With everything else going on in the world, I am a bit reluctant at this time to address the sorts of spirited personal attacks and the wild misrepresentations of the truth that have come to characterize the liberal “Mainstream UMC” caucus.
But it seems that some have recently been misled and confused by Mainstream UMC’s executive director Mark Holland claiming that “Mark Tooley, President of the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) has pulled his name off the Protocol of Grace and Reconciliation through Separation,” and that this came after Tooley had earlier publicly endorsed the Protocol.
To set the record straight: that is false.
Both Mark Holland and IRD President Mark Tooley were among a group of caucus leaders and others who met last July, convened by Bishop John Yambasu of Sierra Leone. Out of this meeting, negotiations were launched with a smaller group of leaders, which included neither of the Marks. This historical record is noted in the Protocol itself, and explained in greater detail in this official FAQ. This smaller group met over the course of several months, during which Tooley and I were in touch with the two traditionalists on the 16-member negotiating team.
But those listed as actual “signatories” of the Protocol only included the 16 individuals on the core negotiating team. Neither Mark Tooley as IRD President nor myself as UMAction director were ever asked to be included in this list of signatories.
Thus, neither Tooley nor I “pulled our names,” because there was really nothing to pull our names from.
We at UMAction have had plenty to say about the Protocol – the positive, the negative, the dangerous risks, and the exciting opportunities – as you can read about here. We will have more to say in the days ahead.
In order to spin a narrative about us “making no sense,” Holland selectively quotes from and misrepresents a private email correspondence he initiated with Tooley and myself. But the responses he received were all consistent with the above. If readers have future dialogues with Mark Holland or other Mainstream UMC leaders, please consider yourself forewarned of the potential for them to also selectively quote and deliberately misrepresent you.
Whenever we see various statements from Mark Holland or Mainstream UMC, it is essential to remember that they have shown a recurring pattern of misleading overstatements, rhetorical sleights of hand, and outright falsehoods, all without a single apology or retraction that I have ever seen.
In promoting the so-called “One Church Plan” – to at least partially liberalize the United Methodist Church on sexuality – Mainstream UMC repeatedly used extremely broad language in making such claims as that this proposal to the 2019 General Conference “has no impact outside the United States.” (See here, here, here, here, and here). But the objective facts are that this plan would have changed our denomination’s official definition of marriage to become at least potentially open to same-sex couples – in the non-adaptable Social Principles for every region of our global church – while also having serious impacts on the reputation and finances of United Methodists outside of the USA, as you can read about here.
Although a 2015 scientific survey by United Methodist Communications found slight majorities of American United Methodism’s pastors and most involved lay members favoring our denomination’s ban of same-sex union ceremonies, Holland has repeatedly used broad language in characterizing “2/3 of the U.S. church” as supporting a liberal position. Mainstream UMC even blatantly misrepresented the language and numbers from an earlier Pew survey to falsely claim that this survey “reported that 60% of U.S. United Methodists believed that same-sex marriage should be accepted.”
In demonizing the Traditional Plan and its supporters, Mainstream UMC repeatedly launched such reckless accusations as that this proposal “runs everyone out of the church who disagrees with one interpretation of scripture.” The Traditional Plan unquestionably involves measures intended to ensure that more consistent compliance by clergy (who are not “everyone”) with the minimal moral standards of our denominational covenant, on sexuality and also other matters, which they already promised to uphold before 2019. But no one who has read the actual language of the Traditional Plan, rather than the loud fear-mongering, has identified any provision that truly kicks people, let alone “everyone,” out of our denomination based solely on their beliefs, as distinguished from practice. The fact of the matter is that, when you take time to compare in detail, the Traditional Plan ultimately offers relatively much more room for diversity of opinion and theological belief than the so-called One Church Plan.
In a legal brief seeking to persuade the UMC Judicial Council to legally invalidate the Traditional Plan enacted by the 2019 General Conference, Holland and his co-signers based much of their argument on what they claimed about the alleged intentions of those of us delegates who voted for the Traditional Plan. Among other things, Holland and company actually told the Judicial Council that “no attempt was made” to amend various Traditional Plan petitions with which the Judicial Council previously identified legal problems, and that traditionalist delegates “mostly stood pat, choosing to amend just one of the eight defective petitions embedded in the Traditional Plan as reported out by the Legislative Committee.”
The audacity of this whopper really takes the cake. Holland and his co-signers knew darn well that traditionalist delegates did not “choose” to refrain from offering additional amendments to address the Judicial Council’s concerns, but rather that we were actively trying to do so, but were cynically prevented by what the United Methodist News Service called “hours of delaying tactics by opponents.” Is there anyone who was present who could forget Holland’s own fiery speech in which he angrily vowed to continue filibustering until time ran out?
For those who have wondered how much Holland’s dishonesty is an outlier in the world of liberal caucuses and bishops, it is worth noting that Holland’s co-signers, who chose to fully join him in cynically making the above-quoted misrepresentations to the Judicial Council, included Reconciling Ministries Network board member Dave Nuckols, “UMC Next” leaders Adam Hamilton, Cynthia Weems (whose activism many will understandably see as reflecting on outgoing Council of Bishops president Ken Carter, given that she is dean of his appointive cabinet), Tom Berlin, Lonnie Chafin (Bishop Sally Dyck’s treasurer in Northern Illinois), and Ginger Gaines-Cirelli, as well as Jefferson “Jay” Brim (Bishop Robert Schnase’s chancellor in the Rio Texas Conference).
After the Judicial Council declined to accept these arguments at its spring 2019 meeting, Mark Holland and these same partners sent the Judicial Council a lengthy request to reconsider. In their request, they doubled down on their attempts to deceive the Judicial Council about traditionalist delegates’ attempted amendments, actually claiming that “from all that appears in the legislative record, they simply chose to ‘stand pat’” rather than try to amend petitions we knew needed amendments to satisfy the Judicial Council’s concerns, that we traditionalist delegates “were entirely free to move to cure by amendment” (emphasis added) the portions of the Traditionalist Plan we were trying to amend, but that we “opted to amend just one of the defective provisions” in the Traditional Plan.
So to recap: The Judicial Council identified problems that needed to be fixed with amendments in both the One Church Plan and the Traditional Plan. Traditionalist delegates let liberals make all their amendments to the One Church Plan. Some liberal delegates – led by Mark Holland and others – refused to return the favor, but used cynical filibustering strategies to prevent traditionalist delegates from having time to offer all of our amendments to the Traditional Plan. Then Mark Holland, Adam Hamilton, Tom Berlin, and other leading liberal delegates knowingly misrepresented the truth about this by telling the Judicial Council, twice, that we traditionalist delegates made a choice to decline to offer the amendments Holland et al. knew we had been trying to make. And they urged the Judicial Council to invalidate the entire Traditional Plan, including provisions previously upheld as constitutional, on that basis.
Then in emails and blog posts last fall, Mainstream UMC misrepresented the truth about several formal complaints against certain ministers.
In their more recent message misrepresenting IRD/UMAction on the “Protocol” proposal for denominational separation, Mainstream UMC plugged an earlier article of Holland’s in which he promoted a discredited 2007 video, “Renewal or Ruin?,” which is entirely devoted to ad hominem demonization of the Institute on Religion and Democracy. Holland praises the multimedia hit piece as “shockingly accurate,” but it follows the pattern of wildly misrepresenting the truth, as you can read about here.
Mainstream UMC seems to largely appeal to the sort of angry liberals who are already inclined to believe, without evidence, the most outlandish conspiracies about the evils of IRD and other renewal groups, and who are unlikely to listen to anything I say to the contrary.
But there’s no reason for anyone else to treat Mark Holland as a reliable source of information, or to let his group manipulate you into getting worked up over the “alternative facts” he promotes.
Mark Holland is not acting alone. Aside from his partnership with leaders like Adam Hamilton, and others noted above, his Mainstream UMC Advisory Board includes several who are prominent liberal leaders in their respective annual conferences, including Bishop Ken Carter’s aforementioned deputy, Cynthia Weems. (As previously noted, this board adopted a rather “incompatibilist” statement last May, declaring that they “cannot affiliate” in the same denomination with supporters of the Traditional Plan any longer.)
Within the wider world of liberal United Methodist caucuses and bishops, how much approval and even encouragement is there for the sorts of dishonest and any-means-necessary tactics noted above? Liberal United Methodists should understand that this is a reasonable thing for United Methodists outside of their faction to wonder. I have yet to see any current liberal caucus leader or bishop ever willing to say that any of Mainstream UMC’s tactics or misrepresentations have ever gone too far. I do see liberals continuing to treat Mainstream UMC as a credible source. But even if you support this group’s goals, and regardless of any “whataboutism,” can the ends sought by Mainstream UMC really justify such means?
For the rest of us, this episode offers a good reminder on the importance of being discerning in the sources we trust.