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Hopefully not a picture of the United Methodist News Service's new understanding of its relationship to the Reconciling Ministries Network (Photo credit:  MG Electronics)

Hopefully not a picture of the United Methodist News Service’s new understanding of its relationship to the Reconciling Ministries Network (Photo credit: MG Electronics)

By John Lomperis (@JohnLomperis)

Heterodox biases within official church agencies, funded by the apportionments skimmed from United Methodist offering plates, are sadly nothing new.

But it is striking to see United Methodist Communications, the official PR arm of our denomination (slated for $18.7 million of apportionments this year), through its United Methodist News Service (UMNS), report on denominational news in a way that dovetails very neatly with the media strategy of a boisterously disruptive gay activist group forcefully opposing our denomination’s core doctrine and key moral teachings.

Last year, angry, well-funded activists demanding the United Methodist Church’s endorsement of their own lack of sexual self-control failed in their all-out, any-means-necessary efforts, actually losing significant ground, so much so that the most prominent leader of the cause, Troy Plummer, soon left the United Methodist Church for a small, primarily LGBT denomination.

So the liberal caucuses closed their efforts at the Tampa General Conference not with a center-ring show of the first denominationally permitted homosexual union service (the original, optimistic plan) but rather an exhortation for remaining heterodox United Methodists to brazenly defy the church laws they cannot change, refusing to submit to any authority higher than themselves.

Since then, the Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN), which defends the morality of homosexual practice and other varieties of sex outside of marriage, has been busy working to build its grassroots network and encourage renegade United Methodist clergy to besiege and overwhelm our church at all levels, wearing our church down in a draining, destructive  war of attrition until they achieve a de facto reality of United Methodist clergy and churches violating biblical sexual boundaries with impunity, with those who stubbornly insist on following Scripture rather than secular Western culture getting fed up and leaving the denomination entirely in such activists’ hands.

High-profile expressions of this strategy have been seen throughout the country, with the most recent relevant news centering on the bellwether Southwest Texas Conference. We have already reported the details of this case.

Since April, RMN has been publicly celebrating a young lesbian activist named Mary Ann Kaiser pursuing ordination in that conference while being open about her being homosexually active. According to Kaiser’s RMN bio, she formerly interned for a partisan political group devoted to fighting “the religious right in Texas” and for a feminist liberation theology group that promotes its own syncretistic religious rituals done in worship of feminine and feminized deities, including Amaterasu (the Japanese/Shinto sun goddess), a pre-Christian Celtic goddess, and, in many places, “Sophia-Wisdom.”

Earlier this month in the Southwest Texas Annual Conference, the clergy session accepted the Board of Ordained Ministry’s removal of Miss Kaiser from the roster of certified candidates, since she was open about the fact that she intends to legally “marry” her lesbian lover, with whom she currently cohabits, while our standards clearly forbid the ordination of “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals.” And of course, biblical and United Methodist teaching is also very clear that a perfectly heterosexual man is morally unqualified for the privilege (not right) of ordination if he is sleeping or cohabitating with his girlfriend.

Demonstrating that it was prepared for this well ahead of time, RMN responded almost immediately with a Twitter and publicity campaign, encouraging activists within and beyond our denomination to express outrage and to flood the inbox of the conference’s bishop, Jim Dorff.

The key elements of RMN’s strategy at this point appear to have been:

1)      Create the impression of a flood of outrage to intimidate United Methodists who may want to uphold our biblical standards;

2)      Shift the narrative away from the publicity-stunt tactics of RMN and its latest poster child to not-widely-accessible details of church law, while disingenuously professing concern for following the Book of Discipline; and

3)      Further shift the narrative by spreading the dishonest claim that Miss Kaiser was denied ordination for “simply identifying as a lesbian,” while ignoring the important distinction in both church law and this case of ongoing, unrepentant homosexual PRACTICE.

UMNS soon chose to jump into the fray, in a way that effectively, uncritically amplified RMN’s propaganda on all three points.

The title of the article by Heather Hahn makes a one-sided focus on liberal opposition to the derailing of Kaiser’s candidacy, and asserts that this rose to the level of “furor.” However, people who were actually there at the conference session dispute this characterization, reporting that the debate was rather civil.

The lengthy UMNS article goes into the weeds of the specific paragraphs of church law that are at issue in the liberal-requested episcopal ruling of law. It also uncritically passes on the laughable expression of concern for following the standards of the Book of Discipline suddenly now professed by Miss Kaiser’s “supporters” (if pushing someone else forward to pay a price you are unwilling to pay yourself counts as “support”).

Following RMN’s point #3 above, the UMNS nowhere in the 1,651-word article makes any direct mention of Kaiser’s being very openly homosexually active, not even in the brief quotes selected from an apparent interview with my friend, the Rev. Tom Lambrecht of Good News. Nor does it make clear that the issue for opponents of Kaiser’s candidacy was not that she simply experiences same-sex attractions but rather her voluntarily chosen lack of sexual self-control.

Instead, the UMNS article repeatedly follows RMN’s lead in misleadingly framing the issue as “whether a lesbian can be a certified candidate for ordained United Methodist ministry,” summarizing the orthodox argument as that Kaiser’s “candidacy should have ceased as soon as she identified herself as gay,” and claiming that “her sexual orientation” was “the reason” for the ending of Kaiser’s candidacy. It also passes along RMN’s dishonest words that Kaiser’s conference “remov[ed] her from ordination track [because] of her orientation,” without offering any direct rebuttal from another perspective. Furthermore, in noting the heterodox-dominated district committee on ministry’s support for Kaiser’s invalid candidacy, UMNS chose to report that Kaiser “told the body she is gay” and to omit the fact that she not only told them that “she is gay” but also about her current relationship.

Shortly after the article appeared, I respectfully emailed the author and other UMNS contacts about such concerns and received “read” receipts for my emails. I also sincerely told the author that “I would really, really like to be able to give [her] the benefit of the doubt here.” Nearly two weeks later, I have yet to receive a response or see UMNS correct its factual misrepresentations.

Thus on a high-profile case related to an internal United Methodist controversy, the United Methodist News Service is now choosing to report in a way that amplifies RMN’s propaganda efforts, uncritically echoes RMN’s dishonest distortions of the facts, and misrepresents faithful United Methodists who support our denomination’s core doctrine and established covenantal standards. And after being respectfully informed of the factual problems with the article, UMNS chooses to not take corrective action, instead leaving the article online while knowing that this is misleading readers.

How can UMNS expect to earn the trust of the wider United Methodist public with reporting like this?