UMAction and our friends in other evangelical renewal caucuses in our denomination obviously differ greatly in our core goals and values from those of the theologically liberal United Methodist caucus groups.
But we also differ markedly in our tactics.
What do I mean by that?
Well, imagine in our attempts to influence our church we used the same tactics and methods of the liberal caucus groups. Here is what it would look like (please read until the end):
At the next board of directors meeting of the very controversially, aggressively liberal United Methodist General Board of Church and Society (GBCS), there would be no more of me sitting quietly in the corner taking notes as I have done for years.
At various times throughout the meeting, I would suddenly interrupt to blurt out talking points or loaded questions to advance my agenda, even when it was not terribly relevant to the topic being discussed. I would do this so often that I crowded out the available time for duly selected board members to speak. I would bring a group of activists, from within and beyond our denomination, to help me with this. We would repeatedly demand that this church agency halt its scheduled business to spend unlimited time pandering to us. Sometimes we would do this by marching around the room singing or chanting loudly about our pet causes.
During break periods, we would combatively hold large signs denouncing the church leaders present as having “NO MORAL AUTHORITY, NO INTEGRITY, NO CREDIBILIY” and stooping to name-calling. We would verbally confront church agency staffers who hurried by without paying us sufficient homage.
Even during worship times, we would loudly interrupt, interjecting our voices, signs, symbols, and slogans to prevent it from being much of a worshipful experience for people.
We would also hand out fliers proudly vowing to forcibly shut down GBCS board meetings to prevent directors and staff from voting on (and thus adopting) any statement or petition with which we disagreed, and boasting recruiting people to stop attending, giving money to, or even praying for any part of the UMC that will not support our agenda.
And if the GBCS board majority voted to say or do anything we disliked, we would greet them at the start of their next session by lying on the ground to obstruct the entrance to the meeting room. Then we would physically force our way into the center of the meeting space to take it over for a look-at-me performance of holding a “communion service” that really used the forms of the sacrament as a tool to denounce and exclude any United Methodist outside of our narrow faction.
And how would the leadership of our denomination react? Well, here’s how they would if they were consistent with their treatment of liberal caucuses:
They would not even think of calling the police on us or otherwise seeking to cut our disruption any shorter than however long we wanted to have it.
Whichever Western Jurisdiction bishop was president of the GBCS board at the time would go out of his or her way to submissively thank us for our disruptions, would work with the GBCS leadership to shelve much of the church agency’s planned business to make room for hours and hours of sessions to dialogue about our concerns with the explicit goal of advancing our perspective. The majority of GBCS directors would then decide to devote the majority of their General Conference efforts to pandering to us, rudely trampling over directors with a different perspective.
The GBCS would simply remove from its business certain proposals we disliked, according to our unilateral dictates. Its leadership would meekly agree to open a future meeting with a prayer according to our detailed prescriptions, including being very clear in treating our faction as the only one in the church whose pain mattered. They would allow a normally unauthorized speaker, who met our detailed and provocative criteria, to come and address the gathering.
While there would be plenty of private grumbling, not one bishop would have the courage to declare publicly that such tactics were unacceptable and should no longer be tolerated or rewarded. Meanwhile, prominent denominational officials would warn that the strongest critics of such tactics were uniquely sinister monsters trying “to destroy our church.” But these same officials would apparently have no problem with the fliers calling for a withdrawal of presence, support, and prayers from United Methodist churches.
Our behavior would not seem to alienate anyone in the UMC hierarchy, but would even seem to be positively rewarded as various denominational leadership bodies invited us to speak at various dialogue events while they excluded other groups of United Methodists who had a different perspective, who had been very non-disruptive and play-by-the-rules in their tactics, and who had been hurt by our actions.
In turn, we would brag about putting the bishops “on notice,” not showing any respect for the office of the very church leaders who had just bent over backwards to enable, encourage, and do anything but say “no” to us. We would further interrupt the official meetings to protest how we were somehow “excluded” amidst all the pandering, and decry how “violence was done to us” if they let a single person express even the most mild and indirect disagreement with us. Then we would subsequently brag of our victories, declaring to our supporters that our tactics could not possibly be immoral since they achieved results we wanted. We would, like the founder of the MFSA movement’s “Dream UMC” social-media project, declare: “Hey! Protest making legislative change! Awesome.” (UPDATE: Since this article went live, a leader of “Dream UMC” has bizarrely protested my alleging ties between the MFSA movement and “Dream UMC,” the latter of which was founded by an MFSA member, is prominently co-led by the social-media coordinator for MFSA and its allies at the 2012 General Conference, and has been promoted by MFSA.)
Now there are a few things that should be made very clear.
First of all, anyone remotely familiar with UMAction or other renewal groups understands that we would not engage in such tactics, and the very thought is quite laughable. Even if folks like the Connectional Table leadership and others choose to operate with an ethos of “nice guys finish last,” effectively punishing good behavior and rewarding bad behavior, our theological values leave no room for thinking that even the noblest ends can justify any means.
But secondly, every detail in the above scenario reflects actual actions by liberal caucus groups and actual responses by denominational officials. I have written more about such tactics being employed at meetings of the General Conference, Connectional Table, and Council of Bishops. You can read more reports from the United Methodist News Service or in the disruptive liberal caucus activists’ own words.
Thirdly, honesty demands that we abandon wishful thinking about older liberal caucuses like the Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA) and the Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN) are somehow distant or more moderate than Amy DeLong’s stridently militant “Love Prevails” protest group. All three work hand-in-glove in their activism, with the two more established liberal caucuses welcoming DeLong’s group into their “Love Your Neighbor” coalition. Top staff of both MFSA as well as RMN have very strongly and broadly expressed support for the work and tactics of Love Prevails.
Fourthly, it is not intellectually honest to treat the competing visions and causes of the evangelical renewal caucuses like UMAction and of the theologically liberal caucuses with moral equivalency. Aside from questions of tactics, the agenda of the renewal caucuses is fundamentally about our ministers having the integrity to be faithful to the orthodox, biblical doctrinal and moral standards they vowed to uphold when they chose to be ordained in our denomination, while the liberal caucuses openly promote disobedience and betrayal of these same standards. The liberal agendas we object to at such church meetings range from blatantly contradicting our church’s own doctrinal standards to supporting lethal harm against unborn children vulnerable to abortion violence to radical, harmful social agendas (like legalizing prostitution or whitewashing North Korean human rights abuses) to actions that, at best, amount to a certain liberal U.S. faction seeking to divert the resources of the church into supporting a hyper-partisan political agenda to suit their own preferences.
It is also worth noting that while LGBTQ protesters disrupting church meetings explicitly describe their motivation as defending themselves, those of us who more quietly object to church officials making absolutist defenses of all abortions are defending others, a class of people who cannot speak for themselves and from whom we could never gain any conceivable political advantage from any sort of “I’ll support your cause if you support mine” coalition-building. And it is worth noting that our objection to GBCS and General Conference resolutions defending the destruction of unborn children and human embryos are in an entirely different category, as this is the only class of human beings whose worthiness of protection from killing and dismemberment is ever questioned within UMC agencies and conferences.
Finally, if UMAction or another renewal caucus ever did a fraction of the above actions, liberal United Methodists would feel very upset, express outrage, and demand that we not be allowed to keep treating people like this.
So then, when they call themselves the “Love Your Neighbor” coalition, where is the commitment of liberal United Methodists to treating those of us outside of their faction as they would want to be treated, and to stopping tactics from their own allies that fall short of that Golden Rule?