United Methodist Renewal Groups Handed Their Hats In Ft. Worth
Steven D. Martin printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Tue Apr 29, 2008 at 08:52:53 AM EST
The so-called "renewal groups" the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD), Good News, and the Confessing Movement, have attempted to manipulate the outcome of Judicial Council elections at the United Methodist Church's General Conference in Ft. Worth, Texas, and have lost their first, and perhaps their most significant, attempt to move the church further to the right. In a perfect whirlwind of scandal that combined a lawsuit and free cell phones, General Conference handily defeated conservative Judicial Council nominees and reversed an eight-year trend.
United Methodists are meeting in Ft. Worth, Texas this week in a gathering that takes place every four years. It is the job of this General Conference to update the church's "Discipline," or church rules and policies. It is a place where considerable pressures come to bear upon the thousand or more delegates from around the world, and where sometimes underhanded, manipulative politics are practiced in a way that makes the wishes of the minority prevail over those of the majority. At the forefront of the "dark side" of General Conference politics stands the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD), and its allies, the "renewal" groups known in the United Methodist Church as "Good News" and the "Confessing Movement." These groups formed into a coalition known as the "Renewal and Reform Coalition," which Good News leader James Heidinger called a "catalyst for renewal" within the United Methodist Church.

The drama began when the Renewal and Reform Coalition gave out free cell phones to African and Filipino delegates. Linda Green of United Methodist News Service reported:

FORT WORTH, Texas--Delegates and church officials attending General Conference are wondering if democratic processes have been compromised because a renewal group provided some African and some Filipino delegates with cell phones.

The Renewal and Reform Coalition created myriad conversations among delegates, church leaders and visitors after they learned that the Confessing Movement, Good News/Renew, Transforming Congregations and UMAction provided free cell phones to more than 150 African delegates to use during the General Conference.

Some delegates and officials expressed concern that the coalition is trying to sway the votes of African delegates who are typically more conservative than their U.S. counterparts. They fear the coalition might use the phones to offer suggestions on how to vote on particular issues.

Indeed, it was clear what the purpose of these phones, and the accompanying hospitality suite and free meals, was from the beginning. A flyer which announced these "gifts" ended with suggestions as to how recipients should vote. Several observers levied charges of bribery. Others called this action "patronizing" and "racist."

At the same time that this scandal was developing, a mass email was sent out by Andrew Weaver and myself describing the insidious attack on the General Board of Church and Society by the IRD through the Coalition for United Methodist Accountabiltiy (CUMA). This article was picked up and distributed widely through UMNexus along with other General Conference news:

The Coalition for United Methodist Accountability, an organization comprised of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, Good News, and the Confessing Movement, three powerful and well-funded right-wing organizations claiming to work for the renewal of the United Methodist Church, is secretly financing the legal expenses of the five individuals who have intervened against the United Methodist Church’s General Board of Church & Society’s request for a declaratory decision on the use of the United Methodist Building Endowment Fund from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.

It turns out that all five of the interveners were recruited to join the action against the General Board of Church & Society by Mark Tooley, director of the Institute on Religion and Democracy’s UM Action project, and a law firm Gammon & Grange, based in Arlington, Virginia.

Since the information for this article was obtained through depositions made public by the District of Columbia court, Tooley's charge that "the kooky Andrew Weaver weaves his usual 'well documented' conspiracist fantasies" can be easily refuted. This is no fantasy. This is now well documented, a part of the public record. General Conference delegates paid attention to this attack upon their beloved church.

The results of the vote for Judicial Council delegates was documented by Cynthia Astle of UMNexus:

FORT WORTH, Texas—Conservatives in the United Methodist Church suffered a resounding defeat April 28 as incumbent Judicial Council members were replaced by new members nominated by the Council of Bishops.

Observers termed the vote a major victory for moderate forces in the church after eight years in which candidates backed by conservative UM caucus groups have held sway on the church’s “supreme court.”

“I think we just took back the denomination,” one observer was heard to remark during a break in the proceedings.


One of the members of the Judicial Council that was replaced was Keith Boyette, a previous member of the steering committee for CUMA, the group the intervened in the General Board of Church and Society case. At the time of his elected he was on the board of Good News. Conservative members of the Judicial Council, serving over the past eight years, have been responsible for several decisions disturbing to moderates in the church.

Rebekah Sharpe, Mark Tooley's young administrative assistant, recently mused on the IRD's General Conference blog on why the IRD staff has been met with so much suspicion and anger recently. She asks, "Why is the truth frightening?" Her answer is revealing:

Then it occurred to me. Truth is a virtue, and virtues only have the power to destroy vice. Virtues are not destructive to good works, but to bad ones. If you are worried about the truth destroying what you are doing, you would do best to question whether what you are doing is really good. Chances are, if you find the truth destructive to your agenda, you are probably on the wrong side of the issue.
Yes, Rebekah, virtues have the power to destroy vice. The truth has been destructive to your agenda. I'm proud to be a part of a church that celebrates truth, strives for it, and sees it prevail without resorting to manipulative tactics. I'm proud to see the truth prevail today. May it continue to prevail in the United Methodist Church, and around the world everywhere.

I am sure that all of the hard work you and Andrew and others have put in seeking to understand, explain and expose the IRD and its allies contributed greatly to this outcome.

It is good to hear a success story too!

by Frederick Clarkson on Tue Apr 29, 2008 at 11:52:32 AM EST

It appears that all of the hard work done by TTA writers and other involved parties has created a strong recognition of the IRD on the General Conference floor.  Remember that two years ago, when I first embarked upon the "Renewal or Ruin" project, I felt that shining a little light on these people would scatter them like roaches. Indeed, General Conference delegates are recoiling when they see IRD staffers on the street. We've all had a part in increasing awareness.

Today I'll quote my friend Rebekah Sharpe, administrative assistant to Mark Tooley: "Sunshine is the best disinfectant."  Amen.

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