Opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

New York Conference Petition on the IRD

Winifred also sent me the text of the petition from the New York Conference of the UMC regarding the IRD. This is much stronger than the Southwest Conference petition.

This is long. I will save it on the sidebar. Not knowing much about the Methodist tradition, I found this document interesting on a number of levels. It is certainly well-drafted and as you read through it, you may as I did, find some fascinating parallels with what the IRD is also trying to do in the PC(USA).


On the Institute On Religion and Democracy

Whereas, the Institute of Religion and Democracy (IRD) claims that it is “an ecumenical alliance of U.S. Christians working to reform their churches’ social witness, in accord with biblical and historic teachings, thereby contributing to the renewal of democratic society at home and abroad,”(1) and it was “founded in 1981 to promote reform of America’s mainline churches, with a special focus on their political activities.”(2)

And,

Whereas, according to Right Web, a program of the International Relations Center,(3) the IRD’s mission to renew democratic society at home and abroad has in practice involved advocating U.S. military interventionism and global supremacy and attacking Christians who do not support their mission:

The IRD has evoked religion and morality to promote militant anticommunism and the conservative variety of internationalism advanced by the neoconservatives…For more than two decades the IRD has advocated U.S. military interventionism…The IRD was a leading advocate of U.S. military aid and intervention in Central America and the Caribbean during the Reagan administrations, and it routinely challenged the patriotism and the belief systems of Christians who didn't share its militarist and interventionist spirit. When the IRD wasn't criticizing the Protestant denominations for being soft on Communism, it was charging that they were anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli…In addition to the Protestant denominations, the IRD considers the National Council of Churches (NCC) and its counterpart World Council of Churches to be instruments of liberalism and secularism…Its mission of "reforming the Church's social and political witness, and building and strengthening democracy and religious liberty at home and abroad" has closely followed the evolving neoconservative foreign policy agenda—from militant anticommunism to post-Cold War U.S. global supremacy…(4)

And,

Whereas, IRD’s “special focus” on the “political activities” of the mainline denominations, including the UMC,(5) is designed to effectively eliminate the UMC’s social witness and UMAction’s agenda would:

• end all giving to organizations unless they share UMAction’s understanding of the UMC’s faith
commitment,(6)
• abolish the General Board of Church and Society (GBCS), and
• re-write the UMC’s Constitution to remove the authority of General Conference to write and revise the Social Principles or to speak prophetically on social issues unless the majority of UM laity have already reached consensus on those issues, thereby precluding the UMC from speaking prophetically.(7)

And,

Whereas, the UMC’s social witness is an integral characteristic of the UMC, growing out of John
Wesley’s historic focus on social holiness as expressed through his understanding that the essentials of Christianity begin with the Royal Law,(8) Jesus’ commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves, which is reflected in both the Old and New Testaments (Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 19:19; Matthew 22:39; Mark 40 12:31; Luke 10:27; Romans 13:9; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8).
And,

Whereas, the IRD’s agenda is being advanced this year through their numerous sample annual conference resolutions which, amongst other things, include calls to:

• cut the General Board of Church and Society’s funding by at least 25% in the next quadrennium;
• affirm using assent to the doctrinal standards as a criteria for membership;
• reduce the General Conference representation of the Western Jurisdiction; and
• cut funding to the National Council of Churches.(9)

And,

Whereas, in an internal document prepared in 2000 after General Conference, the IRD described why they see the United Methodist Church (UMC) and other mainline denominations as useful tools to advance their agenda and detailed their “special attention” to the UMC; this focus is a result of what they perceive as the disproportionate influence these denominations have over U.S. society.(10) In this same document, the IRD stated:

The mainline churches, the bulwark of the Religious Left, have been a powerful influence in American life throughout the 20th Century…For nearly the last 20 years, the IRD has worked to discredit and diminish the Religious Left’s influence and we have experienced significant successes in our efforts….In the largest mainline church, the united Methodist Church [sic], conservatives are gaining ground…The Good News movement, the United Methodist wing of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, and many of its bishops and tall-steeple pastors have taken over the church’s governing body…Our growing outreach over the last five years…was significantly responsible for perhaps the most productive General Conference in 40 years [in 2000]. UMAction helped to defeat pro-gay initiatives by margins of 2-1 or more. Our initiative to…overturn the church’s official pacifism stance to a stance that acknowledges Christian approval of the resort to force in some circumstances [was also successful]…Delegates to the General Conference also voted to reapportion the composition of future General Conferences so that declining (and liberal) regions of the church such as the northeast and west coast will receive fewer delegates. Growing (and more conservative) regions such as the southeast and overseas churches will receive more delegates. This will help ensure that conservative trends on sexuality and a whole range of issues will continue at future General Conferences.

And,

Whereas, UMAction claims that it “defends traditional Christian beliefs and practices in the spirit of the father of Methodism, John Wesley”(11) but, in contrast with Wesley’s teachings, seeks to greatly increase the emphasis placed on doctrine in the UMC, through its stated agenda to:

• require UMC members to affirm not just the membership vows but the entirety of the Doctrinal Standards as listed in the Discipline;(12)
• make the Council of Bishops responsible for enforcing and upholding these Doctrinal Standards;
• require all general agency staff to affirm the Nicene Creed, the Apostles Creed, and the Athanasian Creed, regardless of the relevance to their job responsibilities and in spite of their skills and qualifications; and
• require all UM seminary faculty to affirm the same, raising doctrine above skill and competence in the criteria for selecting persons to educate our church leaders and teach them critical thinking skills.(13)

And,

Whereas, John Wesley himself demonstrated in his sermon, “The Way to the Kingdom,” that this agenda is at odds with his thoughts and thus does not line up with “the spirit of the father of Methodism, John Wesley”:

...although true religion naturally leads to every good word and work, yet the real nature thereof lies deeper still, even in the 'the hidden nature of the heart'. I say of the heart. For neither does religion consist in orthodoxy or right opinions; which, although they are not properly outward things, are not in the heart, but the understanding. A man may be orthodox in every point; he may not only espouse right opinions, but zealously defend them against all opposers; he may think justly concerning the incarnation of our Lord, concerning the ever blessed Trinity, and every other doctrine contained in the oracles of God. He may assent to all the three creeds--that called the Apostles', the Nicene, and the Athanasian--and yet 'tis possible he may have no religion at all, no more than a Jew, Turk, or pagan. He may be almost as orthodox as the devil (though indeed not altogether; for every man errs in something, whereas we can't well conceive him to hold any erroneous opinion) and may all the while be as a great a stranger as he to the religion of the heart.(14)

And,

Whereas, in that same sermon, Wesley continues to expound on this in following paragraphs, including defining his understanding of true religion to include righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Wesley defines righteousness as made up of "the two grand branches thereof," the two greatest commandments: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all they heart, and with all they mind, and with all they soul, and with all they strength" and "thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself."(15)

And,

Whereas, Wesley taught in his sermon, “Catholic Spirit,” that what matters, what is essential, is that our hearts are right; that we love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength; that we love our neighbors as ourselves. And as long as we are in agreement on these things, “although a difference in opinions or modes of worship may prevent an entire external union, yet need it prevent our union in affection?(16) Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may. Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences. These remaining as they are, they may forward one another in love and in good works.” (17)

And,

Whereas, Wesley further explained, “’If it be, give me thine hand.’ I do not mean, ‘Be of my opinion.’” “I do not mean, ‘Embrace my modes of worship,’ or ‘I will embrace yours.’” “I mean, first, love me.” “I mean, secondly, commend me to God in all thy prayers; wrestle with him in my behalf, that he would speedily correct what he sees amiss and supply what is wanting in me.” “I mean, thirdly, provoke me to love and to good works.” “I mean, lastly, love me not in word only, but in deed and in truth.” (18)

And,

Whereas, in seeking to advance their agenda, the IRD and its UMAction Committee have used hardball tactics,(19) including
• using controversial issues, including homosexuality, as wedge issues;
• seeking to drive out persons they do not agree with, including calls for liberals to leave the
church;(20)
• misrepresenting their distorted, inflammatory, sensationalized, and sometimes deceptive
commentaries as factual news accounts of issues and events in the Church in a way intended to
mislead and manipulate their audience;
• using such a piece, written by Mark Tooley, to attack the 2006 session of the New York Annual
Conference and characterize it as “more like a MoveOn.org rally than a church convention;”(21)

and,

Whereas, the IRD and its UMAction Committee, led by Director Mark Tooley, are not related to the UMC and are not accountable to the UMC or its members through General Conference or a representational and elected Board of Directors—a charge (unaccountability) they often throw at denominational leaders who are democratically elected and who are accountable to various constituents and Boards of Directors.(22)

Therefore, be it resolved, that we condemn the hardball, deceptive and divisive tactics of the Institute on Religion and Democracy and its UMAction Committee.

Therefore, be it further resolved, that we call for the following actions:
• Good News/RENEW and The Confessing Movement to cease their partnership with the IRD
• all caucus groups not to use the same kinds of hardball tactics exhibited by the IRD
• all United Methodists not to support the IRD and to reject the agenda it works to impose on the
UMC and the tactics it uses to advance them.
• the IRD to disband its UMAction committee and cease its efforts to impose its agenda on the
UMC.
• all parts of the UMC to engage religion of the heart, in accordance with Wesley’s teachings and
the example of Christ, and join hands together so that we may move forward together in love and in good works.

Therefore, be it further resolved, that, in order to facilitate this joining of hands, we call on all parts of the Church to engage in study and dialogue on Wesleyan theology, specifically in regards to Wesley’s understanding of what is true religion (and what is not)—religion of the heart with the Royal Law at its center—and how it applies to the needs of the world, as expressed in his concept of “practical Christianity.” In such dialogue, it is hoped that the Church will return to what is essential and most important about our faith and about living as disciples of Christ. It is further hoped that through this, organizations such as the IRD that seek to divide us will fail in their efforts, and we will better learn to love each other and to see Christ in each other, enabling us to then join our hands so that we may indeed move forward together in love and good works.

Therefore, be it further resolved, that at the close of the 2007 New York Annual Conference session, the above resolution be prepared and submitted by the Annual Conference secretary to comply with deadlines and submission requirements for consideration by the 2008 General Conference of The United Methodist Church.

---------------
1 See “Purpose Statement,” http://www.ird-renew.org/site/pp.asp?c=fvKVLfMVIsG&b=356299 ; in contrast, the mission of the UMC is to “make disciples of Jesus Christ” (see ¶120, Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church 2004).
2 See, “About UMAction,” http://www.ird-renew.org/site/pp.asp?c=fvKVLfMVIsG&b=357797.
3 See http://rightweb.irc-online.org/about.php; Right Web, founded in 2003, is a program of the International Relations Center (IRC) that tracks the work of those, in and outside of government, who have been instrumental in shaping or supporting U.S. policies in the global war on terror.
4 See IRD’s profile at http://rightweb.irc-online.org/profile/1496.
5 This includes committees dedicated to advancing the IRD’s agenda in the UMC, the Episcopal Church, and the Presbyterian Church USA.
6 This would preclude the UMC’s ability to partner with most other organizations on projects that promote our shared goals. For example, if this proposal were enacted the UMC would not be permitted to contribute funding to the hugely successful Nothing But Nets campaign that is working to stem malaria in Africa that we jointly created because the lead organization, the
UN Foundation, does not share the beliefs of the UMC.
7 See items 3, 9, 10, 11 “UM Action Reform Agenda: A Reform Agenda For United Methodists,” http://www.irdrenew.org/site/pp.asp?c=fvKVLfMVIsG&b=358125. They propose that the Social Principles be deleted and re-written “in a process involving local churches;” the current process is that local church members of the Annual Conference elect persons to carry out this duty at General Conference.
8 See John Wesley’s 1750 sermon, “Catholic Spirit,” http://hbs.gbgm-umc.org/umhistory/wesley/sermons/39/.
9 See, “2007 Sample Resolutions,” http://www.ird-renew.org/site/apps/nl/newsletter2.asp?c=fvKVLfMVIsG&b=2439547.
10 See, “The Institute on Religion and Democracy: REFORMING AMERICA’S CHURCHES PROJECT 2001-2004,”
http://www.theocracywatch.org/internal_document_ird.html, which compares the low percentage of Christians that are members of the mainline denominations (“just under 10% of America’s total church membership”) to their comparative wealth and “remarkably high numbers of leaders in politics, business and culture” including “over one-third of the members of the U.S. Senate.” “In short, despite their fallen membership numbers of recent decades, these denominations are still flagship churches that directly or indirectly influence millions of Americans.”
11 See “UMAction,” http://www.ird-renew.org/site/pp.asp?c=fvKVLfMVIsG&b=308885.
12 See The Book of Discipline 2004, ¶103, which includes over 40 articles of religion and rules; John Wesley’s standard sermons, of which there are dozens and dozens, often even with contradictory theological statements reflecting the development of his theology over time; and Wesley’s Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament, which as it happens, is not currently in
print or reasonably accessible.
13 See items 1, 2, and 5, “UM Action Reform Agenda: A Reform Agenda For United Methodists,” http://www.irdrenew.org/site/pp.asp?c=fvKVLfMVIsG&b=358125
14 See “The Way to the Kingdom,” http://new.gbgm-umc.org/umhistory/wesley/sermons/7/.
15 Ibid.
16 Elsewhere in this sermon, Wesley elaborated further on the matter of differing opinions, “Every wise man, therefore, will allow others the same liberty of thinking which he desires they should allow him; and will no more insist on their embracing his opinions, than he would have them to insist on his embracing theirs. He bears with those who differ from him, and only asks
him with whom he desires to unite in love that single question, "Is thy heart right, as my heart is with thy heart?"”
17 See “Catholic Spirit,” http://hbs.gbgm-umc.org/umhistory/wesley/sermons/39/.
18 Ibid.
19 See, “Mainline Churches: Wake-up and Smell the Coffee,” http://www.talk2action.org/story/2006/12/19/21228/366 by Frederick Clarkson, Hard Ball on Holy Ground, ed. by Stephen Swecker, and United Methodism @ Risk: A Wake-Up Call, by
Leon Howell.
20 See IRD press release,
http://www.ird-renew.org/site/apps/s/content.asp?c=fvKVLfMVIsG&b=494491&ct=416709, which states, “Washington, DC – The United Methodist Action committee of the Institute on Religion and Democracy is urging a “gracious exit” for United Methodists who cannot in conscience abide by the denomination’s official disapproval of homosexual behavior.”
21 See, “Methodists for MoveOn,” http://www.frontpagemag.com/Articles/ReadArticle.asp?ID=23685 by Mark Tooley.
22 See “Officers, Board of Directors, and Board of Advisors,” http://www.irdrenew.
org/site/pp.asp?c=fvKVLfMVIsG&b=356301, retrieved March 29, 2007. Of the primary three mainline denominations that the IRD has directed its attention towards, the UMC is first among them. Nevertheless, none of their officers and only three members of their 18 member Board are United Methodist. Two of the three primary founders, however, are neoconservative
Catholics; about 1/3 of their Board is also often described as neo-conservative Catholics.

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