Foreword

Acknowledgements

Julie

Visible Problem Indicators

Stewardship

Agents of Change - Issues

Institutional Dynamics

The Institutional and the Local Church

Operative Theology

Prognosis for the Future

Revival - What is Needed?

Closing Remarks

Chapter Five
Institutional Dynamics

"In the church's bureaucracy, the emphasis on survival takes the form of extreme defensiveness of the status quo. Any questioning of organizational procedures or programs evokes a defensive and negative response. Critics will be labeled as disloyal trouble makers. When leaders are chosen, creativity, courage, and vision will be valued less than loyalty to the status quo. The impression is conveyed that the church is an extremely fragile institution that will suffer irreparable damage if its most loyal supporters raise...questions."(1)

The fact that hundreds of people are employed in a plethora of activities and spending hundreds of millions of dollars each year is a distant reality to most of the people in the pews of the local churches, whose offerings support this activity. As Phil Shriver has stated in "The Methodist Syndrome" (Appendix B) it is difficult to relate to them. This experience is reinforced by those of of Rev. Max Borah (Appendix I) and Dr. Karl Stegall (Appendix J).

Institutional Models

The function of our denomination has been compared to that of a military hierarchy by some in the clergy ranks themselves: bishops are the generals; the district superintendents are the colonels; the local church pastors are the captains; and the laity are the privates. This parallels the institutional view that the pastor is the "executive agent" of the general church. There are two problems associated with this. One is that this makes the local church dysfunctional, since the pastor who thinks of himself as the captain is supposed to command the laity who are the privates, but who also pay his salary. The church has also been compared to the government with respect to paying the apportionment ("taxes"), with the explanation that we are not always happy with how our leaders spend our tax money, but we pay taxes anyway. But neither of these apply. If we were to use any secular model, then perhaps the commercial, free marketplace might come closer to reality, since it illustrates the freedom that God gives us to grow, make choices, and to function as rational human beings. But, the church should be the church - and not resemble any secular model.

Institutionalism

The functioning of the institutional church seems to follow the pattern of requirements being passed "down" to the local church from the bishop, district superintendent, and the general boards and agencies. Rather than spiritual transformation that results in changed lives, we have evolved into a "works righteousness" denomination that is increasingly focused on meeting the socio/physical needs of others while not speaking to their deeper spiritual yearnings and at the same time experiencing an ever greater degree of standardization and control. Dr. William H. Willimon and the late Dr. Robert L. Wilson wrote, "Our system is being misused for the benefit of certain groups.(2) A key issue facing the United Methodist Church today is that of "institutionalism." The self-perpetuation of the institution appears to be a top priority.

Leadership

"If my company had lost 13 percent of its business in the last twenty years, I would be out of a job, " one corporate vice president told us.
- Dr. William H. Willimon and the late Dr. Robert L. Wilson(3)

One of the qualities necessary for good leadership is to face, admit, and correct problems. A chief responsibility for the decline in the United Methodist Church lies squarely at the feet of the bishops. It is this body which is invested with leading the church. In their book, Dr. Willimon and the late Dr. Wilson stated that a problem we have in the denomination is that we have managers, not leaders. The problems is that managers "accept the validity of the institutional status quo and give their attention to its maintenance."(4) To cite some specific examples of leadership problems we have:
  1. Our denomination has an unbroken 29-year history of decline in membership (see Appendix A), but the bishops have yet to analyze why it has occurred.
  2. The public position taken by two separate delegations of bishops to Nicaragua in the 1980s exhibited the fact that they did not have a sound base of knowledge of the situation there (see Appendix C).
  3. Not one active bishop openly condemned the 1993 "Re-Imagining Conference" for the rank heresy and apostasy that it was (see the "Re-Imagining Time Line at Appendix D). If Jesus is central to our faith (and He should be) and if a bishop truly held him up as Lord and Savior, he would not hesitate to have taken strong action against it.
  4. In April 1996 the "Denver 15" United Methodist bishops issued a press release calling for the ordination of homosexuals in opposition to sound medical evidence against that lifestyle, the UMC's officially stated position, a majority of UMs, the Book of Discipline, and the Bible. If a military general had publicly condemned his army's operations, he would have been fired. If a CEO had publicly criticized his company's product, he too would have been fired. Principles of sound leadership dictate that supervisory personnel do not publicly criticize organizational policies or products; to do so is seen as exhibiting weak leadership. In the secular arena, the "Denver 15" bishops would have been fired or received other disciplinary action.
  5. Prior to the 1996 General Conference in Denver, Colorado, Mel Brown had written Bishop Mary Ann Swenson (one of the "Denver 15") about problems in the church; he never received a reply. Subsequently, he took out ads in two area newspapers airing those same problems to an estimated half million people. After the Conference was over, she and her cabinet traveled to Johnstown, Colorado, to meet with him. After they had discussed the issues, she then asked him, "Well, Mr. Brown. Do you still think I should resign?" He leaned over, looked her in the eyes, and responded, "You bet I do." If Bishop Swenson had taken the time to respond to legitimate concerns, which is a function of responsible leadership, she might not have exacerbated her problems.
  6. The bishops appear to be incapable of enforcing the Book of Discipline in the performance of "same-sex" ceremonies (See Appendix E), yet have shown the capacity to take swift, decisive action when necessary: Bishop Lindsey Davis in dismissing Charles Sineath, and Bishop Ann Sherer in doing the same with Dr. Ron Cansler, pastor of FUMC in Joplin, Missouri. Is their inability to resolve the "same-sex problems" in reality covert acceptance of this advocacy? It would appear so.

Institutional Personalities

We have found that there are different personages and behaviors that are, to a great extent, predictable:

The Company Man/Woman (CM/W). As related to us by Dr. Michael Tyler (Tennessee AC), their pastor had said,"I am a company man. I have always been a company man. And I will always be a company man." CM/Ws are found throughout the denomination, attempt to exercise a spirit of control, and are obedient to their "top down" chain of command regardless of the instructions. Two of the most important functions of CM/Ws in the local church seem to be to get the apportionment paid and to "keep the people under control." This was reinforced by Dr. Willimon and the late Dr. Wilson when they wrote, "...there is a tendency for the clergy to feel that their future lies and that their ministry will be evaluated, not by their service to the local congregation, but by their loyalty to and compatibility with the annual conference." (5) It may be that he exhibits a love for the people in his charge, but one of the most important things that laypeople of a church (or the members of a conference) need to ascertain is what their pastor (or bishop) does with the truth. Does he adhere to it, or does he shade, distort, suppress, or withhold it? This is important and constitutes an integrity issue. The Bible speaks forcefully on this, "Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor" (Ephesians 4:25).

Other personalities are: The Pastor with Integrity (PWI): these are men and women who will not compromise their integrity regardless of the cost and are willing to give complete factual information to the people in their pastoral care, acting with their best interests in mind. The Consenting Follower (CF) is the layperson who does what he is told regardless of the rationale, or lack thereof. Sometimes, it is to defend a clergy or program, and to become properly "outraged" if either is questioned. The Independently Thinking Person [Lay or Clergy] (ITP) is the individual who will analyze and question what he is told, and compare pastoral pronouncements with biblical teachings.

While the bishops have a leadership responsibility in the decline of the UMC, the Consenting Followers have the fundamental responsibility since they unquestioningly accept whatever they are told. Dr. H. T. Maclin put it this way when he talked about "the almost blind trust and loyalty many United Methodist people have in our connectional system. The thought that anything could possibly be wrong in the church is simply too painful for many Methodists to bear.... Too many prefer to turn a deaf ear and hope the system will somehow cleanse itself. Unfortunately,...as Edmund Burke said, 'All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.'"(6)

Dynamics

Every half-truth is a full lie.
- Pastor Richard Wurmbrand(7)

Truth. After a speech by Lindsey Davis, bishop of the Atlanta Area, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, I approached him to take issue with one of the things he had said, that a cause for problems in our denomination was the leadership at the local church level. I told him, "Bishop Davis. There are three main problems in the United Methodist Church today: the lack of truthfulness throughout the denomination, the irresponsible use of money, and a lack of responsible Christian leadership in the Council of Bishops." I then handed him a copy of "The 1997 Stewardship Report on the United Methodist Church" and recommended that he read it.

Many in the UMC have a problem with the truth. In our pursuit of various issues in the political, ethical, and spiritual realm, simply put, "truth" is often missing, especially when people question areas such as how denominational money is spent, ecclesial actions, priorities espoused, and clergy integrity. When we do bring out the truth, as painful as it is, we encounter unfounded denials and meet reactions that we are "divisive" and "trying to harm the church" in our efforts. Identifying unpleasant truths about an organization is the first step in addressing its problems; it is "divisive" only to those who are threatened by it.

In a letter sent to Bishop Kenneth L. Carder dated October 4, 1996 (by certified mail), I had written: "Dear Bishop Carder: I have received a copy of your letter to Dr. Michael L. Tyler (Finance Committee Chair and Lay leader of FUMC - Mt. Pleasant) dated September 24, 1996... I find it curious that you characterize our data as being 'false,' 'misleading,' 'distortions,' and 'misinformation.' Yet it is my understanding that you have requested information from Dr. Randy Nugent to prepare for your meeting with members of the Finance Committee of FUMC of Mt. Pleasant on October 21st. How can you attack our data as being 'false' and with the other adjectives you have if you do not feel you have adequate information in your possession at this time.

....I invite you to publicly debate these issues with me at a time and place of mutual convenience...." In his letter dated October 8, 1996, he declined to meet me in public debate. (Since we research and are comfortable with the accuracy of our data before it is published, we invariably challenge our accusers to a public debate, because then people will see what the truth really is.) We have had similar encounters with other UM clergy, among whom are Helen Crotwell (past superintendent of the Fayetteville District), Randy Mickler (preacher at Mt. Bethel UMC in Acworth, Georgia), and George Jones (recent preacher at my own church), to name a few.

Pedestalization of the Minister. As Chuck Swindoll has written, "I believe it is the minister whom the people tend most to pedestalize. It is certainly an unscriptural practice. The Berean believers are commended for listening to Paul, then '...examining the Scriptures daily, to see whether these things were so' (Acts 17:11)."(8) Dr. Willimon and the late Dr. Wilson called this the "halo effect" in their book Rekindling the Flame. (9)

Incrementalism. A well thought-out plan of incrementalism appears to be used. "Incrementalism" consists of small, barely noticeable changes deliberately made over a period of time, which have had a cumulative effect in changing the essence of our denomination. This process is best illustrated by an incident observed by Chuck Swindoll when he was in high school. He writes, "I watched the slow death of a frog in an unforgettable experiment [from his high school chemistry class]. My teacher placed the hapless creature in an oversized beaker of cool water. Beneath the beaker he moved a Bunsen burner with a very low flame so that the water heated very slowly - something like .017 of a degree Fahrenheit per second. In fact, the temperature rose so gradually that the frog was never aware of the change. Two and a half hours later the frog was dead...boiled to death. The change occurred so slowly that the frog neither tried to jump out nor released a complaining kick."(10) This can have the effect of moving a majority of the membership in our UMC away from the Orthodox Christian faith to another by a series of small, barely noticeable changes. One overall effect of incrementalism is that through the continuous influx of new people with "Ten Dollar Religion" and the exodus of older and/or more spiritually mature members through departure and death, the spiritual character of the United Methodist Church is being changed.

A Spirit of control. Pastor Sineath told Good News magazine: "We've been part of a system for 38 years that prides itself on its tolerance and tolerates many things we believe God has declared unacceptable. Yet that same system has demonstrated its absolute intolerance of any dissent that has a dollar sign attached to it."(11) Some who occupy positions in the institution of the UMC have spans of control, want to extend their influence, are reluctant to justify what they do to anyone, and strive to maintain that control.

Information Control. This appears to be common practice in the Church, by both CM/Ws and evangelical pastors as well. There seems to be an active effort to withhold information from the people in the pews. In a letter, Helen Crotwell, past superintendent of the Fayetteville District, used an expression common to this spirit of control to not talk to us because it is not useful; indeed, it is not useful to the institutional church because the more these issues are discussed, the more people will be aware of the deep-seated problems we have. Mrs. Barbara Wendland has hypothesized on this spirit of control in her publication Connections when she had attempted to get a copy of the list of the names and addresses of the delegates to her annual conference. She also talks about the experiences of Ms. Garlinda Burton (with the UM Reporter) when she reported on the revision of The UM Hymnal and a flurry of letters resulted over the news that "Onward Christian Soldiers" would not be included in the new one. Burton said that "leaders were upset that the media had 'stirred up a fuss' and 'upset the people in the pew.'" "Pressure continues from some agency heads and episcopal leaders," she found, "to keep controversy and 'negative' information out of the hands of the church and public media - and, therefore, away from the rank and file." Mrs. Wendland also commented that "The church continues to lose credibility with each attempt to control information." They see leaders merely trying to protect each other, unwilling to confront the tough issues. Efforts to restrict information, Burton finds, have a "devastating effect on the credibility of the church bureaucracy among both grass-roots members and the public." Mrs. Wendland made the point that: "The legitimate way of combating views that one opposes is to provide information and views that are convincing, not by trying to stifle the views one disagrees with. When UMC officials only allow the expression of opinions and information that support official policies and methods, they destroy the effect [of] our representative system of church government. Annual Conference members need to hear members' views and to take them into account in making the church's decisions."(12)

Working behind the scenes. One example of how Julia McLean Williams was systematically excluded from her positions was when she started to question the General Board of Global Ministries, and later worked for the Mission Society for United Methodists ("So Great a Cloud," which is a case study in Appendix M). If information about a person or issue is credible, bring it out into the open. One of the reasons that CMWs work behind the scenes is because they know that if these issues were discussed publicly, people would learn the truth.

Gossip. One very effective tool is that of gossip. For the individual who does indulge in this practice, it is an indication of weak character. It's easy to talk about someone when he is not around; it takes more courage to face him and discuss the problem with him in person. After all, the gossip may be, and probably is, wrong. Gossip is like a contagious disease that poisons the mind: it can spread and do a lot of harm. Chuck Swindoll had this to say about it in a game he called "Let's Label": "...it is important that we guard against using a wrong label, thus damaging that individual's true image or position in others' eyes. That is the main danger in playing "Let's Label". It often means you set yourself up as judge and jury, declaring information that is exaggerated or thirdhand or just plain untrue. When that happens, we have stopped playing a game and started to slander." He goes on to say, "...basing one's opinion on the absolute truth is a sign of maturity, a mark of excellence in life....(Proverbs 12:17-23)"(13) In a spiritual vein, this violates the instructions Jesus gave us in Matthew 18:15 and those from Paul in Galatians 6:1.

Strategy

Following are some of the methods that we believe are used in the promotion of the institutional agenda and that exhibit the characteristics of a concerted, intentional strategy:

Stacking the boards.   A Company Man will try to stack the boards to get the "right people" (i.e., "Consenting Follower") into key positions, those whom he can control: administrative board, Council on Finance, Council on Ministries, Pastor/Staff Parish Relations, lay delegate to annual conference, etc.

Focusing on the local church.   It should be noted that, in reality, the local church is what should be the primary focus of ministry throughout the UMC. As has already been stated, there are a lot of good things happening at this level (observed in "The Methodist Syndrome"). But we still must have an interest in what is occurring at the general church level, because what happens there will ultimately affect every local church in our denomination. This tactic is what enabled the injustices to be perpetrated against other churches, such as St. Francis UMC (Appendix Q) and Kingsburg UMC (Appendix R) in the California-Nevada Conference. We need to remember that we are "all members of one body; what happens to one affects the whole body."

Encouraged passivity.   This is a corollary of "Focusing on the local church." Many of the laity who populate the pews of many churches today are mentally passive. They have succumbed to the climate of control, and abrogated their responsibility to provide informed lay leadership and effective feedback.

Targeting.   In 1984, Charles Keysor asked the question, "Just what is United Methodism like?...Many mainline Methodists boast that the church's greatest asset is pluralism. Yet, oddly, evangelicals are consistently excluded from the highest elective and major policy-making positions."(14) There seems to be an institutional policy of systematically excluding from positions of leadership and influence in the church those who are independent thinkers. Dr. Julia Williams experienced this after she started to question the unresponsiveness of one of our church's boards (Appendix M).

The pattern seems to be that a CM/W might be sent to a church with the objective of neutralizing ITPs. The profile of the new Company Man will be that of "a really nice guy" with "just the sweetest wife in the world" that a person would ever want to meet. He will be affable, deliver great "feel good" sermons, and involve the people in "busy work" to get their minds off the problems facing the denomination. He will work his Consenting Followers into key positions in church leadership and exclude the leading ITPs. He will put monitors in classes ITPs attend to report back what is said and any influence he may have; the monitor may attempt to neutralize any influence he may have on other class members. He may orchestrate a variety of tactics to encourage ITPs to leave the church and even the denomination. In addition, if the members of a congregation receive information from an independent source, they will be encouraged to discontinue receipt of these publications. Dr. Williams appears to have been targeted in her narrative, as have Marty Rasmussen, Jimmy Cash, and I, because of our association with renewal organizations. Another whom appears to have been targeted is Mel Brown in Johnstown, Colorado, who is associated with Concerned Methodists of the Rocky Mountains. Remember, information control leads to member control.

Orchestrated Silence.   When people receive information on some of the unpleasant problems in the church, they are told, "It's not profitable to discuss this with these people. Just ignore it." This effectively neutralizes any effort to address some of the issues, and is a common tactic across the UMC. We have recently received complaints of this happening in some of the Texas conferences. Unfortunately, there are those in my own church who have succumbed to this. I sent Jay Spillane a letter* dated December 6, 1996 requesting data on defamatory information communicated by George Jones (later shown to be false); Jay returned the letter unopened and refused to answer my questions. It is difficult to understand how a guy like Jay, a retired Army colonel and the father of two kids (a boy and a girl) for whom I'd been a youth counselor, would have acted in such a manner. In addition, despite the fact that I had been a youth counselor for the children of Steve Thomas and Barbara Poole (his son and daughter, and her two sons), when I was seeking information of a similar nature circulated by George Jones, they refused to speak with me or even to discuss it. (See "Camp Ground UMC" at Appendix T for additional information. The complete letter to Jay Spillane is in the CGUMC Case Study on the Concerned Methodists' internet website.)

One well-intentioned guy who had previously refused to discuss the church's problems, engaged me in conversation one day. We had a good discussion, with his asking me about my varied assignments, where I had been, what I had done, and accomplishments. After he had exhausted his questions, I then responded, "Look, I have answered all of your questions. Now, answer mine. I have been in the Army, just like you. I have been stationed at Ft. Bragg, as you are. I was once a major, just as you are now. When I had attempted to talk with you previously about the problems in the church, you refused. Why is that?"

He: "Because I don't agree with what you say! I don't agree with what you stand for."
I: "With what do you not agree?"
He: "All of it!"
I: "Name one."

There was silence. Complete silence. In other words, he had been manipulated into automatically rejecting the information because it was from us, yet without knowing what it was we were saying - or why.

It is as if people have been brainwashed.

Notes:

  1. Rekindling the Flame,* page 17.
  2. Ibid., p. 121.
  3. Ibid., p. 68.
  4. Ibid., pp. 58, 59.
  5. Ibid., p. 108.
  6. Faith, p. 32.
  7. "The Absolute Duty of Truthfulness" in Alone with God, by Pastor Richard Wurmbrand, Living Sacrifice Book Company, Bartlesville, OK; 1988, p. 36.
  8. "Fallibility" from Come Before Winter, p. 58.
  9. Rekindling the Flame, p. 67.
  10. Growing Strong in the Seasons of Life, by Chuck Swindoll, Multnomah Press, Portland, Oregon, 1977; p. 93.
  11. Article in World, as quoted in an e-mail received from Janz I. Mynderup; vision@newpathways.com; Subject: Split...Today?? Date: Sat, 26 Jun 1999 23:14:03.
  12. Connections by Barbara Wendland, 505 Cherokee Drive, Temple, TX 76504, May 1999.
  13. "Labels" from Come Before Winter; pp. 112 - 113.
  14. As quoted from Christianity Today, November 9, 1984 in "Methodism 1784 - 1984." By Charles Yoh, Van Wert, Ohio; 1986, p. 16.
* Available on the Concerned Methodists website.


Web Site Designed and Maintained by
JCN

|| Home || Introduction || Stewardship Report || The Unofficial Confessing Movement || Lifewatch ||
|| Independent Committee on Alcohol and Drugs || News Update || Advisory Board ||
|| Case Studies || Testimonies || Interconnection into the United Methodist Church ||