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Methodist dispute appears to be over lost love

Almost 30 years ago, I married at Warren First United Methodist Church then headed east to start adulthood and a career. The pastors of my youth were intellectually and spiritually challenging leaders who prepared us for discernment and witnessing Christ’s love. Their faith teachings grounded me as I started work as the communication director for United Methodist Women in New York City, then the largest women’s organization in the world.

In 1998, Matthew Shepherd, a young man from Wyoming was tied to a fence and beaten to death because he was gay. James Byrd, a black man from Jaspar, Texas, was dragged behind a pickup truck until he was beheaded, then his torso was left in front of a church. I had to write why and how Christians should address this hate, thanks to the teachings of First UMC, I could do that. Christians responding to hate crimes seemed logical.

How naive.

I soon discovered there were plenty of self-proclaimed Christians whose words about those in the LGBTQ community could have easily stoked violence against Shephard. One year, I watched parents, whose children were gay and lesbian, march quietly through a thousand delegates at the denomination’s General Conference. Their signs read, “My Child is a Child of God” and “Jesus loves all God’s children.” In response, almost half the people on the legislative floor stood up and physically turned their backs on the peaceful witnesses as if Christ wouldn’t recognize “those kind” of children.

To think that race was no longer an issue was also a cruel awakening. I started getting phone calls, then a cease and desist letter from White Supremacists because I’d posted an article online on how the cross was being taken from Christianity, a religion of love, and used by hate groups– the Ku Klux Klan, the Christian Identity, White Pride movement, etc.

All this hate was robbing the cross from Christianity and using it as to hide behind. A movement was under way and well-funded groups were actively looking for ways to divide all mainline denominations for power and money. The dividers for Protestants — RENEW, Good News, and Institute for Religion and Democracy (IRD)–would send “reporters,” not journalists, to church meetings to “report” on discussions and decisions taken out of context. Their intent was to sow mistruths and hatred. With United Methodists being the largest mainline denomination, they became prime targets. When United Methodist Women voted to fund a study on how to help young people in the LGBTQ community whose suicide rates soared– they screamed the church supported an anti-Christian “lifestyle.” When we supported more than 30 black church pastors whose churches had been burned by racially motivated arsonists, they claimed the pastors made up stories.

When enough lies had been told, massive numbers of younger adults began fleeing the church’s toxicity or faith itself. Others believed the “spin” about evil people in the denomination without questioning the motives behind the disinformation campaign. Discord spilled out the church door and into politics.

Soon, the beloved First United Methodist Church of my youth may fall victim to the well-funded agendas and power struggles that have been brewing for three decades.

These “dark money” groups helped solidify the formation of the Wesleyan Religion Alliance and the Global Church who are behind the First UMC discord leading members to vote to disaffiliate from the denomination.

Look closely. Why are the groups pushing for disaffiliation focusing on the biggest churches with the most money in Western Pennsylvania? Why was a vote as important as disaffiliation happening around the holidays when church attendance will be low?

I hope members ponder who disaffiliation will truly benefit? If it’s the congregation, would the pastor be willing to step down to prove it (they’d still have a UMC job)? Or does disaffiliation benefit the pastor with a “forever home” and paycheck without oversight of the denomination?

Why do proponents of disaffiliation claim this vote is about homosexuality when the denomination still has the same arcane views as 30 years ago? Why are accusations spread about United Methodist Church leaders when there have been no trials demonstrating guilt and no statements from the accused?

Is the disaffiliation rhetoric loving and accepting or is it splitting up families and neighbors while destroying a century old church that has been a stalwart in the community and world?

I hope members of Warren First United Methodist Church ask the above questions to discern truth and intention, then show up to vote “no” to disaffiliation. “No” will communicate Christ’s love is for everyone whether we agree with them or not. “No” will ensure First UMC joins other United Methodists in town and around the world to make a collective difference in Christ’s name. “No” ensures the church that raised many of us will once again bring us together and that Truth will prevail.

Kelly Martini is a resident of Chester Springs, Pa.

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