On December 3, the National Association of Deaconesses and Home Missioners (NADHM), a voluntary, national association within the United Methodist Church, formally affiliated itself with Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN), the main unofficial caucus of United Methodists seeking church blessing of homosexual practice.
It is striking to see a major part of an official United Methodist agency formally join hands with a far-left group known for its opposition to official United Methodist doctrine and ethics, such no-holds-barred methods as disrupting meetings, and a history of endorsing various forms of sex outside of marriage, including multiple partners (as documented here, here, here, and here).
With few exceptions, bishops have allowed hundreds of the UMC’s 34,000 U.S. congregations to publicly identify themselves as RMN-affiliated “reconciling congregations,” despite United Methodist church law clearly stating that it is illegal for congregations or annual conferences to have such formal caucus affiliations. This was made clear in Judicial Council Decision Nos. 847 and 871. As the Judicial Council explained, “Such identification or labeling is divisive and makes the local church subject to the possibility of being in conflict with the Discipline and doctrines of The United Methodist Church.” By what logic can an official UMC agency, which supposedly is there for ALL United Methodists rather than just one narrow ideological faction, justifiably do so?
This latest news is a continuation of a trend of highly liberal practices by United Methodist Women (UMW), which administers the NADHM. John Lomperis has written on how UMW has affirmed as deaconesses a number of women in provocative defiance of the denomination’s more traditionalist official values. This has included Robin Ridenour, the legal wife of lesbian “bishop” Karen Oliveto of the Mountain Sky Area, Rachel Harvey, who was Associate Executive Director of RMN, and Susan Burgess, who worked as an administrative assistant at Planned Parenthood. UMW leadership also took part in the consecration of Helen Ryde, a partnered lesbian and RMN staff member, as a home missionary in May 2016.
Coordination and crossover work between UMW, RMN, and members of the NADHM by the most vocal and public LGBTQ activists within the UMC is not a new phenomenon, but this latest resolution institutionalizes progressive stances on human sexuality for deaconesses and home ministers as an entire group, regardless of their individual views. While the clearly liberal leadership of the NADHM supports the move, many members faithfully serving their communities will not and will have to consider whether they can continue as a part of an organization officially at odds with their beliefs. Further, this will make the program unwelcoming to potential new members if they do not adhere to RMN’s radical beliefs.
In labelling themselves as a “reconciling” ministry, the NADHM is agreeing to follow the guidance of an organization with a long history of heretical and head-scratching views. One minister speaking at an RMN’s annual convocation said that he feels “the United Methodist Church isn’t in a state of dying, that it’s dead” because it has not accepted the LGBTQ community in the ways he wants. Dr. Dorothee Benz, a well-known reconciling movement leader and LGBTQ activist, questioned whether traditionalists “have even met Jesus” at the same event this summer. A sermon given at an RMN event by Marcus Briggs-Cloud, a Native American Christian activist, suggested ripping out pages of the Bible they disagreed with and instead listening to the wind and rain.
As a program administered by UMW, the NADHM receives funding from them totaling $400,000 in 2017. Thankfully, UMW is largely financially independent in recent years and does not receive many directly apportioned dollars from the denomination. However, concerned United Methodists should still understand the sorts of far-left causes their donations are used to support when they give to UMW-specific fundraisers that supposedly merely support some inoffensive-sounding and vaguely unspecified “mission giving.” On their own brochure, the NADHM’s office writes, “United Methodist Women Mission giving supports this ministry.” However, UMW claims that they do not fund programs that do not comply with the Social Principles or the Discipline of the UMC. If they continue to fund a group that is now an RMN affiliate, this raises a major question of their credibility.
Let us pray for wise, biblically-faithful leaders within the organization to rise up, and for courage for those for whom this divisive new affiliation will cause internal as well as external conflicts.