For many decades, there has been a tradition of some sub-groups of United Methodists setting up unofficial “caucus” groups to advance their individual concerns. While these independent caucuses are not among the structures governed by our denomination’s Book of Discipline and they generally have no official role in the United Methodist Church, they have become significant influences.
What follows is a non-comprehensive guide to some of the key players. As a leader in one of these caucuses, I cannot pretend to be unbiased. But I strive to be meticulously fair and accurate.
Renewal and Reform Coalition Groups
The “evangelical renewal movement” within the UMC is concerned with promoting biblical faithfulness, covenant accountability, and a return to our denomination’s Wesleyan doctrinal standards (¶104 of the 2012 Book of Discipline). The following evangelical renewal caucuses all work together as part of the Renewal and Reform Coalition:
UM Action was founded in 1994 by Mr. Mark Tooley, a lifelong United Methodist layman who was chair of his congregation’s missions committee at that time. It is a part of the ecumenical Christian group, the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD), of which Tooley is now President. UMAction is now directed by Mr. John Lomperis, M.Div., who was elected by the Indiana Annual Conference as a delegate to the 2016 General Conference. Through its reporting and advocacy, the group works to bring greater accountability and transparency to United Methodism, with the goal of redirecting the energies and public witness of our denomination towards biblical, Wesleyan faithfulness and a disciple-making focus. UMAction typically avoids taking positions on public-policy issues on which faithful Christians can disagree, but we do challenge attempts to divert our church from its holy mission for the sake of secular political agendas.
The Confessing Movement within the United Methodist Church was founded in 1995 to confess the person, work, and reign of Jesus Christ, and to repudiate teachings and practices found within United Methodist churches that contradict apostolic, biblical, Wesleyan Christian faith.
Since its founding in 1967, Good News has been a voice for repentance, an agent for reform, and a catalyst for renewal within our denomination. Its mission is “to lead all people within The United Methodist Church to the faithful and vibrant practice of orthodox Wesleyan Christianity.” Good News is committed to being centered on Christ, faithful to the Scriptures, and committed to the Kingdom. Many know this organization primarily through its bimonthly magazine, Good News.
Transforming Congregations, now a program of Good News, provides local churches with the knowledge and resources they need to effectively minister grace and truth to the sexually confused, broken and sinful in their congregations and communities. This ministry is aimed at people who are struggling with sexual addiction, pornography, same-sex attraction, infidelity, promiscuity, and other forms of sexual brokenness. TC promotes offering genuine compassion without compromising biblical standards for behavior. Begun in 1988 by United Methodist pastors in the California-Nevada Annual Conference, TC seeks to avoid the extremes of fearful, hateful rejection and uncritical acceptance and affirmation, seeing both as contrary to Scripture.
The Renew Network, a longtime ministry arm of Good News, is a network of women and women’s groups in the United Methodist Churchthat are faithfully endeavoring to grow in the knowledge of Jesus while seeking and serving Him. Renew promotes resources for women and women’s groups to use to grow spiritually in their relationship with Jesus Christ and to become godly leaders and role models. Renew advocates for official United Methodist recognition of a flexible range of women’s ministries, and seeks to assist United Methodist churches in developing transformative, Christ-centered women’s ministry programs. Renew stands firmly on the foundation of God’s Holy Word and encourages women to uphold biblical principles in our homes, churches, and society.
Lifewatch, also known as the Taskforce of United Methodists on Abortion and Sexuality (TUMAS), was founded in 1987 to increase esteem for human life at its most vulnerable in church and society, specifically for the unborn child and for the Woman who contemplates abortion. Lifewatch describes its first goal as winning the hearts and minds of United Methodists for the pro-life cause, to engage in abortion-prevention through theological, pastoral and social emphases that support human life.” (Full disclosure: I am a member of the Lifewatch Advisory Board.)
Theologically Liberal, or “Progressive,” Caucuses
Several liberal caucuses have joined together in the “Love Your Neighbor Coalition” to promote a common Vision statement that includes, among other things, the agendas of removing our church’s disapproval of homosexual practice, affirming transgenderism, broadly defending abortion, apparently elevating interfaith dialogue over evangelism, and promoting the creation of a U.S.-only central conference (whose primary effect would be to drastically limit the influences of non-Americans currently in the life of our denomination).
Here are some of the major players of this coalition:
The Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA) has existed in some form since 1907 (when it was originally founded as the Methodist Federation for Social Service) and has chapters around the United States. It is largely focused on seeking to use the structures of our denomination as tools to support a detailed political agenda that lines up consistently with the liberal wing of the U.S. Democratic Party on about every imaginable issue. MFSA has taken strong stands in promoting liberal theology, supporting late-term abortions, and seeking church affirmation of homosexual practice. In its own words, MFSA urges the UMC to reject any teaching that “any single creed or faith statement can reflect the ‘true’ voice of Scripture or God on any issue.” MFSA has led the way in coordinating the Love Your Neighbor Coalition.
Of note: In 2011, Jill Warren’s having recently been employed as the executive director of a Unitarian congregation (affiliated with a non-Christian religion founded on rejecting belief in the divinity of Jesus), a job she held after being a regional director for America’s largest abortion provider, did not prevent the leadership of MFSA from inviting her to be their next leader. Warren herself describes that church she led while being an MFSA board member and shortly before being invited to become MFSA’s CEO as an “atheist-humanist congregation.” (She resigned from MFSA in 2013.)
Also of note: In a March 2016 blog post, MFSA promoted the perspective of an unmarried United Methodist minister who, for the sake of getting ordained, lied when vowing to abstain from premarital sex (something asked of all our ordination candidates), bragged about “being a person who is sexually active while single,” dismissed our church’s expectations for our clergy to exercise basic Christian sexual self-control as “ridiculous in 2016,” and defended her dishonesty as justified “because I value my job.”
The Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN) has since 1984 been the main caucus of LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and/or queer) activists within the UMC with a focus on seeking church affirmation for homosexual practice and transgenderism. They continue to recruit congregations to publicly identify themselves as “Reconciling Congregations” even after this was forbidden by a Judicial Council ruling in 1999. Their current “Altar for All” campaign recruits United Methodist congregations and ministers to perform homosexual union services in open defiance of our Discipline’s explicit prohibition of such celebrations of sin. With 13 staffers, RMN appears to be the best funded of any unofficial caucus group. The “reconciling” movement has become known for the colorful rainbow-colored stoles its activists wear around their shoulders.
Of note: there have been repeated, well-documented instances of RMN refusing to even oppose the practice of “polyamory” (multiple concurrent sexual partners) — as documented here and here and here and here.
Love Prevails is a self-described “radical sexual liberationist” protest group led by Amy DeLong, an ordained United Methodist minister in the Wisconsin Conference. Its stated agenda is to (1) Disclose, (2) Divest, (3) Disrupt., Love Prevails have defined these to mean: (1) encouraging UMC clergy to publicly brag about violating the prohibitions in the UMC Discipline (which they vowed to uphold) on performing homosexual unions; (2) recruiting people to stop attending, giving to, or even praying for any United Methodist congregations or part of our denomination who will not support their agenda; and (3) relying on raw physical force to take over General Conferences and other church leadership meetings to demand submission to their agenda or to forcibly prevent church leaders from making decisions they dislike related to sexual morality or abortion. (Some of our reporting on this group’s antics can be found here and here).
Of note: Despite Delong’s being very public about having a lesbian partner, in open defiance of the Discipline’s ban on our clergy being “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals,” a church trial a few years ago refused to hold her accountable for this, on the legalistic grounds that in the course of the trial, she refused to “self-avow” in response to a question.
Ethnic caucuses: Disappointingly, several unofficial caucuses traditionally concerned with representing concerns of various non-majority ethnicities in American United Methodism (BMCR: Black Methodists for Church Renewal, MARCHA: Metodistas Asociados Representando la Causa de los Hispanos Americanos, NFAAUM: National Federation of Asian American United Methodists, Native American International Caucus, and PINCUM: Pacific Islanders Caucus of United Methodists) have recently joined the Love Your Neighbor coalition. It is important to understand that it is unclear how many African-American, Asian-American, Hispanic-American, Native American, or Pacific Islander American United Methodists have even heard of these caucus groups claiming to represent them. But it is certainly true that there are a great many United Methodists of these ethnic backgrounds who strongly disagree with these caucuses’ agendas. As someone of partial Hispanic descent, I can tell you that the Love Your Neighbor Coalition’s Hispanic caucus, MARCHA, does NOT speak for me or for the Puerto Rican side of my family with their General Conference petition supporting independista terrorist Carlos Lopez Rivera. By embracing MFSA’s divisive leftist agendas on issues like abortion and sexual morality, the national leaders of these caucuses have chosen to needlessly cripple the ability of their organizations to represent their claimed constituencies, effectively advance racial justice, and diversify the membership and ministries of the U.S. segment of our church.
None of these groups are part of the Renewal and Reform Coalition or the Love Your Neighbor Coalition.
United Methodist Kairos Response, founded in 2010, very strongly criticizes the government of Israel, but generally avoids direct publicly criticism of Hamas, Hezbollah, or other Islamic terrorist groups in the region. UMKR’s focus for this General Conference is forcing our denomination to divest from a few specific companies, like Caterpillar, for their business ties with Israel. Like all the major groups pushing these Israel divestment petitions, UMKR is a member organization of the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, a political coalition that promotes singling out the world’s lone Jewish nation for comprehensive boycotts, divestment, and sanctions (BDS). This coalition’s website, in its own words, explains that its campaign to divest from the Caterpillar construction company (which is being pushed by UMKR and its allies at this General Conference) “is part and parcel of this international BDS campaign,” that it is part of an effort “to isolate Israel economically, socially, and culturally,” and that “it will be near to impossible to hurt Caterpillar economically, but that’s not the point. This Campaign aims to be a public relations campaign…” (documented here)
United Methodists for Constructive Peacemaking in Israel & Palestine (UMCPIP) is a coalition of United Methodists from across the theological spectrum. The group has advocated for the United Methodist Church to contribute to peacemaking through restorative justice work that builds the capacity of Israelis and Palestinians to trust one another enough to move toward an agreement. UMCPIP strongly rejects divestment as an investment approach in this conflict since it inaccurately identifies one party as a source of the conflict and proposes punitive measures in response. UMCPIP also supports non-exclusionary investment screens to identify and invest in companies that are actively engaged in peacemaking and cooperative ventures.
Concerned Methodists is an organization devoted to working within the United Methodist Church, urging it to greater biblical faithfulness to its Wesleyan heritage. It seeks to provide assistance, and emphasize Christian discipleship, and inform motivated Christians in actions contributing to church reform.
Our top-heavy denominational structure has several large, well-funded general agencies that are very influential in denominational decision-making.
Such agencies are officially entrusted with the name and resources of our denomination and should therefore try to faithfully represent the official doctrinal and moral standards of our denomination and to represent and include United Methodists across our geographic and political boundaries. But a couple of general agencies deserve special mention for acting more like caucus groups, excluding or marginalizing United Methodists who disagree with the liberal agenda of the Love Your Neighbor Coalition:
The General Board of Church and Society (GBCS), with offices in Washington, D.C. and New York City, is the official United Methodist agency charged with promoting the official social concerns of the United Methodist Church as expressed in our Social Principles. The reality is that the GBCS does some good work, but its GBCS’s programmatic senior staff has long been dominated by open sympathizers of the agenda of the Love Your Neighbor Coalition, who have had a long history used their church positions to simply advocate for their own personal political agendas, even when these agendas are directly contrary to our United Methodist Social Principles on issues like late-term abortion and especially homosexuality (click here for some examples).
Of note: Only 11 percent of GBCS’s governing board of directors come from non-U.S. central conferences, one of the lowest percentages of any UMC general agency, despite the fact that central conferences are home to 40% of our denomination’s membership. This U.S.-dominated group voted to send a resolution to the 2016 General Conference denouncing “heterosexism” (a fancy word for disapproval of homosexual practice) after rejecting a motion by a token European director to first dialogue with United Methodists in the non-Western world before adopting this agenda.
United Methodist Women, referring to the New York headquarters of the mainly U.S.-based United Methodist Women network is best known in the United States for the local units that exist in congregations across the country. Certainly some of UMW’s work, like activism against human trafficking, is good. But the New York headquarters of United Methodist Women has also taken very aggressive leftist stances on homosexuality and abortion contrary to the biblical Christian values of a great many women involved in their congregations’ United Methodist Women units. For example, in 2012 UMW defended the appointment of a deaconess to be employed by the aforementioned Reconciling Ministries Network, and in 2014 invited this professional LGBTQ activist to lead a workshop promoting the Reconciling Ministries Network at their national assembly. UMW is currently promoting a study entitled “The Bible and Human Sexuality,” whose authors are known for advocating a liberal, revisionist perspective to endorse homosexual relationships. UMW has submitted a petition to this year’s General Conference entitled “Responsible Parenthood” that very broadly defends unrestricted abortion and calls for lifting of legal restrictions on abortion that exist in some countries (like in the Philippines and much of Africa).