change me, he didn’t make me a straight man. A straight person has no clue what it feels like to feel all alone in the world when he/she is 14, and everyone around them is straight. However, the gay 14-year-old has no-one to talk too about his/her concerns.
    I knew a boy who was gay when I was a teenager, I didn’t truly know he was gay. Well, this teenager went to his Methodist minister and confided in him about his feelings, and the minister told him to go home and pray the feelings will go away. The minister then proceeded to tell the boy’s parents about their son possibly being gay, and the boy felt so betrayed he killed himself. He felt totally lost and alone in the world. Can you imagine if that boy were your son, nephew, cousin, grandson, best-friend how you would have felt finding out he had taken his life. If he had come to one of you I’d hope you would have hugged him as tight as possible, and made him realize he wasn’t in the world alone. I hope you’d tell him I’m here for you, and more importantly the Lord is here for you. I know I wouldn’t want that on my conscience, and I’d hope none of you would either.
    I agree with all of you about the people Katy Kiser wrote about in her articles. I think these people are very scary, but they’re not the real ones who need your hand. Reaching out to them for more than just asking the Lord to somehow guide them, and touch their hearts is about all anyone can do.
    However, that teenager needs your hand…he/she doesn’t need to hear how sinful his/her feelings are. He/she is already struggling with the feelings or he/she wouldn’t be coming to you for help.
    My grandma used to say in her uneducated way, but quite truthful.
    “There are three kinds of people in this world, the first one is the man who’ll patiently sit and listen to you tell him about the Lord. The second is someone who’s truly being called by the Lord but doesn’t understand the feelings of what it means. However, he might/might not sit and listen to you, but most of the time he will, but with him you really have to know your bible because he’s going to challenge you. Then we come to the third person, and he is just a nut, and not willing to listen until it’s too late.”
    Perhaps she didn’t use all the exact words, but she was quite accurate.
    I’m going to close soon I promise, but I did want to say please no-one start preaching to me. Please don’t leave comments with that same old story if a person is an alcoholic he/she can stop drinking. You’re exactly right, he/she can stop drinking, and never eat in another restaurant that serves it or befriend anyone who drinks. In other words, the alcoholic can successfully separate himself from the alcohol. The gay person can’t do that because everywhere I go there are going to be other men. I can’t just stop going in stores where there are no men, watch a television where there are no men. The men are always going to be right there in front of me and don’t you think the devil would send some quite handsome ones in my path trying to make me fail the Lord. A thief can stop stealing, but our sexuality is a core part of who we are as people.
    I don’t know one gay man that would choose to be gay if given a choice.
    The church needs to wake up and start fighting these loons before it’s too late. Do not sit back and allow them to ruin the church…John Wesley started the Methodist church from traveling across the country and engaging common people to help him teach the word of the Lord.
    If the true Christians of the Methodist church continue with the core beliefs he taught then Christians will win in the end. All of us know whether we agree on everything philosophically that the Lord is going to win. Please, whatever you do … DO NOT allow these progressive groups take your church away from you.
    There are more of you than them now, and fight to keep it that way. However, fight in such a way that the Lord would approve…don’t fight in anger.
    I do apologize for writing what seems like a poorly written thesis, but I felt it in my heart to pass this message along to you all.
    If one person reads what I have written, and uses it to lead someone to the Lord I have done my work for the Lord. Good night

    • the_enemy_hates_clarity says:

      Thank you for writing this. You have faced more than most, and you continue to be faithful to His Word.
      In Christ,
      The enemy hates clarity

    • Xerxesfire says:

      Duke, I am impressed by your level of understanding on what is happening in the UMC today. Also, thanks for sharing your story with others and for being a defender of the conservative side. I too am a little worried about the fate of the UMC with radicals becoming more prevalent and probably will try to change the sexuality definition in the Book of Discipline at the next Annual Conference in 2016.

    • rwgdsman says:

      Thank you for sharing your story and your faith. Reading the story of Wesley Hill in Washed and Waiting gives me a basis to relate to and appreciate your life. My daughter who referred me to his book told me how much she, as a single young woman, could relate to the struggles of loneliness that he and you face as you seek a faithful walk with God.
      I appreciate your plea for genuine Christian love, support and community as you struggle to maintain sexual purity and biblical faith that often feel at odds with your internal desires. So often your voice and the voice of biblically conservative Christians who don’t condone a homosexual lifestyle but who desperately want to express the love and support you ask for are drowned out by the political battle. This is a tragically damaging effect of these radical “progressives” as much as it is of hateful and malicious people who hopelessly condemn everyone they disagree with. Thanks again.

    • Jim says:

      God has a different point of view.

  10. OhJay says:

    Let me give you the best two tips a traditionalist Episcopalian can give a Methodist on this issue: (1) Get these people out of the church before they become a majority, and (2) Don’t underestimate how quickly this faction will become a majority.

    • Xerxesfire says:

      What’s the best way to get them out? Expel them? The UMC takes a very passive role when it comes to stuff like this. Good idea anyway.

  11. Quartermaster says:

    Practicing homosexuals are outside of Christ. If they have no desire to be Christians, the Unitarians stand ready to accept them with open arms. The problem, at the bottom line, is they want people to pat them on the back and pretend that all is OK and they really are Christians when their sinful hearts tell them otherwise.

  12. Jim says:

    The liberal theologians cannot possibly have a personal relationship with God, because if they did hey would not revise the bible to appease “itching ears”.

  13. Essie says:

    It seems like Progressivism is the modern day Gnosticism. It is the heresy of our lifetime and will crumble like all others before it.

    The poster is correct, the revisionist are not only wrong on small topics but about defining theological and philosophical concepts embraced and taught by normative Christianity and they hate ever point about it.

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