Today’s guest author is Rev. Karen Booth, the former director of Transforming Congregations and a former member of the Institute on Religion & Democracy’s UMAction Advisory Board.
A few months before the United Methodist General Conference of 2012, Bristol House Publishers released my book Forgetting How to Blush: United Methodism’s Compromise with the Sexual Revolution. The culmination of eight years of extensive research, it traced the denomination’s history of theological, educational and programmatic accommodation to the sexual revolution, including its response to pro-LGBT activism.
One of the chapters drew attention to a little-known but nonetheless groundbreaking study from 2006 called David v. Goliath. A project of The National Religious Leadership Roundtable, it cast a compelling vision for a secular and religious gay rights alliance. Uniting those who were more politically savvy with those “in the business of changing hearts and minds” had the potential to wield enormous social clout.
So, a two-pronged strategy was developed: first, support, strengthen and promote those religious bodies that already were pro-LGBT and second, attempt to change the teaching and policy of those that were not. Mainline Protestant denominations were key to this scheme; as “the backbone of American religion,” their conversion would score “a tremendous moral victory for the LGBT community.” (David v. Goliath, p 14)
Thirteen denominations that had large, influential LGBT “affinity” groups were surveyed, but only four of them received special attention. Though it had already approved gay ordination and same-sex blessing, the Episcopal Church was chosen because it still faced international opposition in the broader Anglican Communion. The other three – the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and The United Methodist Church – needed assistance in fighting their seemingly uphill battles for full inclusion.
The last three also had something else in common: democratic decision-making processes that affected the entire denomination. If potential donors could be persuaded to commit the necessary money for resources and staffing, it was hoped that these processes could be more effectively influenced or manipulated, especially via the “vast, moveable middle” and the younger generations.
Over the next five years, from 2006 to 2011, the Arcus Foundation, the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund and the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation pumped over $30 million into religious efforts to undermine traditional sexual ethics. The Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN) and several official and related seminaries were the major beneficiaries within United Methodism.
The results? Two of the three non-affirming denominations that were singled out for special attention voted to officially sanction gay ordination and/or same-sex marriage – the ELCA in 2009 and the PCUSA in 2011. The United Methodist Church successfully resisted this trend, though traditionalist delegates only narrowly defeated an attempt to pass “let’s all agree to disagree” legislation at General Conference 2012.
A quick online search this week revealed that The United Methodist Church has remained in the crosshairs of these powerful foundations ever since. Though grants to RMN from the Haas Fund and the Carpenter Foundation were substantial ($101,000 and $135,000 respectively from 2014-2016), support from Arcus was overwhelming – over $2 million from 2011-2018. In fact, Arcus funding contributed more than half of RMN’s overall operating budget during at least one of those years.
In addition, Arcus hired United Methodist layman Randall Miller as its Director of Global Religions in 2015. (He had served in a similar capacity for six years with the Haas Fund.) For almost three years, Miller worked to implement the stated goals of the project, which were comprehensive and far-reaching: advocating for LGBT Muslims by strengthening the network of LGBT-friendly Islamic faith leaders; building a similar network among faith leaders in Africa, primarily in the south and east; defeating or reversing “religious exemption” laws; and seeking opportunities for “limited” influence in “historically resistant” faith communities – “black churches, evangelical communities, Roman Catholic churches, and others.” 
Miller also has an extensive history of United Methodist pro-LGBT involvement. He served on the RMN Board for four years and twice for short periods as its Interim Director. He taught at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley. And even though it appears to me to be a conflict of interest, he has been elected as a General Conference delegate multiple times, including operating as Chair of the Commission on General Conference in 2012. He is a persuasive advocate for full inclusion, especially in the legislative committees I have observed and also on the plenary floor.
When I reflect on our recent specially called General Conference in St. Louis, I am amazed that the UMC – with the Holy Spirit’s help, of course – managed yet again to dodge such a colossal, well-financed, and seemingly unstoppable bullet. To me, it is nothing short of miraculous! But then, Psalm 20:7 easily comes to mind. “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.” I choose to believe that will be the case in the years ahead, at General Conference 2020 and beyond.
 Bristol House Publishers is no longer in business. Remaining hard copies of Forgetting How to Blush may be purchased through Seedbed (https://store.seedbed.com/collections/bristol/products/forgetting-how-to-blush) or directly from the author (firstname.lastname@example.org). A Kindle version is available through Amazon.
 The National Religious Leadership Roundtable was organized in 1998 by the Gay and Lesbian Task Force (now the National LGBTQ Task Force) and included representatives from both secular and multi-faith pro-LGBT activist groups. Three unofficial United Methodist caucus groups were founding members: Affirmation/CORNET (Covenant Relationships Network), the Methodist Federation for Social Action and the Reconciling Ministries Network. The David v. Goliath report can be read online at http://www.welcomingresources.org/davidvgoliath.pdf.
 “Denominations including the Lutheran, Episcopal, Presbyterian, Methodist, and American Baptist Churches and the Disciples of Christ regularly hold national and regional assemblies with representatives from across the country where the primary topic of debate in recent years has been the place of LGBT people in the churches. For many members of the mainline churches, issues such as LGBT ordination and same-sex blessings within their denominations are their primary point of engagement on issues of LGBT equality. If these denominations could be won over to support LGBT ordination and same-sex marriage, it would represent a vast and historic shift in the religious landscape of America.” David v. Goliath, p 14.
 See my blog post “Outsider influence over homosexuality at General Conference.” (https://goodnewsmag.org/2012/01/outsider-influence-over-homosexuality-at-general-conference/)
 See Dan Moran’s blog post “Personal Testimonies of the PCUSA and ELCA’s ‘One Church’ Plans” for an overview of the results of these decisions. (https://juicyecumenism.com/2019/02/19/personal-testimonies-pcusa-elcas-one-church-plans/)
 For example, in 2015 RMN reported total assets of roughly $685,000. Arcus had contributed $400,00 of that. Other grant information is available to the public through a search of 990s on The Foundation Center website (http://foundationcenter.org/find-funding/990-finder) or by reading Arcus’ Annual Reports on ISSUU (https://issuu.com/emersonwajdowiczstudios/docs/arcus_ar2012_social_justice).
 The Commission on General Conference is the committee in charge of making arrangements and setting agenda for the gathering. See https://rmnetwork.org/rmn-hires-interim-executive-director/.