Why we can’t have nice things in the #UMC…Show me the mammon part 1

Take-Charge-of-the-Money-Blog-from-LII 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 FoundationsLynde 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.

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15 Replies to “Why we can’t have nice things in the #UMC…Show me the mammon part 1”

  1. ” 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.” I don’t want to address the specific issues, because I don’t know the organisations involved. However, there is a question of method and approach. Latin American Liberation Theology of the 1970s used to practice what they called ‘orthopraxis’ as distinct from ‘orthodoxy’ – in other words, issues would arise, people would deal with them, and then reflect on what those issues told them about God as discerned through his world. So for example, to address a current issue in British society, because of current Government welfare regulations, people who are on benefits can find themselves ‘sanctioned’ for minor infringements (eg, being 5 minutes late for an interview) – that means their benefit payments may be stopped for a period of weeks. They literally have nothing. There might be children at home, rent to pay, but there will be no money coming in during the period of the sanction. As a result, foodbanks have sprung up all over the UK, with food donated and distributed by volunteers. I don’t need to go to my Bible to see what it says about feeding the hungry, I help out with our local foodbank because it is the right thing to do. Those who operate it include church and non-church people. On reflection, I discern the purposes of God in this, and in the anger that it stokes up to lead many of us in protest against such a wicked policy. A current issue of one of our Methodist journals has an article by the Rev Dr John Vincent including comments on orthopraxis, but he calls it ‘Practice Interpretation.’ “Practice comes first and indicates spirituality…. maybe we have to dig more deeply into our practice and claim it as spirituality… reaffirming Methodist theology as pragmatic and experience-based.”

    The danger of such a method is of course that our practice might lead us into something contrary to accepted faith because ‘it seemed right at the time.’ If we are so steeped in our faith-traditions that they are instinctive that is less likely, and we are better placed to discern God in so-called secular issues.

    And that is my point. What you describe in your comment appears to be less ‘secular influence in the church’ than ‘a conversation between church and society in which God can be discerned.’ It seems to me to harmonise very well with the preachings of the prophets of Israel. Are we being nudged into a role as a more prophetic Church?

    1. As to the reports that were referenced, they were formed not with a secular organization, but by a secular organization. To me that is the large difference. The church (being the world wide body of believers) needs to discern what is best for the church and within that denominations need to decide what is best for denominations. Outside influences on that are of course inevitable and even sometimes welcomed, but we should not allow our moral decisions to be based upon secular advice and political maneuverings. This same secular group is putting out Sunday school curriculum etc. Yes, it is happening through an arm labeled as “religious”, but a word does not change the fact that it is a secular root.
      “Are we being nudged into a role as a more prophetic Church?” I do not know what you mean by this. The word “prophetic” is used by to many to mean to many things, so I can not adress the question, but would like to if you could clarify. Thanks for your thoughts on this though and your politeness and sharing them.

  2. Scott,

    How would you characterize civil rights groups like SCLC or SNCC in this secular-religious spectrum?

    (I recognize that the civil rights — LGBT connection is fraught with debate, which I’m not trying to rehash here. These were just the first groups I thought of that were formed outside of denominational lines to influence change.)

    1. I am much more familiar with the SCLC than the other in fairness so I will direct my comments toward it specifically. To the best of my knowledge it maintains it’s independence as a Christian organization and has not become a part of a secular group. As an example, it may work with the NAACP but it is not a part of the NAACP. So I would say that is a difference between them and the groups above that I mentioned having given up their autonomy as a Christian organization and officially joined The National LGBTQ Task Force which is secular. (And again does good work protecting the civil rights of said community. This matters hugely as I believe that all should have equal protection under law…hopefully that came through.). Working with a secular group for joint goals is great and even often helpful, but once you stop being an independent religious group and become a part of the secular organization I think your focus changes. No man can serve two masters and all that. I am leery of Christian special interest groups that have huge corporate sponsorship and secular grant money as well as it seems to me that the potential for conflicts of interest become larger the bigger the financial donation is. Corporate donations of goods are great (Coke for a civil rights rally, milk for a free community dinner, etc) but actual money complicates everything. I hoe that answered you, if not let me know and I will try to do better.

  3. Pretty much every group that opposes equal rights for LGBT persons does so with motivations grounded in “religion.” It makes sense to me that groups seeking equal rights in the “civil” sector would make common cause seeking such equality in the “religious” sector.

    1. I think that you would be surprised at the number of conservatives in the UMC that actually support equality in civil law for everyone and as something that most of us agree on and the opposition to endorsing same sex marriage and/or ordination in the UMC as being a morally acceptable behavior to be endorsed by the church.
      The problem with groups in the secular/civil sector trying to influence the church in anyway is that it sets some dangerous precedents for future action that society may allow but faith might not.

      1. I suppose someone COULD support marriage equality in the civil sphere while opposing it in the church sphere. How that person can do that without his head exploding is a real question. In any case, those who oppose civil marriage equality cite the Bible as their reason.

        1. It is actually quite easy. Just because I do not condone a behavior does not mean that I wish ill upon someone engaging in that behavior. I don’t condone telling a lie, but I would not want someone who had told a lie to be stripped of civil protections or somehow be ineligible for them. It is actually quite easy to support civil marriage for same sex couples while not in the church when you understand that the church is endorsing moral behavior (what it believes to be at any rate) and civil law is not about morality so much as it is about setting a structure for a society to function in.

        2. Jon, I think these people exist — and I was one for a while.

          Think of it this way. People support legalization of drugs due to libertarian/liberal-tarian views but do not believe people should do drugs.

          1. i would say that it isn’t about “justice” so much as liberty/freedom (not the same thing) to make individual decisions. I understand libertarian thought, even if I disagree with it.

  4. The idea is about the freedom to make a choice, even if it is harmful to you or stemming from a different set of values. Libertarian thought in a VERY basic form says that there are only 3 basic crimes that should be enforced civilly. 1. Harm (real physical, not hurt or damaged feelings) to another that is not in self defense. 2. Destruction/damage of private property. 3. Theft. Anything outside of those things boils down to a value judgement and therefore should not be legislated. There is a lot more to it than that, but that is the Barney breakdown. You keep associating the issue completely with justice and, with Libertarian philosophy on the matter, it is not at all about justice but about a moral or value choice. (IE is my behavior “right” or “is this behavior worth the possible consequences of it”) You would also find a large number of Libertarian Christians that would prefer the church not engage in the process of legal civil marriage at all, but bless who it will as it will outside of the law and outside of the sphere of public opinion.

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