The United Methodist Church’s controversial General Board of Church and Society (GBCS) has now released a public draft of its proposal to rewrite the entirety of the denomination’s Social Principles, its core teachings on social and political concerns. This matter will ultimately be decided at the 2020 General Conference.
This revision proposal emerged from a call to make the UMC Social Principles (1) shorter, (2) more biblically and theologically grounded, and (3) globally rather than U.S. oriented, given that we are an increasingly global church.
In terms of content of the proposed changes, IRD President Mark Tooley has some initial thoughts on how the GBCS’s proposed revision would actually make our Social Principles even less theologically grounded and less globally oriented, by “express[ing] the conventional political witness pieties of declining USA liberal Protestantism with little reference to historic ecumenical teaching.” In a guest column, the Rev. Paul Stallsworth highlights how this is especially true with how the GBCS’s proposal would replace the current UMC Social Principles statement on abortion – which is neither as pro-life nor pro-abortion-rights as some would like it – with an entirely new statement that would completely remove ALL of the pro-life nuances that have been carefully debated and added by various General Conferences over the years.
It is worth reviewing the process of how the GBCS brought forth this proposal. It is especially worth noting how it seems that the GBCS has ensured that every stage of this process is dominated by theologically liberal Americans. Even though the point of the process was supposedly to make our Social Principles more responsive to concerns and perspectives of generally more traditionalist church members outside of the USA.
In 2011, there was a call from the UMC’s European central conferences to revise the UMC Social Principles “with the goal of making them more succinct, theologically founded and globally relevant.”
Eventually, through a complex process, the GBCS decided that they should be the ones to take on such a revision project.
While United Methodists in European central conferences are a numerically tiny portion of our denomination, it is important to listen to them if we are serious about being a global church.
Many of us who would sympathize with the three goals expressed in 2011—of making our Social Principles more succinct, theologically grounded, and less myopically focused on the particular partisan concerns of domestic American politics—would question if the GBCS is the best equipped body to pursue these goals.
On succinctness, it is the GBCS, probably more than any other entity, who routinely floods each General Conference with dozens of lengthy and often unnecessary political resolutions.
And how has the GBCS earned trust to offer solid biblical, Wesleyan theological grounding? If you attended a fraction of the GBCS board meetings I have, I expect that it would soon become painfully obvious that rather than seeking to explore biblical teaching and then consider how it may apply to public policy, the GBCS’s approach is much more one of pursuing the pre-determined partisan political agendas of its very left-leaning staff, and mainly referencing Scripture or theology as a shallow afterthought.
Under the leadership of Henry-Crowe’s predecessor, Jim Winkler, the GBCS repeatedly misrepresented both Scripture and John Wesley.
Under Henry-Crowe’s leadership, worship at GBCS board meetings has featured such oddities as using chocolate-chip cookies for communion, telling board members to pray directly TO the Earth without mentioning God, and bizarre rituals of greeting “our Mother Earth” while solemnly referring “the four winds” as “our grandfathers” while calling certain crops “sisters.” And the GBCS has continued its habit of selectively citing isolate Bible verses as dubious proof texts while ignoring other Scriptures that could pose challenges for the agency’s political agenda.
But the GBCS is especially ill-equipped to shift anything to a focus less dominated by liberal, white-collar Americans.
Of the 59 members of the GBCS board of directors currently listed online, only two (three percent) are from Africa, despite the fact that Africans constitute over 42 percent of all United Methodists. 53 of these 59 directors (90 percent) are American, even though Americans are only 56 percent of our global church. There is not one African on the executive committee.
There’s no evidence that the GBCS leadership has any problem with its own systematic marginalization of non-American voices. In fact, Lonnie Chafin, who is Bishop Dyck’s treasurer and an outspoken member of the GBC executive committee, has publicly defended their marginalization of Africans.
In any case, it seemed at these recent board meetings that the GBCS has arranged things to keep the process of revising the UMC Social Principles mainly dominated by the most liberal Americans, in several key ways:
First, this revision project is run by an agency long dominated by the most liberal of U.S. United Methodists, from the most liberal regions of the UMC. The current president of the GBCS board of directors is Bishop Sally Dyck of the Northern Illinois Conference, arguably the most theologically radicalized UMC annual conference in the Midwest. Her predecessor was Bishop Bob Hoshibata, then of the Desert-Southwest Conference in the Western Jurisdiction. He was preceded by Bishop Beverly Shamana, then of the California-Nevada Conference, also in the Western Jurisdiction. And the GBCS’s very left-leaning American staff have been heavily involved in the process.
Second, the GBCS’s task force for revising the Social Principles consists of 13 members, 11 of which are American!
Third, the GBCS has chosen as both the chair of this task force, as well as vice-president of the entire board, one of its most liberal American board members, Dr. Randall Miller of the California-Nevada Conference. Miller is a longtime gay activist who was even once the Interim Executive Director of the main unofficial LGBTQ liberationist caucus in our denomination, the Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN). That group is hardly known for global-minded sensitivity. Shortly before Miller took RMN’s helm, the group promoted a jarring claim by Bishop Minerva Carcaño that “our African delegates” had not abandoned biblical teaching on marriage to accept the alleged superiority of modern secular values in the West because of their failure to “grow up.”
Fourth, at both of the last two GBCS board meetings, Miller shared that the chair for “the process” of revising the Social Principles, supposedly in the name of making them more global, was not anyone from outside the USA, but rather the Rev. Dr. Mary Elizabeth Moore, dean of Boston University School of Theology. Moore is a nice lady. But the fact is that her being a long-time leader in the ultra-liberal California-Pacific Conference and leading a long-time bastion of American Liberal Protestantism in the heart of the radicalized New England Conference is hardly the best preparation for making any part of the UMC more responsive to authentic, representative voices of the global church.
Fifth, the GBCS has excluded non-American voices from the “editorial team” for this revision process. For a while, this team only consisted of three people, all liberal Americans: Miller, Moore, and GBCS staffer Jessica Smith. It was only in March that the GBCS board moved to expand this editorial team to include a single non-American, while also adding two more Americans and requiring that the non-American be a young adult. (Although, to be fair, I am told that their main work will not begin until after this summer.)
So the GBCS has structured its development of a proposed revision of the UMC Social Principles so that from beginning to end, the process is dominated by liberal, white-collar Americans from the most liberal U.S. annual conferences.
Given this set-up, we should be disappointed but not surprised at the results of how much of the GBCS’s recently released rewrite proposal – on matters ranging from abortion to family life – has little to nothing to do with making our Social Principles more globally or theologically oriented, and everything to do with completely replacing thoughtful, faithful teachings carefully developed at successive General Conferences with shallow endorsements of the partisan political biases of the very narrow group of very left-wing Americans dominating this supposedly “globalizing” process.
At the Berlin meeting, Miller reported that a total of around 250 people had been involved in the process of developing the GBCS’s proposed rewrite, before its public release in April. It is not clear how he arrived at this number. He may have been counting every participant in the GBCS’s long-ago completed consultations, in which the GBCS at least made a show of listening to different voices, but then could not refrain from demonizing conservative United Methodists as Nazis. It likely also includes everyone on the writing teams, but those full lists are not being made public at this point.
There are reportedly folk from beyond just liberals from the Northern and Western USA involved in the six writing teams which each set about rewriting separate paragraphs of the current Social Principles. But it may also be that the GBCS has chosen people to give a misleading appearance of inclusion, by such tricks as including a few conservative voices while making sure that they are too tokenized and outnumbered to make more than a minimal difference, or by carefully appointing people from more traditionalist regions of the church whose personal perspectives are much less reflective of their home regions than of the GBCS’s own leftist ideologies. We have seen plenty of both in the UMC hierarchy.
Some GBCS leaders may be hoping, for example, that when they highlight how one of their writing team leaders is the Rev. Dr. Mark Davies of the Oklahoma Conference, this will help their PR efforts as people see that and perhaps think, “Well, the revision cannot be THAT liberally biased, if they are including leaders from more conservative conferences like Oklahoma!” However, a quick Google search reveals that Davies is an Oklahoma “Regional Organizer” for RMN’s campaign of recruiting UMC clergy to openly defy our denomination’s ban on same-sex union ceremonies – a stance hardly representative of Oklahoma United Methodism as a whole.
The GBCS has now released its draft rewrite of the Social Principles in four languages – English, French, Portuguese, and Swahili – while inviting online feedback from interested United Methodists here.
The plan is to accept such feedback through this summer, have some more controlled in-person meetings ostensibly to listen to United Methodists outside of the USA, have relevant “church and society” leaders potentially lead discussions in annual conference, then revise their revision based on that feedback, and then submit their final replacement Social Principles for consideration at the 2020 General Conference. At this point, it will be up to the duly elected, more globally representative delegates of that assembly to decide the extent to which they want to accept or reject the GBCS’s bold proposal to replace our entire UMC Social Principles with the GBCS’s new preferred document.Google+