Glide United Methodist Church in San Francisco, California, may be on the brink of breaking away from the UMC. The church, as a whole, has systematically distanced itself from the governance and theological beliefs long held by the UMC, and yet has still clung to the title of being a United Methodist congregation, according to Bishop Minerva Carcaño.
Bishop Carcaño addressed an open letter to the California-Nevada Conference, outlining issues within Glide that she found to be troubling. She described Glide’s “Sunday Celebrations” as “uplifting concerts,” which “lack the fundamentals of Christian worship.” She went on to write that the congregants don’t want the church to be United Methodist or Christian in its practices. According to her, baptisms are performed “in the name of the people rather than from a Christian understanding of Baptism” and Holy Communion was abandoned for a number of years before being reintroduced, “with much resistance,” but only outside of the Sunday Celebrations.
Her allegations against Glide do not end there. In the letter, she says that Cecil Williams, a prominent retired pastor who led the congregation from 1963-2000, made “all decisions in the background of Glide.” According to a 2004 profile, Williams and former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown “stood together in defense of militant communist Angela Davis, and again, prominently, in defense of the Rev. Jim Jones of the Peoples Temple,” with Glide (under Williams’s leadership) even presented Jones with a humanitarian award in 1977, the year before Jones led a mass suicide of 913 people. Williams later expressed regret for his misjudgment of Jones.
Bishop Carcaño said Williams keeps control through his handpicked selection of individuals serving on the Glide Foundation board. The foundation, running on a $12 million budget, provides social services such as meals, healthcare, support for single mothers, and training for unemployed adults. These are indubitably good things, but these works have eclipsed theological teaching. According to Jenny Strasburg, a writer for SF Gate, the “Glide Foundation runs the church.”
All this apparently happened under the nose of Karen Oliveto, who was senior pastor of Glide from 2008 until 2016, when the Western Jurisdiction provocatively voted to elect her as a bishop for their region of the denomination, despite her being an openly partnered lesbian activist, in open violation of the UMC’s ban on ordaining “self-avowed practicing homosexuals.” The legitimacy of Oliveto’s election and her right to claim the status of bishop remains hotly disputed in the denomination. But her supposed management of this large congregation was widely cited by her supporters as showing she had sufficient skills and experience to be a bishop.
However, Oliveto doesn’t seem to have led the congregation well, as there was major decline in attendance during her eight years as pastor. While claiming a rise in (apparently inflated) membership from nearly 12,000 to over 13,000 during Oliveto’s tenure, actual attendance dropped from 3,000 to 1,899.
Bishop Carcaño also reported, in an opinion article she wrote on June 28, that, she was initiating an assessment of the internal workings of Glide. The reasons stated included “the lack of an appropriate governmental structure and the lack of financial transparency.” For the duration of the assessment, she reassigned the remaining pastors to other churches. This temporary measure has the potential to lead towards reconciliation between the congregation and the annual UMC conference.
Glide’s response to Bishop Carcaño’s letter was to draft one of their own, stating that they “remain open to dialogue with the UMC,” but are determined to continue in its ways with or without the UMC’s support. In order to continue an affiliation with the UMC, Glide’s leadership requires the UMC to “[return] to the attitude of tolerance that [they’ve] enjoyed.”
In its responses, the church has also levied two allegations against Bishop Carcaño. First, they claim she is pushing a “conservative” agenda, even though Carcaño is well known for her outspokenly liberal views. During her time in the UMC, she has consistently urged the church to liberalize its views on sexuality. The second accusation is that it is “her mission to create more ‘Disciples of Christ’.” Glide leadership apparently believes it is a bad thing for a UMC bishop to strive towards helping individuals become followers of Christ.
Other responses given by the Glide community has included holding a rally at city hall, joined by the mayor-elect of San Francisco, London Breed. Meanwhile the national, purely secular, partisan, left-wing political group MoveOn.org has gotten involved, with an online petition demanding that Bishop Carcaño reinstate the pastors.
When individuals flaunt lifestyles contrary to Scriptural teaching, it opens the door for endless misunderstandings of biblical texts. Glide Church is a clear example of what a Christian community looks like when that happens. Under Oliveto’s oversight, it appears that this congregation was hardly recognizable as United Methodist and was only loosely tethered to Christianity.
Until Glide is willing to come under the leadership of the UMC’s most basic doctrinal and structural standards, it should not be attached to the UMC name.