I suspect that what I am about to say won’t make a difference as I suspect that we will all allow our entrenched ideas to take over and we will spin this to something it is not. I hope that I am wrong. This is not a value statement about ideas or theology. These groups are well known and those lines have been well drawn. This is a commentary on how some groups choose to go about representing those ideas. How we do things is just as important as why we do them. Really, that is what this is. That being said here we go…
There are two types of groups that try to influence things inside the UMC, The first I want to address are outside groups. These groups are either formed of people who do not have a faith affiliation, groups that are multi-denominational, or groups that are a combination of the two.
First is the Institute for Religion and Democracy that seems to pretty much be a love it or hate it type of group. I think that it is fair to say that there are not many, if any, people who have a “they are ok” sort of attitude toward the IRD. The website of the IRD can be found here.
The IRD does indeed accept money from outside the UMC. In fairness it does not pretend to be a strictly UMC organization, nor does it claim that it only works to affect the UMC, or church life in general, rather they state plainly their goal: “We seek to reform the Church’s role in public life, protect religious freedom, and support democracy at home and abroad.” The Church is to mean not a denomination but the entire body. They list a variety of issues they are concerned with from issues of sexuality to issues in the Middle East. Their concerns seem far reaching as do their goals. Each denominational group has a steering committee formed of member of that Denomination. If you were to go to the United Methodist Action section you would find this. “UM Action is accountable to its Steering Committee and Advisory Board, both of which are entirely composed of faithful clergy and lay members of the United Methodist Church.” Following that is a list of folks who are a part of said committee. The IRD most often promotes ideas and materials from conservative voices, but does, on occasion, also include moderate and even liberal voices when they are appropriate to their goals.
The IRD also says that they try to operate in the spirit of the On Humility, Politics, and Christian Unity resolution passed at GC 2008 (it can be found here). Donations to the IRD are both private and from foundations including the following: Scaife Foundations, Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, Olin Foundation (now defunct). There are some wealthy individual or family donors that I found, but do not feel the need to list for the sake of tact if nothing else. These foundations may, and often do, support a variety of causes and groups, they generally exist not as influence exerting, but rather as groups that dispense funds to groups they already support. This is to say that while they dispense grants and the like, they do not have an active role in politics.
I am going to briefly mention the Confessing Movement as well. It has branches in several protestant denominations including a large presence in the UMC. It has often been accused of being funded by the IRD, although there is no evidence of this that I have discovered. They are an evangelical movement that according to their Executive Director (giving a quick answer about finances) said “The majority of our contributions from organizations are religious”.
The Institute for Welcoming Resources was an ecumenical group comprised of numerous denominational welcoming groups. What ever good or ill they did is however to history so I will not comment on their past, but their future. The have officially become a part of The National LGBTQ Task Force. While I recognize the need for groups ensuring proper civil protections for all, applaud the efforts that they make, and even recognize the place of the church in doing what it can to ensure that all people receive equal protections under the law, when a religious group (Institute for Welcoming Resources) becomes a formal part of a secular group (The National LGBTQ Task Force) I can no longer find it a Christian or even a “religious” organization. (IWR, as a separate corporation, was formally dissolved in February 2006 to become an official part of The National LGBTQ Task Force) While there are indeed times when the goals of a secular organization and those of the Christian church can and often do over lap, we should be extremely cautious of secular organizations influencing Christian thought. That is what we have here. Remember, this is a secular group, This group produces and distributes curriculum for churches. The idea of a secular organization producing church curriculum (whether I agree with it or not) is a terrifying concept. It at best flirts entirely to close with and at worst jumps over, the in the world but not of it line. This concerns the UMC as Reconciling Ministries Network is a part of this group and therefore is influenced by them.
The National Religious Leadership Round Table is another arm of The National LGBTQ Tak Force with obvious religious goals. Again, RMN is a part of this group. This group has released several studies. One of them (David v Goliath in 2006) spoke about several ways that LGBTQ advocates could change their mainline protestant denominations and three were singled out because of their church government and decision process. Those three were as follows: Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian Church U.S.A, and The United Methodist Church. What has transpired in each of those denominations has mirrored the suggestions in this report. Remember, this is not a religious group, this is a part of an admittedly secular group. These reports were not based on God or in theology, but in politics and the political processes of churches. Another example of secular influences in the church. Even if you happen to agree with the results, you should be concerned that they were brought about not by God, but by politicians. This same report also appealed to secular activists to help change the minds of the “movable middle” in the church. Secular activists being encouraged to change the minds of Christians by Christians. That is disturbing and crosses the line of working with and working for.
- The website for The National LGBTQ Task Force can be found here.
- The website for The National Religious Leadership Roundtable can be found here.
- The website for The Institute for Welcoming Resources can be found here.
For Part II of this series, see here.