2019 UMC General Conference


Asbury Theological Seminary

August 22, 2019

Asbury Alumni Attack Students and Staff

In an open letter to the faculty, administrators, students, and alumni at Asbury Theological Seminary, a group of 70 current and former students attacked the seminary for its support of the United Methodist Church’s Traditional Plan at General Conference 2019.

Asbury is an independent evangelical seminary outside Lexington, Kentucky with 1800 current students that teaches Wesleyan beliefs. It graduates more United Methodist clergy than does any official United Methodist seminary and is one of America’s largest seminaries.

Among the letter signers, and possibly its organizer, is Bill Mefford, who left the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society after controversially mocking the March for Life, where he appeared in 2015 with a sign declaring: “I March for Sandwiches.”

Letter authors decry the restrictions and penalties enacted by the plan in support of traditional marriage as unjust discrimination. They also compare the mandatory penalties of the Traditional Plan to federal mandatory minimum sentencing laws. Such laws are criticized by detractors as racist due to disproportionate sentencing of racial minorities.

The liberal Asbury activist students and alumni point to the application of the federal laws to excessively incarcerate minorities and draw a parallel to the use of the Traditional Plan to force self-avowed, practicing LGBT clergy out of the UMC. This is a spurious claim because race and ethnicity have no inherent moral dimensions, while sexual behavior does. Christ said to go and make disciples of all nations and all peoples, but he did not ignore the sinful lifestyles in which many people lived (Matthew 28:19, John 4:17-18, John 8:11).

The authors of the letter inform readers that by either directly assisting the passage of the Traditional Plan or by sitting quietly on the sidelines they have sinned grievously. The authors then go on to, “…confess our culpability in not making space for LGBTQ+ people in our lives, churches, and ministries.”

According to the letter, not sufficiently affirming one’s sexual proclivities, and indeed disagreeing with these choices and proclivities, is sin. The specific argument that the authors make is, “…to persecute someone for who they are – for who God has created them to be – is a denial of the Imago Dei within each person.”

This is preposterous. Firstly, it can be agreed that all people have inclinations to sin, and that these inclinations vary from person-to-person. Telling someone that they should not engage in homosexual behavior is no more a denial of the Image of God within that person than telling someone that they should not abuse alcohol or any other habitual sin. Secondly, God created all human beings to be like Him through sanctification in Christ. We were not created to sin, and the implication that homosexuality is part of proper Christian living and the process of sanctification is equally wrong.

Finally, the letter encourages the Asbury community to “repent of this sin and to join us in standing in solidarity with our LGBTQ+ siblings in Christ.” Progressive activists emphasize the harm done to marginalized persons by the church while minimizing clear doctrinal teachings. This gives them a skewed view of what constitutes sin and what is permissible for Christians to support. The letter ends with a call to justice and love for those in the margins of society, even though in society homosexuality is celebrated in the public square.

United Methodist theologian Maxie Dunnam, a supporter of the Traditional Plan, wrote an open letter in response. Dunnam is a former president of Asbury Theological Seminary and is among groups to which the initial letter was addressed.

In his response, Dunnam emphasizes his lifetime of service to others. His first appointment after completing seminary was to Trinity Methodist Church in Mississippi in the early 1960s, and he was a participant in the civil rights movement. However, as Dunnam puts it, “Because of my involvement [in the Civil Rights Movement], and the larger church’s failure to be involved, or support those who were there, I was compelled to leave Mississippi.” Dunnam moved to San Clemente, California, to plant a congregation. At San Clemente, he continued his history of service ministering amongst immigrants in Tijuana, Mexico, 60 miles away. Dunnam’s letter emphasizes his history of compassion and service to the disadvantaged and marginalized.

Dunnam’s lifetime of service is informed by the same theology that informed his support of the Traditional Plan. This rebuts the argument that traditionalists are uncaring or unsympathetic. Rather, Dunnam makes the case that he is sympathetic and has a record to back it up. The same theology that drives him to help those in need also informs his support of the Traditionalist Plan.

Dunnam concludes in agreement with the Asbury activists that repentance is important and to be practiced regularly. But he also says, “I will continually seek to be faithful to Scripture and to the doctrine and discipline of our church.” It is more important adhere to and to be conformed to Scripture and God’s revealed word than it is to chase an ideal of inclusiveness or solidarity. This is what Dunnam understands, and this is what the Asbury activists reject.

18 Responses to Asbury Alumni Attack Students and Staff

  1. William says:

    Repentance? Is repentance not absolutely necessary for salvation, sanctification, and eternal life — Luke 24:46-47.

    If sexual relations practiced in the LGBT+ community are not sinful by being granted a “special category” and excused by God, then what about all across-the-board sexual relations practiced outside that of a man and a woman in marriage?


  2. Tracy says:

    So by this rationale, if someone is a murderer or pedophile, he/she is that way because God made them so and I should accept and condone their behavior? Ridiculous argument! What part of “Go and sin no more” is unclear? Common sense is no longer acceptable to some. If I don’t believe in your outrageous beliefs them I am closed minded and not following God. If you don’t believe in my traditional values, you still believe you are correct and the rest of us are prejudiced. Diversity is great, except when they disagree with liberal opinions. We are not defined by our behavior, but by God. Too many have missed the point and declare they are their behavior.

    • David says:

      What is your favorite color? When did it become your favorite? Did you decide this or did it just happen? Can you honestly say your favored hue is one thing today and tomorrow it will be something else? Preferences do not always have a rational basis, but merely exist.

      • J says:

        Why do preferences exist?

        Should we act on every preference that arises within us?

        What a person is married and preference suddenly arises in them to have sex with someone else? Is it wrong for a person to act on such a “preference?” How do you know if acting on a “preference” is right or wrong?

        There is a big difference in preferring a color and in preferring to have sex with different people/ same gender/ age/ etc. This is a silly argument

      • pastor's wife says:

        “Preferences” are quite a different thing from behavior! Preferences are what I like — behavior is what I do. Preferences may seem automatic or inherent, but behavior is governed by choice, under one’s control.
        A principal component of maturity is maintaining control over my preferences so that the sinful ones do not become behavior.

      • Search4Truth says:

        Preferences? G.K.Chesterton demonstrated the explanation in a fallen world is “original sin,” for which there is an answer. Reject that premise and all arguments implode.

  3. John says:

    David, pedophiles argue they are just hardwired to be attracted to children and simply cannot help themselves because they were made that way. Nonetheless their behavior is unacceptable both to God and to society. I’m not in any way equating pedophilia and homosexuality, but I challenge the logic of arguing the Church should affirm as right living homosexual activity simply on the basis of one’s preference or being born that way. Same argument goes for heterosexual predators and serial heterosexual cheaters.

  4. Dan W says:

    How many thousands of Asbury graduates have there been in the last 90+ years? 70 signed this letter? When we were young and didn’t get our way, we would take our ball and go home, or flip the checker board/Monopoly board. In 2019 if you lose the vote you call everyone a racist-homophobe, and sick the government on them.

  5. Jeffrey Crawford says:

    As an ATS alum, I am in firm agreement with Maxie Dunnam and the vast majority of the ATS body that rejects this letter and the views of its’ proponents as being incorrect, illogical and heretical. Furthermore, to call actions out and lifestyles out as sin is not a rejection of the Imago Dei in each person any more than it is “persecution”.
    Are they trying to say that a call to repentance for and to all is “persecution”? Don’t call anyone a sinner in need of redemption, unless you want to hurt their feelings? Really? What then, is the point of Christ’s suffering, atoning work and resurrection? What then, is the point of us proclaiming the Gospel message?
    A call to repentance isn’t persecution, it is acknowledgement that, indeed, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23), myself included. The Imago Dei within us is marred by our own sin. It can only be fixed by the redemptive blood of Christ, not by our actions. This is the crux of the Gospel message and without it, we are all hopelessly lost. If we don’t proclaim the Gospel, how will they ever know it (para. Rom. 10:14)? True love and acceptance doesn’t turn a blind eye to the sins of anyone. True love and acceptance tells people the truth: that without Christ, we are all lost. I am proud of Maxie Dunnam and of ATS for being willing to proclaim this truth, regardless of opposition.

    • Virginia Berger says:

      Thank you for eloquently expressing what I’ve been thinking.

    • William says:

      Thank you so much. AMEN! Not only have you so succinctly defined the Gospel, but you have also clearly defined our schism in the UMC. There are those in our denomination, the progressives and their centrists enablers, who DO NOT believe that REPENTANCE is the only way to salvation. They do not believe in the authority of Scripture, do not believe the Word of God, do not even believe the spoken and recorded words of Jesus (Luke 24:46-47). We are at an irreconcilable divide and must now make that unbridgeable chasm official with a separation — as most leaders across the denomination are now finally acknowledging.

      Note: while Asbury thrives as an actual, legitimate seminary, a number of the others struggle as they seem to be transitioning into oblivion or other things not resembling the traditional seminary.

  6. TexasBill says:

    It is so sad that God’s people continue to repeat the mistakes of our ancestors in Israel. They too chased after foreign gods and polluted the faith by embracing their pagan ways. The parallels with today are stunning. It was the elites in Israel who embraced foreign gods and the detestable practices that went with following them. The same is true within the church. Israel erected Asherah poles at their forbidden high places and plunged headlong into Baal worship with its perverse sexual practices. One might argue today that the modern Asherah pole can be found in United Methodist Churches in the form of rainbow flags. Both are symbols of sexual liberation and practice that is contrary to the ancient faith of Israel. One certainly cannot make the Asherah Pole and the rainbow flag exact equivalents. But we cannot miss the overarching point…both place sexual identity and practice at the very center of religious life. By doing so, we fail to acknowledge the one true God as the sovereign Lord and therefore place our own broken identities and sexual practices on the throne.

    • May Joy Gilberg says:

      Wow what profound parallelism and exposition. I do agree with you. I have been reading the first 5 books and the OT in the last few Months.

  7. David Gingrich says:

    I thank God for Asbury and for the faithfulness of its people. The UMC in America is a disaster. Hopefully, the faithful remnant will rebuild.

  8. Phil Lavender says:

    There are many useful links in this article.
    Where is the link to Dunnam’s response?

  9. Donald says:

    Rev. Dunnam speaks for all of us who hold Traditional values, both within the UMC and in the broader church. Amen and amen!

  10. The Rev. Dr. James W. Hunter says:

    The LGBTQXYZ agenda is not supported by the biblical witness, the overall message of the Bible. What we are witnessing is the flawed theology of our postmodern culture in which truth is relative, not absolute or objective. I am a traditional/orthodox Episcopalian who sees my denomination moving away from the revelation of God in Jesus of Nazerith.

  11. Terry says:

    When I was an ATS student many years ago, it seemed that some students made an indoor sport of trying to pooh-pooh theological distinctives of the Seminary. For some, statements of truth exist to be ignored and disproven. Thankfully, most students who attend a confessional school like ATS know what they’re getting into and accept it for what it is. A few others, however, are there to prove the Seminary wrong and hope to change the school into their own image. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were more than 70 who share the same views as the known 70, but they should know better. If what Asbury stands for is true, any graduate probably understands how to deal redemptively with people practicing homosexuality. We saw plenty of examples of that kind of agape love in Wilmore!

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