A response to A.W. Martin’s open letter to liberal or progressive friends

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On October 1st, the United Methodist News Service published a blog post entitled An Open Letter to Liberal or Progressive Friends by A. W. Martin. In the post the author, Bill, refers to himself as “a long-time member of the Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA) and the Reconciling Ministries Network” (RMN). Bill then goes on to talk about the frustration and futility that he has experienced as a United Methodist in working on trying to get the denomination to change the prejudicial statements against our Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered and Queer (LGBTQ) church members over the last forty years. He then outlines two possible scenarios for the future: 1) to stay in the denomination with and “hoping against hope that in another generation or two or three our views will triumph;” or, 2) to take one of two “paths” to depart the denomination “in a well-planned, organized way that allows inclusive congregations to stay together, and, one hopes, to thrive.” The latter seems to be what Bill is advocating for.

In his concluding paragraph, the Rev. Martin writes, “My liberal brothers and sisters, some of our conservative friends have extended their hands to help us depart in an amicable way. Some of us may decline the offer even as we shake their hands. For others of us, it is time, as we also shake their hands, to express our thanks, accept their help, move out, and move on.” I can only assume that Bill is referencing the 2004 proposal by Bill Hinson (then president of the ultra conservative Confessing Movement) made at the Good News breakfast during General Conference in Pittsburgh, that “the time has come when we must begin to explore an amicable and just separationthat will free us both from the cycle of pain and conflict. Such a just separation will protect the property rights of churches and the pension rights of clergy. It will also free us to reclaim our high calling and to fulfill our mission in the world.”

Please note that “Liberal groups rejected the idea. The Common Witness Coalition” — which then comprisedAffirmation, the Methodist Federation for Social Action, and the Reconciling Ministries Network — was quoted in a news report as “not in favor of a schism and . . . fully committed to inclusion of all opinions.”

Also, the Rev. A. W. Martin neglected to mention another possible scenario that has been gaining traction and is formally being discussed as one of several options for the future within The United Methodist Church in the Northeastern, North Central and Western Jurisdictions. That is, that entire annual conferences or jurisdictions may vote to reorganize outside of the UMC as an autonomous affiliate church, thus retaining their Methodist theology and heritage while gaining doctrinal independence from the General Conference of the UMC.

Yes, A. W. Martin is a long-time member of MFSA and RMN. MFSA is always grateful for members who speak out against injustice and oppression and we support Bill’s call to do so in his open letter. However, we also want to clarify that his letter was not written or endorsed by MFSA, nor was our opinion sought. Thank you, Bill, for opening the dialogue. The following is MFSA’s statement in response and we ask that readers read, pray and respond as well so that dialogue will continue.

“At the Methodist Federation for Social Action offices in Washington D.C. and Detroit, our opinion has not changed from 2004. We are not in favor of schism and are faithful to our ongoing mission of creating a place for progressive Methodists to work for peace and justice.

“We recognize that the divisions within our United Methodist Church have caused harm, great pain and hardship for many, especially those that the denomination continues to prejudicially exclude. And while we do encourage open discussions about our future together as a denomination, we have and will not endorse one particular way of Methodists to be in connection with each other. To do so, we believe, would be a violation of our Wesleyan heritage and traditions of openness and democracy.

“When the Methodist Episcopal Churches, both North and South started talking about re-unification, MFSA did not take a position on the merits of unity versus separation. We did, however, oppose the racist construct of creating a separate and segregated Central Jurisdiction for predominantly Black Methodist Episcopal congregations. When the Civil Rights, Gender Equality and Anti-war Movements came to a head in the 1960s and ’70s, we did not advocate for formal separation within the Methodist Episcopal Church of the day. Instead, we worked toward creating a new United Methodist Church that was free of its segregated past and would continue to work toward becoming a denomination that embraced racial and gender equality as well as being an advocate for peace with justice. Our history is our evidence… we do not promote schism, but we will not be silent about issues of social holiness/justice for the sake of false and thereby meaningless unity.

“The world is changing all around us and we believe that we need to offer a voice of Christ-like love and hope for the future of a Grace-filled Methodist movement in it. While we understand, support and grieve the frustrations and departures of many good and faithful individual United Methodists who simply cannot abide by the continued prejudice and harm that has been codified in our polity around LGBTQ persons, we are in this work for the long haul (as we have been since 1907).

“As a national and international organization, MFSA continues to work among Methodists who celebrate the unshakeable and inseparable connections that exist in our Wesleyan calling to both personal and social holiness. We recognize that this is the core nature of our Wesleyan faith: a calling that we each receive through God’s grace; celebrate and discern corporately in worship; and, live out in our connectedness in the world through our churches, conferences and worldwide structures. Therefore, MFSA will continue to be a presence in Methodism, to ALL Methodists, regardless of any changes that may or may not come to the United Methodist denomination and/or system of polity.

“We at MFSA continue to work with and pray for Methodists all over the world, that we might one day fully embrace the gift God has given us as a people of faith. A gift that calls us to celebrate and live out a life in a way that personal and social holiness walk together in the light of God’s Love and Grace for all; and, attempts to subjugate one by the other cease.”

Since 1907, the Methodist Federation for Social Action has worked to mobilize, lead, and sustain a progressive movement, energizing people to be agents of God’s justice, peace, and reconciliation. As an independent, faith-based organization, MFSA leads both Church and society on issues of peace, poverty, people’s rights, progressive issues, and justice within The United Methodist Church.

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