Why the United Methodist Church withdrew from the Democrat “One Nation” rally

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:

James,

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.

“naive”

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:

  1. This pep rally is perceived, portrayed, and organized as a partisan, left wing event.
  2. 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.

“reckless”

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…)

Conclusion

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?

Aren Cambre
Dallas, TX

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:

Jim,

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&notoc=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?

  1. 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?
  2. Clinging to tired legalisms, such as how the retraction repeats the alleged nonpartisan basis for this event. (The Gospels say a lot about legalism…)
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Aren Cambre
Dallas, TX

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.

6 thoughts on “Why the United Methodist Church withdrew from the Democrat “One Nation” rally”

  1. So… are you using “Democrat rally” instead of “[big-D] Democratic rally” on purpose, or becuase you simply lack correct grammar?

    Remember “Freedom Fries”?
    -robert

  2. Aren – thanks for your incredibly intelligent exchange with Winkler. This wasn’t his first rodeo, and probably not his last, unless we can get the GBCS disbanded soon (unlikely).

  3. Please let me know how I can help to balance our tree. I am burdened by the endorsement & un-endorsement of the rally, and by any association to the policy statements on the GBSC website. Where is the opposite branch of the UMC?

  4. Aren,
    We are in a little bit of a scuffle with the GBCS. I have attached an email below. Start at the bottom and read up. The replies are from Wayne Rhoads:

    From: mwa1@att.net
    To: wrhodes@UMC-GBCS.ORG
    Subject: Re: Almost forgot
    Date: Tue, 26 Jul 2011 15:30:20 -0500

    Wayne,

    We highly recommend that you go back and read Ezekial 34. There is NOT one word about Government. This is God speaking not some Government bureaucrat. So many of you liberals think you can substitute the word Government for God. We tithe to our church, we support several Christian organizations and we support a child through Compassion International. We do this because we are Christians and followers of Jesus Christ. We do not want the Federal Government (especially the current administration) telling us who to support and how much to give.

    You might not realize it, but this is one of the reasons the Tea Party movement sprang up. We are tired of the Government spending OUR money foolishly and then demanding more. Wayne, this is Socialism. If you can’t see this, we will pray for you because there is always hope….

    Yvonne & Mike

    From: Wayne Rhodes
    Sent: Tuesday, July 26, 2011 8:44 AM
    To: mwa1@att.net
    Subject: Almost forgot

    Dear Yvonne and Mike: You might read Ezekial 34. It’s not the only admonition in the Bible, by the way, to governments to take care of their people. Wayne

    From: Wayne Rhodes
    Sent: Tuesday, July 26, 2011 9:29 AM
    To: ‘MIKE’
    Subject: RE: Pls. take a minute to read this article.

    Dear Yvonne and Mike:
    I encourage you to read the Social Principles of The United Methodist Church before you condemn individuals who are being faithful to their charge. The General Board of Church & Society is charged to seek the implementation of the Social Principles and other policy statements of the General Conference, our denomination’s highest policy-setting body. We do not have the authority to create new positions. Those positions, by the way, are set forth in the Book of Discipline (Social Principles beginning with ¶160), and in the Book of Resolutions. Both of these are available online or most likely in your local church library.

    Your fight is not with the General Board of Church & Society, but with General Conference, which instructs the board and its executives to “provide forthright witness and action on issues of human well-being, justice, peace, and the integrity of creation.” (Book of Discipline ¶1004, Responsibilities of the General Board of Church & Society).

    If you want to make changes in the UMC, the path to do so is through the General Conference. Any United Methodist, organization or individual, can submit petitions to change stances of the denomination. Ranting about persons who are doing their job at the direction of the General Conference is fruitless and a waste of time and energy, if you also do not take steps to get changes in those mandates that direct the board which you find so offensive. Go to UMC.org and you will find links to information about General Conference that can help you understand the representative process that is used to determine United Methodist positions.

    This denomination has a long history of social justice activism. Our predecessors wrote the first Social Creed (1908), which was eventually used as a model for other denominations. John Wesley advocated on behalf of labor and against slavery. If you check our history, you will find that this agency is doing nothing out of the ordinary for this denomination. All of our staff are people of faith trying to live in the vision God and Jesus Christ set forth for this world.

    I hope your research on this is fruitful and rewarding.

    In Jesus’ name,

    Wayne Rhodes
    Director of Communications
    General Board of Church & Society
    The United Methodist Church
    100 Maryland Avenue, NE
    Washington, D.C. 20002
    (202) 488-5630 / wrhodes@umc-gbcs.org

    From: MIKE [mailto:mwa1@att.net]
    Sent: Tuesday, July 26, 2011 10:01 AM
    To: SAVE THE UMC MIKE HART; SAVE THE UMC NANCY IRWIN; SAVE THE UMC PENNY MONK; SAVE THE UMC STEVE WRIGHT
    Cc: Bill Mefford; Jeanette Cosper; Jim Winkler; John Hill; Mark Harrison; Michelle Whittaker; GBCS REV. JOHN CALHOUN; Liberato Bautista; Wayne Rhodes
    Subject: Fw: Pls. take a minute to read this article.

    Good morning folks,

    I just found out about your organization from this article. We have been fighting the GBCS for a couple of months now. We rarely get a response to our emails. This article (below) appeared this morning. We are both UMC members and Tea Party members. This group (GBCS), and others like them are trying to hijack the Methodist Church. They have a socialist / liberal / social justice philosophy that does not follow the bible or the vast membership of the UMC. Jesus told us to help each other. There is nowhere in the Bible that promotes a vast Government taking from one group and giving to another…It is especially irritating when they act as if they speak for the UMC, which they do not. They are basically a group of liberals that support redistribution of wealth. They have become mouthpieces and carry the water for this administration and we are tired of it.

    We must stop them from totally destroying the UMC.

    Sincerely,

    Yvonne & Mike Appell
    1150 Kings Road
    Neptune Beach, Fl. 32266

    From: MIKE
    Sent: Tuesday, July 26, 2011 8:15 AM
    To: 1 A YVONNE & MIKE
    Subject: Pls. take a minute to read this article.

    Saving bullies

    Jesus’ invitational life should guide us in reaching out to naysayers
    By Bill Mefford A while back I reached out to the creators of a Web site called, “Save the UMC.” The Web site was started following passage of the comprehensive health-care bill in the United States. Particularly galling to its sponsors was when Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi thanked The United Methodist Church for it’s support.
    If you recall, Tea Party activists were in a full uproar over the federal government providing health care for people. The focus of their rage was largely on the expense, although the health-care proposal could have been paid for many times over by the costs of the U.S. invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet, I don’t remember any Tea Party outrage at all about the cost when those countries were invaded.
    I am willing to travel anywhere at anytime to talk about what saving The United Methodist Church means.
    I told the Save the UMC creators who I am: that I am a two-time alum of Asbury Seminary and have a background well rooted in evangelicalism. I shared that I strongly believe that in deepening and expanding God’s Kingdom reality in the world, liberals and conservatives and everyone in between should find plenty of room to work alongside each other.
    I work with some conservative groups in Washington, D.C., on a few issues. I know it can be done.
    My outreach to Save the UMC was sincere. I said I am willing to travel anywhere at anytime to talk about what saving The United Methodist Church means and how we could partner, most importantly, to serve God’s Kingdom. I genuinely was excited about the prospect.

    Not interested

    Their response: No, not interested.
    Even now, I remain flabbergasted by their refusal to meet. How could a group proclaim so loudly about the need to save The United Methodist Church say no when the opportunity to build bridges that might result in that end arises? Far more important than saving a denomination, though, how could a group professing to be focused on the higher calling of seeking first the Kingdom of God refuse the opportunity to at least share with another who professes to be after that very same end?
    Even now, I remain flabbergasted by their refusal to meet.
    It reminds me in many ways of the duplicity of the so-called Tea Party movement that unfortunately has a stranglehold on politics today. We all remember the screaming Tea Partiers angrily confronting members of Congress last summer about health care. I do not recall the same screaming by Tea Partiers at their members of Congress when George Bush and the Republican-controlled Congress led us into trillion-dollar invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.
    So much for outrage at government waste. The war money for government contractors has provided perhaps the greatest feeding trough of corporate welfare for corporations like Halliburton and Boeing in history. Tea Partiers should be screaming about that, but not a peep.

    Big government intrusion

    Further, if Tea Partiers truly are concerned about big government intrusion into private lives, then why hasn’t they been protesting the harsh, anti-immigrant legislation in states like Arizona, Alabama, South Carolina and Georgia. Under these laws, people are being stopped at random and forced to prove their citizenship. Faith communities are prevented from many of their ministries among immigrant communities because it’s against the law to transport immigrants in their own vehicles.
    Isn’t that government intrusion at its worst?
    Isn’t that government intrusion at its worst? No outrage from the Tea Partiers, though, not a peep.
    The hypocrisy of both the so-called Tea Party movement and Save the UMC is astonishing. Could it be that both Tea Partiers and Save the UMC are really not interested in the principles they loudly profess? Rather, they simply are angry people confused by the cultural changes swirling about them.
    They have decided that all that is wrong in the world and in their lives can be laid at the feet of the government or at general agencies of The United Methodist Church. Are these “movements” — and I seriously question the validity of that term for these groups — really more interested in assigning blame than casting forth a vision to live into? We know who these groups hate, but what exactly are they for?

    Not a new phenomenon

    The truth is, neither the Tea Partiers nor Save the UMC is a new phenomenon. They have been around for a long time, but with different names.
    Paul Collier, In his book Wars, Guns & Votes, explains why poor countries are more violent. He asserts that in “ethnically diverse societies … voting for extremist parties offers the strongest identity fix.”
    Tribalism often offers the greatest comfort to those who feel their identity being lost.
    In a different context than Collier intended, I believe his argument works well in regards to the United States. In an increasingly urbanized and globalized world, tribalism often offers the greatest comfort to those who feel their identity being lost. This easily can explain these groups I’ve been discussing here.
    Unfortunately, while retrenchment into tribalism offers comfort, it also foments greater exclusivity, isolation and detachment. Difference or diversity to those retrenching is not something to value. Difference is something to avoid. Difference is to be mocked. It is viewed hostilely because it undermines the retrenchers’ view of who they are and what they believe.
    They need their tribe. All other views or identity groups must be excluded, if not possibly eliminated in extreme cases.

    Look to the Gospels

    So, how should those truly focused on working for and participating in the expansion of God’s Kingdom in this world, and not just paying it lip service, respond to groups like Save the UMC? When we look to the Gospels, it becomes clear that groups like Save the UMC are merely modern iterations of the Pharisees and other religious leaders in Jesus’ time. In the final analysis, the creators of Save the UMC are actually bullies intent on kicking out those perceived as different from their rigidly defined doctrines. Ironically, though, bullies are sometimes the most vulnerable and in greatest need of redemption, are they not?
    Interestingly, both the Pharisees and groups like Save the UMC are highly doctrinaire. They view persons who fail to abide by these highly doctrinaire understandings of sacred texts as being outside God’s grace. But, as Jesus pointed out in the gospels, neither the Pharisees then, nor Save the UMC today actually hold themselves accountable to their own professed principles. The principles are a means to distinguish who they are from who they are not, not to invite others to join. Obviously, I might be meeting with the creators of Save the UMC right now otherwise.
    We are all living in a context that is increasingly globalized and multicultural. Interestinlgy, multiculturalism came to distinguish the New Testament Church in its time. In much of the book of Acts, the disciples consistently resist multiculturalism, but eventually acquiesce to the Holy Spirit’s constant pull into deeper missional and cross-cultural relationships. The Pharisees, too, felt deeply threatened, especially by the encroachment by the Romans. Similarly today, Save the UMC feels especially threatened by theological pluralism.

    Exposed as hypocrites

    While Jesus, throughout the Gospels, offers invitations for the Pharisees and other religious leaders to repent and join his ministry, he ultimately calls them out and exposes them for who they are: hypocrites (Matthew 23). A few religious leaders did ultimately follow Jesus as Christ, by the way.
    Jesus lived an invitational life. He was not afraid to be brutally — and I mean brutally — honest.
    As flabbergasted as I was and still am at Save the UMC’s refusal to meet, I still offer them an invitation to meet and find ways to work together for the expansion of God’s Kingdom. Good could come out of that kind of discussion.
    I also recognize that groups like the Save the UMC and the Tea Party are new iterations of historic resistance to cultural change. Unfortunately, such resistance fosters hostility and exclusivism.
    Both groups are no better than bullies that demand what they want and threaten to kick out anyone who disagrees.
    We need to continue to missionally offer invitations to Save the UMC. We must recognize who they really are: bullies desperately in need of redemption and liberation that can only be found in Christ.

  5. Thank you for standing up to the GBCS on this. I was not aware that they rescinded the UCM sponsorship. I was taken aback when I learned the that UMC was partnering with the Communist Party to sponsor this event. I just returned from Russia, where I witnessed a return to religion after the Communist Party was outed. The people I met said that under the Communist Rule, if you went to church you could not be a member of the party, and if you were not a member of the party, you could not get a job. What was GBCS thinking to partner up with the communists? When we took our vows of membership, we pledged to resist evil in whatever form it presented itself. The UCM should not be joining forces with the Communists and I don’t want my pledge money going to apportionments to partner with the Communist Party.

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