By John Lomperis (@JohnLomperis)
As more and more liberal United Methodists admit that they are “not optimistic” about the direction of our denomination, they are increasingly mulling over their future options.
“[T]here is there is no indication that given the present structure of our United Methodist Church the official policies and positions” which affirm biblical standards on sexual morality “will change.”
That declaration was made in a resolution adopted in 2012 by the heterodox-dominated New York Conference of the United Methodist Church and reaffirmed by the 2013 session of the same conference last month.
Meanwhile, in its March Katalyst newsletter, the Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN), the main caucus agitating for United Methodist endorsement of homosexual practice (as well as other varieties of sex outside of man-woman marriage), revealed that through a recent large-scale survey, they have learned that now its own constituency is divided in half between those who are committed to staying within the denomination and angrily fighting other United Methodists to the bitter end and others who say, in one representative comment, that they are “[d]one waiting four more years” for the next United Methodist General Conference to liberalize church policies and that “RMN should be helping people talk about separation.”
Our denomination’s last governing General Conference, which met in Tampa, Florida, in 2012, was dubbed by heterodox activists as “the most conservative General Conference ever,” affirming biblical standards for sexual morality by a GROWING majority, and with many further points of evangelical reform only being stymied (until next time) by indefensibly Machiavellian, anti-Golden-Rule tactics shamelessly adopted by the liberal protest caucuses.
As we have reported earlier, in response to the United Methodist Church increasingly being liberated from the theological liberalism which has oppressively dominated our denomination for decades, last year two of the most heterodox-dominated United Methodist conferences, New York and California-Nevada, adopted identically entitled resolutions calling for “A Study Committee for an Inclusive Conference” to promote structural alternatives for heterodox United Methodists. The California-Nevada resolution openly mentions the creation of a new, liberal Methodist denomination as one option for such an alternative structure, while the 2012 New York resolution drew encouragement from other oldline denominations that have caved in to the sexual revolution.
Liberal New York City-area United Methodists are now making clear that such talk is more substantial and sustained among heterodox United Methodists than a short-lived emotional outburst.
The New York Annual Conference Study Committee on a More Inclusive Church was structured to exclude supporters of biblical teaching on sexual morality. After a year of regular meetings, this Study Committee is maturing into its next stage. Its 2013 resolution, adopted by the Annual Conference session, reiterated the 2012 resolution’s protest of General Conference’s orthodoxy on sexual morality, expressed fear over what future General Conferences may do, and called for all United Methodist congregations in the conference to send a representative to a November 16 forum to discuss the evolving, heterodox-led movement for structural alternatives.
On the one hand, the Study Committee expresses a commitment to making the United Methodist Church more sexually liberal, and neither its report nor its resolutions explicitly endorse schism as a possibility.
But on the other hand, the Study Committee’s report states “We are not optimistic that there will be a timely openness to change that would make greater LBGT inclusiveness possible, given the present disposition of the General Conference….” The report shares that the Study Committee “took comfort and courage from” looking at how John Wesley’s strong prejudice against church schism was balanced with his conviction that he “should be under an absolute necessity to separate from” a body of Christians if the price of remaining was “lying and hypocrisy,” preaching contrary to his own beliefs, or other perceived sins of commission or omission. Thus, the group is “consider[ing] ways we might remain in communion with The United Methodist Church, but with the ability to establish enough room for the inclusiveness to which we are committed.” In these efforts, they are “actively networking with other Jurisdictions and Conferences across the connection that share our goals” of “loyalty to our denomination, tempered by our growing unwillingness to participate in the on‐going and in our view discriminatory exclusion” of homosexually active clergy candidates.
Of course, an independent new denomination could both be “in communion” with the United Methodist Church while doing whatever it pleases in terms of its internal policies on sexual morality and other matters. It is not clear what other long-term, sustainable, and politically realistic options would meet the standard of both “remain[ing] in communion with The United Methodist Church” and “establishing enough room” to have official, sexually liberal policies.
For over four decades, activists in the “Reconciling” movement have devoted massive amounts of time, energy, and money to try to get General Conference to directly liberalize our denomination’s governing Book of Discipline – only to lose a large and growing amount of ground on that front.
A few years ago, such liberal activists eagerly championed the informally nicknamed “Global Segregation Plan,” which would have given United Methodists in the United States some freedom to set their own policies without the input of largely orthodox African United Methodists. But that plan went down in flames as evangelical United Methodists in America understood why sexually liberals were so eager for it while United Methodists in Sub-Saharan Africa understood that its primary practical effect would be to drastically squelch their voice in denominational affairs. An effort by the Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA), a liberal caucus group, to revive a version of this plan at the 2012 General Conference received a grand total of five supportive votes in a committee of 62 delegates.
At last summer’s Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference, a liberal clergywoman’s resolution to “Eliminate Jurisdictional Conferences” was referred to that jurisdiction’s College of Bishops. At last month’s New York Annual Conference session, the conference Study Committee on a More Inclusive Church submitted a resolution “expressing concern” that the Northeastern bishops have not prioritized this and demanding to know why they are taking so long. But even if cleverly framed as an effort “to eliminate jurisdictional conferences,” such proposals to create a new national US-only church structure devoid of international input amount to little more than thinly disguised attempts to resurrect the already rather dead Global Segregation Plan.
In any case, it will be interesting to see what happens with such conversations increasingly taking place throughout what can already be fairly described as the Not-So-United Methodist Church.
By Mark Tooley (@markdtooley)
And one should not overlook that it was blessed by Billy Graham.
Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon were awkwardly partnered politically across two decades, needing but never fully comfortable with each other. Ike and Dick: Portrait of a Strange Political Marriage by Jeffrey Frank tells the story captivatingly but mostly ignores their religious dimensions, including evangelist Billy Graham’s role in their final reconciliation.
(For a comprehensive review of the personal and political dimensions of Ike and Dick, see John Coyne’s piece in the March 2013 issue of American Spectator.)
Nixon was only 39 years old when five-star General of the Army Eisenhower, already a global figure for over a decade, and 23 years older, chose him as veep for the 1952 campaign. Ike knew him but not well, listening to counselors like New York Governor and former presidential aspirant Tom Dewey, who, like Nixon, had risen fast as a young man, first running for president himself when only age 38. Like Dewey, Nixon had ambitiously made himself a national figure as an aggressive prosecutor, in Nixon’s case, while in Congress, helping expose the Soviet spy Alger Hiss, a revered diplomat and establishment figure who contrasted with Nixon’s plebeian roots.
Temperamentally intense, Nixon’s years with Eisenhower were plagued by repeated crises, some fueled by Ike’s ambivalence towards his underling. The first crisis was almost immediately in their new partnership, when Ike’s advisors, and probably Ike, wanted to dump Nixon after revelations of secret donors for Nixon’s personal expenses as congressman and senator. Ironically Dewey were deployed to phone Nixon with instructions to parachute. Nixon ignored the counsel and delivered his famously televised “Checkers” speech, which critics mocked as mawkish, but which restored Nixon to political grace. Ike, who previously was not even phoning his running mate, rushed onto a plane to wrap his arm around a relieved Nixon while proclaiming, “You’re my boy!”
In power, Ike appreciated Nixon’s intelligence while not inviting him into his inner circle or, as Nixon painfully noticed, into his private White House quarters or the Gettysburg farmhouse. Once again, Eisenhower tried to ease Nixon off the ticket in 1956, while a shrewd Nixon nervously but successfully outmaneuvered the President politically. In 1960 Ike was slow to endorse Nixon as his successor, seemed constantly to encourage others to run in place or against Nixon, and infamously told a press conference he needed a week before he could answer a question about Nixon’s accomplishments. When Ike was ready to campaign aggressively for Nixon, Mamie Eisenhower implored Nixon to reject the offer out of worries for her husband’s health, which Nixon glumly did, losing narrowly to JFK.
In retirement, Ike seemed to draw closer to Nixon, inviting the Nixons to the Eisenhower Winter home in Palm Springs as well as Gettysburg, accompanied by frequent and almost warm correspondence. Nixon carefully kept Eisenhower informed about Nixon’s political plans, and Ike encouraged Nixon’s disastrous run for the California state house, after which Nixon had seemed finished.
Predictably, even after Nixon’s incredible political restoration in 1968, Ike seemed slow to publicly embrace his candidacy. By this time Ike was permanently hospitalized though mentally alert. Eisenhower finally broadcast from his hospital room an endorsement of Nixon to the Republican Convention. He was not overly happy about his grandson’s engagement to Nixon’s daughter, although Mamie had encouraged the union. After Nixon’s tight victory, he had an emotional visit to Ike’s sick bed, where Ike momentously greeted his once protégé as an equal, now calling him “Mr. President.” Nixon kept Ike carefully informed about the construction of his new administration, even sending new appointees to Ike’s hospital room. Henry Kissinger, who had not met Ike before and had supposed him not particularly bright, found himself surprisingly captivated by the ailing general’s intellect and strong personality, including Ike’s penetrating blue eyes, which many visitors thought grew stronger as Ike’s face and body whitened and shriveled.
Oddly, this book omits a key part of the Eisenhower/Nixon story. In December 1968, Ike summoned Billy Graham to his hospital room, asking him to explain once again the plan of salvation, after which Ike told him he was ready for eternity. He also told Graham that Nixon and he had “some things to get right,” especially as Ike’s grandson was soon marrying Nixon’s daughter. At Ike’s request, Graham saw Nixon that evening and shared Ike’s desire to meet, prompting Nixon to arrange a visit, which facilitated reconciliation. Nixon visited Ike again after his inauguration as Ike was failing. Upon hearing of Ike’s death not long after, Nixon wept in his office in front of staffers and muttered: “He was such a strong man.”
It’s odd this book ignores the Graham visit, which Graham describes in his memoir, and which Ike’s grandson cites in his own recent memoir about his grandfather. The book ignores or minimizes religion, claiming Ike disliked attending church, and regarded his pastor during the presidency, Rev. Edward Elson of the First Presbyterian Church, who had been recommended by Graham, as a “complete phony,” citing Ike’s secretary as source.
If so, it’s strange that Ike attended Elson’s church for eight years, and submitted himself to one-on-one catechesis with Elson so as to become a church member. Eisenhower in retirement became active in the Gettysburg Presbyterian church, even intervening to ensure the young pastor whom he liked would not be relocated, and once even himself preaching a sermon.
Ike and Nixon had a spiritual commonality in having both been reared in pacifist churches. Nixon was raised Quaker, and Ike in the River Brethren, a Mennonite-like sect. Later the Eisenhowers, or at least Ike’s mother, joined the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who are also pacifist. (Ike’s anti-war mother was a little girl in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley amid the Civil War’s devastation.) Although both leaders in war, Nixon and Ike both avidly pursued peace.
Ike’s secretary also recounted that Ike was befuddled by Nixon, his introversion, gloominess, and lack of personal friends, which contrasted with Ike’s gregariousness. They occasionally golfed together, which unnerved Nixon. The younger man, despite his anger and exasperation, deeply admired and craved acceptance by the heroic older man, who was almost certainly a father figure to Nixon as he was to the nation.
Nixon’s and Eisenhower’s uneasy association was difficult for both but shaped the nation and world for a half century and beyond, as some Nixon protégées served prominently in government well into the 21st century. Their partnership may indeed have been “strange,” as the book title suggests, but it was epochal.
This article originally appeared on The American Spectator and was reposted with permission.
Kristin Rudolph (@Kristin_Rudolph)
Evangelicals for Social Action (ESA) gathered July 12 – 14 to celebrate the retirement of their founder and president, Dr. Ron Sider, the installation of two new co-presidents, and the organization’s 40 year anniversary at Eastern University near Philadelphia, PA. The conference, called “Follow. Jesus.” drew a few hundred attendees. Through plenary sessions and small group “conversations,” the conference explored Christian participation in social and political activist causes like economic inequality, immigration, climate change, abortion and racial division, among others. The focus of the main sessions was the history of evangelical activism and what the future may hold for American evangelicalism.
Dr. Michael Lindsay, president of Gordon College, reviewed the 40 year history of ESA, pointing to the 1973 Chicago Declaration of Evangelical Social Concern as a turning point for evangelicalism, and remarking the organization made Micah chapter 6 verse 8 “become embraced by a much wider constituency” of evangelicals. The verse, “And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God,” is indeed an oft cited one among Christian social activists.
ESA, Lindsay said, became a voice for what evangelicals were for, rather than what they were against after the social upheaval of the 1960s. Although evangelical organizations have long been involved in mercy ministries, justice work “really started 40 years ago. Sure justice has been around for a lot longer than that but … there hasn’t been organizational focus,” he claimed. But, Lindsay continued: “If you really want to make a difference you’ve got to think about institutions because those are the things that last.”
In a panel discussion on the future challenges for evangelicals, Dr. David Gushee, professor of Christian Ethics at Mercer University complained “the culture wars will remain with us, but in a sense they should be over.” He observed “40 years of arguing over mainly sex related moral issues in public … continues long past when one might have hoped that those arguments would be so central … and the polarization doesn’t seem to me to be changing.” Gushee predicted “as conservative white men … feel increasingly threatened by pluralistic post-white America, the heels are gonna get dug in and the positions are going to remain entrenched.”
He continued: “America’s religion and politics in the next generation will be defined as a contest between those who fully integrate the emerging racial ethnic and national background diversity of our country and those who seek to resist it.” Gushee asserted “the future of Evangelical Christianity hinges on getting past the ‘White Male Club’ as the people in charge of everything.”
Similarly, Lisa Sharon Harper, Director of Mobilizing for Sojourners said evangelicals have become “divorced from people who are not like ourselves.” She also pointed out a “deep [scriptural] illiteracy in the church,” which renders believers vulnerable to “politicking people … [who] twist the Scripture and make it mean something it doesn’t mean.”
This illiteracy “bears itself out in everything,” most recently the immigration reform debate, Harper said. “If we don’t know the Scripture, then we don’t know that 92 times in the Old Testament the word ger [the Hebrew word for immigrant] is mentioned … We don’t know or understand the fact that Jesus himself was an immigrant,” she lamented. Harper concluded the “lack of Scripture and a lack of compassion, lack of relationship” with those different from ourselves, makes evangelicals “ripe to be used, to be wielded like a sword in the public square in the hands of people who are politicking in the name of evangelicalism.”
In the same panel, Rev. Dr. Soong-Chan Rah, professor of church growth and evangelism at North Park Theological Seminary pointed out the “multi-cultural, multi-ethnic reality of society and Christianity,” and that “declining American Christianity is not rooted in these minority communities it’s actually rooted in the decline of White Evangelicalism.” With this shift, he warned of “the danger of framing [justice and social action] in an American exceptionalism and triumphalism that doesn’t make sense anymore.”
Yet evangelicals should not abandon that label and claim a new name, because evangelicalism has “a history that needs to be confessed” over things like slavery and racism, and evangelicals should not “[excuse themselves] from that history,” Rah said. Instead, he suggested God may be “calling us to engage in a lament rather than in the triumphalistic, exceptionalistic approach to justice,” instead of the long standing “absence of lament in the liturgical traditions in America.”
In an evening plenary session, Dr. Mimi Haddad, president of Christians for Biblical Equality called for a “renewed commitment to gender justice in the Church and around the world.” She described how “ideas have consequences,” and theologies and philosophies that teach the inferiority of women result in tragedies like sex slavery, sex-selective abortion, and other abuses.
Later, explaining his work toward renewal in impoverished Philadelphia neighborhoods, activist Shane Claiborne said “It’s hard to believe you have a beautiful creator if everything you look at is ugly.” Pointing out the bad reputation Christians in America have, he joked “You can believe in the bodily resurrection and still be really mean to people.” Being a Christian is not just about “right believing” but “right living,” Claiborne said.
He continued: “Poverty is every person’s responsibility … things like good health care and good education are not just privileges for the few that can afford it but they should be available to everybody. That’s what it means to love our neighbor as ourselves.” He urged attendees to follow the advice Ron Sider had given to him years before during the founding of the Simple Way, and keep Jesus at the center of their justice work.
In a concluding worship service Sunday morning, Dr. Al Tizon and Dr. Paul Alexander were installed as the new co-presidents of ESA.
[Note: A report on Tizon’s and Alexander’s remarks is forthcoming]
(Photo Credit: TotallyHistory.com)
By Marjorie Jeffrey (@MarjorieJeffrey)
For the past few weeks, I, a young Catholic, have pondered the question: what does it mean to be hostis humani generis, that is, an enemy of the human race? After all, that is the title which has been bequeathed upon those who oppose gay marriage, according to Justice Antonin Scalia, by none other than the highest court in the land. In his dissent in the DOMA case, he said something which rang both true and terrifying, in the eyes of many American Christians:
“In the majority’s judgment, any resistance to its holding is beyond the pale of reasoned disagreement. To question its high-handed invalidation of a presumptively valid statute is to act (the majority is sure) with the purpose to disparage, injure, degrade, demean, and humiliate our fellow human beings, our fellow citizens, who are homosexual. All that, simply for supporting an Act that did no more than codify an aspect of marriage that had been unquestioned in our society for most of its existence—indeed, had been unquestioned in virtually all societies for virtually all of human history. It is one thing for a society to elect change; it is another for a court of law to impose change by adjudging those who oppose it hostes humani generis, enemies of the human race.”
They aren’t just telling us what we cannot do or cannot say. The state has attempted to take away our ability to define who we are, as Christians. Not just our freedom of action, but our very identity is at stake. What is a believer to do, in the face of such a designation?
Mary Stachowicz died ten long years ago, when gay marriage was still something that could be debated between reasonable people. She was a 51-year-old Catholic mother of four children, who worked part time at a funeral home and part time as a secretary at a parish in the Diocese of Springfield, Illinois. In her time at the funeral home, she reached out to the 19-year-old janitor, Nicholas Gutierrez, questioning the wisdom of his lifestyle. Gutierrez was a practicing homosexual.
On November 13, 2002, soon after Mary had received Communion at morning Mass, Nicholas Gutierrez beat, stabbed, raped, and strangled her, finally stuffing her body beneath the floorboards of his apartment. In a video-taped statement to police, he said he had done it because she questioned his homosexual activities, asking, “Why do you sleep with boys?”
On May 31st of this year, Bishop Paprocki of the Diocese of Springfield, gave a talk which included a description of the life and death of Mary Stachowicz, and stated, as he has in the past, that she died a martyr for the faith.
What does Mary Stachowicz have to do with us? Well, everything. I’m not suggesting that there are homosexuals lining up to torture and kill us; the persecution we face will most likely not provide for the obvious heroism inherent in acts of martyrdom. But what is a saint, if not a role model and intercessor? What more powerful witness can we be shown than this?
Some of the most popular saints in Church history arose as powerful examples for Christians who lived in difficult times. Such were the early Christian martyrs, who shed their blood for Christ in the founding years of the Church. Such have been martyrs in various countries, who died so that Christianity might grow to thrive in those regions. Such were Thomas More and Bishop Fisher, who became symbols to the recusant Catholics of England. Such were Edith Stein and Maximilian Kolbe, who died at the hands of the Nazis. Such, I pray, may be Mary Stachowicz.
These martyrs become powerful symbols because they are heroes. And because they are heroes for the faith, they are more than mere symbols. They’re real. We believe that the saints are in heaven, which is why we ask them to pray with us and for us. As Bishop Paprocki has noted of Mary Stachowicz,
“Her death as a martyr for the faith means that a miracle is not necessary for her official beatification or canonization. However, even a martyr of the faith does not enter the church’s official martyrology of saints without the promotion of her cause, and the promotion of her cause requires a group of people who recognize her Christian sanctity and pray not only for the official recognition of her sainthood, but also pray through her intercession for assistance in obtaining divine favors.”
Causes for sainthood are a deeply ingrained part of Catholic life – I’ve known many parishes and dioceses that pray for the cause of their local would-be saints. But Mary Stachowicz shouldn’t just be a local cause. The tenets of the faith that she died to affirm are what unite Christians across America – and, indeed, all over the world. The Catholic Church asks for a minimum of a five-year wait before a formal cause for beatification can be opened, and that time has passed. It’s time for the cause to be opened.
We feel despair in the face of being called enemies of the human race by unordained men in robes. But we must remind ourselves and each other that we are very much not alone. We should advocate for Mary Stachowicz, as she advocates for us.
St. Maria Goretti, pray for us. And pray for us, Mary Stachowicz. Truly, a saint for our time.
O merciful and loving God, you made your servant Mary Stachowicz pure of heart and devoted to chastity; listen, we ask you, to our prayers and, if it is in your divine plan that she be glorified by the church, show us your will, granting us the graces we ask of you, through her intercession, by the merits of Jesus Christ, Our Lord. Amen.