This article is part of a series of writings about the new “Uniting Methodists” caucus group within the UMC, led by Adam Hamilton, some high-profile leaders within general agency and liberal caucus circles, and others. Within these articles, I have put in bold sentences for which I would especially welcome feedback in the comments if I have missed something major. I have put *stars in front of the names of individuals on the “Uniting Methodists” leadership team. Articles in this series will be released over the course of several days. The “Uniting Methodists” group is examined in light of the following:
I have noted earlier the new “Uniting Methodists” caucus’s evident ethos of “no enemies to the left” and aiming almost all of their firepower against traditionalist individuals and values. But what about just basic treatment of traditionalist believers? (Even beyond other matters covered in this article series.)
It is important to acknowledge at the wider context in which we live. In the United States, we have seen a rapid acceleration not only of expansions of gay rights, but of ominously heavy-handed repressions of people who disapprove of homosexual practice. This has included high-profile corporate firings of people on the sole basis of their personal pro-traditional-marriage beliefs to the government forcing Christian small business owners to face crushing six-figure fines, forced loss of livelihood, and other extreme government coercions and punishments if they do not wish to be involved in supporting same-sex union ceremonies or gay “pride” events. Within several annual conferences, including the Pacific-Northwest, Northern Illinois, Iowa Conferences (where *DJ Del Rosario, *Lonnie Chafin, and *Melissa Drake are part of the conference leadership), traditionalist United Methodists have actually been facing mistreatment and marginalization for their loyalty to the UMC’s own official doctrinal and moral standards.
Now *Olu Brown, for one, has expressed his general commitment to defending traditionalists from marginalization, despite his own liberal views. I welcome such words.
But in terms of actual action, I have seen no example of anyone in “Uniting Methodists” spending one penny of their political capital in specifically opposing such marginalization of traditional believers in the wider U.S. society, or in liberal-dominated UMC annual conferences.
If they are unwilling to do so, it raises questions of how much the folk in this group really see us orthodox believers as their brothers and sisters in Christ in any meaningful way, if they callously refuse to make our suffering their own. It also raises such other questions as if they are willing to honestly and humbly address how their ideological commitments give them a real privileged status in certain contexts. And if they sit out such battles, this effectively amounts to a strategy of choosing to callously sit by and watch traditionalist suffer a tortuous attrition as scapegoating politicians, ruthless corporate forces, and more strident UMC caucus leaders do their dirty work for them of crushing us into the mud.
*Adam Hamilton, a main leader of this group, even flatly declared that “Bishops … don’t assign ‘conservative’ clergy to ‘liberal’ congregations or ‘liberal’ clergy to ‘conservative’ congregations.” I remain shocked by how he could say something so blatantly untrue. He cited as his only source “several bishops and superintendents.” Sure, they generally like to consider such things in finding the best “matches.” But if *Hamilton had bothered to go beyond the denomination’s elite hierarchy to talk to some of the little people, particularly in more liberal conferences, he could have found plenty of examples of heavy-handed liberal bishops imposing liberal pastors on conservative congregations, with little evident concern about how damaging that was to the church. And as others have noted, a great many U.S. bishops face a challenging math problem of having a larger number of “conservative congregations” than there are conservative pastors to go around. Before making such a broad statement, that has likely misled many people given the prominent voice he has, I wish *Hamilton had first taken some time to really examine how our appointment system often works in practice for the vast majority of United Methodists who do not get the privileges and exceptions afforded to megachurch pastors like him.
Meanwhile, during the big “Uniting Methodists” meeting in Atlanta this week, one of the speakers, Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN) employee Helen Ryde actually tweeted out this whopper of a claim: “Progressives have never called for conservatives to leave” the UMC.
If this RMN employee or other “Uniting Methodists” had been interested in actually listening to traditionalist United Methodists, they could have heard plenty of stories of us being told that if we should object to some of the problems in our church we should leave, along with many instances of evangelical clergy candidates have been unfairly treated by boards of ordained ministry and later in appointments. And have they already forgotten how in 2005, the entire liberal-caucus movement rallied behind Virginia Bishop Charlene Kammerer as she tried to force a faithful, compassionate pastor named Ed Johnson out of the UMC?
Rhetoric notwithstanding, time and again, self-described “progressive United Methodists” have made very clear to us how they really resent sharing the church with us and would much rather we leave, and hand them the keys. Seriously, if there is a single individual in the liberal caucus world within the UMC who sees evangelical believers like me as beloved brethren in Christ, in any meaningful way, I would love to meet him or her. But I would also love to meet Bigfoot. And as a matter of basic empirical evidence, after three years of Harvard Divinity School and spending more time at liberal-caucus events than most orthodox believers ever will, I expect I am no more likely to meet either sort of mythical creature.
I have found very little evidence that any leader in “Uniting Methodists” has any interest in challenging or even acknowledging any of the ways in which revisionist leaders have mistreated orthodox believers within the UMC in situations where the former has had more power. Instead, *Hamilton and Ryde simply deny the abuse is even happening.
Furthermore, “Uniting Methodist” leaders are not quite sitting such battles out. RMN has actually signed onto a “friend of the court” brief submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court against Christian baker Jack Phillips, who happily served gay customers, but who is protesting how, in his attorney’s words, “The government wants to force him to use his artistic talents to celebrate events that violate his faith,” namely, same-sex union services. At one point, Philips was even threatened with jail time. My colleague, Joseph Rossell, has a good response to the claims of RMN and others against Brother Phillips.
When *Rachel Baugham, *Doug Damron, *James Howell, *Ginger Gaines-Cirelli, and *Dave Nuckols all offer various forms of unqualified support to RMN, and at the same time make no effort to internally challenge or publicly oppose such RMN activities, then they are quite literally siding against a brother in Christ who does not want to be thrown in jail for supporting historic, biblical Christian teaching about homosexuality.
I cannot imagine what would be more far-left than this.
Also relevant is how in 2014, the GBCS directors, which included *Chafin and *Howell, overwhelmingly adopted a statement that appeared to misleadingly conflate truly draconian anti-gay laws in other countries with some “religious liberty” bills proposed in some American states to protect the freedom of conscience of traditional believers in such cases as those linked to above, categorically opposing both.
Furthermore, in the aforementioned Iowa Conference, three faithful, evangelical pastors faced so much hate and demonization for their properly filing a complaint against an activist clergywoman who pursued a reckless publicity stunt of breaking our denomination’s sexual morality standards (while expecting these pastors and others to pay a lot of apportionment money support her campus ministry, no questions asked). When I tweeted about how the outspoken Dr. Dorothee Benz spoke of wanting “to write a blog ripping these men of privilege a new a^&%$%#,” Nuckols quickly responded by affirming his fellow RMN activist, attacking the pastors’ characters, and pointedly refusing (see here and here) to call his RMN comrade’s vulgar, hate-filled rhetoric as inappropriate.
And of course, all those “Uniting Methodists” (particularly *Douglas Damron, *Ginger Gaines-Cirelli, *Dave Nuckols, and *Theresa Thames) strongly supporting Karen Oliveto are among other things supporting her abusing the bishop’s office to mistreat orthodox believers in the Mountain Sky Area and publicly demonize orthodox congregations as “the bad churches” (her actual words).
Is none of the above any concern to any leader of “Uniting Methodists”?
I’ve seen no evidence that it is.