The Coup D'Etat Hope of the Good News "Gang of 80" #UMC #UMCschism

The Coup D'Etat Hope of the Good News "Gang of 80" #UMC #UMCschism May 29, 2014
resistance-is-futile
(c) Christy Thomas

Steve Blow, one of my very favorite columnists, wrote in today’s (5/29/14) Dallas Morning News these words about the Tea Party take-over of the Republican Party in Texas: “Texas Republicans can’t keep appealing only to angry, fearful whites. It may be a winning short-term strategy, but it’s long-term suicide. Texas Republicans have to find a platform that is more hopeful and inclusive.”

Now, a quick game: let us substitute “The UMC Good News contingent (AKA “The Gang of 80)” for “Texas Republicans” and see how it reads:

“The UMC Good News contingent can’t keep appealing only to angry, fearful whites. It may be a winning short-term strategy, but it’s long-term suicide. The UMC Good News contingent have to find a platform that is more hopeful and inclusive.”

Frankly, you could take Blow’s entire column and substitute “The Right Wing Gang of 80” for “Republicans” and get a very good prediction of what is going to happen if they do finalize their coup d’etat of The United Methodist Church.

I suggest everyone who thinks the unnamed cohorts of the Gang of 80 have pure motives take the time to read this article. It was written in 2006, and gives an important and well-documented history of the Good News movement and their nearly despicable involvement with the IRD (Institute of Religion and Democracy), a Washington think tank funded generously and nearly entirely by a group of white men whose theology springs from the Christian Reconstructionism movement.

A summary of that theology, quoted from the article referenced above:

According to Christian Century, in the Reconstructionists’ brave new America: minimum-wage laws and Social Security for younger workers would be eliminated; most old-age security would be covered by personal retirement plans or by care from adult children; and the federal government would play absolutely no part in regulating businesses, public education or welfare….all inheritance and gift taxes would be abolished, while income taxes would be no more than 10 percent of gross income (and then only until government was shrunk further).   Gleaning for the poor on private farms after harvesting would be encouraged (Shupe, 1989).

I became sadly familiar with the IRD and their underhanded tactics in the late-90’s. Someone who apparently thought I would be sympathetic to their goals invited me, paying all my expenses, to attend the Re-imagining Conference in Minneapolis, MN, in 1998. When I got there, I discovered that they had multiple and well-laid out plans to disrupt the entire conference and to essentially take over the platform with their right-wing views.

Even though I did not agree with some of the theology expressed at the conference, I was, to put it mildly, horrified at the tactics of my IRD hosts. They appeared to me to be a group of mean, vengeful, right-wing women who were out to defend “orthodox” Christianity and were sure no other viewpoint besides their own could or would be tolerated. This group is a big driver of the UMC Confessing movement from which Good News springs.

I said this before and I say this again: I love The United Methodist Church. For a while, I thought it was our structure that is killing us and wrote this about it after the Judicial Council effectively overturned every major decision made at the 2012 General Conference.

But now I contend that this movement to take-over/schism poses a far greater threat than our fumbling and nearly unmanageable bureaucracy.

I wrote this then and reiterate now:

We have the most powerful theology of grace that has ever infused the human race. We have words about God that tell us that God is ever before us, wooing the world into repentance, relationship and wholeness. We have an understanding about our redemption and forgiveness that forever sets us free. And we actually do believe that we can, in cooperation with the Spirit of God, be perfected in love.

Let’s hold onto that. Let us find our perfection in love, be rooted in that grace, and embrace the fullness of hope. That includes embracing the Good News folks who want to send out those who disagree with them. Let us be bigger than that and say, “We are and we will be the people of God, created by love and for love, and with the hope of healing the world.”


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  • Jane Beaver

    Eye-opening and frightening to read of this un-Christian group trying to disrupt the Methodist mission. Unbelievable that such hate and fear can exist in anyone who has read what Jesus had to say. Thank you for stating this in your blog. I hope a lot of folks read this.

    • Sarah The Vicar of Hogsmeade

      Jane I was actually trying to respond to your post. Saying that we (Some of us at least ) seem to find a way to behave badly instead of following Jesus even while others us try to rise to the occasion. Sinners and Saints are we all. May we strive for grace to prevail.

      • Jane Beaver

        I can’t disagree. Striving on I am!

  • Jane Beaver

    Eye-opening and frightening to read of this un-Christian group trying to disrupt the Methodist mission. Unbelievable that such hate and fear can exist in anyone who has read what Jesus had to say. Thank you for stating this in your blog. I hope a lot of folks read this.

    • Sarah The Vicar of Hogsmeade

      Jane I was actually trying to respond to your post. Saying that we (Some of us at least ) seem to find a way to behave badly instead of following Jesus even while others us try to rise to the occasion. Sinners and Saints are we all. May we strive for grace to prevail.

      • Jane Beaver

        I can’t disagree. Striving on I am!

  • Christy, unlike the case of the GOP, the “Gang of 80” isn’t appealing only to whites. As incomprehensible as it may be, many of those who are part of a once-severely-oppressed-and-persecuted-by-the-Church minority are rabidly opposed to seeking justice and full inclusion for others who have also been labeled as unfit for no reason other than an intrinsic condition of their birth. I have wondered about that for a long time, and I have finally arrived at the only scenario that can help me make sense of it. The group represented by the “Gang of 80” has made this into a Holy War from which many feel they cannot and will not back down, because (they are told) to do so would be to go against God. We know from experience that all such disputes result in an us-against-them mentality that will allow no one to remain neutral without becoming suspect. But which way will these would-be neutral folks go? When one side can label “them” not just as the opposition, but as “sinners” (excuse me, when one side can quote the Bible to assert that God has already declared “them” sinners….they’re just echoing what God has already said), many who have no strong feelings one way or the other for the particular issue will feel compelled to side with the “righteous.” After all, that’s what good church folks do, isn’t it?

    “Reject same-sex couples and those creepy transsexuals!” they are told.

    “Well, gee, I don’t know. They’re not really hurting me, and some of them even seem to love Jesus.”

    “Reject sinners who are flouting the Word of God!”

    “Oh well, that’s different. Where do I sign up?”

    The most obvious way to combat this approach would be that chosen every day by our political parties: if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. If the Progressives could anathematize the “Gang of 80” and their views with enough fervor and enough volume, presumably some of the would-be neutrals would gravitate into their camp. But this is a formula for winning a few battles while losing the war. And not just the war of public opinion (which is turning), or even the war of history (in which the outcome seems inevitable), but the “war” for what’s right, for what’s just. Our politicians can’t seem to resist the temptation to fight dirt with even greater amounts of dirt. “Our opponents make up lies about us? Fine, we’ll come up with even bigger and nastier and less plausible lies about them. And the gullible voters will eat it up!” Those of us who believe in full inclusion for LGBT persons in the UMC cannot go down this path. For one thing, we wouldn’t win. The other side is better organized, has more money, and has a more passionate base. But more importantly, to do so would be violating the very principles we hold sacred and dear. What recourse do we have? Continue to be Christlike; cling to faith and hope; trust God for the final victory.

    • Thank you, Keith. That’s why I wrote that last paragraph: if we are going to speak of a theology of grace, then we have to live by it. If we are going to speak of a theology of inclusion, then we have to live by it. But I know in saying this that if it comes down to a “winner take all,” the ones who chose to live out of a grace-filled theology will, in that battle, lose. But what does it profit us if we gain the world and lose our souls?

  • Christy, unlike the case of the GOP, the “Gang of 80” isn’t appealing only to whites. As incomprehensible as it may be, many of those who are part of a once-severely-oppressed-and-persecuted-by-the-Church minority are rabidly opposed to seeking justice and full inclusion for others who have also been labeled as unfit for no reason other than an intrinsic condition of their birth. I have wondered about that for a long time, and I have finally arrived at the only scenario that can help me make sense of it. The group represented by the “Gang of 80” has made this into a Holy War from which many feel they cannot and will not back down, because (they are told) to do so would be to go against God. We know from experience that all such disputes result in an us-against-them mentality that will allow no one to remain neutral without becoming suspect. But which way will these would-be neutral folks go? When one side can label “them” not just as the opposition, but as “sinners” (excuse me, when one side can quote the Bible to assert that God has already declared “them” sinners….they’re just echoing what God has already said), many who have no strong feelings one way or the other for the particular issue will feel compelled to side with the “righteous.” After all, that’s what good church folks do, isn’t it?

    “Reject same-sex couples and those creepy transsexuals!” they are told.

    “Well, gee, I don’t know. They’re not really hurting me, and some of them even seem to love Jesus.”

    “Reject sinners who are flouting the Word of God!”

    “Oh well, that’s different. Where do I sign up?”

    The most obvious way to combat this approach would be that chosen every day by our political parties: if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. If the Progressives could anathematize the “Gang of 80” and their views with enough fervor and enough volume, presumably some of the would-be neutrals would gravitate into their camp. But this is a formula for winning a few battles while losing the war. And not just the war of public opinion (which is turning), or even the war of history (in which the outcome seems inevitable), but the “war” for what’s right, for what’s just. Our politicians can’t seem to resist the temptation to fight dirt with even greater amounts of dirt. “Our opponents make up lies about us? Fine, we’ll come up with even bigger and nastier and less plausible lies about them. And the gullible voters will eat it up!” Those of us who believe in full inclusion for LGBT persons in the UMC cannot go down this path. For one thing, we wouldn’t win. The other side is better organized, has more money, and has a more passionate base. But more importantly, to do so would be violating the very principles we hold sacred and dear. What recourse do we have? Continue to be Christlike; cling to faith and hope; trust God for the final victory.

    • Thank you, Keith. That’s why I wrote that last paragraph: if we are going to speak of a theology of grace, then we have to live by it. If we are going to speak of a theology of inclusion, then we have to live by it. But I know in saying this that if it comes down to a “winner take all,” the ones who chose to live out of a grace-filled theology will, in that battle, lose. But what does it profit us if we gain the world and lose our souls?

  • steven

    Which of the whites are “angry and fearful”? Can you tell them from the well-meaning and loving whites who may be misinformed and misled or whose ideas on societal improvement simply differ from yours?

    Surely you have heard of “projection”? Your language smacks of scapegoating the ‘other’.

    • Sure, I could be scapegoating and very possibly am. I also think that it is reasonable to expect that the Gang of 80 actually lay their cards on the table, identify themselves and whatever links they have to the IRD. Secrecy kills here–the secret, unrecorded, unaccountable meetings, the plotting, the casual way they speak of “amicable separation” is more than grievous. I also think the progressive (heterodox, to use Tennent’s term) needs to step up to the plate and fully identify exactly what their terms are. If the only thing that satisfies them is that everyone agree on their inclusive stance, then they are the worst of hypocrites, because they’ve failed to honor their most basic stance.

    • I’m betting you can tell the well-meaning and loving whites who may be, as you put it “misinformed and misled” from those pandering to the “angry and fearful” by the courage of their convictions. Klans have always chosen to mask themselves–sheets and pointed hats, jackboots, ski masks, panty-hose pulled over their faces–cowards one and all who absolutely know they are committing wrongful acts of some kind. If these upstanding leaders and theologians of the church had an ounce of self respect, they wouldn’t have to hide. This is the same kind of thinking as cyber bullying–hiding behind fake names or no names to wield a cudgel over the heads of others as if they were exhibiting any kind of true power. The power of the bully is nil, and a bully pulpit is horribly shameful. All I can say to these pastors and leaders is “shame on you. Go to your closets and pray to Christ Jesus for forgiveness and find a backbone. If you really believe you are righteous in this, stop hiding.”

  • steven

    Which of the whites are “angry and fearful”? Can you tell them from the well-meaning and loving whites who may be misinformed and misled or whose ideas on societal improvement simply differ from yours?

    Surely you have heard of “projection”? Your language smacks of scapegoating the ‘other’.

    • Sure, I could be scapegoating and very possibly am. I also think that it is reasonable to expect that the Gang of 80 actually lay their cards on the table, identify themselves and whatever links they have to the IRD. Secrecy kills here–the secret, unrecorded, unaccountable meetings, the plotting, the casual way they speak of “amicable separation” is more than grievous. I also think the progressive (heterodox, to use Tennent’s term) needs to step up to the plate and fully identify exactly what their terms are. If the only thing that satisfies them is that everyone agree on their inclusive stance, then they are the worst of hypocrites, because they’ve failed to honor their most basic stance.

    • I’m betting you can tell the well-meaning and loving whites who may be, as you put it “misinformed and misled” from those pandering to the “angry and fearful” by the courage of their convictions. Klans have always chosen to mask themselves–sheets and pointed hats, jackboots, ski masks, panty-hose pulled over their faces–cowards one and all who absolutely know they are committing wrongful acts of some kind. If these upstanding leaders and theologians of the church had an ounce of self respect, they wouldn’t have to hide. This is the same kind of thinking as cyber bullying–hiding behind fake names or no names to wield a cudgel over the heads of others as if they were exhibiting any kind of true power. The power of the bully is nil, and a bully pulpit is horribly shameful. All I can say to these pastors and leaders is “shame on you. Go to your closets and pray to Christ Jesus for forgiveness and find a backbone. If you really believe you are righteous in this, stop hiding.”

  • Sarah The Vicar of Hogsmeade

    Oh it’s not so unbelievable when you read what was said by good Bishops, Clergy, and Laity during the Civil Rights movement or the ordination of women or allowing women to attend as Lay delegates allowed to speak to the body ,or even the controversial topic of the movement of the Holy Spirit. We have demonstrated the ability to be very mean.

    • Yes, we do deserve to know who they are. We also have a right to know of any connections at all that any of them have with the IRD.

  • Sarah The Vicar of Hogsmeade

    Oh it’s not so unbelievable when you read what was said by good Bishops, Clergy, and Laity during the Civil Rights movement or the ordination of women or allowing women to attend as Lay delegates allowed to speak to the body ,or even the controversial topic of the movement of the Holy Spirit. We have demonstrated the ability to be very mean.

    • Yes, we do deserve to know who they are. We also have a right to know of any connections at all that any of them have with the IRD.

  • From time to time, Jesus carried a whip. He called things what they were. He took a stand. He called a hypocrite a hypocrite. Sometimes we can reason and discuss, sometimes we can turn the other cheek, always we can pray and hope–but sometimes you have to get up and stare the other guy right in the eye and tell them they aren’t taking another step.

    This “Gang of 80″… somebody, several somebodies, know who they are. Admin assistants, wives, husbands, friends–each other presumably. 80 people aren’t going to keep everything to themselves. Somebody’s ego will force them to share or brag,copies are on your servers at your churches–somebody knows who these people are. Let’s bring these names into the light of day.

    People intent on the division of the church to prove their own superiority are having a ball listening to all this back and forth, but not being able to be touched or forced into confrontation. Bullies have the power we give them. We need to take this back. Someone has that list of names, or a name or two to start building that list. Like dominoes lined up, they will all come tumbling down.

    Often, a negative force like the one swirling through the Conference is slick and slippery–issues hard to get a hold of, arguments or disagreements of esoteric meat, but difficult to grab and control. This, this is a deliberate, earthly-realm, real time threat with names, jobs, position, and presumably, authority. Know thy enemy. These people have names and we should stand up as one and demand them: if you have something to say, step out of the shadows like men and women of purpose. Don’t just stand in the fog behind bushes and rattle your chains.

    Somebody knows who these people are–their Bishops or DSs, maybe there are even Bishops on the list, who knows. Maybe its one arrogant, little impotent guy hiding behind a pretend crowd. If we deluged the district and bishopric offices with demands for these names, if we make a stink but own it, stand up to it, hook our names to it, something will shake loose from the secrets tree.

    In the meantime, I don’t believe either side should allow these cowards to have one bit of influence in our struggle toward understanding, healing, reconciliation or whatever we need to do next. These are today’s enemy, and they are one we have in common. This is a rallying point: who are these people? If we as a church body, divided and confused and arguing or not, then we stand accused, threatened and in danger from these masked marauders: we deserve to face our accusers. And they deserve to face us.

  • From time to time, Jesus carried a whip. He called things what they were. He took a stand. He called a hypocrite a hypocrite. Sometimes we can reason and discuss, sometimes we can turn the other cheek, always we can pray and hope–but sometimes you have to get up and stare the other guy right in the eye and tell them they aren’t taking another step.

    This “Gang of 80″… somebody, several somebodies, know who they are. Admin assistants, wives, husbands, friends–each other presumably. 80 people aren’t going to keep everything to themselves. Somebody’s ego will force them to share or brag,copies are on your servers at your churches–somebody knows who these people are. Let’s bring these names into the light of day.

    People intent on the division of the church to prove their own superiority are having a ball listening to all this back and forth, but not being able to be touched or forced into confrontation. Bullies have the power we give them. We need to take this back. Someone has that list of names, or a name or two to start building that list. Like dominoes lined up, they will all come tumbling down.

    Often, a negative force like the one swirling through the Conference is slick and slippery–issues hard to get a hold of, arguments or disagreements of esoteric meat, but difficult to grab and control. This, this is a deliberate, earthly-realm, real time threat with names, jobs, position, and presumably, authority. Know thy enemy. These people have names and we should stand up as one and demand them: if you have something to say, step out of the shadows like men and women of purpose. Don’t just stand in the fog behind bushes and rattle your chains.

    Somebody knows who these people are–their Bishops or DSs, maybe there are even Bishops on the list, who knows. Maybe its one arrogant, little impotent guy hiding behind a pretend crowd. If we deluged the district and bishopric offices with demands for these names, if we make a stink but own it, stand up to it, hook our names to it, something will shake loose from the secrets tree.

    In the meantime, I don’t believe either side should allow these cowards to have one bit of influence in our struggle toward understanding, healing, reconciliation or whatever we need to do next. These are today’s enemy, and they are one we have in common. This is a rallying point: who are these people? If we as a church body, divided and confused and arguing or not, then we stand accused, threatened and in danger from these masked marauders: we deserve to face our accusers. And they deserve to face us.

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