The Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN) is the main unofficial liberal caucus in the United Methodist Church, and its main focus is on forcing United Methodists to accept LGBTQ lifestyles unquestioningly, in addition to, as we have documented elsewhere on this site, other non-traditional sexual practices such as pre-marital cohabitation and concurrent multiple sexual partners. RMN’s Northern Illinois Conference chapter holds an annual day-long retreat in the middle of every cold Chicago winter called “Winter Warming.”
Speakers promoted transgenderist ideology, actually encouraged sexual and gender confusion among children, espoused sloppy theology, and openly plotted to break the UMC’s connectional covenant. I have written here about how the main part of the event promoted demonizing caricatures of traditionalist Christian believers, while at times appearing to dabble in a sort of “romantic racism.”
As in previous years, Chicago-area United Methodist Bishop Sally Dyck prominently participated, apparently indicating her implied support for all of this. This year’s participants also included retired Bishop Sharon Rader and a group of folk from the Illinois-Great Rivers Conference. The latter were offered training by “Winter Warming” leaders to advance their cause in their relatively less liberal region.
Breakout workshops included one on “Queering the Scriptures,” one on “Jesus and Justice” led by some pastor identified as involved in a group dedicated to political lobbying and serving the campaigns of “progressive” politicians, and something about safety and inclusivity from some local LGBTQ group called “The Center for Inclusiveness” (which apparently recently sponsored a discussion on “celebrating” religious skepticism, including atheism and agnosticism).
Another workshop was entitled “Retired Clergy for An All Inclusive Church: Now is the Time to Act.” It explicitly encouraged retired clergy to perform pastorally harmful same-sex union ceremonies, in open betrayal their ordination vows to follow the UMC’s covenantal standards banning such ceremonies. In perhaps an inadvertently hopeful sign for the future, it was remarked that many of our denomination’s most liberal clergy are now retired.
Workshop leaders also stressed that a primary focus of a new unofficial caucus group called the United Methodist Association of Retired Clergy Toward An Inclusive Church (UMARC) was defending radical Jesus critic (read about that here and here) and openly partnered lesbian activist Karen Oliveto, whom the numerically tiny, declining U.S. Western Jurisdiction of the UMC elected to be bishop in 2016, in open defiance of our UMC’s prohibition of “self-avowed practicing homosexual clergy.” This workshop highlighted a statement of support Bishop Dyck had given to this caucus, in which she admitted that she deliberately used her infamously hectoring sermon at the 2016 General Conference to lobby delegates to remove disapproval of homosexual practice from our denomination’s Social Principles.
One particularly striking workshop was led by the “Pinwheels” group at First UMC of Arlington Heights, the congregation hosting “Winter Warming.” The self-descriptions of this so-called “support group” indicate that its mission is to come alongside children the adult leaders have decided to label “trans-children” or “gender creative children” to surround the little tykes and their families in a community committed to LGBTQ ideology and “learning to advocate for trans justice.”
Beyond this workshop, all “Winter Warming” participants were treated to a heavy dose of the sort of transgengerist ideology in which “Pinwheels” apparently works to indoctrinate children from a young age.
The keynote speech was delivered by a perennially attention-grabbing LGBTQ activist. As a self-identified lesbian woman named Mary Ann Kaiser, she pursued a publicity stunt of seeking ordination in the UMC’s Southwest Texas Conference while openly cohabiting with her same-sex partner, in open challenge of our aforementioned clergy standards. Then, after she was rejected, she moved to Chicago to join RMN’s staff. She eventually rebranded herself as a newly single individual named “M Barclay” who refuses to identify as male or female, and received preliminary approval for ordination as the UMC’s widely noted “first non-binary-gendered clergyperson.” Barclay has recently quit RMN to launch her own nonprofit dedicated to promoting LGBTQ-friendly liturgical resources.
As a self-described “non-binary trans person,” Barclay now refuses to use “feminine pronouns” – she/her/hers –instead insisting on being referred to with the ungendered they, them, and theirs. Due to my strong beliefs that women like Miss Barclay are created in the image of God no less than men, and that this good truth should be celebrated rather than denied, I will continue using feminine pronouns to refer to this individual who God created as a woman, as I have previously done without objection.
In her own speech, Barclay preferred to refer to God as “she” or “they” rather than the “he” used in Scripture. So much for respecting someone’s preferred gender pronouns.
Barclay’s address focused on promoting transgenderist ideology, especially attacking the gender binary, the fundamental recognition of there being two genders, male and female. She rejected the common understanding that “it’s clear, objective” that “you are either a boy or a girl” and have the corresponding genitalia, and that this can be used to reliably discern a newborn baby’s sex.
Barclay blamed several culprits, including language, culture, religion, “the medical industrial complex,” the belief that “science is objective,” and “the myth of progress.” She suggested that Christian tradition had somehow become warped because many of its key texts were “written by white, cisgender men.” (“Cisgender” is a term LGBTQ activists use for non-transgendered individuals.) She also mocked notions of general or inherent personality differences between men and women.
As part of her broader attack on binary thinking, she listed common binaries and denounced them all as “hav[ing] served us poorly”: good vs. bad, right vs. wrong, God vs. creation, human vs. animal, and self vs. other.
Such rhetoric apparently denies the biblical distinction of humans alone among God’s creation being the special bearers of his image. Barclay’s attack on distinguishing God from creation, coupled with her declarations that “God lives in everything” from “weeds” to “trans people” and that “God is always transitioning” (albeit while maintain some constants like “love”) made Barclay’s worldview sound closer to heterodox panentheism (about which you can read a helpful summary here) than any sort of traditional, biblical, orthodox Christianity.
But it may be giving Barclay too much credit to presume that her little slogans reflect any thoughtfully developed, clear, coherent, and internally consistent worldview. After all, if I take some of her own words at face value, then the fact that some scientists in relevant fields have recently been pressured into adopting transgenderist ideology is no reason to give this ideology more credibility (as that would buy into “the myth of progress”), and she should never treat my disagreement with her activism as “bad” or “wrong.”
There were other times when her rhetoric fell rather flat. Repeatedly, she simply made strong assertions without offering any real argument or documentation. Barclay went on at length about how different languages and cultures have classified colors very differently, without seeming to realize that this proves precisely nothing about the entirely different category of sex. And she made a big deal about reports of some cultures that recognized more than two genders, but did not offer any honest acknowledgement of the extreme rareness of such exceptions to the near-universal norm of human societies in every age, region, and religion affirming the gender binary. Nor did she offer any particularly clear basis for her judgment that these rather rare, exceptional cultures were superior to those of everyone else.
In recent years, we have heard no shortage of activists from such liberal caucus circles posturing loudly about their claimed love for the United Methodist Church and their supposed commitment to the “unity” of our denomination, at least when such rhetoric seems politically convenient. But notably, in the safer environment among like-minded supporters, Barclay sounded a rather different note. “I believe God is less interested in the survival of an institution than in the survival of queer youth!” she declared.
Another activist at this event at one point complained that Bishop Sally Dyck, as he saw it, ultimately prioritized the unity of the United Methodist Church over “the Gospel.” This gentleman and I would obviously define “the Gospel” very differently. But it was interesting to hear both the open lack of relative concern for church unity in such a context, and such left-wing criticism of the area’s bishop, given all of her extreme pandering to such activists. There was also talk indicating that even achieving RMN’s longtime central goal of removing the UMC’s bans on same-sex unions and homosexually active clergy would not stop such activists from continuing denominational battles for “full inclusion.” Such comments show what an impossible, unwinnable fool’s errand it is to head down the road of even trying to appease the liberal caucuses.
As for Barclay’s point, of course, we must be compassionate towards all children, especially those facing particular vulnerabilities. But sentimentally driven good intentions, of which I don’t doubt there was much among this crowd, are not enough if we are concerned with actually helping vulnerable young people.
We need to do our homework and read the research data. Among children who struggle to identify with their own God-given, biological sex, up to 98 percent of boys and 88 percent of girls “eventually accept their biological sex after naturally passing through puberty.” But now the transgenderist movement is effectively targeting such vulnerable young children by indoctrinating them and their families in groups like “Pinwheels” and actually subjecting the young children to dramatic, dangerous physical interventions like unnatural hormonal “treatments” that actually prevent their young bodies from naturally going through the process of puberty. And this is all for the sake of essentially brainwashing psychologically vulnerable children from a young age into believing that it is normal for them to reject their own God-given, genetically unambiguous, natural gender to instead accept of life sentence of living out of sync with their own bodies and continually subjecting their bodies to damaging, dangerous, unnatural procedures.
And if we are concerned with the “survival” of these children in the most literal sense of the term, then why on Earth would we steer children, who would be likely to otherwise eventually embrace their God-given sex naturally, to instead embrace a transgender identity that corresponds to sky-high suicide rates?
For further information on the harm transgenderist ideology can cause children, I would recommend these extensive resources from the American College of Pediatricians and/or this short video from a longtime pediatrician.