A family member and I may be much of why the United Methodist Church withdrew from the Oct. 2 Democrat One Nation Rally. I am proud that, per the Weekly Standard, the UMC was “the only major group publicly to withdraw from the rally.”
On Thursday, Sept. 30, 2 days before the rally, a family member tipped me off that the United Methodist Church’s General Board on Church and Society (GBCS) endorsed the rally.
I was skeptical at first, pushing back on the relative. But later that day, I called Wayne Rhodes, the GBCS’s Director of Communications. Wayne played the “what, me?” card, sticking to a ridiculous notion that this is a nonpartisan rally. At one point he even denied that NPR repeatedly characterized this as a left wing political rally. It took many minutes to explain to him that a pig with lipstick is still a pig–even if there is some alleged factual basis for the rally’s nonpartisanship, it is a de facto Democrat rally. Therefore, the United Methodist Church’s name should not be part of it.
Wayne’s bio suggests a good deal of journalistic experience. All I can figure is he is intentionally playing fast and loose with the truth, like a political press secretary whose boss is in hot water. Not like an employee of a church.
I was so frustrated with Wayne’s obfuscation that I send this email a few hours later. It went to the GBCS’s director Jim Winkler, CCing Wayne and also Mark W. Harrison, the GBCS employee who sought the UMC’s endorsement:
I have a bone to pick with you.
I am a lifelong United Methodist, and I am embarrassed and angry that the General Board on Church and Society, which you direct, recklessly and naively lent the UMC’s name to a left wing, partisan pep rally (per http://www.onenationworkingtogether.org/partners).
Let me deconstruct this statement:
“left wing, partisan pep rally”
It doesn’t take much to read through the event’s marketing. The One Nation Working Together Rally is a national-scope, left wing, Democrat-supporting, partisan pep rally. It is a knee-jerk reaction to the recent Tea Party-aligned, Republican-supporting, conservative, Glenn Beck event.
The media clearly sees this. Here’s a couple of NPR pieces that affirm the pep rally’s partisanship: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=130183605 and http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=130212964 (just listen to the first 25 seconds). Google News has many other references (link), cementing this obvious purpose.
Guess what? Almost all of the pep rally’s “endorsing organizations” (http://www.onenationworkingtogether.org/partners) are left wing or Democrat groups. Some are even notorious extremists like the Communist Party. Only a small remainder are prima facie politically unaligned.
Over the phone yesterday, GBCS communications director Wayne Rhodes argued that this is simply a nonpartisan event about social justice. He said that one of your employees sought GBCS endorsement because he claimed this pep rally is about nonpartisan principles. He passionately denied that the media portrayed this as a Democrat-aligned or even left wing event.
Um, what? Is the GBCS that naive?
Let’s suppose the impossible is true, that this is really nonpartisan? Two important facts:
- This pep rally is perceived, portrayed, and organized as a partisan, left wing event.
- Endorsing a highly partisan pep rally links one with the rally’s partisan flavor.
These facts matter a lot more than a legalistic, disingenuous appeal to the pep rally’s alleged nonpartisan roots.
Given that the UMC laity has diverse political views and that the denomination is bleeding members, the UMC should be wary of wedges that could alienate members.
The GBCS was reckless to create a wedge over non-church, partisan politics. Supporting a Democrat-aligned, left wing pep rally does not serve Jesus Christ or stop the UMC’s membership losses. It just feeds political machines and drives away members and prospects.
Alienated members may include those who don’t agree with left wing solutions to social ills. It may also include those, from any political stripe, who agree with the spirit of tax law that separates charities from partisan events. (Yes, I know, “on paper” this is not a “Democrat” pep rally, and the tax law has some loopholes, but let’s not get into disingenuous legalism again…)
By now, you may think I want the GBCS to also endorse Republican or conservative events. No, in fact, I don’t. Several of the Republican party’s official stances also counter the UMC’s social principles.
I want the GBCS to stay out of partisan events. I don’t want my own church creating wedges between me and my Christian brothers and sisters of any partisan leaning!
Further, I want the GBCS to be open to the idea that what separates the left and right are often not the goals (fairness, equality, peace, liberty, etc.). The difference is in the methods to achieve these outcomes.
I’m confused why the GBCS didn’t have checks and balances to prevent this error? It makes me question what you guys are doing up there. What other partisan political events are you endorsing? Does the General Conference need to audit the GBCS?
I also CCed my local minister and Bishop.
By this time, my relative had found emails of United Methodist friends and many Bishops and started sending similar appeals to them.
I got no response, but that was unsurprising. Wayne made it clear they were going to cling to delusional notions about the rally’s partisanship.
The day before, Oct. 1, as I was about to start some of my own email activism, I found that the GBCS rescinded their endorsement! I was relieved, but the news release infuriated me. They still clung to their dishonest claptrap. For example:
- “The board is disturbed by some of the overtly political and partisan statements issued by organizers of the march.” Um, it was political and partisan from the beginning!? Hello!?
- “These goals are non-controversial and consistent with scripture and the United Methodist Social Principles.” and other garbage defending the rally. Look, it was a political rally. The non-partisan roots are a farce. Quit it!
- “the rally was initiated by respected civil rights organizations such as the NAACP … [but] [t]he list of endorsers, however, grew to include a variety of organizations that created enormous, unnecessary controversy.” Well, yeah, aligning with the Communist Party doesn’t help things, BUT THAT’S STILL NOT THE PROBLEM! Do you really believe that a national-scope, Washington Mall rally, pimped exclusively by Democrat fronts like the NAACP or or radical left groups, could possibly be nonpartisan? Seriously?
- “…the ‘One Nation Working Together’ rally has been portrayed by opponents as a counter-demonstration to Mr. Beck’s event.” NPR and the mainstream media are opponents of the American left? HAHAHAHA!
- “GBCS does not support a statement reported in the Sept. 30 issue of The Washington Post made by a key organizer of the event. He said, ‘We aren’t the alternative to the tea party; we are the antidote.’” Another example of insane incompetence–is the GBCS really that blind to the unrelenting media characterization of One Nation, that started way before Sept. 30? It didn’t start the day I called Wayne!
- “Unfortunately, discourse within the United States has grown increasingly divisive. Perhaps more troubling, discourse within The United Methodist Church has taken on a very un-Christ-like tone. E-mails and phone calls made to the board by clergy and laity have been shocking in their vitriol.” Oh, that’s wonderful, throw stones at fellow United Methodists because they called you out on your incompetence. Yeah, that’s “turning the other cheek”!
- “The ‘One Nation Working Together’ rally began with a clean, clear message consistent with the social teachings of The United Methodist Church.” NEVER, NEVER, NEVER. This started out as a partisan political pep rally. It was NEVER intended to be some nonpartisan event. Any alleged nonpartisanship is a thin legal fiction necessary to pass through tax law.
- “We pray that the rally will overcome the misguided controversies surrounding it and deliver hope for the change their presence does endorse.” That was the final statement. Yet another “we don’t get it” statement: the problem, from the beginning, is that the GBCS endorsed a political rally and declined to admit it.
I wrote another email to Jim, et al, also copying the two United Methodist bishops who serve as president and vice president of the GBCS’s board:
Thank you for rescinding the GBCS’s endorsement of this partisan pep rally: http://www.umc.org/site/apps/nlnet/content3.aspx?c=lwL4KnN1LtH&b=5723441&ct=8736599¬oc=1.
However, I strongly object to the retraction’s tone. I don’t appreciate that in it, you are defensive, still cling to tired legalisms, and cast stones at concerned United Methodists.
Since when is passionately disagreeing with GBCS’s error the same as “very un-Christ-like tone” or “shocking … vitriol”?
Could you help me understand how any of these are Christ-like?
- Your Communications Director adamantly denying that the media portrayed this event as partisan, even though he admitted he listens to the same NPR radio news as me, which repeatedly covered the pep rally’s overt partisanship?
- Clinging to tired legalisms, such as how the retraction repeats the alleged nonpartisan basis for this event. (The Gospels say a lot about legalism…)
- That your staff tarnished the UMC’s good name because they declined to perform due diligence, failing to observe the terribly obvious: a national-scope rally, set up by left wing and Democrat groups, especially in a season of intense political scrutiny of the American left, will have thick partisan overtones.
- That you waited until the 11th hour to withdraw, only after direct media attention of the GBCS endorsement, despite weeks of media coverage of the rally’s partisan purpose.
Again, I appreciate that you did the right thing and rescinded the endorsement. But I am disappointed that your retraction shows hostility, obstinance, and defensiveness instead of humility, acceptance, and straightforwardness. That is disappointing.
Heads should roll. The GBCS, as a body, was dishonest. It may be incompetent, too.
Furthermore, if the GBCS’s de facto purpose is to shove the United Methodist Church towards a certain partisan alignment, the entire board needs to be shut down. Our resources are too precious to waste on nonsense.
Now one last note: I am also working against excessive church influence in the right wing, too. The Texas Republican Party has adopted divisive religious views, and I’ve documented this in my critique of the Texas Republican Platform.