YACUMC Requests Donations

Recently, the Yellowstone Annual Conference posted a letter requesting donations for a Vital Congregation Sustenation Fund. Apparently there has been stress within the conference as members (and their money) seem to be leaving conference churches. Here is the complete article.

Good NewsWalter Fenton, from Good News, has written a response to the YACUMC request for donations. Here is Rev. Fenton’s article.

What’s In A Name

I am an engineer by trade; as such, problems bother me until a solution is found. Well, one problem that has continued to bug me for some period of time involves a discontinuity between United Methodist Church membership trends and the general statement heard from liberal leaders and members, ‘conservative biblical interpretations are driving people away from the church.’

This statement, heard in varying forms, is not backed up by any type of membership trends within the UMC or any other denominational church that has shifted from an orthodox biblical viewpoint to a liberal biblical viewpoint. This information begs the question, ‘if there are no facts to support the liberal viewpoint, why do they continue to make it?’

After a lot of thought, I believe that I have the answer; they are not interested in the church itself, they are interested in the name. The name, United Methodist Church, carries a huge amount of respect due to its large membership, both within the United States and the world. If the UMC changes its viewpoint on the acceptance of homosexuality, regardless of how many people abandon the church, there will be a certain amount of credibility in the acceptance of a sex act.

If those favoring the acceptance of the practice of homosexuality were to leave the UMC and start their own church they would just be some radical fringe element that went their own way. There would be a significant amount of positive press to be gained if those same people, through petulant behavior rather than majority control, take over the UMC and change its policies. Those maintaining a conservative biblical approach would then be considered the radical fringe element if they choose to leave.

What’s in a name? Everything. A name can be the difference between mainline acceptance or radical fringe element.

Tolerate? Embrace!

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, wrote “What one generation tolerates, the next generation will embrace.”  Those words were written several hundred years ago, but aren’t they just as appropriate today?

Don’t Wesley’s words define how society moves across the generations?  How many ideas and actions did our generation embrace that were tolerated by our parents?  Consider how many ideas that we tolerated which are now embraced by the youth of today.

When I think about it I find it scary.  If I accept Wesley’s words as truth, then I must examine what I tolerate, because tomorrow it will be embraced as fact.

Tolerance comes in many forms: keeping silent rather than disagree, only voicing opinions among those who feel the same, and agreeing with someone even though I don’t. It seems as if tolerance and love are now the same. What happened to speaking the truth in a loving manner?

In Ephesians 4:29 we read: Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. God will give us the strength to speak when we follow these words.

In tolerating someone’s actions or thoughts or ideas today I need to remember Wesley’s words.  Not only do I need to remember Wesley’s words, I need God’s counsel to guide me.  When voicing my opinion I need to do it in love, not hate.  I need to remember Romans 8:31: If God is for us, who can be against us?

Social Acceptance & Membership

In a reply to one of my posts the comment was made, ‘. . . people wonder why churches are empty. Do younger people, who are the future of any churches, come and all they hear is depression, our sinfulness, being LBGTQAI+ is sinful . . . . do you really think that they will return? No, they will not return.’

Christian denominations are seeing more and more empty pews; as a percent of population both membership and attendance is down and is continuing to go down. This trend started in the 1960’s and has not stopped. The question, based on the comment above is, ‘how are the more liberal, socially acceptable churches doing as compared to the more conservative, less socially acceptable ones?’

If we look first at the United Methodist Church in the United States, between 2004 & 2014 (2015 numbers are not available yet) the membership is down about 13.4%. Within the 5 jurisdictions:

  • in the 2 most liberal ones (Western & North Central) membership is down 18.5%
  • in the two most conservative jurisdictions (Southeastern & South Central) membership is down 9%
  • in the Northeastern jurisdiction membership is down 12%

I do not have sufficient information to determine why the UMC decline, or why the decline in the more liberal jurisdictions is twice the rate of decline in the conservative ones, but that trend is not unique to the United Methodist denomination.

The Protestant denominations that have already accepted a more liberal interpretation of the Bible have seen larger declines in membership. The only Protestant denomination that has actually seen an increase in membership is the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA) which is the conservative group that separated in 1974 when several Presbyterian sects united. The PCA has grown about 1% per year between 2011 & 2015. During this same period the more liberal Presbyterian Church (USA) has lost an average of 4.8% per year. The denomination with the smallest decline in membership is the Southern Baptist Convention, which is also considered the most conservative of the mainline denominations; their rate of decline during this period is about 1.5%.

There is one group of Christian churches that has seen a positive growth trend and has maintained this positive grown trend for over 50 years: Evangelical Churches. Typically, these are considered very conservative and include churches such as:

  • Church of God in Christ (1,194% growth)
  • Presbyterian Church of America (790% growth)
  • Evangelical Free Church (749%)
  • Assembly of God (430%)

If the trends are plotted on a graph, it looks like this:

Social Acceptance

Again, I do not have sufficient information to interpret what the numbers mean, but across the board, churches that have moved toward a more socially acceptable view of the Bible have lost members at ever increasing rates while those maintaining a more strict view of the Bible have grown. This begs the question, ‘if a denomination gives society what it wants why doesn’t society show up in the pews on Sunday?’

A disclaimer: My information is derived from a broad set of data, or a data bell curve. It is always possible to find an individual church or small group of churches that do not conform to this information; these individual churches will be in the minority and will typically fall within one or the other bell curve tail.

Preconceived Ideas

Fall is not a good time to be asking friends to help with small construction projects. There are college football games, hunting, seasonal colds, military reserve training, plus other events on tap.

As a last resort I checked outside the Men’s Shelter at the Montana Rescue Mission to see if anyone might be interested. This was my last resort because we all know the kind of people that hang out at the Rescue Mission. Don’t we?

One man standing close by the front door immediately stepped forward, introduced himself, and said that he would really like to work for me. When I informed him that I was looking for two people, he quickly volunteered the name of another person and asked what time they should be ready.

The men were ready and waiting. They were hard workers, quick to understand what was needed, had many good suggestions, and seemed very appreciative of the chance to work. When we were finished each man wrote their name down on some paper, gave it to me, and asked me to call them again or recommend them to my friends.

Over dinner we talked. Each of them talked about how God was working in their life even though they were experiencing some of life’s ups and downs. One of them had worked with his mother as a volunteer at the shelter and other places while growing up. He commented how ironic it was that he had helped out there as a child and was now living there as an adult.

God blessed me by placing these two men in my life. God taught me how much I still have to learn about being a Christian. He taught me, again, that at times I fall short, very short. When I went to the Men’s Shelter I had a preconceived picture in my mind the type of men I would encounter; He showed me where I was wrong.

God finds many ways to humble us, doesn’t He.  On that particular work day preconceived ideas left me feeling short in my Christian growth.

It’s All About Love

Something has continued to nag at me, really nag at me. In a recent group meeting about the acceptance of homosexual practices one of the jurisdictional cabinet members asked a question, ‘If we don’t change, what are you (meaning those opposed to acceptance) going to tell people that are attending reconciling churches. How are they supposed to feel if you prevent the church from moving forward.’

The more I think about it, the more I realize that we (meaning those opposed to acceptance) needed to tell all people, not just those attending reconciling churches, that we love them, unconditionally. We love them unconditionally because God calls us to show our faith through works and actions that demonstrate our love for Him.

John Wesley’s created the General Rules of the Methodist Church, the first being Do No Harm. At first glance, this rule seems pretty straight forward: just don’t do or say anything that would hurt or injure someone else. Wesley goes on to list a number of examples which, when taken in context, sound somewhat quaint for today’s time.

If we examine those 16 items more closely, what is the common theme?Doing any those items would separate us from Jesus’ desire for us to live a more faithful life. In Matthew 7:21 Jesus says:

 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”

Wesley believed that if you lived a life that was faithful to God’s will you would Do No Harm, and we would Love Our Neighbor as Ourselves.

I believe that God loves me unconditionally.  I believe He calls me to love others unconditionally. In John 4:10-11 we read:

Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.

Because of God’s love I cannot stand idly by and allow my church, the United Methodist Church, to rewrite scripture in a manner that will lead those that I love down a path which separates them from God’s will.  To do otherwise would do the same for me.

Yes, it’s all about love, unconditional love, a love so strong that you cannot help but take a stand, a stand like Jesus took for us. To do otherwise would violate Wesley’s First Rule by allowing harm to come to another.


Too Small To Make A Difference

It seems like everyone in the United Methodist Church is supporting the acceptance of homosexual practices.  There are so many church leaders pushing for this I don’t know what to do. My pastor put out an entire newsletter about how we should support a change to the UM Book of Discipline. In meetings it seems that everyone wants to change the church.

I am just one person! What difference do I make!

“If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.”   Dalai Lama XIV

Voicing An Opposing Opinion

In discussion with several people this past week I realized a few things. There are many people in the general church membership, on church committees, or in lay leadership roles that are afraid to voice their opinion for fear of upsetting others. Remember, everyone’s opinion is important when voiced in a positive and non-accusatory manner.

I enjoy listening to opposing opinions. They force me to reexamine my own beliefs. Do I know what I believe? Are my beliefs supported by facts or are they emotional. Am I rearranging the facts to support my beliefs. Is the opposing opinion fact based? Am I wrong?

Certainly, voicing opposing opinions can cause friction and divisiveness. Unfortunately, failing to voice opposing opinions can be taken as having no opinion or supporting the current discussion. If you feel strongly about an issue and have a particular opinion do not be afraid to speak up.

Hopefully the various emails and articles being circulated about the United Methodist Church provide information allowing each of us to become more informed about our beliefs. Information that will prepare each of us to voice an opinion supported by facts, not emotions.

It is not easy to speak up, but how can we possibly spread God’s message about salvation, grace, and the forgiveness of sins if we are unwilling to speak up when hearing a viewpoint we disagree with.

On Schism

The United Methodist News Service, dated October 13, 2016, featured an article: Schism Is a Failure of Love and Leadership by Bishop (ret.) Kenneth L. Carder. The complete article can be found here.

Bishop Carder is deeply disturbed by the turmoil within the United Methodist Church. He is very concerned that the church may end up in a schism, which he believes is not in the best interest of all concerned. Bishop Carder is not alone in his concern for the well being of the Christian community in general and the United Methodist Church in particular.

To support his hypothesis that a split within the church is a ‘transparent betrayal of the church’s nature and mission’, Bishop Carder quotes from John Wesley’s Sermon 75. The complete sermon can be found here. The particular quote used comes from Section II.1, one line of which I feel summarizes his point:

It is the nature of love to unite us together; and the greater the love, the stricter the union. . . . It is only when our love grows cold, that we can think of separating from our brethren.

Bishop Carder is quite earnest in his writing and provides much food for thought, but I am not in agreement with his conclusion. Certainly, I believe there is a failure of leadership in the church, but I don’t believe a schism will come about because of a failure to love. I believe a schism will come about if one group is successful in its attempt to make the sin of homosexual practices acceptable.

John Wesley did not take a schism within the church lightly, and he provides compelling words for rejection. John Wesley does address the single reason that he would support a schism in Section II.7 of Sermon 75, and he is very pointed with his reasoning:

. . . we were constrained to separate from that society, because we could not continue therein with a clear conscience; we could not continue without sin

. . . if this was the case, you could not be blamed for separating from that society

. . . suppose you could not remain . . . without doing something which the word of God forbids, or omitting something which the word of God positively commands

. . . Woe is me if I preach not the gospel.” . . . I should be under a necessity of separating from it, or losing my own soul

. . . if I could not continue united to any smaller society . . . without committing sin, without lying and hypocrisy, without preaching to others doctrines which I did not myself believe, I should be under an absolute necessity of separating from that society

. . . the sin of separation, with all the evils consequent upon it, . . . would not lie upon me but upon those who constrained me to make that separation, by requiring of me such terms of communion as I could not in conscience comply

As John Wesley points out, a separation is not warranted over inconsequential issues such as whether or not your pastor is better than mine, or a fellow parishioner is committing adultery, or whether you take the Lord’s Supper before me. As he also points out, a separation is warranted when someone is forced to accept from pulpit, leadership, and church orthodoxy that a sin is acceptable.

John Wesley stated my position most succinctly when he said, “. . . if I could not continue united to any smaller society . . . without committing sin, without lying and hypocrisy, without preaching to others doctrines which I did not myself believe, I should be under an absolute necessity of separating from that society”.

Do I want the United Methodist Church to split? Certainly not! That is why I am staying the course and writing about my personal beliefs and why I hold them. I will continue on as a United Methodist unless such time occurs that ‘(I) could not continue therein with a clear conscience; (I) could not continue without sin.’

If the church should decide that the practice of homosexuality is acceptable then I will make my own personal schism because, as Wesley stated, “. . . the sin of separation, with all the evils consequent upon it, . . . would not lie upon me but upon those who constrained me to make that separation, by requiring of me such terms of communion as I could not in conscience comply”.

I agree that a schism will come because of a failure of leadership. If the church leaders acquiesce to those pushing a social agenda over God’s Commandments they will have failed in their duty by allowing ‘. . . something which the word of God forbids’.

I disagree that a schism will occur because of a failure to love. We are called as Christians to love our neighbor; we are not called to enable the pursuit of sin or speak falsely so that good feelings abound. Jesus spoke of this in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. The father never stopped loving his son even though the son made demands and left his father’s house. The father continued to love his son and showered him with love upon his return.

If a schism should happen I will feel sadness down to my very core, but I will not feel guilty. I will continue to love my neighbor, as God, in His infinite mercy, continues to love me.