Two Camps: A Study in Contrasts
There’s a vast difference between the “two camps” operating in United Methodism today–but it may not be what you think it is. This difference is not primarily about social issues, the authority of Scripture, or who Jesus is. It’s about something else…
01. Renewal and Reform
The Renewal and Reform Coalition is a coordinated group of conservative/traditionalist groups that continue to lead The United Methodist Church. They are:
- Good News
- Transforming Congregations (program of Good News to “transform” LGBT persons to become straight)
- RENEW Network (program of Good News of conservative-evangelical women)
- The Confessing Movement (similar group to Good News)
- UMAction (the wing of The Institute of Religion and Democracy’s agenda targeting The United Methodist Church)
- Lifewatch (anti-abortion and denier of reproductive rights for women)
Largest and most organized among them is Good News. Today, we examine the perspective of their founder, which gives insight into their past and current philosophy and actions.
A Minority To Rise…
Rev. Charles Keysor was the originator of the Good News Magazine and eventual caucus group for conservative advocacy in The United Methodist Church. His first article (calling for the creation of Good News) was a 1966 article entitled “Methodism’s Silent Minority: A Voice For Orthodoxy“
Orthodoxy seems destined to remain as Methodism’s silent minority. Here lies the challenge: We who are orthodox must become the un-silent minority! Orthodoxy must shed its “poor cousin” inferiority complex and enter forthrightly into the current theological debate. We who are orthodox must boldly declare our understanding of Christian truth, as God has given these convictions to us. We must speak in love and with prophetic fearlessness, and must be prepared to suffer.
Keysor’s article was a rallying cry for who he perceived to be an ideological group that he could claim minority status with. For straight white men, ideological minorities are the only form of minority that they can often claim. In the days before the Internet made such connections easily, Keysor made it possible for folks of a particular ideology to gather arguments and become convicted by shared value literature.
…But Not “Those Minorities”
This call for minority empowerment, however, became complicated when race and gender became factors. In Keysor’s response to the 1972 General Conference, he deplored the theologies made by other minority groups–with a common theme:
“women’s theology, liberation theology, black theology, Third World theology, theologies of human rights…the primary accent is upon man’s ideas and problems instead of God’s truth.”
These other ways of doing theology also spoke out of convictions that God had given to them, but molded them through their ethnic identity or social situation, which Keysor did not share.
Keysor’s opposition to such contextual theology developed into his key phrase: minority mania. In 1974, in an editorial in Good News Magazine titled “Confronting the Cults,” Keysor lays out his opposition to minority groups doing theology informed by their identity (screenshot above):
“One of the most common forms of humanism is minority mania–the preoccupation by the church with minorities which represent only a small fraction of the whole membership…this variety of humanism replaces God as the primary object of love and concern with “sexist” obsession and “racist” obsession over being white, black, yellow, red, or brown-skinned.
The opposition to “minority mania” continues from 1974 to today as the Renewal and Reform Coalition members regularly criticize feminist, latino and black liberation, queer, and other theologies that speak about God out of their ethnicity, gender, and identity instead of in spite of them. While clearly there are significant numbers of ethnic minorities and women who are part of the Reform and Renewal Coalition today, that doesn’t negate the Coalition’s suspicion of those who do theology primarily from those identities.
In conclusion, the Reform and Renewal Coalition is a ideologically driven coalition of like-mindedness operating in The United Methodist Church.
02: Love Your Neighbor
There couldn’t be a starker contrast of the above with the Love Your Neighbor Coalition. The LYN Coalition is a coalition of thirteen partner organizations, and each has agreed to work together around the intersections of common justice issues and shared values. The LYN Coalition has one thing that the Reform and Renewal Coalition does not…tell me if you see what it is:
- Black Methodists for Church Renewal
- Fossil Free UMC
- Love Prevails
- MARCHA: Metodistas Asociados Representando la Causa Hispano-Americanos
- Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA)
- Methodists in New Directions (MIND)
- National Federation of Asian American United Methodists (NFAAUM)
- Native American International Caucus (NAIC)
- Pacific Islanders Caucus of United Methodists (PINCUM)
- Reconciling Ministries Network
- United Methodist Association of Ministers with Disabilities
- Western Methodist Justice Movement (WMJM)
What you can very quickly see is that the Coalition has become exactly what Keysor feared: minorities working together. There’s five groups that advocate for ethnic group concerns, four groups for LGBTQ concerns, and four groups for other general and specific concerns.
What unites these groups is not ideological purity, but rather a mutual appreciation for how their concerns are interlinked with one another, and a desire to support one another’s expert recommendations.
Which looks like our changing world?
The LYN coalition, which includes non-white caucus groups, parallels the changes in American demographics. 2012 was the first year that white (Anglo) was not the dominant demographic of babies in America:
[N]on-Hispanic white Americans are expected to become a minority group over the next three decades. For years, Americans of Asian, black and Hispanic descent have stood poised to topple the demographic hegemony historically held by whites. Based on current rates of growth, whites in the under-5 group are expected to tip to a minority this year or next…in five years, minorities will make up more than half of children under 18. Not long after, the total U.S. white population will begin an inexorable decline in absolute numbers, due to aging baby boomers.
What we see is the LYN Coalition most represents the future of Methodism, of a plurality of perspectives that honor their differences rather than whitewash over them.
Tyranny of the Majority
Rev. Keysor was right about one thing though. He said if The UMC listened to the groups who emphasize the different experiences of genders and ethnicities, this would happen (from the screenshot):
The humanistic cults of minority empowerment turn the church into a battleground for special interest caucuses which emphasize power, prestige, and money instead of the Living Lord.
Keysor’s description of the caucuses proved to be accurate as that’s precisely what Good News became after Keysor’s death. Their page after page of proposed General Conference 2016 legislation are about eliminating the minority perspectives and strengthening the power of their majority perspective.
While Christians rightly point out how belief in Jesus cuts across societies lines ala “neither Jew nor greek, male nor female” (Galatians 3:28), Christians are also called to not discount differences in innate qualities in the body (Romans 12), in gifts (Ephesians 4), in ways to praise God (Psalm 150), or to exclude the marginalized (Isaiah 56:3).
I support the Love Your Neighbor Coalition because I believe a unity of diverse perspectives leads to a more holistic and just Church than a narrow ideology that whitewashes over differences. I hope you join me in prayer for General Conference where this conflict is made most distinct.
Thoughts? Thanks for reading and your shares on social media.