Can a Rebranded United Methodist Women Become Relevant to Women in the Global Methodist Church? By Katy Kiser
On May first, the Global Methodist Church became an official church. Methodist churches are making plans to move to the GMC from the United Methodist Church. The announcement of the GMC launch was made just hours after the Commission on General Conference announced that the 2020 General Conference was postponed for the third time to 2024. Lost in the wake of these announcements was the news that United Methodist Women were rebranding to become United Women in Faith. Why did this not become a major news item? Perhaps this news was lost in the excitement over the launch of the Global Methodist Church—that represents a movement with deep Wesleyan roots. It is solidly committed to scripture, as well as the work of Christ and the Holy Spirit. It is a movement that is gaining momentum daily.
Historic Methodism will find a new home in the Global Methodist Church and its new Book of Doctrine and Discipline. The GMC already has plans to partner with Asbury Theological Seminary to plant new congregations and home churches. Truitt Seminary will join Asbury, United and other seminaries where the Wesleyan expression of Faith is training new pastors and church leaders for the today’s challenges.
Fortunately for Methodists, this movement has set before us clear goals to guide us through the troubled waters of separation and decisions that will need to be made. This movement offers all Methodists a new way forward that will balance personal and social holiness in a way that does not sacrifice one for the other. There will be an emphasis on conversion and mission based on the need of all people to know Jesus. It is out of this personal relationship that we overcome the bondage of sin and we see the social ills of society healed.
The new expression adds new voices to those that have called all Methodists to a faithful future. Together these voices are recovering all that is great about Methodism. In the words of Matthew Sichel in a recent article in Firebrand Magazine: “It takes the steadfastness of ancient orthodoxy, the truth of the Protestant Reformation, the power of the Great Awakenings, the purity of the Holiness movement, and the life of Pentecostals, and it brings them together into a wonderful and unique witness of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
As we step out of deep theological division and an unwillingness of many to abide by the UMC Book of Discipline, surprisingly, we find it is an exciting time to be a Methodist.
At the same time, the former UMW, now UWFaith, are moving away from the Methodist brand: in fact they have dropped the name “Methodist” altogether. They seems to be moving in a direction that is farther from what has made Methodism great. UWFaith acknowledges that the UMC will separate this year and face a change in the life of the church. They believe their new name will let women know they can remain even if their church leaves the UMC.
What will not change about the former UMW is their commitment to social justice. Social justice has been the guiding principle of what defined “mission” for UMW. For them, this has been best achieved through any number of political avenues. Since UMW became an independent agency of the UMC in 2012, they have continued to lobby every level of government and corporations. They have had consultative status with the UN. Their president states in her 2020 Reflection, “We are willing to urge our government or other governments to stop injustice or intervene for justice.” But whose justice—the world’s or God’s?
UWFaith make it clear that they will act for justice and transformed local and global communities. Looking over the UWFaith new website, we see a commitment to act on behalf of several justice issues including Climate Justice, Gender Inequity, Mass Incarceration, Voter rights, Voter Suppression, and LGBTQ+ full participation in the UMC. In all my many years of reporting on the UMW board meetings (20+ years), I have seen many justice priorities and political concerns come and go in UMW’s effort to transform the world. Why have their many well-intentioned efforts failed?
The UMFaith website states, “We Connect Spiritual Women to Act Boldly for Justice and Transform Communities.” Women may want to ask, with what will they impact communities—more political solutions? While their commitment to social justice remains clear, what they mean by “spiritual” and “faith” has become more vague. They state, “Our new name makes our organization more inclusive.” Judging from their mission goals as seen on the website and 2022 Assembly speakers, UWFaith will be as focused on the institutions of society as was UMW.
Meanwhile, the GMC states, “Our Mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ who worship passionately, love extravagantly, and witness boldly.” Recently Rev. Chris Ritter, who blogs at People Need Jesus reminds us that, “Methodists are conversionist. They represent a form of Christianity that calls people to a personal transformation and a deep experience of God’s grace marked by deep repentance and leading to new birth.” Mission for the new GMC will be built by Methodists who have personally experienced transformation and are ready to reach out from their encounter with Christ to, in Wesley’s words, “Spread scriptural holiness over the land.”
As we contemplate the re-branding of UMW, we should not overlook the reality that the UMW have faced for many quadrenniums, Women in the UMC have moved away from UMW. Membership has been declining at an alarming rate. According to the official numbers of the General Council on Finance and Administration, of the 3+ million female members in the UMC, less than 10% belonged to UMW in 2020. When we take into account that many vibrant independent women’s ministries continue to call themselves UMW and report to GCFA each year as UMW units, the decline is even more staggering.
We also see from the GCFA official statistics that becoming independent from the General Board of Global Ministries did not stop women from leaving UMW, nor is rebranding likely to stop their decline going forward after the separation of the United Methodist Church. The UWFaith’s mission which sidelines Christ, de-emphasizes personal conversion, and substitutes community involvement for the powerful impact of the gospel is simply not providing the spiritual formation that is necessary for real kingdom work in women’s personal lives, or their communities. And it is certainly not providing the transformation needed in the global arena.
This lack of participation in UMW does not show that women have moved away from being a powerful force in the local church. It does indicate that women are turning to more effective ways of reaching others with the love of Christ and doing the good work of the church. Grass-roots engagement is taking center stage and gaining momentum. Women are not interested in fighting for the social goals of a by-gone day. Women want to see the lives of those they love changed for Christ. They want to see real transformation in their communities, country and world. Aren’t we all tired of failed ideologies based on empty buzz-words and sound bites?
This begs the question, should the UWFaith be taken into the GMC? Renew cannot advise that it should. The UWFaith’s goals for mission and their guiding principles of mutuality, inclusivity, diversity, and theological pluralism will be at odds with the next Methodism. To take the goals that have caused irreconcilable division in the UMC would be at the least a distraction and more likely would continue to divide the church. One female pastor in North Carolina described the rebranding of UMW as just another “mask” a “nice front” to push progressive ideas on Christian women in the name of faith.
Since the official launch of The Global Methodist Church, the WCA held a Global Gathering. There women and Renew gathered together to discuss the future of women’s ministry in the new denomination that is poised ready to bring women’s ministry into a movement some are referring to as the next Methodism. A number of women’s ministries will be available that meet the needs of women in the Twenty-first Century. More will emerge as the Global Church gains momentum. Women will be growing in Christ, transforming lives and focusing ministry on making disciples of Christ through passionate worship, extravagant love and bold witness. Indeed it is an exciting time it is to be a Methodist.
A Response to the Rebranding of United Methodist Women to United Women in Faith
Note: The rebranding of “United Methodist Women” to “United Women in Faith” was revealed on March 3, 2022, but was overshadowed by the announcement that General Conference would be delayed until 2024. A subsequent interview via Zoom took place on March 17 by Jim Paterson, UM News, with Harriett Jane Olson, chief executive officer for United Methodist Women, and Sally Vonner, transformation officer of United Women in Faith.
A recent press release by UM News announced, “Women’s agency hits refresh, expands welcome.” The article referenced the rebranding of “United Methodist Women” to “United Women in Faith.” UMW’s chief executive officer, Harriett Jane Olson, and UWF’s transformation officer, Sally Vonner, answered questions regarding the intent of the renaming of United Methodist Women. Olson and Vonner fielded a series of practical and program related questions culminating with three questions about some of the important changes aside from the name change.
Olson pointed out there would be more ways to join UMIF and more digital access to some resources. There are two means of membership, locally at a church or the national model of all access membership. Another thread throughout the interview was the ongoing emphasis of UMW and UWF on social justice, which entails putting faith into action socially and politically.
The final question is of great interest within the context of the formation of the theologically conservative Global Methodist Church. “Are you hoping that women in churches who move to the Global Methodist Church will remain involved with United Women in Faith?”
Ms. Vonner’s answer: “We hope that they could still see themselves connected to us as United Women in Faith. We feel that faith is our anchor of the sisterhood and what calls us into relationship with God, but also relationship in terms of living out that faith. Issues impacting women, children and youth are still important now, as they’ve always been since this organization began in 1869. That hasn’t shifted. If that’s where their heart and passion is continuing to engage, then they certainly are welcome.”
This final question and answer, framed for theoretical women who may be a part of the Global Methodist Church, evoke additional questions for the UMW and the UWIF leaders. These questions fall into three categories, theological, political, and social. At no point in the interview was there any indication of a change in the liberal policies and programs the UMW has promoted for the past 40+ years. The positions the UMW National (UMWN) has held produced sharp division between the liberal and conservative women within the organization of United Methodist Women. Below are questions raised by evangelical women regarding affiliation with UMW or UWIF.
Can the UMW and UWIF endorse the belief that the Word of God is the complete revelation of God’s will for the salvation of men and women, and the final authority for all Christian faith and practice? (Radical Feminist theology has revised this understanding in previous UMWN resources.) Psalm 119:105; 2 Timothy 3:16
Can the UMW and UWIF lay aside Universalism and Pluralism and acknowledge that salvation is found only through the shed blood of Jesus and His death and resurrection provides the only grounds for the forgiveness of sins of all who believe and accept Him as Savior?
Jesus Christ is Lord of all and the one and only Savior of the world. (UM Book of Discipline)
John 14:6; Acts 4:12
Can the UMW and UWIF hold to the biblical understanding that God creates each person as male or female. These two genders reflect the image and nature of God. Rejection of one’s biological sex is a rejection of the image of God within that person. Genesis 1:27; Matthew 19:4
Can the UMW and UWIF affirm that marriage is between one man and one woman, and that any form of sexual immorality (including adultery, fornication, homosexual behavior, bisexual conduct, bestiality, incest and use of pornography) is sinful and offensive to God?
Will the UMW and UWIF continue to sanction abortion and champion a woman’s right to choose over the right to life for the unborn? (A Pro-Abortion stance has long been held and advocated by the UMWN.) Psalm 139:15-16
Will the UMW and UWIF continue to sanction homosexual and lesbian practice, along with the acceptance of LGBTQ+ and Transgendered lifestyles? (UMW events, program resources and legislation to General Conference reflected support for the LGBTQ+ lifestyle.)
Does the UMW and UWIF affirm the importance of an American free market system within a representative democracy, or, desire to see a socialist/Marxist system in its place?
(Anti-American sentiment was consistently documented at UMWN events and in UMWN resources. At a National Seminar almost every American institution, including the church, was listed on a white sheet and marked as institutions that needed to be reformed, or removed.
Does the UWF intend to continue its close connection to the United Nations and support for many of the radical treaties that negatively impact families, democracies and nations?
(UMWN is an official consultant at the UN. The UMWN owned Church Center is located across the street from the United Nations building in New York City at 777 First Ave. Additionally, the UMWN has traditionally had a number of representatives in the UN building. UN related meetings are held at the Church Center offices. UN reps speak at UMW training events, and advocate action on the part of UN programs and treaties. The Chapel at The Church Center for the U.N. is used for inter-faith religious services.)
Does the UMW and UWF embrace Critical Race Theory, the Woke movement and claims of racial injustice as advocated by violent, divisive groups such as Black Lives Matter and Antifa?
(The UWF Reading Program recommends two books by Ibram X. Kendi, an advocate of Critical Race Theory.)
Does the UMW and UWF plan continued alignment with radical Non-Governmental organizations that promote and lobby for left-leaning political and social legislation? (Some of these NGOs have offices at UMWN Headquarters at 475 Riverside Drive, the Church Center at the UN and on the campus of the Scarritt Bennet Center in Nashville, Tenn.)
The questions raised above relate to the very same issues that have brought the United Methodist Church to the point of separation. They are the issues that caused the formation of renewal movements (Good News, UM Action, The Confessing Movement, Concerned Methodists, The Wesleyan Covenant Association), within the UMC, including, in behalf of women, the Esther Action Council, The Good News Women’s Taskforce and the ECUMW/RENEW Network. They are the underlying concerns, among others, that brought about the formation of the WCA, and the subsequent Global Methodist Church. To have a joint association with the GMC and the UWF, would be no different than remaining within the United Methodist Church. Contending for the faith rather than proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ would continue to be an ongoing struggle and diversion of resources and energy.
As for joining the UWF to maintain a social witness, the Methodist movement has always encompassed the understanding that salvation and personal holiness lead to social holiness, based upon biblical principles, not upon political agendas and secular mindsets. Local Methodist churches, and churches of other denominations, engage in ministries of mercy and advocacy for those in need. The Salvation Army and Samaritan’s Purse are two of the most prominent relief agencies known and respected worldwide. They do not discriminate against any group, yet, they offer the message of salvation to everyone. It is the “power of God unto salvation.” Why deprive those with the greatest need of the greatest answer for their lives?
The day for a hopefully amicable separation within the United Methodist Church draws near. Men and women of a biblical worldview and evangelical persuasion must stand together in faithful commitment to the “faith once delivered to the saints.” We do not want to be a Lot’s wife who looked back…but rather an Esther who took a costly, bold stand or a Sarah who traversed the land beside Abraham to a better country, which God had prepared for them.
L. Faye Short, former President, RENEW Network
March 28, 2022
Dear Renew Network,
Renew Network Team Leader
United Methodist Women and the Issue of Abortion
In the last Renew newsletter, I stated that conservative, orthodox churches should carefully consider their relationship with United Methodist Women who have changed their bylaws hoping not to lose any UMW units when the church separates in 2022. UMW’s National Office is known for taking controversial positions on any number of social issues. Their position on abortion is just one example.
In September 2021, the New York headquarters of United Methodist Women National (UMWN), issued a press release that came out against the Heartbeat Act, sometimes called the Texas Abortion Law. UMWN touted the position of the United Methodist Church and claimed the Texas law was, “…a danger to women and an intrusion on families.” They also stated the Texas law usurps the critical decision-making process of women and families claiming the law bands abortion before most women know they are pregnant.UMW was correct in saying that “United Methodist Women, like the United Methodist Church, believes “governmental laws and regulations do not provide all the guidance required for the informed Christian conscience. Therefore, a decision concerning abortion should be made only after thoughtful and prayerful consideration by the parties involved, with medical, family, pastoral, and other appropriate counsel.” Nevertheless, the UMW statement misrepresents the Heartbeat Law and adds to the erroneous claim that Texas is banning abortion.
When one looks into the facts concerning the Texas law, a very different story emerges than that of the UMWN press release.
On September 30, 2021 Brian Hughes, author of the Texas law wrote in the Wall Street Journal titled, The Texas Abortion Law Is Unconventional Because It Had to Be. In the article, he explained:
The law does not ban abortions after six weeks. It requires that a physician performing an abortion first check on a fetal heartbeat. If there is a heartbeat, the physician may not abort the child. When a physician performs an abortion without checking for a heartbeat, or finds a heartbeat and performs the abortion anyway, he has performed an illegal abortion.
The Texas law does not take away the option of abortion, but it does prioritize the life of the baby and protects him/her from undue suffering. Hughes explains that no governmental authority can mete out punishment, but the law does provide for the doctor to be sued; the mother cannot be sued. Additionally, Texas’ commitment to women and the unborn does not begin and end with the passage of the Heartbeat Law.
Before this law was passed, the state had already passed the Alternatives to Abortion Program which provides counseling, classes, and other necessities to women who face unwanted pregnancies. Texas has provided over $100 million dollars to fund this program. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the UMW and the entire church put as much energy and financial resources into encouraging adoption and foster care not to mention programs to offer positive alternatives to abortion?!
The Texas law was a creative attempt to put the questions of abortion back into the hands of American democracy. It is an unconventional means of regulating abortion.
The law is not without its problems. As flawed as some say it is, there is no excuse for UMWN to claim that the Texas Abortion Law prevents women from “access to medically safe reproductive health services.” Nor does the law pose a danger to women or an intrusion on families as UMW’s press release contends.
UMWN for some time has expressed their position on abortion in the language of providing women with full access to comprehensive reproductive health education and care for women. When the 2016 General Conference voted to withdraw denominational support for the pro-abortion lobby, the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC), Harriet Jane Olsen, General Secretary and CEO of UMW and Rev. Dr. Susan Henry-Crow, the General Secretary of the General Board of Church and Society (GBCS), issued an Open Letter to the RCRC. In it, they regretted that they would no longer be at the table to represent the United Methodist “theological framework and carefully nuanced position on abortion,” and the UMW commitment to reproductive health.
Both agencies complimented RCRC for providing, “important ministries in support of pastors who are counseling with women and families during the ‘tragic conflicts of life with life’ when abortion may be considered according to the Discipline of the United Methodist Church.” They failed to inform the readers of the Open Letter that neither RCRC, the UMW nor GBCS had ever lobbied for any restriction on abortion—even late-term and partial-birth abortion. They claim to respect the sacredness of life, but do they? Can this be possible when they have never found any reason for restricting an abortion?
The United States is one of 59 countries that allow abortion without restriction as to reason. The US is one of only seven countries that allow abortion without restriction in the third trimester. Restrictions on abortion are common in 139 countries. UMWN has consistently rejected all limitations on abortion even those based on the fact that a fetus as early as six weeks has a heartbeat and at 20-24 weeks is capable of suffering and feeling pain.
UMWN defines “health of the mother” in the most liberal way. This in essence means that no matter what restrictions are passed by states, abortions cannot be kept from happening. As Michael Stokes Paulsen wrote in the October 2021 edition of First Things:
The right to abortion may be exercised for essentially any reason, including social convenience, economic concerns, sex-selection, or even spite. And the right is super protected against all other interests, at all stages of pregnancy, up to and including the point of birth.
Why is this? Paulsen goes on to write, “…because abortion still must be allowed for any health reason—with health being defined, strangely, as including any ‘emotional, psychological, familial,’ or ‘age’ consideration agreed upon by the woman and abortionist as a sufficient reason for abortion.” The Texas abortion bill found a way around this health provision.
Also at the 2016 General Conference in a separate action, the church did not readopt UMW’s “Responsible Parenthood” resolution. This piece of legislation had long been used to validate the UMW support for all forms of family planning including abortion. Olson and Henry-Crow issued a joint statement claiming that, “In failing to adopt this measure, The United Methodist Church missed a great opportunity to stand with women and the girl child by supporting basic family planning.” Abortion is not “basic family planning.” As Paulsen explains, “Abortion kills a living human being …The act of abortion ends a distinct, unique human life.” We should also add, the life aborted is one that cannot defend itself.
The UMWN and GBCS say they regret tragic conflicts of life with life; but they have done little if anything to prevent abortion from happening on a massive scale. Since 1973, over 62 million babies have been aborted. That number rises every day. UMWN seems to have forgotten that women have a full range of reproductive options other than abortion.
In their statement, Olsen and Henry-Crow added, “Misinformation on this issue abounds.” By that they mean abortion can be a moral choice, because women need the option of abortion in order to make responsible decisions concerning family planning. If “misinformation on this issue abounds,” formulating their support for abortion in terms of comprehensive reproductive health is misleading and also results in misinformation.
“Misinformation abounds” is certainly an accurate description of the UMW’s New York headquarters misrepresentation of the Texas law. It has long been a concern for Renew that UMWN does not always give women an objective perspective on critical issues. Over the years, Renew has warned women that they do not always receive balanced information nor all the facts when UMWN issues Press Releases and Action Alerts such as the release titled United Methodist Women Opposes Texas Abortion Law. Women who get their information from UMWN concerning critical social issues that face the church and our society are often ill informed. That is because the UMW staff in most cases present only one-sided progressive positions based on a political conception of justice and rights. For some time UMWN has offered the church little if any biblical grounding for their position on abortion.
The issue of abortion is just one of several that have brought the UMC to the crisis that has led us to recognize that the church must separate if it is to go forward. The new Global Methodist Church has stated it will be unashamedly committed to a culture of life. We can look forward to the new church supporting and lobbying for programs like Texas’ Alternatives to Abortion Program and many other constructive measures that will offer real hope to women and families. Even more important, the GMC is committed to bring solid theology and biblical truth that reflects God’s heart both for women and the unborn into the new church’s deliberation of sensitive social issues.
Unrestricted abortion has been anything but constructive. It has been destructive to women and profoundly unjust for the babies whose lives have been aborted. The new church will have much to do if it is to present the way, the truth and the life that Jesus calls us to offer our confused and hurting world. We must do better. In the Global Methodist Church we will.
Photo Courtsey of Pixabay.
Controversy is ramping up over abortion, as several states have passed more restrictive laws and some are contemplating the possibility that the Supreme Court might reverse the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion. The proposed new Global Methodist Church is unequivocal in support of a pro-life position. How are we to think about abortion in today’s social context?
The church would do well to follow the lead of Mother Teresa, the Albanian-born nun, who is best known for tending the needs of people in the slums of Calcutta, India, and received the 1979 Nobel Peace Prize for her work with the poor worldwide. “Abortion has become the greatest destroyer of peace, because it destroys two lives, the life of the child and the conscience of the mother,” she said, as reported in the Los Angeles Times. “Let us thank our parents for wanting us, for loving us, for giving us the joy of living. … You are priceless to God himself.
This is obviously a controversial and emotionally fraught issue. We need to pay attention to the experiences and feelings of women facing unwanted pregnancies and be prepared to support them from a pro-life perspective. There is also a need to think clearly, biblically, and theologically about the moral aspects of abortion, as well as being informed by the best science. My main concern is how Christians ought to put our beliefs into practice in our personal lives, more than how our beliefs should influence governmental laws regulating abortion.
The question hinges on how we understand the life that exists within a woman’s womb. Is it a human person? Is it a blob of cells? What exactly are we dealing with here?
There seems to be broad consensus that what exists within the womb is alive. After all, it is growing and developing and even has a detectable heartbeat by the sixth week of pregnancy.
Part of the Woman’s Body?
A Human Person?
“The more I advanced in my field of neonatology, the more it just became the logical choice to recognize the developing fetus for what it is: a fetus, instead of some sort of sub-human form,” said Colleen Malloy, a neonatologist and faculty member at Northwestern University. “It just became so obvious that these were just developing humans.” (Reported in The Atlantic.)
Rape and Incest
Stewards of Life
Message from Katy – October 2021
Many of you in our network have been waiting patiently and praying faithfully anticipating the passage of the Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation. As we wait, the signs of our times are evident. These signs remind us why we are separating and confirm the reality that the United Methodist Church will not go forward without separation.
There is much we can do to prepare. We begin by fully understanding what should be left behind and what should go forward. This is particularly true for women’s ministry in the new Global Methodist Church. We must leave behind institutional commitments that have compromised the church’s mission. We must go forward with a renewed Christ centered focus.
With these thoughts in mind, I encourage you to read Renew’s September Newsletter and the article titled, “UMW and the Issue of Abortion.” Also posted is a very sensitive and thought provoking Perspective written by Tom Lambrecht.
The women of Renew have a vital role to play in this time of preparation. I’m excited and I hope you are too.
Remembering Marilyn Anderes
Dear Renew Network,
It is with sadness and yet joy that I remember Marilyn Anderes who went to be with the Lord on December 28, 2020. Many of you recall Marilyn who was a very special friend and resource for Renew. Her column “From the Heart” appeared on the last page of the Good News Magazine for many years. And like myself, you may have turned first to read her always poignant and inspiring words before turning into the rest of the magazine. Marilyn also penned articles for other ministries and wrote four books, the last of which, The Intentional Remnant was released just a few months before her death; it is so appropriate to the challenging times in which we find ourselves. Like all her writing, it is a Spirit inspired message that the remnant would do well to read. An excerpt from this book appeared in the November/December edition of the magazine.
In all her writing and speaking, Marilyn called her audience to a deeper intimacy with God. Like the title of her book published in 2006, Marilyn wanted others to know that regardless of where we are in our walk with the Lord, there is always More. She knew the faithfulness of the Lord goes with us through our good times as well as our most difficult circumstances and trials. One such trial in her life was the disease of diabetes which struck two of her three children, her husband and eventually a grand child. In describing her decades-long battle with the disease, Marilyn wrote that God had showed her, “…life without sugar is still sweet.”
On writing of her death, long-time friend and founder of Renew Network, Faye Short wrote: “ Marilyn was an incredible Bible scholar and teacher. The Word of God was her passion, as were the people to whom she longed to deliver God’s Word for their benefit, that the Holy Spirit might do a great work in their lives. The anointing of the Holy Spirit was upon her ministry. She was an incredible wife, mother and friend. Above all, she loved Jesus and was His faithful servant. “
As I read Faye’s words, I was reminded of Paul’s words to us in the second chapter of I Corinthians. There he speaks of that which is coming to nothing and contrasts it to knowing Jesus Christ crucified and “the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages.” Marilyn will be remembered for leading many to go deeper into that wisdom.
Several years ago, Marilyn was the speaker for a Renew Network retreat. The title of her teaching was a well-known line from the Wizard of Oz, “There’s no place like home.” Today Marilyn is home with the Lord. I see her delving even deeper into all that Jesus has prepared for her. For truly Marilyn like Paul exhorted all to discover that:
Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,
Nor have entered into the heart of man
The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.
Ring Out Wild Bells
Dear Renew Network,
In 1850 Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote a Christmas poem titled, “Ring Out, Wild Bells.” Instead of exalting the baby Jesus, it describes a year that has much in common with 2020. He writes of ringing out the year with its false pride, civic slander, party strife, foul disease, lust of gold and wars of old. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could simply ring out all that is wrong, unloving and unjust in our world? Oh that we could be done with the racial unrest of this past summer, the contentious election, and the devastating virus that took away our growing economy and brought us death in 2020. But hope is more than putting the past behind us.
Tennyson also speaks of what we should ring in. In some ways he points us to a time to come – perhaps a time when Jesus will return. He mentions ringing in the love of truth and right, the common love of good, the thousand years of peace and the Christ that is to be. But our hope is built on more than the future reign of Christ.
We will never ring out all the tribulation in this world. It is utopian and futile to think that can be done. As Tennyson alludes, tribulation is with us for now. While that is true and there is something to be said for letting go and looking to the future with hope, Jesus points us to a deeper truth. He says to us,
In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer,
I have overcome the world.
We at Renew encourage you to ring in the good news that a baby born of a virgin and conceived by the Holy Spirit has come. He is God with us. He has come and He has overcome! He has come that we might know our worth and experience the joy that is meant for all to know. And He calls us to come – come and follow Him. He has also overcome the darkness of all that is untrue, wrong and evil. Through Him, we too overcome. We have reason to be of good cheer. Jesus is the light of the world!
Let us not forget that we have seen a mighty move of God in our own denomination.
Despite strong forces that have pulled us in competing directions, officially our doctrines have held firm. With the development of the Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace, our church finally accepted the reality that some ideas are incompatible and cannot be held together. Despite the delayed General Conference and the uncertainty that came with the postponement, we are moving forward.
As we ring out 2020 and ring in 2021, let us look within and ring out that which hinders and ring in “the way, the truth and the life, that Jesus came to bring each and every one.
The Network hopes you will find hope, peace, joy and love as you celebrate the coming of the Christ Child this Christmas.
This year when you make your end-of-year giving, I hope you will include Renew Network. Visit the Renew website to download or print the Donations Form. Or you may designate a check to Renew Network and send to:
P.O. Box 132076
The Woodlands, TX 77393-2076
In His Service,
Renew Network Team Leader
The Power of Forgiveness
Shooting survivor Polly Sheppard, center, speaks with crew member Joyce Gilliard, prior to her interview for Emanuel. Photo by Steven Siwek – © Arbella Studios.
Produced by Stephen Curry and Viola Davis, the documentary Emanuel revisits the 2015 mass shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, where nine parishioners attending a weekly Bible study were murdered by the white supremacist, Dylann Roof. The twenty-one year old had joined the Bible study and was welcomed by those who would become his victims. Even five years later, the senseless killing is shocking.
As then President Obama said, “Any shooting involving multiple victims is a tragedy. There is something particularly heartbreaking about that happening in a place where we seek solace, seek peace, a place of worship.”
What happened in Charleston was a blatant unprovoked act of overt racism. Five summers have come and gone. During this past summer, peaceful protests and sporadic riots spread to hundreds of cities and towns in all 50 states and over 60 other countries.
The film explores why Charleston did not break out in protests and riots. To understand this, it helps to revisit the aftermath of that tragic day, June 17, 2015.
In 2015 it appeared that we were going backward, not forward, in the struggle to eliminate racism. The strides we had made in combatting racism seemed to be slipping away. This was evident to many as the country witnessed demonstrations turned destructive in Ferguson, Missouri; New York City; and Baltimore, Maryland.
But that perception was turned on its head by the truly Christian reaction and witness of many of the victims’ family members and the church family of Emanuel AME Church. What happened in Charleston was an example – a visceral and difficult example – to the world that when we live out the love of Christ and His teaching on forgiveness, it can bring triumph out of tragedy.
Shortly after his arrest, the shooter was arraigned in court. He turned out to be a white male in his early twenties. Usually in such cases, the victims’ families are not allowed to speak until the sentencing phase. But for some reason, the presiding judge allowed the nine victims’ families to speak directly to the alleged shooter at the bond hearing. Some people present did not speak, but five relatives chose to do so.
What they said to the shooter was truly Christ-like, for each who spoke forgave the shooter and asked for mercy on his soul. The grandson of one victim urged him to repent and turn his life over to Jesus Christ. A granddaughter of another victim said that the pleas for the shooter’s soul were proof that “Hate won’t win.” She went on to say that God’s mercy is even there for him, and she prayed that at some point he would find God’s mercy. Then she said, “I am ready to forgive him. I have to, because that (un-forgiveness) would block so many blessings. Nothing grows positive out of hate.”
And hate did not win. There was no denial of the pain and loss by those who spoke, but there was testimony to a higher reality. Legal and justice reform and peaceful protest are one part of the solution we need to move forward. Love and forgiveness is another essential factor. There are so many lessons to be taken from the witness of the Emanuel AME Church. The Spirit of the Lord moved in such a mighty way through all involved.
The judge at the bond hearing of Dylann Roof called attention to the family of the shooter. He reminded all, that they too are grieving the actions of the young man. They too would suffer loss. They too needed our prayers, our forgiveness, and the love of Christ showered on them. His words were grace filled. They were words for which the judge would be severely criticized.
It would be days before the appalling circumstances of that young man’s life became known. As news reports in the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune surfaced, a story of family dysfunction emerged. Dylann was the product of a broken home where domestic violence was not uncommon. His parents had divorced; he was born after a brief reconciliation that did not last. He was raised by a step-mother who also divorced Dylann’s father about the time he entered high school. He fell victim to drugs, alcohol, and virulent, hate-filled websites after dropping out of school in the tenth grade.
White supremacy could not save Dylann Roof. Growing up in a beautiful home in a nice neighborhood could not save Dylann Roof. A racially diverse high school and a childhood friend of mixed race could not save Dylann Roof.
The writer of the New Testament book of Hebrews exhorts believers to draw near with a true heart of faith and hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering (chapter 10). The writer goes on asking us to “consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good works….” Indeed the members of Emanuel AME Church held fast their confession as they spoke to the young man who took from them their beloved family members.
But their demonstration of love and forgiveness was not confined to the shooter.
These families stirred up much love and good works in their community and even beyond. Large banners appeared on some buildings urging racial harmony, and many churches hosted prayer vigils. When Sunday came, Emanuel AME Church held church as usual. Their faith was not shaken. Worship that morning was particularly vigorous as those gathered danced, sang hymns, and shook tambourines.
The Rev. Norvell Goff brought the sermon. He too reached out with words of hope, love, and thankfulness. Early in the sermon he said, “We still believe that prayer changes things. Can I get a witness?” The congregation responded with a rousing, “Yes.” “But prayer not only changes things, it changes us,” he continued.
He thanked law enforcement specifically, and the city for responding with love and compassion. In his sermon, Pastor Goff said, “A lot of people expected us to do something strange and break out into a riot… Well they just don’t know us. They don’t know us because we are a people of faith…What was meant to divide us has united us.” And how true those words proved to be.
As the Emanuel Church goers left the service, outside on the sidewalks, they were greeted by a large crowd of mostly white people singing Amazing Grace. Many were moved to tears as the love of Christ which the families had extended to the shooter was extended to them.
That same Sunday, some 20,000 people of various races walked across Charleston’s Ravenel bridge, some arm in arm, to show the world that blacks and whites stood in solidarity.
Of course there were the detractors who seized upon this situation with the hopes of pushing through their agendas. But far more powerful was the witness throughout the weekend following the shooting that demonstrated the power of Christ when he is embedded in the hearts of men and women.
The documentary capably reminds us of the truly Christ-like response of the members of the Emanuel AME Church who instinctively showed that real, godly, biblical justice is not possible without the love of Christ and the power of forgiveness.
When we pray the Lord’s Prayer we ask him to forgive us as we have forgiven others. Do we really mean that? Have we appropriated forgiveness in our own lives and taken an honest look at our unredeemed, un-Christ-like behavior and attitudes? Have we truly forgiven the same actions and attitudes in other people?
It is time for the church to remember the witness of the Emanuel AME Church. If we learn anything from this evil, racist, senseless shooting of nine innocent blacks gathered to study God’s Word, it should be that the power of forgiveness brings about real change.